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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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Dawn of Anghebad: First of the Mystics

The Arena was quickly becoming the center of Anghebad. Some ten years ago it was nothing more than a pit with some carved, earthen seats. Now it was a big complex. With sandstone walls and even separate rooms in which clay tablets were to be stored. There was even a small market on the square outside of it. The higher benches were for onlookers while the lower benches, enjoying shadows cast from long cloths, were larger and meant for students. At the entrance of the practice area Orb floated on a pedestal. Overseeing the teaching and practice of magic. Today especially the Arena was hosting a large gathering. King Hamurai’s guard were making a way through the crowd so the king could pass through without a problem. The Arena lacked any special tribune or seating for the king. Instead he made his way to the lower levels. The king had fashioned himself an eternal student of magic.

There was a reason people had gathered in the Arena. Gusts of wind rushed through the openings between the walls and air was sucked back into it. It created a constantly shifting breeze. When the King finally reached the lower levels he folded his arms as he watched what was happening. At first glance, it would’ve appeared as if two women were dancing, their joint moves directing and bending the winds. One of them was clearly different from the rest of Anghebad entirely. She was slightly larger and lines of paint were drawn on her skin. Her partner dressed in tight fitting gear. In contrast the painted woman’s lose clothing moved with grace through the constantly shifting air. The two of them seemed entwined in an intricate dance. Guided by the loud, rhythmic beating of drums.

The king, however, knew well enough that it wasn’t just a dance. It was a duel. Every move was known and deliberate, demanding a response of the mana and the winds it controlled. Orb had taught them that. A wrong move weakens your position and footing, allowing your opponent, if they are skilled, to push their advantage. Force you to make even more missteps, until the mountain of errors is too big and the dance breaks. But the dance also wouldn’t work if each side simply did their own thing. Each move was extremely well defined and taught with precision in mind. The Dances, a path of magic created with the help of Orb, was as much a duel as it was an exercise in the improvement of your own skill.

At the moment, there was no clear winner. At least not to those with no eye for magic. But the King saw beyond the façade of equality. The painted woman was handily beating her opponent. But instead of delivering the final strike and ending the dance, she helped her. With every misstep, imbalance is created and the painted woman rectified that balance almost immediately. She wasn’t toying with her though. Well, not until the Whirl-Steps began. Then it would have appeared that the painted woman’s opponent was simply outmatched. The younger woman lost her footing. The wind carried her upwards for a second, before she fell down on the ground. The painted woman made her finishing moves, beseeching the mana and the winds to calm down again, as she would find her inner calm as well. Drums were silenced.

The second she was finished, she rushed over to her partner and helped her up. “You did well.” The king could hear her say. “The Whirl-Steps are too much for you yet. Take some time. Learn the first five sets. You’re doing very good.” The younger woman smiled, dusted her off and the two moved towards Orb in the shadow.

“You have shown exemplar improvements my lady.” Orb said towards the younger woman. “Lady Enura is right. You should focus on improving your first five steps. The Whirl-Steps are yet too treacherous.” His runes lit up as the sound waved through the area. Several other students were listening attentively, as was King Hamurai. He was never one for the Dances though. None the less he could recognize skill. When the short lesson was finished, two other students stood up and moved towards the center, into the light of the sun. They took their respective position and began their joined dance.

Lady Enura, in the meantime, walked over to the King and kissed him deeply. “My sun.” he said as he embraced her. “You looked radiant.”

“I always look radiant.” Lady Enura, or rather Queen Enura said. Though she never liked the title of Queen. She then turned around to watch the young woman she had dueled with. The woman was sitting on the edge of her seat, observing every step the two students were making in the sunlight. “She’s attentive. A few more years and she’ll join your magisters.” There was pure pride in Enura’s voice. “So why did you come all the way down the hole? Orb has no glyph lessons today?”

“I’ve come for you.” The king said as he turned away from the spectacle and guided his wife as he walked. “There’s been more sightings.”

“Golden lights?” Enura immediately asked. “Others, magisters, have seen them as well?”

“They have. We don’t know what they are. Orb has no answers either. We’re planning to send out a group of magisters to investigate the golden lights tonight. In the dark.” The King said, his voice betrayed a level of concern. “I just pray to the nameless god that these things are benevolent.”

“Prayer doesn’t work.” Enura stated coldly. It was one thing she hated about magic. They knew its god existed. They knew he held stewardship over all spells. Yet he refused to bear a name or to answer prayers. Even Orb refused to utter his name. He said it had no consequence. To know or not to know his name, it wouldn’t matter in a prayer. Instead he looked at those who advanced magic beyond its limits. Time and time again. Why the god himself wasn’t guiding them was beyond her. “You’ll tell me when they found something?”

“I think you’ll tell me.” The King said with a small smirk.

Enura frowned. “what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you’ll know what those lights are sooner than I will.”

“Wait… that means.” Enura was shocked for a second. “I can lead the magisters!?”

“By royal decree.” The King said. “You’re stronger than almost all of them. My love. I’m sorry it took so long for me to accept that. But I can’t stop you anymore. Just… be careful. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if you go hurt… Or worse-“

Before the King could finish that sentence, Enure kissed him to shut him up. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily. I will be back.”


That Night…
Enura was the first to spot the golden mote in the distance. It was a small, fickle looking thing. Dancing over a very small stream. Behind her, the magisters walked. Most of them older men, well versed in the glyphic magic developed in the last ten years with the aid of Orb. The glyphs were entirely new. Many felt it prudent not to use the already existing cuneiform, as they didn’t want to accidentally use a spell. To that end the magisters had already held three grand concordats in an effort to establish the glyphs and the other ways of magic.

They were less than happy to be led by a woman though. Especially a woman who practiced the path of Dances. Enura knew well what the old farts would be gossiping about. It didn’t matter. She could leave them all in the sand, rocks and dirt if she wanted to. When the night was at its peak, the group arrived at the mote. Most of the old men began to write on their tablets, in an effort to draw out some information about the golden light. Enura walked around it. Turning around, walking backwards, and turned around again. She switched her direction and switched it again and again. She could feel the golden mote reverberate somehow, as she closed her eyes. There was something there. A structure. A pattern. Her instinct told her that. Even though her own senses couldn’t feel anything but chaos.

“There is something…” one of the old magisters pipped up. “The light’s perfect structure.”

“Stop talking.” Enura said. The magisters looked up surprised. Most were looking at Enura with angry scowls. How dare she interrupt an erudite man!? But some, some looked confused at their colleague.

“It’s not chaos.” One of the confused looking one’s said. “But it’s not order either. It’s something… bigger.”

“Are you calling me a liar, Nuraï!?” the first magister said as he stood up. “I am ten years your senior! Know your place. The light is obviously a clearly defined-“

“It’s not.” Enura said. “It’s not at all clearly defined. It’s constantly shifting.” She looked at Nuraï, who nodded in agreement. “But it’s big. Something runs through it like.. like how blood runs through us.” Carefully she touched the golden light as she tried to tie her own magic to something within the light. “It is…something more than mortal.”

“Orb said all spells are constructs within the mana.” The magister by the name of Nuraï said. “Maybe this is… also a spell? I mean look at the light. It isn’t made from anything that makes light. Nor does it feel warm. It’s just mana given form and somehow-”

“A form we can see.” Enura locked eyes with Nuraï. For a second they shared a subconscious sense of knowing. Of understanding each other. Then suddenly, he consciousness was grasped by the spell. Her magic wasn’t just taken, it was grasped and pulled in. Symbols flashed through her mind. Symbols of impossible geometry.

“My lady!” One of the magisters exclaimed.

She didn’t hear him. Her mind was consumed by the spell, trying desperately to understand that which she could not understand. The impossibilities were altered in her mind. Changed to more manageable, if not less accurate, representations. New, simpler shapes overlaid the first ones. Incomprehensible words were given mortal expressions. Finally, the core concept of the spell were given a pale, worldly comprehension.

When the spell released Enura from its hold, she collapsed on her knees. The symbols were still in her mind, or at least the mortal interpretations. “Tablet! Give me a tablet, now!” She yelled, even though she was out of breath. Her body was sweating. Most of the magisters were too shocked to move. Only Nuraï moved and handed her a wooden frame, with still moist clay with in it. Enura ran the stylus over it to flatten the clay and instantly began to draw the symbols she remembered, along with words written in cuneiform. When she was done, the last of the insight the spell had given her faded away. Leaving her mind like it was.

“What does it mean?” Nuraï asked as he observed the tablet.

“I have no idea.”




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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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The Heart Matters





Almost a full day had passed since the fateful rescue of the village, and the two weary travelers had made good pace away from the smoke rising from cinder and thatch. It could not be seen now, though whether that was due to the remains of burning houses finally calmed down enough not to be seen, or the smokestack being blocked out by cliff and hillside, was not something either of the two women knew. They’d done their part in driving off the invaders - and to her credit, once Sanya had agreed with Lucia’s proposal, she had wasted no time in putting the village behind them.

She hadn’t exactly talked either however, lost somewhere in her quiet haze of old terror and bitter memories. If she had truly listened and heard her words was up in the air, beyond being enough to break her out of a worse episode then and there. She was silent during the walk through brush and over stone, offering the bare minimum when prompted. Sorrowsting was still spattered with flecks of dried reminders of the night before, and neither of them had had much chance to process beyond a brief cleanse at a riverford earlier in the day.

Sanya, typically an unnaturally enduring woman, seemed to be drained of her vigor; each passing of the sun in the sky seemed to make her less inspired to keep walking, and when Lucia had finally suggested they camp for the day, she'd offered a non-committal grunt and sunk to the ground near a rocky outcropping.

”Here… Let me get a fire going and I’ll cook some food.” Lucia said, working with a spring in her step. Even her tattoo’s were helping set camp up, with vivid movements in the dying light. With a semblance of camp set up and a ring of stones to contain a fire, Lucia turned to Sanya with a small smile. ”I’ll be right back okay? Just going to go get some firewood.” she said, yet Sanya offered only a brief sound to acknowledge her - Lucia wasn’t sure she was listening. The dark-haired warrior seemed deep in her own world still, placing her weapon over her knees and unwrapping a small kit to clean it. It seemed she was content to leave their survival in Lucia’s hands. The golden haired girl slipped away, glancing several times at Sanya before she vanished into the trees.

It was only a short time later did she return, with a handful of sticks and with several tendrils of her tattoo’s helping as well. They deposited the wood next to the fire and Lucia set them up into a tippee.

Lucia outstretched her hand over the logs and then recited,
”Fire, fire, warm and bright,
Lit by a spark to ignite.
Use my love as a key,
To make us warm and happy.”
she finished, and the logs ignited into a roaring fire.
She then rummaged through her pack and took out something wrapped in leaves. A small bunny from earlier in the day. She took a stick and skewered it, then placed it over the fire. The sizzling and pops of cooking meat filled the air and Lucia sat down next to Sanya, who still seemed to be in her own little world. Her eyes were fixated on Sorrowsting, obsessively running a small cloth over it to scrub away every little speck of dirt she could find in the firelight, using her nail when the cloth would not do it.

For a good while, they remained like that, silence reigning supreme save for the crackle of flames on wood. Still consumed by her almost religious work on her weapon, Sanya decided to break the silence. ”What you said back there,” she began with a cautious tone, quiet and demure. The words hung in the air, as Sanya seemed reluctant to continue.

Lucia turned her head to Sanya, ”What about it?” she asked with another smile.

...Thank you.” Sanya professed in turn, pausing in her worship of her spear to stare somewhere between it and the flames. ”It shames me that I behaved that way in front of you. The Daughter of Life.” she confessed further, voice kept at a quiet and sullen level. She busied her hands with stowing her weapons kit away again, slow and purposeful in motion.

Lucia seemed to wince. ”Sanya, I told you. You don’t have to be ashamed of what you did. It happens and I understand, better than most.” she paused, looking to the ground. ”I hate to say it but, some lives aren’t worth keeping around.”

”I think about that a lot.” Sanya replied, a brief moment of brisk honesty before she regained her senses and ventured far back into her guarded sullenness. ”I’m not who you think I am, Lucia. This was a brush with who I’ve been. Who I become the longer I stay out there. The woman I was, before we ever met. Full of hate, spite and cynicism.” Sat back on her knees, Sanya sighed quietly, and extended a hand to put on Lucia’s leg in a brief show of compassion. ”I try to be better. It’s easier around you, and your brilliant light.”

Lucia sat up straighter at the touch and she looked at Sanya again, biting her lower lip before saying, ”Sanya… I know you better than you think. You are strong, proud, smart, and don’t hesitate to help others. I fell in love with that woman, not the one in the past.” Lucia laid a hand on Sanya’s. ”I meant what I said, you know.” That seemed to catch Sanya’s attention, as the dark-haired woman lifted her head out of her daze to peer first at their hands, and then Lucia.

”Lucia,” she mustered quietly, the ever-serious warrior still wearing an expression mingled between sorrow and displeasure. ”I know you mean that. You shouldn’t abandon the world for my sake. I’m not worth it.”
Lucia took Sanya’s hand within her own and squeezed. ”Don’t say that. Of course you’re worth it.” She tilted her head slightly. ”Don’t think less of yourself, Sanya. I want to be with you, so please, don’t push me away.” Lucia’s eyes locked with Sanya’s as if she was searching for something, for anything. The warrior’s eyes were notoriously hard to read, centuries of emotional pain had made her appear vulnerable and displeased at a standard measure. Even now, she seemed unfazed.

Sanya parted her lips to breathe softly, not shying away from the intense scrutiny the tattooed woman gave her. ”What are you saying, Lucia?” she asked eventually, a genuine query by the quiet and uncertain tone.

Lucia smirked. ”I love you. I’m not just saying it, to say it, Sanya. I. Love. You.” Her words seemed to evoke at least a brief widening of Sanya's eyes, before the dark-haired warrior looked away.

Sanya cleared her throat, gaze fixated on the fire in the aftermath of Lucia's words. "I'm in the company of gods," she breathed softly, almost the start of a scoff. She continued to gaze forwards in silence, brought back into her own world. When she spoke up again, it was with a nod towards the fireplace and the rabbit. "That's gonna char."

It took a minute for Lucia to register what she meant. ”Oh no!” she exclaimed, scooping up the burnt meat with one of her tattoo’s. She brought it close and sighed, before throwing it away. ”Great Lucia. Just great.” She then went over to their packs and began rummaging through them again. ”Hopefully there’s food in here. I’m so sorry Sanya.”

Sanya huffed a quiet chuckle. "And I was so looking forward to rabbit, too," she tutted softly, before putting her spear aside - for the first time since the village - and leaning back to observe Lucia suffer through the motions of locating more rations, considerably less worried.

Lucia sat down in defeat and groaned. ”We have no food.” she muttered after a moment. She then stood up, ”I’ll go see if I can’t find something in the forest. I shouldn’t be long.” She got a simple hum of affirmation from Sanya.

Before Lucia disappeared into the trees, she paused and looked back at Sanya with a thoughtful look, then pressed onwards.




It was about an hour later when the unmistakable footsteps of someone carrying something could be heard. It wasn’t long afterwards that Lucia emerged from the forest, carrying a small buck with the support of her tattoos. She grunted and hefted the thing onto the ground and beamed a smile at Sanya. ”That should do it!”

Sanya, who had apparently spent the last hour constructing a snug little rain shelter against the outcropping and beside the fire, glanced over at Lucia and her considerable catch from her new lazy perch under the small shelter. She promptly wriggled out from under the make-shift shelter to sit up properly. "Very nice," she offered with a modicum of cheer to her voice, and rummaged in her pack for a sizable knife. "Grilled backstrap for dinner, then. Can't get better in the wild. I didn't know you were a master huntress."

”Oh I’m not. I just happened on him by chance. Tattoos did the rest.” She said kneeling down beside it and running her hands along his fur. ”He is a beautiful animal. I thanked him in my own way and now, he’ll fill our bellies up.” she said, a small sunlit knife materializing in her hands. She hesitated though and looked over at Sanya, ”I haven’t skinned such a large animal in a long time, could you show me?”

Sanya moved over towards Lucia and her quarry, and shuffled to a seat beside her, her own knife flipping in her hand. "Are we leaving the carcass for the wilds? If so we can field dress what we need with a cut along here." she murmured idly, running her free hand out to stroke along the side of the deer's back.

”Let’s just take what won’t spoil right away. Who knows how long we’ll be traveling until we find a ho-” she coughed. ”Until we figure out where we’re going.” she followed up quickly.

"No reason to let the loins go to waste, then. We'll take the best cuts and dine like queens for half a week," Sanya intoned calmly, scratching her cheek with the tip of her own knife. Her free hand slid over the buck in quick succession, showcasing a pattern. "So, you'll wanna cut in here-... and then here, and carve down along this line on the side."

Lucia followed her guidance and within a bit of time, the deer had been drawn and quartered and it’s backstrap was hanging over the fire. This time, Lucia rotated it so it wouldn’t burn too much. The smells of cooking meat made for a wonderful aroma but Lucia was quiet now, staring into the fire with a blank look. Sanya in turn had found a new seat outside the small shelter, hugging one leg as she watched Lucia cook. With a quiet sigh escaping her lips, she ran her hand through her hair and opted to break the silence. "So, where do you think we should go?"

Without moving her gaze she spoke, "Anywhere I guess. Far away from people. The prairie? The highlands? Further south? I don't mind."

"You've been to the south, haven't you?" Sanya offered in further thought. "Travelers in the east used to say there was a paradise down there."

"They call it the Gardens. Just on the other side of the mountains. A fertile land as far as you can see. It was perfect, except, it was plagued by slavers.” she sighed.

"Right," Sanya replied quietly, and sighed as well. "I suppose not even a paradise can escape the curse." The dark-haired warrior leaned her chin on her knee, eyeing Lucia with a thoughtful expression. Her lips parted briefly, about to offer another quip, but appeared to decide against it.

”Yeah.” she responded. SIlence reigned again, but only for a short time. When the meat was done cooking, Lucia cut it up into manageable chunks on a flat rock. Then she stood and made her way over to Sanya, and sat down next to her. ”Here we are. Eat up.” She said with little vigor in her voice as she took a small bite.

Sanya didn't eat. Her eyes remained on Lucia, head turned to glance her way as her tattooed companion dug into her meal. She let silence reign for the duration, ignorant of the crackle of fire or building howl of the evening wind. "I went north to die," she eventually confessed, calm and even in voice.

Halfway into chewing into a piece of meat, Lucia looked over at Sanya with wide eyes. She quickly chewed and swallowed. ”W-What?” she asked, turning her entire body to the warrior and setting her hands upon her own knees.

"Mmh," Sanya hummed softly. "It's not the first time I've done something dumb. Not many months before we met again. It was too much, just like now. I just wanted to escape the noise, the misery. Somewhere along the way I stopped caring about food and heat." she explained with a morose tone. "I would have died, if not for a tribe of helpful men and women finding me in the snow. They gave me some hope, before this cruel world came down on them as well. It was eating at me, like every lost village or each time I've been too late over the millennia. I'm just so tired,"

Sanya took a long breath. "And yet, when I heard a rumour of you, I forgot all that. And when we journeyed together again, it's as though nothing had ever happened. I'm content to just see where your energy takes us next, how your smile warms other people's lives. You are the one fixture in my tired life, Lucia. For a long time, now." she professed, gazing over towards the fire.

Lucia breathed, wiping tears out of her eyes as she smiled. ”Oh Sanya.” she scooted closer to her and wrapped her in a hug. ”I’m so glad you’re still here, Sanya. If-If I lost you, I don’t know what I’d do anymore. If you weren’t by my side in Ha-Duna…” she said, ”I’m glad.” is all she could say.

Sanya hummed quietly at that, wriggling her own arms free to lower her leg, and then wrapped her arms around Lucia in turn. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be, Lucia," she murmured.

Lucia pulled away and rubbed her mouth on her sleeve. Her tattoo’s pulsed wildly and she bit her lower lip as she looked at Sanya again. ”Can I…” she murmured, moving her head in closer. Sanya watched her intently, saying nothing but tilting her head ever so slightly as she watched Lucia's approach. Her lips pressed together briefly before parting to let a small breath escape. Lucia shut her eyes, before pressing her lips to Sanya’s. The warrior's fingers brushed against the nape of her neck, as Sanya responded in kind.

The fire crackled.





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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Based and RPilled

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&

Gibbou





The trickle of water rushed down over a bed of nightshades. Above it was suspended a watering can, wooshing to every thirsty plant with a fresh drink at the whim of its master. Its master, on the other hand, sat comfortably on a fat bean bag, making hard eyes at a sloppy vine sticking out of a flower pot. Gibbou balanced her chin on her fist.

“I see bell peppers don’t really grow in complete darkness, huh… Darn, what’s that? Me: Ten; Orey… Uh…” She looked at her fingers. “... Damn it, life, you’re hard to love sometimes. It’s not like I can make another Neverday Island! I mean, I could, but… Ugh…” She let herself be swallowed by the bean bag. “Effoooort…” She wrinkled her nose with a sniff. The ceiling of her glass dome offered a damp view of steam with a faint hint of the eternal expanse of space behind it. After a while, she looked back at the plant. She pittered through her lips.

”Yo, Orey! Wanna hang?” she asked the void.

There was a burst of laughter, some muttering about a chick or two and several more seconds passed before Oraelia exclaimed, "Gibbouuuuuuuuuuu! My little sister, my Gibs, my first love- Oh how I've missed your voice! It seems so long ago I gave you a big hug. The kind that makes the heart warm and melt- Oh oh oh! Don't eat that little Bun." her voice faded.

The moon goddess offered a series of blinks. ”Woah, someone’s happy! What’s up? Did something sweet happen?”

Oraelia gasped. "Gibbou! Have you ever baked pie? Tell me tell me tell me." Her sister said quickly, words almost slurring together.

Gibbou squinted - these was something familiar about her articulation. ”Nnnnooo…” she offered with a hint of suspicious. ”Only muffins. Say, Orey, did I… Have I visited and given you something? Recently? While, uh, under influence?”

"Nope! I haven't seen anyone in soooooo long." she then giggled and half whispered, "Okay I saw that Qael guy and I've helped some mortals." Followed by more laughing. "Muffins! Muffins muffins muffins! What is a muffin?"

”Okay, what’s going on? You’re always giddy, sure, but this is a lot - even for you. Be honest - have you been drinking?” There was a pause. ”Actually, hold that thought - I’m coming over.” Gibbou shot up out of her bean bag, put on her space-black summer dress, sandals and sunglasses, and skipped out the doors of her glass dome. She jumped across the lunar surface until she reached the sunny side. The fiery light burned at her skin, but she was undeterred. ”Hold on, Orey! I’m coming!” She then squatted down and kicked off, launching herself into space like a blue comet. As she travelled closer to the sun, the space around her began to twist and warp. Before long, instead of crashing into the solar surface like physics suggested she should have, she instead broke through the edges of space and crashed straight into a fluffy bed of grasses and flowers in her sister’s garden. She pushed herself up from her belly and looked around, spitting out dirt and petals. ”Orey? Orey?!”

A streak of green erupted into the sky on the distant horizon and made a beeline to Gibbou, humming all the way. When it reached her, the Orb tackled into Gibbou and Oraelia changed forms into her sunny bright one. She wrapped her arms around Gibbou and squeezed as she kissed her sister's cheek repeatedly. "Gibbou's here! Gibbou's here!" she exclaimed.

”Eeep!” squealed the moon goddess and momentarily let her protection instincts kick in. Arms that pushed her sister away were quickly rerouted to hugging her back, however, though her face tried its best to dodge Oraelia’s incessant pecks. ”Woah, hey, hey, hey! Yeah, Gibbou’s here! Gibbou’s here.” She tried to tighten her hug so Oraelia wouldn’t squirm as much. ”What on Galbar happened to you?”

Oraelia seemed to relax slightly in her grip and stopped pecking her. She then gushed, "Nothing! I'm just baking a pie! It's going to be delicious and and and i'm going to take it to Neiya and that way she can feel better too!" She grinned with childlike excitement at Gibbou.

Gibbou caught something in her throat - most likely a clump of ‘what did you just say?’, for she immediately followed up by saying, ”Wait, what? You’re hanging out with…” She took a deep breath. ”Did she make you like this? Did she?!”

Oraelia tilted her head. Then laughed. "Psshht no. Don't be silly. I haven't seen Neiya innnnnn uh, the day she hurt me!" Oraelia's smile then seemed to break for a moment, her eyes flashing awareness. She then released her grip from Gibbou and brought a hand up to her face. Vividly crimson berries appeared and she smirked. "Try one, try one! You'll feeeel so much better Gibs! You won't have to worry!" she said, holding out her hand.

Gibbou forced a smile and guided her hand away from her mouth. ”Maybe later, sis. First, let’s… Let’s just talk, alright? Tell you what, how about I set the kettle to boil and we can, y’know, catch up a bit - I’ll even make muffins, how about that? You -need- to try them, after all.”

”Okay!” Oraelia said, wrapping Gibbou into another hug. ”That’d be soooo wonderful sis!”

Gibbou nodded slowly and snapped her fingers, a small kettle appearing out of nowhere to settle on a fireplace that had arranged itself neatly on the ground. The kettle filled to a little under the brim with water and started cooking. Gibbou then conjured forth a stone over using a nearby heap of mud and started cracking eggs, pouring in milk and adding sugar into a bowl - all of which materialised out of nowhere. While she was mixing, she offered Oraelia another glance, pursing her lips curiously. ”Sssso… What’ve you been up to - except making pies?”

”Oh! I’ve been helping lots of people! I made your druids happy and their lands really fertile, then I helped an Iskrill because he seemed nice and was scared of everyone, so I gave him a deterrent! Then I helped a Neiyari that Neiya and Yamat bullied! Uh, uh, yeah! Aren’t you proud of me Gibs! It feels really good to help people and not feel so useless!” Oraelia clapped her hands together.

Gibbou stared at her blankly. She brought her palms together, rested her fingers under her nose and took a deep breath. ”Orey, sweety?”

”Yeah?” She bobbed up and down.

The moon goddess held in another breath, then slowly removed the kettle from the fire and added some tea leaves. She then let out a sigh that could’ve caused earthquakes in less stable worlds. ”Y’know what, nevermind. I’ll feel like such a hypocrite if I comment… Just… If you get asked to help Iskrill, Neiyari or…” She made a face. ”No, that’s not right, either… Look, you -can- help them all you want. Just… You oughta understand the consequences and, and…” Her head collapsed forward and left her staring at the ground, sapped of hope. ”I can’t really say anything at all in this, huh.”

Oraelia poked Gibbou. ”Watcha mean sis?” Her voice then grew quiet. ”Consequences… Did I…” She whispered to herself. ”Hey! You’re sad aren’t you? Have a berry!”

Gibbou pushed her hand away, more firmly than last time. ”Sis, I’m good. I don’t want any berries right now.”

”Areeee you suuure?” She chided. ”Evandra showed me her version a long time ago, and they make you so full of passion, so I tweaked these a bit.” She giggled.

Gibbou frowned. ”Yeah, I’m sure, I’m sure! Sheesh, what’s with you? You’re so…” She pushed Oraelia away slightly and pulled her knees to her chest. ”You’re being really weird. I think you should take a break from eating those berries.”

Oraelia blinked rapidly and seemed taken aback for a moment. ”W-Why would I want to do that?” she asked, raising her voice. ”I can’t do that. I can’t do that! I thought you would understand! I don’t want to feel like that anymore!”

Gibbou frowned. ”Okay, that settles it - no more berries!” With a lightning quick move, she flicked away the one Oraelia had in her hand. ”Rule number one about addictions - if you can’t stop, it’s an addiction - which ain’t good.”

Oraelia stiffened. ”I-I-I’m not addicted! They make me feel better!” Oraelia stammered, summoning more into her hands. Gibbou tossed herself at her to slap them away.

”So does wine for me, but you remember what I mess I become when I drink too much!” She tried to wrestle her to the ground.

Oraelia fell over and Gibbou fell on top of her as the sister’s fought over the berries. Oraelia kept them out of Gibbou’s hands for a while but then Gibbou slapped them to the floor again. ”Why are you being like this!” Oraelia cried out, no longer able to summon berries as they wrestled in the grass.

”When I was at my lowest, you were there for me! I won’t let you waste away in a stupid high if you’re feeling sad - and I know you are, because I haven’t seen Genesis anywhere!”

Oraelia froze. ”S-S-She’s j-just sleeping! Sleeping!” But her tears gave her away. ”No no no! I need a berry, I need a berry!” she cried, struggling to free herself again. Gibbou’s grip only tightened.

”Don’t let yourself become a slave to drugs, Orey! They didn’t do me any good - they certainly won’t help you!” Gibbou focused, the shadows on her face and body growing outwards into a circle around them. The edges of the circle grew taller and taller until they were both imprisoned in a cylinder of darkness. Gibbou let go and quickened to her feet. ”Now you and I will talk about this - we will cry; we will hate the world; we will call each other names like we never have! But I won’t let you just sit here to grieve!”

”Let me out Gibbou!” Oraelia said, banging on the darkness. ”Please let me out! I can’t bear to be sad anymore! I hate it, I hate the feeling!” she yelled, growing frustrated.

”Sadness is the worst emotion - trust me, I know it so, so well! But we must take it in - know that it’s there, and not escape from it! How could I protect anything if the sadness of loss broke me down at the first instant?” She paused. ”How can you bring your love and warmth to the world if there’s no sadness and cold to wipe away?”

Oraelia turned to Gibbou, her body growing brighter as she clutched her fists tight. ”No! You don’t get it, Gibbou! I exist to make others happy! To bring others warmth! That doesn’t mean I deserve it! I am undeserving! I am a terrible god, a terrible sister, and a terrible mother! I hate myself, I hate myself! And the only thing that makes me happy are those berries, so you’re going to let me go!” She said, trying to sound fierce.

Gibbou blinked in disbelief. ”What’s gotten into you? Who said those things?”

Oraelia gritted her teeth. ”What’s gotten into me? I-I-I… Gibbou…” Her light began to fade and she grabbed her head. ”No that’s not… What’s…” She looked up again and broke down. ”She’s dead. She’s dead. Genesis is dead. I failed her. I-I wasn’t there. I ignored her. She’s dead. Oh why is she dead?” She fell against the wall and slid down slowly, her form’s light shattering in an instant, to reveal a disheveled Oraelia.

Gibbou lowered her head. She sat down on her knees and dragged herself to kneel opposite of Oraelia. She pressed her fists tensely down on her thighs and nodded slowly. ”... So she’s gone, then. I thought for a moment she had locked her portal shut, but as it was completely gone, it felt kinda… Off.” She made a knowing look. ”It was not your fault, Orey. You may think it is, but it isn’t.”

”She didn’t say goodbye…” Oraelia whispered. ”How is it not my fault? She lived in my realm and I didn’t even notice she was gone until it was too late. The lifeblood came and snatched her away and I did nothing.”

”Exactly! You did nothing - you are not at fault here!” Gibbou grit her teeth and glared at the ground. ”It’s the lifeblood that did this, but neither you nor I can change what the lifeblood does. The lifeblood is, well, the lifeblood, and not even we can change how it works.”

”Gibbou… Because I did nothing I am at fault. I could have tried to do something… Anything. But it was too late. I lost her.” she lamented.

”It’s easy to think of these things in hindsight. None of us have been able to defy the lifeblood’s barrier to reach Galbar; do you think anyone of us could’ve reversed death if it was the lifeblood’s will?”

”No…” she sighed. ”I just wish it wasn’t so.” Her eyes began to water. Gibbou nodded slowly and shuffled closer to embrace her sister.

”It’ll hurt. It’ll hurt for a long time. Maybe it’ll never pass - loss rarely does. We shouldn’t try to forget it - suppressing such emotions does no good at all - but we cannot dwell on it forever, either - it’ll consume us. We must acknowledge it, accept all its horror and despair, and make it a part of ourselves. Only then can we begin to move past it.” Her embrace tightened. ”... And if you need anyone to hold you and open their heart to your worries, I will always be here for you.”

Oraelia returned the embrace, sobbing into her sister’s shoulder. After some time had passed she said in a hoarse voice, ”Look at you sis… I’m so, so proud of you.” She paused, ”I don’t… I don’t trust myself here all alone. What do I do?”

”How about you stay at my place for a time? You can get those berries out of your system and we can level with each other as much as we want. Also, you can help me make peppers than grow in the dark!” Gibbou pulled away and smiled. ”How’s that?”

Oraelia gave a small smile. ”I’d like that.” Then she looked around her realm and sighed. ”Perhaps I shouldn’t leave it all alone. I think I need someone to answer my prayers for a time, make sure my realm is safe, don’t you think?” she turned back to Gibbou.

”Suppose so, huh. What did you have in mind?”

”Well… Let’s see.” Oraelia raised her hand and from a nearby yellow sunflower, something shimmered and grew. A lithe body began to form, with long skinny legs and arms. Golden hair ran down a button face, all the way to her feet. For indeed, the form took shape into a woman’s and the light around her formed into shimmering colors of the rainbow, faint but there. Set upon her torso, the light came together and formed flowers of gold that covered her chest, while leaving little to the imagination. Golden eyes, soft and sweet, looked down at Oraelia and Gibbou with a spark of intelligence as jewels wrapped through her air, weaved together by golden chains. When her form was complete, she bowed before them.
“Lady Oraelia, Lady Gibbou,” She said in a modulated tone. Her voice sounding pleasant to the ears. ”It’s so nice to meet you and to be of service to you, Lady Oraelia. I promise I will do my very best to uphold, and fix, your divine mandate.” she said, clasping her hands together as she looked round the realm. ”What a lovely place!” she exclaimed.

”Gibbou, this is Rhiona, the Caretaker. Another avatar of mine. She’ll do better than me.”

”Lady Oraelia, please, do not belittle yourself.” Rhiona crouched down in front of the two. ”It takes great strength to realize when you can’t do something alone.”

Gibbou let out a squeal and cupped her cheeks in her hands. ”Oh, she looks just like you! Hey-o, Rhio! You’ll do great!” She turned to Oraelia with a raised brow. ”So you intend for her to stay here, right?”

Oraelia nodded. ”Yeah. I shouldn’t leave her alone though, I’ve learned how hard it is.”

Gibbou looked around. ”Yeah, I could see this place getting some more life. Like horses or day bats.” She shrugged. ”I dunno, what you think?”

"She needs some companions I think. Ones who can be cherished and love in return. Would you like that Rhiona?" Oraelia asked with a small smile.

She nodded in return. "Oh would I! But don't fret my Lady. I shall create them in my own time after I explore this place some. For now I would advise you go with Lady Gibbou and heal. I shall visit you frequently. Please please don't exert yourself, you have made me quite capable." She said standing straighter but a sheepish look did cross her face and she coughed. "Horses might be nice though."

Oraelia giggled, and with a snap of her fingers horses of pure white erupted from the grass in herds like moving snow. Rhiona went wide eyed and squealed with glee before composing herself and bowing before the two gods. "I shall take my leave. Lady Gibbou, Lady Oraelia. I will see you soon." and with that, Rhiona flew off after the herd.

Oraelia couldn't help but laugh. "Oh I love her already."

”Your realm’s in good hands, I reckon,” Gibbou said sagely. ”Now, then, shall we bounce? We’ll put on some cocoa and play board games! There is this one called ‘shezz’ that I wanna try out. You game?”

"I wouldn't want anything else." Oraelia smiled.




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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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The Blood Reign I





“SHE DID WHAT?” Nalla boomed, leaning forward in her throne. The messenger before her cowered. Thunder boomed outside, reverberating the very stone as the rain fell down in thick sheets. Listening to the rain was oddly delightful, ushering her to a place when she was but a girl. Or, at least it had been.

“It’s true, T-Teperia has been... r-razed, Queen Nalla.”

The golden goblet she had been holding, was crushed, spilling the contents all over her hand.

She stood up, and the messenger kneeled.

“She burned Teperia to the ground? Why?” Nalla demanded.

“The l-light’s infestation was severe. They would not yield to your authority. As a show of force, Aurielle burned it to set an example.” The messenger replied, shaking.

Nalla came to a stop before him, raking a hand through his sandy colored hair. “She burned it to set an example, did she? Were they that unruly? Could they not see the greatness I had planned for them?” She paused, deep in thought. “Did she burn it in my name, or her own?”

“I-I-I do not k-know your grace. There was talk of Neiya, but I don’t k-know!”

“Neiya? Did she burn it for Neiya?” She dug her fingers further into the man’s head, and he let out a small whimper. “Tell me, have you ever felt Neiya’s love? Known her affection? Drowned in her ecstasy?”

He stiffened and began to squirm. “Y-Your grace p-please! Have merc-.”

She said the words, his body began to slump and Nalla removed his head from his shoulders.

“PARN!”

The Servant entered the room with haste, black robes billowing behind him.

“Yes my queen?” He asked, watching her pace back and forth, head in hand.

“She’s burned Teperia. Did I tell her to burn Teperia? Did I? I can’t recall that specific order. In fact, the only thing I remember saying was claim it. Use the heretics as an excuse, a justification for war. That city was a trading hub, and now, I’ll have to build something new to take its place.” She took a deep breath. “Perhaps I am overreacting? I won’t know until I speak to her, now, where is she?”

WIth a bemused look, Parn shrugged. “He might have known.”

Nalla turned her gaze to the servant and frowned. “Do not test me, Parn. I am in a foul mood.” She said, letting the head fall to the ground with a splat. She turned to go back to her throne but Parn spoke again.

“My Queen, before you sit down I do have some good news.”

She turned her head back to Parn and raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And what might that be?”

“We’ve succeeded with our little experiment, your grace.” He grinned.

Nalla’s eyes went wide. “Show me.”




Down into the very depths of her palace did Parn lead her. Past the many hallowed halls and closed doors, until they at last reached a room next to the newest editions of her ever expanding lower levels. Past the door she could heard the clinking of picks on stone. “In here.” Parn said, opening the door. She was greeted by a bloody sight.

It was a workers quarters, now devoid of any workers save one who was dead, his head cleanly removed and another who cowered in the corner like a whipped pup. His face was hidden by his long brown hair but there was blood on his hands.

“They found this grizzly scene a bit ago. Sent everyone else off. I only peeked in earlier, not wanting to, ah, provoke him.” Parn shifted uneasily.

“You didn’t want to be eaten, more like it.” Nalla scoffed. She then rolled her eyes and walked over to the man. “You’re not fooling anyone, get up and stop acting like a wretch.” she said, stopping in front of him.

He looked up with shocked blue eyes, that slowly stood up. His mouth and chin were coated in blood. Nalla looked him over, even peeled back his gums to reveal to the sharp pointy canines that resembled her own. “What’s your name.” she demanded.

“Karnic, your Grace.” he said in a smooth, but uneasy voice. Her crown compelled him to speak, even if he did not want to.

“Karnic, who did you kill?”
He glanced over at the body of the fallen man and grimaced. “Teft, the boss of our workforce.”

“And what compelled you to do such a thing?” She said sarcastically.

“There is a rumor spreading around, your grace. Kill a boss, take their spot.” he looked to the floor.

“And you believed such a rumor? I don’t know if I should call you stupid, or incredibly smart.” Nalla confessed.

Karnic was taken back by this and confusion spread out across his face. “Your grace?”

“Good work Parn and good work Karnic. Congratulations, you are now a vampire and newest member of my Blood Guard. Firsts things first, you should know that you will relive this memory from his perspective for the rest of your life. It might make you mad, but I have ways to circumnavigate this. Secondly and lastly, your ambition must die here. You are now more then a human could ever dream of, to obtain more would be to ask the gods and they are fickle. Stick with me, by loyal to me, and you will live well. This I promise. Now,” She placed a hand upon her cheek. “Do you accept?”

“Yes, your grace.” He said with a smile.

“Excellent. Parn! Bring us someone who’s expandable.”




Several more days passed, and under Nalla’s tutelage, Karnic settled in to his new life. Now, she just had to wait for more to be tempted by their ambition. A flock of vampires at her side was her newest goal, or it always had been, in a way. She needed those around her who were loyal without question, for their surivival rested within her. She could save them from their own damnation and build herself a guard, then an army… But no, raising vampires was no easy task after all.

For now, she had to stick to her other ideas.

Within the confines of her palace, there was a chamber used for training. It was there she watched her servants' children fight each other. Many were bruised and bloody. She took the idea from Acadia, but modified it to her own ends. The strongest children were to be trained how to be warriors, she even had an old man from Acadia teaching them. It was a wonderful sight really. They were growing efficient alright, but only time prevented them from being useful just yet. It would be several more years until they could be used.

She continued on her daily stroll, back down into the farthest depths, where Parn and his students worked. There were several rooms dedicated to them, for he had grown his attendants by dozens now. Her pots were still being made, but several other experiments were underway.

She opened the door to the room she wanted to see and was met with the smell of death. There were several pits crudely carved out in the floor, with wooden posts around them. Small whimpers and cries could be heard from them.

“Ah, Queen Nalla, you’ve arrived just in time.” Several of Parn’s lackeys bowed in respect to her, and the one who spoke was a younger woman with a crazed look in her eye. “We were just about to begin.”

“Go on Evanda.” Nalla mused, stepping to the railing. She peered down into the pit to see a half starved man. A criminal from Culodia.

A large bowl of a sickly black substance was brought forth, carried by two servants. They poured it down into the pit, covering the criminal in an instant. He began to scream as the goop, or demonic essence as it was called, began infusing with his body. As his flesh bulged and mutated, Nalla’s lips curled into a smile. Watching the man turn into a monster before her very own eyes, was a sight to behold. His screams became deeper, giving way to frantic roaring as it tried to jump up the pit. It failed, and several servants pulled out spears just in case.

“A success, your grace. However, we still do not know how to control them. Unlike their pure forms, these fusions always result in madness and without a steady supply of mana, they eat at the lifeforce of the host until they both die.” Evanda said, coming up on her side.

Nalla couldn’t take her eyes off it, as ideas spun in her head. “Perhaps they are not meant to be controlled? Next time we have a skirmish on our borders, I want to see if we can focus that aggression and rage upon my enemies.”

“Yes.” Evanda hissed with delight. “We will begin the preparations at once, your grace.”

“Have you tried this upon an iskrill yet?” Nalla said, turning to Evanda.

The woman shook her head. “It might result in losses your grace. If you are willing, we can try.”

“Try everything, I want results and weapons, Evanda.”

“As you wish, your Grace.” She cackled.




“She didn’t. SHE DIDN’T!” Nalla slammed her fists into the table, splintering the wood in half.

“Your Grace, plea-”

“WHO does she think she is! I told her to CONQUER! Conquer. Not burn, not raze, not pillage and not rape villages! I need that livestock intact!” Nalla fumed, around her, advisors cowered.
“She’s breeding resentment of me, of Nallan. Resentment turns to rebellion and the year is almost up. She’ll be gone and I’ll have to deal with this- this mess!” Nalla raged, further smashing the table with her fists.

“First it was Teperia! Now Bul’Gadin. What next?” Nalla breathed.

“My Queen, if I may. Is this not what you wanted? Did we not know the depths of the Sorceress would go to? We’ve heard the stories now.” Said Tensh, an advisor from Dressallos.

“Bah! The Sorceress must pay for the burning of Teperia. That city was useful and everyone in this room knows it.” Another advisor, an older man by the name of Ikol spat.

“It was home to heretics who worshipped a false deity, one they have consistently been unable to prove exists. We should have burned them long ago.” A younger man, one from that region spoke. Kres was his name.

The room then erupted into shouting on whether who was right and wrong. Sides were being drawn, one on the line of the Sorceress and those who accepted her actions and the other calling for her punishment. Nalla looked out over the balcony, the glow of torches illuminating her city. Her eyes were on the far horizon, expression one of malice.

The messenger still stood at the back of the room, standing tall.

Nalla spun around, and within an instant the room grew quiet again. She pointed her finger at the man and said, “You. Recall Commander Aurielle immediately, by my decree.” He gave a quick nod, and fled the room.

“The rest of you! Prepare for their arrival. My trust in her has thinned, and I do not want the bitch to bite the hand that feeds her.”




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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Zurajai
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Zurajai Unintentional Never-Poster

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All across the seafloor awoke the teeming excitement of the hunt.

Dozens of Akua had collected on the outskirts of the village, preparing their traps, harpoons, and nets. The village itself sat down in an undersea ravine, nestled comfortably in the tight confines of the enclosed rock crevasse. Above the ravine was the typical preparation point for supplies and equipment. It was on that rocky face, dotted with corals and colorful undersea flora, that the assembled hunters collected themselves. A shaman walked amongst them, offering prayers to the druidic gods for safety in the hunt and success in their ventures. Most of all, though, the hunters boasted.

“I will take the largest tuna, I think!”

“No, lolo, that can’t be; the whole school will be mine so there’ll be nothing left for you to catch!”

“Hah! Big shark gonna’ be mine for the taking and all you will look at your tunas with shame!”

“Pah! Young, unscarred soft-scale talk! I’m going to take a whole whale back to the village!”

To the uninitiated it might have seemed like a bunch of braggarts at their favoured art. In truth it was part of the ceremony. Young hunters, those newest to the group, needed these sorts of early-morning sessions. It got their hearts beating, challenged them to do their best, and most of all gave them the sense that the band wasn’t afraid. There were great horrors in the sea despite its teeming gifts and hunters faced the reality that they could potentially never return. The threat of sea serpents or deep drakes or even vrool seemed far less apparent when the older members of the group gladly boasted their success before it even was earned. Instead the attention was set to preparing their equipment, making sure knots were tight and coral points were sharpened. It was, all together, a far more productive use of time.

A blown conch echoed through the water, calling all attention to its low pitched hum. It was time.

Kapono Tama'Mano o'te'Ui-Ki'he, Ali’i of the village of Hohono, sounded the conch once more, the second blast symbolic of preparations complete. Setting the conch onto the fishhook at his belt, Kapono addressed his people in the Holy Vonu as was their sacred tradition. The Ali’i, chieftains of the Akua, were all well versed in Vonu by the kahuna, those shamans who spoke and prayed to the gods. Gentle currents emanated from Kapono as he intoned the rightly given call to the hunt. A shared prayer was given out, silent and kept to oneself, at the final word and the kahuna gave thanks to Klaarungraxus for his numerous gifts and bountiful seas.

The hunt was on.

Up the hunters swam, children and mothers kept below and well out of sight; it was ill omen to let them see their husband’s and father’s backs, after all. With that they ascended and swam outwards towards the reef, the skilled and aged hunters of the group directing the several dozen hunters on their path. The goal would be the large schooling fish, of course, but anything that could be caught, speared, or netted would be good enough to eat. The women would later leave Hohono later to gather from the crop-fields, prepping a full feast for when the men returned however many days later. With that the village of Hohono was separated, to be made whole once again by feasting and celebration.




”Hxowaii, choi xxii-wii tsompei h’aii xosa-he, j-wa t’ang cho-wei choo, ha?” whispered Mynt softly to his son.

”Ha!” responded the young lad, checking the final stretch for any weak links in the net. They shared the limited space on top of what could generously be called a raft - it consisted of eight palm trunks tightly bound together with vines, fiber and sinew, mud, dirt and clay stuffed in between the cracks to tighten it further. Still, it could barely hold the two of them, and Mynt had repeatedly warned his son off of standing up or crawling too quickly. Around closer to the shore were five more rafts like theirs, these in neither worse nor better shape than Mynt’s. It was clear that their raft wouldn’t allow them to catch too many, but if they were lucky, they could catch just enough to feed themselves -and- have a bit extra to trade for some delightful perfumes.

”Xosa, pah!” the son whispered enthusiastically. Mynt clicked his tongue approvingly and smacked his lips in anticipation as the pair rolled the net off the side of the raft and then proceeded to both lay down perpendicular to the raft’s length, their backs nearly touching the water. There, they waited.

Deep below the raft the hunting Akua watched. Most clung to rock and reef though some tread water freely. Their hunt had been going fairly well as evidenced by the fish hanging from their lines but now this trespasser was making things difficult. The school that had once been thick and thriving had parted ways, separated into more difficult to track streams that would regroup further afield. Not easy for Akua, that’s for certain.

“It’s the smell,” said one of the elder huntsmen, his dangerous looking twin-barbed lance held in a bored and disinterested position off to his side, “Fish don’t like it.”

A chorus of agreement rolled between several of the other elders followed by nods and ascensions by younger hunters, learning from their superiors and desiring more than anything to fit in. Kapono pondered this as he stared up, his cowry shell and sea-reed shoulder cape flowing around him in a surprisingly noble posture. As Ali’i of the village he had dealt with the night elves frequently; the village of Hohono abided and freely traded with the Pako’Ano tribes of the Mahina’Aina. The Mahina, the name the Akua dubbed the Night Elves with, were a friendly lot generally and so long as both sides paid homage to their respective traditions they got along just fine. Nevertheless, tempers sometimes flared.

“Ali’i, these are our waters. Why not tell them to go back to ground?”

Kapono turned and eyed the speaker, giving him the stink-eye enough to silence him quickly. It was a younger boy, fit and strong; he’d make a good warrior one day, of that Kapono had no doubt. Nevertheless, this was not his knowledge to speak on. Several of the elders grinned, flashing sharp white teeth as they saw the boy realize his err. Before he could apologize or offer recompense Kapono kicked off his rock and hurtled in front of him. An example had to be made. There was a dread silence as Kapono came to a stop before the boy, treading water before him imperiously. With middle finger pinned to thumb tightly, Kapono lifted his hand in front of the boy’s head and let loose the hurricane force of his finger.

*Thunk*

The boy, for all his muscles and power, flinched and winced at the impact. Before him Kapono floated, the mighty chief looking upon him with clear condemnation. To other races it might have seemed an utterly benign scene but to Akua, it was clear the boy had been censured. After a long moment of staring down at the boy the Ali’i broke eye contact and the young hunter bowed his head, offering a quiet apology. It was clear he took it well and for that he’d be given respect in future, perhaps even awarded the first cast of a harpoon when something big was found. Humility in defeat was a respectable quality.

“It is kapu to treat your neighbors poorly,” echoed Kapono, using his mastery of Vonu to double-speak in both his native tongue and the holy language of the deep. It carried his voice across the sea floor, bouncing and rippling like a tide, “They might live on ground but they are our neighbors and ohana. I will not hear talk of treating them poorly again. We walk on ground for meat and fruit, so they sail our waves and swim our seas. It is a good uncle who lets his nephews and nieces take what they need.”

“And I am a good uncle.”

With that Kapono rocketed upwards, his fins kicking only once; that would suffice. He reached the surface and popped up above, making sure to do so far enough away not to frighten. Having dealt with their kind often, Kapono kept his voice down as he called to them.

“Aroha, family. It is good to see you on the waves. Soft currents to you, brother and nephew. How goes your fishing?”

The son nearly lost composure and rolled off the raft before his father could stabilise him. The father clicked something to his son, ”Xxoch-la - jjoen xo-xo-t’haisa, ha?” and then sat up carefully, clicking his tongue invitingly at Kapono. He then covered his ears ever so slightly and spoke in a hushed, yet squeaky voice, “Arroha, kk’oppeng. To yah ssoft korrentss . Yah ha-ha too ssee, too, ha. Aot, uhm, out… Xii-wii, xii-wii - feeshin, ha?”

Kapono tread water before the surprised duo of nelves, staring with unblinking eyes towards the father as he collected the situation. The Ali’i of Hohono had some command of the Mahina though could not make all the noises required. It was to his relief then that the man showed he could speak Ku’Ano. Thick accent or no, Kapono smiled as he heard familiar words pass through the nelvish man’s lips.

“Ya-ya friend, fishing. But that’s with pole and hook, we hunting today,” he replied, lifting his bident from the water non threateningly. There was a moment of silence before Kapono lowered the bident and broached the subject, “So, friend, I must ask you; your fishing is a little uh… fragrant, brother. So, kk… kkoppeng, I have a proposal for you. You take your rafts towards shore, farther away from shoals, and I’ll bring you a big proper fish for you and yours. Nothing you could catch with your line, eh? You give me some of your shells you grab up from shore for a good trade. Howzat sound to ya?”

The night elf scrunched his nose and clicked his tongue through pursed lips. “Ha, neh, ova’ t’ere ssee . Pperson mahny, too mahny. Neh feesh,” he clapped the back of his right fist into his left palm to underline the statement’s importance. He pointed to the shoals with an intentionally shaky hand. “To shore k’o, one feesh k’et.” Then he patted himself loudly on the chest with a flat palm. “Here, may’pe more feesh k’et. Kk’oppeng safayss, uh, knows, one feesh not xoinah, enoff.”

Kapono frowned inwardly, staring back at the night elf man. It was clear he was willing to work with the Akua and for that Kapono felt indebted to do right by him, but the request for more fish was a frustrating one. One fish he could ensure he could catch; after all, he was an Ali’i, so for him it would be easy. But two? Three? Each new fish would weigh down his line and make his scent more apparent. Fingers rapped away at the top of the raft before an idea plunged into his mind. White, pearly, sharp teeth were revealed in a pleased smile.

“Okay, Kkoppeng. More fish, bigger fish. I give your people one propah fish an’ one real big one. Howzat? Feed you real good. We dealing?”

The night elf sucked pensively on a tooth. Next to him, his son let out a whine. ”Pah, chiakk-si rru-lao?” The father squeezed his foot reassuringly and turned back to Kapono with narrow eyes. “Offa’ ha-ha k’et, ru--... X’ow beeg we talkin’?”

“Shark,” was all Kapono said, a wry grin continuing to show itself broadly across his blue scaled visage. With his left hand reaching out far to the left and his harpoon thrust far to the right he indicated the length of his intended prey. It would be easy; all the killing often brought such creatures anyway. They were not so difficult to kill, no moreso than a large seabass or giant tuna, and they would be easy to find. A good sized shark could feed a village plus the teeth could be used for all sorts of things.

“Whatchu think, family?”

The nelf sounded impressed, sucking spit between his teeth and sticking out his lower lip. “Si-mak’, kk’oppeng, si-mak’. ‘Keh, we lushweh-- pattle bahck - yoo brink beeg feesh-beeg feesh. Two, hein?” He clapped the back of his hand again. “Yoo ssay two.”

“Yeh, yeh, friend,” responded Kapono quickly, waving the nelf towards the shore, “One fish, one shark, like I say. You get some things for me from shore and we make real trade. Shellfish, coconut, I don’t care. Just keep off the water while we’re out and you’ll get your share, ey kk…. kkoppeng? Good.”

Kapono grinned and waved before letting himself descend into the water. A huff of bubbles escaped his lips before her turned downwards and threw up a shaka towards the collected hunters. He would have a little less fish on his floor for the evening but who could set a price on peace and being neighborly? He spun with a swimple kick of his legs to face the other hunters who now stared up at him with bored amusement. It seemed that he had succeeded, at least, for the loud surface dwellers were awkwardly paddling back to shore.

“What’s the plan, lolo? Are we gonna’ peace the sharks to death, too?”

There was a shared laugh from among the band of hunters as Kapono simply smirked back, shaking his head. Always with jokes, as it was with Akua. Humor was essential to a good hunt, he had to admit. Keeping the party in good spirits meant they’d work together even better when the difficulty came. With that he adjusted his grip on his hunting spear and raised it up high, the universal symbol for the hunt beginning in earnest.


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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by King of Rats
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Sengoku ichizoku: The First Spark


The rain began to pour.

The two reshut stared each other down, their eyes locked beneath their masks, pure malice and hatred hidden beneath. Then one made the first move, his fist flung forward, launching a streak of magical energy towards their opponent, who dogged it with expert grace, performing a somersault to escape the reach of the deadly blast.

Their dance began, but it was not a dance of ceremony or joy, but one of death, each one utilized their acrobatics and martial arts to their advantage, creating bolts of fire and erupting the earth beneath them, their loose forms and stances allowing the mana to flow through them, or so they believed. The two were mages of the Reshut, trained in the deadly and often majestic arts of their clans. And all around them, a battle raged.

Two clans fought, bronze and iron blade clashed against one another, reef horses carried warriors effortlessly through the swamp and rocks of their homeland, allowing them to strike down those below them, archers rained down fire while crossbowmen loosed their deadly and effective bolts, trained Kre’Nasha crashed through enemy lines, their ever shifting forms creating a whirlwind of death and destruction, the multicoloured blood soaked into the mud and streams, staining them with the tragic dye even as the rain tried to wash it all away.

This battle had no name, the two sides cared not for one, they merely wished to end the other, but in time it would be given a name: the Saisho no hibana, the first spark. For the two clan daimyos did not realize it at the time, but this battle, the first of its scale and size within the isles, would spark the collapse of the fragile peace the Reshut clans held. The great clans would learn of this battle in time, but by then, it was too late to stop the collapse. Already clan alliances had been called, rivalries resurgent, and spheres of influence challenged, the era of peace was over.

The Sengoku ichizoku, the era of the warring clans, had begun.



Nearly a month after the spark.

Tategawa, Kinoshita Lands

A calm breeze blew.

Narikazu overlooked his great city from the balcony of his palace. The letter had arrived barely a week ago, but its contents would stretch out years in its consequences, maybe even beyond his own life? He could feel age slowly encompass him as he looked out at his city, the city he and his ancestors had built up, a shining beacon within the Isles. Now, it was threatened with war.

Alliances had been called, some clans upon the edges of the Kinoshita sphere had become embroiled in the conflicts closer to the center of the central isles, incursions from outsider clans, something the Daimyo could not just overlook, lest his rule be seen as weak. Yet, the Kinoshita were not truly fighters, they were builders and priests, they had known a period of great peace since their foundation, as he thought the Daimyo grew ever more worried of the future of his clan.

The Hashimoto were sure to take advantage of this new state, already their nature of being disconnected from the main isles aided them, but with the chaos unfurling, they were sure to cement their stronghold. And what of the Ohta? They would surely play off multiple sides, buying and selling weapons and arms, protecting trade routes with their horrid vroolish allies. No, he could not allow them to grow, the Kinoshita needed to respond full force, to show that they were not just going to let the reef jackals descend upon them.

“Takemoto!” He shouted. The sounds of rushing footsteps were heard behind him, until the paper door to the balcony was opened, with Takemoto, his eldest son standing there. The prince was already wearing his armor and wielded his blade, when he had gotten word of the letter, he was the first to encourage a response of might.

“Summon the Generals, and inform the couriers to send messages to every lord, they must gather their armies with the winds of Kalaru,” Narikazu spoke, quickly turning to his son. “The Kinoshita are going to war.”

Takemoto bowed deeply “Of course father.” was all he spoke before exiting, closing the door behind him. Leaving the aging daimyo all alone once more.

Narikazu looked to the sky, a thousand doubts and worries entering into his mind. But this was no time for that. He had chosen, and history would remember him as such.




Okumaki, Hashimoto Lands

The Hashimoto prepared for war.

Forges roared with searing fire, weapons of war were crafted as quickly as they could be, Soldiers trained in large fields on foot or upon the great Reef Horses, the mighty Kre’Nasha were trained to fight against armoured opponents, food was stockpiled and even the common reshut could feel the tense feeling rising in the air.

Hashimoto Korekatsu knelt upon his cushioned throne, a massive table with a detailed map of the isles stood in front of him, and all along its length sat both his generals and some of his sons, eagerly debating and discussing strategies and preparations.

The rising tide of war had not skipped over the Hashimoto, they were skilled and well known masters of the blade, but even they could not stop war from reaching their shores, though they were sure to accept it. The central war would not affect them currently, it appeared merely to be alliances of minor clans, and possibly the Kinoshita, but that did not mean other clans had not become emboldened.

Several minor clans beyond Hashimoto rule had gathered together into an alliance and sought to dislodge the great clan from its holdings. They called themselves the “Grey Mask Alliance”, a name that made Korekatsu’s blood boil, for all it reminded him of were those heinous Red Mask bandits that he had spent so long crushing, now it seemed another group needed to be crushed underneath his boot.

“My lord?” The voice brought him out of his thoughts, he jerked his head upward, seeing the faces of all those in front of him staring directly at them. The one who had spoken was Katakura Terumasa, a skilled general who had served alongside the Daimyo in the wars against the Red Masks.

“Yes, what is it?” The Daimyo replied, looking upon the map to see if anything had been changed while his mind had drifted, gods he was getting old.

“We believe we have all come to a decision.” The general gestured to the map, where several yellow pieces had been laid out and their movements marked in regards to grey pieces, representing the two forces. It was a simple plan, utilizing Hashimoto’s natural skill at the blade and martial combat to press the main force of the Grey Masks, while having smaller forces flank and try to mop up some of the seemingly more weaker clans. Simple, but effective.

“I see, is there anything more then?” The Daimyo asked.

“There is...one more thing,” The general’s voice wavered a slight moment before continuing “Who shall lead the main force?”

The question was as well entirely simple, but it spoke magnitudes. Traditionally the Daimyo led the main force, but, in asking this question, the General, and all around him, expressed their concern, and more importantly, their doubt, in his age and abilities to lead. This made Korekatsu’s blood boil even further, the, arrogance of his old friend asking this!

“The answer is simple!” He fiercely responded, making his sons close to him drop their heads to avoid eye contact. “I! Shall be leading the main force to crush these insolent fools! I! am the Daimyo of this clan, unless you all have forgotten that!” His piercing gaze shot around the table, forcing even Terumasa to lower his head in shame.

No voice spoke up to disagree.

“Very well then,” He continued, the fire in his voice still not subsided. “Gather your forces and ready yourself, we shall march within a week!” With that, he waved his hand, the generals and his sons rose, scattering off into the wind to gather their forces. Leaving the Daimyo to simmer by himself. Such arrogance, such disrespect. He would be sure to show all of them, the glory of the Hashimoto was not over.




Enkoshi, Ohta Lands

A Daimyo was dying.

Ohta Yasukuni laid upon his bed, he wore the great garb of his clan, and his mask had been removed, so all could see his face. Around him stood his family, his wife and many children, beyond them he knew the doctors stood nearby, in case anything happened, but Yasukuni knew they would not be needed, he could feel death coming for him, and it would come lightly.

For all his works crafting trade and deals throughout the isles, he could not have avoided old age, and he knew this. His will had been crafted, his eldest son, Ohta Tokihiro, would become Daimyo of the Ohta, and at no greater of a time. Their vassals had not become involved in the great conflict in the central lands, but Yasukuni knew it would come to them regardless, no matter how much the Ohta tried to stay neutral, they would inevitably need to fight.

“Tokihiro” The old daimyo rasped out, his voice growing hoarse and distant.

In an instant his son, who was already standing by his father’s side, leaned in close, softly grasping the daimyo's hand. “What is it father?”

“Dire times are coming my child, the drums of war call in the distant, and I fear we can not avoid them this time, you must prepare yourself, steel your soul, gather your forces and generals, and be ready to fight for our clan. But...my child, please promise me this one thing.”

“Anything father.”

“Let not Ohta, Hashimoto, or Kinoshita strike another down, let not the rivalries of the great clans tear them apart, for if we allow such anger and rivalries take hold, we shall never end this growing tide of war, and we shall all falter. Use the connections I have built, I know you do not like the other clans, but we can not allow our isles to become one of rivalry and hate, please, promise me this.”

The prince nodded, his eyes tearing up ever so slightly. “Yes my father, I will not disappoint you.”

The daimyo nodded, gently squeezing his son’s hand, he slowly looked upwards, before softly closing his eyes, his breathing swallowed, until it fell silent. Tokihiro rose, now Daimyo of the great clan of the Ohta, tears welling up behind his mask, but he could not allow himself to cry. He raised to his full height, and quickly exited the room, he summoned courtiers to begin preparations for conflict, to summon generals and lords, and most importantly, to get him some quill and ink.

While he had to first ensure the Ohta would not falter, he had letters to write. He had made a promise to his father, and he would not let the Great clans rip themselves asunder in their anger. Yet he knew, it would not be simple.


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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Soleira was drenched in sweat as she watched the sun get low on the horizon. Next to her stood a large stone, half-way carved in the shape of a heart. Dust and gravel laid around it. In her hands she held a sharpened rock. It was getting blunt now though. Soon she’d have to replace it. Below she could see the gentle tendrils of white smoke rise from cooking fires. The village had grown significantly in the past few years. Perhaps because it was one of the safer places in the Luminant. With the aid of the animals and the wingless ones, most of Soleira’s siblings were kept out. Neiyari and Oraeliari alike. Though the later siblings were mostly kept out due to superstition and Soleira was too afraid to face them still. Nonetheless, she had created a nice and peaceful corner in this colorful land. Probably mostly because her siblings didn’t care for this place. They cared about the white dome, the black tower and the great, healing lake.

“You’ve been hard at work.” A voice coming from behind her said.

The four-winged angel rose up to face the elder wingless one and smiled. “It’s a gift. To a goddess. I hope she’ll like it.”

The elder rested a hand on the unfinished statue. “It will be big.” She noted. “How long have you been working on it now?”

“A few moments every day for a week. Don’t worry, I haven’t shirked my duties.” Soleira said as she followed the elderly lady who walked around the stone. “The animals are still our friends and the land is still full of colorful plants.”

“Oh dear, the last thing I would be afraid of is you shirking your duties.” The elder said. “You should rest, child. Your Oraeliara wouldn’t mind, I am sure. You’ve slaved so hard for the land already. Everyone needs a minute to sit down.”

“Thank you, but I rest plenty when I sleep. I’ll rest more when I’m older. Right now there’s too much to do.” Now Soleira touched the stone. “Even this… sometimes feels like a waste of valuable time.” She knew it not to be true. The statue had to be finished. It had to be. It would be the only way she could talk to her. Nonetheless, deep inside she did feel a yearning for a slower day. So she could just lay down in the soft grass, listen to the breeze and feel the warm sun on her skin. But rest was for the old. She hadn’t deserved it yet.

A year later the stone was finally finished. It was shaped in the form of a heart and while it wasn’t very polished or expertly crafted, it was still very big. Soleira had watched it for three straight days now. Every time she was about to kneel down and pray, she felt doubt creep up along her spine. Would it be enough? Would Neiyara like it? Those were questions she couldn’t find an answer to. But on the mid-afternoon of the fourth day she forced herself on her knees in front of the stone. She clasped her hands together, closed her eyes and prepared to say her prayer.

But she stopped. What if Neiyara would harm her? Her people did. She swallowed deeply. There was only one thing she could do: “Father.” She whispered as she bowed her head. “I don’t know if you can hear this. I don’t know if you… even care. I would understand if you don’t. There’s so much happening in the world. But just… if you happen to hear this. I-I might be… I’m scared. But I know I have to do it. I know I have to pray to her. It’s just. If you have the time and the energy, please. Please I’m begging you, I could really use someone right now.”

She released a deep sigh after her prayer. Letting all doubt and fear flow out of her heart. There was not much more she could do. Fate shouldn’t be kept waiting. So after the deep sigh she clasped her hands together again, lowered her head and closed her eyes. “Neiyara. I pray to you now. I know I’m an Oraeliari but I really, really hope you can find a moment to talk to me.”

A deep silence seemed to overtake the world around her for just a moment, before the air itself began to feel humid and cloying. A sighed breath sounded in her head, and felt as though it brushed against her ear. A gentle pressure dug into her mind, a dulling sensation that made focusing on her surroundings harder. "An errant child seeking solace, a warm-hearted woman returning to the fold. How could I refuse? I am here for you, my sweet, so sing your worries that I may soothe you." a sultry voice rang out in her mind.

Soleira swallowed deeply. Fear crept up her spine. Something inside of her wanted her to just stop the prayer and fly away. But right now she couldn’t run. She shouldn’t! The breath of the goddess sent down another shiver through her. Her heart felt small and meek but she persevered. Even though she felt her own senses pulling back from the world she loved so much. That she embraced completely. With her eyes closed and her wings folding over her as to form a protective shield. This would be a fight of her heart. “T-Thank you.” She managed to stammer out. “For listening to me. I-I made a statue for you. I hope you like it.” Now came the hard part. “I… worry about you, goddess.” She hoped that did not appear offensive.

"A statue hewn from stone, yet unique in every way. I love it, my dear. None other is quite like it," the voice returned, inviting and soft. "Not many have the heart to worry for others, let alone their creator. Why do you worry for me, my one and only?"

“I-I think you’re hurting.” Soleira said. “As the goddess of love, I think you are in a way also the goddess of heartbreak. And I think you are carrying a lot of pain.” And then her bravery slipped. With the words said, it fled her. Her body began to shiver in response to the goddess’ presence. She would get hurt. Maybe she deserved it, for daring to speak up against a goddess the way she did. Whatever happened next, she couldn’t bear to see it coming. So she squeezed her eyes completely shut.

A long silence followed. Due to the strange sensation in the air, and the pressing intent in the back of her head, she knew she was still watched, yet for the longest time the goddess did not speak. When words once more flowed from within her own mind, there was an edge that had not been there before. A veiled temper hinted beneath the sugary tone. "How sweet of you to think of me, my dearest. And what would you do with such thoughts? Have you come to heal a goddess? Do what no one else has thought to do? Perhaps, what no one else can do?”

“N-No.” Soleira meekly admitted. She had gone over this a thousand times as she was carving the rock. Who was she? A mere mortal. What could she do to really help a goddess? She was alone amongst the billions of mortals on the planet. “No I don’t think-“ She stopped and swallowed deeply. “I don’t think I can, goddess. I’m just a mortal. You’re a goddess. I don’t think I could ever heal you. I don’t think I could even come close.” She was just little Soleira. The same little Soleira that had talked to the goddess of life and light. “But-“ There was a weak sense of defiance in her. “I was just thinking, no… hoping, that there would be something small I can do. Something to maybe help ease the pain just a little bit.”

A quiet tut followed, and Soleira felt something run up gently between her collarbones, a set of invisible fingers dragging up her skin and dipping up to slide under her chin. A caress turned into a gentle push to lift her chin. "Oh, you long to help others, don't you? Even someone you cannot see, far above your station. So you carved a stone to appease the unknown. Come out of your shell, my one and only. Stand proud for what you've done." the voice continued, and the pressure under her chin increased as though someone was pulling her to stand.

Soleira understood, and slowly rose up from her knees. But she wouldn’t lie. “I-It’s not pride, goddess. Please. I just want to help.” Did she overreach? Was this too much? Her wings stretched themselves out as that little voice in the back of her head told her to run. To fly and flee as far as she could. Away from this place.

"How will you help me?” the voice asked inquisitively as the pressure under her chin vanished. A gentle breeze rolled past, tousling her hair gingerly like fingers rustling through it affectionately. "I’ll hear your every desire, my darling sweet.”

“I-I don’t know.” She was hoping the goddess would. Love meant nothing if there was no pain. That was something she learned some time ago. If she hadn’t cried when the old, grey wolf died, what kind of friendship would they have in the first place. But at the same time, that love should always conquer pain. It should always end well. But how could she ever assure such an outcome? “I can only ask. So I’m asking: what can I do to ease your pain? Even for just a little bit?”

A breath skirted past her ear softly, brushing against skin, though there was no one present to do so. "My beautiful darling, your presence on the world is enough to soothe a thousand hearts. Yet mine longs for more than words,” the voice murmured, a conspiratorial, low tone. A strange sensation ran over her form, like many hands stealing touches, sending ripples over her skin. The wind appeared to pick up around her, leaves and dirt whipping up in a wide torrent centered around her and the stone. "I accept your gift, Soleira, yet my pain is not a simple one. Not like wolves, or squirrels, or birds. You can ease it, my sweet. All you need to do is want it. Will you help a weary soul?” As the voice resounded in her mind, the ground itself appeared to tremble and rumble ever so slightly, though her footing was steady as ever.

Soleira felt some sort of force mounting around her. The influence of Neiyara, she assumed. The goddess’ sweet words touched the four-winged angel deeply. “Yes, I will.” She said with some more confidence in her heart. “But-“ And it fled again. Was she even in the position to make a request? She had to. For the good of all. She had to. “But I feel like I must say something first. So it was said. So it is known. If I am to sooth the pain of others, I don’t want to sooth all of it. Nor do I want to sooth it immediately after they experienced it. Love…would be meaningless if without pain.”

"You have more wisdom than you know, my dearest.” the voice asserted with a sensual sigh that seemed to brush against Soleira’s cheek. Yet around her, the wind picked up to a whipping howl, and the world beyond the torrent began to vanish between a whirl of leaves and debris. The rumble grew in intensity and sound, until the ground beneath her feet actually began to quake. At first the stone carved for the goddess shifted ever so slightly, an uneasy tilt as though it stood unevenly. The reason quickly became apparent; beneath it expanded a yawning tear in the world itself, replacing the ground with an ephemeral shimmer. It grew and grew, eating the ground before Soleira until it spanned beyond the confines of the stone on each side. Like it weighed down on reality itself, the stone shifted uneasily and began to sink into the tear, vanishing from sight. Glimpses of another land flashed between stone and shimmer - pink flowers, the sound of a river somehow overpowering the sound of the wind. A structure, perhaps? "Will you ease my pain, child? Come to me.”

Soleira was about to take a step, when suddenly a pressure began to mount around her. Neiyara’s presence was joined by another. The air grew thick and heavy. She felt energy all around her pulse and rage. “Hold.” She heard from a voice she’d never heard before, but she did as she was told. From then on, whatever entity or presence that had joined her no longer spoke in mortal words. It spoke in pressure and weight. In a language Soleira could feel but not comprehend. But to the goddess, the presence would be familiar. A sibling, who chose not to speak with mortal tongues. The message of the presence was simple: ‘The Angel is to remain on Galbar.’

The world trembled as the stone fell through entirely, growing smaller and gently setting down far below beside a pavilion of marble and wood. It seemed miniscule, far below in the hole in reality. At the angle, Soleira could only barely see movement within, legs shifting position before being hidden by the roof. "I long for your aid. Your opportunity will not last long, my sweet. Come to me. Heal me.” Invisible fingers seemed to clasp around her waist, and tug at her gently. A strange ripple of emotion coursed up through her waist, warm and fulfilling yet yearning. An itch for more, to feel good and see the goddess smile. To soothe the heart of perhaps the most hurt of all. The sensation crashed over her like a wave from the ocean, shooting a longing into her heart that she knew was not her own but still couldn’t help but listen to. How good it would be to help a goddess. Perhaps there would be peace. Perhaps all would settle. It would be so easy to step into the hole and go to the pavilion. To give in, and be the healer she wanted to be.

“She needs me.” Soleira muttered, as she reached out and took another step. The pressure around her quaked. Stone began to crack. To the divine the message was simple: ‘No!’ The presence would not let Soleira go. Around her the very same type of barrier that she herself could conjure appeared. Locking her into a bubble. The second she realized what was happening, she began to bang on the blue, crystal-like substance. “She needs me! Let me go! I can help her! Let me go!” With her fists she banged against the barrier. She didn’t even stop when her knuckles began to bleed; “I can help her!” She kept screaming. With everyone hit on the barrier, the pressure in the area mounted. Waves of energy were released from it. Once more only understandable by the divine: ’Sister! Release her from your hold. She is not yours to take!’

The pressure continued to mount, energy coiling into the sky and mingling with the whipping whirlwind around her. The need grew with each moment, until the tear in reality began to ripple uneasily and the pavilion began to fade from view. The wound in the world did not close so much as it evaporated, leaving behind only ground where once a mighty carved stone had stood. With the closing of the window into another world, the sensation and need to join the goddess began to ebb away - a mere flight of fancy, leaving only confusion and fatigue.

When the tear faded away, so too did the bubble holding Soleira. The second presence’s pressure vanished in an instant as well. Soleira’s body felt stiff and ached. As if she had just run half a day. With the bubble gone, she collapsed on her knees. “W-What just happened..?” She asked out loud as she watched the ground. Her mind could barely process it. The alien feelings, instilled by the goddess, were fleeing her mind. But she still felt a lingering sensation. Was it… anger? Anger because someone had held her back. “I.. should’ve helped her.” She muttered out loud, realizing she had failed and tears welled up.

The whirlwind remained around her however, decreased in strength but still present. "I'm disappointed, Soleira," the voice began anew, sullen and bitter. "To entice a goddess so, yet give her nothing but words and tribute. Your gift will serve as a bittersweet reminder of a promise unfulfilled." The winds picked up and the pressure in the back of her head increased alongside it. "I mark you now, with the same sorrow I see, so that you may forever know the futility of your actions." At that, the whirlwind paused for a brief moment before turning inwards and surging towards Soleira's heart.

“I-I’m sorry! I just-“ Her words were smothered by the whirlwind racing towards her heart. She doubled over. Tears kept streaming off her cheeks. She forced open her eyes, only to see herself coated in some sort of deep blue mist. Sadness grew to bitterness in her heart as she looked upwards. “I hate you!” She screamed. Not at Neiya. No the hate and sorrow boiling over in her heart were directed to the strange entity that had stopped her. That had blocked her from fulfilling her destiny. “I hate you! I should’ve helped her! I-I was born for that! Why did you stop me! Why?!” She screamed upwards towards the skies.

A last breathed sigh brushed against her ear, ran like a gust of wind through her hair, and finally vanished into the ether. With it, the whirlwind subsided and calmed. The air grew quiet at once, the cloying and heavy feeling lifting away. Likewise, the pressure at the back of her head slowly wore away until nothing remained to push upon her mind. Leaves, grass and pebbles fell to the ground. The goddess was gone.





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A single light walked along the path. It was a path less travelled these times. Many outright avoided it. The farmers’ fields stopped some time ago. Wild grasses and flowers were already blossoming amongst the untouched plains. Mixed amongst the abandoned wheat. Wilderness was already slowly reclaiming the path as well. Few ventured so close to the husk of Teperia. Ever since it was razed to the ground some six months ago. Some said it was haunted. That you could still hear the screams of the death and dying. Some said that you could still see the orange glow above the city’s wall at night. As if it was still burning.

Beozaar had no time for such tales. The many scars on his body each told a tale. The ones on his back told a tale of the Gardens. His far off home. The one on his wrist told the tale of Nallan, where he was imprisoned. The burned skin on his cheek though, that marked his presence in Teperia on that fateful day. The power he had witnessed there. It was awe inspiring. His entire life he felt as if he was drifting away from the Gardens. Now he realized some greater entity, perhaps a god, had guided him towards Auriëlle. The Prophet. The Witch of Fire.

As he approached the quiet walls of Teperia, he looked up. Somehow the stars looked a little darker tonight. The purple moon looked pale and pink and far away. A chill wind blew through the still broken gate. It was beckoning him, he knew it. Without doubt or reservations he walked inside. The city had changed. Some of the ash had turned white like snow.

A cloaked figure approached him. She too wielded a torch but kept most of her face hidden under a hood. Still, Beozaar could see her smirk. “I didn’t think you would show up.” She said.

“How could I miss it?” Beozaar responded. The woman turned around and he followed her. “How many more came?”

“Most who were at Bul’Gadin answered the call. Some decided to remain with Auriëlle. They see it as an honor.” The woman said as she made her way through a path that wasn’t entirely hidden but wasn’t obvious to find. You had to know where to step. This was how it was with the cult. “Most are nervous though.” The woman continued. “I think they know what you’ll ask of them.” She stopped and turned around. Even though she was smaller than him, he could feel her presence bearing down on him. “It’s their home, Beozaar. I know you hate yours but they don’t hate theirs. We can wait. We could-“

“Stop.” His voice was soft, almost caring. It instantly silenced the woman. “You have seen what I have seen, Esira. And you felt what I felt as well.” But he knew why she was so apprehensive. Nallan took her in. Made her the woman she was now. Not some chieftain’s wife but a woman of her own rights. He hugged her tightly and she returned it with the same affection. “I promise you, it’s for the better.”

Esira pressed her lips together as she fought the tears welling up in her eyes. Eventually though, she had to let go. “Come. The rest are waiting.”

After a few more minutes of walking, Esira and Beozaar arrived at the campfire. Around it sat many cloaked figures. Casting long shadows on the half-ruined buildings around them. They had made their camp on the plaza in front of the broken temple of the Light. Stones from the ruined altar, still brown and black from the blood, surrounded the fire. Some mumbled their greetings, others only had eye for the flames.

“Friends.” Beozaar greeted them. His voice was still gentle but louder. The murmur vanished. “Thank you, all of you, for coming.” His eyes went over everyone around the fire. He knew most of them by name at least. “I’ve called you here because we must confront two issues. The first is a matter of home and hearth. Nallan.” He began to walk around the fire. “It’s the city the Prophetessswore herself to. You know this. But it creates a problem for the inevitable end of this world. The Prophetesscannot lay low Nallan. So we must do it.” People began to look at eachother, but didn’t dare utter a word. “Brothers, sisters. What I’m asking here is no easy task. I know this.” He stopped and the people around him made way for him to sit. “We cannot destroy Nallan like we destroyed Teperia and Bul’Gadin. What we need to be is poison. Have the kingdom in the palm of our hands, ready to kill it.” When he fell silent, the first whispers began to travel amongst the group. Beozaar let them for a while. He shared a smile with Esira, before he ushered them all to calm down again.

“We must also look beyond the borders of Nallan. This world is doomed. We know it. The Prophetess told us. But we must prepare for its inevitability. When Galbar burns, it must burn bright and swiftly. So it is ready for the next world. To that end, we must prepare it. Our first goal, our first target, is the ancient city of Ketrefa. The crown jewel of our lands. The Prophetess will travel in that direction when she is released from her duty in a few days. Esiré-“ He motioned at her. “-will lead the warband that follows her.”

“Now you must chose. I have one last warning. If you chose to aid me in preparing Nallan, know that you’ll one day be hunted. Your friends, your queen, they will all hate you. The Prophetess herself will no doubt come and deliver your death. This is if we can witness the end of this world in our life. If we don’t, know that your duty will not stop with you. You remain with me and you will sacrifice your very bloodline. Your children and their children’s children will have to follow your path. Remain with me only if you are absolute in your conviction. Because if you aren’t, I swear to you that I will erase your existence. The other choice is to follow Esiré. She will follow Auriëlle and work as a mercenary. You will never return to Nallan, but you will see what this world has to offer and prepare it for the End. Chose now.”

More than two third of the people present rose and walked over to Esiré. Beozaar locked eyes with every man and woman who remained around the fire. In each he saw the right thing: total conviction. He let out a grunt and a nod in thanks. Esiré left with her people.

“So..” one who remained said. “Where do we start?”

Beozaar grinned. “We start… by becoming model citizens.”



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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by DracoLunaris
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DracoLunaris Multiverse tourist

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Qael’Naath floated in front of Artifex’ portal. He hadn’t met the god yet. Not in person. But his generosity at Sancta Civitas did not go by unnoticed. However, right now he did not come to thank the god but instead ask for another favor. The designs were clear but the god of magic knew he could not succeed at the challenge himself. His pride had been swallowed some time ago, yet it still felt odd to approach a god and just outright ask for their help. None the less, there was no other choice. The second he passed through the portal, he was dropped within a vast metropolis. Thousands of insects were skittering around. “Brother?” Qael’Naath yelled out. “Are you here?”

The scurrying bugs paused their journeys for just a moment, before one, a coin sized ruby colored beetle, left the pack and began to fly towards the god while the others resumed their task. Rather than strike up a conversion the beetle ignored any attempts at communication and ended up flying past Qael’Naath out into antiquity before landing on a post sitting outside the door.

It crawled down onto an odd metallic contraption attached to the post and pressed down a button on it. A loud, rather obnoxious buzzing sound emanated from the machine while the button was downpressed. After two seconds the beetle moved off the button, ending the buzz, and took flight to go back into the portal to get back to work.

An awkward silence prevailed until the device, an intercom, crackled and Artifex’s voice could suddenly be heard coming from it, ”Greetings. You have reached Artifex, god of construction and civilization, what can I do for you?” it began before being cut off by a commotion. A few seconds later Artifex’s voice came again, though this time it sounded far more real than the thin, to a god, mimicry the now tossed aside autoresponder had been using

”Hello? Sorry for the delay. I was a touch preoccupied and frankly I’d completely forgotten I set this up. Gibbou certainly didn’t use it. Anyway, to whom do I owe the pleasure of this surprise visitation?”

“Qael’Naath. God of Magic.” The floating, six-eyed entity announced himself. “Apologies, I didn’t know there was a…” He looked momentarily through the portal at the object the beetle had rested upon. “...thing.” He pulled back through the portal. “I’ve… come to ask for help with something, brother. Something I think only you can help me with. Could you spare me a second?”

”Oh so that’s your name is! I take it the whole nameless god thing is for mortals only then? Well your secret’s safe with me I can assure you. It’s a delight to have you here Quael’Naath, and don’t worry about the buzzer, my fault for just assuming everyone would know what it was I suppose. Just bear with me and I’ll be down with you in just a moment.” Artifex replied

Not a second later a door opened in the building just next to the entryway, revealing a smartly dressed goblin standing in a small warmly lit elevator. He was wearing a blue coat adorned with decorations made of golden, starch white trousers and a pair of riding boots, as well as a bicorne hat sat atop his head. He was also wearing a glass butterfly across his eyes, but this was quickly removed, causing the ambient sound coming front he intercom system to cut out as the artificial insect fluttered up to sit on his hat.

”Now then, whatever is it I can help you with?” Artifex asked, before vaguely indicating to the small room he was in an explaining ”Oh and this is an elevator. It will take us down to my workshop.”

Qael let slip a little smile. “I don’t need worship.” He said. “The less the mortals know of me, the better. I thank you, for taking my desires into consideration.” When the goblin appeared, he was somewhat surprised. Wasn’t Artifex the creator of Sancta Civitas? The bug city? Yet there was no mistake to it, the figure before him was of his brother. Maybe a part of him? “Oh.” The surprise was audible in his voice. “I did not… it doesn’t matter.” He shook his head, before opening his palm and conjuring a light construct of Galbar. “Right now they are on the brink of discovering a whole new world. The first of the spells crafted by my own hand has already been connected with. But I want to offer them something more. A challenge. My… dreadful sister saw fit to trick the mortals into believing they were not the first. I would build upon this.” Several sites upon the globe lit up, marking the ancient ruins Qull had placed. Then the light construct shattered before reconstructing itself to show a barren, desert land with windswept ruins in the middle of it. “A challenge for the mortals but I found myself at the end of my creativity. The construction of buildings, temples, tombs and other complexes were never my strength. Would you help me, brother?”

As Qull described his plan the elevator lurched and began to travel downwards, while Artifex looked upon Qael’s plans and listened to his words with interest, ”Trick them into thinking they were not the first? What an odd ruse,” he commented upon the newly placed ruins, regarding the whole thing with light curiosity until the final and key point of the desire for artifex’s aid in constructing the ruins was brought up, causing Artifex’s eyes to light up with interest.

”Oh you have certainly come to the right god for this my friend, and what a unique piece of work too” he said with unhidden excitement as the elevator came to a stop and the doors popped open ”I really could do with something constructive at the moment, so this really is perfect”

Artifex stepped out of the elevator into his workshop, a large room whose walls, floor and furnishings were made from brass, softly glowing white crystal and black marble. Multiple workbenches covered with tools and boards with schematics on them littered the room. There was also a hat rack, onto which the small god placed his bicorn before sleeping clear from Qael and promptly exploding into a swarm of insects. More bugs suddenly streamed in from various entryways into the room, most notably the glowing portal leading to MUSE and joined the swarm which within moments tripled in size and then hardened into the towering black carapaced insectile shape that was Artifex’s construction form. ”ahhh” the god stretched his four limbs before summoning a slate, hammer and chisel and re-addressing Qael ”now then, tell me a bit more about what you want built”

Qael did not comment on Artifex as they traveled down in the strange contraption. The god of magic had always been intrigued by the mechanical world. It appeared to his orderly brain. Every cog and gear had its function. When they stopped and his brother confessed his excitement, the god of magic let a small smile slip. He followed the goblin-god into the workshop. It was an impressive place. Even to a god. Qael’Naath was, for a moment, distracted by the endless designs laying about. Four of his eyes darted over the plans. While the other two remained firmly in control of the Winds of Magic on Galbar.

Then Artifex exploded. Qael’Naath let out a yelp of surprise. On Galbar his avatar momentarily quacked before he regained his composure. Luckily, Artifex’ bug-shape soon appeared. Qael let out a sigh of relief. Yes, he was with his bug-brother of Sancta Civitas. This was good. “Well, the great designs are clear after it’s purpose and goals but not so much towards its final appearance.” Once more he outstretched his hand and light formed above it. “It would be a place built under ancient places, like the northern city of Ketrefa or near the Sun-lit temple of the plains. I’ve already found the suitable locations. These Labyrinths would take the shape of various underground complexes.“ The light in Qael’s hand took shape as tunnels were seemingly melting through the earth and forming something akin to a squat, underground pyramid at first. “I want these Labyrinths to act as tests. Not just of might and strength but also knowledge, insight, understanding. I had envisioned rooms filled with demonic creatures. I already have plans to let them be summoned. Yamat was a great aid in this. But other rooms are necessary as well.” The light in his palm shifted, showing the various rooms he was now talking about. “Rooms that are tests of agility. Filled with dangerous traps. Chambers that test one’s knowledge and understanding of magic. Halls that test one’s wisdom and ability to solve complex problems. Puzzle-chambers, arena’s, corridors blocked by vault-doors, contraptions and demon-summoning gardens. These are just ideas, to speak the truth. My mind can formulate the words but fails to give them a concrete…mortal shape. But they are simply tests. A means to filter out those unworthy of the main prize.” The light reshaped itself into the underground pyramidal structure. The underground paths and stairs began to converge again. Until they all reached a central point, which then lit up. The light collapsed in on itself as the light of the central chamber grew. Eventually showing an empty room, whose walls were carved with all manner of strange glyphs and schematics. “This is the treasure of the Labyrinth. Knowledge of the God-Forged spells. A key to greater magical prowess.”

”Very interesting. Tests. Puzzles. Trials with rewards. All disguised as remnants of a false past,” Artifex said as he mused upon the project, before saying ”You are right, words are nothing compared to the physical. I’ll start preparing some ground immediately for a place we can make prototypes.”
The god wandered over to a shelf and picked up a small globe representing the City Planet that made up most of his realm and began carefully designating areas upon it that the ruins could be built. Far above them billions of insects began building another floor above the replicas of the cities Quel had mentioned, where they would be replicated anew a top whatever labyrinths the pair concocted.

”While that get started,” Artifex said as the new construction works began to appear on the globe, ”why don't we have a look at the ones Qull has already made so i can get a feel for the aesthetics, while you tell me a bit more about why you want to put these obstacles and tests in the way of mortals gaining this knowledge you have made. I’m not complaining or deriding the idea, I assure you, I am simply curious.”

As Artifex asked this he acquired a large crystal ball from another shelf with his other set of hands and placed it on the table. With a tap of his finger the image of Galbar appeared within, ”This is one of MUSE’s wandering eyes. Normally it keeps an eye on Inventors, helps them find what they need, checks their work for flaws, documents their findings and so on, but it should serve the task of viewing your inspiration just as well. Just touch the glass and you’ll be able to direct the vision wherever you desire. If you could show me one of Qull’s ruins that would grand.”

“Prototypes?” Qael was shocked at the sudden use of the words. Wasn’t it far too early for prototypes yet? Designs would have to be made. Schematics created. Traps would have to be tested. Puzzles thought out. All under the intense scrutiny of two gods. Then he realized with whom he was working together. “Yes… of course. Prototypes.” He repeated, with less surprise this time around. As his brother was designating some areas on a strange, small globe, the god of magic sensed massive change happening above him. “What is…” but then he looked back at the orb. Marvelous. A tool so small that could control his entire realm!

“I take no offense.” Qael said with a faint smile and quickly fading smile. In truth it was hard to truly offend the god of magic. Only one goddess managed it so far. He outstretched his hand and touched the crystal ball. The image shifted to the first of Qull’s strange ruins: a cyclopean fortress carved into the cliffside. Then it quickly shifted to a tall but lonely megalith standing in windswept plains. It shifted again towards the Mydian deserts where desert storm upon desert storm had half-buried the tall statues of beings that had never existed. “In truth I have no clue why she made them or what their purpose is. The fortresses are all but hollow, the megalith does nothing, the statues depict nothing that ever existed. My sister’s mind is a mystery.” He released the crystal orb from his hold.

“It’s a test. One to see if they are worthy, yes. But also a test to see if they are smart enough to understand what I’m giving them. What is a scroll to an illiterate? Kindle to be used in the fire. What is a clay tablet to an ant? Only disaster.” He slowly tapped on the table. A subconscious tick. “They may still see it as looming threats. Dangerous knowledge which they then deem forbidden. It might be too much for them. That is a risk I must take.” His voice was melancholic.

”Well I can admire her handiwork if nothing else,” Artifex said as he looked upon the strange and seemingly pointless creations ”there is artistic merit in these certainly, yet though to me form without function seems like a waste of our limited power over Galbar. Then again, if they have inspired you then have they not served a purpose in the end? Hmmm. Something to muse upon at a later date.”

The god dismissed the conundrum for the time being and transformed one of his accompanying crystals into a chisel and retrieved a clayslate before beginning to make notes to himself on the artistic stylings of the mysterious goddess with set of hands while the other ebgan sketching out a brief outline of a potential labyrinth.

”As for your reasoning, it seems sound enough. Certainly a lot more straightforward than keeping an eye on every mortal to find out who is both ready and worthy of gifts of knowledge.” Artifex paused for a moment, before nodding approvingly ”A rather novel form of delegation in-fact. Plus it could likely act as a goal for those who seek glory, power or prestige that does not involve beating down their fellow mortal. I am liking this more and more as I learn more about it.”

After complimenting Qael, Artifex passed him the sketch he had been making, depicting a series of winding tunnels and chambers burrowing deep into the ground. ”So, I was thinking we have the room with the spells all the way down here as you said, but also have some other, smaller treasure rooms further, containing more mundane rewards such as valuable metals, lesser magics or fine crafts, to encourage and reward exploration and prevent the places from being dismissed as dangerous forbidden places as you worried, or simply not worth the effort.” the god indicated to a few small rooms dotting the path down to the central chamber marked with lists of possible rewards. Also detailed in drawings and script so fine it could only have been written and read by gods was an entire labyrinth, complete with winding, branching corridors, trap rooms, puzzles and demon flowers like Qael had described, as well as places where statues like those in the desert would come alive, nests of aggressive insectile creatures and a few hidden routes which would allow fast access from deeper parts of the complex back up to the surface which could be unlocked by clever explorers.

The entire thing had also been immaculately designed so it looked like a place a people, an incredibly paranoid people, might have lived. Drawing inspiration from the subterranean works of the Lapites, Vespian, Vrool, Dwarves and more it featured living quarters, temples, kitchens, wells, subterranean gardens and other enmities of a civilized people placed within it in logical locations, generally acting as the lesser treasure rooms he had mentioned, with the all important spell chamber being a deep and hidden vault of the fictional people’s most treasured possessions and ancient wisdom.

”Only a rough sketch of course.” Artifex explained ”I prefer to work with actual physical materials when designing something for down on Galbar rather than using schematics.”

“They are tools.” Qael’Naath insisted as Artifex mused about the ruins. “A craftsman is not inspired by his chisel, he is inspired by the clay and the image he wants to craft it in. The ruins are just tools.” He would hate the idea of being inspired by his devil of a sister. Who by all rights should’ve remained a crystalline blob somewhere on his floating island.

“I do wish some mortals would be less… materialistic.” Qael said as he took Artifex’s sketch. “The shorter lived ones seem obsessed with gold and gems. The longer ones seem to crave absolute power more. It’s sad really. Such greedy thoughts might fuel exploration and discovery but often hampers it as well.” He mused as he traced his fingers over various schematics. “But of course you are right. The smaller rooms are a clever way to keep them interested.” The schematics came to life in his own mind, with all the appropriate nuance. Then he finally came to the central spell chamber. Alongside the writing of Artifex, he began to add his own.

Turning divine concepts into mortal, tangible shapes was a hassle to be sure. Oftentimes he had to utterly omit important information, because the medium of a wall simply could not hold it. Alas, some pieces of the puzzle would have to be put together by the mortals. In other parts, it would remain guesswork. There was nothing he could do about that. Mortality could be so limiting. Nonetheless, when Qael’Naath was done with his additions, the spell chamber was properly filled with arcane knowledge of the highest level he could offer.

He altered certain rooms as well, imbuing more magic into their puzzles. At the same time he added spell chambers. Rooms in which spells would have to be performed in their desired method before the vaulted door would open. “There.” He said, as he finished the design and passed it back to Artifex for judgement. “Perhaps we could take a look at the prototypes then?”

”I understand them to an extent, those with little time desire to do as much with it as they can with the brief existence they have, while those with more will do anything to ensure theirs is not cut short. It is just a shame what they are willing to inflict upon one-another to achieve those goals” Artifex commented upon the sin of greed before watching Qael’s additions to his diagrams with interest, admiring at the god’s far greater mastery of magic and mana.

”As for the prototypes, they should be coming along nicely. If you’ll follow me back to the elevator” Artifex said, getting too and then entering a different elevator than the one they had entered by.

“I’ve got nothing against the natural course of mortals. They are capable of great acts of creation, though great acts of destruction as well. As their creators, are we not ultimately responsible for their sins and failings?” The god of magic mused the question more than pose it as he entered the elevator with Artifex. Were they responsible? Or had 2000 years of nearly unguided development caused mortality to take a course of its own? Were the gods still in control or were they merely clinging to this world with avatars and visions?

It was something to ponder upon at another time as the elevator reached the surface once more. The prototype labyrinth wasn’t build underground, no. Artifex’s insectile builders had created a massive model of above ground, showing the vast array of corridors, halls, rooms, chambers and stairs. The squat pyramid indeed converged down into a singular room. In an instant Qael’Naath rushed over and entered the model of the nexus. The walls were filled with flowing schematics, just like he had envisioned. Every mark meant its own thing, as well as added context to what it was connected to. The glyphs were a crude but mortal method to attempt to convey knowledge. He then made his way to one of the demonic gardens. His magic had already created the Lilith Lilies. They were gently floating upon several pools of water. The garden itself felt like a place of meditation and Zen. Small waterfalls filled and kept round pools connected, which in turn were also connected to a stone carved walkway. None the less everything felt and looked natural. There were no stairs, jagged corners or straight walls. It looked as if nature herself had carved out this little tranquil corner. “It looks very promising.” He said, mostly to himself.

”My workers do their best” Artifex replied none the less as he strode into the room, ”but a personal touch could always improve things. Feel free to adjust wherever you see fit. I most certainly will be taking a stroll through these halls to make sure everything is in order.”

The god of construction found a place to sit within the faux natural room and took a moment to admire the ambiance before speaking once more ”There is something missing however, now that I consider it. This place will serve its function as a trail and place of reward, but what it lacks is a history. There will be those who come for riches and glory, but there will be those who will ask who were the people that managed to build these places and amassed such wonders of magic. More importantly, how did these people who rose so high ever fall so far as to be lost and forgotten?” as he spoke the god had stretched out a hand and conjured below it the bones of a newt like humanoid.

Artifex continued, stone mechanisms began to form where the bones would have been held together by muscle in life while bands of stone crawled up the bone to link these joints together. Unintelligible runes pulled along the stone exoskeleton, covering it in a soft light that welled up within its skull, causing its eyes to glow with eerie malevolence.

Artifex then adorned the undead golem in tattered robes that gave the impression that they had once been grand, placed a golden crown featuring fingerbones splayed out where it would have had gill fronds in life atop its head and gave it a beautifully engraved bronze staff topped by a skull of its own kind to hold.

”I suggest we use this place to tell a tale, written in a thousand pieces, of a fall caused by sin run rampant. A warning against arrogance and greed, a lesson that those who do not heed it will inevitably learn the hard way.”

As he finished speaking the god moved his hand away from the skeletal ruler, who rather than fall without the invisible string of its creator holding it up it stood tall and proud, as if not even death could snuff out its arrogance. All a ruse, of course. The thing was as alive as the animated statues that stood in several of the chambers and hallways above, but it was a convincing deception.

The four eyes of Qael’Naath fell upon the creature. “A clever addition, brother.” He said as he looked into the purple eyes. “They shall know that which they guard. Their deepest secrets.” Qael touched the creature’s forehead. Filling it’s almost mechanical ‘mind’ with the divine knowledge of the spell hidden in the final chamber. “And they shall have a history. Of their rise, their greatness, their fall. Hints towards other Labyrinths and other truths.” With the same finger he touched the wall of a room. An energy traveled along it. Etching half-broken reliefs into the walls. Half broken pottery and other archeological proof of existence was being spread around in the Labyrinth. Some of it contradictory, as per design. “This is why I returned to Galbar.” Qael muttered to himself.

Artifex took the compliment with a nod before casually asking ”Why you returned?” while waving the skeletal construct away to go stand guard over the spell room. The construct obeyed, strutting out of the natural chamber to begin its eternal silent vigil over the depths of the prototype labyrinth.

The god of magic rose up to face Artifex and smiled, brightly this time. “This!” he exclaimed as he raised his arms. “Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine a creation so vast, so grand, so perfectly aligned with what the grand designs require. For two thousand years I labored on my own realm, trying to make it exactly like I wanted it. Only to realize that I couldn’t achieve that goal alone. I may rage, at times, about the influences of my siblings but in truth they have made Galbar a place to look after.” After that, he let out a deep breath of relief. “It feels good to say it out loud finally.”

Artifex nodded in agreement, ”Your words reflect my own feelings well, even if I never left it. The meddling of gods and the sins of mortals may grate at times, but truly there is no place greater than Galbar.”

“Indeed. Now, brother. I think the designs have been perfected.” He said as he put a palm on a wall to feel the entire structure. “I already know the suitable locations. I propose we commence our great work then?”

”By all means,” Artifex said as he stood from the outcrop he had been sitting on ”Let us begin.”




There was no quake or shift in the ground. Nobody in Ketrefa felt it, but it happened. Just below the lowest cellar, stone and dirt began to vanish into thin air. Carving great caves and halls that kept going down. This happened across Galbar, near the Sunlit temple, below Solkra as well. In Mydia, the great half-buried statues now marked the causeway towards the grand entrance of a Labyrinth there. When all the dirt and stone was removed, new stone appeared out of nothing. This time it was chiseled and carved with reliefs. Half-broken mosaic floors gave certain halls a more colorful appearance. While painted walls showed instructions to learn the spell required to continue. Massive vault-doors were formed from stone and placed in their respective locations. Then, finally, the last chamber was formed. Filled with a bounty of arcane knowledge.

Within the gardens, the first of the Lilith Nymphaeaceae sprouted. Small, lily flowers that floated over beautiful ponds. Ready to blossom into demons, to protect the Labyrinth.Nests of veracious termite like beasts fused with stone and magic grew out of maze’s finely carved halls like tumors that would spill their ravenous broods out into its halls. Statues and engravings were carved and then given life so that they might awaken and assail intruders with limb and lance. Deadly traps where hidden, their slashing blades, stinging spikes or dead drops ready to teach the unwary off guard when triggered by mechanisms or magic. And at the very bottom of it all, the false undead stood jealous guard over the final bountiful spell chamber.

Less deadly where the puzzle rooms, where tests of cunning or wisdom would keep the ways beeper into the dungeon. Some would require the learning, deciphering and casting of spells, while others still the interpretation of stars or signs, the insight of Augers or Inventors, or the solving of riddles. Yet more were mechanical in nature, requiring the lining up of beams of light, the pushing of large stone blocks into place, the repairing of strange cog based machines, the construction of bridges, the navigation of shifting portals, playing an ancient board game against a golem and numerous other tests of logic and cunning.

The Labyrinths were also filled with the false impression of once being home to an ancient long gone race. Underground farms flourished and then overgrew their boundaries, eerily empty living quarters and business districts sprawled out from the labyrinth proper or where a still deadly part of it, wells were dug to reach underground streams, temples to the nameless god of magic took pride of place within them, vaults of mundane treasure and a scattered array of common items that could have stood the test of time where placed to entice mortals to continue exploring. Every effort was made to ensure that it looked like a people might once have lived within the dark and twisting walls of the Labyrinth.

Murals and reliefs upon the walls began to create the false history. Shown scenes of conquest, victory, discovery and tragedy. All lies, made believable by the existence of other proof. Pottery and tablets were spread around as well. With that final addition, the Labyrinths’ their silent creation was complete. Now they laid in waiting, across the world, for the mortals to find them.




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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by King of Rats
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Act Three, Scene Two, A Decision


The God of Tragedy had a lot of work to do as they sat within their barren realm.

The dealings with the great mage to the south had been dealt with, she had been given their boon, and Neiya’s as well, though they were still unsure of how good that was. To the north they had found another great actor, though she was still inexperienced they felt she could accomplish much, especially if she ever met that lost father of her’s.

But, there were still other issues, Ha-Duna had become ever embroiled, Neiya and even that ever vigilant Cadien had dipped their hands into the war, and Yamat was sure they could not sit idly by any longer, lest the alliance they’ve built come knocking upon their door. Their beast in the north was still wandering around without direction, eating and killing as it pleased. Their avatar kept with the child of Cadien, directing her ever closer to their grasp, their child races continued to build themselves up, and throughout it all, the Grand Play continued.

Yet, they were still not ready, they knew that, they had seen what some of the other gods had become, powerful with a variety of powers under their belt, Neiya herself was the perfect image of this, becoming something far more than that goddess of love that had drawn Yamat to her that long time ago, how they missed those times.

Yamat shook their head, recollecting could occur another time. For now, they had to focus on the present and the Grand Play, they could feel another power drawn to them from all their actions for tragedy. It would be another perfect addition to their repertuar.

They sat within the wasteland of their realm, slowly raising their arms, the runes covering their body glowing ever so softly as they conducted their silent song. This one was more quiet than the desolation they had gained earlier, and they had to admit this one was, comforting in a way, its softness entering into them as they conducted. Until, it settled in amongst the others, another neat little addition to the talents of the Grand Director.

Finally, they stood, the dust flaking off of them as they slightly shook. They walked a ways through their realm, passing by a few of the ruins that dotted the hollow wastes, monuments to their great play lightly or densely covered in soot and ash. Many were long distant memories, some of which they could barely remember or even recall, so many tragedies happened daily that it was hard to keep track.

But yet, ideas still came to them, as they slowly came upon their great map situated upon their twisted wooden table their gaze drifted southward, upon the isles they believed were called, Mydia. They had some interaction with those massive islands, as some of their reshutian children lived amongst them, but, the sentient mortals were not what attracted their eye this time around.

Instead, another, smaller piece had drawn the attention of the god of tragedy, an animal of sorts, they walked upon four legs, with brown fur with spots all along them, they were canine like but not fully canine, and then, there were the laughs, the laughs drew Yamat in, their natural call was like a cackle, a noise so similar to their own laugh. They were enamored. The other gods had special animals and creatures of their own, why not them? Yamat loved these creatures, and so, he would take their design and nature, and create a beautiful herald of tragedy in their image.

First, he started with the base creature, which he quickly came to know as a Hyena, then, he increased their size, making them larger and stronger than before, they gained three eyes on either side and wicked horns, two more legs in between their others, longer tails with a vice like grip, their fur became black and white, with long stripes instead of spots, though some spots could appear based on the individual and finally, came their laughs.

Yamat made their laughs greater than before, they sound like the laughs of a thousand different voices, ones that overwhelmed those who would hear it, it would bounce around within their head and eventually drive them into madness if heard for long enough, the laughs serving to warn all those who have the misfortune of hearing them that the work of the Great Director has begun. They were perfect.

With their creation finished, Yamat gathered them up and scattered them across the Galbar, landing some packs in Toraan, Mydia, Kubrajazar, and other realms. They would be sure to have an impact soon enough, their cackles ensuring the mortals would not soon forget the actions of the god of tragedy, if they knew of them of course, but no matter, another great day of work for Yamat.

They sat back in one of their wooden chairs underneath the twisted canopy of their realm, once more staring upon the map, their strength was better now, perhaps, it might be time to deal with that little Ha-Duna situation, perhaps they should speak to one of the gods involved? The goddess of the moon would be an interesting talk, or perhaps their old friend Thaa, but, that could wait, for no, they would just sit back, and enjoy the show.



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Nalla

“She’s not happy.” Those were the words uttered by the messenger after he gave Auriëlle her summons. She was to return to Nallan immediately. It was foreseen. Auriëlle had been staying put ever since Bul’Gadin. In truth, she saw her task as complete. The rebellions were squashed, other rulers or groups who could move against the Queen were taught a lesson and the heretics of the Light were driven out.

“Alright.” Auriëlle said. “Return to Nallan. I’m coming back. As per the queen’s wishes.” Somehow she was soft spoken now. But underneath her skin she felt anger. She knew the queen would be angry with her for burning Teperia. But still, it left a bitter taste in her mouth.

The call to break camp and go back to Nallan was given the next morning. Though this time around, the camp was broken down in less than a day. Most of her volunteer warriors had left to attend to their own matters. She had let them. Their task was done. Others remained. Though many looked at her with reverent eyes. It was a strange feeling. Nonetheless, in just a few short days they reached Nallan.

Many men lay host outside Nallan’s walls, men that were not her own. They guarded the roads in, held tight to the walls like vultures to a carcass and eyed her and her army with worrisome glares and soft whispers. They let her pass, alone, a small retinue keeping her company as they walked the empty streets. Once so vibrant with the joys of life, left empty with peering eyes from shadows. When they neared the palace of the Queen, more men could be found, wearing leathers with bows and swords, keeping watch with hushed talk. Most stood straighter when Auriëlle walked through the gates and up the path, alone now.

Inside the Palace, what was always so quiet before, never had such weight in the air. It was crushing and the very air was palpable with anticipation. She knew the way to the great, dark hall. Each of her footsteps a forewarning, akin to small claps of thunder. When she neared the great doors, they opened before she could even pause and she was welcomed by the dim light of torches and the Queen, sitting upon her throne. Nalla’s expression was dark, far darker than she had ever seen before. She wore a dress of crimson, a cloak of black and her lips were red upon her pale face. Her hair was loose, going past her shoulders and the familiar weight of the crown pressed into the room. Across her lap was a sheathed blade and her necklace glimmered in that dim light.

The doors behind Auriëlle shut with a boom that broke the silence in the air and Nalla spoke, her voice cold. “You’ve made quite a name for yourself, Auriëlle. So fiery indeed. Killing, pillaging, burning… You do like destruction, don’t you?”

The silence was unnerving. Auriëlle had promised herself to Nallan exactly because the queen’s rule created such a great and vibrant place in the shithole that was the highlands. Now something was clearly amiss. To Auriëlle, the queen radiated something sinister. Then again, she was a vampire. How could she not. Undeterred she stopped at her designated position and clasped her hands behind her back as a formal salute.

“Yes, my queen.” She said, trying to look beyond Nalla now. It didn’t work. For once though, she didn’t feel the need to disrespect her superior. Not that she could with the Queen’s strange, obedience inducing aura. This was, at most, just a formality. They were sworn to each other and right now, Auriëlle was on the cusps of her freedom. She just had to get through this.

“When I first saw you here, standing before me like you do now, I was intrigued. Never before had I seen another with such fiery hair, none that mattered anyways.” Nalla spoke, slightly leaning her head to gaze upon her. “Imagine my surprise when I was told what a great and powerful sorcerer you were, and still are. I thought to myself, now, there was one who could be useful, and I was right. You slew that Leon Rider in the south, unified that part of my kingdom, and then you went north without hesitation. A dutiful soldier, a growing commander. Loved by men, touched by the gods. For how else could one achieve so much? You only have to look at me to know that truth.” She paused, letting the silence return.

“I told you to use the Light as a justification for war.” She spat. “I don’t recall mentioning that the city of Teperia could be burned for its defiance. Unless I’m mistaken. Unless I’m wrong. Do enlighten me, Auriëlle.”

The muscles in Auriëlle’s back tightened but her expression remained neutral. As if chiseled from stone. “The fanatics wouldn’t yield and the heretic infestation ran too deep.” She explained with a calm voice. “I burned them to send a message. You will not be denied. This way, you could demand the submission of all neighboring cities and towns.” Who would be so stupid as to say no to Nalla now? It would be akin to suicide.

“But you did not stop at Teperia, did you?” Nalla asked.

“The druids could still challenge your rule.” She stated coldly. “Bul’Gadin was a small village. Away from the river. It served its purpose: to show that Teperia was not a one-time threat.”

“Were there any survivors in Bul’Gadin and Teperia?” Nalla glared.

“I made sure there were none.” Of course there were survivors. When you purge a city, even dumb luck can allow you to survive. Someone could’ve run away at the start of siege through some hidden passage. Maybe they were buried in a cellar so the flames couldn’t reach them, nor could Auriëlle’s men. Of course she had done everything in her power to make sure there were as little survivors as possible, but in truth she couldn’t be absolutely sure.

The Queen furrowed her brow. “Your tenure is up, so you best be right, Auriëlle. If I have to put down future revolts because of your actions this year, I will be very, very unhappy. To burn not one, but two places where a considerable amount of people live, is unfortunate.” She snapped her fingers, and from the shadows to her right a man came holding a wooden platter. Nalla took the human skull that sat beside the pitcher and let the man pour the crimson in and returned to the shadows.

She took a sip from the skull and said, “You are well versed with fire, aren’t you? So you should know how dangerous a spark is left unchecked, allowed to grow. It can burn even the oldest forests to naught but ash.” She moved her eyes from Auriëlle and to her ‘cup’. “Even now I wonder where I would be without you.” She whispered before her eyes snapped back to Auriëlle. “Not to mention the Druids… Who pledge themselves to numerous gods. Gods who take offense when their chosen are murdered. Did you think about that when you did it?”

A small grin escaped Auriëlle before she restored her cold expression. “I did, your majesty. I never touched a druid.” She made sure they would be gone. When they would return, they would find a corpse bound to a broken altar. But none could claim they were harmed. “My council would be this: make clear I come back. I swore on Tekret, you know this. If they know that as well, why would they rebel? Sooner rather than later I would return and put them all to death.”

“Well, I am so relieved you did not touch a druid.” Nalla scoffed, taking another sip before saying, “What an ample threat. One easily forgotten if you do not return at all, however. I think I can say I know wherever you go, death and destruction will follow and mortal life is so fragile. As careful as one can be, even with all their tricks and power, one wrong trip and your dead. But, it might buy me a couple of years at the most, What is that to me though? Time is so… Short, anymore.” Nalla mused. “Where will you be going next? Somewhere cold I hope.” she asked, eyeing her again.

Auriëlle disregarded the queen’s musings on mortality. She would simply have to trust that Auriëlle could keep herself alive until she returned. It wasn’t as if she was failing at that in the past decade or so. “I will be back.” She simply stated. When the queen asked where she’d go, the answer was simple. Though not so easy to say. For a few seconds silence reigned. Before Auriëlle finally admitted: “I’ll go to the one I miss. It’s not cold where he is now. If the tales are to believe. My queen, I would now like to ask for my leave.”

Nalla rose, placing her sword upon the throne’s arm. “I am surprised. You are unusually quiet, as if your fiery spirit had been chained. Or perhaps you’ve finally learned when not to speak so recklessly.” She placed a finger on her chin. “Hmm, no matter. You may leave, Auriëlle.” She sat back down. “Do have a safe and fulfilling trip. Oh… and one more thing. Do be careful, dear Auriëlle. I would just hate to lose you.” She smiled, but behind her eyes, the hunger and malice remained.

For a second the sorceress’ body tensed up as Nalla stood up. Would she allow her to leave? Would she entrance her again, like she had done a year ago? Auriëlle’s fire was only skin deep now. She was ready to cast her magic in an instant, should it be required. Luckily for everyone, the queen let her go. Auriëlle never deigned the queen’s last comment with a reply. She simply left the dark and empty feeling palace.

Once outside, she let out a deep sigh. Though Nalla’s guard still kept their eyes on her. What fools they were. None of them could be veterans of her own battles. No matter how tough they might look, She knew that they were green behind the ears. “This is what you’re going to use?” Auriëlle muttered to herself as she was escorted through the empty streets again. “I hope you don’t intend to use fear, Nalla. That won’t work. Not even with the promise of my return. You should make them love you now.” The guard looked at her for a second but the sorceress didn’t care.

At the gate, one of her own warriors was talking with someone else, a civilian from the looks of it. She interrupted the conversation though. “Esiré. Prepare the people that wanted to come along. We’re heading for Ketrefa.”

Esiré gave the sorceress a small bow and then left. Only then did Auriëlle notice who she was talking to. “Beozaar!” Auriëlle exclaimed, as she clasped his forearm in a traditional warrior greeting. “You look… different? I honestly thought you would be a warrior until I had to kill you.”

“Aye, I thought so too. But after Bul’Gadin… I don’t know. I felt a need to settle down you know. Become a little calmer. I took up carpentry.” He said with a smile. Though his heart was beating faster and faster. Would she see beyond his façade? Would she realize his true goal? The scars on his back began to itch.

“Remind me to never buy a chair from you.” Auriëlle said. Her expression was still friendly. Then both of them heard Esiré yell something from behind the sorceress. “I think that’s my cue. Stay alive for me, Beozaar! And find a woman!” She yelled as she made her way towards her already packing warriors.

“I will.” Beozaar shouted back as he waved at her. Though the second she was far enough, he felt a wave of melancholy wash over him. This could’ve been the last time he saw the Prophetess. Maybe someday she would kill him. Or his sons and daughters. Or his grandchildren. Who was to know when the end of the world would come. His sense of duty kicked back in as he turned around and marched back home.

Seconds later he heard someone knock on his door. It wasn’t a normal knock. It was the coded knock they used to announce fellow cult-members. It also allowed any cult-member to just enter anyone’s house. They had sworn to never keep secrets to each other. A scrawny man entered Beozaar’s very humble abode. “Beozaar.” He said. “I think we’ve found some troublesome people.”



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Inhale, exhale, release.

The archer, Bran, had read the words of the village chief. It was dire news, a hydra began to slowly stalk up the river and is drawing ever nearer to the village. It has already begun to cause troubles, pushing other dangerous animals towards the village and disrupting travel. There is no telling when it would decide to be a more pressing issue, and with how out of the way the settlement is, it may be before more help could arrive.

Inhale, exhale, release.

The village has two guardians, but one is as old as him and the other older, and it is doubtful that they could face a hydra in their prime. There was also a group of adventurers, however they had the opposite problem, they were still sproutlings fresh from the academy. The Wisteria Academy might say that they prepare their students for anything, but there are things which no school can teach. Beyond that, there were a handful of civilians who could wield hunting bows or slings, and various other means of defense but sadly there were no hydra slayers among them.

Inhale, exhale, release.

Shooting a bow was how Bran could relax himself, but now he was tormented by thoughts of the past and of the future. He muttered under his breath, “Illex, Nymphea, Cade, Lights Above, who has caused my luck to become rotten.”

No one has, a voice replied within his mind.

Bran felt his hands loosen on his bow as he started, but he managed to recompose himself and keep his grip. He took a second to blink and wave his hand in front of his eyes, before trying to reply, “Cade? Wait, that isn’t right?”

Mm, close enough, the voice answered. Let’s see. An archer who can’t hear, but receives visions, and wants to kill a monster. Do I have that right?

“Yes. That is about right.” he said hesitantly.

How well can you shoot?

“Well, perhaps better than I should,” he replied.

Show me.

Realigning his grip with his bow, and notching his arrow, he inhaled, exhaled, and released. The arrow launched from the bow, guided by the invisible winds of mana unseen by most mortals but clearly visible to the gods, his mundane aim was good enough to hit the center mass of the target but with augury, it hit dead-center.

That is not natural skill, the god remarked. But there’s no shame in that. You haven’t let it cloud your judgement, at least. Anyhow, do you have a plan for slaying this beast?

“We lack weapons or magic that critically pierce it hide, or poisons which can even give it a stomach ache. The only thing we can do is attempt to harass it with arrows from out of its reach and hope it bleeds it last drop before we do.” he solemnly answered, knowing such a plan would likely be the death of at least half of whoever is sent.

It is a hydra, yes?

“Yes, terrible things. The only alternative is to wait and hope elite adventurers can reach us before it reaches the town.” he replied.

Hm. It’s always better for people to be able to solve their own problems, I think. Tell me; how attached are you to that bow? Its value as a weapon aside.

“It was my father’s, but a bow is a bow is I guess.” he said, untruthful to his deeper emotions.

That’s true enough, I suppose. I don’t suppose you’d mind if I improve it, then? And without awaiting confirmation, power seemed to surge within Bran’s chest, before shooting down his arm and into the bow, which became coated in a purple light. When the light faded, he was looking at a completely different weapon; the wood was as white as ivory, and stronger, without a single flaw in its craftsmanship, while the string had been made far stronger. Now, shoot it again.

Bran was trembling and shaking, but his grip on the bow did not loosen. He could not begin to describe what he saw and felt within the purple light, as if an ant tried understanding the works of a great philosopher. Parts of the forest vanished and were replaced by walls of black stone, a village filled with color, and a great ocean. As he tried to focus on the target, it was replaced by a majestic throne and as soon his eyes started to decipher who was sitting on it, his sight returned to normal. He readied his bow, time seeming to slow around him and he tested the draw of the bow, an arrow manifested in it

Inhale, Exhale, Release

The arrow pierced the target, and punctured through the target as if the wood was old and rotten.
Bran just stood in terrified awe of what he had just experienced, him releasing the arrow was a matter of pure instinct.

Well, there you have it. Now, gather your chosen men. You have a hydra to kill.

---

With his new found blessing, Bran rallied a small militia to fight the hydra. The two guards and two of the three adventurers stood in front of the archers with giant spears and shields, while everyone who could wield a bow was stationed in a half circle around the hydra ready to loose at Bran’s signal. They were to distract it by shooting at its body while he disabled the heads.

The beast laid on the banks of the river, if it had noticed them, they were far enough away to not draw its ire immediately.

Preparing his shot, he yelled, “For Cade, For Arboria.” Releasing his arrow straight through the skull of one its heads causing to go immediately limp. A volley of arrows followed shortly, disorienting the beast, allowing him to make another shot while its remaining heads flailed about, piercing through its mouth. It charged at one of the spearmen, one its heads dragging behind it, as another one of its heads lunged towards him, another arrow launched through its head. Its final head lurched forward biting the man in half as another arrow felled the last head. With that, the beast collapsed to the ground, its hide covered in the few mundane arrows that managed to lodge themselves just under its scales.

---

After returning the fallen soldier to the earth and giving him all of the proper rites and honors, the town spent the next few days preparing a feast to celebrate the heroes who slayed the hydra, a practice the local Arborians borrowed from human travelers.

The celebration was humbly decorated, but involved food, drink, song and dance. Adventurers who came after hearing rumors of the hydra helped with hunting meat for the event. Bran sat in one of the corner’s of the town square watching the celebration while nursing an alcoholic drink, the divinely blessed artifact sitting carefully on his lap.

So, the voice of Cade spoke within his mind again, this time without any sort of prayer. What shall you do now?

“I didn’t think this was real until after the hydra stopped moving, and didn’t expect to survive an encounter with a hydra.” he said, glancing down at his bow, “But I guess since I am alive, I guess my work isn’t quite done is it. This won’t be the last thing to creep at the edge of Arboria’s border.” he said.

Likely not. What do you intend to do about it?

“Shoot them until they stop moving. I am not good for much else.” he replied.

I wouldn’t say that. You did devise a rather sound plan just a few days ago. And these people now think you’re a hero. The champion of a god…

“The man who died can’t be a hero wherever he is at, I am just a hunter’s son.” he replied.

The man who died is dead, but far more alive because of his sacrifice, Cadien insisted. Now, if you truly wish to protect people, you have two options. You can go out alone, patrolling borders, doing your best to fight various creatures and evils, until eventually you die and your new bow passes to whoever slew you. Or, you can build something more permanent. A group of like-minded men and women, who can cover more ground, slay more foes, and carry on your cause long after you die.

Taking a large gulp of his drink, “It appears as though I don’t have much choice in the matter, Oh Great Caden. You seem to be more confident in my leadership than I am, but who I am to argue with the divine.”

Who indeed? Anyhow, you’ll find no better time to gather followers than now.

Bran stood, and began to walk towards the center of the square, shouting, “I have a few words.” After looking around and seeing everyone intently staring back at him, he announced, “Yesterday, we received a divine gift and with it, a beast was slain. Will be so greedy to presume that it will happen tomorrow, or so bold to presume that there will always be someone waiting to save us if we will not save ourselves. These woods hold many dangers, but at least for me, these woods are my home and I would like them to be safe and so I will make them so. Who is with me?” While he could not hear them, as he glanced around he saw several bows raised towards the sky.

And in that moment, a change passed over them. Their vision became sharper, and they could see more clearly than they ever could before. A second, subtly force woven itself further empowering them, only sensed by Cadien and Bran. Then, a voice spoke from within their minds. You know me as Cade, but my true name is Cadien, God of War and Perfection. Know that this man, and those who follow him, shall have my blessing. Now go forth and see his words made true, for I will be watching.





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All That Glitters





Birdsong and the gentle rustle of leaves in the wind gave the small campsite a homely feel. They had set up by a precarious old river crossing south of Ketrefa, where trade roads briefly dwindled into forest paths and wilderness. Ava scraped at the grotty old leather strapped over her tunic with one of her bone knives, humming an old ballad contentedly to herself between mouthfuls of the last of their botched attempt at grilled snake. The knife came down to cleave another slice of snake, and she peered up to find both her compatriots staring at her as she brought the blade to her mouth.

”What?” she pressed out between heavy chews.

The older of the two men, Erius, produced a gruff scoff and scratched relentlessly at the uneven sore patch on his cheek. “You really use those knives for everything, huh. Ain’t that the same knife what stabbed a man last week?” he rumbled.

”Well,” Ava mustered between hearty chews. ”Whassepointf-”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full. We’re not savages.” Erius grunted quickly. Ava relented begrudgingly with a few quick attempts at chewing - a surprisingly difficult endeavour.

“Don’t we kill people, chief?” the third among them, a young man named Meren, piped up in interjection before she could speak again, rubbing at the back of his head. Both Ava and Erius shot him a glance. Ava had known him only for a few days, but he had swiftly proven to be as smart as he was handsome. That was to say, not very.

“...If we have to. That don’t mean we’re savages. Sometimes people don’t leave you no choice. Common folk get stupid around weapons and danger, see. Start putting value on trinkets and forget what’s important.” Erius replied.

Meren peered at him briefly. “What’s that, then?”

“What?”

“The important thing. You know, chief, that they forget.”

Erius sighed deeply. “Your life, Meren.”

“Oh! Right. Makes sense to me.” Meren concluded, shrugging ever so slightly before looking back towards the road to fulfill his basic task as a lookout. There was a solemn return to silence, with Ava having helped herself to another slice of food and now struggling to chew that as well. For a while, they sat in silence, listening to the birds.

”So as I were saying,” Ava began, swallowing the last of her meal. ”What’s the point of carrying knives if I ain’t gonna-”

“We got movement down the road!” Meren interrupted with renewed gusto, shooting up from his seat. Erius dusted himself off and pushed up from the log, stepping forward to stamp out the last cinders of their old fireplace. Ava cleared her throat and picked at her canine with her knife, dislodging a particularly annoying bit of snake. “Looks like a cart. We’ve hit the good stuff!” Meren continued, but was quickly shushed by Erius.

“It’s too early to celebrate, kid. Follow my lead like we practiced. Meren, you take the back, Ava backs me up.” Erius retorted. Both Meren and Ava sighed, almost in unison. As the young man vanished into the bushes, Ava stowed the knife into her leather straps with it’s many comrades and used her hands to push herself up from her seat in the dirt, then quickly brushed her hands off on her tunic. It was time to work.

Slowly a lone figure came rolling down the road, dragging a small cart behind him on the rough forest road. His heated and tired breath was audible from a distance, and the creak of wheels accompanied him at a speedy pace. Whoever they were, they were making quite the hasty escape from the walled city. When the figure drew closer, Erius stepped out onto the dirt road to block the path, and Ava calmly followed suit. She grabbed her leather straps with both hands, fingers needily touching at her collection of sharp things.

The traveller - a man with brushes of grey in otherwise neatly groomed brown hair - inevitably drew closer, his gaze at first fixed on the ground ahead of him. His clothes were baggy and covered in sweat, but to Ava they still looked like a rich man’s clothes. Something a man of means would think a peasant wore, while never having seen one. As his gaze fell on the poorly dressed duo of Erius and Ava, she imagined at least part of his shock was finding out how the rabble really dressed. The cart rolled to a stop, and the man slowly let go of the two beams he’d been lifting.

“Evening, friend!” Erius called out as politely as the gruff old man could muster. “Travelling the roads is dangerous work these days, it’s a good thing we found you when we did.” The man did not reply. His gaze shifted backwards over his shoulder, where Meren was just stepping out to block the path. Erius continued jovially. “We’re honest citizens of the walled city keeping the forest safe, you see. This here crossing in particular has been rife with robberies and the like. We’ll be happy to see you pass safely thanks to our vigil, yeah? We just need a little donation to keep our efforts going.”

The man frowned at the both of them deeply, raising a hand to touch a medallion of a heart strung around his neck. It was a surreptitious motion to tuck it away under his tunic before touching at his chin, but it wasn’t fast enough for Ava to miss it. “W-.. I have nothing to give, I’m sorry. Only enough to survive.”

“Now I don’t find that fair, good mister,” Erius interjected with a gruff sigh, scratching at his own beard. “Surely you can fast for a day to help the valiant workers of the forest. Meren, would you mind taking a look back there?”

Meren shuffled his way towards the back of the cart, and a moment of panic seemed to overcome the man by the cart, who immediately shifted his attention backwards. Ava sighed quietly, reflecting back on Erius wisdom. Dropping a hand from her leathers, she stepped forwards to snap her fingers at him, and garner his attention.

”Look, mister. Don’t be thinking of doing nothing foolish now. All we want is a bit of what you got, and you get to go on your way. Just think of it as trade. You’re big on the love goddess, right?” she offered and gestured towards him. His eyes shot back to look at her, confused and scared. ”Well, how about this. You help us get a little something-something, and I swear on Neiya herself that that’ll be the end of it. I ain’t never gonna back down from a deal that helps both of us. I’ll cut down all threats to you myself, in a single swing. Yeah?” she half-bragged, to the man’s apparent consternation.

Suddenly, the air grew warm around her. She felt her cheeks flush with a heat far beyond that of summer, and the voice of Erius warbling in the background as sound began to fade out. A strange heat burrowed itself deep into the back of her mind, dizzying her thoughts and making her sight fuzzy. It was hard to stay in the moment. Meren yelled something at the back of the cart and pointed at it. That prompted the man to jump one of the beams and rush towards the back himself. Ava, who was closest, tried to move to intercept, but her body wasn’t responding. It was like overdosing on Evening Bells; her body had no mind to listen properly. Erius shoved her aside and she went tumbling into the bushes.

"You’d say anything to get what you want, wouldn’t you?” a soothing voice rang out in her head, overpowering everything else. "I want you to have everything you wish for, my dearest. How will you make good on your words in a ditch, with tools of bone and stone? With a mind that cannot help but break every bond you make?”

Something rippled through her body, an unease that made her feel like the rustling bush was swallowing her into some void. Ava battled against her own body, trying to stagger back onto the road, onto her feet. When the voice faded, some normalcy began to come back to her. She had just about stood up when a scream cut through the noise, ripping her attention up to the cart. A pale young woman sat curled up under a roughspun blanket, oaken hair with small horns jutting from her forehead. She was a beauty to behold, enough to make Ava’s fuzzy mind feel an all new array of dizziness. Ava followed the gaze of the beauty instead, and found herself staring at the scene that produced the scream in the first place; Meren stood over the man from the cart, blood on his blade. Erius thundered forwards around the cart to smack Meren over the head. Ava herself stumbled towards the scene with uncertain steps, breathing heavily.

“Idiot!” Erius yelled at a confused-looking Meren. “He’s protecting someone, of course he’s jumpy! Well, Meren, you’re a killer now. Welcome to the group.”

Meren stammered a quiet defence to Erius as Ava peered around, eyes fixating on the girl again. She was sobbing, screaming things at them, and huddling in her blanket. Running did not seem to have come across as an option to her. Even when she looked absolutely devastated, she was fascinating. Ava summoned her remaining strength to climb the side of the cart and make space beside the girl. Her sheer presence was enough to pacify the terrified woman, who cringed into a corner to make herself small. Ava narrowed her eyes, trying to think through the fuzz. ”What about the girl?” she mustered.

Erius paced towards the cart, glancing at her briefly. Like Ava, he seemed to appreciate her for a long time. She hadn’t known him to be that kind of old coot, but there was a day for everything. “Pretty thing like that; probably do her a service if we sell her. I have a contact by the swamplands.” he offered quickly, before glancing back to Meren to continue their talk. Ava hummed quietly and gave her a last look before beginning to shift away.

“...Please help me.” the girl spoke from her hideout in the cart. “I-..I heard what you said. I c-can.. I can pay you anything you want. Don’t let them take me. Pr--..Protect me.” Her hand clutched Ava’s tunic, halting her in her steps.

"A deal offered, and a deal taken. That is what you wished for, is it not?” the voice from before rang out once more, blurring the pleas of the woman and stowing the world back for a few moments. Her leathers grew heavier with weight, and her searching hands found a longer blade added to the collection she carried. A long knife, sheathed in what looked like hardened leather and silver. "With this blessing comes a warning, Ava, daughter of Urven and Kala. You swore on my name, and I have held you to the letter of that word. The next time you disrespect my name, you will wish the guards had killed you instead of cast you out.” With that, the voice was gone, and with it, the pressure on her mind. Reality spiraled back into focus with surprising speed and clarity, enough to shock her system. Ava tore herself away from the cart. She wanted to leave, but something inside her tugged at her heartstrings, buried itself deep in the back of her mind. A niggling need to do right by the girl.

”Fine.” she offered quickly, before stepping off the cart, just in time to intercept Meren heading straight for the woman. ”Can’t let you do that, friend.” she said, a twinge of venom bubbling up unbidden. She found a strange resolve when thinking of it; she had a purpose now. Whether she liked it or not.

“What? Come on, Ava, don’t be a bitch. I’m just gonna say hello.” Meren growled at her, and shoved her firmly. Ava stumbled a few steps, but quickly moved back to block his way. The exchange was enough to draw Erius attention away from looting the dead man, and he moved to join them.

”This woman is under my pr-...protection.” she spat out, tasting the words as they surprised even her.

“The hell are you saying? Stop fooling around, Ava. I f-fucking killed a guy!” Meren burst out, and again tried to push past her onto the cart. Ava booted him away with her foot, glancing at them both. That only seemed to enrage Meren more, and he reached for his blade, holding it up threateningly towards her.

“Ava, get down from there before I take you down myself.” Elrius shot in, but it was too little too late. Meren came towards the cart once more, hoisting his blade high. Ava reached instinctively towards her leather straps, grasping the first weapon that her fingers found. She clenched her hand around the hilt of the sheathed long knife and drew it. The knife had barely left an inch of its sheath when a spray of blood shot into the sky, spattering over both Ava and Elrius. Meren fell to the ground, clutching at his throat in a few panicked moments before life left him. Ava widened her eyes, staring at the scene. She glanced to Elrius in disbelief, only to see him topple backwards onto the ground, his tunic quickly staining with red all of its own. She pushed the blade back into its sheath, uncertain of what had just occurred. Silence reigned for a long time, as Ava just stared at the grisly scene.

“Thank you..” piped a voice from the back of the cart.

”...You’d better be worth the payment.” Ava eventually produced, pushing her emotions down and fighting the bitter sting in her eyes away. The old man had joked about Meren being his death not a week earlier, yet here she stood. Two years of cooperation, for what? Did she really speak to a goddess? Or a vengeful spirit? Ava slowly climbed off of the wagon, deep in thought.

“Wh-.. Where are you going?”

”Well, the old man won’t be needing that coin he liberated from your friend anymore.”







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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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Travels





"Solus!" Rhiona called out from Oraelia's realm. She lounged on a cloud, eyes shut as she listened to Galbar. Many things had alarmed her. Many things that a certain Lady of hers might have caused, but if Oraelia didn't know, then that was for the better.

She felt a vaguely familiar presence enter her mind, even though she had never met him before. It was her Lady's first avatar, one she called her son.

"Who… Are you?" The voice asked, powerful.

"You may search my mind to see the truth, Solus. I am Rhiona, caretaker of your mother's realm. We've run into a bit of an issue. Or several, that is." she said coolly.

Solus did not deign to answer but gave a satisfied rumble.

"Are you familiar with Ha-Duna? Druid land in the north of the place they call the Highlands. My Lady, your mother, she's given them many gifts and now they use her kindness to kill each other. Could you go and help those who remain faithful to the druid way of life?" she asked, stretching out.

Once again there was a long pause before the giant answered.

"Yes. Go… I shall."

Rhiona smiled. "Excellent! Thank you Solus. I'm here if you need anything else so do-"

"Someone… Help me."

The voice was small and sent a shiver down her spine. She took a quick peak to see a young woman, wrapped in furs in the middle of a blizzard.

"Solus, I'll talk to you later, duty calls. Ta ta for now." the connection faded and Rhiona then put her full attention on the girl.

"Oh you poor thing!" she said at once, flowing into her mind and warming it as she saw tragedy after tragedy.

The girl, Kia was her name, began to panic, thinking herself going mad by the cold.

"No, you aren't going mad my dear. I am Rhiona, voice of Oraelia, Goddess of Sunlight. I thought you felt familiar, now I see why. Well… You are not him and your path can still be changed." she said quickly.

"Goddess? Oraelia? The Spirit of the Sun? W-why have you come?" She asked.

"You asked for help and I have come, Rhiona that is. I'm Rhiona, my lady, your spirit, is out at this time. So now, let's see about getting you some place warm yeah?" she cracked her fingers.

"Warm… Yeah, that'd be nice." Kia said sheepishly.

Rhiona hummed as she thought about what to do for Kia. The north was a brutal place and she had no people. Plus her lust for revenge was growing steadily and the influence of less then desirable gods was taking root. She would have to do something a bit drastic and so, she snapped her fingers. A tear in reality opened up before Kia and through it there was a bright light. "Alright, step through the portal and you'll be warm." she sensed her hesitation and added, "I promise, there are no tricks here. You'll be safe and out of harm."

"Okay…" Kia half whispered before stepping through.

She arrived in the tropics. A place called Mydia. Rhiona knew that she would be safe there, at least safer then on Toraan. Hopefully. It would provide her with a fresh start and a chance at something new. Before Kia even had time to react, Rhiona blessed her with the capacity to understand any language, which would definitely come in handy.

Kia seemed to freeze up, whether by the intense light or the heat, it took her several seconds to register what had occurred. Then the panic set in.

"W-where am I? What is this place?" She said, turning around to see the portal fade.

"You are on a beach in a place far, far away from your old home. A place called Mydia! It's very warm here." Rhiona said, watching what she said.

Kia looked down at the white beach and moved her boot in it. "Mydia…? But why, I thought you would send me somewhere with a fire. Even a cave would suffice. I didn't want to go here!" Her voice became agitated.

"Kia, take a deep breath. This is for your own good. You can dislike it all you want, even hate me for it but one day you will realize this is what you needed. A fresh start, away from all the pain and tragedy that you were born into. You can start over here." Rhiona said softly.

Kia took a deep breath, and clutched her shaking fists together. "That wasn't your choice to make for me! You don't even know me! You don't even know the things I've done!"

She began to strip her clothes, sweat perspiring off of her as she struggled in her anger.

"Kia…" Rhiona began. "Trust me, please. If you truly hate it here, in a years time, pray to me again and I will send you back. Does that sound fair?"

But if at all Kia was listening, she said nothing. Rhiona refocused herself and to see that the girl had taken her boots off and was feeling the sand between her toes. There was a small smile on her face and Rhiona sighed in relief.

She would have to find her own way from there but Rhiona was confident she would be able to. Before she left Kia to her own devices however, Rhiona decided to leave her mark on the land.

She breathed a bit of her own life into the land that would mesh with the ecosystem. From the trees came snakes of dazzling color, vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. Much like their kin in the Luminant, except these she would name Sunsnakes and they would live in the tops of trees, luring prey as they mimicked fruits. But so too does predator need predator, and thus from the undergrowth came suncats, medium sized felines which looked like smaller Leons, except for a lack of manes. These cats came in patterns of gold with black stripes and black with gold stripes or broken patterns. They had small ears and large eyes, and could be quite friendly. They hunted in pairs or small groups.

But Rhiona knew that the predators would need prey and thus from the rocks came small mammals of yellow fur, or Suntims. They had large bushy tails, lengthy appendages and small faces with large eyes. They were family orientated and very curious.






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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Cadien




CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

Cadien stood in one of the new rooms of Meliorem, a blacksmith hammer in his hand, and an anvil in front of him. Smithing. His avatar's first host had been a smith. Now, the God of Perfection was trying his own hand at it.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!



Hours later, the work was finished. The statue of a man stood before him, tall and made out of bronze. The God smiled, and then reached into his soul, tearing a tiny sliver off as he had decades before. With the sliver in hand, he thrust it into the statue's chest. Power coursed through it, and then its metal eyelids opened, to reveal glowing amethysts beneath.

Cadien smiled. "Your name is Kharros. Do you know your purpose?"

The Statue nodded. "I do, master."

With a wave of his hand, Cadien opened a portal. "Good. See to it."





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Carn, Auriëlle & Titania

To free the Highland’s people from the wicked grasp of Ketrefa.

The sentence still got a chuckle out of Auriëlle. She reckoned any rebel stupid enough to rise up back in Nallan would use the very same sentence. Maybe they would even use her name. Yet here she was, not that far from a city she tentatively called home, ready to destroy another. The sorceress always knew Carn had some hard feelings towards the great city. Still the news that he was now actually moving against it came somewhat as a shock.

“Do you think he’ll win?” Esiré, who walked beside Auriëlle, asked.

“Alone? No.” The sorceress answered as she kept her eyes in front of her. She was getting close in the last days now. Her pace was higher than usual. Now she had broken into a full march. One Esiré could match, luckily. “But with me at his side? Ketrefa will be torn down to its vestiges.”

Those words summoned a smile on Esiré’s face. The young warrior had a knack for destruction, as she had shown in Bul’Gadin. For once Auriëlle was happy with some company. Especially the company of this strange warband she was seemingly, wordlessly, leading. Esiré, who acted as her second in command, seemed to be interested in magic as well.

Auriëlle’s warband, counting fifteen members, reached the peak of a hill. From the horizon they had seen the white smoke tendrils reaching the sky but now they could see the actual camp.

There was very little order to it. Individual warbands from dozens of different settlements had arrived, and set up wherever they pleased, with no pre-planned layout or direction. Hundreds of men and women wandered between the tents; some training, some conversing, some eating, and others patrolling the perimeter. At this distance there was no way of telling which tent belonged to Carn in particular, but this was undoubtedly the right place.

“Oh Carn, what have you gotten yourself into?” Auriëlle asked herself with a chuckle. Most of her warband, all armed as well, caught up with her. The sorceress, dressed in just commoner's clothes and leather robes, with a strange eyed disk on her hip and carrying something completely wrapped up on her back made her way down the hill. The only thing that truly adorned her was the small necklace that was given to her by the goddess. Slowly, to keep her warband together, she descended the hill and approached the campsite. In her chest, her heart began to flutter.

One of the sentries stopped upon noticing her approach. “And who are you!?” he shouted across the field.

“Your worst nightmare if you’re going to try and stop me!” Auriëlle shouted back, with a big smile plastered across her face. Gods it felt good to be free and fierce again.

The guard blinked, and then let out a sigh of exasperation. “No need to put on a show. Are you here to join Carnelian’s army or not?”

“I’m here to win his war.” Auriëlle said as she got closer. “And get my necklace back. By the way, his name is Carn. Just Carn.” She really hoped glory hadn’t gotten to his head now. “So where is he?”

The guard gave her a skeptical look. “Check the center of camp. The biggest tent. Should be two guards standing outside it.”

“Thank you.” Auriëlle said as she threw the sentry a far too big smile. Most of her warband kept a wary eye on everyone within the camp. Slowly they managed to make their way through the makeshift corridors of the camp.

“This is going to be problematic in a battle.” Esiré noted as she moved along a tent and nearly kicked over a cooking cauldron. “I bet half these people hate the other half. Destroying Ketrefa better be a damn good reason to get them all together or else we’ll have riots on our hands. Soon.”

“It is.” Auriëlle assured her companion. When they approached what was presumed the biggest tent in the center, which was indeed guarded, Auriëlle shouted: “Carn! Come out you ox!”

One of the guards winced at her abrasive tone, before casting a nervous glance back at the tent. The other glared at her. “Lord Carnelian is not accepting visitors right now, and you ought to show more respect.”

“Lord Carnelian?” Auriëlle frowned, then furrowed her brow. “Oh gods it’s really all gone to his head.” Still, she kept closing in. “Stand aside lady. I’ve known Carn for a lot longer than you have and he has something that he needs to give back.” Her own warband began to tense up as well. None of them were grabbing for their weapons but it was clear that they were preparing for a row.

“You’ll have to wait, then,” the guard grit her teeth. “He’s not taking visitors, and that’s that.” Around them, others had taken notice of the tension and stopped what they were doing. “Find a place to set up camp, if you haven’t already. Or go look for Lothar.”

Things were getting serious now. Even Auriëlle noticed it. She didn’t back down though. “Don’t make me move you.” The sorceress was getting close now. “Get Carn out or I will tear his tent down.”

A new voice pitched in. “What’s going on here?” a rather burly-looking men asked. He was clad in bronze armour, though some pieces were rather old and battered, as if it had been scavenged off a battlefield.

“This woman doesn’t understand what ‘no’ means, Chieftain Yarwick” the guard said. “She wants to see our lord. He’s not taking visitors.”

Yarwick frowned. “He isn’t? Why not?” And without waiting for a reply he walked forward, pushed the guards aside, and stepped into the tent.

Auriëlle’s eyes followed the new man inside. Tensions were still high. She didn’t want to stay in a stand-off for too long. So instead she decided to push her luck and began walking forward, towards the tent and the guards guarding the entrance. Challenging them to stop her.

They didn’t.

“Not again,” Yarwick muttered in frustration as she stepped inside the tent. The remark was not aimed at her, however. A table stood in the center of the tent, with a series of chairs surrounding it. At the far end of it was Carn, his head face down on the table, with his cheek resting on the wooden surface. His eyes were closed, and he was snoring gently. He was asleep.

At first Auriëlle didn’t know what Yarwick meant. That was until she saw Carn sleeping. She thought she would hug or even kiss him the second she’d see him yet here he was, not even bothering to be awake!? “You gods damned ox!” She yelled as she kicked a leg of the table. “This is how you welcome me back!?”

Carn jolted awake and leapt to his feet as the table shook. “Dammit, Ingrid!” he shouted, as he plucked a sliver of wood from his cheek. “I told you-” then he stopped, as he saw who stood in front of him. He blinked, and it took a few moments for him to process it, and when he did, his eyebrows rose. “...Auriëlle?”

She was glaring at Carn. A fire burned in her eyes. For a second she stayed calm. Until the first tear dropped. Then she rushed over, threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. “I told you I’d come back!”

“I…” Carn began, still taken aback by the sudden reappearance, but his arms wrapped around her almost of their own volition. “That was four years ago,” he said quietly.

She didn’t say anything. Instead she just took it all in. Right then she realized she’d almost forgotten how he smelled. Though eventually she released him. “Well you still have my necklace.” She said, now more playfully as she lightly touched his chest with her fist.

“I thought you were dead…” he whispered, before reaching forward to place a hand on her shoulder, as if testing if she was real.

She smiled. It was a smile of pure happiness that somehow still felt a little sad. Four years of regret somehow finally hit her square in the heart. “I don’t die that easily. Especially these days.” She said. “And neither do you, apparently.”

He offered her a thin smile. It was then that she noticed the dark circles under his eyes, and the haggard expression he was attempting to conceal. “Leave us, Yarwick,” he ordered. The Chieftain nodded, clearly relieved to be dismissed from the awkward reunion.

“Why don’t we get some wine in here and catch up?” Auriëlle said, realizing he had seen better days. She sat down on a nearby chair. “So what happened with you after Jalka?”

Carn did not sit, and took a few moments to consider the question as he leaned against the table. “I waited for you,” he told her. “You didn’t show up. Eventually, I had to leave. I uh, left the Redspears,” he scratched the back of his head, and seemed ashamed to admit that. “I wandered a bit, then found a place called Thyma. It was then that Cadien contacted me, and… set me on this path.”

Guilt crept up in Auriëlle’s chest. He waited for her? Why? She felt something cold grip her heart now. “You shouldn’t have waited.” She said. Her voice was colder, though she didn’t intend to appear frigid. Oddly enough, she didn’t particularly care that the Redspears were no more. Even though it looked as if Carn did. She just shrugged. “The path to destroy Ketrefa?”

“You could say that,” Carn nodded. “The people following me, they want the raids to stop. They want their loved ones back. They want revenge for everyone and everything that was destroyed or taken.” He shrugged. “If that means destroying it, then so be it.”

For a second Auriëlle turned her gaze slightly to look next to Carn. To look beyond him. She didn’t dare to look at Carn. Afraid he’d see the truth in her eyes. Only a handful of weeks ago she was that kind of person. She raided, she killed, she took prisoners and she destroyed. Everything Carn just summed up, she would be charged with. Though she didn’t feel guilty for any of it. Instead it made her wonder if there was a Carn back in Nallan. Someone blessed by the gods, who’d rise in strength and prepare to take his revenge. She quickly shook off the thought, locked her eyes with his again and said: “Well, I couldn’t have returned at a better time.” As she leaned back in her chair.

“They have my brother,” Carn went on, looking down at the table. “I think I told you that, once.”

“You did.” Auriëlle said.

“That’s why I’m doing this,” he said. “I was told it would get him back.” He cast an uncertain gaze toward the tent flap, then sat down on a chair, and lowered his voice. “That’s the only reason I’m doing this. But now… everyone expects me to be some hero. To break entire armies without taking a single loss. The way they speak of me, it’s like they think I can kick down Ketrefa’s gates and fight my way to their King singlehandedly. There’s even talk of me ruling Ketrefa as some sort of King after all this is over.” He shook his head miserably. “I just want my brother.”

Auriëlle frowned. This wasn’t the Carn she knew. This was some pale, small phantom of him. “Self-pity doesn’t suit you.” She said dryly. “You got what you need: an army. To hell with what they think of you. Use them, then take your brother and get out. It’s not like you swore you’d rule over the city. Raze it, if you want to.” A thin, more malevolent smile formed on Auriëlle’s lips now. “Or I could do it for you.”

“It’s getting there that’s the troubling part,” Carn told her. “Just last night, someone tried to kill me. There was also a brawl between two groups of warriors from different villages that hated each other. I can’t even get a short nap without hearing of some new issue, or some new arrival who demands to meet me - no offense.” He sighed. “Sorry. You didn’t come here to hear me complain.” His smile returned. “I’m… happy you’re here.”

Her smile turned nicer. She missed this, deeply. But then she got up and turned around, to face the entrance of the tent. For a moment she closed her eyes so she could listen to all the noises coming from beyond the tent. It sounded like any other war camp but at the same time Esiré’s words echoed through her head. “You’re on borrowed time already.” She noted. “You’ve got a pack of wild dogs outside. How long ago did you give them a prey to hunt?”

“They’ve been arriving over the past few days,” Carn said. “I spent all winter convincing chieftains, lords, and kings to support my cause. I’m not sure how many are coming, but I reckon I’ll end up with a couple thousand, at least. It’ll take a few weeks to get to the city, then I’ll need to figure out a way to get past those walls. I doubt a ladder rush will do it - you saw how that worked at Jalka.”

“If you think those guys can hold on together for another few weeks, you’re mistaken.” She said. In her mind she was already preparing a raid on some Ketrefa friendly manors and what not. There was bound to be a suitable target somewhere nearby. Then Carn talked about the legendary wall of Ketrefa. For a second Auriëlle wondered if she could tear it down. Even for her that was an extraordinary arrogant thought, but not one she immediately disregarded. With her mind made up, the talk about Ketrefa lost its appetite. The issue of its walls could be discussed when they got near. For now, she wanted to have some fun.

So she walked to one corner of the tent, the one with a pitcher and some cups on a table. She poured one cup and then carried both the pitcher and the cup back to Carn. Whom she offered the cup, and then took a gulp from the pitcher itself. The wine was not good to say the least. But then again, wine was wine. “Enough about Ketrefa.” She said. “What else happened. Did you meet any other gods?”

“I met the Avatar of Gibbou,” Carn revealed. “Titania, her name is. She pledged to support my cause. She’s here, actually.” He took a sip from the cup. “Probably should have mentioned that sooner.”

Her!? Auriëlle’s eyes grew wide. She nearly lost the grip on her pitcher. “And you’re telling me this now!?” She shot up and punched him on the shoulder. “You ox! Where is she?”

“Under heavy guard,” Carn answered, furrowing his brow slightly. “What’s with you and calling me an ox?”

“Because you’re acting like an ox.” Auriëlle said as she shot up and put the pitcher on the table. “Now let’s go.” She was already halfway towards the exit of the tent. “You’re introducing me. Properly.”

“What’s with the sudden interest in the divine?” Carn asked as he followed her out. “You never cared much for them before.”

“I still don’t.” She said, with a voice that might’ve been a bit too high pitched. “Now what tent is she in?”

“Follow me,” Carn instructed her, and set off, pushing past Aurielle’s men. “Lothar will likely be there, so mind your manners. He’s a priest, and a devout one at that. Doesn’t take kindly to perceived insults against the gods.”

“Ugh, they never do.” Auriëlle balked as she followed Carn. Though she stopped for a second and told Esiré: “Setup camp. Don’t cause trouble.” The mercenary woman just flashed her a faint smirk before her people walked away to find a spot.

“Well, this one is on speaking terms with both a god and an avatar, so I’d say he’s more fanatical than most,” Carn remarked as they walked.

It didn’t take long for them to find Titania’s tent. It was smaller, with eight guards standing outside. They saw Carn coming and immediately stood to attention.

“Where is Lothar?” Carn asked.

“Inside, my lord. With her.” One of the guards answered.

“I see,” Carn turned toward Aurielle, and gestured toward the tent flap. “Let’s go.”



The tent was empty, save for a single table, upon which was a silver suit of armour. Lothar knelt in front of it. “There is something… that I need to confess…” the priest said in a soft voice.

“Lothar?” Carn asked.

The priest tensed, and rose to his feet. “M-my lord,” he stammered.

“Is everything alright?” Carn asked with a furrowed brow.

“Everything is fine, my lord,” Lothar nodded. “Do you have business with me, or with her?”

“With her,” Carn answered.

“Very well. I’ll… leave you to it,” the priest made for the exit… and then came to a halt when he saw Aurielle. His eyes widened, and then narrowed. “You.”

“Me?” She asked, coyishly. Even though the priest did not particularly interest her. She was here only for Titania. Even though she couldn’t see the girl. Only what Auriëlle presumed to be her armor. “This is a bad joke, Carn.”

Carn ignored her, instead focusing on Lothar, who stepped past Aurielle without another word and exited the tent. Only when he was gone did he look back to Aurielle. “What joke?”

”Is this a mortal joke, maybe? I don’t get it.” The armour gave a hum. ”Is this what mortals refer to as ‘randomness’? I’ve heard that’s supposed to be funny.”

Auriëlle nearly jumped when she suddenly heard the feminine voice. “What the hell!?” She looked into the tent but there was nothing there. Then she came to her senses. “Hold up.” She said, as she slowly began to walk around the table, observing the armor upon it. Until she finally reached the helmet and put her finger on it. “You’re Titania.” Then another thought dawned on her mind. She looked up, still with her finger on the helmet. “Carn…” She said with a silky smooth voice. “Who wears this armor?”

The furrow in his brow returned. “...I do?” he said slowly. “Why?”

”No one wears me! I am my own armour - I shield my user from harm; in return, they take me where justice demands!”

At first the sorceress glared at Carn. Then the damn armor decided to speak up! She took a step back. “Yeah… justice.” Auriëlle slowly said. “Tell me, Titania, can you even move without someone inside of you?”

There was a pause. One could practically feel the armour flush with embarrassment. ”I am like a, a sword! A weapon greater than many, which is useless unless someone… Wields… It…” There came a metallic sniff. ”Anyway, who cares about that - I can protect innocents without moving! Behold!” In a flash, she produced a heap of leather armour next to her. ”Prime protection - out of thin air! Perfect for countering the fiends of chaos!”

“Right.” Auriëlle said, hiding how impressed she really was. You didn’t encounter talking armor that conjured leather armor at a moment’s notice without being at least a little bit impressed. Though the sorceress didn’t want to show it. “So you’re…inside of her.” She repeated, now looking at Carn. Slowly she walked back around the table towards him. “Must be… a pretty special bond.” When she got close, she gave him a quick, soft peck on his cheek before whispering: “You might want to step out.”

“Aurielle…” Carn seemed bewildered. “Don’t tell me that… are you jealous?”

”To be my user is an honour! Consider yourself blessed, Carn Swordsman!” She offered a proud laughter. ”To champion justice is a quest of virtue!”

Auriëlle didn’t acknowledge Carn’s question. She just turned around to face the armor that talked about honour, justice and virtue. She no longer faked how hollow those words sounded to her. Her soft expression crumbled. Revealing the hard ice underneath. Wind picked up and rustled the tent. Something shimmered on Auriëlle. Small horns sprouted from between her hair as the shadows in the tent drew long. She held out an open palm towards the armor and summoned a flame in her hand. It leapt from her fingers onto the table and quickly spread. The fires remained small though.

The sorceress’ appearance continued to shift. The horns grew, as a cloak of shadows and smoke cascaded from her shoulders, darkening the tent even more despite the flames. When the entire table was bathed in low flames, she clenched her fist, smothering the fire in her palm and raised her arm. An inferno roared up from the table. Igniting the tent’s canopy. Auriëlle didn’t care. She didn’t even care if it was a god’s avatar. She wanted Titania gone.

“What are you doing!?” Carn shouted over the crackle of flames. He seized her by the shoulders and pulled her out of the tent. There was already a commotion outside, as the flames and smoke attracted notice. One man was shouting for water.

A furious Lothar stormed toward them. “What have you done!?” he demanded.

”Oh? A champion of evil without heart to see the consequences of her ill deeds, I see.” In a shockwave, the flames turned to gentle steam, and all who found themselves dangerously close to the inferno that had been found that the earth itself had risen to shield them from the terrible flames. The table upon which the armour laid had become hot-glowing steel, twisted and lazy from the heat. Titania, however, was untouched - not even soot had harmed her visage.

Auriëlle didn’t acknowledge Carn or Lothar’s question. But Titania’s words rang like a taunt to her. The armor wasn’t even dirtied! But then she remembered Neiya’s words. Never challenge a god. She took a deep breath as she tried to calm herself.

“Pro- Auriëlle!” Esiré yelled, as she and five more of Auriëlle’s warband quickly gathered around her. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.” Auriëlle said. Then she turned her gaze at Carn. “Wear the bitch for all I care.”

”You see this, Carn? This is what we fight - wanton destruction, uncontrolled rage - these are the enemies of peace. Quickly, put me on and let us apprehend her!”

“No!” Carn shouted. “Both of you, enough!”

“You should do as the Avatar says,” Lothar interjected. “You cannot-”

“Enough!” Carn repeated, before turning on Aurielle. “You. Come with me.”

Titania scoffed. ”Carn, you cannot side with her in this! She’s obviously a black-hearted being!” There then came a sharp gasp. ”Wait, where’d she go? Where’d she go?! Wearer, where is she?!”

He looked at Aurielle. “She’s… right here… what’s going on?”

“No.” Auriëlle told Carn in response to his command, crossing her arms. She just got off the hook working for a queen like a dog for a year. She wasn’t going to take orders now. Not from Carn. Not from anyone.

Meanwhile Esiré and the cult members, with faint hearts, looked at each other while Titania raved about not seeing the prophetess. They had suspected for so long. The fainter stars, the sense that they were watched unless they were together. The shouting of the armor began to confirm their suspicion.

”She’s -obviously- not there, otherwise I’d see her clear as day, wearer! She must’ve escaped in the inferno! Quickly, put me on! We have no time to waste in our pursuit!”

Carn did not reply. Instead, he stepped closer to Aurielle. “Come with me,” he insisted, looking her in the eye. “Please,” he whispered.

Auriëlle loosened her arms. “Alright.” She whispered back, ready to follow him. The people of her Warband kept around her, though their eyes were more on Titania than on Carn.

Meanwhile, Titania kept shouting, ”Wearer? Wearer! Where are you going?! There’s justice to be served! WEARER!”



Carn led her back through the camp, through the ever-growing crowd, while ignoring the questioning glances. Eventually they made it back to his tent, and he led her through the entrance. Once inside, he turned to face her.

“What was that?” he asked quietly.

“Just testing her.” Auriëlle didn’t even try to hide the lie.

“That wasn’t just a test,” Carn said. “I’ve seen that look on you before. The horns are new, but the look in your eye wasn’t. You wanted her destroyed. Why?”

She kept her eyes off him. There was still anger in her and she didn’t want to unleash it. Not now. But she also knew what he already thought. That she was jealous. Maybe she was? “I’m not going to feed your ego.” She just said.

He did not relent. “Why did you think it was a good idea to attack the avatar of a god in full view of the entire camp?”

“Because I didn’t think!” She finally snapped at him. “Because I just saw her and hated her and wanted her gone! What? Afraid I’m going to divide your camp? Break your army? Give me a week and a quarter of this bloody warbands is going to love me! She’s the one who doesn’t belong here!”

“Why?” Carn demanded. “You just met her. She’s the Avatar of a God. It’s better to have her on our side than see her used against us!”

“Cause she’s an avatar of a God! Have you ever listened to her? Talking about justice and virtue and all that bullshit?” She wanted to keep shouting. To empty her soul. But she knew she couldn’t shout the next words. So with all her might she whispered at him: “What happens when she realizes you’re just in it for your brother? What happens after Ketrefa? Ever thought about that?” She grabbed the pitcher she left before and took a swig. Trying to wash down her rage a little longer.

“You say you do this because of your brother. If that were true you would’ve dyed your hair black, snuck in, got him out and ran far away. Instead you’re here preparing for war against Ketrefa, gathering an army, having an avatar on your side. You say you don’t want to be king? That’s fine. But don’t you fucking dare tell me you’re just doing this because of your brother. You love all this. You love leading an army and being a warlord.” Her words, even whispered, started with malice and anger. But at the end she just felt hollow. “It’s why I loved you.” She finally admitted.

She let silence reign for a moment. Before grabbing the wine pitcher and walking out. “Come find me when you’re finally done making stupid excuses for yourself.” She said. “Meanwhile I’m going to make sure your fifty packs of bloodhounds don’t tear each other’s throat out before we even see the grand prize.”

“Aurielle, wait!”

She didn’t.

She just vanished into the camp together with the six warriors of her warband.






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Brundt




Brundt was out of his depth.

He had never managed an army before. He had never even led a warband. He had been trained in tactics and combat as part of his upbringing, but in truth he had no real experience. Some part of him wished that he had never lifted the hammer. Or that he had refused the position. Thousands of lives weighed on him, and he was not ready. Now he had no choice but to try his best.

At least it wasn’t all bad. Milos had been the son of a Lord-Captain, and had been taught logistics out of necessity. He was of great help in making sense of the previous Lord-Captain’s notes and records, as well as advice in general.

Brundt had also spoken to the men who had returned from Abbas’s ill-fated endeavour. The stories they told were conflicting, but troubling either way. Some claimed they had been set upon by only a handful of men, but every shot had found its mark, and every shot had been lethal. Others claimed they had been surrounded by a force of hundreds. The only constant was the involvement of a man named ‘Carnelian’, who allowed them to surrender on the condition that they would never take up arms against him again.

It was a dangerous thing, to break an oath. But even if they were willing to risk Tekret’s wrath, Brundt looked into their eyes and knew nothing could compel them to risk Carnelian’s.

Such a strange name…

Ultimately, he realized he could not launch another offensive. They only had a few weeks of autumn left. That was not enough time to replenish their losses, yet alone launch a campaign. Besides, how could he be sure whatever host he raised wouldn’t be crushed as the first one had? He knew not what he was dealing with. Was it magic, or the blessing of a god? Magic, they could counter. The blessing of a god would be hard.

So in the end, they had to opt for what many would perceive as inaction. The war must resume in the Spring. And if he intended to recruit from the surrounding villages, he would need to wait until planting season was over. The best he could do was send some scouts into the countryside, to hopefully keep watch for any enemy activity.

So with a resigned sigh, Brundt prepared himself for the long winter that lay ahead.



Autumn gave way winter, and as expected, nobles were already defying his authority; the Cult in particular.

The city had been placed under a Regency Council, with Brundt, Varsilis, and Trehe being included on it, but at least one of the members was sympathetic to the Cult, and he proved to be a thorn in their side when it came to actually governing the city.

As for Brundt, his ability to command the army was being thwarted in several small ways. Orders were lost or ignored. Supplies were delayed or withheld. Commoners took to the streets in protest of the higher food prices, even though such a thing occurred every winter. The guard did their best to investigate it, and from time to time someone was arrested, but they found nothing to directly implicate the cult’s inner circle.



Brundt sighed with frustration. He sat at the Lord-Captain’s desk. He was one of the most powerful men in the city, but he felt powerless. All he could do was receive reports, or inspect the army and its walls. Normally his job would have been to coordinate raids as well, but in the midst of winter such efforts were pointless. The enemy would not march in the winter, for the same reason as Brundt. But when spring came, they would come, and he had to be ready.

The soldiers of Ketrefa’s army seemed loyal enough. Most of those who had been converted into the cult had died following Abbas. Both the House of Perfection and the House of Order had been doing everything in their power to spin a narrative that Abbas’s defeat was due to his lack of faith in the Five. A soldier had to pray to Cadien for strength and Tekret for discipline. Going into battle with the favour of only one goddess, and a love goddess at death, had been foolhardy, they had said.

As a result, even the soldier-cultists who hadn’t been present at the battle had begun to distance themselves from the cult, and discard their amulets. The common soldiery, or at least most of it, was his.

The army’s officers were another problem. They were in a similar position to the soldiery, surprisingly enough. Many were faithful men and women, who held the gods close at heart - all five of them. There had once been a considerable portion of cultists among their ranks, but again, most had been killed in the battle, for Abbas had prioritized bringing leaders he could trust. As far as religion went, they at least carried the same beliefs as Brundt.

That didn’t mean they were all confident in him, however. He was, as they had called him for years, an outsider. A barbarian. A savage. The majority had grudgingly accepted him, since he had the patronage of both religious orders, had been educated as a noble, and bore the name of a house once known for martial prowess. But he knew that at least some of them secretly despised him, and they were the source of some of his frustrations.

The bulk of his frustrations came from the civilians under the cult’s yoke.

But, he had the army. It would be a simple enough act, to march two hundred men into the Court of Flames and arrest all the nobles who were rumoured to be involved. The cultists who infested the army’s ranks might be able to make themselves a nuisance, but being a nuisance would not be enough to thwart such a force.

The act itself would be simple, but the consequences would be not. Their followers would rise up, and the city would burn. The streets would run red with blood, and Brundt did not wish to order the slaughter of misguided slaves and citizens. Especially when there were many who only joined because they had valid misgivings with the status quo. And it would leave the city weaker, to boot.

That left one other option. Varsilis would not like it, but if he was to lead the city, then he would need the entire city united behind him. He had to make a deal.

So, he called an aide, wrote a message, and sent it off. He doubted they would agree to a meeting, but it was worth an attempt.

Two days later, a messenger from the office of magistrate Matan from the lower quarters came with a missive; the Lord-Captain was invited to the estate of House Anestra, a minor and unimportant branch house of the defunct Akellos family - stricken from notice after the passing of their patriarch and sole living member. Though details were sparse, the invitation was for 'matters of the clergy'. The implications were clear.

Brundt considered the invitation for a moment. It was a risk, and yet, one side would have to take a risk in order for a meeting like this to occur. Then he thought about it further, and decided that if it was some sort of trap, he could likely fight his way out if needed. He was, after all, the strongest man in the city, if not the entire highlands, and mundane blades could not pierce his skin.

So, with an escort of a dozen men, he set out.

The path to the estate brought him through the worst of what the cult had to offer, barricaded and dilapidated districts in total disarray. Hungry and worried citizens were clashing with guards and each other, and houses were likewise quickly blockaded when he made his way past. He had seen it before - but recent events were like a spark of flame to tinder. Peasants clamoured for help and cursed him and his men with equal measure, demanded the aid of the gods, or loudly decried all but Neiya. Worse, the rowdy crowds seemed to incense each other, and as soon as he stepped foot in a cult-aligned district, the guards were few and far between at best. Destruction, littering, defacing. It had become the norm of much of Ketrefa, under the cult's guidance.

That all changed when he found himself wandering into the old Water Gardens, a small district where many low-rank nobles made their home, named for it's once many beautiful riverside villas. It was now firmly in Cult territory on all sides, yet none of the devastation seemed to have reached it. Well-tended houses, flocks of active servants working as though nothing had changed. On each of the houses he passed sat a single emblem above the entrance - the heart of Neiya.

So too with the Anestra estate, a modest villa at the end of a dirt road with two well-dressed men stood guard outside. Brundt recognized their dress from another time, they wore the same outfits as the men and women who had barred entrance for the ceremony during his last visit to a cult district.

Brundt approached the front entrance with his men behind him. “I am Lord-Captain Brundt,” he said in an authoritative tone. “I have been invited here for a meeting.” The two men said nothing, simply taking a step to the side. Their eyes fell on his escort, not all of whom seemed pleased to fall under scrutiny. Again, nothing was said, allowing Brundt entry to the estate itself. His guards remained behind, with Gelos leading them.

The Anestra estate was an ode to a bygone time in all ways, with art and heraldry lining the walls that many seemed to have lost an appetite for in the chaotic decades past. Hundreds of religious artifacts were pinned to a silken sheet, as if to put them on immediate display when one entered. The sheet itself was stained with an expensive blue. On closer inspection, none of the symbology appeared to belong to Neiya - though Brundt found himself looking at a whole plethora of lost Cadien amulets, staves, and miscellaneous artifacts. Two servants conversed at the end of a small water feature, their conversation quieting when the tall man entered. Wordlessly, a fair young woman stood up, smiled at him, and gestured further into the estate.

Brundt carried on, frowning at the clearly-stolen artifacts. Perhaps he should try negotiating for their return, if possible. That would help soften the reactions of his supporters if he did somehow come to an agreement today.

Carried past further relics of the city as he swung through hallways filled with liberated artifacts and artworks. Finally, he found himself in a lounging room. It was lavishly decorated, fit for a room in the royal family's home, with pillows and soft silk spread on almost every conceivable surface. Centered in the room was a woman, at least a decade his senior by Brundts estimate. She wore a thinly woven blue gown that left little to the imagination, and rose when he entered the room. "Ah, the esteemed Lord-Captain. Welcome to my humble abode, I am Mira Anestra, the heiress of my father's estate." She posited with a pleasant tone and extended her hand languidly.

Brundt took the offered hand and kissed it, as was the custom. “Do you know why I am here?” he asked her.

The woman pushed a lock of brown hair from her face and smiled, gesturing for him to sit soon after. "It's good manners to come when invited," she professed. "Would you like something to eat or drink while we talk, my lord?"

“That won’t be necessary, my lady,” Brundt answered. “I’d prefer to get to business.”

Mira sighed softly, but maintained a gentle smile. “As you wish, my lord. Please, speak your piece. This is a safe haven for all.” she gave before gently tugging at her gown and sliding back down on the pillows from whence she came.

Brundt’s gaze couldn’t help but drift downward as she tugged at her gown, but he quickly corrected it, and found a seat. “I’m here to talk about the war,” he said. “More specifically, your people’s contributions to it, or lack thereof.”

She scoffed quietly, a small smile plied onto her features. “And what is it you want ‘my people’ to do, my lord? We’re simply faithfuls making a life for ourselves in this chaotic world. Have you felt the Goddess love?”

“I am the Champion of Cadien,” Brundt reminded her. “But I hold all gods in equal esteem.”

Mira offered a soft chuckle, running her hands up to stream through her hair before tilting her head to cast it backwards, eyes on Brundt. "That's not something I think is possible, my lord, but I respect your choice to believe so." She mused politely, before lifting her fingers to wave across the room. The young woman from before rushed across the room with two cups and an amphora. She began to pour what appeared to be wine as Mira continued to speak. "Once you have felt the love of the Goddess, it is impossible to recognize that another could be as great."

Brundt studied her expression carefully. “I’m not so certain of that.” He touched his fingers to his scarred cheek. “What I do know, is that I was rescued from a fire by Evandra. I was healed by worshipers of Gibbou, I was named the Champion of Cadien by the House of Perfection, and I was supported by Tekret’s House of Order. Why dedicate myself to one deity when I have received the aid of multiple?”

"To me," she began, wafting away the wine girl to reach for a filled cup. "It sounds like only Evandra has truly come to your aid. How is that different from what we do in the city?" Mira smiled at him gracefully, and tilted the cup gently in his direction, offering it to him with both hands.

Brundt accepted the cup and tilted it against his mouth, but he did not allow the liquid to pass his lips. “It is different,” he insisted. “The Houses of Perfection and Order do not flout the city’s laws. They do not vandalize districts or turn them against the other gods. They do not resist the commands of the Lord-Captain as an army rises to destroy all that they hold dear.”

Mira smiled warmly at him and lowered her hands to elegantly sweep up the other cup. She nestled it in her lap, bunching up her gown gently. "We do not do those things either, my lord. You operate with the assumption that we do anything. There is no culprit here. No order to hold accountable. We are just faithful men and women spreading the word of the Goddess." She sighed softly. "You came here of your own volition. Where is the vandalism here? The truth is that when unfettered by material needs, people do what they wish, rather than what their lord wishes."

“And the people have been allowed to do what they wish for far too long,” Brundt told her, whilst fighting to maintain eye contact. “If this is occurring because you are doing nothing, then I would advise that you do something. Those people will not realize the danger until it is too late, and if our city falls, then both your life and theirs will be destroyed.”

"I know many of my compatriots are intending to depart. Perhaps with the right incentives, they could be persuaded to take a stand." She offered without shame, lifting her cup to take a short sip. Her gaze fixed on Brundt over the rim, and it lingered there to mask her features. "If as you say, my lord, you are unable to have the people heed you, perhaps you require assistance."

“Leave in the winter,” Brundt began, finally taking a sip of his own cup, “and most of them will freeze to death. Leave in the spring, and there are still dangers - trolls, and the risk that Carnelian’s army will catch them. They’ll be without friends, for Ketrefa isn’t particularly beloved these days, and they’ll have only what they can carry. Even if they do survive, whatever life they live won’t be safe, or comfortable. But if they stay here, and contribute to the city’s defense, they can keep their lives and their wealth. What more incentive do they need?”

Mira lowered her cup, smiling a Brundt with a trained elegance. "These are trials of the body, Lord-Captain. I do not fault you for locking yourself into such a dungeon of thought - you are a champion of the body, after all," she replied demurely, her own gaze travelling over his features before returning to meet his eyes. "My kin have shorn such needs, as long as our spirit is sated. They want a house of worship."

Brundt raised an eyebrow. “Do you not have such places already?”

"Only what other clergy have abandoned in these trying times. The worship of the Goddess represented by the old men and women at the Temple of Love does not align with the true nature or meaning of being one with Her. As such, it won't do for us of the true faith to wander their flecked halls." Mira explained, absentmindedly drawing a ring with a finger by her collarbones. "But perhaps if we were allowed to use, say, the old Citadel chambers by the palace…"

Brundt considered the proposal. In truth, it was not technically within his power to grant, but he could perhaps make it a reality if he pushed hard enough. “If I were to agree to this,” he said guardedly. “I would need certain assurances in return.”

"Let me assure you, Lord-Captain. I am fully at your disposal." Mira gave in turn, smiling at him still as her cup lifted to her lips once more.

Brundt wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that smile. “The attacks against guards, soldiers, and preachers must end. The thefts of religious artifacts, and the defacements of temples, must end. And I’ll need you to convince your people to join the militias and the army; to contribute to the city’s defense. If you do this, then there can be mutual tolerance between our two faiths.”

She watched him for a time, making a point of slowly drinking from her cup as if to afford herself natural space to think. When the cup came down, she gently rubbed her lips together. "Given our rightful space, I can promise none of my brethren shall call for the defilement of the city in these trying times. And we can call for the citizens to take up arms, but they must be cared for by the city. Food, weapons." She concluded with a diplomatic tone. "And we would like an official advisor in your council."

“Those terms seem agreeable enough,” Brundt nodded slowly. “So long as your people pay the taxes they owe, providing rations and weaponry should not bring much difficulty. So, do we have an agreement?”

"I agree to your terms, Lord-Captain. It shall be my foremost mission to inspire my kin with your intent," she extended a hand for him languidly across the seat of pillows. "I've no doubt that together we shall change the path of Ketrefa forever. For the survival and flourishing of this majestic city."

Brundt took the hand and kissed it. Then, he raised his glass. “To survival,” he agreed.

She offered him a beaming smile, lifting her own in response. "With the aid of the Goddess, anything is possible. Keep that in mind, Lord-Captain, when all this settles."

Brundt nodded in response. “Now, is there anything else or shall I be on my way?”

"Well, Lord-Captain, it's not often I keep such distinguished guests. And judging from what little I know of you-... you don't play houseguest all that often." Mira professed politely. "I was hoping we'd soothe each other's souls in these troubled times. Get to know each other. We may yet end up working together closely, after all." Already her hand lifted to wave over the young woman with a pitcher, and the attendant danced over the pillows gingerly to begin another pour.

“Not many nobles are willing to host a disfigured barbarian,” Brundt pointed out, with some bitterness, “regardless of what titles he holds.”

Mira shifted closer on the pillow-covered floor, settling her cup next to his. Her hand extended once more, this time to place on his chest with confident but graceful motion. "Do not mistake me for a common noble, my lord; a thief of wealth and delinquent administrator. You'll find no such misplaced inhumanity in my household - or those of my kin. All are equal before the Goddess. Permitted to experience and enjoy in her vigil."

Brundt considered the offer. He still did not trust these people, yet he had made an alliance with them, so he had to at least pretend to be polite, just as they pretended to tolerate him. “Very well. I suppose I can stay for a little longer. How do you propose we soothe each other?”

"Well - perhaps you'd stay for dinner. Sample what we have to offer; it's probably not what you're used to living in your fortress of wealth," She mused with a small smirk. "But until then, we could simply get to know each other." Mira continued quietly, and her free hand tugged gently at the neckline of her gown, dragging a shoulder free slowly.

Brundt’s eyes widened slightly as he realized what was happening. “I… don’t think that’s…” he began nervously, his voice trailing off.

"Did I misread your gaze, my lord?" Mira queried softly, her eyes fixed on him with a half-lidded demure expression. Her hand moved from his chest, slowly closing around his wrist. "I am but a humble resident of the city," she continued as she made a move to guide his own hand towards her. "I truly am at your full disposal. Let a simple servant of the Goddess care for you."

Brundt could have easily torn his hand from her grip, and he knew that he should, but he didn’t. He tensed slightly when his palm made contact with her, and he considered the implications of her offer. This… had to be some sort of trick. Some sort of manipulation. Did she think that doing this would make him more likely to listen to her? Even he could see through that. And yet… she thought it would work. And, if he played along, she would think it was working. Perhaps underestimate him, thinking he was already under her thumb. And surely that could only be an advantage?

He gave her a nod. Yes, that’s why he was doing this, he lied to himself. A sacrifice, for the greater good. Nothing more.

A warm smile flushed over the older woman’s features, and without looking away from him, she raised her voice to proffer a simple “Leave us” to the attendant still lounging around. Her hand brushed against his clothes again, demure and teasing after her own guiding. Mira drew herself against him slowly, lips pursing as she shifted upwards to push her face towards his.






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The Misadventures of Twilight - The Escape



The shoreline of the Kubrajzar desert existed in this odd limbo where water meets earth and nothing happens in terms of life. Sure, there were reefs a swim off the coast and one or two oases further inland, but right here, at the border between the two realms of sea and sand, there was nothing but, well, sea and sand. Twilight approached, and Twilight was grateful. His eyes had been burning all day and could really use a few hours of moonlight. He sucked in a deep breath, smelling that fresh stink of beached seaweed and bird droppings, keeping his joyous gait with one hand on the pommel of Tsukigami-no-Kokoro and the other resting nearly on the inside of his robe fold. He may have had an appearance of freedom; however, inside, he couldn’t help but feel trapped. The annoying menace behind him kept sternly reminding him of that funny, little word: “mission”. He had hope, though - she seemed the type who would eventually crack if convinced. He exaggerated a yawn, stretching his arms high above his head.

”Say, Kesha… What’s dommy Tekret like, actually?” he mumbled and gave one of his teeth a suck.

“Not my name,” She glared at Twilight for a moment before relenting, “But, fine. Tekret is uhm, well she doesn’t stop working. Except she’s never working? Honestly it’s a little confusing, but I guess Gods don’t have to move to like, do things?”

Kesheret looked over to the ocean, and a disfigured mass that had to have been a whale two or three months ago. She pinched her nose cautiously and went on, nasally, “Anyway she was usually just lounging on a beach. Which was a lot nicer than this one, just saying.”

”’Course it would be. They never gotta do anything to get what they want. It literally just takes a-” Snap! ”... And it’s there. I’m honestly surprised she can think of other things to do than just lounge, smoke and drink. Speaking of…” He pulled out his pipe and started scraping algal remains out of the bowl.

“What? Speaking of what? Have you noticed you trail off a lot?”

”That so?” Twilight managed to squeeze inbetween huffs and drags through the now-smoking pipe. He held it in for a few paces and then expelled a rapidly expanding gray plume that blew further inland. ”Ah, that soothes the nerves. Hey, you wanna try?” he asked and offered her the pipe mouthpiece first.

"Hm? Oh, sure," Kesheret grabbed the pipe and did her best to imitate Twilight. Halfway through her third puff she abruptly coughed and sent smoke out through both her nostrils before gasping for air, only to get more of the smoke shed just expelled.

It was enough for her throw the pipe at Twilight and, wheezing a bit, blame him, "What, ack, what the fuck? That's horrible. Soothes the nerves? What the hell are you- Oh. Oh. Oh ok I see it."

Twilight brushed some smouldering embers off his robe and refilled the now-empty pipe with a meagre smirk. ”Mm-hm. Told ya. Best thing about these powers? This grass is but a snap of a finger away.” He snapped his fingers to illustrate, and in his palm appeared a fistful of pipeweed. ”Toraan’s got buckets of it naturally. This real nice thumbling named Oscar showed me. Ever met a thumbling?”

“Neat,” Kesheret’s eyes widened as Twilight displayed his powers, before turning her gaze onto her own thumb in confusion, “And, uhm, uh no. Is that like a talking thumb or?”

”Nah, more like a human shrunk down to size of a thumb. You following, kehd? They are the best.” There came a wash of water, this one different than all the other waves that struck the seaside so lazily. Twilight blinked and listened in. ”Did you hear that?”

“Yeah.” Kesheret looked dreamily at the waves, and the sand, and the desert, and the sky. She exhaled contentedly, “You can really hear everything out here can’t you. The world’s so... Big.”

”Yeah… Real, real big. Almost a shame that we aren’t able to explore it uninhibited.” He shrugged weakly and gave his pipe another suck. ”Life just ain’t fair sometimes.”

“Mhm…” Kesheret offered in fleeting response. Twilight sighed two smoke plumes through his nostrils and gave the sky a pensive look. He looked back at the ocean again - maybe he could use some sort of magic to track this… Drighina. He tried sampling the air for any smells, only to realise he had no idea what they smelled like. He shifted another glance at Kesheret - her eyes were still fixed to the deserts further inland. He thought to the sound he had heard earlier; he hadn’t been mistaken. Something definitely came ashore. If he could just get her to leave…

”Pheeeeew! Feels like we’ve been walking for months, doesn’t it?”

”You do make time pass slowly.”

”That hurts, Kesha.”

”Again - not my name. It’s Kesheret - kesh-eh-ret.” The woman tensed in annoyance. Twilight rolled his eyes.

”Whatever. You’re just bitchy over the fact that you got sent to rein me in, aren’t you?”

”You’re making it hard not to be, you know that, right?”

”Wouldn’t it be awesome if you didn’t have to?”

Kesheret groaned. ”And again, you are not walking free just like that, got it? By dad-mom, it’s like I’m talking to a wall!”

Twilight hung his head. ”Pfft, ain’t that just a load of-- IS THAT A COOKIE-CUTTER SHARK?!” he shouted and pointed at the desert.

”A what?” Kesheret mumbled, rubbing at her ears, and turned her gaze for an instant to where he was pointing. When she looked back, Twilight was twenty metres ahead of her, sprinting as though his life depended on it. ”Really?”

”I WILL NOT BE SHACKLED! I AM FREEEE!”

Kesheret growled in annoyance and took flight, casually floating above her colleague with studying his panicking strides. ”Y’know, I’m kinda curious, actually. Do you have some kind of… Dislike for you powers or something?”

”I-- uhuh-uhuh -- I don’t!” he forced ought between his panting breaths. Kesheret offered a slow nod and an unconvinced mm-hm.

”You could’ve literally teleported away at any point - are you sure you’re an avatar?”

Twilight stopped so suddenly Kesheret nearly fell out of the sky trying to readjust her flight path. The vagabond offered his hands a look, then gave one to Kesheret before cracking a face-wide smirk. Kesheret blinked. ”Twiliiiight… Don’t.”

The vagabond slowly lifted his hands. ”No! Don’t! Bad Twilight!”

Twilight drew a circle in the empty air, his palms leaving behind a moon-blue trace. Even as Kesheret kicked off to stop him, she couldn’t reach him in time. The man vanished into the rift in space and it closed as Kesheret reached his position. She stood there and stared blankly at the air.

”ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!”




Twilight had no idea how long he had been travelling through space and time. His portal spell had been hasty and crude - it flung him between dimensions like rubbish down a rocky hill. Years seemed to fade into nothingness, blowing on the cosmic wind like fine sand. It felt as though the trip took less than a minute, all the while lasting for aeons. Before Twilight truly managed to grasp the nature of the spell, he was gripped by a powerful force and pulled into a black crevice. Cosmic energy turned to moisture; void became hard, hard, oh, so very hard ground; and Twilight rolled all over it and crashed into a thick, firm tree trunk. It took him a moment to recover, his fingers caked in blood from a hundred cuts and bruises from all over his body, all of which were rapidly healing even as he inspected them. Thank the gods he was immortal. He hauled himself to his feet and looked around - he appeared to be in some kind of forest; a very wet and inhospitable forest, at that. The air was closer than the space between grains of sand at the beach, and the canopy hung over his head with oppressive density. Almost as thick as the moisture was the presence of all manner of insects - both aflight and acrawl. His sandals filled with all sorts of beetles and ants, all of which began inspecting the legs of his raggedy pants for snacks; his exposed hands and face were swiftly assaulted by fliers curious to see what divine skin and blood would taste like. The avatar took a deep breath. This was fine.

”This is fine,” he repeated like a mantra before taking his first step. The hard soil turned to deep mud after a few steps, soaking into the fabric of his pants.

”This is fine.”

A thick, almost stonehard clump of something smelly struck him in the scalp and slowly slid down the side of his face. The avatar brought a quivering hand to his soiled cheek and sampled the substance between his fingers. It was sticky. Reluctantly, he held the fingers up before his eyes. It was a greenish brown. Lastly, with a stone of anxiety in his stomach, he gave it a sniff.

It stank to high heavens.

With a squeal, the avatar started slapping and wiping himself all over with panicking hands, scraping off filth and smacking bugs. His legs danced through the mud and his messy ponytail whipped at the swarms around him. ”GETOFFGETOFFGETOFF!”

“Halt!” came a nearby voice and Twilight froze. His eyes fixed on a woman standing amidst the trees. She had bark-brown skin, black hair, and a long, animalistic tattoo that snaked its way from her cheeks to her stomach. She wore a wary frown and held an obsidian spear at the ready as she approached. The more Twilight looked, the more woman he saw pop out of the surroundings as though they had been there all along. Ignoring the bug bites and the fact that he was slowly sinking into the mud for a moment, he slowly brought his hand towards the hilt of his sword. The mere movement caused everyone around him to heft their spears higher.

“One move and you’re dead, outsider,” snarled the first woman. Twilight snickered, his hips sinking into the mud as well.

”Brave of you to carry that tone with me, lady… I see that I may have to reveal my true power level to gain some respect around here. Hehehe.” He was up to his chest in mud. The women all seemed to lower their spears in confusion and disbelief for the avatar’s calmness in the situation.

“... You… You do realise you’re sinking, do you, outsider?” Calmness wasn’t the right word, perhaps. Twilight’s smirk broadened.

”A temporary setback, love.” The mud settled neatly around the root of his neck. ”Behold - I will be free in the mere blink of an eye! Yes! That’s right - you have the pleasure of meeting no one else but ME! Twilight! Vagabond of the Moon and-- why isn’t my spell working?” Under the mud, his fingers were having a hard time snapping - the mud made his fingers slip. ”You’re kidding me.”

The women adopted states of sighing or laughing. The first one rested the bridge of her nose on her index and her thumb. “Alright, that’s about the extent to which I will be patient with your games, outsider… Sisters, pull him up.”

”No, wait!” Twilight pleaded. ”I can still prove my divinity! Wait!”

“Gag him, please.”

”No, wait, I-- erhmph! Hmmph! Ehveveve!” It took two of them gag him with a sweaty vine. The avatar growled and fought back as they tried to pull him up. The ones holding him found themselves struggling immensely against his strength, and it took the whole band of them and twenty metres of vines to bind him. Oh, and they had to knock him out, too. In the end, Twilight was dragged face-down along the jungle floor, for miles and miles. He was asleep for most of it, but towards the end, he woke up to realise he had acquired a series of new scars all over from his very being being sanded away by the ground. He was sat up, his eyes still recovering, and given just enough time to take in the sights of a small village at the border of the jungle, situated on a rise overlooking a distant growing city centered around a pyramid in the middle of construction.

“Welcome to Zetanze, tributary of the great Zuanwa, outsider.”

Twilight blinked. Where in the world had he ended up now?!





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It was late at night. People were asleep in their tents, or shouting loudly as they drank themselves into a stupor again. After the first week, camp life becomes dull. It takes a strong hand to maintain discipline. Auriëlle and five of her people snaked through the tent-camp. Tired eyes of the night guard watched them in passing, and then forgot all about them. They made their ways to a particular camp that was still being pretty lively. Fire burned brightly and their shouts were loud. A few hushed whispers, combined with some food, was enough for the ragged night watch to let them through.

When the chieftain’s tent flap opened, all eyes were on them. For a second there was tension in the air. Who else but killers would enter another man’s tent so unannounced. Then a crude laugh erupted from the chieftain. “Do my eyes lie to me now!” The chieftain thundered for the entire tent. He was a big man. Auriëlle barely recognized him, but she did recognize the banner: Evenstar. The man saw the confusion in her eyes: “It’s me! Gundurr! I haven’t gotten that ugly!” He roared. “I was the one who saved you back in Evenstar.”

“Wait… You’re the guard!” Something lit up in Auriëlle’s face. The two made their way through drunks and half-asleep people for an embrace. “Heavens you’ve grown big. How did you become chieftain of Evenstar!?”

“Well.” He began, guiding Auriëlle deeper into his tent before they both sat down at a low, unadorned table. “When you and Carn left and the whole election thing broke down, I thought ‘why shouldn’t I take the power’? You know what, Auri? It was way too easy. I just promised them peace and no more dead sons. With that promise you can get any peasant to like you. Well, the ones who should be liked.”

“Killed the rest?” Auriëlle asked as she took someone else’s cup of wine. They were about to protest but one glare was enough to shut them up, before her friendly expression returned. “No worries, I understand. I’m not that wandering little girl anymore.”

“I can see!” The old man said as he motioned to her guard of five, and then herself. “You know, you remind me of my daughter. You’re just as fierce.”

“What happened to her?”

“She died.” Gundurr said, his tone grew a little darker. “Illness took her three winters ago. No druids around. It’s tough to bury your own children. I like to think she’s in a better place but…” He shook himself out of his own sadness. Then his bashfulness returned: “I’m sorry, you’re not here for an old man’s tale.”

“I’m not.” Auriëlle said with a faint grin. “Ketia Farm, five days out with a small group. You want in on the feast?”

“You got Carn’s blessing for that?” Gundurr was quick to ask.

“I’d like to see him try and stop me. I did try to burn his armor.”

“Heard about that.” Gundurr said as he raised his cup. “Dangerous thing to do. Worse that you failed.”

“A matter for another time. You in?” Auriëlle asked.

Gundurr was silent for a second, though the tent continued its drunken jubilations. “Yeah.” He said, softly, before getting up and yelling: “Alright lads! We got a big day tomorrow! Go to your beds, now!” None disobeyed his command consciously. Though many needed a helping hand to rise up. Others were carried out the chieftain’s tent. A few remained, laying on the floor in a deep sleep. “Eh, they’ll be ready by the morning.” Gundurr said as he pushed his foot into one of his soldiers. The man didn’t wake up.

Auriëlle rose up and downed her cup. Then shook hands with Gundurr. “Good seeing you again.” With a smile and a grunt, they parted ways. Back outside the tent, the night sky felt a little darker again as she pulled up her hood and began her way back to her own camp.

“Aurielle?” a familiar-sounding voice spoke up nearby.

The redheaded sorceress looked up to see who it was. In the meantime Esiré and the others were quick to reach for their weapons, but didn’t pull them out.

The man who had spoken was an archer, with a bow and quiver slung over his shoulder. “Yes, that was your name,” he went on as he stepped closer. “How long has it been? I fought beside you at Evenstar, remember?”

“I remember Evenstar but not you.” Auriëlle said bluntly as she crossed her arms. “You need something?”

The archer frowned at that. “It’s me, Edgar! We stood right beside each other. I was the only one with a bow. Only one still left standing, anyway.”

Suddenly Auriëlle’s eyes grew big. She had forgotten his name but he was there when she erased someone for the first time. “Edgar you son of a bitch! You’re here too!?”

“Do you greet everyone by insulting their mother?” the hunter asked with a raised brow. “Of course I came. Last winter Carn and that Ingrid girl came back through our village and convinced Gundurr to join up with them. Didn’t seem to recognize me, though. Just this morning I waved to him and he didn’t even notice. That Lothar fellow did, though, and gave me a stern talking to about respect.” He shook his head. “S’ppose our Carn has more important things on his mind, hm?”

“You could say that.” Auriëlle’s face soured. “Who is this Lothar anyway? He almost seemed to… recognize me. Is he from Evenstar as well?”

Edgar shook his head. “Never seen him before. But they say that Cadien talks to him, just like Evenstar’s priest. Don’t know if that’s true, though. They also say a suit of armour talks, but I’ve never heard her. I’ve only been here a day.”

Auriëlle spat on the ground when Edgar said Cadien talked to Lothar. Honestly was the supposed god of perfection involved now? If he was, couldn’t he just do everyone a favor and raze Ketrefa with his own power? Instead he seemed willing to just offer up thousands, for what? “Oh yeah, the talking armor.” Auriëlle then noted dryly. “I tried to burn it just today.”

Edgar blinked in surprise. “You what?”

“Oh don’t worry. The thing is still in one piece. Anyway, it’s getting late Edgar and I’ve got places to be. I’ll talk to you later.”


“Faster! Faster!” the man, a noble of Ketrefa, yelled. While one of his guards was working the whip. Slaves were quickly loading up two carts with food and the few luxuries the farmstead had. Above them the half-moon shone surprisingly brightly. “Faster! I’ve been away from Ketrefa’s safe embrace for too long already!” Though even her sweet embrace now somehow felt weakened. A motherless, adopted bastard as Lord-Captain? It was an insult to all of noble blood. Armed and armored guards were patrolling close around the wooden manor, it stables and barn.

“They’re better armed than anticipated.” One of Evenstar’s younger men who scouted ahead whispered to Auriëlle. Who sat crouched in the bushes like a mountain cat ready to pounce. “There are more as well. Not more than us but still… more.” Auriëlle just nodded and waved the boy away. She didn’t particularly care how many guards there were. Death would come to them all. What she was waiting for were the carts. Once again she felt that need to destroy boil up, but this time it wasn’t going to stop her from taking a prize from the ruins as well.

“That should be the last, sir.” One of the guards said. They were too far from Auriëlle, but she could see the message’s effect. The cart riders lashed at the oxen, who slowly began to pull the heavy weight of the cart.

The arc of lightning seemed to have come out of nowhere. Everyone around the caravan saw its flash. Then a deafening clap of thunder followed. Dazing half the guards. From the bushes and trees came the raiding party of Auriëlle. Ululating their war cries with raised stone and copper axes. Behind them walked Auriëlle. Fire raging over her right arm though it didn’t seem to touch her and horns were sprouting from between her hair. Those guards far enough from the lightning strike were able to make something akin of a wall to receive the thirty something attackers, but they were far outmatched. Behind them several of their fellow Ketrefian warriors had fallen down on their knees. Some had thrown away their helmets. Others rose up again. To join the fray.

From the sack on his hip the noble pulled two tablets that were about the size of his palm. He cracked the first in his left hand. The air around his fingers turned blue, then white. He kept it close to his chest, as if afraid he would lose it. Until one of the attackers was close enough. He outstretched his hand and a gust of white wind flew from his fingers. Mid-air the white coalesced into ice, which hailed the attacker. Cutting her body with a hundred bits of ice. With his other hand he broke the second tablet. This time his fingers lit up with fire. He threw it and fire spat from his fingers upon several of his attackers. When the magic was cast, he dug back into his bag.

Right then a small orb whizzled overhead. It was just noticeable enough to draw attention as it arced over him and headed towards the barn. Yet before it hit the wooden structure, the orb seemingly collapsed into a large wave of fire. The flames fell upon the barn, lighting it up in an instant.

“Enough!” Yelled the noble from atop his cart. Surprisingly his voice carried enough force to stop both sides. Auriëlle looked up at him with an amused smile. “Your leader once said that if we lay down our arms and promise to never take them up against his cause, he would let us go. So hereby I tell you that we are laying down our arms.” Several of the guards looked back the noble. Looking surprised, elated or surprised.

Stone rumbled and rose from beneath Auriëlle, who now looked more like a demon. With curcled horns an a fall of shadows seemingly cascading from her shoulders. The stone pillar raised her up so she was level with the noble. For a moment she just looked him in the eyes. Letting the relative silence cut. The finally she said: “I don’t accept your surrender.” With an open palm she beckoned the winds and threw the noble off his cart. Then she directed that wind down, momentarily breaking part of the shield-to-shield skirmish. Some of Ketrefa’s warriors were thrown back or pushed into the ground. It was small, but enough for the raiding party to break them. Soldiers began to rout.

“Get back here you bastards!” The concussed noble yelled back at them. Behind him he heard the unmistakable sound of stone crumbling. Moments later Auriëlle crouched beside him. “Ketrefa will ave-“ Before he could finish his great speech of revenge, the sorceress knocked him out with a kick.

Some time passed. The noble didn’t know how much. Only that he woke up and it was still night. He was tied to a nearby tree. Close to him a large fire was raging. The heat felt almost pleasant on this cold, winter night. Yet when he woke up he didn’t see a sweet campfire close by. Instead he saw fires engulfing his estate. Savages and barbarians were running around like small shades in the fire. They sang and danced and shouted in the light of the fire. “My farm …” He yammered as tears welled up in his eyes. Something bellowed next to him. He turned, as much as his restraints allowed for, and noticed the carts. For a second he felt relieved that a handful of family heirlooms were spared. But then that red-headed sorceress appeared with a grin on her face.

“You liking the show?” Auriëlle asked as she came to sit down beside him.

“You monster!” He literally spat at her. Though that didn’t seem to faze her. “Ketrefa will destroy you! Tekret will ruin you! You had an oath. Carn said- Carn said if we didn’t-“

“Yeah yeah, you already told me about that. There’s only one, tiny problem. Carn swore it. I didn’t.” She said as she kept her eyes on the fire and the dancing. The noble could notice more activity now. Slaves were released from their restraints. Whether or not they wanted to run was now up to them. Meanwhile a guard was dragged passed them. Kicking and screaming. “They’re going to sacrifice him.” Auriëlle said casually while pointing backwards with her thumb over her shoulder. “To Neiya, I think. Then his corpse will be hanged from that tree.” Auriëlle was now pointing upwards. True to her words, the already slain guards were hanging upside down on the bare branches of the large tree. Swinging only slightly in the soft, winter wind. The noble looked with horror at it. Auriëlle noticed the terror in him. “Don’t you worry. You’re not dying yet.”


As the warriors of Evenstar and the other allied warband were greedily taking whatever riches they could get their hands on and Auriëlle was busy with the nobleman, Esiré had already picked up the greatest riches there was on the battlefield in her eyes. The sack of clay tablets the nobleman had. In the distance you could still see the grand bonfire that was the farmstead. But here she and her people were hidden in darkness. Now, so concentrated and together, the stars above had almost vanished.

“This place is blind to the stars.” She muttered as she looked up. The serenity made her mind drift. Drift towards Bul’Gadin, where the prophetess had spoken the god of ruin. To Carn’s camp only a few weeks ago, they learned of their strange gift. The god armor couldn’t see them. What did that mean? The tranquility was broken when three men were being dragged up the slight hill. They were begging and pleading for their lives. “Amerth. Gag them.” Esiré ordered without looking up from the tablet she was holding. It featured a circled ice flake. There was a sort of channel build through the middle of it. Making breaking the tablet easy.

Amerth, a big brute of a man, walked up to the people and gagged them. As commanded. He then helped to get the first down on his knees. Esiré let out an exhausted sigh as she walked up to the three prisoners of war who were squirming with their knees on the ground. She grabbed the first by his hair and pulled back, forcing him to look up at the night sky. “Cry your prayers.” She whispered near his ear, almost in a intimate manner. “The stars are blind.” She said, holding him in position for a moment, before releasing him again. Around her the chanting began, joined by a single rhythmic, slow thumping of a handheld drum someone had brought with them from Bul’Gadin.

“Shall we begin…priestess?” Amerth asked, though he sounded apprehensive to call Esiré a priestess.

She looked up, surprised to be called by such a title. But then she closed her eyes and took in the rhythmic beating of the drum, combined with the slow chanting. Like waves the sounds build and came crashing down, only to be build up again in a droning storm. It put her in a trance as she joined in with the song. Amerth joined in as well. The Cult kneeled down where they stood. Spread out, but facing the three captors. Six warriors, one of them Amerth, and Esiré were the only one who kept standing. With their back at the large fire off in the distance.

Esiré took a hidden knife from her backpack. It was made from a human’s femur, with the head still clearly visible and untouched, acting as the pommel. The blade was carved crudely but it was sharp. The handle was strapped with leather. With knife in hand she walked up to the first man, who whimpered and tried to fight against those who restrained him. “Nameless god of ruin.” Esiré said, her words cutting through the wave-like chanting. “May the blood of these sacrifices sate your need for destruction. May you keep the Prophetess safe, until the world burns.” With those words said she elegantly slit the first man’s throat.

The sacrifices were carried away to Auriëlle’s corpse tree. To be hung upside down. Esiré was cleaning her knife on her victims’ cloths. The chanting had stopped, though most were still in deep prayer. Not that it would matter. Their joined power, still half a mystery to them, was muddling the cries of help with the chants of the cultists. Creating a divinely entangled mess of a prayer.


When Auriëlle was done, she left the noble in his terror under the tree. Another guard was dragged before her. Kicking and screaming. The second she was close enough she grabbed him by his throat. Her own power began to flow into him. The guard felt something turn and coil in his stomach. Which instantly silenced him. On Auriëlle two small horns reappeared. Making those who carried the guard feel a little uncomfortable. Though they kept up their duty.

“Okay, you’re still now. Good.” The Sorceress said as she let her poisonous power do its work for a little while. “You’re a guard of Ketrefa?”

“Cadien spits on you.” The guard said. Right after one of the warriors holding him up punched him in the stomach. Somehow it felt worse than it should.

“Oh I’m sure he will.” Auriëlle said rather nonchalantly. Oraelia probably hated her, and whatever goddess had made Titania would hate her as well. If Cadien was willing to dislike her as well, what would it matter? “Now, I want you to deliver a message to whoever reigns in your big, walled city. Tell him he has until spring to surrender. If he doesn’t, I will turn his precious walls into a cage and burn the city…” she inched closer to his ear while keeping him controlled by his neck. Then she whispered: “Just like I burned Teperia.” She pulled back to face him. “Is that understood?”

“I-I-“ The guard stammered, before he was slapped in the face. Hard. His cheek was cut. “Yes! Yes! Please.”

“Alright boys. Let him go.” The sorceress said as she took a step back. The two warriors looked at each other for a moment and then let him fall to the ground.

The guard scrambled upright from the ground and began to run. Auriëlle hadn’t seen a man run so fast in her entire life. It was like more than his own live was at stake and that somehow now mattered. Maybe he would reach Ketrefa. Maybe he would die of exposure.

“Ketrefa isn’t just going to resign.” One of the warriors said as they watched the guardsman run.

“No, but this way they can’t say they weren’t warned.” Auriëlle said with a smile as she watched the man turn into a far off black dot. “Or the gods don’t want the message to reach Ketrefa. It’ll depend on what happens to him in the next few days.” Then she turned around and headed towards the sacrifices to Neiya. Ready to cut a few throats in the name of the goddess as well. Though deep inside she hoped the man would reach the walled city and give the warning.



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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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The Blood Reign II





Nalla leaned back on her throne, sitting idly like a cat might. She could not help but think of her exchange with Aurielle. The Sorceress had left days ago, maybe weeks, it mattered little to her, the passing of time. Yet it meant she dwelt on her own dark thoughts far longer than any might have the need for. She just couldn’t stop thinking about her. Like a flame, refusing to be snuffed out, it burned still on. Had her attempt to use Aurielle backfire on her? She had given results, yes, but at what cost?

Villages burned, people led like lambs to the slaughter, whispers of darker dealings, power and hunger… She had, perhaps, cultivated a monster within her kingdom and one that would continue to grow ever stronger. She let out a small sigh and reluctantly sat up at the sounds of approaching footsteps. They were just behind the door, which would open any moment. Except… It did not.

She cocked her head and let out a low hiss. There was blood in the air, she could smell its sweet aroma. She stood up and when she did, the doors erupted inwards and a group of ragged looking men, some wearing robes, some brandishing bows and arrows came through her door with war cries. Through the massive doors she could see her own guards rushing to her aid. How did these men get in here so easily?

“FOR BUL’GADIN! FOR TEPERIA!” They shouted, racing towards her with murderous intent. She would have to think on it another time. She grimaced as the first man, a rather lanky looking fellow who wielded a copper blade, swung at her. Nalla dodged with her uncanny speed, and brought her fist down, smashing the man’s arm. She then used her other hand to grab him by the shoulder and fling him across the room. He hit the wall hard and did not get up. An arrow whizzed past her head and another blade came down. This time she grabbed the blade by slapping her hands together, and then yanked it out of the man’s hand. Nalla smiled as she used the hilt to beat him over the head. He crumpled and his heartbeat became faint. Another arrow grazed her cheek and in a fit of rage she through the sword at the archer. It hit him sideways across his face but he fell regardless. She'd have to practice throwing weapons.

Having watched her so easily dispatch the two at the front, the four men that were behind them hesitated as they neared her. Across the room guards and the attackers died alike as a melee erupted in her throne room. Two then charged at her, followed by a third behind them. Nalla easily dodged their attacks with her speed, and used their weapons against them in quick succession.

The one who wielded a dagger ended up stabbing his friend in the throat, while the man who wielded a sword found it impaled in the back of the man with the dagger. He screamed, writhing in pain. Nalla then held the swordsman around his waist. He flailed trying to break free as the other two died with gurgling breath and fading moans.

Nalla then whispered in the swordman's ear ever so tenderly with the love of the Goddess. His face relaxed into a lull smile and Nalla bit into his throat. She took a deep drink of his aged blood, holding him tightly as lovers might, savoring every mouthful. When she was finished however, there was a sickening crack as she broke his neck. His body fell to the floor and Nalla turned to the fourth man, arms opened, crimson liquid flowing down the corners of her mouth and coating her chin.

He who had not attacked looked at her with horror on his bearded face. He saw a wild look in her eye, a visage of not a queen, but of a monster. That was what she was, was she not?

His resolve failed him and he tried to run but Nalla intercepted his path and once again whispered Neiya's love into his ears. She was not gentle this time and sank her teeth into his flesh with fervor. He was died within minutes and when his body left her grasp Nalla turned upon those that remained. Several guards now cornered two men and a woman who wore… Nalla's eyes widened.

She was a druid!

"Kill them! Kill them now!" She screamed, running over within seconds. Her men renewed their attack but the Druid was healed the two that defended her and Nalla cursed, not able to reach them. She began to speak in the ancient language as she pushed aside her guards with ease but the druid woman cried out,

"ORAELIA SAVE US!" There was a moment of silence and then a spear struck one of the defending men and the other was cut down with a sword. The druid became to plead for help but Nalla would have none of it.

"Be QUIET!" She commanded and the druid, plus all of her men and even the ones who were dying fell silent.

"Beat her, break her bones, make her suffer!" Nalla hissed as she pointed at the druid. She knew the gods were real. She did and she could not have-

As her men went to grab the druid, a light erupted around her and sent Nalla reeling back into shadows. From across the room her men became dazed and the druid walked forth from them, healing the dying men. A voice flooded into her mind, one so bright she felt as if she would erupt into ash.

"Nalla, touched by Neiya, by Tekret and by… Interesting." The voice was a woman's- No, a goddess! "What secrets might you have?" The goddess mused and Nalla felt a splitting headache all at once. She screamed. It was as if the very light was tearing apart her mind, sifting through her thoughts as memories flashed before her vision. Several of her memories the goddess lingered on, like Exodus and Aurielle, before she moved on.

When it was over, Nalla writhed on the cool stone, unable to lose consciousness. Unable to even open her eyes. That voice then returned. "Such a life you've made for yourself, built upon the backs and blood of innocents. I can see why Solus is so weary of vampires. Your mind is an ocean of hate and lust and I will no longer let you continue this way. The highlands suffer enough. They do not need you or your blight to persist. Goodbye Nalla and may you learn from this punishment."

Nalla let out a painful breath and grabbed her head. She opened her eyes to see the druid and some of her companions, gone. Then the earth trembled and the ground shook and a thousand voices began to scream out. There was a taste of something floral on the air for a brief moment, a flash of darkness and then silence.

A moment passed, it felt like a lifetime. Two moments passed, an eternity in the dark and upon the third moment the world returned in a chorus of rumblings, screams and quakes. The floral scent was gone and Nalla lay on the stone, flipping onto her back. She felt sick to her stomach.

It was there she lay for a time, catching her breath. When she felt steady enough, she stood up and stumbled to a wall. She used the walls to support her way out of the throne room and to her balcony. The light was blinding at first when she opened the doors but the shade was still there and she waited until her eyes focused.

When they did, she felt her heart drop. Nallan was surrounded by a sea of red.









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