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Carn

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Titania




“She must die, Carnelian.”

Carn and Lothar stared each other down, with only a table between them. “No,” Carn refused.

“Cadien demands it,” Lothar insisted. “She lashed out against an avatar, and she and her companions were somehow able to evade the sight of the divine. They cannot be here.”

“They’re not here,” Yarwick said, stepping into the tent with Ingrid beside him. “She’s gone. Can’t find her anywhere. A few say she left, and took dozens of men with her.”

The news of her departure struck Carn directly in the heart. He had seen her again for the first time in years, and once again… she was gone? She had declared her love for him - or at least, a love that she used to have - and said she would ‘prevent his army from killing each other’, but instead she had left?

Would she even return?

She had said she would return, when she first left him at Jalka. It had taken her years to fulfill that promise. She had made no such promise now. He reached into his pocket, and his hand closed around the ruby amulet. “Where did she go?” he asked.

Yarwick shrugged. “They say she went west,” Ingrid said. “Toward Ketrefa. No idea what she’s planning.”

Carn stared down at the table with uncertainty.

“We ought to hunt her down,” Ingrid went on. “She could be planning to join Ketrefa. Even if she isn’t, she might get captured.”

“She knows nothing that might help them,” Carn objected. “And I know her, she won’t let them take her alive.”

“So what do we do if she comes back?” Yarwick asked.

“I’ve said it already,” Lothar pitched in, “she must die.”

”I wholeheartedly agree!” shouted the armour from the corner of the tent. ”She is nothing short of evil - uncontrollable, uncaring evil. She has no place in this world, other than to function as a warning of what the vile desires do to a person’s mind.”

Lothar nodded. “The Avatar of Gibbou has spoken, and I can assure you that Cadien has as well. Why do you refuse?”

Carn looked up, and glared at him silently. True, Aurielle had been out of line, and true, he was angry at her for the way she had acted, and true, if it had been anyone else he would have agreed with Lothar, but... it was Aurielle. “My reasons are my own,” he said defiantly.

“Listen,” Yarwick said rather bluntly. “I don’t know what history you had with this girl, but she tried to destroy a divine avatar, and she could have burned half the camp down while doing so. Now if the tales are to be believed, she’s taken your men and fled without even asking permission. She’s dangerous. Spare her if you want, but don’t let her near this army. We can’t trust her, and if you just forgive everything she’s done you’ll only make yourself look weak.”

“Weak?” Carn’s glare turned on Yarwick. “If I was weak, I’d be agreeing with you all, wouldn’t I?” He shook his head. “I will not name her an enemy. If she is leaving, then we never have to worry about her again. If she is going to join Ketrefa, then she shall be dealt with on the battlefield. If she returns, then I shall hear her explanations, and then decide what to do with her. The matter will be settled, one way or another.”

Ingrid nodded reluctantly. “He’s right. We’re talking about punishing someone we currently have no means to punish.”

”No means? Have you forgotten who has graced you with her presence and aid?” One could practically hear the voice flex her metaphorical muscles. ”Put me on, wearer, and we will go deal with her like any other pest.”

Now Carn’s displeased look rounded on Titania. “She was right in front of you, and you couldn’t even see her,” he pointed out.

“Watch your tone,” Lothar rebuked. “But…” he began grudgingly. “He’s right. Her companions… when they joined her, both you and Lord Cadien somehow… lost sight of her. I’m not certain we can track her.”

”She is obviously in cahoots with some other god - an evil demon set on infiltrating your forces, all while remaining hidden from the divines that seek to aid you. I see this only as further proof that she needs to be exterminated. I could not see her, that is true - but you could, wearer; with your body and my power, you need only guide me in her direction and she will be no match for us. Together, we are unstoppable.”

“If there is an evil force protecting her, I suspect the work of the Masked Devil,” Lothar suggested.

“We have no way of knowing that,” Carn objected. “I know her, and she’s not the type to work with any god.”

“If she’s a godless heathen who has somehow devised a way to hide herself from gods, then that doesn’t make her any less dangerous.”

“ENOUGH!” Carn slammed a fist against the table, catching everyone off-guard. “I command here, and I shall hear no more of it. There are more pressing matters that demand our attention.”

”What, wearer, can be more pressing than a saboteur and a spy? If she is under influence of an adversarial god, perhaps one who also has ties to this city Ketrefa, then we cannot allow her to dig in her roots among your soldiers! Planning an assault is useless if those entrusted to carry it out are without discipline and fidelity.”

“That problem is not exclusive to Aurielle,” Carn grit his teeth. “Only a couple nights ago, a man in this camp tried to murder me. He thought Ketrefa would reward him if he brought them my head. Then, there’s the fact that half the chieftains who pledged themselves to me all seem to harbour some sort of grudge or feud with each other.” He looked up at Ingrid. “How many men are with us now?”

Ingrid shrugged. “More than two thousand, I think? Impossible to count.”

“More than two thousand,” Carn repeated. “They won’t catch up to her. If you want to hunt her down, we’ll have to go by ourselves if we have any hope of catching up. Which means leaving these two thousand men behind, when we’re the only thing holding them together.” He shook his head. “We can’t do that. She’s gone, and we will only catch up with her if she allows it. We have to focus on the people who are still with us.”

Titania growled metallically. ”How can you even consider letting her walk free? Is your sense of justice this weak? Your sense of law, of order?”

Carn growled back. “I refuse to pursue her for the same reason I don’t just walk into Ketrefa and fight my way through the city singlehandedly: I can’t. I refuse for the same reason that you haven’t struck down every wrongdoer in the world already: you can’t. We can only deal with the problems that are in front of us, and some are more pressing than others.”

”I see it is not me who is blind, but my wearer - together, we can solve all these problems without issue, yet your refusal to wear me puts us all at a disadvantage…” She clicked her tongue. ”Perhaps I have chosen poorly.”

Lothar bowed his head. “Please forgive Carnelian’s crude tone,” he pleaded. “He-”

“No,” Carn cut him off. “You want me to wear you? Fine. Then we will address my army and get them moving. Toward Ketrefa, and toward Aurielle. If we somehow catch up to her then I will decide what to do with her then. If not, then we cannot let her distract us from our true goal: we need to reach Ketrefa. Every day we delay is another day that the innocents enslaved inside suffer. Is that not so?”

Titania snarled. ”You will decide what we do with her now - if the hour comes and you hesitate, the quality of your character will be clear. Swear you will end her life if we catch her, and you may wear me. If you refuse, then…” The armour paused. ”... Then the one known as Lothar will wear me instead.”

Lothar blinked. “What?”

Carn frowned. “If it turns out that Aurielle left with the intention of abandoning us or joining our enemies, then I will… end her. But if I find out otherwise, that will change my decision.”

”A deserter is a deserter - she was not sent away; she left - that makes her a deserter. If you cannot make an example of her, then what is to stop your other two thousand men from doing the same? Many of them have families, innocent families who now are without protectors because they all have joined your cause. Enslaved, the innocents of Ketrefa may be, but they will not be freed if their saviour cannot distinguish emotion from duty. Decide now - no conditions.”

“She swore no oaths. She made no promises. She cannot be a deserter,” Carn argued. “And I have made my decision. Life is not black and white. I’ll not commit myself to a judgement when I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision - that’s not justice.” These were not his true beliefs; he was simply trying to talk her down. “When I find out her intentions, I will do what duty requires.”

”Pfft. If you believed she hadn’t at least made some kind of hint that she would be supporting us, you wouldn’t have made that condition in the first place. Admit it, wearer - you have feelings in this matter and cannot bring yourself to do what you must. Man known as Lothar, you will switch your diet to eggs, meat and bread and commence working out three times per day starting now, is that clear?”

“No,” Lothar blurted out. “Your holiness, I beg you to reconsider. Whatever failings Carnelian possesses, I am even less worthy than he. He is the son and champion of Cadien; he was chosen for a reason. I would request that you have faith in Cadien’s judgement.”

Titania was quiet for a minute or so. Then she offered a long, guttural groan. ”... Given my master’s relationship with the mighty Cadien, I would be insolent to start conflicts on that front…” Her invisible eyes switched over to Carn again. ”You should treasure your companions, wearer - you’ll find few as dedicated to your god and your cause.”

“I suppose you’re right…” Carn nodded reluctantly. It was times like this when he wished he was around someone who shared Aurielle’s jadedness. He reached for the helmet. “Come. We need to get this army on the move.”

”Indeed. Take us away, wearer.”



Messengers were sent, and the chieftains were gathered. In the center of camp they stood before Carnelian, who was clad in Titania, with his advisors at his side. “For the past few days we have been gathering strength!” he declared. “But now, it is time we move! For while we ready ourselves, Ketrefa does not sit idle. We must take the fight to them, before they can strike at us. Now, ready your men. We depart tomorrow.”






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Carn

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Carn had hoped his troubles would end when the army began moving.

He was wrong.

If anything, things only became more chaotic. Camps had to be set at sundown and torn down at sunrise. Some warbands took their time in doing so, while others were early and were forced to wait for the rest. Patrol and sentry duty then had to be distributed, to ensure they wouldn’t be taken by surprise. Chieftains and warbands clashed over camping sites, or their position in the army’s marching column. Feuds between the various leaders and tribes continued, with at least one duel and two brawls breaking out, over the course of only two days. Oh, and another would-be assassin had tried to take Carnelian’s life. That was getting irritating.

Then there was the matter of food. They would run out in a few days; before they reached the city. Carn knew what that meant. They were asking every local village they passed to donate, and while most were willing, they gave nothing that might compromise their own survival. Incidentally, that was not enough to feed two thousand men. Perhaps Titania could conjure forth some food. If not, they would have to start seizing it, and he knew the Avatar would not like that - even if it was necessary.

And, as this all went on, a more personal worry hung in the back of his mind: Aurielle. His advisors had been convinced to trust his judgement, but even so, he still wasn’t sure what that judgement should be. She’d expect to be welcome back with open arms; anything else she’d see as some sort of betrayal. Titania would expect an execution, and Yarwick an exile. The rest of the camp would have their own opinions, for many had seen the aftermath of her outburst, while others had heard wild rumours.

Then there was the last thing she had said to him, which hung in the back of his mind. Did he love this? The thought gave him a bitter chuckle. No, he didn’t.

He had loved leading the Redspears. A small force of thirty men. He had built up a camaraderie with those who followed him. Communication was easy, and issues were easily resolved. With two thousand men, both of those things seemed impossible. He could not speak directly to all two thousand under his command, and it could take the better part of a morning just to tour the entire camp. Then there were the incidents he was frequently called in to resolve.

No, he didn’t love it. He hated it. It had been months since he had even fought anything, not counting those assassins. It felt like he was withering away. Perhaps, when they made it to the city, his mood would change, but now? There was little joy he could take in any of this.

His thoughts shifted to the other thing she had said. ‘It was why I loved you,’ - a confession, finally, after all these years. A confession that had come far too late. Was it even true? If she had loved him, why had she left him in the first place? If she had loved him solely for the reasons she stated, then did that mean she no longer loved him? Some part of him didn’t trust her. Another part wished she had never returned, so he didn’t have to deal with any of this confusion.

But another part still desperately hoped he could make this work. He had never known love until he had met her, even if he hadn’t realized it at the time. And when she was gone he had felt empty. Lesser, somehow. He had filled that empty space with a mission he didn’t truly believe in, all on the vague promise of a fickle god that only occasionally decided to meddle in his life.

Until Aurielle returned, all he had wanted was his family. But if he could have both his family, and her… that was all he needed. And yet, Carn knew nobody ever received everything they wanted. Something always went wrong, and the possibility of him having both seemed far too good to be true.

So, what to do?

The question stewed in the back of his mind as the army marched onward. He had no answer, and he could not ask anyone in this camp for advice. So, when the army made camp that night, he turned to the only thing he could: prayer.




Carn knelt on the floor of his tent. It always felt awkward when he prayed. Supposedly, the gods heard every prayer, but it always felt like he was talking to nothing. He never knew if they were ignoring him, or if they simply disliked his wording, or if they never heard him at all. But, perhaps it was worth a shot.

“Neiya, Goddess of Love,” he whispered. “I humbly request your counsel.” Already he felt as if he had made a mistake.

A long silence followed, enough for that worry of a mistake to begin to sink in, and slowly replace itself with that flush of embarrassment that comes with doing something wrong. A soft wind brushed past his ear, rippling through his hair gently. Then came a deluge; a heat filled the air around him, pressing upon his breath like the hottest summer day. Pressure filled the back of his head, a dizzy spell falling into his mind making complex thought difficult. With it came a strange language that was far removed from his own, yet it’s meaning burrowed deep into his soul, conveying its own understanding. The words and voice were soothing, even a little tranquil. "Humility is a poor fit on such a compelling champion, my sweet. More alike the divine than you know. Yet you have called for another than he, reached across the cosmos, and I have come to your side. Speak of your worries, beloved, and I shall soothe them.”

The response was unexpected, but he was used to hearing disembodied voices within his head. “There is someone who I once loved,” he told her. “I still do, I think. But she has changed. She has committed an offense, and those I surround myself with want to see her die because of it.”

"My heart aches for you, Carnelian, son of Konrad and Lucy. You find yourself caught between heart and mind, trusting that neither would lie to you. Taking the counsel of mere men and-..." The voice broke off briefly, leaving him in heavy silence before it resumed. "...Servants of the divine with their own wicked goals. I ask you, my one and only; What do you want?"

No one had asked that question of him in a long time. “I want Aurielle. I want my brother. And I want my sisters. But I do not think I can have them all.”

"What stands in your way? Who denies a warlord and champion his own agency and will?" The voice spoke with husky, sad tones. "I can soothe your pain, my love, but is it of your own making? If your heart knows the path, doubt and the opinion of others are but cruel jailers, mercilessly enslaving your body to continue a path of pain. Auriëlle - the unleashed flame, destroyer of Teperia in my honor - your heart has chosen a dangerous lover. A fierce hatred burns within her; against authority and the divine. You cannot tame nor cage such fire, my love, but that does not mean it must be extinguished."

“And yet my supporters call for her head. If I lose them, then I am no warlord. Cadien himself wants her dead, if Lothar is to be believed.” He took a deep breath. “I… I won’t do it, but I am not blind to the consequences that may result from my decision. Without an army I can’t attack Ketrefa, and that was the condition for reuniting with my family.”

"So, to please others you must sacrifice half of yourself, and walk the path of pain and what could have been. Is this the best path your mind can conjure, my sweet? Do your supporters not have hearts of their own? Needs and desires? Not all battles are won with swords - fewer yet are won with words of reason." The voice continued with a sultry breath, a brush of wind touching at his ear and streaming through his hair. "Do your followers truly wish her dead, my dearest, or do they rage blindly because their hearts are not bound to your cause? To you? An army is a family. A relationship. They bicker and they want. If your heart desires strongly enough you will show your worth as the head of your family. In the matter of Cadien's will, I doubt my beloved would spread such a decree by another mortal. Remember that not all battles take place in the field, my sweet."

She paused for effect, sighing softly in his mind. It was like a rush of adrenaline and intoxicants at once, a wave of inviting and conflicting feelings. "If you slay your loved one on the word of another man, then you have proven how thoroughly he owns you. Are you so comfortable in your cage, Carnelian, that you will begin to twist your heart asunder?"

“No,” Carn objected, once the strange feelings had passed. “I already told you I wouldn’t do it. But the issues remain. If I cannot… ‘tame’ Aurielle,” he spoke the word ‘tame’ with distaste, “then I must instead ‘tame’ my supporters. But Titania is loyal to Gibbou first, and Lothar to Cadien. Yarwick is reasonable - too reasonable, and I cannot truly blame him for wanting Aurielle gone. Only Ingrid seems willing to put her full trust in my judgement.”

"Did you not desire to be a warlord? If a soldier cannot learn to love their leader, then they are enemies. As you spoke, my darling, they must be tamed. They must love the visionary - the champion - who brings a chance to enact their vengeance against a city that has caused so much pain." Invisible hands touched on his form, assailing his senses as wind brushed against his form comfortably. "If they love another before you, they will never do as you desire. The servant of… Gibbou… is proof of this. Yet the others are simply mortal. What makes their will greater than yours? You cling to notions of reason as though it will ever help you, but it is a dull blade at best. If they cannot want what you want, do you need them?"

Carn breathed deeply. “How?” he asked her. “How do I ensure their loyalty toward me comes before their loyalty toward the gods, or to each other?”

His breath was matched by one of the goddess resounding in his head, and another gust of wind brushing his skin and tousling his hair gently. "By speaking less from the mind, and more from the heart. You had kinship once, you must prove again that you are the warlord they desire. Take heart, Carnelian, your plea to me was a righteous choice. I see much of my beloved in you, and though this trial of the heart is one of your own making, I sympathize with the struggle that tears at your thoughts; the anxiety of seeing your loved ones slip from your fingers." The voice rang out wistfully, as the wind around him seemed to pick up. His clothes whipped and rippled as air currents caught around him, for a moment threatening to drown the camp in a whirlwind. Heavy and firm sensations pressed against his back, like needy hands firmly massaging him. A new material began to fall around his shoulders, a purple cloak of silk and fur weighing down gently on his form. "Stay true to yourself, my sweet, and others shall stay true to you. Doubt yourself, and see your fortunes slip away."

Carn glanced down at one shoulder, and then at the other, as he felt the new weight on his back. ‘Stay true to himself.’ That was all he had to do? He nodded. “Very well. Thank you for your gift, Neiya. But… earlier you mentioned ‘Servants of the divine’ with ‘wicked goals.’ Do you speak of Titania and Lothar?”

A brief silence lingered before the voice returned, colder than its previously sultry invitation. "Remember all that I have said, Carnelian. War is fought on more planes than the material, and each being that does not consider you their liege or lover is a potential enemy of the future. I know not if Titania is as wicked as its mistress, but it will never serve you."

“...I see. Do you and… Gibbou, have a history? Will Titania turn against me if she realizes you have aided me?”

"The moon goddess is as duplicitous as the summer rains, my sweet. Whatever you give her shall one day come to harm you." the voice warned with the same wistful tone as before.

Concerningly, that did not answer his question. He would have to be even more wary of the armour going forward - her principles already made her difficult to work with, but if those same principles were only a mask for something more sinister, then she was only more dangerous. “I understand,” he said, rising to his feet. “Thank you again.”

Another sigh escaped invisible lips, a touch of fingers unseen sliding under his chin briefly. "I shall follow your quest of the heart, my darling. The untamed flame burns bright, your desire must match its heat. Honor me, by heeding my words." the goddess concluded, and gave no more chance to speak. Almost immediately following her words, the air around Carn began to return to its calm chill. The pressure in the back of his head lifted at once, along with the sensation of touch. The goddess was gone.

Carn stood in silence, ruminating on her words. He glanced back down at his new cloak. Supposedly, this would make things easier. But in many ways, it had also introduced new struggles and dilemmas. Titania would question him on his piece of attire, and then there was the question if Neiya herself was telling the truth. After all, if one god could lie to him, why couldn’t another? But he couldn’t deny that Neiya’s words had been far more compelling.

In the meantime, he had a war to win, and an army to unite. With a swish of his cloak, he turned and walked off into the night.








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Enmity



The departure of the retinue was a flurry of activity; throngs of masked men scurried to and fro, provisioning for their journey and saying goodbye to those who would remain. When the last of the food had been packed, the last whetstone put to storage, Tiamat’s men swelled to a particularly dry patch of the coastal bog, for final inspection. The prince did a count, surveying the heads arrayed before him.

When he finally spoke, he said, “With us marches a hundred-fifty Yari, another sixty free blades of the clans, two-hundred-fifty for support, and a mix of other men numbering about thirty.”

Tiamat, with a satisfied nod, responded back, “We have a long journey ahead,” before she turned to the assembled crowd, raising her voice as she spoke to all in sight, “Before us is a march that will span half the continent. We will face threats none of you have ever before laid eyes upon, and the lands and weathers you traverse will be at once unfamiliar and dangerous. Yet, this land is not without its wonders, and we shall also see awe-inspiring sights, vistas unimaginable, and civilizations foreign.”

She paused, letting her words sink in before continuing, “The journey will be hard, yes, but it will not be without its rewards. You will be traveling further than any Reshut has travelled before. When you return to these shores, and sail across to your homeland, you will do so as great heroes! Your names shall become common knowledge, and you will not want for the tales you have to tell.”

Then, she wrapped up her speech, “The clans eagerly watch our travels, and wish for our success. You are the finest men the Reshut have to offer. Before you stands the opportunity your ancestors and your future children alike will only dream of. Let us depart in good spirit, to the lands that lay beyond.”

A mingled cheer of anticipation went up among the crowd. When Tiamat beckoned them to follow, they went in good order, into the swamplands. The coast faded away, swallowing the ship that bore them as they ventured westward.


Several Days Later
[/hr]

The group was deep into the swampland, morning light filtering through the drooping branches of wetland trees. In the camp, there was motion, as men broke tents and scuffed out fireplaces. They would be continuing on soon, but whispers from the quartermasters had reached the Prince’s ears. He moved to confide in Tiamat, saying, “We have gone through our rations more quickly than expected; at this rate, we won’t be out of the swamp before we are out of food.”

Tiamat considered the issue, answering, “I had not considered this. Though it may slow our pace, we need to begin foraging. I want groups sent out to find foragables, and return them to bolster our supplies.”

The Prince asked back, “A temporary measure, or shall we do this until further notice?”

Tiamat gestured aimlessly, saying, “For as long as we are travelling. Forageables should make up the bulk of our diet, with our preserved supplies only there to fill in gaps. This is how you travel sustainably.”

He nodded, calling to the quartermasters and passing on the instructions. Ten men a group went out, searching the surroundings for edibles. They brought back many common edibles, but one group’s find was of particular interest. A single berry had sated the hunger of an entire man, and it showed no indication of stopping.

Word of the berries spread throughout the camp, and soon groups were hunting specifically for the berries, bringing them back by the sackful. The retinue regained its good spirits and travel resumed apace. Then, one night came when the first fright of the journey occurred.

With a groggy massage around the edges of his mask, Ginyu Hachimana tried to rub away the sleep leftover in his system upon waking up. Hard pulls straightened out the folds in his robes and a tight grip about the shaft of his spear kept his balance from appearing to struggle - still, it was no secret that he had been sleeping poorly. Stepping over bog and puddle - occasionally stepping in some, too - he headed towards the rock in the middle of the wetlands upon which they had placed a sentry post. He rolled his neck around with a gentle snap and spoke, “Hey, Furada! Shift change.”

The rock, however, didn’t seem to respond. Hachimana groaned deeply and approached further. “Wow, alright, falling asleep during watch is as low as it can get, you damned fool. The daimyo will have your--”

As he turned the corner on the rock, he choked a gasp and dropped his spear. There, visible even in the darkness, laid the scattered remains of Furada spread within an area of several square metres. Hachimana stepped back slowly, his body so busy steadying his panicked breathing that he forgot to pick up his spear. His eyes darted in every direction and his gait hastened even further. Before he knew it, he was running back to camp. “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK! FURADA’S BEEN-- GAH!”

A rusty dagger pierces straight through his neck and out through the mouth and mask. He was breathing his last before he hit the ground. Behind him, horned shadows with six limbs made their accelerating approach, slow at first as though to test whether their cover had been blown, then faster and faster to the sound of mustering warriors in the camp. They screamed their vile screeches and growled with guttural fury as they descended upon the Reshut.

The prince’s voice echoed through the camp, hoarse and tense, “Enemies in the treeline! Form square! Four-man deep!” He pointed his blade at the middle of the camp, further shouting, “Crossbows in the inner ring of the square! Blades in the center!”

Tiamat, for her part, had taken up the sword and made her way to the center, having fitted a plate of bronze over her chest. She let the Prince take command as she focused on ensuring she was in position. The retinue, well-drilled for the possibility, formed rapidly, though not necessarily fully equipped, as many were forced to abandon armoring to ensure they could reach the formation in time for the attack to hit. The Yari were brought downwards, a three-thick wall of pike heads to force the encroaching enemy back, with the fourth row in opportunity range once the initial walls had been passed.

The enemy fought like nothing the Reshut had seen before, however: Where normal limbs should have limits do the number of directions they could twist, these monsters seemed to throw rigidness to the wind, their flexible joints allowing them to nearly snake their way between, over and under the weak spots in the spear wall. While four limbs kept them in balance, another two sliced at the capes and skin of the Reshut with dull weapons. Their tails whipped away what spears they could, throwing the men off balance.

Then snapped the crossbow strings. The closest monsters were peppered full of bolts and killed on the spot, while those that were graced with the cover of their comrades cast themselves back out of reflex. Those that had chosen to remain near the enemy out of sheer lack of sense quickly found themselves at odds with Reshut bronze as the Yari dropped their weapons, unsheathing short blades that they hacked viciously with.

The monsters who didn’t make it away in time fell swiftly. Those that did manage to escape fled back into the bog. After a minute of quiet, there came a chorus of violent growls, as the skinny, boney beasts that had attacked them were joined by three larger, bulkier specimen sporting goat horns from their wolven heads. They seemed somewhat wiser than their smaller kin, for they didn’t dare approach the yari line. Instead, they ripped large chunks of peat out of the bog and hurled them towards the frontline, their smaller kin cheering them on.

The Yari pressed against each other as they saw the peat fly towards them, opening holes in the formation between tightly-packed Reshut as the peat flew groundwards -- the formation was tight to begin with, however, and not much space was freely available. Screams went up as some unfortunate Reshut were clipped by the corners of the peat, smashed groundwards with the weight of the soggy earth.

With the formation spreading, the smaller kin charged forth again. One of the larger ones remained in the back as two of them also descended onto all six and charged forward. The Yari were unable to return to position, still dazed from the bombardment. The crossbowmen had hooked their strings and drawn to full, but scattered from the openings in the formation as the Iskrill shot forwards, leaving the swordsmen in the center.

The smaller Iskrill danced around the swordsmen, seeking instead to jump at the crossbowmen. However, that was easier said than done, as a quick-witted shift in placement put much too many swordsmen between them and their targets for a flanking maneuver to be possible. Instead, one of the larger ones functioned as their vanguard as they tried to take on the swordsmen.

“Hoshinori!” shouted one of the frontliners, and from what had been the second line came fifteen halberdiers equipped with razor sharp naginatas. They formed a phalanx and dedicated themselves to controlling that single hunter, allowing the crossbowmen time to position themselves even better. The giant Iskrill seethed its fury and tried to find an opening, but these were much more aggressive than the spearmen from earlier. It roared for its peat-throwing third companion, who dropped its handful and knuckled its way into the fray.

The prince hoarsely shouted commands to the rest of the formation, bidding them to hold their ground as the swordsmen herded the Iskrill. Tiamat for her part brought herself face-to-face with the third Iskrill, parrying and striking with terrifying speed and efficiency. The crossbowmen presented, waiting for opportunities to get beads on Iskrill. It was in that moment that one of the hunters got a little too infuriated by the stalemate with the naginata and tried to circle around them. The crossbowmen didn’t hesitate and took the shot. The giant’s front was pierced by tens upon tens of bolts and staggered backwards before rolling onto its back to breathe its final breaths. The other Iskrill saw it - it was clear that the resource sunk into this attack began to outweigh the potential rewards. The naginata troop advanced, joined on the flanks by yari-men who still held onto their blades or had chosen to pick up their yaris again. The other two giants began backing off, protecting their smaller comrades as they scuttled into the darkness again.

Once the attack had been beaten off, the Prince yelled out, “Tend to the wounded! Sixty men, get fully equipped and keep a picket for further attacks!” Tiamat harried the escape of the Iskrill who she had squared off with, but once it went into full retreat, she turned to survey the formation. She pointed her blade at the swordsmen who had held back the hunter from the crossbowmen, saying, “You! From what clan do you hail and what are your names?”

The naginata and swordsman retainers spun around to meet her gaze and all bowed deeply. Their masks all sported patterns of blue flowers on green waves, all drawn with varying degrees of detail to designate rank and wealth. The one with the most beautiful mask raised her torso slightly higher than her companions. “Nuzami Hoshinori of the Hoshinori clan, my lady - retainers of the Hashimoto clan.”

Tiamat praised them, “That was quick thinking. I’m proud to have you accompany my journey.”

Hoshinori’s bow deepend. “W-we are here to do our duty, my lady.”

She responded, “Indeed you are, and you did so excellently.”

The naginata warriors remained bowing until Tiamat had left. While they had been victorious now, the aftermath revealed that the assault had taken a greater toll on them than they had expected - twenty-one men had met the Death God at the gates tonight. Given their situation, they couldn’t return the corpses to their families to be buried at their ancestral shrines. In lieu of this limitation, the warriors gathered up the dead and placed them on a pyre made of peat and moss. A monk read the warriors their last rites as the peat was lit aflame, and the sight of their burning comrades didn’t exactly do much to lighten the spirits around the camp. Nevertheless, they had died on the line of duty for their daimyo - the most honourable death there was - and they would press on with their souls to power their march.

When day broke, their duty continued; the Prince called for the retinue to break camp, and with the din of activity their belongings were packed, leaving behind the tents of those who had not lived throughout the night. As they marched in loose columns through the endless swampland, Tiamat, at the head of the columns alongside the Prince, began to sing.

She sang out,
“From Kylsar, the dense Kylsar
From east, swampy east
As silent, fearsome thunder
Into battle march Reshut
As silent, fearsome thunder
Into battle march Reshut.”

The assembled Reshut found the lyrics at the tips of their tongues, though they had not previously sung such a song before, and a murmur broke out as some joined in,

“Made them tough
Dense Kylsar,
Ruthless storms of the seas
And muddy bog.
Ruthless storms of the seas
And muddy bog.”

More of the retinue began to join in, emboldened by those who first started, and the song picked up in volume,

“No tiredness nor fear,
They fight for night and day,
Only the white mask
Fell on one side.
Only the white mask
Fell on one side.”

The song suddenly ramped into a fevered intensity as all the Reshut joined in, singing at the top of their lungs,

“Huh, Kylsar, my home Kylsar,
We'll stand up for you.
To the waves of western shores
We'll send your greetings.
To the waves of western shores
We'll send your greetings!”

The song, as quickly as it climaxed, settled down, quieting though all continued to sing,

“Just remember, Kylsar, in the dark times
As an ode to old glory
The honor of gorgeous folk
Your sons will defend.
The honor of gorgeous folk
Your sons will defend.”

Once the song had completed, the columns broke out into sporadic cheers, more energy in everyone’s steps.


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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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The Eternal War II


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“Imra, look out!” She gasped before falling to the floor, three arrows having pierced her bronze chains. She wriggled in agony and began to cry out. Radinri cursed, and dove towards her out in the open. He could hear solar arrows whiz past him, planting themselves into stone and dirt with dull thuds, but he managed to drag her back behind the low wall. He cradled her in his arms, pulling out each arrow with a sizzle. He used the arrowhead to stop her bleeding and she groaned again.

“I told you girl. I told you. This is no place for white-wings.” he chastised, making sure the bleeding was stopped. He placed his hand over each wound and poured some of his strength into healing the flesh. She gritted her teeth and with exasperated breath she said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Shh Shh, just rest Imra.” He brushed her golden locks out from her face with his free hand and she gave a small smirk.

“Save your s-strength old man, I’ll be f-fine.” She shivered, eyes closed.

“Nonsense, I’m not going to lose another one of you.” He gritted his teeth.

Imra drifted off as he placed his hand over the final wound. He checked her breathing, it was getting stronger. Good. He placed her over his shoulder and in a crouch, began to move with the wall, until he came to the collapsed part of the building. He looked around, making sure it was safe and spotted another three Oraeliari just landing down to tend to one of their wounded.

He made his way over to them, wary of the skies. For beings with wings, it was amazing how fearful one could be about an ambush and impalement from up above. He had lost friends that way.

He arrived at their landing spot, another collapsed building, providing over from the front and partial from the skies. He set down Imra and went over to help them heal their friends.

“Radinri, that you?” Came a familiar voice with an equally familiar face. The blond haired man in front of him was bloodied but his blue eyes and cheery disposition were a dead give away.

“Olgari!” They clasped hands. “Surprised to see you down here.”

The man shook his head. “The Neiyari are many today, and up there we’re losing. And bad.”

“We aren’t doing so hot down here either.”

The man laying on the ground groaned, a large cut across his chest had split the chain that protected him in half. Radinri poured his strength with the others and the wound began to heal.

“This is Rori, Handari and this poor guy is Vicari, a white-wings.” Olgari said.

“Another one? By the Goddess, how many more will they send in without the proper training!” He lamented.

“She one too?”

“Imra, yeah. Got her yesterday and out of five, she was the only one standing today. These White-wings… Too reckless. Always trying to prove themselves.”

As the wound sealed shut, all of the men took sighs of relief and fell back, zapped of strength for a moment. Outside, the sounds of battle were muffled, but ever present.

“That’s true. They grow up on tales of battle, and exploits, what can you expect? They only learn what it’s actually like when they see it face to face.” Olgari sighed.

“Whose fault is it then? We, who glorify it?” Rori asked, peaking out to look up at the sky.

“Blame us all. Blame us all.” Handari shook his head. “It will always be like this, for too much blood has been shed. Parents slain, friends gone. They’re born into a world of war. Who’s to blame them? You? Me? The Cardinals? If we don’t stop the Betrayers… We will not be the only ones who suffer. That is why we fight, that is why they fight and will continue to fight. Not until either of us yield.”

Radinri furrowed his brow and clutched his chest, not able to feel the pendant his wife made for him but taking solace in the fact it was there. His own children would learn soon enough the horrors, but he could at least tell them, and teach them how to endure. He just had to get back to them.

“Thank you for that.” Olgari rolled his eyes. “Now, let’s get a move on, shall we?” He clasped hands with Radinri again. “What do you say we get these two back to safety and regroup?”

“I’d like that.”

“Alright, listen up men. I’ll grab Vicari, Radinri will grab Imra. Handari, you and Rori will provide us support and be lookouts. We just have to get to the forest and our healers can make sure these two are alright. Now, come on!”

They made a dash for it, Handari and Rori looked to the skies, bucklers at the ready as the two jogged with their unconscious companions.

In the sky far above were tell-tale signs of battle, small silhouettes high in the distance flitting around and clashing. From the ground, it was like a storm of birds diving and colliding with each other. A single silhouette broke from the chaos to focus on the escaping Oraeliari on the ground, growing from a mere dot in the sky to a wide-winged warrior in seconds. The hairs rose on the backs of Handari and Rori's necks even before they got a clear look at the approaching flier, subtly warning of the imminent danger of the Neiyari. A moment later a roughly hewn arrow of still luminescent wood smacked down on the ground a foot from Rori's leg.

The Neiyari came into full view, a lithe and tan woman with light brown wings. Her equipment was no more than tribal scraps, and a crude bow - like many of the Neiyari, yet that equipment typically came with a malice and drive that made them dangerous. Another arrow loosed from her bow, bouncing off of a buckler with a solid thunk.

Olgari let out a sigh. “They never leave us alone!” he shouted, turning to Handari. “You and Rori will have to keep her off us. May the Goddess Protect you.”

“And may the Goddess protect you!” Handari said, leaping into the sky. He and Rori brandished their swords and held their bucklers defensively as they made a beeline for the Neiyari woman.

Radinri and Olgari continued on, running quicker now to get to those trees. The lone enemy took aim again, but decided at the last second to fire at the two flying her way. Another arrow slammed into a buckler, and then flew out out the way from the force of massive wingbeats. The Neiyari quickly turned in the air and shot upwards. The arduous battle of the sky would continue.




Under the shade of luminant trees, Olgari and Radinri came upon their allies. They were quick to settle in Imra and Vicari with those who could look after them and before the two were ready to depart again to find their airborne comrades, Handari and Rori came walking through the tree’s dragging with them the same light-brown winged Neiyari.

Rori had an arrow in his right shoulder, but that did not deter him from helping drag their prisoner. They set her down as Olgari went to inspect his wound. Radinri looked her over. She was cut bad by a blade across her chest and her breathing was shallow. Without looking over her again, Radinri fell to his knees and placed his hands over her wound. He was weaker now, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t try.

“Radinri, what are you doing? Leave her for the healers, you’re weak as it is.” Handari said, watching him intently.

He simply shook his head. “She won’t make it to the healers.”

“She’s just a Neiyari, one that shot me no doubt.” Rori chimed in as Olgari healed up his shoulder.

“That may be so, but the Goddess cares for all things, even the betrayers. Who am I to leave one to suffer when I can help?” he whispered, gritting his teeth as the wound began to seal. “She looks no older than Imra… Just another white-wings…”

He felt a touch upon his shoulder, and he looked up to see Olgari nodding. He then fell upon his knees and helped. The wound began to seal and before long, her breathing stabilized. “Tie her up.” Radinri breathed, falling back onto his hands.

It wasn't long before the captives' hands and wings were tied roughly but effectively. Slumped against a tree, she appeared to be no different from them - were it not for her brown wings and darker hair. The small assembly had enough time to look after their own and catch their breaths before the prisoner stirred. Panic had flashed across her face for an instant, but swiftly replaced itself with a smug and proud smirk as she weakly struggled against her restraints. It was no use; Handari had tied up too many Neiyari to count in the last two decades, and the technique he used to tie their wings was as effective as it was demeaning.

That didn't stop her from trying. When her situation began to sink in, she laughed haughtily. They'd heard and seen soldiers trying to downplay their terror, but her voice had an edge and conviction that continued to unnerve. Or perhaps that was simply the curse of fear inherent within all Neiyari. A skittish white-wing told her to be quiet and she simply smirked before taunting him with a line they did not expect; "None of this matters - the Saints are coming, and with them, the War Mother's emissary. Have you met Aveira, traitor?"

All faces spun to her. Radinri felt his throat grow tight. “W-What did you say?” Rori stammered, standing up.

Olgari did as well. They knew of that name. The one who scarred Soluri, the great betrayer.

“Do not speak lies just to save yourself, Neiyari.” It was Handari who brought him back to reality. Aveira had not been seen since their births, why would she come back now?

The woman's grin only grew. "It is no lie. The Eternal Ruler comes down from her tower, tired of your petty resistance," she spat out, looking at each of them in the grove. "The saints have sung of her arrival for days. But take heart, perhaps one of you will be able to trade my life for yours. Which one of you is most eager to live?"

Rori sprung forth, but Radinri tackled him to the floor. “Get off me!” he shouted, “I’m tired of these Neiyari games! Always lying, always trying to be superior. Look at her! Just look! She wears nothing but rags. This is the army we have to be so afraid of?”

He shook his head. “Rori, you must contain yourself. This is not the way. We are better than this.” he said firmly.

“Rori, control yourself.” Olgari said as he looked at her. “If what she says is true Handari, we must tell Cardinal Tevuri.” His expression turned grim. “It’s the only way.”

“Even lies have a bit of truth to them.” Radinri said, releasing Rori, who grumbled as he walked away.

“Fine. Let’s go.”




The radiant healing lake had become a fortified no aiviri's land. Pointed stakes, nets, tilted barricades. It was a mess of trying to impair falling combatants or dunk their wings in the lake. Given that neither side could uproot the other, debris and forgotten equipment lay between old fence work and regrowing underbrush. A popular game among the young was to brave the endless battle site for old treasures, or as the most heinous rumours alleged - consort with the enemy on the far side of the lake.

The massive tower loomed in the distance, just far enough away to be hinted at beyond the treeline. Small shapes flitted through the sky around it, like an angry nest of wasps gathering in a bigger swarm. Not long after their return to the lakeside and the domed domicile, most of the Neiyari had broken off from the conflict around the lake. Opinions were split among the veterans - many feared a reinforced assault, while some were already celebrating today's victory with the white-wings.

They found the Cardinal where he most always was, walking among the Humani village that had blossomed under the shade of the Bastion. Tevuri had been one of the first to find the Great Lake and the Humani that called it home. He was most versed in their language now, but a newer one was quickly growing among the younger generations. It was a sight to behold for sure, Oraeliari children running, laughing and playing with friends. Humani and kin alike. It was almost as if there wasn’t a war going on.

Tevuri was walking with a humani elder when they came upon him, Neiyari in tow. The children stopped their playing and began to walk after them, curious expressions upon their faces as they gazed upon the Betrayer.

“Cardinal Tevuri.” Olgari said, bowing in respect. The rest followed before rising. Tevuri’s hair was long and golden, matching his wings. He wore white robes today and had a smile upon his face.

“Olgari, Radinri, Handari. Welcome back. Have you rested yet? There is victory today and you all look tiresome.”

“We have news, Cardinal. This Neiyari prisoner speaks words you might want to listen too.”

Tevuri’s eyes came upon the Neiyari and they softened. “And I will gladly hear them from our sister.”

“Perhaps not here, Cardinal?” Radinri said, looking at all the faces.

“Why of course. Come, let us walk.”

A short while later, they came before the Bastion but did not enter. “Will this suffice?” Tevuri asked.

“Yes. Go on then, betrayer. Tell the Cardinal what you told us.” Olgari said.

The woman flexed against her restraints, frowning deeply at the few people gathered - apparently not as many as she had hoped. Her eyes skidded across the village in the distance before she focused on the interrogation properly. "The Eternal Conduit comes for you all," she asserted as loudly as she could. "The War Mother's patience grows thin, and Aveira will bring those few worthy among you back into the fold. Prostrate yourselves now, and I will consider speaking on your behalf!"

Tevuri said nothing at first, but then seemed to avoid her words entirely as he looked her over. “Might I know your name?” he asked.

That seemed to catch her off-guard, and she stared at him with a reluctant defiance. Unnerved by his demeanour, she eventually pressed out a simple “Navera”.

“Navera.” He smiled. “Nice to meet you, Navera. Now I’m afraid I have another question, might I ask, when were you born?”

“I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything,” she responded quickly, frowning deeply. Her eyes skirted between the lot of them, and the previously haughty angel grew anxious. “Nineteen summers ago.” she eventually confessed.

“Why it has to do with everything.” He said. “You were born after she had left, so all you know of her is stories. All grand tales, I’m sure.” He said softly before sighing. “So young. Dressed in simple wear. You were an archer no doubt, told to stay high, shoot at us from up above. How on this good earth did you get captured?”

Handari piped up, “She came low when we were carrying wounded. Rori and I were able to overwhelm her, but not after she got a lucky shot into Rori’s shoulder.”

“Ah, thought to earn a bit of glory then.” Tevuri slowly reached out and moved a strand of hair from her face, his smile softer now. “I will ask this only once, what do you wish for in this life, Navera?”

Navera's face was a mixture of confusion and anger, that same indignant rage all Neiyari had drilled into them. "Victory!" She proclaimed dutifully, lifting her chin in pride of how easily her words came. When that brought her eyes on the same level as Tevuri's, she flushed with a flustered frown and glanced away.

He dipped his head and sighed. “Even now, the minds of youth are poisoned. A shame. A true shame. But do not worry, Navera. Your victory is at hand.”

Tevuri raised his head and with both hands, gripped Navera by the arms. He shut his eyes tight and she struggled in his firm grasp. Slowly she began to grow still, eyes going wide. A light began to emulate from the Cardinal’s hands, growing stronger and brighter with each passing moment. Navera began to cry, and the others shielded their eyes as the glow reached its peak.

The glow dissipated, dying down to reveal Tevuri huddled on his knees, holding Navera within his arms. Her hair was golden, and her wings were white. She gripped him tightly as she cried into his chest. He rose and faced the others, a sense of awe could be seen upon their faces.

“Navera?” He asked, stroking her head. “Navera, is it true? Has Aveira returned?” Tevuri asked with a gentle tone.

The turned woman sobbed quietly, staring at her hands and the ground in equal measure. Her eyes were taken with deep hurt, disbelief, and a certain relief all at once. She hummed softly at first, battling welled up emotions. "I- I don't know…" she sputtered out slowly. "They keep saying so, but no one has… no one has seen anything. I-... so many lies… so much cruelty." she groaned quietly and raised her tied hands to her head.

“A small knife appeared in his hands, and he cut her bondage. “You are safe now, Navera.” He said, the knife disappearing. Tevuri then stood, cradling her in his arms and he turned to the others.

“You have saved this lost soul today, good work men. Go now and rest up. If Aveira has returned, we will need everyone at their best. I will go and tell the others. Be well, for now.”

The trio gave slight bows and watched as he walked off. They then wandered off to go get some grub.




Two full days followed. The first, the neiyari enacted a few hit and run skirmishes but seemed more reluctant to commit to an assault than they had in a long time. That concerned many of the original war's survivors who had remained to defend the lake, while white-wings and a fair few veterans were all too quick to dismiss the duplicity and ferocity of the neiyari; instead this relative peace was lauded as cowardice and lack of strength on the enemy's behalf.

The second day was even more alien to the Neiyari's regular tactics. Archers filled the sky, and skirmishers swarmed on the far side of the lake, but beyond a false charge towards a group of white-wings that got too close there was little activity beyond token efforts to pelt the lakeside with arrows. A consensus was now forming between the older Oraeliari; the Neiyari were up to something. Some argued their attention had been diverted, others claimed it was an attempt to bait an attack. What everyone but the most inexperienced appeared to agree on was that something was amiss.

On the dawn of the third day, when the shimmer of the luminous lake and forest had yet to grow to it's most vibrant, and most scouts were drowsy after a night of watch, it happened. A procession of Neiyari broke out of the early morning mists over the trees on the far side of the lake. Several silhouettes flew over the lake, reaching the midway point before the first scout cried out from above. Four pale Neiyari made up the centre, their skin white as snow in contrast to black hair and wings. Between flew a regal silhouette, tall for an aiviri and with warmer skin than the others. Though hard to make out in the dawning light, it was still clear amidst the beating black wings, a woman with wings of blue and gold. Even at a distance, the black horns curling on her head were visible. Behind them massed a sizable skirmish force of Neiyari, lifting into the sky like a swarm of locusts.

The older Oraeliari knew the betrayer when they saw her. Whispers ran through the ranks, moments of doubt welled up inside them. Even the Cardinals held reservations but they remained standing firm and resolute. Like a golden wall amidst the tide of black. It would not be an easy fight but fight they would. Still, runners were sent back to the bastion, warning of the impending force and of pleas to evacuate. Such a battle it would be.

Between the intense dread radiating from the Saints - rare sight on the battlefield - and the Betrayer's presence, the wavering Oraeliari were at a grave disadvantage. The Neiyari knew the same, and wasted no time in advancing above and around the slow-flying procession hovering over the lake. War cries, arrows and wingbeats filled the lakefront as skirmishers rushed forwards. Most were lightly armored in furs and scraps of leather; armor, even their wooden kind, had always been a luxury reserved for their higher ranking aiviri.

A war cry was shouted and Oraeliari took to the skies, facing destruction all the same. With the bravery and courage of the Cardinals by their side, there was always a chance at victory. A few yielded to the fear of the Saints and fled but those that remained stuck tight to their Cardinals. And in return, a volley of arrows were loosed and both sides fell, plummeting into the lake. As they neared each other, spears were thrown and at long last their blades met and the sky exploded into war.

Then the lake exploded into fiery glow and a voice emanated from it.

"Cease!" It commanded and most Oraeliari and (with much hesitation), Neiyari obeyed.

"This false avatar displeases me." the voice said, and a beam of light shot up and surrounded the Betrayer, stripping her of her luster and revealing the Neiyari pretender beneath. Yazira's return to the lake had taken more than two decades, and had seen her ascension to Saint, yet when the color of her painted wings washed away in the sharp and revealing light, the ruse of Tevuri's one-time aggressor was clear. Aveira was not here. Those Neiyari nearby the procession that were not Saints themselves were stricken with confusion at the revelation - the rank and file of both sides appearing to have been misled by the ruse.

"Hear me and hear me well. I am Rhiora, Caretaker of the Sun and I speak on behalf of Oraeliara." She said in a strong voice. "Do not be persuaded by such tricks employed by the Betrayers, my Oraeliari. Your hearts are strong and your minds stout. Remember, you are not alone in this fight."

When she spoke again, her voice turned cold. "To you, Betrayers, Her spawn and ilk, I say this; Never again shall you be a threat to our faithful. Never again will you be so cruel. I give you what is rightfully deserved. You will learn the error of your ways or succumb forever more to them till you are dust. This fight is over and the war will be lost to you. This I promise." the voice faded, and the lake faded back to it's normal color.

But something stirred in its depths and shot up in a shimmering explosion that erupted like a silent shockwave, rusting feathers and hair alike. Almost immediately, the closest Neiyari began to choke up and clutch their hearts.

The Cardinals watched this, and a voice fluttered into their heads. It was Rhiora. She spoke of what was happening to the Betrayers to them directly. A portion of them here and now would feel remorse for their actions and thus change willingly. All others throughout the entirety of the Luminant had been stripped of their fertility, turned sterile. Some of the Cardinals were alarmed at this but Rhiora said that it was necessary. The war would be won with minimal losses as the only way to break the curse was to become Oraeliari. She then departed and the Cardinals watched as the Neiyari ranks broke almost all at once, at least among those that could.

A massive rout began as panicked Neiyari fled and surrendered in equal measure, others gripped with pains or panic enough to be incapacitated. The Saints, the purest form of Neiyara's corruption, seemed to be retreating already, abandoning the front line to their collective doom. Pockets of resistance flared up, but the battle was won in moments. Reinvigorated Oraeliari swept over the crumbling battle lines of the corrupted betrayers, capturing escaping fliers and striking down those who seemed intent to fight to the end. It was over. Not only had Aveira never returned, but her alleged presence had provoked a true response from beyond.

The day was won.




Later in that week, Soluri arrived. His presence was like a beacon for the Oraeliari and a celebration would have been had, but the giant was pressed for time. In his own way, he spoke of a brewing war between humani who had cast aside the teachings of Oraeliara for war. Much like the Neiyari. They needed to be corrected, and their gifts from the goddess stripped. There was much talk of how and why but in the end it boiled down to those that thought it was their duty to help and by those wary of another war while the current one waned.

In the end, preparations were made by those that wanted to go. It was a choice after all, and many saw it as a righteous cause. Most who had decided to go were the white-wings, but many veterans of the Eternal conflict also decided to go. A handful of Cardinals also volunteered and when everything was ready, Soluri opened a portal to a land known as Ha-Dûna.







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In truth, what had gone down in Ha-Dûna was unfortunate, but necessary. Necessity however, did not make Thaa feel much better about it. It was this in part which turned his attention away from action on Galbar and back to another project that had been rather ongoing. Meeting the other deities, and while he had certainly found some that had been useful in his time, he still had far more that he needed to achieve at the very least a basic understanding of as it was clear they all were becoming more active in the world.

In particular there was a certain one that had always been something of a puzzle to him. While he could clearly delineate moral behavior and immoral action as per life on Galbar, for how could he otherwise act with such surety of purpose, he was not always so certain of his compatriots. This one deity always had the most curious goals, naming one thing and doing another, some aspects clearly at odds with those of their close allies. It was confusing to say the least, and Thaa did not want confusion.

Clearly the solution was to determine exactly their moral or immoral nature himself. While he did have them recommended from a deity he somewhat trusted, he also couldn’t merely rely upon such a thing, especially with how much might have changed in the intervening years. It was now with such thoughts that Thaa called out to the mind he knew would be there of his fellow deity.

“Gibbou, Mistress of the Moon, Goddess of the Night, I wish to speak with you in person.”

There came a soft hum and a knock of wood against wood. A sing-songy voice offered a sweet ”Hello!” and made a gentle sniff. ”Thiiiiiis is an unfamiliar voice… Or voices. Is this Aich playing a prank on me?”

In a calm tone Thaa replied in his voice that was a choir of the dead, “This is no prank. I am Thaa, Guardian of the Afterlife, Protector of Souls and God of Death. I would not expect you to have heard of me, but I know of you and much of your work.”

”Huh.” There was another knock of wood against wood. ”Say, uh, if you wanna come over, I’m making cupcakes. Blueberry.” Another sniff.

“I’m sure you think that would be lovely. Where exactly are you and how do I get there?”

”Oh, it’s the, uh, the blueish white portal labelled ‘Moon, sweet moon’ and a kinda smelly bush next to it. No idea what -that’s- about. Someone must’a, must’a... Anyway, yeah, just, uh, come on by and we’ll have a chat!” There came a sheepish lip smack. ”You said you were a god, right?”

“I see. Yes, I am a God. I’ll be there shortly enough.”

With that Thaa stepped out of his own portal and into the landscape that was Antiquity. He decided to keep it modest, only a few thousand bodies to form a body as he walked forward, his great Eye searching for the correct portal.

There came a rush of metal in his mind, followed by a soft knock of steel against steel and the closing of a metallic door. ”Phew! That’s that set to bake… Say, you found the way?”

Thaa’s eye searched among those portals that could be approximately the one, although he was taking his time. “I am still looking I must admit.”

”Cool, coolcoolcool.” There was a pause. ”Ssssoo… Nice space weather we’re having. Yeah. Yeah, the stars really, uh, twinkle tonight.”

“An unusual amount of atmosphere you must have there, I only noticed twinkling once I came into the reaches of Galbar that time so long ago. I haven’t been to the moon, does it have much atmosphere? Various gasses, vapors and the like I mean.” Thaa carefully looked over each portal, he realized that the direction of a bush might be obscured by the portal itself.

”No, uh, no, it doesn’t, actually. Preeeetty barren in terms of, well… Everything.” There came a sheepish whistle. ”I sometimes wish there was life on it, honestly.”

“Why would you wish that?” The response was quick and harsh in tone.

”Woah, hey, no need to get offended. I, just as it happens, like to have it lively around me. Okay, that’s not actually true, but I like looking at life and stuff at a distance. I mean, it would’ve been nice if there was a grove or something on the horizon I could look at. Is that too much to ask?” There came a smack of lips. ”Actually, why -haven’t- I made something like that?”

Thaa took a moment to collect himself before replying. “I am simply concerned is all. Listen, I will help you make whatever you wish so that it is all to your liking and won’t be of any other lingering issues. After all it is a good way to get to know someone, to create with them as it were. I believe I have found your portal in any case.”

Thaa poked his eye and the disk it was emplaced through the portal evidently carved with ‘Moon, sweet moon’ to gain a good look before he fully entered. On the other side, he was greeted by a barren, black lunar surface forever suspended in the shadow of the moon itself, above which stretched the eternal void of space. The realm was devoid of sound, and between the stars and Galbar itself, one could see a myriad of celestial creatures dance through the nothingness. A few curious celestial foxes quickly turned tail upon seeing him, and a dormiron, the only one of its kind to live on the moon, raised its head warily from its lair atop Gibbou’s glass dome in response to the death god’s entrance. Deep shocks, inaudible to those without godly hearing, gently rustled through the ground crust - it was the sound of opening doors. Within a few seconds, the glass dome’s outer door opened, revealing a small, blue humanoid dressed in a midnight t-shirt and a pair of baggy sweatpants. On her feet, she wore racoon slippers. She gestured widely to the surroundings.

”Hello, Thaa, and welcome to the moon! Make yourself at home while I get those cupcakes.” With a flick of her hand, she twisted the lunar ground before Thaa into a stone table and two stools.

So greeted Thaa quickly began entering fully, his eye shifting along the surface of his great mass of bodies to gaze upon the various facets and features of a realm so strange to him. He seated a singular body, attached a multitude of animals to the main mass, one of a long forgotten person of a long dead race, at the stool closest. Thaa replied as he did so, “It is quite the interesting locale you have made for yourself here, seeing this surface so close and clearly provides a great insight into a situation that had been so unclear so near the beginning of my separation from the lifeblood. The life here does seem to be of quite a different quality to that found on Galbar, of a quite different necessity.”

Gibbou exited her glass bubble home with a tray of physics-defying, steaming blueberry cupcakes. ”Yeah, I mostly just get visitors from space. Sirius’ celestials come and go and that’s about it. I mean, Wuffles hangs around, too, and she’s nice.” She paused as she conjured forth plates for the two of them. ”Oh, Wuffles is the dragon, by the way.” She thumbed over at the coil of fur and pillowy dow that was the dormiron atop her dome. It stared back at Thaa with instinctive wariness.

“Oh yes I had wondered who exactly had created those. I too had created a kind of dragon as I took to calling it, with some help I have to admit. Although they are of an entirely different sort.” Thaa’s eye stayed focused on the goddess although the great mound of corpses shifted somewhat, more solidly anchoring to the ground nearby rather than being ready for mobility. Thaa entirely ignored the dormiron and it’s gaze as he spoke once more, “I have not met Sirius nor do I know much of these celestials, my stay in space was relatively brief and quite focused when we were all more solidly on Galbar.”

”That so, huh?” she mumbled in response and sat down. She gestured at the steaming muffins. ”Help yourself, by the way,” she offered politely before continuing, ”Are you thirsty, by the way?”

“No.” The body sat in the stool opposite Gibbou went to pick up one of the muffins, Thaa’s eye momentarily shifted to look at them before switching back to solidly gaze upon Gibbou. The moon goddess shrugged.

”Oh, okay.” She waited politely for Thaa to take a muffin, and helped herself to two. After biting into one of them, she sniffed quietly and spoke, ”So, uh… What’d ya wanna talk about?”

“I wished to speak of you.”

Gibbou blinked through a frown. ”Yuh-yeah, I got that. About what?”

“Your motives, your desires, your fears for the future. I want to know whether I can trust you, and to do that I must know who you are. In truth I was inclined not to, but your actions have confused that, and a friend of mine put in a good word for you so long ago. I am here to see what to make of you, as I am sure you will try to see what to make of me.” Thaa simply answered as if purely matter of fact.

Gibbou chewed slowly. ”Uh… Huh...“ She swallowed. ”Is this an interrogation or something? An interview? What am I applying for? Or being tried for?”

The body sat across from her still held its muffin, Thaa’s gaze remained fixed upon the lunar goddess. He spoke. “At this time it is merely a friendly chat. Evil forces work upon Galbar every moment, they must be met and exceeded by the forces of righteous action. I want to see where I can expect you to fall.”

Gibbou frowned. ”Okay, rude. I invite you into my home for muffins and you immediately tell me you expect me to fail at what I’m doing. Very friendly of ya, yeah - look, if you just came to make fun of me, just get your laughs out and leave, please…” She put her muffin down on her plate. ”Now my appetite’s gone, too…”

If Thaa ever blinked his eye, he most certainly would have upon hearing that. “I have no understanding of you, nor do I think this is a laughing matter. I know not of what you want, I know not of what ills or hurts have been inflicted upon you. I have seen many of your creations and their unmitigated success on Galbar, of the great good you have wrought. And yet you are a complicated person who I cannot place.”

“I came to see if you could be trusted, if you were moral as actions of yours so strongly suggest, not to be ‘friendly’ or to make fun of you. Where you get such an idea or what you truly mean by it I care not to ask. Instead I’ll put a final question to you, do you want me to leave and make this the end of it?”

”You literally said you’re here for a ‘friendly chat’, but I ain’t feelin’ it. Look, if you need something, say what that is and we’ll get it over with. Otherwise, well, the portal’s there, have as many muffins as you want - I’ll be in my dome doing… Something.”

Thaa now replied with a tinge of frustration, “I said this was a friendly chat not that I came here for it. But since my presence is so clearly odious to you I will leave. The dead make better company anyway, something so long as it is in my power you will not know.”

Gibbou made an almost pitying frown. "Woah, okay, taking -that- stance on the way out, alright." She breathed deep. "You have a good one with those, uh, dead people, then." She stood up from her chair, spun on her slippered heel and shuffled her way towards her dome.

Thaa simply turned to return the way he came.


Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Carn

&
Titania




Carn took a deep breath.

This was not going to be a pleasant conversation. It could, perhaps, even be a dangerous one. But, it had to happen. He knew Neiya and Titania’s master were at odds with one another. He knew Titania wanted him to kill the woman he loved. He knew he was on thin ice with her already for refusing.

He had considered ways to avoid it, but he could think of nothing. He would need the cloak to retain his army’s loyalty - even on the way to this tent, he could see how the men and women of his army now looked at him differently. So, he would have to wear it. Titania would notice it, and question him about it. And he doubted he could lie to an avatar, even one as naive as she was.

“Stand aside,” he ordered the dozen warriors assigned to guard her. They complied immediately. He walked past them, and entered the small tent, which housed naught but a single metal table, with the armour piled atop it.

“Titania, we need to talk.”

The armour gave a characteristic metallic hum. ”What’s on your mind, wearer?”

Carn hesitated. “A new goddess has provided aid to our cause,” he said, after a moment.

The armour blinked metaphorically. ”Oh, is that so? A fortunate outcome for us. What is her name?”

He took a deep breath. “I have been led to believe that your creator is at odds with her.”

The armour grew silent for a split second. Her voice then turned from a cordial melody to a stern storm. ”What did she give us? Are her spies amongst our forces? Have you made any binding agreements with her?!”

The anger checked him, but only for a moment. “You already know who she is?”

”There is only one goddess whom my master holds with contempt in her heart - and she would naturally have motives to infiltrate a force destined to bring peace and safety to the enslaved and innocent of Ketrefa. You cannot trust her, wearer - she is nothing less than a demon - a deceiving, scheming demon!”

Carn blinked. “She’s the Goddess of Love, and on close terms with Cadien himself. Why should I not trust her?” The question was a test; in truth he did not fully trust the love goddess. He could not fully trust any god, if they could so easily contradict or clash with each other like this.

”’Love’ is a false mask - a mirage over her true self. She offers no love beyond the exact amount required to get what she wants. My master spoke once to Cadien about the unhealthy relationship they have - she has clearly been manipulating him from the start, just as she tries to manipulate us now! She brings nothing but war and carnage, trust my words!”

“But we are at war,” Carn pointed out. “She wishes to aid me. If Ketrefa is to fall, and we are to free the people it terrorizes, shouldn’t we accept all the help we can get?”

”There will be no people left to free if we side with her! She is the enemy of both the moon and sun - creator of the black-winged knights of death and destruction, and a viciously heartless vixen!” The armour panted angrily. ”I will not allow it! We cannot protect innocence if its very enemy is on our side.”

“We are not siding with her; she is siding with us,” Carn pointed out. “I know nothing of these ‘winged nights’ you speak of. Whatever they are, it is I who commands this army. Not Cadien, not Neiya, and not you. Rest assured, I have no intention of killing any who do not stand in our way.”

”Wearer, listen to me!”

“I have listened, and I have listened to Neiya as well. She made no demands of me, beyond that I should stay true to myself and never doubt my decisions. I have already accepted her aid, and I’ll not condemn myself or my warriors to the ire of a goddess by rejecting it now. We need allies, not enemies.”

The armour grasped for words. ”Y-you’ve accepted?”

Carn only nodded in response.

”Then… Then…” Her metallic breathing sped up. ”No, no, no, no… You cannot give her your loyalty! She is evil, wearer! Evil!”

“She never asked for my loyalty. And I suspect she might say the same about you.”

”Then turn down her aid at once! I will deal with any complications resulting from it - you have my word; we cannot allow ourselves to be at the mercy of her plans!”

“How can I turn down what has already been given to me?” Carn asked her.

Moisture formed on the armour. ”What -exactly- did she give you?”

“This cloak,” Carn answered.

Titania drew a quivering breath. ”Wearer… You mustn’t wear this into battle. It has surely been, been cursed with some sort of evil spell! Even wearing it now could be affecting your judgement!”

“If it truly is that harmful, then surely you’d be able to protect me from it?”

”I-... I am only armour, wearer - I can shrug off any physical and magical attack like a breeze… But the psychological is her specialty. I am powerless against it.”

“Then surely Cadien himself will intervene. He seems to know everything about me, anyway.”

”Cadien is--...” Titania slowed her words down. There came an anxious, metallic smack of lips. ”... I don’t think Cadien, either, is too knowledgeable about the workings of the mind. The shadow goddess have us both outmatched on that point. I must speak to my master - she knows some things about the machinations of the spirit and soul. Permit me this, I beg of you. We, we will purge the cloak of her influence and give you a new one - one meant for only the bravest and purest champions of justice!”

“And why not simply trust me, instead?” Carn questioned.

Titania sucked in through her metaphorical teeth. ”After our ‘chat’ about how to handle the wicked vixen of fire and destruction, I have decided that your senses of justice and righteousness may be compromised by your desires. I’m certain you can understand, right?”

“You claim my emotions and my desires compromise my sense of justice and duty,” Carn said. “And yet, from where I stand, it seems as if you would reject an ally and a gift to our cause, simply because of a rivalry your creator holds. Which one of us do you think is acting on emotion right now?”

”You cannot even begin to comprehend the evil she has committed! The falsehoods in her voice, her turncoat nature! Our conflict stems not from emotion, but from observed facts of reality - Neiya has no good in her heart; what she does brings death and decay to the land and to the innocent people on it. Accepting her aid is to let her into our midst!”

“Neiya has been worshipped for thousands of years,” Carn pointed out. “Crops still grow. Flowers still bloom. People still live. She cannot be that bad.”

”People have been protected for thousands of years by the mercy of the sun, moon and stars. If given her way, she would enslave the whole world and usher in an eternity of darkness and degeneracy.”

“Or so you claim,” Carn said. “She would no doubt have me believe something similar about you.”

Titania swallowed. ”Wearer, you’re not… Actually doubting me, right?”

“Why should I trust someone who will not trust me in return?” Carn asked her. “I knew Neiya and your master were at odds with one another. I did not have to tell you I spoke to her, or about the gift she gave to me. But I did. You say she can’t be trusted. She says you can’t be trusted. You can’t both be telling the truth, so it stands to reason that one of you is misleading me, and to be blunt, I have no way of telling who. So I’ll have to take a guess, and if I guess wrong, then that’ll just put me in a position to be manipulated further, won’t it?”

”But siding with her -is- wrong! Come on, do you think I, champion of justice, would deceive anyone? What good would come of that?”

“All I knew about your master before finding you was that she was the Goddess of the Moon, not Justice,” Carn argued. “I met two of her followers once. Shortly after my village was burned. They told me they had taken my brother to a safe place. Yet when I got there, I found out he had taken. By Ketrefa.”

Titania stuttered. ”Is… Is there a cult of devotees to Gibbou? I haven’t heard about this before. Well, save maybe for in… No, you don’t know where that is. What sort of followers were these?”

“Druids,” Carn answered. “Don’t remember their names. It was long ago, when I was still a boy.”

”Oh, druids! Wait, that’s not fair - they’re not -her- followers. The druidic pantheon has, what, eight different gods; besides, these are people, and you can hardly blame a goddess for the way her worshippers act.”

Carn thought for a moment. Not about Titania’s words, but what he was to say in response. “The point is, I have little reason to trust your word over Neiya’s. If you truly are a champion of justice, then prove it, and give Neiya a chance to do the same. We will see who truly stands where when the time comes.”

”No, I cannot accept this. I cannot be on the same side as -her- in a conflict. I won’t be an accomplice in a butchering!”

“Duty comes before emotion,” Carn reminded her. “You have pledged us your aid, and now you seek to withdraw it?”

The armour swallowed. ”My duty is to protect the innocent, but I cannot do so if we fight with Neiya’s support… But Ketrefa is a capital of slavery… But Neiya is the matron of evil… ARGH! Why did you have to do this?!” She growled metallically. ”Foolish mortals, always accepting this and that from entities they know nothing about.”

Carn frowned. “I’m not doing anything. It is you who seeks to force a decision on me. If you think Neiya is planning something nefarious, then your best chance to prevent it is to stay with me and keep a watchful eye.”

”Oh, you’re damned right, I’m staying. From now on, you won’t make a single decision involving any sort of divine gift or voice on your head without asking me first, is that clear? One wrong move will compromise this entire liberation - it’s clear you are too rash to be given the freedom I granted you before.” If she could, she would have shaken her head. ”So irresponsible.”

He furrowed his brow. “Freedom that you granted me?” he asked, somewhat incredulously. “Perhaps you have forgotten. I was the one who stood up and resisted Ketrefa. I was the one who was chosen to lead. I was the one who led men to victory. I’ll say it again: it is I who commands here. Not you, not Cadien, and not Neiya. Again, I did not have to tell you about her words or her gift, but I did. I will consult you, and share information with you, but do not try to force your will upon me.”

The armour growled. ”You should have come to me -before- you accepted anything from her. As soon as you heard about the feud between her and my master, you should have reacted - realised that she was evil. You have already proven yourself to be under pressure from your lust for the flaming vixen; now, you are under threat from your pride as a leader. Neiya already has her claws in you - this is how she consumes her prey! You shelter yourself to meditate and return to a state of purity - do this, and I will accept you once more as a paladin of justice. Until then, I deem you compromised.”

Carn blinked. “Meditate?”

”Yes. Sit still and think about the nature of your quest - why you wish to free the enslaved populace of Ketrefa; why you chose to take up this honourable mission. Help your mind find its original goal again - then you will be free from the sins seeking to draw you away from the right path.” Her voice felt almost satin-like.

“Hm?” Carn restrained a look of puzzlement. That was all it took? “Alright. Fine.”

The armour breathed a warm sigh. ”Good. Meditating on this will help you realise that Neiya is a dangerous foe - unthinkable as an ally - and make you see that we immediately should cut all ties with her. This, I am certain of.”

Now he frowned again. “I don’t quite see how thinking about ‘the nature of my quest’ will help, if you’re already telling me what conclusion I should reach.”

”Well, isn’t it obvious? The nature of your quest is that of liberation, and to free Ketrefa from the iron grasp of its rulers. When you, too, reach that conclusion, Neiya will, of course, stand out as a natural enemy of the cause. That is, unless I have misunderstood the purpose behind this campaign?”

“And if I decide that Neiya isn’t an enemy?” Carn asked her.

Titania shrugged. ”Then you will likely have reached the wrong conclusion, simple as that.”

“And you will leave?”

”You will come to the right conclusion eventually, wearer. The innocents come first. Above all, I protect -them-. So will you, if your heart is pure.”

“No,” Carn shook his head. “You protect the innocent, until Neiya decides to protect them too. You won’t even consider that might be what she, a Goddess of Love, truly wishes to do. Tell me, what aid have you provided, beyond building a wall that we didn’t need, and showering gold upon a merchant who would have scammed me of everything I owned?”

”... I protected the camp when your friend, the fire caster, sought to burn it to a crisp.”

“You protected yourself,” Carn countered. “She tried to burn you, and only you. Nobody was near enough to get hurt. You promised to give us armour, but you have yet to do so. When were you going to get around to that?”

”Oh-ho-ho-ho, is -that- how you remember it, hmm? Okay, alright. You want armour? Then, by Gibbou, you shall have armour.” There came a mighty quake from the centre of the camp. Shouting and confused screaming, followed by awed silence came thereafter.

Carn immediately rushed outside. In the centre of the camp, a mound as tall as a tower glistened in the afternoon sun - it was armour, iron armour - enough to harness everyone in the entire army. The quality was pristine - impurities were invisible. The only downside, it seemed, was that the tower would have to fall at some point to gain access to all of it.

”There’s your armour,” came a sour reply from the inside of the tent.

Carn, however, could only stare in shock. “It’s going to take all night to sort through this…” he muttered.








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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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Few lights still burned within Anghebad. It was a city that honored the pale white moon. But while King Hamurai was a faithful and fervent king, he never could quite surrender himself to sleep at night. It was as if the darkness beckoned him to study. To explore his own mind and the knowledge within. Hoping to find that one connection, that one bridge to usher in a new golden age. Like the presence of Orb did. He hung over clay slates written from edge to edge, lit by dim candle light. His library had grown since the arrival of the Nameless God’s gift. The many tablet cases lined the wall, with the occasional torch making a pitiful attempt to light up the room. Even when the sun was high King Hamurai’s library had become a cramped and shadowy place.

Sadly, tonight his mind and the god of magic did not favor him. He was far too tired. Yet refused to give up. Instead he put down the slate and picked up the small, metallic looking dodecahedron. This too had been testing his mind for many nights now. The sides were marked with strange glyphs. He had tried many things, and to his own amazement the dodecahedron did open up twice already. Seemingly responding to a series of runic magic.

“Yes!” He suddenly heard screaming from outside. It came from the gardens and sounded like pure joy. The king dropped his puzzleknot and rushed outside. The pale half moon did not seemingly approve that mortals were still awake and chose to barely illuminate the gardens the green gardens. The tough-leafed hedges lead to the central plaza. The gentle white light created a splendid image. Within the plaza, near the pond which was for some reason a giant, levitating bulb of water, stood Enura. His queen and the love of his life.

Hamurai had expected her puzzleknot – an octahedron - in her hands. Enura had been almost obsessed about it. Instead she held a small circlet, adorned with a singular crystal at the front. It looked simple, yet elegant. “You finished the puzzle?” King Hamurai asked as he slowly approached his wife with a big smile.

When Enura turned to face him, the blob of levitating water crashed down into the pond again. Splattering water all around. It didn’t faze the queen. “Yes!” She exclaimed, then showed him the circlet. “It opened up completely and then there was this…light. Moments later this came out of it. What do you think it is?” She asked. Her eyes gleamed in the moon light.

The king took one of her hands to calm her, then he looked at the circlet. It held some markings, but none that he could recognize. “We should ask Orb, tomorrow. Come, it is late and I think the pale moon wants us to go to bed.” Then, several guards appeared, wielding large shields and curved copper swords. Probably to investigate all the noise. “And I think our guardians would like an easy night of duty.” He added.

Causing Enura to throw her arms around him and pull him in tightly. He returned the hug, and finished with a kiss before they both made their way to their smaller domicile. Though as they were nearly inside, a servant came running after them where they actually lived and slept.

“Lady Enura!” He screamed, much to the surprise of everyone. Rarely was Enura called upon within the palace. This was a place for the king. None the less he seemed to only have attention for the queen. Then King Hamurai noticed his eyes. Bright blue, just like his wife. In the passing year they had learned it to be the mark of those blessed by the Nameless gods. Akin to the rainbow eyes.

“What is it?” Enura asked as she stepped forward.

“The- We were- It just-“ The man seemed far too exhausted for his own excitement.

“Calm down.” Enura assured him. “Deep breaths first.”

The servant did as told and tried to catch his breath. Until he finally thought he would have enough and spoke: “We had seen a yellow mote again tonight. We came closer and closer and… my queen. The yellow mote. It was hovering over something. It was an opening in the ground.”

“Like a sandpit?” Enure asked.

“No. No! It was round. Perfectly round. It was so dark inside that we couldn’t see the bottom. We dropped torches and below… My queen there was a rock hard floor. Carved like I had never seen before.” The man said.

King Hamurai turned his attention towards the servant. “Are you sure?” He had studied the history of the city and its region. Nothing suggested there was something akin to their own civilization before them nearby. Though there were myths of ruins far off into the desert. Was this another mark of something that came before?

“I descended into the pit, my lord.” The sapphire eyed servant said, never taking his eyes off Enura. “You must come my queen. It’s-It’s marvelous and… we think there is more inside.”

“More?” Enura asked. “More spells?”

“We don’t know.” The man admitted. “There is something there. More than something.” The overly excited man said.

“Rest.” King Hamurai said, as he put his hand on his shoulder. “Tomorrow we can explore this opening in the light of the sun. It will bring clarity.”

For a moment the man seemed to want to plead with the king. But Hamurai’s eyes were uncompromising. They would rest and tomorrow they would explore this new found place.


The King made good on his promise. Sort of. He himself was stuck at court. Discussing a new source of slaves and hearing several nobles and magisters. Meanwhile Lady Enura travelled towards the hole in the ground. It was closer to Anghebad than expected. In fact, it was in a place she knew well. Near a small grove of gnarly olive trees. “This is new.” She said. Her circlet was on her head. Even though she still didn’t know what to do with it.

“It is.” The servant who went to get her said next to her. “The hole wasn’t here some days ago at least. A shepherd assured us. He knows this place like the back of his hand. Yet that hole, and everything below it, is new.”

The hole itself was rather large, and indeed, the room below was very dark. Though with the sun burning high, Enura could see the carved floor. It looked intricate. Each carving winding through each other like some grand dance of a hundred people was set in stone. Using a ladder she got down and instantly ran her hand over the carved floor. There was a depth to them as well. The carvings had almost impossibly small details to them. Yet none the less they weren’t fragile. She had never seen artisanry like this before.

Torches were lit downstairs. Allowing the Mystics to observe the round walls that were kept hidden from the sun. Most of it was, sadly, broken. But some parts showed a stone skeleton, wrapped around something that looked faintly human yet with certain odd things protruding its head.

“What are they?” Enura whispered to herself. Hoping to glean more information the more she looked. Though she wasn’t a historian like her husband. He would know. Somehow he always knew about these kinds of things.

“My lady!” Someone yelled from the other side of the room. Enura rushed over, only to see a fire-illuminated door. “It’s the only one in the whole chamber.” The Mystic that called her over said. Many were touching door but nothing happened.

Until Enura touched it. Something behind hit groaned to life. Like an ancient creature stirring from a century long slumber. The doors slowly began to move and open up. Revealing a corridor flanked by several statues. Some of them were broken. Others were looking remarkably intact. The Mystics shone the lights of their torches in, then slowly began to walk through the corridor. The younger Mystics were rushing ahead, towards the next door that would surely lead to even more rooms and corridors. Enura, meanwhile, took the time to observe the shattered statutes first. She shone her light on them, though could recognize the creatures they were supposed to represent. Again, their craftsmanship was peerless.

“What made you?” She whispered.

As if it was trying to obey her command, its eyes lit up with a soft blue hue. Enura darted back and saw shadows move, before her fellow Mystics cried out. Three of the statues had begun to move on their own. As if suddenly animated by their presence. A soft blue light seemed to emanate from in between the different pieces of black marble with white veins in it.

The Mystics were desperately trying to write their glyphs on their clay slates. Though often had to move away from the golems’ their attacks. A few managed to throw some debris against their attacks. With little success. The walking, stone monsters seemed to shrug off every impact. Even if parts of the stone they were made of crumbled away. The queen charged one of them, moving around him as she beckoned the still air in the corridor. Making it move and edgy. She dodged the golem’s attack. Moving with such grace that she was basically dancing around it. The large, cumbersome creature could barely keep up with her. Though as one of its fist came down hard and cracked a few of the tiles, she knew she was dancing between life and instant death. None the less the winds were obeying her commands. Flowing faster until its softly whistle could be heard. A soft whistle which she began to louden into a roar. The winds began to slash against the golem. Pushing it around. It moved to strengthen its stance, but Enura had already moved around it, sending in the winds from a different angle as she dodged a savage kick by mere inches. None the less the winds began to take their toll upon the golem. Finally it tripped and fell over on its back. Giving Enura a second of respite to observe her attacker in greater detail. In its chest she saw a crystal. It was with a brighter hue of blue than the rest of the golem.

With one hand she reached out to the intricately carved stone above. Orb had insisted that she would learn sorcery, despite its shortcomings. Now it was a life saver, as a few rocks about large enough to hold in her two hands, came crashing down. Breaking and then shattering the crystal core of the golem. The second the crystal was broken, it stopped glowing and collapsed entirely.

She turned to watch her fellow Mystics. One Golem laid in ruin. Brought low by a constant barrage of stones. The other one was pulled low as well, while other Mystics were still slamming rocks on to it in an effort to destroy it. “The crystal!” She shouted. “Break the crystal!” The Mystics looked up and noticed the mostly in tact golem laying underneath Enura. The rock projectiles were then quickly shifted towards the glowing crystal. When it was finally destroyed, all the Mystics collapsed on their knees. Exhausted from the sudden battle.

“How many are wounded?” Enura asked as she slowly walked up her sapphire eyed friends.

“Nine. Two are already dead.” One of the Mystics said.

Indeed, two bodies laid beside the broken golems. Their eyes open and looking glassy. Enura felt the blood drain from her face, but forced herself not to react. She didn’t ant any of this but what happened, happened.

“We should leave.” One of the Mystics said. Several other Mystics just nodded in agreement, too tired to do anything more.

“No.” Said Enura, turning towards the next grand door. “We just killed three of these things-“ she was pointing at the broken golems. “- and we’re not even going to open the next door? Move aside. We’re pushing on.”

A few Mystics moved away. Others held their ground, refusing to move and let her pass. She saw the defiance in their eyes. “Move.” She commanded, but the handful of Mystics, most of them bloodied, refused to budge. “Then leave me.” She said, with a resigned sigh. Surprised, the Mystics looked at each other.

One Mystic tried to plead with her: “My lady… We have three dead. There is no shame in-“

“There is more than just shame in it!” Enura shouted in his face, cutting him off. “Three dead and for what!? So we know these statues move? Bullshit. If you you’re not with me to make their sacrifices worth it, then leave. Go home and never show your face again. I got no use for you.” With those words, she pushed through the Mystics that were blocking her. They let her through without a fight. Though they started walking back towards the first chamber. Some remained around Enura as she gently touched the carved, stone door. Once again, it opened on its own.

Beyond it was not a corridor filled with statues. Instead it was a small antechamber, with the next large doors still closed. Though the antechamber itself was filled with grand vases. The Mystics, slowly, opened the vases. Expecting perhaps rotten food or something like that. Instead they began to shout in excitement as they pulled out silver baubles and a few gems. All in all, it was enough to give most of the Mystics a comfortable living for the next few years. But when their excitement burned out, they turned towards the large door. Human greed began to crawl up inside of them.



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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Crispy Octopus
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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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Part One:

Birds


He ran screaming, or he slunk away in the night. They caught and beat him, or he escaped before they even knew to look. He lived it or he dreamed it, but which one was a question he’d long since abandoned. He dreamed it differently every night. Or maybe he remembered. Who was he to say what was real, if he couldn’t tell the difference.

After all, as he woke from another dream, he was still here. Alone. He’d been alone ever since it’d happened. It had been months, years, maybe longer. He couldn't be certain, but he did have a beard. So it hadn’t been recently, not that it made a difference. All that mattered was he couldn’t return to the great city, even if he knew where it was. Where he was. Who could have guessed how easy it was to lose yourself in the woods.

Who could have guessed he’d survive them. That was due to his skill, his magic. He could carve Runes, imbue stone with great magic. It had kept him warm and fed in the winter. The winters? That wasn’t certain, but he did know he was alive. Magic had made it so.

Magic that had become him, in a way. He wasn’t even sure he knew his name anymore, but he knew he tried not to recall it. Or any of his past, save that which lingered in his dreams. All that he was, was gone. Now he was the Runecrafter. The man who’d survived the depths of the forest, who’d journeyed long to find no one and nothing. Not one village, villager, or road. He wondered if that was normal.

People vanished, of course. He’d known that before he’d run to, or been left in, these woods. Most left it to Trolls, Vampires, the wicked things in the world. Few credited the forest, and why would they? It was just trees.

What they didn’t know was that the trees were worse. You didn’t have to go far off the road before they swallowed you. The world wasn’t tame. How easy that was to forget behind the safety of ancient walls. Walls that held back only the smallest fraction of nature.

Yes, it made sense. This was normal, expected even. He could wander for a thousand lifetimes, and never see another soul. Never even cross an old path. He was only alive because he was the Runecrafter. The forest had swallowed all the others who’d found their way into it. It would swallow him, eventually.

A somber start to any morning.

---


By afternoon he’d packed his camp and begun moving. He had stayed put during the winter, but by now the snow had melted and as life returned to the world, so did he. A man could accept he would die, but it rarely stopped him from trying to live. So the Runecrafter moved, week to week, day to day.

The heavy pelts he slept in were rolled up at his side, and as warm light filtered through the forest canopy in ethereal rays he couldn’t help but grumble. The thick bedding was hot, even to carry. He’d tried something else once, a hammock? He wasn’t sure, but he knew it hadn’t worked. He was carrying the pelts, after all.

The Runecrafter’s thoughts wandered as he trudged through the forest, ignoring beauty that few ever experienced. The wonders of nature had long grown familiar to him. His gaze didn’t wander to appreciate his surroundings, but to watch them for any sign of danger. Like, perhaps, every bird within miles taking off at once, and flying in a great stream towards the horizon.

That made the Runecrafter pause. It was something that, well, it was something that didn’t happen. He imagined he’d been out here long enough to know. With a mix of the greatest caution, and a curiosity he’d long since forgotten, the haggard man began to follow the birds on their peculiar migration.

He couldn’t have anticipated where they led him. As it was, he almost didn’t recognize that what he was looking at was a village. Nor did he truly see the people eyeing him. They looked agitated, and perhaps that wasn’t so odd. What did you say to a man who’d stumbled out of the woods covered in mismatched furs, whose arrival had been heralded by a tremendous flock that still circled overhead?

Evidently, nothing. As the Runecrafter started at a small group of men, women, and children who’d come out of their houses to see the birds, they stared back. He opened his mouth to speak, but words failed him. One of the villagers held up a primitive spear, and at once the Runecrafter’s senses returned to him.

He ran. Away from the thing which had consumed his every waking thought. Away from what he wanted most in the world. It was bitter, and glorious. He’d found people, alive, and he knew at once how difficult it would be to ever speak to them. How they’d mistrust him. How he’d misunderstand them.

---


When the sun began to set the Runecrafter sat against a tree, shaking. He knew where the village was. He’d not lost track, not this time. He knew he’d return. Even if he wasn’t the man who’d first gotten lost, even if he was more a wild thing than the craftsman he’d been. Even if he risked everything. The Runecrafter was willing to brave the village's ire.

Or he thought he was. He was here after all, not there. The thought was heavy, but the Runecrafter had little time to ruminate on it before a face poked out from a nearby tree and startled him. The face of a boy. One from the village. The Runecrafter’s muscles tensed, and he prepared to flee, but he held back. He wouldn’t willingly go back to hopelessness. Isolation. So he watched the boy, the boy watched him, and by the time the forest was engulfed in twilight the two sat face to face.

The boy, a hale looking boy on the verge of manhood, spoke first, “You know we need a fire wildman, before it’s dark.”

“Wildman,” The Runecrafter huffed in amusement before nodding slowly. In a moments awkwardness he pulled a metallic looking rock from his thick furs. Without a word, he dashed what was an intricately carved crystal against a rock between him and his guest. The crystal shattered, and then its shards exploded into sparks and flame.

The boy scrambled backwards, and the Runecrafter watched his little fires ignite the brush beneath them. They burned white hot, and their glow didn’t fade. It endured, burning long after the moss and twigs beneath had been turned to ash. With a smirk the Runecrafter gathered what sticks were nearby and heaped them onto the little fires. Within a few seconds there was a small, but respectable, fire. It’d cost the Runecrafter something he’d labored on for days, but he had spent enough time alone. There was no reason to waste this chance.

With a disused and croaking voice, one he hadn’t used in ages, the Runecrafter motioned towards the fire and asked, “A wildman’s work, village boy?”

The boy stared at the flames. They flickered in his wide brown eyes, and the Runecrafter saw something familiar in them. It was no surprise when the boy’s next words were one’s he’d spoken, and heard, in the past, “Teach me. Please?”

Of course, there was only one answer.

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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Commodore
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Commodore Condor

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Qael’Naath

&






As he returned to Aquibeophates Thaa kept himself collected outwardly, he passed by his various guards and servants that awaited in the mists. He stopped to hand off a singular object to one of the guards, he knew this one, and he continued on past having handed off that one thing he had gained, a homemade muffin.

He wanted to throw into a wall in all honesty, he wanted to rage and tear things, but now was not the time.

No, he needed to get to work. And more particularly he needed someone to work with if his plans were to prove to continue smoothly and as it was evident he would not be able to attain assistance from that Gibbou, he would have to find it elsewhere. Clearly there were a number of options, he could go back to one of those he had worked with before, Genesis, Yamat, Neiya or that Fe’ris character but he doubted he wanted much creative insight in their particular fields of expertise for this project to start out with. Additionally, he needed another prospective he could trust, clearly trusting other deities was a supreme folly, so perhaps he could look elsewhere. Mortals from Galbar were too tied to that plane to have the proper perspective of course, but perhaps something modeled after one.

A soul entrapped in the same model of thinking as the mortals of Galbar would not do, and neither in a form so woefully dependent on base needs of eating or drinking to merely sustain their own form and give motion to it. No they would be gracefully drawn from the death energies that so infused Aquibeophates, of course their mind would be drawn in the same lines as some mortals so as to achieve the benefits of their prospective with so many of the detriments allowed there. They- no- She would be good to have around to give perspective to the many confusing actions of the mortals that sometimes so greatly seemed to escape Thaa of how they could think such things as good or rational.

Before him the mists collapsed as his thoughts became reality in the realm of the God of Death. Thaa did not deign to go into much detail a vague semi-resemblance to a mortal race, or really given just how vague the dark form coalesced before him was a number of mortal races. She spoke as her mind came into being, her form ensouled and she took in existence. She looked at Thaa brimming with questions.

“...W-who am I? What am I? Where are we? Who are you? What is that..”

Perhaps he should have deigned to give her a bit more knowledge, well that was fixable soon enough. He reached out and put knowledge into her mind, not so overwhelmingly present that she would actually think of it in the moment, but she might remember the knowledge as it became relevant. Thaa more presently answered some questions that would begin to help her connect to her ‘remembering’ the knowledge.

“You are Zeraphsis. You are a servant of Thaa. We are in Aquibeophates, I am Thaa.” Thaa paused as the young thing before him made use of both what he said and what she no doubt was remembering the meanings behind the words as he had so implanted. Thaa thought himself quite clever in this. He spoke once more, a structure rising out of the stone behind her, a tower. “Why don’t you go inside and decide how you wish to have your office? You can even decide what you would wish from your form, the energies of Aqquibeophates fuel you and can give you strength to change it. I have made it so. You can ask me for anything and if I deem it so worthy it will be provided for your duties to be made clear.”

Thaa ended the conversation by having the ground beneath her shift towards the tower that was now her office for what would come next. Zeraphsis squealed in surprise as it did so, slowly turning her towards the tower that still now rose ever higher.

Now he had some background processing starting up in preparation, he could more fully work out the exactitude of what he needed to accomplish.

In truth the forms were the easiest aspect, in kinds they numbered three. One that reformed, one that wouldn’t be so easily bound by the same forms that most life on Galbar adopted, and One that would and would take it to a wonderful excess to take the actions needed.

He called them different things, in part after some of the stories the Mortals told, it fit so well sometimes and played into the little stories the Mortals told themselves. Lich. Ghost. Wight. Revenant. Names that didn’t mean much, at least until he gave them meaning. Gave the possibility of form to those they had known it once before, but left something behind perhaps, or sought to gain something more. It mattered not.

He had not the strength to do everything completely on his own, not everything that he planned in truth for this step. He came to the same issue he was at before and why in part he had so stepped out to see if that Gibbou could be trusted.

Well, he did recall one more god that he hadn’t considered, the one who had made those beings he took in so long ago, the ones with certain resemblance to mortal animals that lived so isolated on the floating island. He could tell the presence was there even if he had not interfered with the collection. He reached out a call to that same essence now.

“We have not spoken, but we must, I have a matter of the utmost urgency that I would like to ask your assistance on.”

The god of magic was never called upon. Prayers fell on deaf ears, and it would seem that his brothers and sisters were content to leave him be. As if tending a garden, Qael’Naath had been busy observing his realm. Acting upon alignments and trying to discern the meaning of certain floating glades in his realm. So when Thaa called upon him, it surprised and pulled up the god of magic from his diligent trance. His realm was in good order again. The existence of Soleira and Auriëlle in the world has been amended to the Great Design. Moments later his humanoid form floated through the portal leading to Aquibeophates, the message’s strange energies guided him there. As he passed through, he saw the realm of death in all its mystifying glory. Tall towers dotted the view, their bases hidden by a thick fog that obscured almost all sight. Some things were roaming the realm. Seemingly aimlessly. They paid no attention to the god of magic.

Despite never having set foot on such a strange realm, something about the energies within felt familiar. Like a half-forgotten memory. ”I have come as you asked, my sibling. Let us talk.” Qael announced, though he did not move away from the portal. Nor did he need to as it soon became apparent, the realm seemed to shift and blur around him, a mortal might think that such things were due to speed as to how fast they were moving. But a god could see clearer, the realm was quite literally warping around him, and soon enough he was in a new place.

Before him was a large being, a great mound of corpses that seemed to be strung together, they moved and undulated as one. The most notable feature being a great eye, mounted it seemed on a disk, the whole thing staring at him, nearly matching his height in diameter so large was the eye.

It seemed the portal was long gone, although the mists and the towers remained in the distance. A curious tower was nearby, of a slightly off coloration one could tell, it was only a little ways off behind the large being before him. A million voices spoke in choir, coming from the form so melded together of constituted parts and a single voice emerged in their unity.

“Hello sibling, I am Thaa, Lord of Death. I know my message was urgent but I wish to say that although we only ever came close to meeting once when I came for your creations on that floating isle, I have kept track of a number of your works and I have to say I am most impressed. Particularly of the substance that you are so expert in, mana as it were, and the many uses that mortal life has used, even if they have yet to live up to much of the potential, I would have it.”

Qael’Naath was not immune to praise from his siblings. He took Thaa’s compliment with pride. “The fact that Galbar is not a cancerous world. Rife with life that cannot die and reform is a testament to your own might Thaa, Lord of death.” He returned. Rather unfazed by the grizzly displays around him. In fact, he knew now that back in the Well, an island would be transforming. That which was once grey and seemingly undefined would shift into a pale yet clear imitation of Thaa’s realm. “Mortalkind is still young. I foresee greatness. But enough about my musings. You have called with urgency. With what do you require my aid?”

“Indeed,” around the two of them formed a number of forms, some were clearly in imitation of coporeal beings, others definitely not. They came in forms that seemed close to those found across numerous mortal races, however divine senses would easily reveal that none of them had souls or any kind of motivating factor, these were practically puppets to the evident master of the realm. “I am working on a project for the betterment of Mortalkind, a way for those who have passed beyond the realm of Galbar to return should their wills’ and motivations be strong enough.”

“As you might be able to tell I have much of the form worked out, and even the selection process among those restless souls has been set in motion, however one thing remains that I have call upon you for.” Thaa paused once again as the forms shifted now, this time there were only three layed out. Two corporeal, one not. “As one might tell I have made three major types of forms for four kinds of general motivations. Most importantly beyond their forms, beyond their motivations is the issue that now presents itself. Those who have the kind of will and motivation to return to Galbar are not common, they will be few and far inbetween among what I foresee to be a hostile living population across all of Galbar. They need to be able to make a difference in of themselves so that they might return to rest, although they may be alone.”

“For that they need power and I can think of no greater than that which suffuses itself across the many great areas of Galbar, that which you are an expert. I know some of the mortals have some small amount of control over it through their learnings but that will not work for all of them, not all of the souls going back have the skill or the right mindset for such endeavors, or even the time. A more instinctive approach might be needed there.”

“Finally, there is a difference in the third form, a Lich I call it, to take a mortal name. It is intended to be something that might be accomplished by one of your mortal mages, to make a pact while living that allows them to come back from the dead should a certain kind of object be kept to anchor them to the mortal plane. Again it will only truly be successful for those of sufficient will and motivation but I feel like it could make a great impact, and I want your help. So tell me, will you help me in these endeavors?”

The god of magic remained quiet as Thaa explains his goals. Instead he moved between the three first shapes. Examining them closely. To return from the dead, a dangerous capability. One thing eluded him though. “What is the function of these three shapes?” He finally asked, after Thaa finished his explanation. “What would cause one to come back and inhabit what I would assume one’s own body while others can come back in the shape of… well nothing tangible?”

“In truth your assumption is wrong, none of these are their ‘own’ bodies, or to say the forms they held in life. In truth they are forms made principally from their perception of self made real on Galbar through my own power, far too many of their corpses are destroyed or otherwise made unusable, even beyond the folly of the weakness in their decaying forms themselves.” Thaa paused a moment and shifted the position of the example forms before continuing. “As for the function of the forms it is simple really, as each of the mortal souls have their own motivations and desires in the world the differences in forms are preparation for their own tasks and likely issues. A corporeal body is most useful for one who returns to right a wrong, to take out an immoral actor and thus assist in the betterment of mortalkind.”

“On the other hand the non-tangible form is most useful if one needs to protect an object or place without necessarily alerting any living mortal denizens in the vicinity, especially for longer periods of time. Civilizations rise and fall, as do cities and uncountable innovations lost, but perhaps something might survive such interregnums between the high points of mortal life.”

Qael’Naath rubbed the tentacles where his chin should be. Pondering upon which blessing would be most appropriate for which creature. He looked at the incorporeal creations. Thaa spoke truth. Manipulating magic in the ways mortals did mostly would be impossible with these creations. Instead his thoughts harkened back to his earliest creations. Animals blessed with magical prowess, yet unable to directly command that power. That would fit with the earliest shapes. “Death is cold, is it not?” He mused. “They protect places or object… the mortals deserve a warning. A way of knowing.” He outstretched his hand and magic coalesced upon his palm. Forming a gaseous orb, containing a white and blue cutting wind. “I propose the incorporeals have an aura of freezing, cutting cold around them. A cutting cold they can instinctively command should the time come.” He released the orb which was imbued with this gift. Letting Thaa chose whether or not he wants to use it.

“Vengeance.” Qael whispered as he observed the third creation. It was solid but gaunt looking. “Retribution. Penance.” He continued. His thoughts flowing through his mind as he attempted to devise the perfect gift for them. There should be no warning of its coming. No, its gift should be immediate, destructive and impactful. For the first time in a while, Qael’s mind wandered. Away from his task. A small smile formed underneath his hood. “You’ve inspired me. My Auriëlle.” He whispered to himself with a surprising amount of love, as he conjured a second orb. One that seemed filled with rust flakes and ashes. “They should bring the dread touch of death. With this gift those who should fear a wrath from the grave will feel their strength sapped from their body once your creation is near. Their presence hexes their chosen victims.” Once again he released the orb to float in front of the gift’s intended receiver. Allowing Thaa to judge whether or not to accept the gift.

Thaa gingerly took the two orbs, tendrils of corpses reaching out from the main mass to acquire them. Although the simulacrums depicting the intended creations were nothing yet, this gift was real power for them and it would not be squandered. “A most wise and good gift I must say.”

“Thank you.” Qael said, with a polite nod before he turned towards the Lich. “These require more.” He said, near instantly. “If they are spawned from a mortal chaining his soul to an object. It requires a test. Of skill. Of want.” Once again he outstretched his hand. This time no enclosed orb formed. Instead a more wild, gold with green centered plasmic creation formed itself in the magic god’s hand. A spell, allowing one to rip their own soul out and bind it to an object. A god-forged spell unlike any other. But as the spell finally solidified in its shape, Qael closed his palm. Letting the spell vanish. “I will release it upon Galbar amongst the other spells I created. The deciphering of this spell alone would be a sufficient test of skill and knowledge of the arcane. It’s execution, in turn, will be the test of want. These few individuals…they will be interesting.”

“It is good that you can see that, now my work begins to set all this in motion. These gifts will be good.” Thaa’s great form shifted as he spoke, tendrils going off into the mists, he continued. “I do have to ask since I did hear, is Auriëlle one of yours? She has been a matter of great interest to me.”

For a second Qael frowned. What did the Lord of Death have to do with Auriëlle. “She is… my daughter. In a matter of speaking.” He explained. “But why would the god of death care, brother? She is still amongst the living.” Or was he about to learn that about some terrible fate?

“You have raised her well enough then, she does good and moral work. She has sent many to the improved state I have ensured, I gave her a gift to assist in the matter not too long ago, not that long on a mortal scale either. Of course I also had to ensure that she would not prematurely perish as so many seem to do among the mortals. Truly dying is a cause of life, I have scarce control over it, my domain lies towards what happens after you understand.”

The god of magic let out a throaty laugh when Thaa said his daughter was performing good and moral work. For a second he wondered if the god of death wasn’t confusing Auriëlle with her divinely connected sister. But no, when Thaa mentioned the disc something clicked inside of Qael’s mind. “I thank you for taking care of her.” He said as he calmed down a little bit. “And I must admit that I did not raise her accidentally. The circumstances of her… creation are somewhat troubling.”

“You must be the first sibling in existence that looked upon my daughter and would deign her to be a good and moral person.” Qael’Naath said. “Though I suppose in your eyes, she really does perform a sacred duty. Well, in mine as well. She is quickly developing into a force of destruction. So many see that as a problem. As danger. They fear erasure.” The god of magic mused. “You then, see no problem with her methods? With her…obliterating power?”

“Bodies fail but the important things survive, it is nothing but good for such suffering souls to be removed from the terrible prison that Life has made of Galbar. She is more effective than most, and more attuned to the needs of correct moral action.”

Qael was able to hide his concern for the most part. Alas, he could partially imagine Thaa’s position. He was, after all, the god of death. If he felt even half as passionate about death as Qael felt about magic, then it was obvious to see how he saw living as a curse. Still, despite his slight understanding of Thaa’s position the god of magic could not shake the fear he held for his own daughter. He had to safeguard her. “I would have a favor of you then, brother. In return for the gifts I’ve offered your creations. I ask you – when her time comes – do not take souls of either of my daughters. Auriëlle’s nor Soleira’s. Let me take them should they perish.”

Thaa briefly paused, his body ceasing all movement as he listened to the magic god. He spoke, “All souls come to me, there will not be an exception.”

He did not continue his work until he said one more thing. “However, in recognition of the service you have provided me, and my hope for… ...future cooperation. I shall deliver them immediately to you should they ever come into my possession.”

For a moment Qael’Naath feared death would truly mean death for his daughters. Yet he released a relieved sigh when Thaa said he would deliver their souls to him. That was as much reassurance the god of magic could ever get. His daughters were safe now, even from death in a way. It was a safety he hoped never to call upon. But Thaa was right, many mortals had a tendency to die before their time. “I thank you.” He said, sincerely. “I will leave you to your work then.”

“Yes I agree on that. Do not dally.” With that said, the realm once more shifted and blurred around Qael’Naath, once more warping until he was where he first stood upon entering the misty realm of Aquibeophates, the portal right at his back.




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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by ZAVAZggg
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ZAVAZggg Adrian Blackwell

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Viris sighed as he gathered his thoughts, an act that sent a ripple pulsing throughout his vaporous form. His birth had been an abrupt yet slow one, and his realization of self even slower, though both had been finished in due time. From there he had begun to explore, as most beings did when introduced to a foreign environment, which is what led him to discover Antiquity, the existence of other gods, and most important of all, their rules. Of course such wanderings could not last forever, which was how he found himself back here, stretched out over the barren plains of Lethe like a shroud as contemplated what he should do next. It was at this moment that an idea struck him, one he had not considered before. Turning in the midst of his realm, his gaseous form churning in on itself, Viris shifted his gaze through the Lifeblood and towards the bustling world of Galbar. The cause of him, the effect. One of many, granted, but still one nonetheless. Scanning the planets surface, he drifts past glen and dale, observing all upon which his gaze falls, till he finally finds the thing for which he is searching.

A vessel, one who went by the name of Ibel. A humble man from what he could tell, though one who'd been through untold loss, the memories of which still haunted him. The perfect instrument in which to place his trust and his soul. Part of it anyway. As he had learned from the board in Antiquity, the gods themselves were unable to enter Galbar. Something to do with it destabilizing the Lifeblood. As such he needed a way to interact with the mortals he'd been watching all this time. One that, preferably, didn't tear reality asunder. Thus he had turned to avatars. Well, an avatar anyway, as he doubted he'd need more than one for the time being. It was here that the board had been most helpful, as it detailed the exact way one went about making them. Gathering up his soul, which to the outside observer appeared as a dim glow that slowly grew in intensity, he fractures it. Cradling the broken piece in his opaque hands, Viris raises it on high and casts it down to the world of mortals below, an act that goes unseen by all save the gods themselves...

................................................................................................................

When the crystal landed near Ibel, it did so silently. So much so that he didn't even notice it at first, and would have passed it by had it not dug into the bottom of his foot. Setting aside his rope, Ibel bent down to retrieve it, examining its prismatic surface in slack-jawed awe. He eventually overcomes this shock however, and quickly moves to gather his things, when something stops him. It wasn't a voice or person, or even an identifiable feeling, yet it gave him pause all the same. Taking it out of his fur bound pack, he brings the rock up to his face and begins staring longingly at its core, the odd feeling from before growing even stronger. The glow within it growing ever brighter... until, all of a sudden, it ceased. The glow faded along with the crystal, both falling into nothingness along with his hopes and dreams. Dreams which he... couldn't quite remember. As a matter of fact he didn't remember anything save his name and his purpose. Odd given how he didn't recall having much of one before. But, that hardly mattered. He had a goal now. A mission to perform, even if he had yet to learn what it was, and a lord to please.

And please him he would.

Putting away the rope and taking up his stick, Ibel makes his way out of the woods and back into the open, starting his long trek back to civilization.

Or what counted as such in those most ancient of days...



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

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Rise & Shine





Lucia awoke slowly to the rising sun, but the warmth on her face was not the only thing she felt. Sanya was pressed against her back and she let out a happy sigh, so content to stay wrapped in her strong arms. She could not help but smile from ear to ear. It had been some time since that first kiss, and many more had followed as they made their way through the highlands and into the prairie. She had forgotten what it felt like to be in love- a true love where everything was reciprocated. Small touches, reassuring words, hugs and more intimate displays.

What was there not to love about life?

Lucia wiggled her way free of Sanya, trying her best to be as gentle and quiet as possible. Once free, she covered Sanya with the blanket and watched her peaceful face for a minute or two. Then Lucia used the embers of last night's fire to start another, and rummaged through her pack for some food. The deer had lasted them a good long time but now it was back to small game. They had been lucky enough to find some prairie birds, ones who used the tall grasses for cover. Now, Lucia prepared one with a split.

As she worked, she looked out over the landscape. They had picked a good spot, one of several rolling hills that made for good vantage. She could see a herd of bison and even a lone elephant drinking at a river. It was peaceful and she loved it, but she also knew this would not be where they would find themselves. Lucia scrunched her nose as she put the bird over the fire. With any luck, the smells would wake Sanya up. She stood up and placed her hands on her hips as she looked out again.

The prairie was a nice place, yes, but Sanya deserved better than grasslands. Lucia was really just swinging it, going due south west. Maybe they would go to the coast? She knew that desert was over there and that other mountain range, plus ocean. Maybe they could find something in between? She shut her eyes, picturing a small home beside a tranquil lake. It would have a beach, a sandy beach with clear blue waters. Good for swimming and fishing and berry bushes would be all around it and the birds would come in the spring and fall and eat and sing. She smiled again and from her lips there came a small poem.

”Oh what beauty there will be,
Taking it all in with quiet glee.
Wrapped in her arms beside the water,
Watching the world become a bit calmer.
It’s what I want and what she requires,
To be at peace for all time, our desire.”


She let out a breath and placed her hands on her cheeks, shuffling in place with childlike excitement. She put a finger in her mouth and bit it to stop herself and she looked back at Sanya. There was a part of her who knew how foolish she had always been, and a part of her that knew it was all alright now. She still kicked herself for not having tried so much sooner, but as the saying goes, time heals all wounds. And even after lifetimes, Sanya was still here, not beside her forever. At least she hoped. There was no one else for her, this she knew. Meghzaal was… She was grateful to him for what he had done for her and she would never forget him but now, now her heart was for Sanya and Sanya alone.

Lucia went back to the fire and turned the bird. If Sanya didn’t wake up soon, she would have to do it. Maybe with a couple of kisses on her cheek? She went and sat down beside her, but let her sleep some more. A cranky Sanya was never too much fun.

Then again…

Lucia brushed some of Sanya’s hair out of her face and then bent over to plant a soft kiss on her forehead. ”Sanya…” Lucia cooed, twirling a finger in her long black hair. ”Oh Saaaanyaaa…” she gushed. ”Will you sleep the morning away?” she smiled.

Sanya groaned quietly as she stirred from her peaceful slumber. "Did we win?..." she murmured just coherently enough to be understandable. When her mind followed her back into reality, she drew a long breath and squinted at the looming Lucia. Tired still, the warrior smiled.




The wooden beam was heavy enough to require a full hand to steady and a shoulder lift to carry, but Sanya was determined to get it in place without help. She swung it around slowly before hefting it up and sliding it into place above the archway to their fledgling home on the lakeside.

After Lucia had confided her dream home to her, Sanya had done all she could to drive the journey forwards to match dream with reality. She'd crested countless hills, talked to hundreds of prairie-folk, and refused to stop when Lucia suggested they settle in a place that wasn't what she'd fantasized about. At times she had felt the sting of Lucia's emotions, but Sanya had settled before. This was something beyond the temporary. It needed to be right.

Her persistence had paid off; they had found a grove on the edge of what could reasonably be called the prairie, within which a majestic lake spread itself beyond and into thicker forests. Clear water and light brown sand combined in a calming display, and life seemed to flourish all around it. It had been like walking into a paradise far from human influence.

Now they had made it theirs, though they'd been careful not to disrupt too much of the surrounding wilds, just enough to build a home that could overlook the lake. Sanya was used to living off of the land, and she doubted Lucia would ever get tired of the splendor of natural beauty. The crusade to find the perfect place had ended, and now they’d celebrate their second anniversary - something Lucia appeared to put great stock in - in the comfort of a home built by their own hands.

Sanya allowed herself a break to rub her hands and inspect her handiwork from outside, a foundation ready to be covered with a roof. Between her strength, endurance, and Lucia’s tattoos that continued to surprise her in new and exciting ways, construction and carpentry had been a lot easier than expected. Of course, it wasn’t Sanya’s first home construction, but beyond a few borrowed techniques for stability it was mostly fresh territory. She was convinced any living space would be adequate so long as they remained together. It had always felt like that, she mused to herself. Lucia had a charisma and warmth that made the outside world less important, a smile that let Sanya forget the memories of fire and war, even if only for a day at a time. The dark-haired warrior drew a long breath and found herself smiling ever so slightly.

Content with her work, Sanya rubbed at her cheek and stalked over towards the lake, where Lucia was hard at work with another important addition to a liveable home - furniture. After their first tour of the space, Sanya had watched her point and talk excitedly about her vision for how the interior would look, and had given Lucia free reign to install whatever she thought they needed. She wished she had the same spritely exuberance towards something like carpentry and living arrangements, but fortunately Lucia had enough positive energy and creative vision for both of them. Sanya paused halfway between the unfinished building and Lucia’s outdoor work space, watching the tattooed woman work with a unique blend of flippancy and dedication. No doubt it took endless mastery to guide her swirling tattoos to obey her into manipulating the world around her, yet it effectively gave her extra hands for tasks like these, which seemed to give her a strange opportunity to both be entirely focused on her work but also barely need to physically strain herself. Sanya watched her for a time, happy to just watch her partner and enjoy the simplicity of their shared existence. She stood dormant for too long, and Lucia caught sight of her with a simple glance towards the house. The dark-haired woman averted her eyes with a flush of embarrassment, before moving up towards Lucia properly, completing her journey.

Her hand slid out to touch gently on Lucia’s back as she stepped up beside her. She had tried to become better at touching; she could see Lucia’s mood rocket up towards the sky when she affirmed her affection. "Just the roof left, now.” she mused calmly, gaze sliding between Lucia and her work.

Lucia finished the last of her work on a chair before she set down her tools and her tattoos slipped back onto her body. She then gave her full attention to Sanya with a smile. ”It looks sooooo good Sanya! Why I could kiss you all over.” She bit her lower lip and moved closer. ”I suppose I can…?” she mused, reaching out and wrapping her arms around Sanya’s waist. Their lips met and for a time, neither the furniture or roof were tended to.




Lucia sat outside, underneath a shade of an oak tree that overlooked the lake. She and Sanya had frequented that spot more times then she could count over the years. It gave such a wonderful view, even now. She smirked, remembering the first time they sat in the shade and an acorn fell, hitting Sanya in the head as they…

A cool breeze rustled her long golden hair, she hadn’t cut in years and now it reached down to her lower back. She pulled her legs in tight and wrapped her arms around them. She wore some soft leathers and furs, but soon enough that would change. The leaves were beginning to turn colors. Into reds, yellows and oranges- which meant fall was fast approaching. It was her second favorite season, just after spring. All the colors of the trees were fantastical and she had written many poems about them.

Why, Sanya always liked those poems. She let out a sigh, looking around the lake to see if she could spot her. It was no use. One thing she had learned living with her, was that if she didn’t want to be found, you wouldn’t find her. But if she did want to be found, well, that was different. A memory of a night flashed in her mind. It was their seventh anniversary together and Sanya made a trail of flower petals that led into a small clearing in the woods. That was a magical night. Or their twelfth anniversary, where Sanya guided her down to the beach and they looked up at the stars. Lucia chuckled, remembering how Sanya had written a poem about her. It was the cutest thing and so, so beautiful. The next year, Lucia had to really think outside the box in what she planned.

That felt like it was days ago, not years though. They had lived happily together for so long and now… Well, fights are common in any relationship, right? They had small ones every now and then, easily resolved and worked through but this time... Lucia had never seen Sanya so, so… like she had been. But Lucia was not the Helgen so many thought her as. She was equally as to blame, if not more so. If she had just been a better listener, not gotten so worked up, perhaps it would have gone differently. Seeing the look of pain flash across Sanya’s face snapped her out of it, but by then Sanya was already out the door.

If she could just look to the future and not the past… Sorrowsting was no longer needed in the life they had built. There were no wars to fight, no people to save, no anger or pain, just happiness and love. Lucia shook her head, it was a selfish request on her part. To ask Sanya to get rid of her past… Why had she even done that? Was it jealousy? Over an object? How silly was that?

She sighed. Now what was said, was said, and it could not be taken back. She was sorry, she just wanted to tell Sanya that and how much she loved her. Perhaps then they could work through it, like they always did…

For a long time it seemed like Sanya had gone for good; the forest was quiet beyond the occasional bird or rustle of leaves and branches. The warrior had gone from calm to hostile in mere moments, from a few innocuous comments. It hadn’t been the first time they had brought up the spear in conversation, but it was the first time Lucia didn’t let Sanya evade the topic. That seemed to have been enough to open a well-spring that had been closed for many years now.

But as twilight fell over the lake and the song of birds had grown quiet, another rustle from the underbrush caught Lucia’s attention. The silhouette was unmistakable - Lucia had burned Sanya’s shape into her memory by now. The warrior wandered slowly back towards the lakehouse, shoulders slouched and head low. In the growing dark it was hard to tell at first, but as the athletic woman made her way towards their home it became increasingly clear to Lucia that Sanya’s hands were empty; the spear now missing.

Lucia quickly collected herself and made her way over to the house once Sanya entered it. She was anything but slow and her tattoo’s pulsed in the darkening light. She reached the door and with little hesitation opened the door and stepped in.

”Sanya?” she called out. ”Sanya I’m sorry okay? I was… I wasn’t thinking! I shouldn’t have been so rash.” she said aloud, knowing full well Sanya could hear her as she walked throughout their house, trying to find her.

She found her stood in the central living space, between the curtained window and the space towards the bedroom. Sanya, who seemed to have been looking around herself, slowly turned to look at Lucia. Her eyes were tinged with a deep and sullen sorrow, as though she had cried a week’s worth in the span of minutes. That wasn’t so remarkable in itself, it was once how Sanya had always looked - a cautious and vulnerable woman who looked eternally displeased. What was remarkable was that that look had vanished over the years, only making itself known now through its sudden return. Sanya drew a long breath as she watched Lucia, then averted her eyes. "...I got rid of it.” she conceded under her breath.

Lucia’s eyes went wide, it felt like she had been struck by some terrible blow and guilt flooded into her. ”N-No…” she gasped. ”Oh Sanya, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you that. I was being selfish!” her fists balled up and she felt anger towards herself. She saw how much she hurt Sanya, she looked so sad and it hurt. She took a few steps forward. ”We can go get it back. I-I promise I won’t say anything about it again.” she stammered.

She could see how her offer resonated through her partner, how gears turned in the sullen warriors’ head considering the words and an almost magnetic pull to accept and go back out to get the weapon. On cue her gaze shifted to peer out through the window towards an indeterminate spot in the forest. Her own fist clenched slowly, and she glanced away from the window. "No-... you are right.” she managed, although it seemed difficult to say. "If we… need it… I will go get it. Until then, it can stay buried with the… the past.” Sanya continued quietly, running a hand through her hair nervously. She glanced at Lucia with another look of hurt, though her words appeared genuine in their embarrassedly sullen manner.

Lucia took a few more steps closer. ”I can’t imagine… What you’re feeling. Our pasts are what make us who we are and I… I made you bury yours because I was jealous of a spear. Sanya…” she breathed her name, fighting back tears of her own. ”Oh Sanya, my love, I’ve made you hurt. I did not… I did not mean to.” She grew closer still.

Sanya produced a stiff shrug, averting her eyes. It was not often she actually cried - though she had once looked as though it was all she ever did - but now it seemed dangerously close to welling up. As Lucia drew closer, the warrior leaned in powerlessly as if expecting Lucia to steady her with her presence. "My past holds naught but pain. I want to-... I want to be here with you.” she confessed quietly.

Lucia all at once rushed forward and wrapped one hand around Sanya’s back and the other behind her head. She pulled her in tightly, tattoos peeling off from her skin and likewise, wrapping around Sanya, connecting them together in gentle warmth. Lucia whispered into her hair, ”I love you.” Sanya remained almost motionless for a while, simply existing in Lucia’s embrace. After nothing had been said for a long time, Sanya shifted her head up slowly, pressing herself forwards needily to search for a kiss, an expectant breath escaping her lips. Her own hands moved to grasp around Lucia. The time for talking was over, for now.




Lucia woke with a start, eyes opening as light flooded her senses. She could hear birds outside chirping and she sat up, feeling strange. Perhaps a little sad, the same sadness she had felt for a while now. She buried the feeling, as she always tried to do, before turning to Sanya, who was still sleeping next to her. She watched her for a time, one of her favorite hobbies, it was calming in a way. She looked so peaceful when she slept, free of emotions that haunted her within reality, though they hadn’t had to deal with that for a long time. Lucia frowned however, and hoped that Sanya wasn’t feeling what she was, she hated knowing that she could cause her misery. She shook her head before stroking Sanya’s face with her small soft fingers. She then gave Sanya a small peck on her forehead.

A small smile crossed Lucia’s lips but it faded as she got up and got changed. She reassured herself, today was a new day, and spring had arrived for the twenty-sixth season. It was hard to believe they had lived in their peaceful solitude for so long but they were thriving. Each year something new was added to the house. Another room or storage areas and outside another building was being erected, this one a barn of sorts. A lifestyle of living off the land was fine for a while, but she had wanted to mix it up and perhaps grow a few plants, maybe raise some animals too. It took some convincing on her part, but Sanya came around.

Lucia came to their fire pit and began to get a fire going. She rummaged around in their cabinets and tables, cleaning a bit as the fire got warmer. Lucia then went to the larder and found the smoked venison. It was good as it was, but warm food was always better, plus with some greens, even tastier. They’d have to go hunting soon for some more meat though, as their stocks were getting lower. It really was a good thing spring had arrived.

She looked out the kitchen window, to the greening lands and the blue lake. It was a time of color, of happiness, of warm breezes and the blossoming of more life. Lucia sighed, she should have felt so happy, everything was going well, things were good, Sanya was her rock and their love deepend still every day but there was just one thing that she felt was missing. Something made her sad, and brought about her inner turmoil.

Lucia paused and felt a well of emotion spring up inside her. She couldn’t stop the tears from coming, and she put a hand over her mouth to stop herself from being too loud. It was so sudden, like a dam had burst. She knew then, at the mere mention of life and what it evoked. Whose name it evoked. It came with crystal clarity and she realized why she felt the way she did.

She missed her mom.

Her mother, who she had not heard from in years. It was silly, hadn’t she been silent for two thousand years? But now, after she knew she was back… What had happened? Shouldn’t she be angry? Then why did she feel so sad? Why didn’t she just call out to her? Was she afraid? Why was she like this?

Not able to bear it any longer, she called out to the one person who had been there for her. Her source of comfort over the years. ”S-Sanya!” she cried, coming to a rest on the floor as she gripped her head, tears blurring her vision. It was selfish, she knew. She knew her pain caused Sanya pain, but Sanya relieved that pain, helping them both in the end.

Sanya was up and at her side at record speeds, one hand settling on her back and the other beginning to rub Lucia’s arm. Whatever pain reflected onto her lover seemed to only spur her understanding, as she kneeled down to embrace Lucia. "What’s the matter?” she asked with a soft voice still fighting off the immobilizing drug of sleep, though Lucia knew she could tell different types of sadness apart. She had said as much.

Lucia gripped tightly to Sanya, burying her face into her chest as she found her comfort. After a moment of collecting herself, Lucia began to speak. ”I don’t know, Sanya. I’ve been so sad and today, it all burst out. I think I… I miss my mother. She’s been so quiet for years now and I don’t know if it’s my fault or hers. I’m afraid to ask.”

Sanya let her find comfort in her presence, letting silence rule for a while. Her arms wrapped around Lucia properly, sweeping her up in a whole-hearted and compassionate embrace, one hand gently stroking over hair and back alike. "We can call for her together? Divine or not, she’ll have things to answer for.”

Lucia’s tears stopped flowing and she sniffed, letting the sensation of Sanya’s hands lull her to a happy place. She really had found the perfect person all those years ago. She wanted it to last but knew if her problem wasn’t addressed, they would get nowhere. She peeled her head back and kissed Sanya’s lips for a second, then looked in her eyes. ”Okay. J-Just don’t be too mean.” she said with a playful smirk.

She took a deep breath. Then she prayed to Oraelia.

She heard nothing for several moments, even looking to Sanya for any sort of acknowledgement but the warrior began to shake her head. That was until a presence entered their minds, one of warmth but… It did not feel the same.

A voice cried out, ”Aha! There you are! Oh it’s been so hard to find you two. Neither of you pray too much and when you do I’m always having to deal with other problem childs. One of the disadvantages of being an avatar I suppose but hey, I am oh so glad to finally meet you Lucia, Sanya. I of course know pretty much all about you, as I have all of My Ladies’ memories. But oh, where are my manners, I am Rhiona, caretaker of the Goddess’ realm and I have been waiting for you!” Rhiona finished excitedly.

Lucia was taken aback, and had no idea what to say.

Sanya looked less surprised and more frustrated, a rare look for her these days save when the fish wasn’t biting. "Fair day to you, Rhiona,” she began, speaking out into the house with a curt and stiff tone. "We were expecting the Sun Mother. Is she too important for her daughter?”

Rhiona’s voice lost its luster as she spoke again. ”The Sun Mother is not well and has gone to stay with her sister, Lady Gibbou, within her realm. She tasked me with guarding her realm and answering prayers. I cannot say why she hasn’t reached out to Lucia but I can speculate that it has to do with her not wishing to worry her daughter about her wellbeing. But I was hoping you could help with that. The both of you.”

Lucia’s eyes went wide. ”Mother is not well? What happened? Is she alright?” she asked, gripping Sanya’s hand tighter. Sanya squeezed her hand back in an emphatic response, watching Lucia rather than a fixed point above them.

”She lost someone close and spiraled down a path that was… Difficult to deal with alone. Without Gibbou arriving and snapping her out of it, she would still be aloof. She is physically fine and on the path to recovery but, I think we can help her along a bit further.”

Lucia raised an eyebrow at Sanya. ”What do you mean?” she asked Rhiona.

”Why, I mean a visit of course! She can’t go to you, but you can come here. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

Lucia’s jaw dropped. ”W-What?”

Sanya seemed to be equally stumped at that; rarely did her eyes widen, but this was one of those times. "We can-... go to the land of the divine?” she queried, eyes ablaze with new consideration. "What-.. What would that entail?”

”Well from my knowledge, it has never been attempted before, at least by Oraelia. Shouldn’t be too hard though, just a portal, then a strange sensation and then, you’re here in her realm. What do you say?” Rhiona asked.

Lucia could hardly believe what she was hearing and once again turned to Sanya with pleading eyes. ”Sounds like an adventure.” Sanya managed to look somewhere between shocked and intrigued, eyes aglow with all the implications this new information carried with it. She simply nodded, giving Lucia the go-ahead to gather her courage with another squeeze of her hand.

”We accept.” Lucia said.

”Excellent!” Rhiona cooed.

Next to them, reality pulsed and a tear opened up to reveal a golden portal. Fresh air blew across them, carrying sweet floral scents. The portal stabilised a bit and they could make out a silhouette on the other side surrounded by flowers.

A voice came through it. ”Come home.”

Lucia stood up, her hand still holding tight to Sanya’s. ”Shall we?” she asked.

Sanya stared at the portal with visibly mixed feelings at first, but glanced away from the ripple in reality to focus on her partner instead. With Lucia’s confidence returned enough for Sanya’s contentment, the warrior offered a small smile. "I suppose the fish will be spared my cursing today.” she proffered wryly, and then nodded firmly.

The two stepped through the portal, with a little hesitation and the strangest feeling came over them. The world felt small, then large, then time seemed to grow longer before shrinking. Lucia held tight to Sanya’s hand, and with what felt like a lifetime, ended up being seconds, it was over.

Lucia collapsed into something soft and she opened her eyes to a great light. It took her several seconds before they focused and when they did, she searched for Sanya. She found her located directly beneath her, having cushioned Lucia’s fall back onto solid ground. She didn’t seem all that torn up about it, however, offering another small smile when their eyes met, as much as the warrior ever permitted herself or seemed capable of to smile. "After you.” she murmured quietly.

Lucia gave her a quick peck, then stood, pulling Sanya up with her. She looked around and it took her breath away. The land was pristine, teeming with flowers and thick with life she had never even seen before. Giant bees lumbered around in the air, birds flew in the sky with tail feathers so long, they looked like rainbows and up above them… in the clouds there flew vast creatures of light.

”W-Where are we?” Lucia managed to say.

Sanya stepped in close, running a hand around Lucia’s waist. Her gaze was on the horizon, trying to take in the world around her. "It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen,” she professed quietly.

”You are in your mother’s realm, The Garden Under the Sun. Welcome, Lucia and Sanya. To paradise.” Rhiona’s voice spoke from behind them and Lucia turned around to view her.

Oh she was so tall.









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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Enzayne
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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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New Arrivals





Sawing. Hewing. Scraping. A cacophony of woodworking noise filled the air in and around the workshop; a large lumber yard comprised of two work huts, a storage shed for the important and expensive crafts, and two outdoor shelters for worked and unworked wood respectively. The source of many a complaint even from other loudworks in the modest district outside of Fragrance proper, and tonight was no different.

Despite proper precautions and years of experience with woodworking, each laborer felt the discomfort of their loud environment - each motion of their pristine new two-man copper saw was like a ripple of unease shooting through their bodies after forcing its way through their meager ear protection. That was before one considered things like the ever present film of sawdust on all surfaces, splinters and the musky smell of wood that truly needed no effort to overpower other smells. No sane nelf chose carpentry willingly, let alone a lumber yard. It was guaranteed to be sweaty, loud and smelly.

Tonight was different. A gentle rumble of wood and planks offered an early warning, though only one of the working men noticed anything. With the rumble came an innocuous scent; peach trees and fresh meadows lingered in the air, inviting each in turn to avert their mind from work. As a collective, the laborers slowly paused in their work as more and more of them confusedly moved to identify the source of this new fragrant smell.

They gathered in a group and discussed what they smelt in low voices, barely audible thanks to their ear-wear. That's when the second rumble struck, and the entire shelter full of processed wood rattled angrily. With the rattle came a new waft of scents, more intense than the first and entirely enticing to these men who had been ruined by sawdust and muck. The planks began to shake and rattle with increased fervor, yet a strange combination of fear, curiosity and allure seemed to hold enough sway over the gathered nelves that none found the courage to leave. This second rumble did not seem not to dissipate, rather the very ground beneath the shelter rapidly tore open as they stood silent in awe. One by one, pieces of wood fell away from the bottom, vanishing down into an ever greater rift stretching itself in every direction. Finally, the entire heap of wood toppled into the hole, leaving nothing but a view into the otherworldly rift that had torn itself open over the ground. Beyond it lay the source of the scents; blooming pink trees and colourful strange plants in a grandiose forest. It was brighter than the Fragrancian night, yet it didn’t hurt their eyes nor strain their sight.

The fallen planks and logs seized in the air beneath the rift, arranging themselves like a steep staircase. A few of the nelves grew wary, ushering their comrades to move away. It was no use; already a few among them were daring enough to take a few steps forwards to glean a better view into the rift. They did not have to wait long. Solid, heavy steps slapped against the floating staircase, and a shape grew into view as it ascended the makeshift stairs. It was a nelf, though it only truly looked like one at a second glance, drowned in ratty vestments and a travelling cloak that appeared to have seen it’s fair bit of use. Its skin was a little too light to be attractive, and the clothes masked any defining features, making it difficult to identify even their gender. Only their face was visible, and even then a hood masked most of their features from being illuminated by the vague moonlight and being more than basic shapes to the darksighted nelves.

The visitor from another land stepped up on the last plank before stopping to stare at the assembled crowd in silence. For a few moments, stares were exchanged in silence, before the hooded visitor took another step and walked into the world properly. Their hands lifted slowly, crooked and worn fingers not unlike an aged crone’s withered fingers or the talons of a bird, pointing towards the spiralling rift in the ground with a floating staircase to the blooming land beyond. Lips parted, and though the words were barely spoken out loud, their sound pierced through ear-wear and distance alike, burrowing into the laborers’ ears. It was a strange and unpleasant language entirely foreign to the land, yet they each understood what was said. It called to them, and imparted a beckoning demand that could not be refused.

A new life awaits with the Goddess. Go to her.

No arguments or protests arose among the gathered. After a few seconds of hesitation, the eldest among the men took the first step towards the portal, silently moving past the newly arrived visitor to descend the steps into another land. Bolstered by his action, other laborers began to follow suit. One by one, they descended the steps dutifully, transfixed by the strange words and the world below. As the head of the last laborer dipped below the edge, the rift began to ripple and shift, and within moments it faded from view gradually until only earth and dirt remained, wiped in a crisp circle that hinted at its alien presence. The visitor stared at the portal until it had closed in its entirety, then simply began to walk away from the site and towards the rest of the loudwork district.

With no one left to work the yard or observe what had occurred, the lumber yard fell silent.




Not many were willing to pay the unnamed drifter idling through the city any heed. They didn't smell right, looked run-down, and didn't seem particularly worthy of a second glance from the few that took brief interest. As such, few noticed the idle vandalism - weather-worn fingers painting small symbols on each structure it passed, hidden from view or in the strangest of places. Old, ancient runes of no real meaning beyond basic words and concepts of love and sin. Symbols given power not by their inherent worth, but by the figure of divinity now drawing them into creation.

People would discover them with time. Not many would care, fewer still would dare to touch them save to wash them away. The few that traced the lines or spoke the words - though how they would accomplish such did not occur to the drifter - would be its disciples. The simple knowledge imparted by each symbol would be enlightenment enough to push them down a path of self-discovery by pushing them to indulge in their vices. Whatever meager bit of divinity they received would help them on their quest.

For hours and days, it seemed to be all the drifter did, walking during day and night alike to paint the structures of Fragrance. When the nelven populace began to take note, the streets were bereft of the traveling vandal once more.




Upon a field outside the city proper the drifter found itself face to face with it's most uncanny opponent yet. It was a crude wooden effigy dressed with hay and ragged clothes. The drifter examined its own clothes for comparison and realized what a cheapskate its creator was. Given the blazing sun above, no nelves were present to watch the duel of wits take place, and gave the drifter ample chance to undress and swap the clothes on the effigy with its own.

Having sated it's own need for fashion, it set to work doing its creator's bidding. The goddess cared not how the mortals below were coaxed out of their moral and traditionalist shells, only that it happened without apparent involvement from her. So the drifter, joined on its journey only by a voiceless wooden effigy stuck in the ground, glanced around to cook up it's own master plan. It gathered all it had learned from viewing the township, its people, and listening to those who'd clicked their tongues in earshot. It didn't take an avatar to figure out where the base of their society was quite literally rooted. So the drifter lifted its hands in the air, flexing talon-like fingers as it focused the goddess' essence.

The morning air grew heavy and hot, no doubt troubling a few easily stirred sleepers. With a single moment of intense focus, a small whirlpool of energy grew in the creatures' hands, and then dispersed into the air to be carried away on the wind. The crops would grow plentiful and rich. Those that already had the most would see the greatest boon, while those who struggled would see no benefit at all. If any of what the goddess had imparted on the drifter was correct, the nelves would take care of the rest themselves.

Content with itself, the traveler wandered onwards, leaving the effigy behind with a new set of clothes.







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Dakari




Dakari smirked.

These past two decades had been nothing if not good for him. He had gathered allies, and led his people to victory. Elsewhere, he had heard that other Neiyari were having difficulty, but not him. He had carved out a section of the Luminant for himself, and one day, he hoped, the entire region would be his. He had kept faith in both Cadiri and Neiyara, as was owed, and that faith had been rewarded.

“I give praise to you, Cadiri and Neiyara,” Dakari had whispered during his morning prayer. “I have led my people to victory, destroyed my foes in battle, and held true to both my promises and my threats. All in your name. I will continue to do so, until the Luminant is mine.”

“No,” spoke a familiar voice, “you won’t.”

Dakari’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Grim news, I’m afraid,” Cadiri spoke apologetically. “Oraeliara has placed a curse upon you and your people. Never again shall your women bear children.”

The news struck him like an arrow. “She… did… what?” he whispered, slowly and quietly.

“You’ve all been made infertile. Without some other way to perpetuate your race, your extinction is all but assured.” The God spoke in a disapproving tone, clearly thinking Oraeliara had gone too far.

And she had. “That… that bitch…” Dakari cursed, as the severity of what had been done to his people began to sink in. “This… this cannot stand. You must reverse it!”

“Easier said than done,” Cadiri replied. “This happens to be her specialty. And I would thank you not to make demands of me.”

“I… forgive me, but my people have been sentenced to extinction!”

”A pity,” the God agreed. “Rather unsporting, too. You were doing so well for yourself, and to lose it all without a single battle fought…”

“No!” Dakari shouted, before lowering his voice. “I will not go quietly without a fight. If they have taken my people’s future, then I shall take theirs! I will sweep across the Luminant. I will burn their homes, slaughter their wives and children, make them all suffer. I will not stop until-”

“Enough,” Cadiri cut him off. “Think of the long-term. Even if you succeed, you will gain nothing from such a move.”

“Oraeliara removed the need to think in the long-term the moment she put that curse on my people!” Dakari argued. “We will die, and we will leave nothing behind. We can either die fighting, or we can die old and helpless.”

“And what if you didn’t die at all?” Cadiri asked.

The Neiyari Warleader blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I cannot restore your fertility, but I can take you and your people to a place where you will never age, and never want for anything. In exchange, all I ask is for you to pledge yourself to me further. I have a need for a flexible group of warriors, made for battle, who will go where I tell them to go and fight when I tell them to fight,” the God offered. “A fair deal, is it not?”

“What of Neiyara?” Dakari asked.

“You’ll still give worship to her, of course,” Cadiri said. “And I’m sure she will be pleased to know that her creations are being preserved."

Dakari considered the offer. It seemed cowardly, to leave the Luminant - his home - and his enemies behind, when there was still such a great wrong which needed to be righted. At the same time, however, Cadiri had been good for him, and had just offered his people eternal life. He also suspected that rejecting the god’s offer now would earn his ire, which was the last thing he needed right now. Dakari knew enough about power that an ‘offer’ or a ‘suggestion’ from someone of sufficient authority was as good as a command.

Besides, if they no longer needed to worry about death, that gave them all the time in the world to plan their revenge against Oraeliara.

“Very well,” he said. “I accept.”

“Good. Gather all those who wish to follow you, and tell me when you are ready to depart.”



In the end, only a little more than three hundred Neiyari of fighting age were willing to follow, along with their children. Many had refused, with some even going so far as to call him a coward, or to challenge his leadership, claiming they should be avenging this insult against them instead of running away. Those people were dealt with swiftly and mercilessly, for Dakari would brook no challenges, threats, or insults even now.

Others had simply quietly walked off, and Dakari had let them go. He would take only those who were truly loyal.

“Lord Cadiri,” he prayed, “we are ready.”

There was a long silence, and for a moment Dakari wondered if his prayer had even reached the god. Then there was a sharp crack!, as reality itself was torn open, and a glowing purple portal materialized before them.

Steeling himself, Dakari stepped through.



He emerged on a vast, flat, grassy island. In the distance across a sea, two other islands could be seen; one with a black imposing imposing fortress, and the other with a colourful village.

A tall white-haired figure stood before him, clad in golden armour, and when Dakari realized who it was, he quickly knelt. Those of his people who followed in behind him quickly did the same.

Cadiri simply waited patiently, as the Neiyari entered his realm. When all were in, the portal finally closed. “That’s all of you?” he asked. “Very good,” he said, without waiting for anyone to answer. “Hm. You’ll require lodgings, I suppose.” He waved his hand, and an entire town materialized behind them, with uniform but marvelous marble buildings. “Now then, why I brought you here. You are to be my warriors. When I require it, I will send you to Galbar to fight in my name and see my interests fulfilled. Between battles, you will spend your days here, alternating between luxuries and training. A generous offer, yes?”

Many of the Neiyari nodded. Cadien smiled. “Good! Now then, to business. You’ve proven yourselves capable warriors, but you need more discipline. More cohesion. You all favour different weapons and have varying amounts of armour. No more.”

The God of Perfection waved his hand, and a black arch sprouted from the ground in front of them. He pointed to one of the Neiyari. “You. Girl. Step through it.”

The Neiyari rose to her feet, and with a stoic demeanor she stepped through the portal. At once her clothing fading away, replaced by a full suit of midnight-black armour, complete with a helmet, and holes in the back for her wings. She stared at her new equipment in awe. “The rest of you,” Cadien ordered. “Go through it.”

And so they did, each one receiving their own custom suit of black armour. And they each alternated between looking reverently at their new armour and at Cadien himself.

“Very good,” the God smiled, once the last one had been equipped. “However, I suppose all that armour might make it harder for you to fly, won’t it? You’ll need a new way to move swiftly, I think.”

Another snap of his fingers, and hundreds of beasts materialized in the open field before them. They were a dark grey with black manes on the back of their neck, standing on four hooves, and each had a sharp golden horn jutting from their forehead. These creatures were made to be ridden, with leather saddles and stirrups that were part of their very body. Unlike most natural creatures, they did not look upon the Neiyari with any sort of fear.

“You will tame these beasts and learn to ride them,” the God instructed. “They will serve as your mounts. Only then will you be ready to go into battle.” His smile returned. “Now, then. Get to it.”








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It had been a few weeks since her creation and Zeraphsis was having a pretty good time. Of course she wasn’t up to much at the moment, getting ready for work today as it had been, although she expected Kaala to drop by before she really got to that. Brushing through her hair in the Weird Chamber, it was a small room that Master Thaa had made for her. He had called it some random long name of course, but it was the Weird Chamber to her. It was weird because when you entered it you didn’t look normal, well that wasn’t the best way of phrasing it. Best to say that you looked at yourself from outside of your own body when in it, your sight wasn’t your own, step out of the room and it went back to normal. It took quite a bit of getting used to, but it was a darn sight useful for getting dressed and ready for the day.

Zeraphsis, really she went by Zera to her friends, was taking a bit more care today to get things right. She wouldn’t say she had much time in the past few weeks to wander, always some more to process, a bit more work to do and all that. It wasn’t particularly bad work, or even that time consuming, there was a lot of waiting around for the others to bring the applicants through and all. Kaala was one of the selectors, that's how they had met of course. She had been nervous that first week, really nervous about so much, but Kaala was really kind to her, they were a good friend. Kaala could be really intimidating if you didn’t know them, they were a real sweetheart once you did though.

Focus! She needed to get finished getting ready, she was expecting Kaala and she didn’t want to keep them waiting. Right now specifically though she needed to figure out her hair for today, she had been keeping it long and straight the past few days. Really light too but she was thinking it would be better darker honestly, blonde didn’t really suit her, maybe black? She could try black. She set her hair place and started changing it, it wouldn't take too long, it was hard to get any kind of complicated styles with it that she had seen.

Couldn’t even get the hang of braiding it really, although she had to admit that was a bit difficult with the horns. Master Thaa had told her a lot of the different races of Galbar and their forms when she asked, she got the idea from one of the water-folk. Although she took some liberties in terms of how they actually presented, especially as they got quite heavy.

Zeraphsis looked in on herself by the magic of the Chamber, her eyes were still greenish-grey, they had a tendency to shift when she didn’t keep tabs on them she had noticed. She stretched her wings some, they weren’t quite functional, she was still figuring out how to make wings that, well, worked. She was so certain she got the articulation right, but it was something about the weight maybe? Master Thaa kept on about lift and wing-spans which never quite made enough sense to her to fix things there. They were another thing she copied from a mortal race, the Aiviri, Master Thaa said they were, she liked the darker colors more though. It was a bit of a challenge really Master Thaa always kept on about the potential of that race but she wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about. In all honesty she rarely knew what in all the world he was talking about, he had a tendency to jump around as if things were connected, maybe they were, but how she had no idea.

The wings looked like they were together alright, the feather could be a real pain sometimes but it was worth it in her opinion. Otherwise she didn’t have much less to do, with the long dress she wore no tail for today, having a tail got to be a pain quick when one was wearing longer clothes, even beyond the general issues of sitting comfortably. Most of her form was based on a funny little race called Humanity, generally they got talked about a lot as getting into trouble pretty much everywhere it seemed like.

Ah, wait one last thing. Zeraphsis bent over to retrieve a crown from a chair nearby, was hard to remember everything when one wasn’t even looking through your own eyes. It was a bit of an odd thing, what she got for ‘surprise me’ when asking for a hat from Master Thaa. Twenty triangular spokes all leading into a central circlet that sat on her head, it was a bit odd alone but she had to admit it did look good to wear, kind of framed her head with golden rays almost. Very pretty in any case, completely golden of course, one had to specify if something wasn’t going to be golden from Master Thaa.

There, outfit complete, now she just had to go in and check on the office, make sure everything was still in order and then go wait outside for Kaala. In truth she didn’t really like looking over all the notes and records, everything was always in order. Oh of course the whole operation was relatively recent so she didn’t really know if that would last forever. Maybe they were just selecting the best candidates first and would get to the more edgewise cases later on.

Zeraphsis had to walk down the staircase to get to the office proper, she had her rooms higher up in the tower, and the office was at ground level, able to just walk out into the rest of Aquibeophates. She had to ask Thaa for all of this of course, when she first walked in it was just a staircase and endless empty levels, she had checked. It took awhile but she filled up quite a number with rooms, a nice bedroom for herself, a big closet, some guest rooms. Sometimes she just went and spent time filling up levels of the tower in her free time, she had to ask Master Thaa for everything of course, although he didn’t really seem to need to pay that much attention.

She even had a library! Admittedly it was mostly filled with discourses by Master Thaa. One could only read so many explanations of how everything about Galbarian life inevitably was a trap to keep souls in material suffering before you fell asleep.

Zeraphsis was in the office proper now, it wasn’t really all that much time to spend looking over the lower desk, all the notes appeared there and changed as needed, it was really quite handy compared to the numerous slates that the library was filled with. The staircase was in the back of the level, behind some small rooms that held little work areas, they were originally quite bland but she had been spending time to paint them. She hoped that she could show someone someday, maybe if she ever got a co-worker they’d appreciate it!

Past the small rooms was the lower desk which was right behind the three booths. There was enough space on either end towards the walls to walk around the lower desk, and then the three booths each had a chair and a window to the lobby, sometimes the mists built up enough that they would overflow through the window into the office but that was rare enough. Zeraphsis continued forward from the stairs, the lower desk should and did just have the notes from yesterday on it, no new applicants in the lobby.

Her first day she was really shy to meet any of the applicants, she didn’t know what to expect. They were generally very boring though, didn’t have much to say beyond stuff about whatever little thing on Galbar it was they wanted. It took her a week to even try asking any of them anything else though, not that it got anywhere. She supposed it was for the best though, she built up enough courage, or at the very least loneliness, to talk to Kaala after that.

Kaala was a good friend, they could always talk about everything, she liked to say Kaala’s full name and title whenever they came because it always embarrassed them. It was funny really, Kaala had existed for over a thousand years but still wasn’t used to their title by Master Thaa.

She was always excited to meet new people, and Kaala had said that they would get to talk to some of the non-applicants today which was so cool! Like she had made a bunch of guest rooms and everything but no one ever visited of course, just applicants. While there were three booths, only the applicant one was ever used, there was one for visitors and a help booth but no one ever came up to those. The visitor booth actually swung out so that if anyone did come they could actually come in rather than have to crawl over the booths. Although really she ended up using it more to get out and see Kaala than anything else.

Without much warning the room began to subtly shake, a pounding in the earth resonating throughout the tower, getting louder and more violently shaking the building. Steps. Zeraphsis knew that this was Kaala, they were almost here and so Zeraphsis ran out to meet them. She did actually crawl over the booth as well, it was really slow to swing out the visitor booth. Running out of the lobby she greeted Kaala, waving up with a wing to the titanic death demon.

“Hey Kaalaxinasbasonat, They-Who-Would-Exterminate-Life! How have you been?”

A rumbling sigh was the answer, it almost always was, Zeraphsis grinned.



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Carn

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Titania




The new armour was unlike any metal Carn had ever seen before. It was a dull grey, but not nearly as light as the sword he carried, or Titania herself.

The commotion had stirred the entire camp. Some men had heard the initial screams and thought they were being attacked, which had led to dozens of men running about in panic, and in some cases almost clashing with each other in the darkness. Then they had noticed the true source of it all, and had clustered in the center of the camp.

Carn had ordered them all back to their beds and their posts. Those encamped closest to the pile were ordered to move elsewhere, in preparation for when the pile inevitably fell. To his surprise, they had agreed without hesitation, leaving only the dozen or so guards that had been assigned to guard Titania in the first place. Then, he himself had gone back to bed. The armour would need to be sorted and distributed, but not in the dark. That would have to wait until morning.



“Lord Carnelian!”

Carn stirred, sitting up on the lumpy straw mattress. He had thought the events of the previous day might have been a dream, but the cloak which he was now using as a makeshift blanket proved otherwise. He rose to his feet, put the cloak on properly, and stepped outside.

Yarwick was there, along with a small group of warriors. “What is it?” Carn asked them.

“Armour fell over,” Yarwick replied. “Crushed tents and shelters. “Half the camp is already roused.”

“Gather everyone,” Carn ordered. “We need to see those suits distributed.”

Yarwick nodded. “I’ll see it done.”



The crowd that had formed had quickly become a mob, with some already pulling at the pile. They quickly got into fights, as men went for the same pieces, or got in each other’s way. Carn had Titania’s tent pulled down, but she remained on the table so she could witness everything. She needed to see rather than hear just how chaotic this army truly was.

For several long moments, Carn allowed the chaos to go on, even as Lothar, Yarwick, Ingrid, and a few others all shouted to restore order. Then, the moment one fight went too far, and a blade was drawn, he shouted. “Enough!”

The fighting stopped, and heads turned. “Everyone, back away!” he commanded. “Form four orderly lines, one on each side of the pile. Take a full set of armour, then go somewhere else to put it on. I’ll take off the hand of anyone who grabs more than they need!”

The warriors paused, exchanged glances with one another, and then grudgingly began to back away. The crowd shifted into four lines, as Carn had commanded, each going in a different direction. Chieftains and leaders hung off to the side, keeping a watchful eye to ensure nobody strayed. One by one, a man came forward from each line to grab a set of armour, before hurrying away from the collapsed pile.

The process moved quickly, though later on Carn began to see that some men with armour were seeking each other out, because the pieces they had chosen didn’t fit quite right. It was only then that they discovered that the armour was the same size, forcing most to wear armour that was ill-fitting. For an unfortunate few, the armour did not fit at all. Carn watched them with a sour expression.

”What? Dissatisfied?” came a metallic mutter.

“The armour doesn’t fit,” Carn replied.

”’The armour doesn’t fit’. What, did you expect me to know the exact sizes of your every soldier? You wanted armour; I gave you armour. I based my design on knowledge about the average size of a ‘human’ as accumulated over the millennia. If your warriors don’t fit the armour, they could do with losing or gaining some weight.”

“And how do you propose they do that before we reach Ketrefa? Do you expect them to become taller, or shorter, too?”

”Not my problem now, is it? After all, this is all -your- campaign. If your troops are outfitted wrongly, then it’s your responsibility as a commander to fix that, isn’t it?” There came a metallic hmph!

Carn glared at the armour. Meanwhile, men were beginning to recover items from the tents that had been crushed under the pile. Then, one shouted in alarm and began tugging on something. Carn observed from a distance, and then realized it was an arm. “By the gods…” he whispered, as others came to help the man pull the body free.

”Why, what’s happening?” mumbled the armour, only halfway interested.

Carn ignored her. “Is he alive?” he called out to Yarwick, who had approached the scene. Yarwick and two others then began to move the armour aside, allowing the body to be pulled free. The Chieftain of Thyma took one look at it, then back at Carn, and shook his head grimly.

Carn fell silent. “The pile fell on someone,” he said after several long moments, his voice devoid of emotion. “He’s dead.”

The armour was silent. ”What a shame. Death can strike anyone at any moment. It is the fate of all living beings. All we can do is make certain it won’t happen again.”

“...you don’t care, do you?” Carn asked quietly.

”Crying over the death of a soldier will leave you weeping for eternity. Soldiers die to protect the innocents; they fight for what is dear to them. Regardless of how they die, death is their fate. There are worse ways for a warrior to die than being crushed armour.”

“Armour conjured forth by a being they thought was going to help them,” Carn countered. “That man deserved better than that, I think.”

”I have helped you - I have given you the strongest armour in the land - full suits for almost everybody. Is your integrity really so faint that you would focus on one man’s death over the now-much more likely survival of thousands? Have you not the honour to be thankful?”

Carn gave a bitter chuckle at that. “I choose to spare Aurielle, because she might still be useful to us, and you go on about justice. I choose to keep this cloak, because it might be useful to us, but you want it burned simply because you don’t trust it. But when you get one of my men killed, now you go on about the greater good?” He shook his head. “Do you even know what honour is?”

”Auriëlle, a criminal, walking free is -not- for the ‘greater good’. She is a wildcard at best and a demoness at the worst. Your weakness in handling her shows your misunderstanding of righteousness; the cloak is a product of Neiya, the queen of demons, and destroying it -is- for the ‘greater good’. The failure to do so shows your broken sense of right; and to weep over the loss of one man when your whole army has been harnessed with the greatest plate in the land? You show nothing but childishness and lack of resolve! Honestly, why did I even choose you?”

“An easy thing, to judge people, isn’t it? To second-guess them when you’ve never seen life through their eyes?” Carn ignored her question. “You’ve never been hungry, have you? Your life has never been at risk, has it? Do you have family? If you do, have you seen them cut down before your very eyes? Have you ever been at someone else’s mercy? ” He shook his head. “I don’t think you have. The question is, why did I choose you? I didn’t have to pick you up. I could have left you with that merchant, or thrown you in a ditch somewhere. I’m not your slave, Titania. I’ve never been. I thought you’d understand that, considering it’s what we’re fighting to stop.”

The armour scoffed. ”Of all the stuck-up--! I have never once treated you like a slave! I have made demands, yes, but never with the expectation that these would not be compensated for! I even offered you a new cape to replace the one you would, oh so slavishly, have to toss away, because, I don’t know, it’s made by the incarnation of evil?!” She heaved some furious breaths. ”You know what? I was wrong about you - so wrong. I see it now. You’re not doing this to free the innocents of Ketrefa - this is an ambition of yours: your project, isn’t it?” She paused. ”Yes… Yes, no wonder Neiya would reach out to you.”

“And now you turn your paranoia on me,” Carn sighed. “Think what you want. I don’t care. Leading this army wasn’t even my idea. But if you won’t support me, then I might as well leave you behind.”

”Fine! I’ll find a better wearer - one whose heart outshines yours like the sun outshines a torch. They will become an invincible paladin of justice - something you could never be.”

“I pity whoever you find, then,” Carn said as he turned away. “Everyone! Pack up! It’s time to move!”






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“You’re distracted.” Auriëlle said as she walked beside Esiré. A girl who was quickly becoming a close friend. All of those who had come from Nallan were getting dear to her. They fought with a ferocity she could only respect. But ever since they burned the farmstead, the young girl had been obsessed with a satchel filled with clay tablets. Right now she was holding one with a flame etched upon the clay.

Esiré looked up only moments later. “Oh, I’m sorry I just…it’s fascinating.” She handed one of the tablets to Auriëlle, before taking another one out of the satchel. “It’s magic etched in stone. I didn’t think it was possible.”

The sorceress let out a laugh, a genuine one, as she listened and observed the tablet. “Because you saw me just moving my hands and cast magic?” She asked.

“Well…yes. I’ve tried it, it didn’t work.” Esiré admitted, as she received the tablet back from Auriëlle. Quite gently she put both pieces back into the satchel and let it hang off her shoulder down to her hip again. “It seems as if I don’t have a talent for magic.”

“Neither did I when I was your age.” Auriëlle noted. “Day and night I tried to get a fire going. Never worked. Where I come from, you were either taught how to fight or how to cast magic. So we approached magic like others approached swordfighting.”

“So it can be learned?” Esiré asked.

“It can, but it’s not easy. I’m not entirely sure what happened. One day… a stone just came falling down from the night sky. Shadows appeared but I burned them. Then I ran.” Auriëlle never felt homesick. She never even missed Acadia. But those memories did make her feel a little sad. “Since then my power only grew and it would seem it gained me the attention of several gods.”

“You think… I could learn?” Esiré asked, enraptured by the idea of using magic.

“Sure you can!”


That night Esiré took three more of her trusted people with her, away from the fire. It was early in the evening but the purple moon was making enough light for them now. She led them to a secluded clearing, where several bowls of water were waiting. And Auriëlle, sitting crossed-legged in front of one. The member of the cult greeted her by bowing deeply and sitting on their knees before the bowls.

“You know why you’ve come?” Asked the sorceress as her pupils sat down. It felt strange to have actual students now. She never saw herself as a teacher. Then again, she really wasn’t. She was just going to show them how to summon a demon. It was a spell even she could use.

Everyone in the circle nodded. They came for magic. To learn the easiest spell according to Auriëlle. The spell to summon a demon.

“Good. Then let us begin. I’m going to recite the spell and then I want you all to repeat it again.” They nodded, and Auriëlle said the spell. Some of her students had to be corrected. While it was a simple spell, Auriëlle didn’t want to know what would happen if you bungled it up. When she was confident the spell was well memorized, she silenced them all. Then she actually summoned a demon from the bowl before her. Outstretching her hand above it as she spoke the words of the spell. Golden fire rippled across the water’s surface, before the water turned dark with a red glow. Slowly she raised her hand. Drawing up a blob of the strange liquid. Once the mass was drawn out and separated from the water, it began to take shape. Within seconds it was shaped like a wolf with a split mouth and two eyes too many one side, with a scorpion tail. Once dropped to the ground, it walked around Auriëlle and obediently sat down next to her. Then she bid her pupils to do the same.

The spell was carefully recited but one man held his hand far too close to the water. Before he could finish, she pushed his bowl away. Probably saving him from being consumed by the dangerous mass. “Never touch it.” She almost hissed, before drawing the bowl closer and letting him try again. The others were more careful. Within moments the golden flames appeared, and minutes later the first demons spawned. They took various but small shapes. A bird, an small rat, a cat-like creature. Esiré’s demon took the shape of a snake, which soon slithered up around her arm. It was by far the most intricately formed demon.

With the lesson completed everyone dispelled their demon. Some already felt exhausted by the effort of summoning the creature. Most slipped in a dreamless sleep. Most, but not Esiré. Who sat wide awake watching the stars. Her mind obsessing over her Prophetess’ magic, the runes on the clay tablets and the demonic mass she had conjured up.


In the early morning Gundurr approached the young pupil, leading her away from the group. “I know what you’ve been doing. I know what you are.” The chieftain said as he grabbed her arm to make her stop.

Esiré just looked up with a frown. “What have I been doing?” She asked, yanking her arm free.

The chieftain let a small smile crack. “Nobody sacrifices people around here.” He whispered.

“Maybe they should.” Esiré sneered back.

Gundurr got a dark expression. “Careful, girl. If you’re talking about the matters of gods you might be blaspheming. No god in this land asks for blood.”

For a second Esiré kept silent. But then she said: “Yes they do. They ask for it all the time. I’ve heard the story of Evenstar. Cadien demanded the blood of your village when Carn and Auriëlle came. You and yours bled for them.”

“We did it to get rid of bandits.” Gundurr defended. “Gods or no gods, they had to go.”

“Did they?” Esiré shot back. “I heard the story. Your village only rallied because Carn called for it. Carn, who was declared leader of your village by some madman speaking in the name of Cadien. Your gods ask for blood too.” She turned around to march back to the rest of the group. But Gundurr grabbed her by the arm again. Suddenly there was a bone knife against his throat. “Want to be sacrificed as well.

“No.” He said, softly, as he released her arm. “But you speak of my gods. Then who are your gods? Who do you worship that you’d bleed a man dry for him?”

Esiré grinned. She was alone with him. For the first time she could enjoy to speak freely of what she believed. “The gods that will kill us all. The gods that will destroy this world. The gods of the end. This world is already doomed. But we will be reborn in the next one. Free of all that burdens us now. We shall bring it about. By our blood and stone.” With those words said, she put the knife away and walked away. Leaving a stunned Gundurr.


That evening Esiré sat hunched over a coyote. It was dead. A clean arrow to its head finished it off quickly. It was a scrawny thing, with little meat. She didn’t kill it for the meat though. With her copper knife she was deftly cutting away the connective tissue between the skin and the body at large. The meat that it had would be scrapped off and used in a stew. While the bones would act as trophies perhaps. Some of the viscera she had removed already laid in a pile beside her. By the end of tomorrow it would all be gone. Consumed by carrion eaters.

Quite wordlessly she was spinning her prayer with every cut. Praying to the god of Auriëlle. Praying to Thaën, god of death. Praying to the nameless god of magic, and then the nameless god of destruction. For the first time she realized how little she knew. She knew Oullena, goddess of the moon. Oraela, goddess of the sun. There was the famous Cadien. Yet at least two great gods had not offered up their names. She lookd up at the sky. It was twilight. One half of the heavens were dominated by Oraela’s sun. The other consumed by Oullena’s darkness. With Sigirus’ stars glittering in the night sky. Soon the pale moon would rise as well.

She stopped musing about divinity the second she heard the crack of branches. Instantly she shot up, pointing her knife towards whoever was coming, while she clutched for a tablet in her satchel. Gundurr, with his hands in front of him, appeared from the half-beaten dirt path. “Just me.” He said, carefully. Esiré lowered her blade, then turned around to continue her skinning.

“I knew you’d come.” She said facing away from him. Still sounding exceptionally confident. She didn’t really know why. Maybe it was the conviction with which she spoke her words early today. It felt as if they were more than just sounds. They were truths everyone would have to accept at some point. Truths that would not let go.

Gundurr kneeled before her, with the coyote in between them. For a moment he observed her work in silence. “Clean work.” He eventually said. “Who taught you?”

“My father. Before he died.” She answered, as she cut around the claws of the animal. Keeping them on its pelt. “Why are you here?”

Gundurr kept silent for a while. Esiré didn’t mind. The longer he was quiet, the further she’d get with the skinning in the twilight. Removing skin in the dark was a rather tiresome process. It would seem as if Gundurr understood this. Somehow. As he remained quiet until it was quite dark already. “You really believe the world will end? At the hands of the gods. Your gods?”

“I do.” Esiré said, without pause.

“How can you be so certain?” The chieftain asked.

“What do you know of Bul’Gadin?” Esiré asked as she removed some more viscera to throw on the pile.

“Nothing.”

“We burned it. To the ground. In the same way as we burned Teperia.” Esiré grabbed a piece of cloth and cleaned the blade. Quite surprisingly, there was that much blood on it. “But Auriëlle and a select few weren’t there. We were watching from afar. At a stone circle made by the druids. There, Auriëlle talked to the gods. One god told her that what she did, the destruction she had wrought was nothing compared to what’s to come.” She looked up, an intense fire burned in her amber eyes as they locked with those of Gundurr. “This world is doomed. It is wretched. False. Wicked. It took from me my parents. My life. My future. It would’ve taken my life, if I had let it. It was me against the world and she showed me that I was not alone in that fight.”

“I have people to care for.” Gundurr said, trying to defend the thoughts he could not deny any more. The world had taken things from him as well. Yet he was a chieftain.

“So do I.” Esiré said as she continued her skinning. “Believing the world will someday end does not mean you should resign from life. We don’t. We prepare for it. Auriëlle is the prophetess. Someday the gods will tell her it is time. This world will not end by divine hands. It will be mortals. Tearing each other apart. Ruining this world until there is nothing left but ash and blood. When that day comes, we will be ready to make sure there are no stragglers. No lose ends. A clean cut. So the next world can begin completely unshackled from this one.”

Again silence reigned for a few minutes. Until Gundurr asked another question: “By blood and stone. What does it mean?”

Esiré chuckled. “It means we sacrificed our blood. Not just us. Our children as well. And their children as well. We don’t know when the end comes. Tomorrow. Next winter. In a next life? Maybe someday our ancestors will have to carry our burden. By stone means by our every action. With every stone we lay, we accept and make sure that someday it can come crashing down.”

Gundurr grunted and gave her a curt nod before walk away again. Esiré kept to skinning the coyote, though she had a rather confident smile now. Next night, he’d be back. Asking more questions.



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ZAVAZggg Adrian Blackwell

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It had taken days to accomplish, but the will of his lord and mission had spurred him on, till he arrived at the outskirts of a Toraan freehold at long last. A small, miserable place from what he had seen of it thus far, but one that he felt drawn to nonetheless. For what exactly he still couldn't say, only that it was something coiled deep within him, some unknown thing that had driven him away from the isolated solace of the wilderness and back into the crowded hustling of mankind. Striding up to the gates, he did his best to ignore the suspicious looks of the guards as he quietly passed on through. Making his way down the shoddily maintained streets, hardened by the passage of countless footfalls, Ibel eventually found himself standing before what appeared to be the local watering hole. Though you'd hardly know it were it not for the drunk patrons loitering about the exterior, it was that rundown.

Sighing, Ibel performed a quick check of his possessions, his eyes falling on the crude outlines of coins lying haphazardly within the confines of his pack. More than enough for him to stay here and reason out the elusive parameters of his mission, assuming their food and drink were not exorbitantly priced that is. Making his way inside, he shuffled his way into one of the quieter corners of the establishment, declaring what he wished to consume when one of the servers came by. Propping his chin on top of his hands, Ibel let his gaze wander around the place as he waited for his meal, coming to an abrupt halt as the stirrings of conflict began brewing on the opposite end of the room. It wasn't the implication of violence that gave him pause though, but the reaction he felt well up within him instead. An urge, for that was the best way to describe it, that pushed him to intervene. To step in and...

And what? What was he, a lanky, feeble excuse of a man to do?

"Release them."

A voice settled within his head like a thick haze, yet still he knew. For it was the voice of his master. His lord.

The voice, of Viris.

"What would you have me do lord?" he muttered, watching as the spat slowly began to escalate. "I am but one man, and a weak one at that."

There was a pause as the haze within his mind seemed to shake, almost as though it were correcting him.

"Oh, but you are so much more than that Ibel. For you are my instrument, and where you walk, my will follows. And that will, oh that will is powerful, for it is the will of a god. Now go forth and release them from the confines of their knowledge..."

Ibel took a breath and got to his feet, heart pounding as he made his way over to the two men, both of which were only one insult away from openly trading blows. Taking another breath as he gathered his courage, Ibel quickly interposed himself between the two, thinking to reason with them when the voice of his lord stopped him.

"No child, not with words..."

Suddenly, and somewhat against his will, Ibel found himself taking hold of each man's arm. An act that only served to increase his panic, when all thought was abruptly banished from his mind as a torrent of memories and the sensations that accompanied them came rushing in to take their place. And not just any memories either, but one's revealing the true cause of this current predicament. Memories of a lust filled affair, which clashed violently against musings of unbridled rage, a feeling that only grew stronger the longer he thought about it. Blinking, Ibel did his best to cope with the maelstrom of stolen conflict that was currently churning within his soul, his hands still resting on the tree trunk like arms of the two men as they continued their argument.

"You had no right, you fucking cowar-"

The man cuts off abruptly, face awash with confusion.

"Wh... why am I shouting?"

The other man scoffs as he prepares to retort, only to pause midway through, mouth opening and closing like that of a fish.

"I..." he stutters. "I don't know. I feel like we were arguing about something, but by the gods I cannot recall what that might have been."

Then, as if noticing him for the first time, the man turns his gaze towards the still struggling Ibel.

"Hey, you alright lad?"

"I... I'm fine," he says, finally bringing his internal conflict under control. "Just... just had too much to drink, that's all."

Releasing his grip, he lets his arms fall to his sides as he stumbles back to his corner table, head pounding. Burying his face in his hands, Ibel pays no mind to the confused expressions of the two men as they return to their respective tables, nor the undercurrent of memory still coursing through his head. No, instead he focuses on one thing and one thing only...

The voice of his master.

"I know the task was difficult child, but heed my words and trust me when I say that it is necessary, as are the trials that are yet to come. But take heart, and do not be afraid. For there cometh a day where I shall return and liberate you all..."

Ibel nods, his breathing shaky, but mind clear.

For now he understood.

Now he saw.



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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Cadien

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Neiya




Meliorem’s throne room was different, for the God of Perfection had taken up a new hobby.

A series of paintings hung on the walls. Of landscapes, of cities, of people. There was one of Carn, Evette, Alys, and Brundt standing together; Carn and Alys were smiling, while Brundt and Evette seemed dour and sullen. There was another of the warrior Dakari, standing in the heat of battle and stained with blood. A third painting was of an archer taking aim at a hydra, with a magnificent bow in his hands. There were more: a red-haired sorceress standing triumphant over fallen iskrill, a white-haired blacksmith duelling a veteran warrior while a hooded mage watched from the background, and an outnumbered warband standing against a Ketrefan army.

Now, Cadien stood in the middle of the room, a canvas before him. He had almost finished his seventh painting, and he believed it was perhaps his finest one yet.

But focusing would be difficult. In the midst of painting, the door to Neiya's realm rattled with ominous intent before swinging open. After a long break in visits, it seemed the Love Goddess had decided the dry spell of visits was over. The curvaceous silhouette of her most recent form appeared in the archway, and she soundlessly hovered into the halls of Meliorem, door slamming shut behind her. Gold eyes fell around the hall briefly, though her gaze quickly centered itself on Cadien.

The God of Perfection smiled at her. “Looking as beautiful as ever, love. What brings you here?”

Neiya narrowed her eyes ever so slightly, gaze shifting between the God and his easel. "Can't I simply wish to see my beloved?" she lamented, a dramatic and humoured frown on her features. Having entertained herself, she hovered closer to Cadien, a few moments of curiosity awarded to his hobby. "Perhaps I wanted your advice on a matter as well. You are the King of Mortals after all."

“Oh rest assured, your company is never unwelcome,” Cadien assured her, raising an eyebrow. “What sort of advice do you seek?”

Neiya pulled her hands behind her back, wings lifting in gentle flutter as she glanced about the hall in a manner most uncharacteristic. "Ah, it's on the matter of mortals. You follow their lives a lot and I was wondering how often they eat, how warm they need to be. Just general tips. Oh, is this a Neiyari?" the goddess offered, changing topic midway as she caught sight of the painting of Dakari. Her body lifted further from the ground as she carried herself in its direction.

“It is,” Cadien nodded. “One of your children who I have decided to bestow my favour upon. Do you like the painting?”

She cast a sideways glance towards Cadien, before looking back at the painting. Long fingers reached out to gently touch at it. "I do. It's very scenic. There are a few others that seem familiar enough to me. You truly paint a vivid picture, my love."

“Why thank you,” Cadien grinned. “Why don’t you come over here and see my most recent work?”

"Hm?" Neiya began with a tone that implied mellow interest at best, but still she was already halfway through the air when she uttered it, apparently fascinated enough to jump at the offer. "Is it something I've seen before?

“You could say that,” Cadien said, as he turned the easel toward her.

It was a painting of her. Not in her current form, but in her first one, hovering over an ocean with a coastline and a river in the far distance, clearly intended to resemble the time they first met.

Neiya slid her hands over Cadien's shoulder and clasped on to him as she watched the painting, allowing him due time to move the easel back as she hovered beside and behind him, anchored with a gentle grip. Her first real reaction was a simple breath, the goddess stirred to silence as her now golden gaze flitted frantically over the picture. "That seems like so long ago. Oh, Cadien." she sighed with a wistful breath.

“Such a simpler time, wasn’t it? Just the two of us. No concerns about other gods or the goings-on of mortals,” Cadien said, with a wistful tone of his own. “You taught me an important lesson that day.” Then he seemed almost remorseful. “One of my greatest regrets is that I never made it to your sanctum before the Separation. I would have liked to see it.”

Neiya offered a sorrowful stare at the painting, briefly lost in memory. "It wasn't anything special; a lake I made my own. It was peaceful though, despite the visitors. I was so primitive, then. Ruled by my emotions."

Cadien arched an eyebrow. “Primitive? Hardly. If anything, I found you to be beautiful, elegant, and calm.” He turned toward her and placed a hand on her cheek.

"Tsch. You charmer." Neiya offered, turning her own gaze on him in turn. "Do you prefer me like that, then? Lost in thought and sorrow?" The goddess began to shift under his hand, her face turning softer and paler, her eyes losing their golden color as her shape turned towards that of her base form.

“I simply don’t wish to see you dismiss who you used to be,” Cadien told her. “That is the woman I first fell in love with, after all.”

Neiya raised a shifting hand to clasp around his, moving it down from her cheek. "Treat me well, my love, and I shall be whomever you desire. I'm still in here. I'm trying to be more than a shrinking flower, wilting in the shadows."

“You are more than that. You always were,” he assured her, before leaning in for a kiss. Neiya pushed her own lips to his, her form rippling gently as her skin turned pale and her form changed entirely to the forlorn, horned goddess of the past.

She broke the kiss soon after, raising a languid finger to gesture at the painting. "Do I look like you remember?"

The God nodded, bringing a hand up to brush at a strand of her hair.

"Then keep painting. You have your model for as long as you need it." she continued, and drew a finger gently under his chin.

And with those words, Cadien raised his brush and went back to his task. “Perhaps you should try your hand at this?” he asked as he began putting the finishing touches on it.

Neiya released a quiet scoff, solemnly dismissive of the idea - even though she had watched Cadien's technique with intent. "I have never been much good with the creative. I only ever recreate, I feel. And even then... she sighed softly, and patted his shoulder.

“You judge yourself far too harshly, my dear. What of our Merelli? We created those together, and they are beautiful, are they not?”

A hint of a shadow of a smile played on her features, and she was forced to agree with an elegant nod. "You had a great hand in that, I think. I only change what is already there. The Neiyari, for example. Though I do enjoy how they developed…"

“It occurs to me that we don’t work together nearly as often as we should,” Cadien went on. “The Merelli are the only thing we’ve done together. That ought to change, I think.”

That seemed to catch the goddess' attention enough for her to reaffirm her vigil of Cadien, tilting her head slowly. "I agree, beloved, though I took the liberty of aiding your ah, cute offspring."

“Oh yes, I have been meaning to mention that,” he nodded. “Thank you for giving them your aid. That cloak seems to be serving Carn well, even if it did create a rift between him and Gibbou’s avatar - though I suppose that’s her fault for being so uncompromising. And your followers did agree to aid Brundt, so you have my gratitude for that as well.”

"Oh, they did? That's marvelous," Neiya intoned softly, bobbing her head briefly in a simple nod. "Mortals can be so fickle, I was worried I wouldn't be able to please you after our… talk about the city. Actually, on the matter of mortals. How often do they need to eat?"

“Well, that depends on the mortal,” Cadien said. “Why?”

Neiya ran a hand up to stroke a finger along her lowest horn, humming softly. "Ah, nothing special. A few mortals wandered into my realm and I want to make certain they do not suffer at random."

“Hm. Well, humans and merelli should typically eat two or three times a day. Some can survive on one meal, but in time that will take its toll. I still don’t know which mortals you’re dealing with, though. Perhaps we should go there after I finish, and you can show me?”

"That's a wonderful idea, my love. I don't think they're human. But you can see for yourself later." Neiya nodded quickly and lifted her hand to wave away the matter now that it had been resolved. "Did you have any particular ideas of what you wanted to do together?"

“No particular idea right now,” Cadien admitted. “Perhaps an order of warriors, that vanquishes evil in our names? Or maybe we could have our avatars work together to either teach or gift the mortals something? Or... perhaps we could just destroy some iskrill together? Hm. Do you have any ideas?”

"Iskrill… where are those again?" Neiya asked with a ponderous expression.

Cadien frowned at that. “Yamat’s abominations. I told you about them, long ago. Do you not remember? They’ve been slaughtering human and merelli alike.”

Neiya touched at her own cheek. "Oh, those. In the Highlands, no? Aveira is around that area. I could send her to cut a swathe through those abominations without much issue. We could make it our shared activity, if you want to put some of your mortals in or some such."

The God thought for a moment. “My own avatar is in the area. Perhaps they might work together? Mayhaps they’ll get along as well as we do,” he smirked.

"Perish the thought," the Love Goddess retorted with dry wit of her own, lips pursed ever so slightly. "I don't think Aveira was doing anything important anyway. But, ah, more importantly; how do you get this blue here?" Neiya drew her hand forward to point at the mixture of blue hues in the painting before her, overcome with a fickle thought after all.

Cadien smiled. “Well, one benefit of being a god is that I can simply conjure whatever colour or shade I wish into existence. But, if I were a lowly mortal…” he waved a hand and conjured forth a table with jars of paint on it, “...I would have to do this…”






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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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Jungle Ice





Kia took in the new world around her with a sense of awe. She buried her feet in the sand and felt the fine cool grains in her hands. The air here smelled of salt and so many other things she hardly knew how to describe them. One thing she did know was that it was hot and sticky here and she was forced to shed her thick furs, even the layer under that. Now all she wore was loose cloth over her more sensitive parts, with a large gap between the two. She felt incredibly naked but with it, a strange sense of freedom. Though she was still hesitant, this curious place of green and colors caught her attention more often then not, and she did not dwell on the events that had brought her there.

Instead she made her way further into the trees, stopping and watching plants, animals and any thing else of interest that caught her eye. The world was so alive here and it was amazing. The creatures of Sunlight regarded her almost as curiously as she regarded them but neither tries to reach out to the other. It was only when the sun began to dip, casting the jungle floor into darkness did Kia realize how unprepared she was for the night.

Small winged creatures that buzzed and whined began to nip at her and she was forced to snack them off herself. She was thirsty and hungry and tired but had no shelter and no fire to keep her warm. She was beginning to think the Goddess had left her here as punishment for her crimes and then the sky opened up and a downpour was unleashed and she knew, it was definetly a punishment.

She managed to find a tree with a thick canopy of giant leaves and it was there she huddled in the dark while thunder boomed. She stuck her tongue out and collected the rain, taking deep guzzles, at least she had that going for her. She was completely soaked and her hair was plastered to her face, but at least the small nipping monsters had stopped biting her. It was a restless night.




She awoke with a start in the morning, sitting upright as she surveyed the trees. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Everything was quiet. Not even the drone of the small winged things were sounding. The sun was out, that was good but the air felt heavy and she quickly figured out why. Something bolted at her from the thick brush, a creature that had been in plain sight, she had not seen. She barely had time to react as it pounced her, diving out of the way but Kia screamed as it was able to claw her back, just below her left shoulder.

She stumbled up and into a run but slipped in the mud from the rain and the creature fell upon her. It was on her in seconds, tearing and biting into her arms as she shielded her face. It growled at her with hungry eyes and a blood coated face.

That was her blood.

Her desperation turned to anger and her screams turned into a great yell of frustration. There was a sickening crack as the animal was impaled by an icicle from the ground. Then another and another, lifting it into the air. As its blood ran down the blue ice and onto her face, the creature whined one last time before going silent.

Kia yelled again, feeling her anger boiling over but it did not last this time. Anger gave way to pain and she clawed herself from out under the creature. Every cut in her arms stinging like a thousand knife cuts. She was losing a lot of blood in the process and something wet obscured her left eye. She knew it was blood but whose?

After crawling away from it she felt her arms give out and she collapsed face down into the mud. Her vision began to go blurry, head swimming, screaming in pain. Darkness began to take her. The last thing she remembered was the promised life, a new chance, being cut woefully short. Then again, maybe she… deserved… this...




Something stirred beyond the reaches of her vision. Exhaustion, pain, darkness. So many barriers made it hard to move and think. A jabbing force pushed into her side firmly, stirring her senses out of its deathly haze for just a moment. Voices mumbled in another realm, unreachable and difficult to understand.

"....escaped unpainted? More.."

"...not dead.. ...Oruna might…"

The voices faded into the darkness, her pain radiating out to drown every other sensation again. She drifted out on an ocean of haze and darkness once more, succumbing to unconsciousness.




The cloying humidity burrowed itself down into her throat through nose and mouth alike. Intense warmth hung in the air, pushing against her skin. Bright and unpleasant light broke in through the meager protection her eyelids afforded, shining bright from above. Through brief, distressed glimpses of her surroundings she saw trees, huts and a small wind shelter pushed up around her.

The chief sensation however, was pain. Her entire body hurt. Her arms felt they had been set aflame, her back burned with relentless pressure. Reality came crashing back all at once, and with it just a small amount of will and energy. Then just as swiftly, energy poured out of her like a broken vase, and Kia felt the darkness clamber back in around her.




Another call back from the darkness came with the sensation of wet cloth laid against her forehead. Much of the pain was a distant memory, and almost entirely replaced by the heat of her surroundings. A foul taste grew in her mouth, a strange herbal mixture clinging to the space between tooth and lip. The sound of dripping water preceded a sensation of cold touch, as someone dabbed something wet and soft against her body.

It felt like a strange dream at first as she came too. Questions began to pop into her mind and a feeling of fear welled up inside. Where was she? Who was touching her? Kia opened her eyes slowly, not wanting to let her fear control her. Her eyes had a hard time focusing at first but when they did, she was taken aback by what she saw above her.

A woman with skin dark as wood and black hair loomed above her, with white and yellow patterns drawn all over her face and shoulders in strange and unnerving patterns. A bone sharpened on both sides had been pushed through her skin above her right brow, and then meticulously painted with red stripes. She wrung a small rag free of water, before dipping it in a bowl beside her. Above her was a rudimentary shelter of leaves, tanned hides and wood. Kia felt a hand on her chest, no real force applied but enough to keep her from jolting away.

"Welcome back to the land of living, pale one." She rattled off with quick speed. "You are lucky the Great Hunter is lazy this week, allowing you to walk back from his home."

She opened her mouth but no words sprang forth. The woman was unlike anything she had ever seen before and somehow, she could understand her. The drip of the water stole her attention for a second and she realized just how thirsty she was. It felt as if her mouth was bone dry. “W-Water…” she managed to say in a hoarse voice.

The woman clicked her tongue as though she had just realized at Kia's request, then quickly pushed up and vanished from her side. It gave Kia a brief opportunity to look around, and see the walls of a few clay huts, as well as at least a half dozen people milling about in the distance, each as strange as the woman she had met first. Man or woman didn't matter - they barely wore clothes, and seemed to be covered in extensive patterns in different colors, although a few had simply painted their entire torso with a single color. Yellow and white stood out as the most popular.

Before Kia had any real chance to process her sights in her weakened state, the woman reappeared with a dark cup, and brusquely moved it to Kia's lips. The first sip tasted like water. The second tasted like old socks.

"Fireweed and Jozu Beetle water," the woman explained. "It will ward away the Great Hunter."

She almost gagged, but drank it down regardless, swishing her tongue around her teeth. She eyed the woman inquisitive now. She kept saying Great Hunter, had that been what attacked her? Her memory of that time returned like a cold blow and she remembered its final moments, the look in its eye as it died. In a shaky voice, not so hoarse this time, Kia asked, “W-Who are you?”

The woman eyed Kia in turn, before inspecting the now empty cup. She set it aside and picked the rag back up. "My name is Oruna. I am Ta'zesh, but today I was asked to bring you back from the Great Hunter's lair. Our lifegiver left us for the great city, so I am doing the work of unpainted." She sighed quietly, putting a half-cold rag on Kia's shoulder.

She did not shiver at the cold, for Kia was complexed. None of those words made any sense, whatsoever. Strangely enough, she did not feel panicked at all. More or less, intrigued, curious even. “I know n-nothing of what you speak. W-Where am I?” she questioned.

This seemed to provoke great resignation in the woman - Oruna - who sighed and glanced away at first. Cleaning away at Kia's shoulder without turning her over, she glanced back to her. "You are in Zeshutaru, an ancestral village under the rule of Etana, and tributary of the great Zuanwa. My friends assumed you had escaped from there; I am sorry to say you only traveled a day away before the jungle took interest."

“S-Seshura? Z-Zoonwa?” She mumbled the strange names. She then shook her head. “S-She sent me here… The goddess…”

"The goddess?" queried the woman with a quizzical look. "Do you mean Uraka, Daughter of the Water? Is she your owner?"

“O-Owner?” Kia paled. “N-No. What was her name? R-R-Rhiona! She’s the Goddess."

"Ree-ona?" She returned and furrowed her brow. "That's not any name I've ever heard. Very unorthodox." Oruna professed and wrung out the rag again. "This goddess of yours will pay for you?"

“Pay for me… What do you mean?” Kia asked, suddenly alarmed.

"Well," Oruna began, and Kia felt her hand stroke over what had once been a wound. "None of your few scars are a mark, so you're not a slave. You claim someone brought you here, so you have a ruler. You're either unpainted, or from beyond the trees, and either way you are valuable to us."

Kia furrowed her brow and winced back at Oruna’s touch. “She’s not my ruler, she’s a Goddess! I came from a land far, far away. One of cold and i- I’m valuable?” It was a word she was not entirely familiar with. “What do you mean?”

Oruna chuckled quietly, but retracted her hand all the same. "A pretty face is worth many goods. If you have any skills, even better. Just from your coral-like skin, I'd wager we'd get a barrel of blue, at least. If you do not belong anywhere as you say then you belong to us."

This time, she did panic. “N-n-no! I’m not something you can sell! You don’t own me!” she said with defiance. She then began to squirm, trying to get away from Oruna. She had to leave! The pain that had been so woefully absent now made itself remembered as she stirred too much, and too fast. She winced and let out a huff.

Oruna's hands came down on her body with surprising strength, though seemed to make an effort not to hurt her too much. Her own struggling on the ground was enough to hurt. "Calm down, Coral. I didn't steal you back from the Great Hunter's lair to slit your throat now. Do not make the chieftess brand you for being unruly."

“My name, is Kia!” She groaned again, the pain of her cuts throbbing. With a great amount of reluctance, she did calm down however. If only because the pain was too great to bear. She looked back at Oruna and pouted, “Please, I thank you for saving me, but I don’t want to be sold and enslaved. I-I can be valuable to you. I swear it!” She pleaded.

Oruna paused for a moment, peering down at Kia. Apparently convinced of her calmness, she lifted her hands to let Kia suffer at her own peril. "It's not really up to me, the chieftess will want to do whatever she decides." She lamented. "Unless you mean to pledge to me specifically, I suppose, but I don't really have enough to take care of an unpainted."

“You keep saying that, but what do you mean?” She inquired. “Is it that colors you have on your skin? Who’s the chieftess? Does she live in the Zoonwa?”

Oruna rubbed a finger under her nose, peering at Kia as though she was offended. "There are many positions in our society. I am Ta'zesh, a hunter of the soil. The only ones for you to know are marked and unpainted. One is, well, a slave. The other is to be, hm, how to explain?" She mused and tapped at her lip. "Ah, yes. Owned. As for chieftess Etana, she lives over there in the biggest home." She continued idly, gesturing to a place in the village. "She's not going to like you, I think."

"Oh I see, in a way." Kia sighed. "Why won't she like me?"

Oruna shrugged again, settling back to sit more comfortably. "A simple feeling I have. You have pale skin, hair like gold and eyes like the ocean. With this unique look and your talk of a goddess she will think you are a Za'watem looking to usurp her, or a troublemaker because you ask so many questions. I too suspected you were Za'watem first, but the divine protect their messengers. And you are, you know, not so strong." Oruna concluded with a smile, and reached forward to give Kia's exposed stomach a firm pat.

“Not… Strong?” Kia looked to the floor and seemed to deflate a little. Maybe she wasn’t strong at all. Maybe… She knew one way to show her strength, but would it be the right thing to do? She looked at Oruna again and asked, “When I was found, did they find the body of the Great Hunter as well?”

Kia's question appeared to cause great amusement for the painted woman, who burst into a full laugh. "You cannot kill the Great Hunter. To be caught by him is to walk to your grave." She leant back on her hands, watching Kia with a puzzled smile. "The women who brought you in said nothing to me. Did you see him, Ke-... Kee-ah?"

Kia’s face grew red and she looked away. “But I… I killed… The creature that attacked me… That’s not the Great Hunter?”

"..Ah. No, I think not. You cannot see the Hunter, but his claws are in every heart when they take their last breath." Oruna lectured with a certain amount of warmth contrary to her previous behavior. There was an appraising glint in her gaze. "You are the one who killed the spotted cat? I assumed they had saved you in all ways."

“I’m not as weak as you think…” Kia said with defiance in her voice as she looked at Oruna again. Though, sometimes she did wish she was weak, maybe that way, Rorik would still be alive. Other times, she just couldn’t control herself. “The Goddess who sent me here, knew I could take care of myself, or at least that’s what she thought. But, I guess I disappointed again.”

"Maybe. If your goddess is not here, what difference does it make? The Daughter of the Water is the closest you shall come to the gods here." Oruna pondered with a following shrug. "Besides, if it is as you say, you have done more than most Ta'zesh can manage, on your own. We lose many foolish huntresses to the hungry jungle."

Kia's expression turned dark and distant all at once as her thoughts became muddied by her past. “I'm dangerous. I-I shouldn't even be here. I've killed so many, I need to be alone. If I get angry I lose myself." She seemed to be talking to herself now.

"For my sake you are free to leave. But Zeshutaru village took you in, stole you back to life, used valuable herbs. I think maybe the chieftess will say you belong here. Or at least until sold." Oruna countered matter-of-factly, presumably not that interested in Kia's dark warning. "If you can be useful, maybe you can find a generous owner and avoid being marked."

Kia locked eyes with Oruna. Fine. She would show them just how useful she could be. There was a cracking sound, and from the ground erupted a blue spike of ice whose point stopped a hands length away from the huntress' face. Oruna's eyes went wide, and the cocky huntress winced backwards in surprise, almost falling over her own weight and risking piercing herself on the spike out of sheer confusion.

Kia then brought up a hand and formed a ball of ice in it. She held it out to Oruna. All she needed was a simple affirmation.

“I can be useful.”









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The camp had been torn down and packed up, with goods carried on men’s backs or in carts drawn by quillats. The only thing that would be left behind was Titania, on her metal table. Some had objected to leaving her, while others had wanted to stay behind, but Carn overruled them, and they obeyed. Even Lothar had been swayed. The cloak at work, once again.

Now, it was time to continue down the road, with Carn taking his place at the head of the column. But he had not taken five steps before something else happened.

From across the crest of the hill came Auriëlle’s raiding party. Gone for about eleven days with little warning ahead of time. They left on foot, but came back with two carts filled with food and some riches. At the head of the warband walked Auriëlle. Confident. Bordering on cocky even. Behind her she dragged the Ketrefian nobleman. The man looked haggard, but mostly untouched. “Hail Carnelian.” She shouted almost as a taunt. “I bring you a gift.” She pulled the nobleman’s ropes so he’d come forward. Then pushed him on his knees. “The gift of information. This man’s a noble from Ketrefa. Could be useful to hear him out.”

For a moment, Carn only looked at her. Then, he shook his head. “It’s just Carn,” he corrected her, before stepping forward. “So what do you have to say to me?” he asked the nobleman.

It would appear the sudden appearance before the nemesis of Ketrefa gave the nobleman a moment of courage. “The city will never fall to the likes of you!” He shouted, before spitting at Carn. A moment later he was kicked in the side, hard, by Auriëlle. After which she pulled him up and put him on his knees again while this time holding him by his neck. “Again, what’s happening in Ketrefa?” She ordered, her voice ice cold.

The nobleman looked up, his courage instantly broken. “The city… You can never take it. The walls are god-made! They’ve stood for 2000 years. Cadien has even sent us his own champion! You can never win. Never!”

“A competent attempt at a bluff,” Carn nodded. “But the thing is,” he drew his sword, and rested it against the nobleman’s throat. “I’m Cadien’s champion. He forged this blade himself. And I have more than him on my side too - this cloak was woven by Neiya.” He flicked his wrist and drew a small trickle of blood. “Now then, do you have anything useful to tell me or is your actual goal here just to waste my time?”

“It’s impossible.” The wide eyed noble said. “The champion wields the hammer. He brought peace to Ketrefa. United even the vile cultists sullying the name of Neiya in defense of the city. You… You cannot be. You cannot be!” Auriëlle knocked him out right then, before looking up at Carn to say: “He was getting frantic. You can negotiate himself further after he wakes up.” Several of her own warband pulled up the limp body of the nobleman and carried it away.

“So marching already huh?” She asked. “A shame. I wanted some more fun. I heard about a few more farmsteads.”

“Time is short,” Carn told her. “We should have started marching much earlier than this, but there was a… delay.” Then he frowned. “What exactly have you been doing?”

“Having fun.” She teased with a smile while pointing back at the two carts. “So what’s with the delay? Any of the chieftains got in a fight?”

He shook his head. “No, I have that under control now. The problem was something else. I had to leave Titania behind.”

Auriëlle quite visibly frowned. “Why?” Did they have a falling out? Did she break them apart? That was wonderful! Oh she would have to visit that piece of clearly holier-than-thee armor now!

“She wanted me to kill you. I said no. She wanted me to burn this cloak. I said no. She kept second-guessing my decisions, and I said no. Gave us some armour before I left her, but for some of us it didn’t even fit.” He shook his head in frustration. “I suppose you were right.”

The sorceress through her head back before doubling over from laughing. She couldn’t believe it. She was gone for eleven days and in that time it all went to hell with Titania. That was amazing! For a second she wondered if she should mention she too got a little gift from Neiya. But then refrained from it. Carn didn’t need to know, yet. “Alright, been a pleasure talking to you but I’ve got a lump of cold metal to have a chat with! I’ll catch up!” She said as she started to pass Carn and head back to where the camp first was.

Carn turned and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Aurielle, wait.”

She stopped, almost let out a groan of annoyance but did roll her eyes. What’s next? A lecture? A plea? She didn’t believe Carn was back to how Carn should be. There was still something soft about him. Maybe it was the whole deal with his brother. She turned around none the less. “What is it?”

“Just forget about her. There’s no sense in antagonizing an avatar.”

“I’m not going to antagonize her.” She exclaimed, sounding almost innocent as she did. “I’m just going to have a lovely chat with her.” If you didn’t know Auriëlle, you’d think she’s sincere.

“Your last lovely chat with her nearly burned down the camp,” he said drily. “You can’t kill her and you can’t change her views. Taunting her will only provoke her, and I don’t want to lose you. Not again.”

“Oh please.” She said she pulled her shoulder free. “I’ll be fine.” Of course it was sweet of Carn to worry about her. Of course she wished he would do it more. It was cute. Just… not in front of everyone. “If she wanted me dead she would’ve killed me twelve days ago. She didn’t then and she won’t do it now.” She turned around to walk away again.

All she heard was a resigned sigh. And a few moments later, a signal was given for the column to resume marching. She received various looks as she passed by the hundreds of men. Those who recognized her glared. But most did not, instead giving her looks of curiosity, attraction, or simple boredom. Many did not even notice her at all.

She waited a little until the camp was actually cleared. Overlooking the plains where they had resided. It was still scarred from the camp. With a strange, lonely table in the middle of it all. Looking rather like an abandoned altar than anything else. Unafraid Auriëlle walked closer. “We’re finally alone.” She said with a smirk.

The armour was silent. Then, in the blink of an eye, the earth surrounding Auriëlle erupted. The stone morphed and warped into bricks, and coiled around her with lightning speed like a giant snake seeking to constrict its prey. It spun around her like a whirlpool, no doubt with enough momentum and coarseness to grind her into goo.

For a second it appeared as if Auriëlle had been consumed. Then a humanoid figure made of stone shot through the coiling whirlwind of stone. Once through, the stone crumbled off, revealing Auriëlle once more. Not untouched though. The stone had scraped her left arm, which was bleeding quite heavily. Though it looked worse than it was. Small nubs of horns were sprouting in between her hair. “So you can hurt me without someone wearing you. That’s good to know.” She said rather casually. Though her heart was beating inside her chest. It made her excited! It had been so long since she was actually challenged. “You’re not going to listen to me, are you?”

A stone tendril twisted itself around her leg, stopping her dead in the air. The tendril then hammered her against the ground with crackling force. Two stone towers then sprouted up on either side of her, before crumbling into tonnes upon tonnes of rock, raining down over her mercilessly. ”Not only do you come to me, demoness, but you also carry with you your haughty, taunting demeanour! It’s almost as though you are glutton for extermination!”

Shock went through Auriëlle when the tendrils grabbed her. The force with which they threw her to the ground knocked more than just the wind out of her. With a nasty crack several of her bones broke. For a second her entire mind was overtaken by pain. Allowing her only to scream before the adrenaline made everything feel numb and distance. Then the shadows rose. She didn’t think but just embedded her fingers into the ground. Right before the first bricks fell roots broke through the earth. Wrapping themselves around the sorceress. Moments after the last brick fell, the cocoon of roots pushed the stone off of itself to reveal the red-headed girl with larger horns cat-like eyes as if she was a flower. Roots were supporting her as her body was too battered to let her stand on her own. Wisps of smoldering cloth floated away into the air as she held the oaken branch against her chest. Healing the wounds while forcing: “Truce?” Out of her throat.

The weight on the roots intensified. Another set of towers had collapsed over her. Auriëlle was still healing herself. The roots carried her some distance away from Titania and harm's way as well. Before they were crushed with a wet splat by the two new towers. The sorceress collapsed on her knees. Wounds were healing, but not fast enough. The growing horns on her head were beginning to curl now. “Could you stop!? I just want to talk! I’m not even fighting back.” She yelled, at the top of her lungs. Before coughing up blood.

”I have nothing to talk to you about, and you have no business talking to me, you fiend! You spawn of evil! You wicked witch!” The line along the ground between them sprouted a wave of stone spears, shooting up like the jabs of a phalanx.

Some of the spears missed, others would’ve hit her if they didn’t crumble by Auriëlle magic. One though. One looked as if it would’ve hit her square in the stomach. But then it veered off. Pushed away by some invisible power to only cut her tight. The wound was nasty but not life threatening. “Why--!” The ground beneath her exploded into a cloud of shrapnel, just barely mitigated by a quick-witted shield spell. “... Am I the evil one!?” The shrapnel she dodged melted into stone darts, swarming her like rabid hornets. She screamed out, finally fed up by the self-righteousness of Titania. “I freed slaves!” The darts that didn’t hit her melted back into the earth, and rose back up as more spears, stabbing upwards from the soil at the positions she stood at just milliseconds earlier. “I broke their chains while you lay on your metal altar. Too--” Nearby trees fell over, and their trunks were sliced into bucklers, which were thrown after the sorceress like disks. “-- Too pure to even try and understand us mortals. What do you even know about me other than what you told yourself!?”

”You selfishly follow your own desires and commit atrocities as easily as you breathe. When we first met, you attempted to destroy me for no reason other than that you felt like it. That alone tells me what sort of person you are.” The armour glared at her from its table. ”If you have freed slaves, you did it not for the freedom of those people; you did it because you enjoyed killing the slavers…” The ground quaked again as though new stone towers began to form. ”Have you any last words, fiend? Or will you simply gloat until the very end, like you do so well?”

She didn’t gloat. Nor did she speak her last words. The second she saw those towers rise, lose stone flew towards her. Encasing her into what looked like a tomb before she was pulled away through the air. Far, far from Titania. Within the air Auriëlle did her best to slow herself down with the wind, trying to aim where Carn’s army would be. But there was only so much she could do before the stone around her crumbled away again. She finally fell to the ground, breaking her bones again and making the fractures she had even worse. Yet perhaps whatever god there was of luck or fate would not see her perish just yet. The Oaken Branch touched her face. Slowly but surely healing the sorceress’ unconscious body.



She awoke hours later, in a lumpy bed on a rickety cart meant to carry wounded. The sun was high in the sky, but once her eyes adjusted, she saw that Carn himself was sitting nearby. He had not noticed her awakening, instead sitting on the back edge of the cart with a dagger drawn. Every now and then he would jab the blade into one of his fingers, and watch the flesh knit back together.

“That was by far the stupidest thing I’ve done.” She said with a groan. Her body ached. The Oaken Branch, laying on her arm, was still doing its work. The blanket was stained with blood spots all over. Yet there was a little smile on her face. A smile of satisfaction.

Carn turned, and looked at her with a sigh of relief. Then the relief quickly faded, and he smirked. “Now you remember why it’s a good idea to trust my judgement.”

“We had fun.” She managed to say before uttering an ow from some stiff muscle. Then her tone grew a little somber. “You used to be that, you know. Fun.”

The smirk faded, and he fell into a long silence.

There was only one way really to interpret that silence. She laid back down, content to stare up at the blue sky. Clutching the Oaken Branch closer to her and checking if the necklace and disk she got were still with her.

Even though Auriëlle was used – sometimes even preferred – silence, she hated it now. She hated it when it happened between her and Carn. They used to talk for entire nights. Now it felt like there was nothing to say. It was unbearable. “Where’s Esiré?” She finally asked with a neutral, if not bit icy, tone.

Carn shrugged. “She kept clinging to you, so I told her to give us some space. I reckon she’s still nearby.”

She hated that answer. She hated what it meant. Esiré wouldn’t come close till Carn left. She kept silent for some time. Until she asked: “Why are you here?”

“Because…” Carn began, but then his voice trailed off. “I think you know why,” he finally said, after a few moments of thought.

Suddenly an entirely different thought shot through her head. She set up to look at Carn. “Say it.” She said in a weird mixture of both plea and command.

“Because I love you,” he confessed, almost too quickly.

Auriëlle reached over to him, not caring that her body was in pain as she grabbed him by the collar and pulled him close for a kiss.

He returned it, and held it, as he wrapped his arms around her. But then, after a few moments past, he suddenly became conscious of several sets of eyes on them - soldiers walking behind the cart - and he reluctantly pulled away. “Come to my tent later tonight,” he whispered.

“Not afraid I’ll burn it down?” She teased, though she did release him. If it was up to her, she wouldn’t have cared they were in a cart but well… he was the commander. So slowly she laid down again. With several ouchs and ows, realizing her body still wasn’t in good shape. “You should’ve come with me you know.” She then said once down. “It was really fun!”

Carn shrugged. “I did go back for you, but it was too late. Probably for the best, being honest. I spent months listening to that armour preach. Any more and I might have been driven mad.”

“Ha!” Auriëlle loudly proclaimed, before having a coughing fit. Still, she had a big smile on her face. “She’s going to have the best time on this planet. Preaching against the goddess of love while only letting those who are apparently selfless wear her. Selfless? Here!? What does she want, a child?” The sorceress laughed out loud. “We’re better off without her.” She then followed up as she calmed down a little.

Carn nodded slightly, as he looked ahead. “I’m expected to be at the front of the column,” he told her. “Are you able to join me, or do you still need to rest?”

“I should be able-“ Auriëlle tried to say as she tried to get up. Only for her body to sternly protest against any type of movement. Quite quickly she fell back down. “Nope. I’m going to be smart for once and not push it.” She admitted. “Go lead your army, Carn.”






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