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

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Part Two:

Fog


Andrey, and that was the boy’s name, dragged the Runecrafter back to the village that morning. Just in time to stop the search party that’d been assembling to go look for the young man and the mad fool he’d been chasing. The welcome hadn’t been smooth, but Andrey was safe. More than that, the Runecrafter had proved the boy’s testimony, and Wizardry was not something an isolated village scoffed at.

In fact, it was something they’d never even seen. By the nature of his trade the Runecrafter hadn’t been able to conjure more than he’d prepared, but that had been enough. In the span of a morning he’d gone from nearly being strung up, to eating fresh stew beside the village chieftain, Andrey’s father. He was a large man, calloused and scarred beyond what might have been expected from someone in his position. was friendly, even kind.

“So, my new Wizard friend, was it you who brought the birds? The holy mans been ranting about omens, but he hasn’t stopped doing that ever since the last time the rain was warm. I’d be glad to put his superstition to bed.”

The Runecrafter put his wooden spoon aside, reluctantly, and coughed before speaking, “No. They brought me here, but not because I made them. Don’t dismiss your holy man, Chieftain, I don’t know how much news you get from afar, but the gods are stirring. They were stirring before I was forced from the great city.”

The big man frowned, and lowered his voice, “Andrey told me you’d come from Ketrefa. You should know there isn’t much love for the city out here Wizard. The last travelers that came this way were on their way to join some fool marching on the walls, Kamolon, they call him.”

“It has been tried before,” The Runecrafter paused to take another spoonful of stew, savoring the taste of seasoned food. He looked to the Chieftain seriously and continued, “More times than even I know. The walls were raised by Tekret as proof against the first Trolls, men cannot bring them down.”

“Hrm,” The Chieftain grumbled, “Well, they’ll try. Just be careful about who you tell your history to. You were lucky the birds brought you here. That Andrey found you. The city doesn’t send men into the woods, not this deep. Most here only know the stories.”

The Runecrafter nodded and added between spoonfuls, “I’ll keep it in mind.”

The simple thatch house they spoke in afforded the two some privacy, but every so often they heard the commotion outside. The gossip, shock, and Andrey’s occasional boasts that the Wizard had promised to teach him. One particularly loud declaration from outside focused the boy's father, who finally asked, “Will you? Teach Andrey? If he’s gotten the wrong impression I understand, but I wouldn’t be opposed to you staying. No, I want you to. We could use you here, and I’ve always wanted more for my son.”

The question froze the Runecrafter. The man hadn’t been considering more than the stew, and the conversation. The future was a foreign topic to him now. Still, he’d made a promise to Andrey. With some certainty he answered, “I will. Andrey and anyone else that wishes to learn, anyone who has time. I can’t go back to the city, and I won’t return to the woods. I’m not the practitioner that I was, though. I fear I’ll make a poor teacher.”

With a big grin the Chieftain brought a hand down on the Runecrafter’s shoulder and joked, “Andrey was the first in my family to witness magic in generations, you can’t be a worse teacher than the air my friend! Well, assuming you can get the lad to pay atten-”

A harsh rapping on the door cut the Chieftain short, and with some annoyance he excused himself and stomped over to the entrance. When he pulled the door aside his eyes widened, and she shouted before the woman sent to warn him could, “Wizard! Have you sent this fog!”

The Runecrafter looked up in alarm, and saw what lay beyond the door. A thick white grey fog had shrouded the village, even the woman at the doorway was nearly invisible as it began to roll into the house. He stepped forward and spoke with some trepidation, “No.”

A look of supreme concern passed over the Chieftain’s face before he steeled himself and nodded, “Then perhaps the holy man wasn’t such a fool. Come, whatever this is, it’s for you Wizard. The birds brought you here, not us.”

The Runecrafter’s eyes widened, but he knew there was nothing for it. He stepped towards the door as the Chieftain ushered the messenger into the house, and with a look from the big man walked out into the fog.

The first thing he noticed was that, whatever he stood in, it wasn’t fog. As the Chieftain joined him the Runecrafter could tell he knew it too. The air was dry, and unnaturally still. There was no wind, and more disconcertingly, no sound. As soon as the Runecrafter stepped out into the pall everything went quiet.

He couldn’t even hear his heartbeat. He brought a hand to his chest, just to feel the evidence he was alive. The Chieftain said something, but the words were stolen from his mouth. The Runecrafter’s blood ran cold. There were things beyond his understanding of magic, things that were the province of gods and witches alone.

He didn’t know which one was worse. He only knew it was something he couldn’t fight, and so as the Chieftain lofted a club he’d retrieved from the house, the Runecrafter motioned for him to drop it. Once the man did so, a distant laughter echoed from all around them.

It was followed by a disembodied voice, “I see you followed my little hint! And here I was, worried you’d run from it Dyros. Or should I call you Runecrafter?”

A figure materialized in the fog, a woman whose features were nothing but the shifting of mist. She floated through the fog towards him, and the Runecrafter was paralyzed as she ran an ethereal finger along his cheek. She smiled at him, and the slack jawed Chieftain, “You’ve finally found your way home. Or to a home. Mm, semantics, what matters is that you’re here, and that your long struggle wasn’t in vain!”

The Runecrafter opened his mouth, but against his words were stolen from his throat. The misty figure only chuckled at his effort, but not too unkindly. She wrapped her arms around him and spoke in his ear, to him alone, “There’s no need for a reply. You toiled, and you’ll be rewarded. Questions just make these things harder.”

Her figure drifted away from him, and suddenly the entire village was around the Runecrafter and the Chieftain, the mists having thinned just enough for them to be visible. The Chieftain tried to shout from them to go back to their houses, but he didn’t make a sound. The Runecrafter knew they hadn’t chosen to leave them, anyway. The village’s guest wanted an audience, and as she swirled in the remaining mists between them all there were a number of silent gasps and screams.

“You’ve chosen to teach these folk your magic, Runecrafter. So I’ll reward them too. For ten years you wandered the world alone, and so for ten years I’ll grant you the sight. Them too, if they take on the same challenge. This world is filled with magic, of a sort beyond what is known in Ketrefa and Acadia. It was hidden from you, and perhaps the Lord of Magic hasn’t deemed you ready for it, but consider it revealed.”

A glowing, acrid smelling thing began to blaze at the center of the village, but only the Runecrafter saw it. A spell hidden in plain fight. The illusory woman snapped her fingers, and for the barest moment the whole village saw it. She went on, “Magic. You can see it now, smell it, hear it, it will be as real to you as the dirt you tread on. For every moment you spend alone, for every day lost to the wilds, I grant you and this village that."

With a little smile the woman began to fade away, but before the mists retreated she snapped her fake fingers and added, “Oh, but one last thing. If you must teach those without the sight, or without the will to gain it, use this.”

Without a sound, or even a feeling, the Runecrafter found himself holding a thin black book. The woman in the mist explained, “Once you’ve found a spell, transcribe it to this to capture it. Any can read the book's pages, if you let them. Now then, I think I’ve overstayed my welcome! Ta-ta!”

Without a warning the mists evaporated, and the village was left in silence. Well, all but the Runecrafter. He still saw the spell at the village’s center, and heard its faint ringing. Ten years, and he already felt the time passing.

At least, until the holy man fainted and the village erupted into chaos.




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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by King of Rats
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King of Rats

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Act Three, Scene Three: The Call of Chaos


It came to everyone differently. The great call of something beyond the gods they knew, the work of a being with far too many names. It was a rare call yes, only a select few ever heard it, and even fewer would fully accept it. That great call into a world the gods refused to show you.

Axin’s call had been that damned Hyena.

He lived on the outskirts of his village, he was no hunter, craftsman, or even farmer, his only skills in life were seemingly bad luck and suffering. His family had hated him, his love chose another, and even his attempts at magic and herbs had fallen flat. The only reason he hadn’t been thrown out of the village was that the chief took some pity on him, but that only afforded him a run down hut and some food.

That was, until the day that Hyena came.

He had heard stories of it, back when his mother could still stomach his existence. Those horrid beasts who stalked through the lands, their laughs driving the sinful into madness, a punishment by the gods for the arrogance of humanity.

Oh how they had been so wrong.

He had been wandering the plains, hoping to find some wild herbs for another attempt at some basic remedies, it was a quiet day, the breeze gently blew past him and he could hear the soft call of animals in the distance. He held some hope that this day would be the day his fortunes reversed, yet, deep inside he knew it would be the same, another failure, another day spent wasting away in his hollow prison.

He was kneeling, gathering some Cat’s Rose, a herb that could assist in light pains, at least, he thought it did. Finishing up plucking the herbs, he stored them in the bag at his side, slowly bringing himself, and his head, upwards, but what he saw froze him in place.

It was large, far larger than it should be, its six black eyes stared him down as it sat barely feet in front of him, merely staring him down.

At first, he wanted to run, run as quickly as he could, run back to the village. Yet his own legs and mind stopped him, they refused to move him, forcing him to merely stand there and stare at the beast across from him. It felt like hours, locking eyes with the Hyena in that windswept plain, neither making a single move.

The Hyena slowly began to smile, its mouth twisting into a horrid crescent shape, something so unnatural that it sparked a shiver down Axin’s spine. Yet it was nothing compared to the cackle that softly emitted from deep within the Hyena, building up in strength as it opened its mouth. A thousand different voices layered upon one another, making sound itself feel claustrophobic and tight. Axin finally got his legs to work, he could not stay, he had to run, that laugh, that laugh would be the death of him.

He ran as fast as his legs could take him, the dirt and grass being kicked up as he bolted from his spot, yet, he could hear the hyena following in tandem, the laugh did not let up, it only grew in strength. It felt like he was being smothered, he could barely even hear his own frantic thoughts or the feel the sparks of pain shooting out through his legs and body. He just kept running, he swore he hadn’t gone that far from the village, where was it? Where was it? Where? Where? Where?

He tripped, his leg buckled underneath him, sending him falling towards the golden grass and dirt, he had barely the time to comprehend until he hit the ground. And everything went black.




Far beyond the mortal’s pain, a god felt the call themselves.

It was such a beautiful thing, of course Yamat would probably be the only one to say that, the other gods probably would not appreciate their most recent creations driving various people insane, but that's none of their concern. The work of Tragedy was never finished, and now, the work of Chaos had just begun, but first, Yamat had to make a few adjustments.

Sitting upon their warped chair, they gazed upon their realm, its blasted empty wastes, the harsh winds blowing massive torrents of dust and ash through the empty ruins of the tragedies of the world. They slowly rose, taking steps beyond their twisted canopy, gazing upwards, upon the great twisting black sun that illuminated their realm, dancing eternally within the empty sky. The god found themselves staring upon the sun, its form drawing them inwards. It's slow, shifting wobble that plays endlessly, never stopping.

Yamat closed their eye, slowly raising their hands, and began their conducting.

The realm rumbled, sending plumes of dirt and ash into the sky, covering the blackened sun for brief moments. Ruins crumbled further and the mountains launched showers of rocks. Then, with a sudden eruption, a great chasm cracked itself into existence, carving a path between two of the great mountains, any ruins in the way were merely moved to either side, or left to sit at the bottom. Another formed, this time smaller, then another, and many more, soon enough chasms that were ,shallow, deep, large, small, and everything in between had been created, adding themselves upon the features of the Endless Wastes. One even began to form near the great pit of demons, yet stopped just before reaching it.

The ruins were changed as well, they were grouped together, instead of standing separately they bunched together into cities and villages, standing empty amongst the great ash, their ruinous forms telling the tale of tragedy far better than they could separately. But, this wasn’t enough, to Yamat, the realm was not, chaotic enough, and so, they let it shift and change, the endless deserts became maddening, looping over one another, one could walk in the same area countless times, and never even realize it. Ruins twisted and warped, roads looped back around upon themselves or lead to dead ends constantly, the mountains would always stay in the distance, never letting one know if they made progress. And through it all, the great blackened sun stood in the sky, blazing its intense heat on all.

Yet, this was not the only thing that changed, as Yamat conducted, their form took shape as the will of Chaos was placed into their control.

First, four blackened tentacles, slick and seemingly made of a thick oil-like substance, erupted from their back, two upon either side, they were long and thin, the top two reaching down nearly to their knees. Quickly following their suit came golden vines, covered in sharp thorns, they too erupted from the back and wrapped themselves around the tentacles, their thorns digging into the oil, causing it to slowly drip and fall to the ground.

Then, erupting from their head, came two great blackened antlers, oil-like akin to the tentacles, they twisted and contorted in strange and unnatural ways and were illuminated by the halo behind their head, causing the shifting oil texture to be apparent to all. Finally, the black oil began to emerge from the bottom of their singular eye, slowly dripping down, causing a slick black streak to form down the eye side of their mask, often falling down upon them or the ground.

They opened their eye and lowered their arms, it was done, they could feel a renewed force within them, it felt, fantastic, and they needed to test this out.

They quickly rushed back to their map and canopy, they needed something, perhaps they would pay a visit to Acadia? Or cause some chaos in mydia? They could check up on their avatar and that brat of Cadien, or maybe...that's when they saw it, a small call within the western gardens, it was in the middle of nowhere, and usually the director would ignore such a small call, yet, something drew them to it. They looked closer, one of their hyenas stood over a man, he was unconscious, yet, Yamat could see a little spark within, something that if moulded correctly, would be perfect.

The director had their new project.




Axin awoke with a fright, he was back home, laying upon his floor, he frantically checked himself to see if he held any wounds, yet, there was nothing. For a brief moment, he thought what had occurred was not more than a nightmare, induced by another night of drunken stupor, but that all ended when he tried to stand up.

Almost instantly, the world began to spin around him, it was as if he was dizzy, hung over, and would not normally be a cause of concern, if it were not for his own house shifting and changing before him. It was hard to describe to even his own mind, yet it seemed as if the walls and floor shifted and warped, almost like they were breathing, his table and chairs elongated and squished together.

He puked, yet this only stopped the spinning. He stumbled his way towards his mirror, hoping to the gods that this was nothing more than a nightmare, this couldn’t be real, there was no way this was real. Looking into the warped mirror he saw himself, haggard pale face, his distraught brown hair and beard, and crazed green eyes, and behind him, he saw thousands upon thousands of eyes, staring at him...and the tall figure that seemed to rise behind him.

He nearly fell as he turned around, his arm causing a few empty bottles of ale to smash into the ground. There, standing in front of him was a horrifying figure, its form was black, yet he could make out the features of two arms and four thin black tendrils, its thin head held only a hole where an eye should be, and a pair of hideous antlers. Unlike the world around him, it did not shift or churn, and that only made Axin far, far more scared.

”Who...who are you? he just barely managed to irk out, his mouth felt dry, and he was scared the words would erupt from his mouth and fall flat upon the ground.

The figure held out its hand towards him ”I, am a friend, I bring you no harm Axin, I only wish to aid you now that you have seen the light.”

”How...what….what's going on?”

”You, have been revealed to what the gods would not readily tell you, you, my dear child, have been gifted the sight beyond the falsehoods and lies, the true madness of this world has been revealed to you.”

”The...true…?” His head swiveled around to gaze upon his breathing house, was this, the way it had always been? ’Why...why would the gods hide this?

”Because, they are afraid” The figure spoke, suddenly an array of colours instead of the singular black, it was, dazzling. ”They are cowards who hide away in their grand temples and luxurious palaces, tell me, what have they ever done for you?”

His mind raced, the dazzling colours began to come off of the figure, and became balls of beautiful intensity. He remembered all the horrors of his life, the constant pain and suffering, no god came to aid him, no god gave him their boon, no god...had done anything for him. ”No...they have not, they’ve done...nothing for me”

”Exactly!” The figure loudly proclaimed, seemingly shaking the world with their voice ”And that is why, my dear Axin, you shall help me solve this problem.” It stepped forward, the hole of its eye staring at him with a fierce intensity.

”me? But...im nothing, i can’t do anything right!”

”Ah ah ah, not yet, but my dear Axin, there is a spark inside of you, that of magic, you’ve tried it that i know, and so, i shall give you a little boost.”

”Boost? Wh-” He barely had time to speak his mind before his world began to spin once more, the figure seemingly began to glow with a bright light, voices flooded into his mind as he once more collapsed, and once more, everything went dark.

He awoke a few minutes after, everything stood still, the figure was gone. But, he knew everything now, his mind raced with a thousand words, the truth, the lies, everything was revealed to him, the colours of the world were so beautiful, and he could no longer ignore them.

Once more, he got up, upon his table stood a small tome, carefully, he guided himself towards it and opened its blackened cover, inside were words, they detailed magical practices, yet, it was not full, probably to allow him to expand upon its contents. He slowly picked it up, hugging it close to his chest.

He needed to get out of here.

He rushed around his house, grabbing his clothing and what little possessions he owned, shoving them all into a pack he carried with him, he grabbed his bedroll, pipe, food(what he had left), his wide brimmed hat that dazzled with a bright purple colour now, all his various herbs and texts about them, and his uncle’s sword, the only possession left to him by his family, he knew somewhat how to use it, but hoped it would never come to that.

With everything grabbed, which said more about his state of life that it all fit within one pack and two satchels. He stepped outside his house, the night sky stood above him, a dazzling aurora danced across it, how, how could the gods hide something so beautiful?

He slowly creeped outside, he could see the lights of the village close by, a small dirt road leading inwards...no one would miss him if he vanished. And so, he krept beyond, going towards the great wide plains of their homelands, knowing he would find other notes of civilizations somewhere.

But, he stopped just before leaving the outskirts of town fully, in the edge of his vision, he saw the local temple, dedicated to that great goddess of love...perhaps…a test was in order? The being had said he had been given a little boost, so, it was acceptable to see what that meant.

Axin quickly pulled out the black tome, flipping through its pages until he came upon the one he wanted, a spell for a bolt of lightning, this would be perfect. He raised his hand, softly speaking the words required as stated within the tome, he could feel the power and energy shift within his hand as it began to crackle with static and lightning. With a smirk he spoke the last words, and launched the bolt forward, towards the wooden and stone building.

It was far more than he had expected.

Instead of causing some minor damage like he had thought it would, the bolt instead seemed to grow far more powerful as it streaked across the night, by the time it cracked into the wall of the temple it had the force of a natural bolt of lightning, and some more. It erupted into a mighty crack, sending bits of stone and wooden splinters flying as it exploded with might and fury, utterly destroying the close side of the temple, and flying further beyond, making a similar hole on the other side.

In an instant Axin heard cries and noise, the people had very much noticed, some already began to rush towards the temple to see what had happened. And this, this was his cue to leave, and quickly. He ran back out towards the outskirts and plains, keeping his head down and hoping he would not be spotted running from the scene of the crime. He did not stop until the village was most definitely out of view.

He slumped onto the ground, uttering a large sigh, figuring this is where he would camp for now. He slowly gathered a few loose stones, some from the temple, to form a small campfire, and decided to test his magic once more with a fire starting spell. Yet, this time, when he casted the spell, it merely sparked and fizzled out, which only confused the mage. He tried again and again, until the fire erupted in great fury, almost burning him and the plains nearby.

As soon as he had recovered from his heart attack, Axin looked at his tome, this would prove to be, an interesting experience.

Somewhere beyond, a cackle rang across the night.




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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Based and RPilled

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The Reconquest 2 - Stories from a War-Torn Land



Year 29AA, in the fortified fishing village of Scawick, situated on shore northeast of Ha-Dûna...

It had been hard to get Scawick to join the Dûnan forces, - even harder, perhaps, had it been to have the village function as the second headquarters for the resistance against the Sigeran influence. The Scawicks were Dûnans once, among the first to emigrate from the settlement proper only five years after its founding. Led by the Old Elk Scawick, this small band of eight or so families ventured out east to the shores north of Ha-Dûna, where they lived in peace and quiet reaping the fruits of the land and sea.

That was until the Conquests, anyway. The druids weren’t always so clear on the fact that many of the tribes slaughtered during the conquests two years ago had, in fact, been Dûnan descendants - barely even one generation apart. Many had recognised each other, even in the heat of battle, but the mentality of the raging mob can sway even the strongest hearts. Those few who insisted on laying down their arms so they would not strike another Dûnan were themselves struck down. Before every assault, there would always be those who snuck over to the villages to warn them of the impending attacks - many of these were caught and executed for treason; sometimes, though, they got away with it scot-free.

Boudicca had, and she was remembered for it. The assault on Scawick hadn’t been as destructive as others exactly because the townsfolk had escaped before the break of dawn and avoided most of the raiders. Many houses had been burned to the ground, but the lack of opposition had meant the assault itself had spared much of what would normally have been used for barricades, improvised safehouses and walls. Only a quarter of Scawick had fallen to the torch - not a single inhabitant had been killed. The following winter had been harsh, as the larders had all been emptied, and many had starved or been forced to cannibalise their dead. The wounds still ran deep, and the Dûnans who had participated in the Conquests felt the Scawicks’ eyes burn at their skin with every turn.

Only Boudicca was accepted amongst them, though her role as the mediator between the tribes put her in a precarious position. Frequently, she had to pull apart Scawicks and Dûnans who were at each other's’ throats over the pettiest things - a Dûnan had an extra ladle of herbal gruel; a Scawick got a little too cheeky with their tone; even something so insignificant as exchanging the wrong looks could ignite a street brawl with many casualties.

A month had passed since they had heard anything from the west - the Sigerans were tired, broken. Boudicca and the rest knew they only really had to wait and their victory would be within their grasp. However, even the raids for supplies had grown scarcer. They were planning something…




Meanwhile in Ha-Dûna...

Ragnar sat on the steps of what had once been a prominent glassworks - only ghosts lived in its dusty halls now. It sat a mere hundred paces from the palisade gates to the inner city, though “city” was hardly a term for it anymore: Ha-Dûna was barely inhabited these days; most of the Sigerans had, in fact, deserted or passed away. Ragnar the Black Hog and his Stone Boars were the only real soldiers left in the ruins; staying around was a death sentence, after all - unfit for anyone but warriors fighting for…

For what, really? Ragnar asked himself.

The Dûnans had every advantage, even more than they knew about: Their chain of command had been shattered weeks ago - Teagan laid weak in bed, starvation finally catching up to her, too; the need to raid to sustain themselves had left their forces scattered and unorganised; they had no way of replenishing lost warriors, as they had no allies anywhere.

Ragnar plucked a straw from the ground and placed it between his teeth. giving it a pensive chew. Maybe he should just take his men and leave? Their talents were too good to be wasted dying for some fanatical cause, anyway - they’d find work somewhere else.

He heard footsteps approaching from around the corner. Ragnar’s shadowed eyes rolled rightwards, homing in on the corner. He gave the straw another chew and spat it out. “Karstein, did you bring some gruel for me, too? I’m starvin’.”

“No, afraid not - little to cook gruel off of in these ravaged lands,” came an unfamiliar voice like satin. Ragnar quickened to his feet and reached for the worn copper axe on his belt. His hands grew weak when he saw the voice’s owner turn the corner. It was humanoid, no doubt about it, but it was tall - enormous, even. Boudicca and Frode both had no chance to even compare to this size. Its skin was pale, bleak, even, as though it belonged to a corpse, with hair blacker than coal running down to its bear chest. Most notably, however, was its grand wings - spanning a greater length than it itself was tall - sprouting out its back. The creature looked similar to a man in every respect save for those, and it offered Ragnar a sly smirk. “Why, you look positively shook, humani - paler than me, almost.”

“W-what--...” Ragnar, who had barely ever known the sensation of fear, replied in a quivering voice.

What am I, I reckon you’re asking? Quite rude, as far as opening questions go - I am very much a person, you know, so the correct thing to ask first would be ‘who are you’. But fine, I will answer the question to put your simple humani mind to rest. I am aiviri, a son of Neiya and Oraelia - though I suppose my lighter siblings would call me neiyari…” He huffed somewhat.

“Wh-wha?” Ragnar offered again, but was interrupted by a ‘ssh!’

“Again with the rudeness, by the Goddess!” The neiyari exhaled some hot air and rubbed his right temple. “I can see you are only more confused, so I will introduce myself to you, as well, as a bonus before… Well, we’ll get there.”

The warrior began to back away slowly. Others had caught the black angel in their sights and were hunkering down in wary preparation for a fight. The neiyari cleared his throat. “I am Annihilari, eternal servant of the Goddess and consort of her holy child, Aveira, my heart and soul.” He posed triumphantly with a fist in the air and his wings spread out. “I was sent away on a quest to bring more servants until her glorious heel, and that was when I stumbled upon this… Humble village.”

“Don’t make light of our plight, demon!” came a sharp exclamation from the back. Annihilari turned to smirk.

“Wo-ho, a rebel, I see. Well, nothing quite like putting down the uprisers on the first day.” He reached down to his hip, around which was tied a skin belt holding aloft his linen pants. A mighty flash blinded the nearest Sigerans and those in the back joined in as the angel unfurled a terrifying whip of light and cracked it against the ground. The dry grass growing on the dirt road was immediately singed to a crisp. “Now, who was it that called me a demon?”

“Wait!” shouted Ragnar and lifted his hands up in the air. Annihilari rolled his eyes.

“Would a ‘please’ kill you?”

“Please! Don’t- don’t kill us! We, we barely have enough to scavenge for food without letting those, those… The others come and take our, our…” He looked away, unable to meet the smirking aiviri’s eyes.

“My, my,” mumbled the angel and hid his inferno of a whip behind a wing. “Is your home under threat from an outside force, hmm?”

“You’re here to enslave us, yes?” Ragnar continued. Annihilari’s smirk turned to a furious snarl for a second and he spread his wings in a mighty challenge.

“Do not belittle my motivation as some simple prisoner run, you measly worm, you unwashed ape!” He then shrunk back together again and cleared his throat. “But that about sums it up, yes.”

Ragnar and the others, on the other hand, tried their best to grow back into something resembling an upright position. “W-well… I-if you help us against our enemies, then, then we will come with you freely. No, no need to kill anyone and, well, me and my men, specifically, can probably offer you some support in battle if you--”

“I don’t think so, insect,” he muttered. Ragnar shrunk a little and the others around began to say their prayers. Annihilari rolled his eyes again. “Although, I suppose Aveira would prefer her servants to be alive and well - she has such a good heart, my love.” He sighed dreamily. “So be it, you hapless parasite. Me and my followers will spare you and aid you in your troubles in exchange for your cooperation.”

“Wait, followers?!” came a shout. Annihilari put his smirk back on.

“Why, of course! These are dangerous lands - one should never travel alone.” As he finished his sentence, there came fourteen more like him, both males and females, descending from the sky. The Sigerans quivered behind cover and Ragnar swallowed. How much more would they suffer?




The northern border of Ha-Dûna was scarcely protected at this point - with the limited manpower and shattered morale, the Sigerans were forced to keep their warriors fixed on the fronts most likely to be attacked - those being the south and east. The north was offered a single guard, one who often needed a companion to make sure they wouldn’t defect as soon as their shift began. A lone spearman sat atop the large rock designated as the watch spot, scouting the vast, hilly highlands which were beginning to whiten with the first autumn snow. Not a soul would wander these plains nowadays, save maybe for elk herds and wild goats.

However, today, the spearman spotted something vastly different.

At first, he thought it was an elk, its head was elk-like that's for sure, minus the skin, but the rest sure as all Dûna wasn’t. It walked upright, merely strolling without a care in the world, but its legs were hooved. The being wore haggard clothing, a long cloak, tunic, and pants that looked sewn together from various clothes and he could see the image of a pack on their back. The most concerning portions were the head, which looked like an elk-skull put onto a human body, with wicked sharp teeth sitting within its mouth instead and dried blood caked upon it, and the rusted and bloodied scythe that was held in their left hand.

In essence, he saw what he could only assume was an utter demonic entity.

The spearman ran - or at least that’s what his brain told him to do. His feet had frozen completely to the ground, and his quivering hands could barely keep a proper grip around the shaft of his weapon. He only stood there, watching as the monster came closer and closer.

Soon enough, it stood a few scant feet from him, its breath was heavy and haggard and the small dim eyes he could see within its empty sockets stared at him with hunger and fury.

”Ha...Dûna...” A voice rang out, its voice he believed, it was deep and harsh, and further scared him to his spot.

The spearman lifted a quivering finger pointing southwards, gesturing to a thin, rocky path leading up into the hills.

”Thank...you…” Its voice rang out once more, as it continued its trudging walk, going past the guard with little care, its scythe carving its own small ditch behind them. As they continued up the path, stone and grass started sprouting the ruins of abandoned farms and broken huts. Scavenging wolverines stealthed between the buildings with bones in their mouths; animal skeletons stripped bare down to the marrow littered the corners of the path; fields that would have been at the end of their ripeness cycle at this time, though still quite plump, had been picked down to the straw by rabid locusts. The land was, by all means, alive - but it was a desert to anything living off of it. The ruins formed a small hamlet, and further along the path, the monster could see the broken houses grow numerous, until its eyes set upon the peak of the hill, where the edge of the ghost town Ha-Dûna truly came into view. The creature cared not for the destruction around it, it had called them yes, but the city was its focus.

As it advanced into the city, the houses became better maintained, though the general condition bordered heavily on close to collapse. Around it, starved people dared to look upon it before ducking back into hiding. It wasn’t until the creature had reached the city centre, there in front of the palisades to the core district, that people actively stared at it. Here, the density of people was great enough that, while none felt safe, they could at least rely on each other for a smidge of protection - or so they believed, anyway. A winged humanoid landed on the ground before the gate, a radiant whip held readily in his right hand.

“Halt, creature - what business have you here?”

”Called...forth...why you, here?” The creature looked around as it spoke, staring down the starved people, the hunger called inside them, but these people were worth nothing to them, this winged being though called its attention. The master was ever curious in their quest here.

The black angel pursed his lips. “I am here on royal decree by my love Aveira - I am Annihilari, her consort - sent to claim more land for the Goddess. Who called you?”

”The Master...lord of tragedy and ruin…” the beast once more looked around, and chuckled ”You...claim this land?...not worth...it…” they spoke, looking straight at Annihilari. The neiyari frowned.

“Alright, maybe not the land, but the people inhabiting it will become servants of Aveira once the southern threat has been dealt with.” He twirled his whip around slowly. “Now, why were you called here? If you serve the Lord of Ruin, then we do not wish to fight you - however, if you are out for blood, we will not hesitate to strike you down.” From inside the city core, fourteen more angels took to the skies.

The creature laughed at the angel’s display ”Winged flesh does...not scare me..the Master...has called me here...don’t know why...I...do not care...I hunger for feast...and feast alone...but...these...people...lack in feast…” The beast stared once more at the starving people, his hunger was slowly growing, the elk he had eaten before coming here were not filling enough, but he knew these people wouldn’t be either.

The Sigerans cowered away from the two. “Please! We just want to live in peace! We’ve suffered enough for our sins - we just want to be left alone!” Annihilari rolled his eyes and sighed.

“They’re so broken that it’s hardly fun anymore. If you’re going to go on a rampage, take it southwards - the prey there’s much more fun to play with, I reckon.”

”South...wards” The beast looked vaguely in that direction ”What...is...southwards?” knowing there was, tastier, prey made him consider this ‘quest’ less of a lost cause.

Annihilari shrugged. “From what these people have told me over the last two days we’ve been here, ‘the believers in the false gods’ live to the south, readying themselves to attack at any point. They are vastly more numerous than these people here, and much better armed - and better fed. Really, it’s a wonder that these people haven’t surrenderyet.” The Sigerans around shrunk together. Some began to cry. “Oh, shut up,” Annihilari muttered.

The beast scoffed, then slowly shook his head "Large...Armed...dangerous hunt...could not...damage in ways that mattered." He slowly drew his scythe upwards, resting it upon his left shoulder "Better...to stay here...or hunt...surrounding area...lack of food...could be...solved…"

“Food?! Do you know where there’s food?!” came desperate pleas from the humans, all of whom instantly grew much friendlier towards the monster.

He chuckled "Yes...but...must...broaden term...food" He gazed at the frightened villagers, then slowly looked up at the angels "If...provide help...could assist...winged flesh...and these...people"

The Sigerans fell to their knees. “Anything! Anything! We’re starving!”

"Are...there...any villages...or small groups...nearby?"

The humans immediately lost some vigour and exchanged anxious looks. One of them stood a little taller. “No, not many left… Closest would… Would be Fianneck, but that’ll take us too close to Scawick.”

“The infidels have a strong presence there,” added another.

”I see….” He looked back up towards the angels, and directed the lead one ”How….quiet...are winged flesh?”

“Quiet enough,” muttered Annihilari in response. “Don’t doubt our ability to ambush our foes.”

The beast nodded ”Very...good...two...or three...winged flesh with me....if quick and quiet enough...could get some food...might not be much...but it could be enough to satiate...for time until i gather...info for better hunts.”

The neiyari exchanged looks. “What, do you expect us to carry grain and cattle through the sky like some birds?”

“Oh, please, please - help us! We’ll die otherwise!” pleaded the humans. The neiyari got busy shoving away the most desperate, who were busily reaching for and aiming to kiss their feet.

“Ugh! Yuck, fine! Fine, we’ll do it. Just - get off!” Annihilari kicked a boney girl off of his leg and dusted himself off with an eyeroll. “Destrura, Pathora, come with me. Lead the way, monster.”

The beast chuckled at the neiyari, but focused himself upon the humans ”Which direction...is Fianneck?”

“Due east! Due east!”

“Due east, apparently,” came a mumble from the one either named Destrura or Pathora, who balanced her hands atop a pommel of a sheathed greatsword of sunlight. Annihilari sighed.

“Well, let’s get going, then - wouldn’t want the peasantry to starve.”

”Yes...let's...come winged flesh” The beast turned eastward, heading off, merely just expecting the neiyari to follow behind. The neiyari reluctantly followed along, though one could practically taste the bitterness in the air trailing them.




Further south, at Kirin’s Rest...

Within the stone walls, the city was overflowing with people and activity. Workers milled about, constantly needing to retrofit and repair houses and build upwards adding new stories connected by a hole in a cellar and a ladder loosely bound to the wall. Poles and other rudimentary support was used to hold up much of the town from collapsing in on itself, with was not an all too uncommon occurrence, however those who started making their life in the city knew to avoid buildings marked with red paint by the Midnight Watchers.

The market district is a clutter of stalls and baskets, mostly run by the third or fourth son of a farmer or craftsman selling their families goods. Rudimentary copper and silver coins were eagerly exchanged. The concept travelling along with the ever-shifting pilgrimage of the guiding lights to this remote corner of the highlands.

Kaer Pier eyed sourly a rack of elk jerky while scratching his stubbed jaw in annoyance. “Can you believe this, Valix? They want copper clumps in exchange for meat! Why, what manner of self-respecting druid carries metals in their pockets? Stones, I can understand - Boris can appreciate the odd spreading of gravel - but metal?”

“Yes, father,” responded the warrior Valix politely. They had been travelling to Kirin’s Rest by the long way, passing through as many villages on the way to garner support for the Dûnan cause. Now that they were finally here, though, they had hit a dead end: The leader of the ally they had hoped the most to recruit, the druids of the Guiding Lights circle, had yet to show themselves. This had Kaer Pier at the tip of his toes in frustration.

“Yes, that one - no, no, yea-- That one! Yes, thank you. One copper p--... I don’t--... Valix, do you carry any on you?” The druid’s palm flexed and unflexed its finger beckoningly like flower petals on the wind. The warrior suppressed a sigh and produced a bone carving - it was a figurine of an animal, a boar; it was masterfully carven, a product of weeks of work. Kaer Pier, as well as the merchant, both gave it a frown. “What’s this?”

“A boar, father. I carved it myself.”

“Is it copper, Valix?”

The warrior couldn’t suppress this sigh. “No, father. It’s bone.”

“The merchant didn’t ask for bone, though, did he?”

“Now, hold on,” mumbled the merchant behind them and snapped his fingers at the figurine. Kaer Pier handed it to him and he gave it a close look. “You said you wanted one piece of jerky for this?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I did. Does nobody listen in this town?” Heads around began to turn and frown. Valix sighed yet again. The merchant seemed unfazed.

“Well, I’m willing to take this if that’s all you want. Here you go.” The merchant handed Kaer Pier a slab of rockhard meat. “Have a good day, and may hope never leave you!”

The archdruid seemed to calm down and nodded his polite farewells before walking off, followed closely by Valix. “What was -that- all about? If he was willing to take other things, why not just say so from the beginning?”

“I believe my figurine could’ve fetched a higher price if we had sold it first,” added Valix matter-of-factly. Kaer Pier rolled his eyes.

“Southerners…”

The pair continued to peruse the town in search of temples or prayer houses to Seeros. Their search wasn’t very long, however, for as soon as they turned the corner of the jerky peddler’s shoppe, they were greeted by a sight that stole the breath from them both. It was a tower - the tallest structure any of them had seen - standing at least twelve men tall (no, fifteen!) and being built entirely out of stone. Kaer Pier staggered backwards at the sight and Valix tightened his grip about his spear shaft as though it calmed his nerves.

“By the gods,” whispered the archdruid, “is… Is that a tower?”

“That must’ve been what we saw from the outskirts. I thought my eyes were being cheated by weariness.” Valix gestured at it. “If their leader is here, I cannot think of any other place they would be.”

The druid whispered a small prayer. “A s-sensible assumption.” He swallowed. “You mean we have to climb that thing?”

“If heights make you uncomfortable--...”

“I have never been able to stare over the edge of the Cléanclippe, you know… Do you know what that’s like when we offer sacrifices over there?”

“I can only imagine,” mumbled the warrior and walked on ahead. The archdruid followed reluctantly.

The tower had no door, but standing in front of it, two men crossed their spears to prevent anyone from stumbling into it. Glaring into it, it appeared as the first room had small shrines to each of the gods with a staircase wrapping around the floor leading to the next.

“Blessings of the gods upon you both,” greeted the archdruid and bowed curtly - not so much as to not compromise his station, however. Valix hammered his chest and bowed deeper. “We have travelled far with the humble intent to meet with the great leader of your Circle. Ha-Dûna is in peril, and we pray we may establish the old bonds our two sects shared before the betrayal of the Sigerans. Pray tell, is the archdruid at home?”

One of the guards, a younger man, almost shuttered out, “Archdruid at” before the other guard deathly glared at him and spoke up, “Please, step inside.” looking the younger soldier harshly again, “The attendants of the Nightward Tower will be with you shortly.” He said, lowering his spear before deeply bowing and walking inside, while his companion started the climb upwards.

The two nodded their thanks and, as they were left to wait, Kaer Pier offered a sigh of relief. “Thank the gods, they are coming to us!”

“Yes, father.”

After the wait, the young spearman, slightly patting, announced “Constellar Cionn and Watcher Gal are descending.” following him down to the ground floor was Cionn, wearing her constellar robes, Gal who wore black robes with a white crescent moon emblem on his left shoulder and various white dots throughout, and another soldier who wore more impressive armor than the other two guards and carried a bronze spear.

As she stepped down from the final step, she bowed every so slightly, “Hello, welcome to the Nightward Tower of Kirin’s Rest. Why did the stars bring you on this journey?”

Kaer Pier returned the bow, and Valix repeated the hammering of the chest and bent a knee. “Constellar, it is an honour,” greeted the archdruid. “May the Eight grant their warmest blessings on yourself, your family and all the wonderful villagers of Kirin’s Rest. I am Kaer Pier, archdruid of Ha-Dûna and officer of the Reconquest Army. I am joined by my trusty companion, Valix of Leothe, and together, we have come to reforge those broken bonds of old in an alliance against the Sigeran menace.”

“I am sorry. I do not have the authority required to help you in this manner.” Her eyes glanced away slightly and her voice became the slightest bit uneasy, “I was granted the greatest honor to attend to this holy place.”

“But, I have no greater power than any other Constellar. To claim otherwise would be transgressing the law of thirds. You are free to attempt to rally the citizens or other Constellars to your cause, however it may be more difficult than you seem to think. The Sigeran’s are withering while we are building and growing. Few here want to throw away their future for the memories of the past.”

The archdruid’s polite smile faltered immediately. “Do you mean to say that there is no chain of command here? Who do we talk to to bring Kirin’s Rest back into the fold, into the great family of Ha-Dûna?”

Cionn paused, “We are not without law, but it is not the Constellars who impose it. You can speak with the Queen, however, she is a native of this land and she did not think well of Ha-Dûna before the invasions.”

The archdruid’s face immediately excreted a layer of cold sweat. “Oh, a native…” He drew a deep breath. “I suppose we will have to try. It truly is a shame, though - we were so hoping for your assistance in this matter; the Constellar’s assistance.”

The ever-quiet Gal broke the silence, his voice was only barely above a whisper but still clearly audible, “Do not despair in this place of hope. The stars will move with you to battle, but that is where my sight ends.”

Kaer Pier raised a brow. “You must have good favour with great Seeros if you have such a sight, my son.”

He replied without an ounce of irony or malice, “I do.”

To this, the archdruid nodded politely. “Well, if there is nothing we can do, then, we will try our luck with the queen. I-...” He pursed his lips. “If the great kirin is asleep somewhere up there, present it an offering from me, please. I would have died had it not been for its rescue, so I am eternally indebted to it, and to Seeros.”

Cionn nodded affirmatively.

Gal took a cloth that was stashed within his sleeve and wrapped it around his eyes as a blindfold, “Please, follow me. I will take you to the Queen.” The Dûnans did as they were asked and followed along.

The watcher guided them through the narrow streets and tight corners of the city, easily navigating through it, avoiding uneven patches of ground and even some loose debris with ease. The streets were rather crowded, but they seemed to try to do their best to walk around him in equal parts respect and apprehension.

As they moved through the city, they reached a part of the city where there hardly any of the multi-story buildings common to the rest of it. Gal guided them to the largest of these single story buildings and rested his hand on the door before waiting a few moments, “You may enter.”

Kaer Pier took a deep breath. Valix’s stone face hardened further. “I’m not looking forward to this,” the archdruid muttered as they stepped inside.

“Right behind you, father,” the guard whispered politely.

Stepping forward was an uneasy feeling, as the ground was sloped downward slightly, with at the far back a woman sat on a throne of stones, beside her another much younger watcher by her side whispering something quietly to her. Above her painted on the wall was the visage of a boar. As they entered, she boisterously shouted, “And so the mighty Ha-Dûnans come to us for aid? The gods tell us to wipe out the festering wound that is the Sigerians, but why shouldn’t we salt the earth as we leave and be done with it.”

The archdruid frowned. “Great queen, we are honoured to be allowed into your house - under the rules of hospitality as dictated by the gods.” Valix sucked quietly on a tooth in disapproval.

“You don’t have to worry about me killing you.” she said, casually looking over to her crudely made but battle-tested club, “I won’t want to have your blood soaked over my nice floors. But tell me, why should we help you rebuild Ha-Dûna. When has Ha-Dûna ever been anything other than a blight on the highlands?”

The archdruid raised a brow. “I wouldn’t be so quick to anger if I remembered all the good brought to this land by Ha-Dûna, as well. Keep in mind that, before the arrival of my people, this place was nothing but stone and moss, spotted with small camps--” He was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder. Valix gave him a sharp look and the druid swallowed. “... Please, think of all the good our people has brought! We have brought trade, growth, knowledge and religion - much of which your people, too, have benefited greatly from.”

The queen scoffed, “The people of these stones and moss remember well who brought them those things, and it was most certainly not the Kiers and their rest houses.”

The archdruid rolled his eyes. “The resthouses supply hundreds of druids, many of whom have brought your compatriots great safety and prosperity, with the food and shelter necessary to live lives devoted entirely to the gods. Druids before it were forced to work the land alongside their studies - this puts too much pressure on god-fearing folk who have been tasked with keeping the peace in the land. You, too, must see that, that a civilisation such as ours must have such systems in place to keep our well-educated priesthood in good condition. It -is-, after all, the core of our people.”

:And those who wandered to our land performed the labor of the divine, and were provided the right hospitality, but tell me, what did you do to deserve to eat the fruits of the community?” the queen retorted.

The archdruid sighed. “Come now, great queen - you are the leader of your people; I am leader of mine. We both know that, if left to their own devices, the people will gather in no greater masses than small villages. To keep united, we must have a strong governmental model, and a government must be supplied with taxes - the resthouse system. Your town keeps only growing and growing - surely, you cannot expect that your companions in rulership will rule without compensation, can you?”

The queen glanced back at her weapon, “Do you know why I am the queen? Because the last person who carried that club fell dutifully in battle, and he gave me the privilege to carry it back and I was crowned in respect to the gods’ will. When I receive a feast, it is not only because I live for this city, but because I will die for it as well.”

The archdruid sighed. Valix remained steadfastly stone-faced. “I can see that we’re getting nowhere here. We are sorry for wasting your time…” He turned around halfway, but then stopped. “If I may offer a word of advice, however, from one ruler to another…”

The queen simply glared at him, not even trying to hide her contempt. The archdruid cracked a half-smirk. “Surround yourself with loyal, capable administrators and pay them well. With this many newcomers arriving at your gates every day, fewer and fewer are going to know about your deeds - the deeds of your forebears. You will need allies by your side when the unrest begins to grow.”

“Your rule is the reason that they are at my gates. We will meet the Sigerans in battle, we will generously allow you to reclaim what is left, but do not expect us to aid you any further. Now, my boundless patience is growing thin.” the queen replied.

“Generous, indeed,” thanked the archdruid and bowed. Valix followed suit. “We will bid our farewell, then. May the gods smile upon your efforts.” With that, they exited the hut.




East again of Ha-Dûna, outside the ruins of a village known as Ha-Saune...

Kelly gave the air a whiff, sighing somberly at the thick stench of char and death. They stood on the outskirts of the small village, a victim of the Conquest’s crusade across the central Dûnan plain. It had never been a wealthy settlement, necessarily, mostly on account of rocky soil that offered little to work with for the farmers, and not strategic enough a placement to draw traders and pilgrims. Still, it had been someone’s home, and now it wasn’t anymore. Kelly hated that she had grown numb to that initial sting of horror and sorrow upon seeing such destruction - she had spent the last two years, maybe longer, travelling these ravaged lands to do her duty as a Mother, but in all her time, she had never imagined she would grow used to the worst of it.

“Mother Kelly?”

She blinked and looked down into the face of Kaer Cwenn, a druid who was part of her rescue party. Kelly acknowledged her with a nod and turned to her group of ten - three druids, five warriors equipped with an assortment of different weapons, and another mother, Lon. “We’ll do this as we always do - me and Lon will be the eyes in the sky while Kaer Cwenn, Kaer Myvon and Kaer Semble tend to whatever wounded we may find. Zelda, you and your warriors, keep them safe.”

“As you wish, Mother Kelly,” confirmed the warrior. The plan then spun into motion as the Mothers took to the sky and fluttered in over the village. The ground troops advanced cautiously. From the sky, the village somehow seemed even more deserted, crumbled huts and broken roofs witnessed from an angle they hadn’t been built for. The mothborn drifted slowly to capture as many details as they could, but their hope hung by a thread - the last three villages had offered nothing but charred remains and starving hounds.

“Kelly! Below!”

Kelly spun her head in the direction of Lon’s finger. There, thankfully quite visible amongst the black sooted buildings - a blonde head, hiding from the warriors and druids. The closer she looked, the more heads Kelly saw - chestnut, bronze, copper, amber. She looked to Lon. “With me!” Then they both turned sharply and descended.

The two of them landed with two hard thumps on the stony ground, Lon rolling once to absorb the excess momentum. The crowd of heads turned to them and paled. A chorus of children all squealed in fear, and many began to cry and run. Lon and Kelly looked at one another quickly and waved their hands around. “No, wait! We’re not here to hurt you!”

“FOR HA-SAUNE!” came a shout behind them, followed by two more cries like it as Lon and Kelly turned to see three young boys, no older than thirteen, all run at them with copper axes much too large for them to wield. One of them wore a pouch with two holes in it for a helmet. Their swings went wide and then not wide enough, and Lon and Kelly gestured wildly for them to stop.

“Now hold on and listen, please!”

“YAGH!” came a cry from behind and Lon groaned sharply as she jumped back. Her moonsilver armour luckily managed to ricochet what would’ve been a fatal blow to the leg by a fourth combatant, a fifteen year old girl. A boy like her was hot on her heels, bringing his spear up for a stab at Lon’s chest. Lon inhaled sharply and fluttered her wings mightily, unleashing a column of moth dust over the attackers. All five of them fell asleep on the ground.

“Tansa!” came a weak squeal from the group of children as the rest joined the already crying ones.

Kelly groaned and approached slowly. “Please, would you just--!”

“Get away from them!” another voice ordered, and Lon and Kelly both readied another volley of dust. However, the owner of the voice ran straight past them and knelt down before the children, holding a spear of her own in the Mothers’ direction. “Don’t take one more step,” she snarled.

“Fionaaaa!” the children cried and embraced her from behind like a wave. The girl named Fiona, barely even sixteen, one could guess, offered the children a reassuring smile and softly pushed them back. “Don’t worry about me. Just head to the safehouse and wait there--!”

“Please, will you just LISTEN?!” Kelly shouted in a fit of frustration, one outraged enough to shake Fiona’s motherly determination. Lon, too, seemed uncharacteristically done with the whole shebang.

“To what? Your demands?” It was evident that Fiona had practiced her posture for just such an occasion.

“We are here to -help-! Heeelp! Is that so hard to understand? Ugh, where’s Kaer Cwenn to say the greetings?”

“Right here, Mother Kelly,” came a voice behind her and the mothkin jumped.

“How long have you been here?!”

“A short while.” The warriors all exchanged amused smirks while the druids Myvon and Semble both went to tend to the sleeping defenders.

“Don’t touch them!” shouted Fiona and brandished her spear menacingly, but Kaer Cwenn approached slowly and put down her tree branch staff on the way.

“Be calm, my daughter, we come in the gods’ peace. I am Kaer Cwenn, and these are the Mothers Kelly and Lon, champions of Gibbou and Artafax. We have come to rally support against the Sigeran onslaught, and to bring any refugees to safety back in Scawick. Please, are there any adults we can talk to?”

Fiona’s expression hardened. “Speaking.” Kaer Cwenn blinked.

“Are you the oldest one here?”

“Is that a problem?”

“No, no! It’s just that…” The Dûnans looked at the villagers’ small faces, aged everywhere between three and fourteen, the majority being younger than ten. “... Where are all your parents?”

Many of the children resumed their sobs, and the older ones tried to soothe them while suppressing their own sorrow. They failed miserably. Fiona glared daggers at Kaer Cwenn, who backed away slowly behind Kelly. “Where do you think?” She rose to her feet and patted a small boy clutching her thigh on the head. “It happened a month ago. A band of bandits came and took everything. All those who resisted, were killed without mercy. We, the youngest, were hidden away inside a safehouse until the raiders disappeared. When we came out, we--...” It looked like it demanded her every fibre not to break down. The Dûnans looked on in admiration as she held her ground without shedding so much as a tear, although she was shaking. “... We were all that’s left.”

“That’s…” Kelly and Lon felt like they had to cry for her. “That’s so awful,” sobbed Lon. Kelly nodded and wiped her own tears. Fiona looked somewhat more at ease upon seeing their reaction, before eyeing the sleeping five.

“I hope for your sakes that they will wake up again…” she threatened bitterly. Both Lon and Kelly waved in surrender.

“Oh yeah, oh yeah! We just needed them to stop for a bit! They’ll be back up soon, don’t worry.”

Fiona scowled, but untensed herself. “... Alright. You said you’re here to help us escape?”

Kelly nodded. “Yeah, yeah, that’s why we’re here. Is this all of you? We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready.”

Fiona shook her head. “No, there’s more of us.” She eyed Kaer Cwenn, who ducked a little further behind Kelly’s wing. “You, you’re a druid, right?”

Kaer Cwenn immediately jumped out of cover, and was quickly flanked by both Myvon and Semble. “Oh! Yes! Kaer Cwenn, at your service, my daughter.”

“Kaer Myvon.”

“Kaer Semble.”

Fiona bowed politely at the three of them. Kelly nodded approvingly at her manners. “I choose to trust you all, even though you are outsiders. The safehouse is just over here. That’s where we have our youngest and… And the sick.”

The druids’ optimism faded. “Understood. Take us there.” The Dûnans assisted the villagers in carrying the sleeping defenders and shepherding the children through the ruins until they reached a door in the mountain. Fiona gave the door a cryptic knock - three bangs followed by four taps, and a scrape of wood hinted that a great object was being moved. The door swung open to reveal a fourteen year old boy, hair blonde as wheat and one eye scarred blind by some old cut. He immediately froze upon seeing Fiona’s escort, but the girl knelt down and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Kyartan, they’re here to help us.”

The boy gaped slightly, upon which movement one could see that he had lost his tongue, too. The Dûnans cringed with anger - the Sigerans would pay for this. The young boy gestured for them to enter, and the group continued into a dark room lit only by the light of the doorway and a small crack in the cave ceiling. Lon gasped quietly.

“Do you sit here in complete darkness all day?”

“What choice to we have? If we light a fire, the smoke will reveal that there are people in here.” There came a series of weak coughs from the other end of the cave and Fiona hurried over, followed by the druids. With the light of the sun, Kaer Myvon conjured forth a smokeless flame in his palm with which he lit up the cave. It was small - much too small for the Dûnan party to stay here; however, for children, it was just the right size. Now, however, it was quite crowded. Fiona and the druids knelt down over a group of three babies, all of them wrapped cozily into animal pelts. One of them coughed weakly into Fiona’s face as she lifted her up motherly. “This is Dina, my cousin. She was my father’s sister’s daughter, before the raids… We have tried to care for her since, but it’s been hard to find food for her, for any of them. And now that winter’s coming…” She sniffed a little louder than she had expected to.

Kaer Cwenn nodded slowly. “I understand. Kaer Semble, if you would.”

Kaer Semble nodded slowly and started untying the knots around the neck of her robe. Kaer Cwenn gestured for Fiona to hand her Dina. “Kaer Semble had a daughter of her own not too many moons ago. She should still be able to feed the little ones.”

Fiona blinked and did as she was told. “You, you mean your child is at home without its mother?”

Kaer Semble scoffed. “You’re making it sound like it’s the end of the world. Don’t worry, her father’s at home - as are her brother and sister.”

“Then, then who’s feeding her?”

“Oh, my cousin takes care of that,” smiled the druid. “My duty comes first, after all. It’s the will of the gods. Ow! Don’t bite now!” She patted Dina softly on the head. Fiona blinked again, her frown hardening.

“As for the coughing…” mumbled Kaer Myvon and rummaged through his pouches. He eventually extracted a root and put it in his mouth, chewing it to paste while he cringed at the flavour.

“Lungweed,” explained Kaer Cwenn. “It helps with the coughing around this time of year. It’s incredibly bitter, though, so Dina better offer Myvon her thanks when she grows up.”

“This, ugh, this isn’t worthy of anything, Cwenn,” muttered her companion as he spat the paste into a wooden bowl and mixed it with some water from a skin, stirring it with his finger until it took on a soupy consistency. He then took a moment while the baby rested between eating to feed it to her. The flavour made her cry, and there came groans from the older children.

“There… We’ll have to keep feeding her on the way, but this should stave off the worst of it. Anyone else?”

“Here,” Fiona spoke softly, having shuffled over to a young boy who had been wrapped in several animal pelts. He looked to be sweating and his breathing was incredibly weak, barely noticeable. The druids’ expressions grimmed and Fiona’s paled as she saw them. “Is, is something wrong?”

Kaer Cwenn knelt down next to the boy and cupped her hand on his forehead. It burned, and the skin appeared almost scaly. She eyed Fiona and whispered, “Has he been acting strangely lately? Any sudden movements or tossing in his sleep?”

Fiona swallowed. “H-he, he was kicking and convulsing this morning… When he stopped, he seemed calmer.”

“Too calm, perhaps?”

Fiona held her breath and then nodded slowly. Kaer Cwenn nodded somberly. “I see. What’s his name?”

“Hama, son of Hasu and Kaer Fryd.”

“A druid’s son? Was his mother the village’s only druid?”

“Yes, Kaer Cwenn… She was part of the Circle of the Tall Stone. My cousin was her apprentice.”

The druid nodded. “Fiona, I’m… I’m sorry to say this, but…” She eyed Hama again. “... This young boy will not last the night.” Fiona drew a hacking breath, but her stone-hard demeanour kept her from breaking into tears.

“I…” She sniffed quitely. “... I understand.”

“If only we can come earlier, we--...”

“No, no… It’s not your fault. None of this would have happened if not for, for…” The girl grit her teeth and stood up, turning to Kelly. “Did you say you need warriors to fight the Sigerans?”

“That, we do,” nodded the Mother. “Do you wish to join us?”

“Yes. What they did to my people is unforgiveable - I hate them.”

“Now, now, Fiona, you mustn’t--”

“Then you’re welcome to come with us, newblood!” came a salute from the warriors in the back. Fiona nodded harshly and then returned to guiding the druids around to aid the sick. By nightfall, they had packed up and left the ruined village, carrying between them stretchers and pulling sleds and carts topped with babies, children and what supplies they had left. Ha-Saune’s chapter had ended, but its children would grow up to become warriors of Ha-Dûna.







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“Slaves! Buy your slaves here! They’re young! They’re strong! Obedient! Broken, by the promise of Sallazar. I promise you at least three years in the mine before they shall succumb!” All other slavers shouted some variation of this at the slave markets. Some slavers had to do with raised wooden platforms. Others, more established ones, had their own stone carved podium. Upon which the bound humans and goblins stood. Often in the presence of guards ready to throw a slave down to the ground should he choose to misbehave. City guards were patrolling the streets here as well in greater numbers.

Silas walked through the throng of people with relative ease. He grew up in the slave market. Where his father had often invested in mine-slaves. With a discerning eye the man knew which slaves to get and which to slip. It was the little things. Nails, teeth, hair. Disease was a wretched thing that could destroy even the best of stock. You wanted it nowhere near your slaves. His sapphire eyes darted form stone podium to stone podium in search of some good slaves to work in the Labyrinth. Hauling out that which was found, or perhaps serve as fodder during the exploration. They were, after all, just slaves.

“Anything catching your eye?” Asked Nidar, another Mystic who had been stalking the slave market for suitable stock. Silas shook his head. “I’ve found a handful of strong ones. Got two goblins as well.”

“Goblins are useless in the mines. How do you think they’ll perform in the ruins?” Asked Silas. Skeptical of his friend’s purchases.

“No worries. The goblins are a gift for father on the farms. He can always use some extra help. Anyway, I heard Fasthus has some new stock. Maybe we should go check that.”

“Should we really work with the mage poisoner?” Asked Silas, sounding quite apprehensive. Most of the nobles had no issue with Fasthus and his methods, but it irked the young Mystic quite a bit that his poison could render one’s magic entirely inert. Nidar didn’t seem to care though, as he was already heading for Fasthus’ podium. The stone carvings upon the podium were all about that one, red tree he had found as a sapling. The tree that allowed him to break mage-slaves. Opening up a whole new market for Anghebad. They weren’t exceptionally popular, but some nobles bought them as status symbols. On the two front corners of the podium stood two gnarly olive trees upholding the canopy. Allowing the slaver and his slaves some shade. Closer to the back there were various stone statues carved not in the shape of the usual olive trees but in the shape of the mystical tree of Fasthus. Around each were his more…exotic slaves chained.

As the two mystics walked past one of the more unassuming slaves, what might have once been a healthy young woman now ravaged by hunger and spite softly spoke, seemingly to nobody in particular in off-key sing-song whisper, “Deep blue eyes, and yet still so blind. The defiler will soon meet his fate, may this city go tumbling after.”

The two looked at each other. Their rather new, sapphire eyes definitely made them stand out from the crowd. Yet there was something odd about the woman. Beyond her ravaged looks. She would make a terrible house slave because of that alone. Her bindings didn’t help either. Two separate ropes around her arms were tightly drawn together. “Looks like Fasthus has trouble with one.” Nidar joked.

Silas was slightly more interested. His paranoia would not allow him to simply carry on after such a threat. The defiler? What did that even mean? He stepped in closer to the podium while yelling. “Fasthus! Who is that woman over there?”

Hiseras, one of Fasthus’ younger sons, walked up, “Father is doing business elsewhere. But that woman, I don’t know much about her except her ropes keep getting undone and she keeps saying weird things. Now, I don’t think you are here for gossip. What are you actually looking for?”

“Shut up.” Silas said as he crawled up the podium to get closer to the woman. Not a usual thing to do. Especially when not invited, but Silas knew he was protected by the Queen. All Mystics were. He stared the woman close in the eyes. “We got a gift from a god, mages are get tests and rewards from thin air and the ground just opened up. Revealing secrets older than our city. But I’m supposed to believe this is just coincidence?” He asked Hiseras, even though he was looking at the woman. His intuition was screeching in his mind. “Tell me about the defiler.” He finally asked her.

The woman began giggling to herself, “You have the intelligence to solve any puzzle, but not the wisdom to know where the boundaries between are. You have received a gift from a god, but you are not the only one, nor is there only one god. Our meeting is as coincidental as the rain pouring upon the soil.”

Silas remained silent for a while. A group of people was gathering around the stone podium now as well. Curious after what was unfolding. “What’s your gift then?” He asked.

The woman seemed no more serious than before, “Why are you certain with the words of a slave. How could a slave know of the will of the gods unless they heard their voice? I am sure you are more interested in the words of the magisters and merchants. Some of them say that I am mad. Others say I am cursed. One claimed I was not human. None of them” her face began to sour for a moment, before suddenly smiling again, “claimed that I was gifted.”

“Magisters are too proud to admit others are better gifted at times.” Silas said. It wasn’t a lie. The first God-Forged spell wasn’t visible to the eldest of the Magister Caste. It was seen by a foreigner, Enura and a handful of younger mages. “Merchants only want silver. They’ll spin whatever story they have to.” He continued as he examined the woman. “You… can do things. Can’t you? Tell me about it.” Right then Hiseras tried to interject. Raising only a finger but Silas saw it. He turned and snapped: “Shut! Up!” Before calmly turning back to the slave woman. “Tell me what you can do.”

The woman's voice lowered, but her tone became more naturally pleasant instead of the exaggerated happiness she spoke with before, “I can see beyond the walls. I can see beyond the sky. I can see how insignificant of a speck this city truly is.”

The Mystic smiled. Answers. Finally. And answers meant a reward. It was how you trained slaves, dogs and stupid people. So he held his hand over the strange woman’s bindings. Embers sizzled upon the ropes. Eating their way through the bindings until the woman was entirely free. “How do you see so far?” He nearly whispered. “Can you teach it?”

“I can not see into your maze. All I see is the dark, circular maw leading to violence and confusion, as well as the crystal which breathes, though it seems you have already slain several of those guardians.” she stated, seemingly uncaring that her ropes were burnt.

Nidar and Silas looked at eachother. Concern was all over their faces. She knew a lot for a slave. Too much even. Did she see the Labyrinth? No, no she had only arrived recently on the slave market. She had to have. Which meant she would’ve been a slave even before the Labyrinth appeared. “Find Hiseras. Tell him he got a customer for his slave. Pay whatever he asks. Don’t haggle.” Silas said. Even though Nidar and him were technically of the same rank the other still obeyed and walked away. Silans, meanwhile, turned back at the woman and repeated his question: “Can you teach us how to see so far out?”

The woman paused, “The price of my secrets is not my own freedom. Buy and free Anlil, and once she is safely free of this place and do so on the word of the sun, moon and stars, I shall tell you what I know regardless of whether it is kind to your ears. Do not think I can be deceived with hollow words or intentions.” she said, her eyes glaring into mystics.

Without hesitation Silas looked up and shouted: “Nidar! Free Anlil!” The word ‘free’ instantly caused a commotion. Slaves were rarely freed. It happened so little that there wasn’t even a formal way to do it. You just bought the slave and told them they were free.

“A-are you sure?” Nidar asked as he hurriedly came over. Together with Hiseras who heard silver speaking.

Silas didn’t doubt thought: “Do it. Buy her and free her.” Nidar and Hiseras began to exchange words about price. Hiseras because he knew he could milk this cow for all its worth and Nidar for not wanting to pay half his worth to free a single slave. Eventually, and still surprisingly quickly, the two came to an agreement, shook hands and Hiseras went to get Anlil. “She’s free.” Silas said.

The woman paused, seemingly as though the world faded her around her. “Take her one day away from the city and leave her there. I will tell you what I know, but I doubt you would wish for me to speak of such matters in public.”

“Indeed.” Silas said, nodding to Nidar. Who took the girl by the name of Anlil and led her away. Much to the amazement of the crowd that had gathered. In that confusion, Silas too took the strange woman with him. Heading towards the main gate as well. Only there their paths separated. Nidar took the girl over the main road. Which led to a handful of eastern tribes. Meanwhile Silas brought the mad woman to the Labyrinth itself. The place where the Queen herself was staying at for the most time now.

The woman convinced them to wait a day before discussing the matter, but she could stall them no longer, nor did she have any further need to. Whenever she finally started to explain herself, she started with, “As you might know, the gods stir once again. The callous one granted you your azure eyes, while the kindly one is the one who granted me my sight. My gift is a certain closeness to the gods that allows me to be aware of what only they can see. I can teach you how to grow closer to the kindly one, but it would be a pointless endeavor as not within his good graces.”

The woman was speaking in riddles though. Silas leaned in. “Who is the kindly one? What does he teach?” He asked. Meanwhile Enura, the queen, stood a bit behind him. Going back and forth. Restless but suspicious. The rest of the Mystics were away, tending to their duties. But those who passed couldn’t hide their curiosity.

“He is the lord that which is beyond the sun and moon, who governs over the magic which binds god and man in dialogue and who acts to grant guidance and preserve hope. But your simplistic understanding of him is as a cat who is merely the god of night. It is by his will that I can communicate with him, but understanding it and plucking at the magical threads that connect the near and far.” she stated.

The night cat? Silas turned towards Enura. Who was already shaking his head. This woman was spouting nonsense. And she seemed rather hellbent on insulting those who quite literally owned her. Only mad people had such confidence. Silas, resigning that his search might be for naught, stood up and approached his queen.

“Apologies.” He said, sincerely. “I thought we were on to something here but..”

“But she’s stark raving mad.” Enura was quick to add. Her piercing eyes still on the woman. “You’re sure Hiseras wasn’t spinning some tale about her unwinding her bindings? A ploy to profit from our curiosity?”

“I wouldn’t put it past his father.” Silas admitted, looking around almost in shame. He hated this feeling. To have been defeated. It was a costly lesson as well. “I want to keep going. See if we can’t at least squeeze something out of her. Something concrete. Something useful.”

The queen pondered for a second upon Silas’ insistence. “Very well. You got till midday. If she got nothing concrete, she goes underground as a hauler. But Silas, don’t let her spin you a story just because you bought her for too much. If she’s useless, she’s useless and you drop her like a rock. You understand?”

The Mystic just nodded and the queen left. Having no patience for wasted time. She returned to the Labyrinth. Silas for his part returned to the women. “My queen is getting impatient.” He looked up, trying to find the sun. “You don’t have much time left. Give us something concrete. Something we can learn.”

The woman seemed apathetic, “I have started to teach you, but I can’t force you to listen. I am doing this to repay a debt, and nothing more. Should you reject my words, so be it. But perhaps I should start with something simpler. Mana is everywhere and it is far more versatile than simply burning ropes. But your senses are not heightened to the point where you can properly leverage this. You are shouting for it to bind to your will where as a whisper would be far more effective.”

Silas genuinely laughed at her. Oh how wrong he was at the market. This woman. If he was amongst the magisters, her mere existence would be shameful for him. If he was a magister he would’ve killed her right here, right now. If only for her condescending nature and her straight up insults. “Sure, I am taught by the extension of the nameless one but I’m the one who uses his gift wrong.” He said with an almost mad laugh. “You know nothing and you have wasted my time.” Silas stood up with the intension of dragging her to the pit himself.

Instead, as he heard something. It called for him. Like faint whispers upon the wind. Not echoing but seemingly slowly drifting. They emanated from a piece of stone they had retrieved from the pit. A part of a golem. Like all parts, it was intricately carved but entirely solid. The part was close, so he approached it. Running his fingers over the carved glyphs. His mouth slowly moved, making sounds he did not recognize himself. But as quickly as the sensation came, it also vanished again.

The woman casually stated, “It seems as though the callous one has taken an interest in our conversation. If you will not listen to me, I can teach you how to listen to them.”

It was like coming down from a high. At first, the world felt open. Revealing its secrets to him. Then it vanished again. For a split second the world felt dull and empty but his normal senses returned. Showing him everything that was familiar. It was a start, and he would have to report it to Enura. But first he turned to look at the mad woman. “And why should I listen now?” He asked. “The callous one took an interest. Not your kindly one. What would you know of it?”

The woman replied, “I could sense their presence because they permitted me to sense their presence. My gift concerns magic and prayer, those do not change depending on who you pray to.”

“The Nameless One, your… callous one, he doesn’t answer prayers. He doesn’t listen to them. Never has. Not in 2000 years. You know how we know when stories are false? It’s when we hear a hero talked to the god of magic. Or real magic. So how can you help me? Because magic… and prayer just changed.” Silas said, sounding genuinely fed up with the woman.

The woman replied, “I do not pretend to know the whims of the callous one, but magic is like a web. I can show you how to see the individual threads and how to pluck them. While I imagine that this could be difficult to find anything in the grand web of creation this way, who do you think is at the center of the web?”



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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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The old wagon had been on the verge of needing replacement, held together only by the willpower of its previous owner and the raw nature of wood. Now that Ava was pulling it by herself, the journey was both slow going and exhausting. The blonde bandit had spent an inordinate amount of time questioning just what had occurred back there, and what madness possessed her to stay with the horned girl in the hours following the death of their respective friends. Every bone in her body said to ditch the bundle of trouble in a ditch and hightail it back to the Ketrefa slums outside the wall. The girl wanted away from there, though, and she felt compelled to see her to safety. Slowing down further thanks to the rough road and shortness of breath, Ava finally broke the silence between the two.

"Hey, Horns. You wanna get in on this cart-pulling? It's killing my back," she breathed with ragged breaths.

It was enough to break the girl out of her catatonic state, and judging by her voice, she wasn't happy. "My name isn't 'Horns'. Please refrain from calling me such. My name-"

"Alright, whatever you say. You gonna pull the cart or not?" Ava interjected quickly, eyes focused on the stony path leading through the woods.

"I think not. There's no way I could manage that heavy duty labor," the girl posited with a tone that shot deep into Ava's core. Should've just let her be back there. But no, she had to play righteous defender for the first time in her life. Ava sighed sharply and let the wagon roll to a stop. She released the wooden beams and nursed her hands with a deep sigh. Immediately the girl piped up again. "What? Why are we stopping?"

"Well, missy," Ava began as she cricked her neck back and forth. Every muscle in her upper body felt sore. "You said you ain't pulling the cart, and I'm spent. We're gonna have to sit tight until one of us starts dragging it again." She glanced over her shoulder and spotted the horned girl sitting at the very front of the wagon, bunched up in a variety of silks and quilts. Her scrunched up face made her displeasure clear, but also made her look like an indignant child.

"I told you we can't stop! It's imperative I reach my destination quickly," she huffed, and slung a lock of hair behind her ear.

Ava scoffed at her and leant against the cart's handle, crossing her arms soon after. "I don't even know where we're going. You wanna fill me in?"

"Teperia," affirmed the girl. "and uhm, from there, to the mountain pass southwards to uhh, Alsaaden and Karay."

Ava peered at the horned woman for a time before shrugging. "Never heard of it. You know the way?"

"No…" she admitted, and glanced down into the bunched up cloth as Ava sighed. "J-Justus… he has… had.. friends in Teperia. He knew the route. Before you killed him."

Ava grunted at that, tugging idly at her ratty tunic and readjusting the leather strap bearing her knife collection. "I didn't kill your friend, Horns. We both lost folk back there," she reprimanded solemnly. The girl frowned and nodded, but she didn't seem all that keen to equate the deaths with each other. "The fact remains we need to know where we're going. We've passed three turns and you've not said anything, so I figured you had it figured."

"I said I don't know!" the girl cried back with as much vitriol as she could muster and bunched up further in the cloth, wrapping her head up as if to hide.

"What are you, five?" Ava sighed. Everything she'd ever learned suggested getting rid of her, dropping the dead weight. Maybe she wasn't as scummy as she'd thought. Some kernel of morality compelled her to stay and figure it out. "...I guess we'll have to find a village and ask our way forwards. I'll take you to Teperia and your ex-friend's goons, unless you can find better transport before that. Then you pay me, and we part ways. Deal?"

No response. Ava queried her twice more to no avail. The blonde bandit huffed quietly and gripped the wagon's handles once more. "By all means, your majesty, let me take care of everything. No, no, no need to acknowledge your lowly servant," she muttered quietly before pulling the cart into motion again with a groan.




Another few hours of laborious exercise had passed, as Ava dutifully pulled the cart along the road, even as the sun slowly began to touch at the tops of the trees in the distance. "...Hey, A… A-Ava?" A voice piped up from the back of the cart, breaking the silence for the first time in hours.

"Oh, look who's talking again." Ava mustered as haughtily as she could, which she had to admit wasn't much. She had no idea how ordinary folk did labor like this all day, every day. It'd be the death of anyone.

"...I'm sorry for ignoring you. Stop the wagon?" the girl pleaded from her mountain of blankets.

"Ahh, no can do, Horns. Gotta make haste to Tepyria. Teferia? Onwards- to adventure." huffed Ava tiredly.

"Stop the wagon. I need to visit nature," the horned girl murmured a little louder over the creaking wheels.

Ava smirked. "No, got a good pace now. You've got a good view of the trees from there, I'm sure." In truth, she had nothing against stopping, but if she had to survive this brat she could at least have some fun.

"Stop the wagon, you vicious knave!" the horned girl cried out with surprising vigour and contempt, though it mostly made Ava ever more smug. Ava rolled the wagon to a merciful stop, and glanced back to see the girl cast off two of her blanket-layers to hurry down the back of the wagon and towards the edge of the forest.

A brief pang of worry set in. What if she'd led her out here only to run away? It was a fleeting doubt at best, and Ava comforted herself after making sure what little supplies they had were still in the wagon.

Ava barely had time to relax, however, before her ears picked up the rustle of branches and leaves, and the easily recognizable buzz of conversation. From the opposite direction. A branch broke somewhere off the right side of the road, and Ava felt a stone form in her gut. On a whim, she hurriedly scrambled for the food in the wagon, piling it into a bundle with an abandoned blanket. Slinging her care package over her shoulder, Ava vaulted the wooden handle and quickly skirted into the tree line, straight towards where the girl had gone off to.

She stumbled through a bush and around two trees when she almost bumped into the horned girl situated behind the last tree. A flash of skin under the messy layers, before the girl hurriedly tugged her blankets together. Her eyes went wide and her face burned with a fiery pink.

"What in the world do you think yo-mmmfhh!" she began as loudly as she could before Ava silenced her with a quick hand over the mouth, and then verbally shushed her as well. Not trusting the girl to listen to an explanation, Ava dragged her along as she made an effort to round the tree, and sink down behind the foliage and underbrush on the edge of the road. Only moments later, four people broke out of the forest's edge on the other side of the road - two men down a ways along the road, and another man and a woman straight beside the cart. Ava lowered herself to press down into the ground, and dragged the girl with her; the woman seemed less inspired to struggle when she saw the new arrivals, as the blonde bandit had suspected, though she wrested free from Ava's grip all the same after they'd both laid down.

The four new arrivals were all human, dressed in gear that immediately told Ava they were more than travelers; leather, weapons, heavy tunics. One of the men wore pieces of shiny silver metal from his shoulders and down along his upper arms, and had two plates on his thighs as well. Ava had never seen anything like it before, but it looked expensive. Only soldiers and nobles wore expensive things, and they didn't look much like nobles. Internally she cursed her luck. She hadn't put much stock in the talks of war, but it seemed the countryside wasn't as safe as she had thought.

The alleged soldiers gathered around the cart, with the armored one staying away to keep an eye on the forest. She couldn't hear much, but what little she did spoke of movement and sound. So they'd seen her escape into the forest. They knew she was here.

"What's going on?" the girl piped up beside her, tugging at the innermost of her layers - a bedsheet by the looks of it. She had enough wherewithal to whisper.

"Soldiers, I think. With any luck they won't go looking." Ava whispered back, carefully moving her arms to lay down properly while not breaking any branches or rustling leaves.

"Soldiers? Can't they help us get to Teperia? Or give us directions? We can reason with them," the girl persisted from Ava's side.

Ava considered the folly of the suggestion, and with it all her past run-ins with the brave soldiers of Ketrefa. They only ever came her way to spit, steal and ravage. With past experiences bitterly in mind, Ava sighed. "If you want to spend the rest of your days as a camp girl, by all means. You can't reason your way out of danger."

"I reasoned with you, didn't I?" the girl gave back a little too loud, and Ava quickly shushed her. That seemed to be the last straw, as the girl began to rise with an irritated sigh. Ava frowned and tried to stop her, but she slapped her hand away quickly before taking a few solid steps forward. The bushes rustled and the four alleged soldiers were immediately alerted to her presence. That didn't seem to dissuade the horned girl, and she steeled herself before wandering out onto the road with her layers wrapped tightly around her. Ava remained low. Maybe the girl was right. Maybe they'd just take her and leave Ava alone. Was she okay with that? She frowned, but decided that whatever happened was the girl's own damn fault.

The three closest rapidly closed the distance and the fourth moved closer as Ava's travelling companion struck up conversation. Ava could only make out bits and pieces, especially that of the loud-mouth girl who put way too much emphasis on imagined camaraderie and what was 'right', as she explained much of what had occurred, but did not appear to mention Ava. She couldn't hear the soldiers all that well, but she saw their eyes, and their movement. They glanced at each other, and at the horned girl. They had the same look in their eyes that Meren had had; they weren't listening to her, they were captivated by what could be. She had seen it before. People with power always took those opportunities. No exceptions.

The stone in Ava's gut grew but she remained still, watching the men and woman encircle the girl. The woman laid a hand on her arm, which seemed to jolt the girl back to reality, and stop her speech about helping her to Teperia dead in its tracks. A little more conversation, and the girl ripped her arm free and scolded them all. It didn’t exactly seem to dissuade them. If they thought she was alone, she might not survive the encounter at all. At best they’d bring her to their camp. Memories of Ketrefan soldiers flashed before her eyes, nights of alleged safety turned to terrifying horror in minutes. She tried to shake her head loose from the past to keep an eye on the situation. The soldiers were trying to convince her of something. Acting friendly but firm. Taking steps to touch her again. They spoke for a time, it felt like an eternity.

"Don't t-touch me! Get away from me!" The horned girl shouted as one of the men gripped her arm again. Ava frowned deeply, frozen in her hiding spot. She knew better than trying to outsmart or deal with those in power. It never worked. It always ended with pain. The three helped each other 'escorting' her towards the wagon. The girl struggled and shrieked. Ava's fists clenched, and she gritted her teeth until they hurt. Why couldn't she just have listened? "Ava! D-Do something! Av-" came a scream before being muffled by a hand. It was enough to make two of them look around.

Ava felt the same surreal sensation as before. For a few moments, her arms felt like they were floating on water, the world around her lost its scents and sounds. She felt her own heartbeat, and with it, a pounding need to help. It was more than help, it was her purpose. Her one goal. Feeling a cold sweat run over her forehead, Ava clambered up from her hideout and wrestled her way through branch and leaf to get to the road. Her direct approach full of sound and broken branches was enough to break the soldiers' focus on the girl, all eyes on Ava as she stepped out onto the road.

"What's this?" One of the men spoke up, a few-toothed older man that looked like he would fit right into the slums back in Ketrefa. "The more the merrier. We were about to return to camp. Don't worry," he said, and smiled in the same way nobles smiled at their slaves. "You're safe now. Lucky we found you."

"Take your hands off of the girl," Ava growled. She took a few steps forwards, reaching for the leather straps protecting her torso - and hiding her collection. The armored man gripped the girl and hoisted her into the wagon against her will, and stood there like he was guarding a treasure, while the other three turned towards Ava. Her hand found the hilt of her newest blade, seeking safety as she took another step forward. "If you leave now and leave us alone, no one has to get hurt."

The older man burst into a laugh, then subtly motioned to his two comrades. Ava wasn't a soldier, but she could tell a signal from a mile away. The soldier woman was the first to approach, one hand reached up towards Ava and the other on her side. The younger man very clearly had his hand on a blade, ready to draw. "There needn't be a lesson taught here, love. Let us take care of you both." The older man offered, and with it came a sharp nod. The two on his side burst forwards, both reaching for Ava in a quick attempt to tackle and grab her. Ready for trouble, Ava drew her newest blade to defend herself.

A spray of warm blood hit her in the face. A pained gasp reached her ears. In front of her, the two soldiers had flinched halfway through their charge, and the woman was already falling to the ground, limp. The man clutched at his throat with fear in his eyes. He stared at Ava as he too dropped to the ground, gurgling helplessly. The older man swore angrily behind them, drawing his own weapon before charging straight past his dying friends to close the distance between him and Ava.

Ava raised the long knife, ready to lunge at him in a quick strike. She knew she'd never outlast or outskill a soldier. Yet again the surreal sensation returned, washing over her other senses. As he barreled forward, her attention drew to his side, entirely open as his arm drew up in an attack. Time felt like it slowed as she moved her long knife straight towards the man's side. It connected before he ever had time to read her intent, and sheared deep into his side, stopping him mid-run as he collided with her. His weapon clattered to the ground as he gasped for air. Only then did Ava realize she had neatly missed every rib and punctured at least a lung from under his armpit. She drew the blade free in both shock and bitter fury, and the man tumbled to the ground with disbelief in his stare, joining his comrades.

"You damn bitch!" a voice roared from her side. She spun to see the last of the four, the man with shiny armor, careening towards her at a furious pace. Ava raised her knife again, feeling the strange ripple run along the hairs on her neck as she watched him move. Saw his every weakness. She jabbed the blade forward to sink it into his gut, feeling almost like she was in trance. Something guided her hand towards where it should go. But it was not enough. In an instant, a firm grip wrapped around her wrist, immediately breaking her out of her spellbound state.

The man had stopped the blade. His face was one of unyielding fury, and his hand on her arm felt like it would snap her bones. He screamed at her and the pain in her arm grew unbearable. Ava cried out in pain and felt the knife slip from her fingers. She swung with her other hand, and the man quickly brought up cold metal on his wrist to intercept it. It felt like striking a wall. He roared something incomprehensible at her and swung with fist straight at her face. A hot flash of pain spread through her face, blinding her. For a moment, the world was gone, and her head felt like it would split apart. She fell through an abyss; it felt as though she'd float in limbo forever. Then the ground smacked hard into her back, and the air left her lungs. She gasped for air, opening blurry eyes to see the man loom over her. He leaned down over her, his metal-sheathed knee weighing down hard on her thigh. Long fingers reached for her face before she could react, and she felt his coarse hands grip around her throat. A crushing pain burned over her shoulders, choking air and life alike out of her. White spots flared in her vision, and Ava struggled helplessly, grabbing at his hands to try and pry them open. She watched the hatred in his eyes, and felt fear and panic rise in her own body. She was going to die. She pawed at him weakly, chipping for air as best she could.

Almost like a miracle, his hands relented and his angered face turned to shock. Air surged back into her lungs in a brief reprieve, and Ava struggled out a few choked breaths. The man straightened out over her, arching his back and groaning loudly. Ava wasted no time. Weak fingers searched for the collection in her straps, and she slid out a bone knife and her first flint shiv. Fueled by fear and fury both, she stabbed forwards into his gut. And again. And again. The man swung a hand at her but it was too late. She stabbed until he stopped moving. When he fell aside, she caught sight of the long knife sticking out of the back of his shoulder. Ava breathed a rattling sigh of relief, feeling the pain in her wind pipe burn still.

The innocent face of the horned girl popped into view above her as silence returned around the wagon. Her eyes were big with fear, shame and shock. "A-Ava?"

"We need to get off the road," she replied as well as she could, each word a struggle. "Get the supplies in the woods. I'll take whatever they had."

"What? No, you should rest." the girl argued, even as she leaned down to start helping Ava up off the ground.

"I'll rest when we get there. We can't stay here, Horns." Ava breathed back and shrugged off the girl's hold. Tiredly she mosied over to the dead strangler, staring at the blade in his back. The only explanation was that the girl had waddled over in her blankets and picked it up to help. Ava chose not to remark on it, girl probably had enough thoughts to deal with.

"...It's Estrid." the girl admitted softly from behind her. "...Thank you. I don't know w-"

"Estrid," Ava interjected, glancing up at the horned girl from a squat beside the dead armored man, prying her long knife free. "Listen to me next time."









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The Reconquest 3 - Allies in Times of Darkness



Year 29AA, in the fortified fishing village of Scawick, situated on shore northeast of Ha-Dûna...

Boudicca slammed her fist into the peat wall, causing dirt to drizzle from the roof. Encircling her was a crowd of bitter men and women brandishing all sorts of improvised weaponry, and on the floor before her knelt two women, hair and face mucky and dusty from fighting on the ground. Their hands were tied and red - both with their own and with others’ blood. The two women stared at the floor with trembling eyes; their teeth ground together anxiously with tectonic might. The warrioress offered a low growl that made the two women flinch.

“... Why did you do it?”

Théin Boudicca, please, we--”

Boudicca hammered the thatch again. The crowd hissed down at the women. “Why?!”

“They talked down Kaer Wella! We couldn’t just stand there and--”

“We’re guests here, Gwynne! Guests! It takes every ounce of their good-heartedness not to butcher us all, do you understand? First the fights, and now…” She squeezed the bridge of her nose. “... A murder.”

“It wasn’t murder!” shouted the other one. Boudicca turned slowly, her wolfskin cloak adding predatory intent to her glare.

“Then what was it, Signe?”

“Justice!” she shouted. A quarter of the crowd shouted her down.

“JUSTICE?! Justice will come when your heads are spiked in the town square for all to see!” came a thundering voice. Bouddica stormed across the room to calm the rowdiest ones.

“Yes, yes! They will be punished, we’ll see to it!”

“Yes, but two lives for one?” came a voice from the other side of the hall. Boudicca turned to see the braided head, olive skin and scarred face of one Hilda the Leoness, a théin of Ha-Dûna like herself. The warrioress drew a deep breath - she had all sorts of respect for Hilda, but she couldn’t afford to let her pride compromise their goodwill with the Scawick - or whatever it was that they had.

“They both took part in the murder. They must both be held accountable,” retorted the warrioress. Murmurs of agreement came from the Scawickan quarter of the room. The Leoness remained visibly unconvinced.

“Listen, Boody. It is true that these two have committed a serious crime against our friends, the Scawicks…” The Scawicks growled; Hilda smirked, “... But again, to take two lives to pay for one is simply not just - no matter what sort of undûnan behaviour is expressed.” The Scawicks grew rowdier once more, and Boudicca had to physically step in between them and the rest of the room to avoid a bloodbath.

“What do you suggest we do, then, Hilda? Take their right hands as per the Dûnan law?”

“Just their hands?! They’re murderers!” the Scawicks roared.

“Now, now, let’s be rational about this. We’re in the middle of a war, and from what our scouts are telling us, more and more are joining this war as the days go by - and these new factions don’t necessarily have the best in mind for our people. Can we really afford to lose two of our best girls?”

“What?!” whispered Boudicca anxiously at her. Hilda didn’t look back, though; she was busy smirking at the seething Scawicks.

“By Taeg Eit, no! They are -not- walking free!”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Burud,” Hilda declared, “the Dûnans in this town outnumber the Scawicks by the double, almost.”

“Half of you are still suckling at your tits!” The most vocal of the Scawicks, a giant of a man with scars running across his exposed chest like a labyrinth, stomped forth from the crowd to stand toe to toe with Hilda, who while standing shorter than him, radiated a presence that easily brought her up to equal height, if not taller.

“-True- Dûnans can hold a spear from the age of three, loose arrows at the age of five. What can Scawicks do? Tie knots?”

A fist like a brick thundered against Hilda’s jaw, staggering her backwards. Burud’s attack was swiftly repaid with a spike-like knee to the groin. The Scawicks screamed their warcry and the Dûnans did the same, but just as the fists started flying, Boudicca blew the horn from her hip and immediately deafened out the brawl. Every face turned to her.

“STOP THIS!” she demanded. “We’re getting nowhere if we kill each other in the process. This is supposed to be an alliance! We’re all Dûnan here, and--”

Burud spat, the orb of phlegm hitting Boudicca on the cheek. The warrioress took a second to realise what had just occurred and slowly brought a hand to her face. “Typical Dûnan piss,” thundered the giant. Boudicca eyed him in shocked disbelief. The rest of the Scawicks exited the peat hall. “By midday, you’ll have brought us at least one of their heads. If not, we’ll show you what true Dûnans do to folk we hate.” With that, he, too, left the building.

His words weren’t given time to linger for even a second. As soon as he finished speaking, the Dûnans in the building broke into a frenzy, cursing and shouting at Boudicca for justice against the dishonour done unto her by Burud. Boudicca couldn’t hide it, either - her face had contorted into a black, furious scowl, eyes aimed at the doorway Burud was diving through. A hand touched her shoulder and Boudicca turned to see Hilda smiling supportively at her.

“There is nothing pettier than someone who spits in the face of someone as good-hearted as you, Boody.” Boudicca hissed and shrugged her hand off.

“This would not have happened if you hadn’t pissed him off!” At this, Hilda shrugged apathetically.

Scahicks are dumb as rocks - they’d be pissed off if we used big words.” She gently massaged her swollen cheek and licked at it from the inside. “Come on, you, too, knew this was inevitable. Dûnans, we… We’re just a little above these kinds of people. They know this, and it makes them jealous; so they act out. They would’ve known to keep their mouths shut if they hadn’t so… Conveniently… Been out fishing when we took this village all those years ago. Imagine that… A whole village - out fishing. Ain’t that something?”

Boudicca’s face turned to cold stone. “Yeah… It’s something.” Hilda raised a brow knowingly.

“Keep in mind who your friends are, sister. At least we have the proper breeding and culture to know to respect a woman’s honour.” She held up her palm. Boudicca eyed it briefly before clasping it with her own hand. Hilda smiled and pulled her in for a strong hug. When they separated again, Hilda looked at the seething crowd around them, then down at the two murderers and sighed. “How about you take a breather, hmm? You look exhausted. Go to your husband, see your daughter and your son. You’ve been working your damndest since we came here.”

Boudicca deflated a little. “Maybe… Maybe I should.”

Hilda smiled. “Do that. I’ll keep the gang under control. Don’t worry.”

“You will do that, right? Promise me.”

“Oh, yeah, I promise.”




Boudicca sat atop a small stone on a hill, surveying the sloping highlands further inland from the Scawick shore. On her lap sat her son, Boudin, reaching for the small flakes of snow falling slowly down from the heavens above. The warrioress was deep in thought, barely noticing when the infant would pull playfully at her braids and clothing. Every inch of her was screaming for her to go back - to make sure Hilda wasn’t doing anything foolish. However, other parts of her explained that she herself wasn’t the only moderate among the Dûnans, and that someone surely would stop her if she got too enthusiastic. But still…

A strange note rang out. Then another, louder but calm and it went on and on until a glow emerged on a hill down from her. The glow grew into a tear upon the fabric of the sky, suspended just above rock and stone. From this tear came golden light and then it grew larger still until at least it stood at a height taller then several men.

When it grew no larger, it came. Before her own eyes emerged a giant figure from the portal, made of the same substance, sunlight. He walked further ahead and stood silently, overlooking the land. Then that head turned to her and though the giant had no eyes she could feel its gaze.

Then they followed, not as tall as the giant but no less imposing. Striking golden hair, still taller than their tallest man, most wearing armor, all carrying weapons, carrying supplies and they still came by the dozens but most surprising… They had wings and they sang songs in a language she did not know but a song was a song and theirs was beautiful.

Yet besides this beauty, the giant still held its gaze to her and it was fast approaching. Boudicca nearly dropped her son as she fell backwards off the rock. Nestling her child as safely as she could on her left arm, she used her right to draw her sword, pointing it threateningly at the giant and its entourage.

“You stay back! Don’t come any closer, or by the gods, I swear you will be returned to whatever master you serve!”

The giant came closer still but did pause before her. It said nothing for several moments and then a voice akin to a roaring inferno boomed.

"The Sun Mother… Sends us… Are you… Friend or foe?" There was much weight to those words and now several of the winged beings had flown closer, hovering in the skies like vultures, hands upon hilts.

Boudicca’s stance faltered slightly; her blade lowered by a bare inch and her eyes hardened to study them some more. Then, as the initial shock of their appearance began to wear off, the blade sunk lower and lower. “The, the Sun Mother? Has Reiya sent her aid?” She fell to her knees, her child cooing giddily on her arm. “Forgive my actions, mighty one - I was caught off guard. I, like other Dûnans, are faithful servants of the Sun and all her creations.”

As the giant studied her, the winged beings relaxed as well when they saw her lower herself. The giant then spoke again. "Dûnan. Rise. Take us… To your people."

Boudicca rose slowly. “Y-yes! Of course! Follow me!” She sheathed the sword and hoisted her child onto her cloaked shoulder, making her way back towards the village by the water. It was a quick procession after the last of the winged beings had come through the portal. She could hardly count their number but it had to be in the hundreds. They came with a great many supplies as well and everything about them was somehow taller and larger. The giant lumbered at the front, with several golden winged beings. She felt fairly confident when in their presence but though they seemed curious about her, they did not at all seem surprised to see her.

When they neared the village the giant spoke again. "Bring… Your people… To me."

“Understood.” She hurried into the village through the stone gates. Regardless of who she was supposed to bring back, though, the whole population eventually came running to witness the miracle that was the giant’s arrival. Boudicca managed to shepherd the Dûnans into a separate group from the Scawicks, and sparks flew between the groups. Like Burud had pointed out earlier, one half of the Dûnans was indeed made up of mostly children, from infant to middle teenagers. The rest was a much more diverse mix of all ages, though most were young adults. Still, the adult portion was as large on its own as the whole of Scawick’s population, and the locals seemed shamefully aware of it even as they glared threateningly at their guests. Boudicca took a deep breath and stepped forth, gesturing to her half of the populace. “Here they are - every Dûnan in town. What do you wish of us, great one?”

The giant stepped forward and clapped its hands once. New realization fell upon her and she knew she would be able to understand the beings… The Oraeliari. The giant clapped again and a beam of light touched the earth between the two groups. When it faded, a pile of sunlight weapons lay in a pile, gleaming bright. A third clap and a stone building erupted from the ground inside the villages walls. Another clap, but nothing of note changed before there eyes. Then the giant clapped again and another beam of light landed, this one closer to the Oraeliari. When it faded, a pile of red rocks was visible. The giants hands went down to his sides and there was silence at last. From the ranks of the Oraeliari, there with golden wings flew forth and landed in front of them. One stepped forth, wearing armor of bronze.

"Hello Humani. We are the Oraeliari, hailing from a land known as the Luminant. We have heard your plea and Solari has answered in the name of Oraeliara. I am Cardinal Tevuri, this is Cardinals Amara and Ponfiri. We have come to aid you in the name of Oraeliara, your Sun Mother. We hope to bring about a sort of, alliance between fellow worshippers. What say you?" He asked with a warm smile.

The Dûnans all fell to their knees and raised their hands in praise. Even the children were forced to join the adults as to show respect. Many tried to struggle free. The druids amongst them tried to shuffle their way closer, all while dipping even deeper in their gesture of worship than their peers. “I am Boudicca, good cardinal, théin of Ha-Dûna. We wholeheartedly accept your aid, fellow servants of Reiya,” Boudicca thanked deeply. She drew her sword, balanced her son a little better on her shoulder and stabbed the point into the soil. “You have been good to us even though we did not ask - of course we will help you in turn with whatever you may wish, in good faith.”

“Now hold on just a damned minute!” came a furious roar from the opposite side of the gathered people. Boudicca and the Dûnans turned in angered surprise. The Cardinals turned their heads in unison to shouter but gave no reply.

The voice belonged to Burud, and the Scawicks had already lined up with weapons drawn. “What in condemnation is this? You, you’ve come to help -them-?! Even though we have been faithful to Reiya for just as long, you come in -their- hour of need?!”

“Be silent, Burud! You are disrespecting our allies!” warned Boudicca. Burud spat.

“Where were you two years past when these very same Dûnans burned our homes and butchered our neighbours?! Where were these weapons when we couldn’t defend ourselves from bandits in the gruesome winter thereafter?!” A young man, no older than eighteen, came running out the gate.

“The stone house! The stone house is filled to the brim with grain, with carrots and beets! Our winter is saved!” Burud’s face showed not a smidge of joy; in fact, like the other Scawicks, he only grew angrier.

“Where was the food when these Dûnans took it in the war, forcing us to starve for the whole winter?! We are only as few as we are now because of -them-!”

“Burud, calm yourself!” shouted Boudicca, but the Dûnans, too, began reaching for their own weapons.

Tevuri's smile faded, replaced by a worn down frown. He sighed, "We were fighting a different war, your conflict unknown to us." The other Cardinals gave solemn nods. "Please, there is no need for violence. We come to help all Humani now, not just one faction or another. We do not know your pasts and we do not know your pains but if you wish to blame us for your struggles, you may. We will help you now, in any way we can, for this is what Oraeliara- Your Reiya, would want. Is it not?"

Burud pointed his axe at Tevuri, then back down at the Dûnans, who had begun pushing the children and their caretakers behind them. “I don’t give a damn what the will of Reiya is if all she wants is to support these fuckers. You won’t steal their blame from them with your honeyed words - they’ve beaten us, stepped on us and killed us, and we can’t even be given justice without some messenger claiming to be from the gods swooping in to give them yet another gift for their piety!”

“Well, we -are- the chosen people, Burud,” taunted Hilda as she stepped forward to extract a spear from the pile of sunlight weapons. “I see this as nothing but proof.”

“You filthy broad!” thundered the giant and charged at her.

Tevuri was faster. In an instant a fiery sword erupted from his hand and swung it at Burud's axe, casting it from his hands. He then grabbed the man by his shirt and pulled him in close.

"Do not speak ill of our Goddess again, Burud. I say this for your own sake, for her avatar listens even now." He released him but did not move. "You are angry, you want justice, I understand this but you are at war with an enemy who will use every advantage against you. More loss of life will not help you, but it will help them." He raised his voice. "But this wrong will be righted, one way or another! I swear upon the Goddess that we will see it so, by any means but it must not be now. When this conflict ends, you will have your justice, reparations will be made. But I beg you, please, you must wait."

Burud scoffed mockingly and stepped backwards to the other Scawicks. “So that’s it, then, hmm? We’re… Hostages, in our own homes, no less. The Dûnans have free reign to do as they please, and we have to wait with our justice.” The Scawicks were practically foaming at the mouth. “Oh, you bet we will have our justice, Cardinal.” He picked up his axe on the way and pointed it at Hilda. “We will not rest until we have our heads.”

Hilda rolled her eyes, and many Dûnans laughed. “You keep telling yourselves that. Great Tevuri, please - allow us to show you to a suitable area for you to rest. Have you brought your own tents and the like?” Meanwhile, the Scawicks retreated back into town with furious stomps.

Tevuri said nothing for a moment, deep in thought as he was. He whispered suddenly, "Even now you are unworthy of her gifts." Then he shouted, "Very well! You," He pointed at the Dûnans. "Gather your items, I have seen such a look before and there will be no peace between you and them. We are leaving. Burud!" He yelled after the man, "Take your village, keep the food and may the Goddess protect you." He then nodded at the other two Cardinals and they flew off.

Boudicca and the others blinked. “Wait, are you leaving? Are we all leaving?” They suddenly got incredibly busy rushing to pack.

"We have not the time for infighting. But make no mistake, one day you will have to pay for your crimes. We all do, in the end." He said, watching them go. The Dûnans shrugged and hasted to gather as much of the supplies the town has just been blessed with as they could. They took all the sunforged weapons, as well, and pocketed what remained of the sun rocks left from the Oraeliari. The Scawicks didn’t dare to protest, as they feared the Dûnans’ new allies would retaliate on their behalf. Even Burud and his closest didn’t outright attack, but kept shouting curses and threats after them. After two hours or so, the Dûnans were ready to move, Boudicca and Hilda leading the travelling band.

The host of Oraeliari and Dûnans then marched off, leaving the village of Scawick behind. The giant was the last to leave, having watched it all unfold with an ever impassive gaze, before meandering after the group.




Days went by and they traveled southwest, deeper into the Highlands. Soluri guided them now, and both human and aiviri followed. They shared stories, shared food, and learned from one another. All the while, Tevuri and the Cardinals held private discussions, asking of Ha-Dûna from time to time. Perhaps they were shaken by what they saw, or perhaps it was something more, no one could really know for sure. They were there to put a stop to the false worshippers, human agendas and crimes would have to wait. Right?

Upon the seventh day of travel, the giant stopped upon a bluff overlooking more hills. It was there he raised his hands and brought his hands together like a clap of thunder.

What rose from the ground before them was breathtaking.

A large castle with a great hall and many towers, seeped in the warm glow of yellow light. It towered over the land like a beacon for the lost. Around it a good ways erupted a stone wall, wide enough to allow people on top and with gap between, serving as the entrance. The Oraeliari seemed relieved all at once and broke out into cheers. The Dûnans weren’t far behind, collapsing to their knees in loud and pious praise. Even the children stood or knelt frozen in awe, even their wild imaginations not able to imagine something so magnificent. Quickly, the caretakers began shepherding the children inside to warm up, while the others hurried to dig pits in the ground where they could keep their supplies cold and safe. Boudicca stood surveying the work, resting her hand on the pommel of her sheathed weapon.

A beat of wings and Tevuri landed beside her. "There is no need to dig, Soluri has made the underground level of the this Holy Site large and expansive." He paused. "I do not know your history here or what your people have done, but we did not wish for that to happen. Your bad blood with your kinsmen will need to be dealt with one day."

Boudicca halted the work and looked up at the angel, crossing her arms over her chest. “Great Tevuri… We are so grateful for everything you have given us and are giving us - your aid and support in this conflict will be invaluable, and likely allow us to retake Ha-Dûna in a day. That said…” She gestured to the direction from whence they had come. “You said it yourself: You do not know our history here nor what we have done; our bad blood isn’t something so simple that it can be “dealt with”. I honestly thought it could, but our time in Scawick has only proven that whatever bridges we had between us and our neighbours have been reduced to cinders.”

Tevuri gave a slight nod. "We know the feeling all to well." He stood a little straighter, "Perhaps as the days go by, I can learn more. I find Humani fascinating. You are unlike those that share our home. But for now, tend to your people and in the coming days, we shall talk of war."

Boudicca nodded and tossed her chestnut hair out of her face. “I fear it may come quicker than we expect.”






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Blood Desert





“PEOPLE OF NALLAN! MY PEOPLE! MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY! HEAR ME NOW!” Nalla shouted from the town center, under the cover of a blood red cloth, surrounded by guards. All wore grim faces, looking out at the gathered crowd of sorry looking faces. Terror had been the only thing any of them had known for the last few days, but now there was eerie calm as they listened to their Queen.

The Queen stood erect upon the platform, nothing more than gathered wreckage from the Shattering. She wore confining clothing even as the heat sweltered about her, sticking heavily to her skin. It was a necessary precaution, for the sun here was deadly.

“WE have endured much! The shattering has sent us to doom, by false deities who are not worthy of our worship! THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU! PERHAPS THEY NEVER DID!” She shouted, arms hanging in the air.

“This is not a test, not a hardship, but cruelty! The druids of the Highlands are traitorous snakes, led here by the Sorceress Witch! For it was SHE, AURIELLE, WHO CAUSED THE SHATTERING!” A lie of course, but the people never did need to know the truth and it was always better to have someone take the fall. Yet, from the crowd, there were angry shouts and veiled whispers. Nalla almost grimaced, but she retained her expression of rage.

“I know she did much for this great kingdom, but her greed and cruelty offended the very gods and for that, they punished us! Not her! But US! WE TOOK THE FALL!” Many shook their heads, many decried her.

“AND I SAY, NEVER AGAIN! NEVER AGAIN SHALL WE LET OUTSIDERS BETRAY US! NEVER AGAIN SHALL WE LET THEM LEAD OUR PEOPLE! NEVER AGAIN! THIS I SWEAR!” Roars of approval now, and Nalla raised her arms higher.

“We will survive! We will endure! FOR WE ARE THE PEOPLE OF NALLAN! YOU ARE MY PEOPLE! AND I WILL NEVER BETRAY YOU!”

WE WILL GROW STRONGER! WE WILL GROW MIGHTY! FOR I DO NOT SEE ANY OTHER WAY!” She paused, letting the crowd build momentum under the sun. “AND WE WILL RECLAIM WHAT WE LOST! WE WILL FIND THE DRUIDS! WE WILL FIND THE SORCERESS WITCH AND HER FOLLOWERS! AND WE WILL KILL THEM ALL!” Mighty bellows of approval, a fervor of pride growing stronger in those gathered. It was delightful to see.

“WE WILL BUILD AN EMPIRE UNDER THIS CRUEL SUN! I SWEAR IT!” The crowd exploded in a chorus of noise.
“WE WILL RISE ABOVE THIS! FOR WE ARE THE PEOPLE OF NALLAN AND THIS WORLD IS OURS!” Nalla dropped her hands and let the energy of the crowd wash over her. She looked upon their faces and she knew many would die. Supplies were running low, water was becoming scarce and no one could find any, not that her scouts had come back.

As she exited the stand, the guards picked up the great red cloth and began to walk with her. Nalla knew what she had to do. IF they were to survive, there was only one option.

She needed Godly aid.




Back at her palace, Nalla readied herself. The idea had been growing her head for sometime. She had always received help in one form or another. Whether it be from Avatars or Gods. This time however, she would contact the one who had sent her own path so long ago. The one she loved, the only God who truly mattered.

"Neiya." She breathed, sat upon her throne, hands clenched together and eyes shut. "Neiya, Goddess of Love and of my Heart, I need your help. I ask you this not easily. But please Goddess, whisper to me like you did so long ago. I will do anything to please you." She said lovingly and full of hope.

At first, silence triumphed in the hall. A morbid echo of her own words carried on the stale wind, reverberating back from the far end of her throne room, even though her voice was not so loud. It grew, words and breaths whipping around her ears in a cacophony of building sound. The very air seemed to pick up and twist, as gusts of air washed against her legs and arms. A pressure grew in the back of her mind and the air grew thick. Then came a voice, sultry and rich. Unforgettable. "How beautifully the longing lover sings for me. I come to you, my beloved, to please and be pleased in our union. Speak to me, my darling."

A shiver of excitement went up her spine at the sound of that voice. Oh how she loved that voice. She had forgotten how much she yearned for it and even now, it did not leave her mind but there were other things to discuss. "Oh Neiya, how I've missed your voice." She began, "I'm sorry this is not a chat of good tidings but I need your help, Goddess. I was betrayed, Nallan was ripped from its home in the Highlands and now I am lost in a blazing sea of heat. Put here by the Sun Goddess to suffer for crimes not my own. What do I do Neiya?"

A flash of heat burned within her forehead, the pressure intensifying. Images of events of the past rushed past her eyes, sensations and emotions returning unbidden at break-neck pace. As quickly as it had begun, the pressure lightened and the sensation ended, bringing Nalla back to the present. Another moment passed, an awkward eternity with a deity lingering in your presence. Finally the voice returned, distant and wavering. "You have suffered a grave injustice, my love. A degenerate being has blindly sullied your legacy out of spite. It is not just an assault upon you, but upon me. I am heartbroken this happened, and I share in your pain. If she saw fit to exile you here however, what better way to spite her than thrive in this new locale?"

"Live here? In this barren land? My goddess… What do you suggest?" Nalla asked, rubbing her temple. That was the second time now a God went snooping in her head, but at least Neiya was on her side. She hoped.

"You see a barren land, my sweet; I see a canvas. You are a ruler, are you not? The land shall serve, as any subject. Go outside, my sweet." the voice beckoned.

She obeyed without words and walked with a fast pace until she arrived at her balcony on the top floor. The room's pillars were cracked but had not relented in the Shattering. There was however, a problem. "My Goddess, the sun… I must go change or I will only last minutes in its gaze." No sooner had she spoken than a shimmer rose around her, small spirits if blue and black fluttering in front of her face. They danced in intricate patterns, leaving behind a thin black weave, a silken shawl slowly materialized and came to rest gently against her head and skin.

"You shall see the beauty of the day once more, to behold my mercy and splendor." the goddess crooned softly.

Nalla caressed the fabric with gentle fingers as a smile broke out on her face. Exodus gift had been helpful in a pinch but this would be useful. She looked to where the sunlight touched the shadow and in one graceful step, plunged into the light. Normally she would have felt a slight discomfort but now she felt fine if a little hot but it would very much do.

"Thank you my Goddess, your mercy knows no bounds and your generosity is endless." She cooed, walking over to the balconies edge. There she could see what remained of Nallan and like before, the same red sea.

"You were given a desolate waste. They failed to understand our bond, my beloved. They could never understand." the voice professed conspiratorially. "If your love for me is as strong as mine is, you will survive any ordeal, even what comes next. Do you want me, Nalla? Will you do anything, as you sang to me?"

The Queen did not hesitate. "Yes… I want you my Goddess. I crave your touch for your love keeps me sane when so many hope to drive me mad." She took a soft breath, "And I will do anything for you, for you are the one who saved me from my pain."

"Then feel me, my love. Be my vessel as I elevate your world beyond mortal limitations." the goddess proffered, and almost immediately after her words came an intense burning from within. It was an itch, a flame, a strange yearning and endless energy that threatened to consume Nalla from within. She felt her feet lift from the ground, no longer bound by simple concepts like gravity. Shimmers of blue and black skittered across her form as the pressure in the back of her mind grew. It was painful, pleasurable, and elevating, all at once. It was more than a mortal could take.

She wanted to scream out, to become lost in the ocean of ecstasy she found herself adrift in but Nalla was no mere mortal. It took all her might but she managed to hold on and stay aware. Though she did not know for how long. A strange song of whispers and screams hurtled past her ears, entrancing despite its lack of melody. The world seemed to drain of color and warmth, only to return with twice the vibrance of before. Something inside felt as though it was about to burst, a whirling force that consumed and tugged at her, while fulfilling her every thought before she thought of it.

She saw her own hand lift, outstretched towards the faraway mountains to the south. Though she could not see that far, she saw a rippling energy flash from her arm and run along the ground out of the city, shearing the ground as it went until it lashed into the distant mountain. A rumble followed, and the ground began to split open. She lifted higher into the air, and felt the exultant breath of another on her skin. Hands that were not there ran along her form and enjoyed her presence. Then the ground rumbled again, and all around the city flew splinters of rocks, a grand crater carved around her palatial grounds. Aided along by the divine, clear water came rushing like a torrent from the distant crack in the mountain, sinking into the long wound in the land and rushing to fill the crater around the city. Her other hand lifted through no will of her own, and on the far side of her demesne she heard the ground crack and rumble once more.

"Never forget, Nalla, my beloved," the voice of the goddess echoed, until Nalla realized she was saying it herself. The earth outside the palace cracked and groaned, and from the earth rose a grand obsidian pillar, atop which was her own likeness embraced from behind by a tall, horned woman. It was foreign, alien in architecture, and entirely captivating. "You are mine, as I am yours. This land shall bloom as our love, fertile and rich." The waters flooded up over the crater and crevasse, drenching the desert at the behest of the goddess. The rust-brown sand gave way to softer ground, and already durable sprawling trees sprouted from the ground. Life was growing in the desert. As the pressure increased, her vision began to give out, and the strain threatened to break her mind. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the pressure fell away, and a whirlpool within drained her swiftly of energy, both her own and the foreign touch of the goddess. The balcony returned under weak feet, her limbs aching and her body exhausted.

Nalla collapsed, sweating profusely and with heavy breaths. Her mind was ablaze with this newest ecstasy and weak as she was, she could not help but wrap herself in a hug, smiling ear to ear.

"Thank you Goddess… My love of loves… My Neiya…" She whispered, enamored with her experience. She did not wish it had ended but knew it would have consumed her until she was but a mindless pup, writhing in ecstasy forever and ever. It would not be so bad but still, it was good to be back, even if she would be hard pressed to be satisfied again.

She perked up at the sound of rushing footsteps and before long a retinue had gathered, hovering over her like some lost dove. They told her of the water and the trees and the life and that salvation was at hand but Nalla found herself wanting only two things. One she could not have but the other…

"Bring me blood."




They were unlike any she had seen before, but this did not surprise her. She, who had tamed the Sylphi, struck deals with Iskrill- These newest additions were most welcome. Though, their defiant look in their eyes would have to be dealt with. Those eyes… So large, so full of curiosity and brimming with hate. It was not their eyes, nor their child-like faces, nor their skin color, nor even their feather crests that had Nalla intrigued but the ornate and exotic skin patterns, glowing within her dim throne room, that truly delighted her.

They spoke no language she knew, but in time they would learn from each other, for Nalla was not one to let unique creations go unchecked in her realm. For this was her home now, whether they had wanted or needed her arrival. They were stuck with her and Nallan, and she would make use out of them yet.

These… Cave dwellers, these savages, these mongrels.

She had no name for them.

They had found them after Neiya’s Gift near the rivers edge, looking miserable and lost, scared and afraid. They had that in common at least. Her guards, and dependable townsfolk managed to capture several dozen, but no more than a hundred individuals.

Now several of them, ones that had seemed to hold some sort of authority, were on their knees in her throne room. One in particular caught her eye. A male by the looks of it, his eyes in particular were pointed with rage at her. It was amusing to say the least. Around his neck however, there hung a necklace of crimson. Not unlike her own, but smaller.

She would have it.

She pointed at him and smiled with glee. “Bring me that around his neck my darlings.”

Several guards obliged, but none were as fast as the one who reached the prisoner. Though their hands were tied, as soon as the guard reached for the pendant the savage sneered, headbutted the guard and grabbed onto his hands. The man yelled, and began to pull away but he seemed to… Grow weaker?

Other guards began to rush forward but Nalla raised her hand, eyes fixated on the spectacle. The others obeyed and the guard slumped to the ground. Nalla tilted her head, listening as his heart beat grew small and faint and then… Silence… He had killed him.

Nalla laughed, clapping her hands with a joyous smile.

“This one has some fire in his eyes. I like that but we’ve seen what a bit of fire can do, have we not?” Her smile changed to a frown in an instant. “Never again.”

Nalla sat upright, and within a flash she was next to him. Before he could react, Nalla whispered the fabled words of her Lover from her lips and the man went limp with a smile on his face. Then shadow began to leak from the crown. In blinding speed they shot off as vicious claws, ripping apart the savage before any could register what had transpired. The shadows then recoiled and there was quiet in the room before his kinsmen began to scream.

Nalla picked up the pendant from the man’s bloody pile. With her other hand, she ran a finger through his blood and brought it to her mouth. The flavor was a bit dry, almost smoky. Delicious all the same. She licked her lips and brought the pendant to eye level.

“Remove these from my presence and clean up this mess.”

“What should we do with them, your Grace?”

“Put them with the others and double the guards.”

“Yes your grace.”






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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by King of Rats
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The Rising Sun


Solkra, 28 A.A

”Cut the Flesh and Snap the Bones!” Voices rang out over the sound of construction. ”Yasho! Yasho! Crack the Skulls and Eat the Lungs! Yasho! Yasho!” Wood and stone were shaped into buildings. ”Break the Legs and Batter the Eyes! Yasho! Yasho!” A chorus formed, fusing voice and work into a steady rhythm. "Fry for a minute and cake in syrup!" A cheer erupted from the workers. Solkra was busy at work.

Skopti watched over the assembled Iskrill as they went about their work, wood and stone was shaped and carved to replace and rebuild the ruins of Solkra, the brutalist ideas of the Iskrill combined with the majestic architecture of the old Solkrans to form a strange mixture that now began to grow amongst the city.

As soon as the Triumvirate took hold of the city, they immediately began to go about reconstructing the city with what little knowledge they had gathered from the old Solkran sources. Skopti, as a Flame, didn’t quite understand the words and ideas conveyed to him by the priesthood and chosen, but, he didn’t need to, he was one of the best warriors of the city, and his only job as to defend it, deal with those who resisted, and go raid the surrounding unmarked realms.

Currently, he just stood watching, keeping an eye on the brood workers going about constructing houses, it was boring work, the workers rarely disobeyed the triumvirate or brood mother’s commands, raiding was far more fun, then he could crack some unmarked skulls and feast upon the rewards, literally and figuratively.

His thoughts were interrupted though by the sound of someone approaching, he turned his gaze towards the noise and saw a messenger Iskrill, clearly detonated by both the insignia of the Triumvirate, three suns overlapping one another, and his long gazelle like legs, from what Skopti recalled these made the Iskrill fast, perfect for carrying messages throughout the city.

“Message from the Triumvirate sir!” The messenger spoke as he bowed. “You have a new assignment, they wish you to take command of a scouting force and go investigate recent rumors of unmarked activity close by the city.”

Skopti chuckled, now this was more like it, though the last bit confused him some “unmarked activity? This close to our lands? Do they not realize where they are?”

The messenger shrugged “We are unsure, whatever it is, the Triumvirate wants you to deal with it”

He gestured to the still singing workers “What of them?”

“Another flame has already been called, he should arrive shortly.”

Skopti nodded, gesturing to the messenger “Lead the way then”

He nodded, and turned back from where he came, taking a slow pace to ensure the bulkking hunter flame could keep up. Leading him through the winding city streets.

The city was alive in some sense, various Iskrill went about their day, they were still getting used to the rigours of the new life brought upon by the Triumvirate. Houses were rebuilt with the wood and stone gathered from beyond the city, flesh supplies were kept up with raids and hunting parties, yet, there were still problems, even Skopti knew that. Flesh was hard to get, always was, but now the Triumvirate wanted more of it, that, that was starting the strain even the Iskrill. Then, there was the problem of metal, the Iskrill have come to understand it, ever since the unmarked had utilized it even, yet, they had little in the way of understanding of how to work it, as the Old Solkran texts stated.

But, none of this was Skopti’s problem, all that was at this moment was this supposed unmarked activity, it wasn’t entirely surprising, those most heinous of the unmarked to the far north had long sought to fight the Iskrill, but, activity this close to the holy city? Now that proved interesting.

Eventually, he was brought to the southern portions of the city walls, one of the first things to have been rebuilt, now manned and guarded by either Flames or normal warriors. In front of Skopti stood his scouting party for the mission, two large hunters akin to him, but, with less advanced equipment than him, mostly armed with just some scraps of cloth and some old metal blades. Then, there were three rather normal Iskrill, they were equipped with more uniform cloth but held only scrap spears, which just tended to be long sticks with random pieces of metal strapped to them, basic, but it worked. Skopti himself wore some old metal armor that actually fit him, and wielded a battered shield and finer metal ax, befitting his rank as a Flame.

The messenger gestured beyond the walls “A hunting party reported the activity to the south, they said they had followed the great river for about a day when they saw the signs, your party already has the supplies for five days, but we recommend go no longer than two days beyond the city walls.”

Skopti nodded, taking in the information, he was sure they could find these Unmarked without using up all those rations, which was good, the less used the better.

Bowing, the fast Iskrill took his leave, bounding off to deliver messages to some other portion of the city. Skopti turned back to the small group in front of him, their faces rather eager to go off hunting the Unmarked, though, it was more likely they were eager to gather some extra rations.

“Well then, let's get going.” He motioned for the party to ready up and set out, they had a long trek ahead of them.




The days travel had been fairly boring, the only true danger this close to the city were those damn serpents that appeared every now and then, they were big yes, but they were often no more than a nuisance to the Iskrill and their hunting parties. But hey, at least their flesh was rather tasty.

Skopti sat at the campfire, chewing upon some of their recently acquired snake flesh. In front of him sat those three common Iskrill, their spears laid against them as they ate, from what Skopti had gathered, they were rather new, recruited into that growing “army” the Triumvirate was gathering, they seemed dedicated though, and he would put a good word for them once this was over.

Meanwhile, the two hunters had been posted as watch, they were naturally adapted to this type of work, and much like Skopti it was likely they were excited to be able to spend some days beyond the city walls. They were brood kin, Skopti could tell that much, most likely of the same batch as they seemed drawn to one another and seemingly were close, a rare sight to see two hunters from the same batch, which Skopti would admit he was glad to have them on this mission.

As if almost called by his thoughts, one of those hunters appeared at the edge of the campfire, having come rather quickly by the slight huffing that emitted from him.

“Flame, we’ve spotted a fire in the distance.” He spoke, gesturing beyond. Craning his head Skopti could indeed see the markings of a fire, it was small, a torch at best, but a fire nonetheless, it seems they had spotted the unmarked.

“Gather your things,” Skopti ordered the others “Keep the fire going but bring the rations, we must have them think we are still at camp.”

The gathered Iskrill nodded, and quickly set to work gathering the supplies, while the two hunters kept their eyes upon the torch, to ensure it did not vanish. Soon enough Skopti led them through the brush, their bodies low to ensure they could not be spotted easily. The fire flickered as they drew closer, yet, not once did it seem to move, Skopti began to grow silently worried, perhaps it was a trap? He motioned for the others to keep their eyes open and weapons at the ready.

But, as they drew closer, the sight of what was carrying the torch shocked Skopti. Far more than a trap or even just a stick planted into the ground.

There, holding the torch aloft, stood, an unmarked? But, they were different, it was a male that Skopti knew and a young one at that, but upon their head were twisted horns akin to that that were upon his own head, portions of their exposed skin were grey and almost scalelike, a common sight amongst some Iskrill broods, and his eyes were yellowish and Iskrill like. It was an unmarked, yet, they held Iskrill traits, what in the name of the All-Father was going on?

For a while, Skopti and his group just knelt there, staring at the being, Skopti had to look back at the others and motion towards them to confirm what he saw was not some kind of fluke. They all saw him, and that being was just, standing there, seemingly staring off towards where their camp had been, holding the torch aloft.

Finally, Skopti reasoned he needed to figure out what was going on, and so he motioned for the others to stay amongst the brush, just in case it was still a trap. Meanwhile Skopti stood, walking towards the strange unmarked at a slow pace, to ensure they were not too frightened at his sudden appearance.

The unmarked jumped at his sudden appearance, but they quickly gathered themselves together, a smile? Almost forming upon their face.

“Finally! One of you showed up.” They spoke, their eyes seemingly glittering as they stared upon the large form of the Iskrill.

“What are you? Why are you here?” Skopti asked, he was still wary of some trap, and hoped to solve this issue quickly.

“Me?” The being fell silent for a moment, staring at one of their arms which was covered in Iskrill like skin “Im, not sure what i am, but, I can tell you why i, and the others are here.”

“Others?” So there were more, like him?

“Yes, others, like me, we all kinda, found each other,” The being began to explain “We were born like this, nobody is quite sure why, but what was certain was that our old villages wanted to kill us, but somehow we survived, and we’ve been traveling for quite some time, until we heard, of Solkra.” His voice was wavy, almost unsure of his own explanation, it was clear he had suffered much. “We...we wish to join the Holy City.”

This took Skopti by surprise, join? The city? As Unmarked? No, they were not Unmarked, they were, Iskrill, or, Iskrill like. Yet, Skopti couldn’t just accept this, he needed to see these others. “How far away are these others?”

“Not far, they’re just beyond the ridge.” He pointed to the west.

“Very well,” Skopti motioned for the others to rise and appear into the light “Lead us there.”

The Iskrill-like only nodded, moving quickly to the west, towards the supposed camp.




There were definitely others.

The group had camped for the night shortly after heading out, and light had begun to filter in as they arrived at the camp, it was a haphazard situation, an assembly of scrapped together tents and wagons carrying what supplies they had. As Skopti and his band entered into the camp, almost instantly the residents emerged from their squalid living conditions to gaze upon them and their forms, cheers and cries of joy began to erupt from amongst them, and the Iskrill had to shake off some of them who rushed forward and grovelled at their feet, begging to save them. From what Skopti could see, there was a large array of ages, some seemed older, some couldn’t have been older than five suns, having to be carried or guided by the older beings. All were adorned with some sort of Iskrill markings, a large spectrum and sometimes he had to really look to see any signs of this strange phenomenon, but they were there.

The first being, who Skopti had learnt was named Brethen and was barely 16 suns of age, walked them up to the center of the camp, there, sitting upon a small log, was a rather old looking man, his white beard and hair marked by twisting antlers, and his feet were grotesque and wolf-like, he was Iskrill marked alright.

“Greetings, oh holy ones.” The man spoke, his voice was gravely, it was clear he had been doing this for a while. “Have...have you come to deliver us to the Holy City?”

Skopti thought for a brief moment “Perhaps, but, we must know what you can offer us, our situation is already dire, and accepting your camp would be dangerous.”

The elder nodded “Of course, Brethen, bring them in.” The elder motioned to the young boy, who quickly ran off one of the larger tents.

“He seems a good boy” Skopti spoke, motioning towards the tent Brethen had entered.

“He is,” The elder nodded, “One of my own blood, he is ever eager to see the city.”

“How...how long have you been living like this?”

The old man thought for quite some time “More than 10 suns I can tell you that, we were small at first, but, it appears the regions around here are prone to this, issue, sometimes entire villages would join us out of fear of other villages destroying them, we are, unsure of why this happens.”

“Perhaps the Hierophant could tell you?” Skopti thought out loud

“Perhaps” The elder nodded.

Soon enough Brethen returned, behind him were two fairly burly half-beings, who wore long leather aprons and held in their hands metal tools, and another half-being who held a rope, which led to and was attached to a large cow. The sight of which made Skopti and his man hungry, but he motioned for them to not move.

“These are some of what we can offer you,” The elder spoke, motioning at the two burly ones “These men are trained in the art of blacksmithing, they can work and improve the metal that adorns you,” He then turned to the one with the cow “Alius and many amongst us here understand farming and ranching, with their skills we could supply a steady stream of flesh for the holy city.”

Flesh and Metal? This was getting too good to be true “And there is nothing you wish in return?”

The elder shook his head “Nothing.”

Skopti nodded “Very well, I shall bring you to the city, inform your people, we should head out very soon.”

Those half-beings who had gathered around the convo began to cheer once more, with a renewed vigor they began to gather their assembled items and belongings, readying for the trek ahead of them. The elder merely smiled.




Soklra was abuzz with activity.

Another two days of travel, and now the large procession of the half-beings, roughly 400 in number if Skopti recalled correctly, walked through the city, at its head Skopti and the Elder walked, the beings safety was ensured by the gathering Flames and warriors Skopti had ordered in case the hunger for flesh overcame the Iskrills bafflement at the new sight.

They marched towards the city center, Skopti could already tell the half-beings were struck with awe by the sight of the city, to finally be in the place they had desired must’ve been a grand sight. Within the center, at the grand statue of the All-Mother, stood the Triumvirate, the Queen, Jarl, and Hierophant all stood, Skopti had made sure to inform them before his grand display, but they still seemed quite shocked at what stood before them.

The Queen motioned for Skopti and the Elder to step forward. And with a bow they did.

“So,” She spoke, “You are these beings we have been told about?”

The elder nodded “Yes your majesty, we have come long distances to the Holy City, hoping to aid it all we can.”

“I see, and Skopti here has already told me of your abilities, your people would most certainly be a boon upon the city.” She paused for a brief moment, looking back at the Jarl and Hierophant, who both nodded their heads.

“Which is why we have decided to allow you to settle within the city, in exchange for teaching us all that you know.”

The elder bowed as a cheer erupted from the half-beings, “Thank you my Majesty, we shall do all we can to aid the Holy City.” With that, he returned to his people, with the aid of a gathering number of the Triumvirates workers to direct them to portions of the city they could settle into.

Meanwhile the Queen turned back to Skopti “I must admit, you have done well our Flame, which is why we have another task for you.”

Skopti bowed “Anything for the glory of Solkra.”

This time, the Queen spoke in hushed tones as she brought Skopti closer “Word has reached us that war engulfs the south, the Unmarked are getting feisty and fighting amongst themselves, yet those heinous ones to the north are still prevalent, as such, we want you to lead more expeditions beyond the walls, yet, this time you are not to raid, instead, you are to conquer, force the lands of the Unmarked under our boot, make them work for us, get the broods beyond the walls to work alongside us, anything to spread the glory of the sun, you will have our forces at your command for this of course, and we expect great results.”

Skopti bowed once more “Of course my queen, I shall see it done.”

The sun was rising, and soon, its heat would burn those who had shown it hatred.



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Hidden 1 mo ago 5 days ago Post by Not Fishing
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Cadien




More than two decades had passed since Cadien had brought the Sirens to live within his realm. Since then they had spent many hours filling Meliorem’s halls with music, raising Cadien’s spirits when they were at their lowest. Neiya had disapproved at first, when she first stumbled across them so long ago, but since then seemed to have come to a grudging tolerance.

The God of Perfection had ensured they kept their distance from his palace when Neiya was visiting, and those who chose to defy that rule quickly learned the error of their ways. When Neiya was not visiting, however, Cadien ensured that he did not neglect his realm’s inhabitants; spending days at a time touring their village, and making modifications to increase the comfort of its inhabitants.

It was not all songs, dance, and cheer, however. Cadien’s continued faithfulness to Neiya had led many female Sirens to envy or even despise the Horned Goddess. Although they had plenty of male companionship, for some that was not enough, and they still yearned for the God of Perfection whose castle was just a short walk from their home. From where they stood, it seemed as if Neiya was the only thing keeping them from that.

The male sirens were not oblivious to this, which in turn led them to resent Cadien himself. It was a hard thing, to know one’s lover would rather be with someone else, and being powerless to do anything about it.

Meanwhile, the Lady-in-Waiting was gone. She had departed to search for her ‘Lady’ who had vanished within the God of Ink’s realm. Cadien had been deeply saddened by her departure, and afterward had forbidden any more Sirens from leaving Meliorem. Many had been unhappy with this decision as well, for they had been hoping to meet some of the other deities Cadien spoke of, but most had not been particularly bothered. After all, the only gods they had met were Cadien and Neiya. They knew they had a god of their own, of course, but he or she had abandoned them. With these experiences in mind, Cadien stood alone as a positive example.

And so for now the dissenters remained a minority, keeping their thoughts to themselves. Cadien was still a god, and this was still his realm. He had saved them and given them a home. And the men had been created directly by his own hand, so they owed him additional gratitude for that. Besides, Cadien had done his best to ensure their happiness despite their misgivings. It was for these reasons that the dissenters had not acted.

Not yet, anyway.



There were six of them, all seated at a table, with cards in their hand. At the head was Cadien himself. The rest were Sirens; two men, and three women. Three more stood in a corner, playing a song with vocals, a flute, and a lute.

One of the Sirens, a man with a greenish tint to his skin, smiled confidently and placed a card upon the table.

“You have to draw four more cards.”

Cadien’s expression darkened. But the rules were rules. He reached for the pile and pulled out four more cards, which he added to his hand. The game was not looking good. He took some solace in the fact that this was mostly a game of chance, and thus there was less shame in suffering a defeat at the hands of a mortal. Besides, the game was not over yet, and perhaps it could still be salvaged.

And so they continued to play. Cadien found that his luck was beginning to turn around. Unfortunately, it was not enough. However, it was not the smug-looking man who won, but a female Siren instead, whose skin had a rather bluish looking hue. She smirked confidently as she announced her victory. “Well, this has been a pleasure,” she declared, as her gaze settled on Cadien. “What do I win?”

Cadien raised an eyebrow. “I don’t recall announcing any sort of prize.”

She pouted. “Oh but it’s not every day that one bests a god. Or knocks down the ego of Cleon here.” She inclined her head toward the rather sullen looking male song, who forced a smile and waved it off. “Surely I deserve some sort of prize for these achievements?”

“Tell me, then,” Cadien said. “What is it you desire most?”

“Perhaps a leading role in the next performance?”

“Julara won’t be happy about that,” another Song - this one red - interjected.

“Julara has played a leading part in over a thousand plays,” the blue Song countered, before looking back to Cadien. “Surely you would appreciate something different?”

Cadien considered that for a few moments. “Hm… why not? A bit of healthy competition won’t hurt anyone.” The Song smiled brightly at his words. “Now then, onto other matters.”

“Can you tell us what’s happening on Galbar, my lord?” a yellow Song requested. “More tales of the Acadians? Or of Carnelian’s adventures?”

“You’re very interested in Galbar, aren’t you?” Cadien queried. “Are my presence and Meliorem’s comforts not enough for you?”

“Oh no, they’re alright. I-I mean great! No, perfect,” the Song stammered nervously. “I just… I’m curious about what’s outside. Your stories are our only source of information for new songs.”

Cadien stroked his chin. “Hm. That’s true, isn’t it.”

“You know, I don’t see why we can’t just visit Galbar ourselves,” Cleon interjected.

“You know why,” the red Song said. “The other gods are too dangerous.”

“But there are no gods on Galbar, are there?” the blue Song intervened.

“There aren’t?” the yellow song’s eyes widened, before her gaze swivelled back to Cadien. “Is this true?”

“It is true, yes,” Cadien nodded grudgingly. “But just because there aren’t any gods doesn’t mean it’s safe. The gods still hold influence over the land, and they have created many dangers. Some by design, and others… by mistake. Even if you avoid those dangers it will still be a hard life. You’ll need to eat, sleep, and drink. In my realm you can do these things whenever you want, in infinite supply. On Galbar you’ll need to seek them out, or work for them. You will come to know age, fatigue, and hunger; three things you never have to worry about here.” He leaned forward, reaching across the table to place a hand on hers. “It’s safer for you to stay.”

Seeming dejected, the yellow song cast her gaze down at the table. But the blue song took up the next sally. “Is there nothing you can do to keep us safe while we’re down there, then? Or bring us back when we are in danger?”

Cadien leaned back. “I could, but it’s no simple task, and may require quite a lot of strain and effort on my part.”

“But think of the benefits, my lord. We’ll be down on Galbar, singing your praises and spreading your name to all mortals! You once said you had trouble getting them to listen to you, didn’t you? Why not let us help? It’s the least you can do, after all you have done for us.”

That gave Cadien pause. Images passed through his mind. Of Sirens marching with armies, playing music to inspire the troops, or impressing nobles in aristocratic gatherings. He imagined his Songs travelling the realm, passing his name on to those who had forgotten him, or had never been aware of his existence in the first place. “When you phrase it that way, the idea does have some merit,” he conceded. “But, I will need to think on this. As I said, it is no simple task.”

Both the yellow and blue songs smiled gratefully, with excitement behind their eyes.






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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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“Nabu!” One of the slave handlers yelled. Nabu, a young man at the age of 20 looked up from his meal. Some soggy stuff given to him in a clay bowl. It was small, but to his surprise it contained tiny bits of meat. “Nabu, you’re up! Put the food down.” His handler yelled again. Nabu, instead, began to quickly scoop up the goo with his fingers to get as much in him as possible. After about four scoops his handler had gotten close enough to slap the clay cup out of his hands. “When I say you’re up, you head to the door. You got that?” The man, with those sapphire blue eyes, got up in his face before he pulled him up from the ground and pushed him along. Nabu’s heart was beating heavily in his chest. Ever since he had been hauled down the strange, subterranean place he felt dread come over him. They said that slaves went in but they never came out. Nabu sure had seen his fair share of corpses too. But also different things. Giant broken statues in places where no giant statue should be. He heard rumors of demon-flowers. Which blossomed if you got dark and would open up to reveal a monstrous thing that could tear you apart.

A rope held Nabu’s hand together, though it gave enough leeway so he could move them still. It was more about reminding him who he was. A slave. Expendable. The gate opened when one of the Sapphire eyes wielding a strange, golden-trimmed slate touched it. Beyond it was a long corridor. Both sides flanked with fresh water. Plinths rose from the water, holding statues that looked inwards. “Look out for the blue glowing ones.” His handler said. Several other slaves, armed with torches and desperate courage, pushed forward into the corridor. Observing every statue as if they could discern the meaning of its figure. They were weird. Showing human-like creatures but that had strange protrusions from their far too flat face. Nabu found himself staring at one statue. Until the distance lash of a whip woke him up from his own curiosity. “Move along Nabu! You’re not here to stare!” Dutifully. Fearfully, Nabu continued on. There was one small side room running from the main route. None of the other slaves had entered it. It was dark, looked small and empty. Handlers never liked their slaves suddenly vanishing. But it almost felt as if something was calling Nabu towards it. Like a whisper at just the edge of his mind. Slowly he walked in, illuminating the small room. It was indeed empty. Save for a small totem. One Nabu picked up to examine closer.

It was cold. Before anything else, Nabu noticed that. It stung to hold for too long. There was no explanation for that, as the totem itself was simple polished black stone. Or perhaps, not. As Nabu looked at it, it seemed less opaque. Almost like it was dark glass. The slave strained to see something in the totem, and was met with an open eye, glaring at him from within the object.

He yelled, fell down and dropped the totem. Scrambling away from it before turning around and trying to make a mad dash towards the corridor. There his handler was already yelling for him. His mind chose not to process what just happened. He just needed the safety of others. Then, suddenly, people began to yell and scream and holler. Something cracked and gave way. Light faded. Stone fell. Blocking the entrance of the small room. Dust billowed up all around Nabu, who had to cough and protect his eyes. “Nabu! Nabu what the hell did you do!?” His handler yelled from the other side. Nabu, confronted with the sealed entrance, just turned around to look at the dropped totem. Fearfully awaiting the demon to crawl out of it and eat him whole.

It was watching him. The eye looked almost human, but only almost. It was too large, its movement was too smooth as it tracked him from across the room, and it was also glowing. There was a hum in the air, and the walls spoke to Nabu, “Hmmmmmmm, why do you run, slave? You are as surely dead out there as in here, slave.”

Nabu kept moving around. Hoping to lose the attention of the glowing eye. Behind the collapsed entrance he could hear the commotion growing. Stones were being dragged away. Within a few minutes more Mystics would move in to clear the rubble. When the walls began to speak Nabu whimpered and moved away from them. Trying to stay in between the totem and the walls. “I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die.” He kept whimpering. Mostly to himself.

“They will kill you, slave.” The walls thrummed, “If they clear the way, they will kill you. They brought you here to die.”

Nabu shook and tried to shield himself from the demon's gaze. Its voice seemed to vibrate the room, drowning out the shouts from beyond. It dominated his hearing, but as it droned on the slave found it was not the only one he could hear.

“But you don't have to.” A feminine voice whispered in Nabu’s mind, “You can live, Nabu.

His eyes opened. The strange presence was still there. But maybe something else as well? He didn’t want to die, and right now he would do anything to live. “I just… want to live.” He said out loud. On the other side of the room two small tables with sand on top of it were carried before the rubble. Two Mystics with wands walked up to the tables and began to draw their runes in the send. Preparing their magic to remove the stone. “Just…please… show me how I can live.” Nabu pleaded. Knowing that his fate would be sealed if the rubble was gone.

“Speak the demon's name. Ungaaraad.” The second voice answered softly, “Speak its name and it will grant your wish. Others will pay the price, but you can live Nabu. You can be safe.”

The slave approached the totem on his knees. It was still unnerving, but as the sound of moving stone grew louder, he knew he was doomed either way. So with the totem in his hands he said: “Ungaaraad. Please, help. Ungaaraad!”

The walls stopped vibrating, and cracks began to appear on the totem. The same voice that had shook the walls reverberated from the demon's cage, “I answer, slave. Speak your hope, and your hatred. I require both. Speak.”

“I-I just… I just want to get out of here!” He exclaimed. Tears were welling up. He was just a boy tending the land. Loving a girl. How did he even get involved in all this!? His eyes looked out at the rubble. Light from outside began to peer in already. It wouldn’t take long before they would grab him. Them, who had put him in ropes. Imprisoned him. Fed him gruel. “And I want them to die.”

The totem shattered. Light, noise, motion, everything stopped. There was a second between when Nabu made his wish, and when it was fulfilled, and in that second he saw a shadow made of teeth. Then he was alone, in the light. Far from Angehbad, standing tall on a grand prairie with a great gleaming temple calling him in the distance. It was a safer place. One made by another being than that which freed him.

That being stayed behind, in the dark. Waiting for the rubble to be cleared. “I’m going in.” Nabu’s handler said as enough of the stone was removed to crawl over it. He did so to be greeted with a massive, dark room. “Nabu! You piece of crap. I swear to the gods this is one step too much.” He was clearly not amused. Soon after several more handlers crawled into the darkened room. The mystics manning the sand-tables remained behind. Though most of them found it odd that not even the torches were visible from the room.

Then, a scream. And another. They echoed from the room. The rubble was cleared. One man came running into the twilight of the room. Bloody, missing an arm. Screaming like he was possessed. Something seemed to grab him and pull him back into the darkened room. The wide eyed sand-table Mystics cleared and redrew their runes. Summoning fire and launching it into the room. To no avail. The darkness reached out at them as tendrils. Wrapping them up and pulling them into the room. Kicking and screaming.

It came for everyone. Mystics, Slaves, all were attacked as the darkness seemed to seep out of the room. Torches were extinguished and screams died in the throats of terrified men and women as they fled. Darkness spilled over people, and they did not emerge from it. Of those who ran, the barest fraction escaped. Nabu’s second wish saw the ornate statues he’d marvelled at painted red with the gore of those who’d beaten and cared for him indiscriminately.

Behind the lucky few who’d survived the room growled, and loping fanged creatures that scaled the walls with ease exploded outwards. To the survivors luck they seemed to scurry deeper into the labyrinth, rather than give chase. Behind them, just in the doorway of the chamber where so many had died, familiar faces peeked out, only to retreat back in when seen.

Terrors had been unleashed, and for explanation those who returned would find only a few words, crudely carved into the stone amidst the abattoir: A Slave’s Price

It was a warning.







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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Enzayne
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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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Call to Adventure





The goat pen shed had a certain air of dread emanating from it. Farah had never noticed it before, but back then it had never housed anything but goats, either, save for the occasional boy or girl exiled from the dormitory for a night. Now that it hosted a whole crew of violent thugs, and four slaves under their thrall, it seemed to radiate a certain malice, encroaching on the peace of nearby sheds and the rest of the community with its mere presence. She could see movement between the spaces of the planks. Heard gruff voices in the distance. Farah reached for support as she waited, and looked to her right as a calloused hand gripped hers.

Adnan’s eyes met hers, and he smiled as much as his injured face could muster. It was enough to steady her nerves, and Farah felt her own lips crease into an unbidden smile. Despite his nose having buckled under the pressure of confrontation, and his skin around the breakage being red and angry, he was as handsome as ever. If anything, the damage made him look rugged, although she’d never say such a silly thing. Adnan stared at her as well, content to forget the scene and shed they had both been watching from afar. His lips parted as if to speak, when a sudden force pushed against Farah’s back. The heat and weight of another. Arms wrapping over her shoulders. A brief shock, alleviated as she heard Aisha’s voice. “Farah, this is so exciting! What do you think they’re talking about in there?”

Farah exhaled sharply, her smile growing. Adnan chuckled as well, but released her hand to let her struggle with Aisha on her own, using his hand to gingerly touch at his nose instead. She tried to throw off her excited friend, but it was no use; Aisha clung on tight, as usual. ”Well,” Farah surrendered at last, drawing her gaze away from Adnan to glance back at the shed properly. ”If anyone can make them see reason, it’s Matron Nasira. I’ve never seen anyone win an argument with her.”

“True, true.” Aisha said, and Farah felt her lay her head against Farah’s. “Hi, Adnan! How’s the nose? You should know better than to swing at outsiders.”

”Aisha-...” Farah protested, though could not stop herself from smirking just a little. She glanced back to Adnan, and he seemed to be taking it in stride, a big smile playing on his lips.

“You’re right, Aisha. I got myself in trouble. Patron Abbas gave me a real earful for it, too.” Adnan explained with considerable calm, his gaze fixed on the shed in the distance. Aisha, meanwhile, bobbed a straw of sungrass in front of his face. Farah felt compelled to do her part, and batted her hand down. “I can’t help it. What they are doing to those people. That’s how I ended up in Karay, in the first place. I don’t want to imagine what they’ve gone through.” he continued, and his smile vanished into the ether, replaced with a wistful sorrow. Farah frowned to herself, and gazed back at the shed. Those men had said all manner of wicked things, and had done worse. Farah could barely imagine what Adnan saw in his mind, beyond her own memories of youth. Even those were vague at best. Whatever Karay was like, it didn’t sound like anything like what she knew. That much she had gathered from asking others over the years.

“Don’t worry, Adnan,” Aisha intoned quickly, and reached a hand up to tussle Farah’s hair gently, eliciting a quiet chuckle from her. “You saw Oraliyah’s light. They did too. No chance they will try anything after that. If they do, Farah will call on Oraliyah and the sun will teach them a proper lesson.”

Adnan offered a hum of agreement and smiled still, and Farah snickered quietly. Within, she felt a strange stone in her gut. She didn’t know why Oraliyah had chosen her. Could she call on her? What if all this was some kind of test? What if it was a trick? Yazmina had all kinds of stories about witches and their trickery. But the feeling she had felt, in that moment. That had felt real. Different. Unlike anything on Galbar that she knew. She still felt it somewhere deep within. Oraliyah still graced her with her presence. Perhaps she never left? Farah glanced up at the sky, trying her best to look at the sun without actually looking at it. Everyone knew Oraliyah was too beautiful to look at without being blinded, even children.

Her thoughts were broken by the sound of beads rattling against each other, as the Matron ducked out of the shed, finished with her talks. The old woman barreled out of the pen with determined steps, her face locked in an angry frown. She never looked particularly happy, but it was easy to tell that something was bothering her. Farah felt Aisha slowly let go and ease away, and within moments she had filed in between Farah and Adnan. Two of the others who had lounged nearby quickly scuttled away when they caught sight of the matron. Farah too felt her legs itch with an urge to walk away, but it was too late. Matron Nasira had seen the three of them the moment she stepped outside.

She was in front of them in an instant, her face enough to call on the sky to shield the sun behind dark clouds. She gave Farah a look that evaporated all joy, and replaced it with a feeling of disquiet. “They demand to speak with you, Farah,” the matron spoke through gritted teeth. “These brutes will not leave until we show them the miracle child.”

Farah tried her best to breathe, but the knot in her stomach seemed to make it hard to get a steady breath of air. They wanted to see her? Why?

Before she could ask, Adnan stepped in with his own question. “Matron Nasira? What about those people they are holding captive? They have been in there for a full day now.”

The matron glanced towards Adnan, and her demeanour almost immediately shifted. Her wrinkled features softened, a small, empathetic smile playing on her lips. She extended a hand to gently pat Adnan on the cheek as she spoke. “Oh, my dear. We cannot be saviors for everyone. These barbarians will not see reason, I’m afraid. Not all men are as virtuous as those on our farm.”

Adnan protested, but Farah could not hear it. In her mind whirled a tumultuous flurry of thoughts, drowning out much of the world around her. She felt a growing dread build around her heart, and the shed seemed to grow in the distance, the movement between the boards an eldritch, predatory hint of what dangers lurked on the other side. Barbarians. Slavers. Killers. Thieves. What if they tried something? She had been told her entire life to stay away from outsiders, and now they wanted her to go in there? It wasn’t fair. Wasn’t natural. ”Why me?” she questioned meekly, feeling the shame in her own words. ”I don’t think there’s anything I can do that you can’t, Matron.”

Matron Nasira was back on her in seconds, and her hand lashed out to clap Farah on the cheek in the same way she’d lectured her since she was a child. It burned the same way as then, and Farah sunk her eyes to the ground, her shame growing. “Stupid child. Oraliyah comes down from above to bathe you in her light, and you are still trying to escape your duties? Does your laziness know no bounds?” the matron growled with the same venom she’d had when she found them playing in the field when they were twelve. Aisha tried to protest, but the matron cut her off with a simple shush before continuing. “These men are invaders, and fortunately for us, even barbarians respect the sun goddess. They have asked for your presence to appease their spiritual needs. If that is what it takes for them to finally leave, then so be it.”

Everything was wrong. The very words the matron said disgusted her. Filled her head with strange, unpleasant worries about what the men with weapons would say and do. She had heard her share of horror stories from others about what outsiders were like. Only now did she begin to believe them. She wanted to argue, to tell the Matron that she would not do it. But Oraliyah had shone her light on her for a reason. Right?

“Go now, do not make us wait. Do not worry, child, we are right here.” the matron intoned with a hastened voice. Farah breathed a shaky breath, and felt Aisha touch her shoulder and drift down along her arm as Farah stepped away, head held low. She watched the goat pen shed loom closer with each step, and gently took a step over the low fence. A few more steps, and she heard voices coming from inside. It was enough to give her pause, as the roil in her gut seemed to make itself known again. The Matron said it would be fine. That had to count for something. Right? Farah took another few steps, and stepped through the rattling barrier of string and beads.

The view inside was unpleasant at best. The band of ruffians had assembled on the far side of a bit of fencing, and had pushed their captives into the corner amidst a few distressed goats bleating uncertainly but all the same refusing to skip outside. The stink of goat and old grass was overpowered by the smell of sweat, alcohol and refuse. In mere hours, they had made the shed theirs in every way, and it sent a ripple of disgust down Farah's spine. Their eyes locked on her the moment she stepped inside, and Farah fought the urge to just stop and run back out. Their gazes wandered over her simple dress in strange ways, and their eyes were hard and unpleasant. These were wild men, she reminded herself. Different from those who lived here. Her own gaze fell on one of the corners, where the slaves they had brought with them sat huddled. They looked dirty, scared and weak. A wrenching feeling in her gut followed. How mistreated they were. Like poorly cared for animals. It made her sick inside.

"Done starin'?" a gravelly voice rumbled at her, jolting Farah out of her thoughts. The old man that had hurt and threatened them not many hours ago stared at her from the middle of the shed, and Farah averted her eyes with equal dread and disgust.

"You wished to see me," Farah breathed, trying her best to sound fierce and strong, and ignore the weakness in her limbs. "I am here, now look quickly and go."

The old man broke into a chuckle, which caused a ripple of snickers among his traveling troupe of troublemakers. "I'd expect nothin' but fire from Oraliyah's champion, eh. Tha's fair." He concluded, scratching at his chin as his gaze roamed over Farah. "Now, see, yer old crone won't hear reason, so I suppose we'll leave all ye to the wolves. All we want is a blessin' afore we go. From Oraliyah's champion."

Leave them to the wolves? Farah ruminated as best she could under the circumstances until his request clicked in her head, and her head spiralled with what strange ideas they may demand with such a vague request. A stone filled her gut once more. Why had the Matron sent her in here? Did she hate her so much? She cleared her throat and glanced at the old, disheveled man. "...Bless you? In what… in what world would I bless you?" she asked with a little too much fire, and saw the frown building on their faces. She drew a long breath, finding the huddled slaves in the corner looking at her. Before the old man got any new ideas, Farah steeled herself and stepped forwards to continue, gesturing towards the slaves. "Even if I had the power to bless any woman or man, what possessed you to think, even in jest, that you are worthy of such? You who keep fellow people as animals on a leash, terrified and cowed? Oraliyah's light shines on the kind, the warm of heart, and the weak." she reprimanded swiftly. The man began a reply but Farah felt her fire return. She continued, raising her voice to cut him off. "Yet all of you come here with grins and malice and expect the goddess to smile on you. After what you have done, to us here, to Adnan outside, to these chained people. Have you no shame?"

A strange feeling rippled through her as she finished speaking. Silence reigned in the shed as the men seemed stunned by her angered response. Then it was as though a dam burst. One of the men broke into sobs, falling to his knees and clutching his head. Another stared at one of the slaves with guilt in his eyes before it became too much for him and he vomited onto the hay-covered dirt below. The old man gripped a nearby wooden panel shakily, breathing heavy and unsteady breaths as his companions all burst into tears, sobs, and anguished cries. Farah stepped back in shock. Had she cursed them somehow? She'd never seen men act anything like this.

"Yer… yer right. I-... I've done so much," the man began with a wavering voice, intoned by a chorus of sobs from his companions. "It was tae survive.. always tae survive… tha's what I told meself... Oraliyah… Forgive me.." His gaze rose, and he looked up at Farah with pained, guilt-ridden eyes. In that moment, Farah felt as though he would have leapt from a cliff if he could. His look of abject defeat touched her deep inside, and she realized the other men appeared to be as deeply disturbed as he. This wasn't normal. Was Oraliyah with her right now?

Farah breathed an unsteady breath of her own, and took a two steps forwards to close the gap between her and the old man in the shed. Cautiously she extended a hand, and laid it gently on his shoulder as solemn comfort. He seemed to melt into it, gently leaning against her hand lightly. Then he too burst into tears. Farah stepped closer yet, pulling the much older man against her into a comforting embrace. Her own anger had washed away, and before these humbled men she felt almost maternal. The man cried into her hug as others sobbed, fell together, or quietly recovered in the case of one man. He who recovered looked at the gathered slaves with a growing distaste on his features, then simply wandered over to undo their bonds. One of the captives ran out immediately, while the others remained together. "I'm so sorry…" the man murmured, and Farah shushed him quietly.

"It's never too late to improve. Never too late to be an honest man. If you know what you have done is wrong, then you also know how you must change." she murmured quietly, echoing the words of her bed- and field mates rather than the Matron. Nasira would say a person never changes, but this was surely proof of the opposite. He nodded slowly, and she continued to nurse him for a while before stepping away to allow the man to recover. "You said you would leave us to the wolves. What did you mean?"

The man sighed quietly, and even that admission seemed to hit him with a pang of guilt. "Karay is leaderless. The richest are about tae war with each other for power. Yer farm had a deal with Karay. Food for protection, and new blood. Tha's all gone now. More-... more slavers will be coming this way."

A chill ran down her spine, the implications of his words settling in quite neatly. Suddenly what she had overheard before began to make sense as well. It all led to what she had feared when she had first spotted these men walking on the horizon; the farm was no longer safe.

"But-... there'll be a new leader. A new.. a new deal can be made." she pressed. Even in his humbled state her question provoked only a simple shrug, tired and weary.

"Maybe," he conceded quietly. "I guess all that' depends on findin' someone as sly as the last feller. He was keepin' the market together with nothin' but willpower and brute force."

"Then we must act swiftly," Farah concluded. The Matron would surely agree. "Someone will see reason. Our farm provides food for many mouths. It is a valuable thing to protect." Somewhere deep inside she resented her own words. She knew what she was proposing.

"...Ye mean to go?"

"If the Matron won't, I… I will."

"Please, champion-.." the old man began anew, capturing her attention. He reached for her, before thinking better of himself. Instead he sank to the dirty ground in the shed, prostrating himself before her on both knees in a deep bow. He was promptly joined by his comrades who filed up alongside him in an awkward line in the tiny space. "Let me… let us serve and protect Oraliyah's champion. As penance for me worthless life. I… ye have shown me the blackness of me soul. I know nae wha' else tae do."

Farah breathed a deep breath, watching the men. To her surprise, two of the remaining slaves had joined them, apparently begging her mercy. It made her feel like a fool, and she felt her cheeks burn. "My name is Farah. What you do… what you do is your own choice." she offered and nodded firmly.

They too nodded, and looked up at her as though she had affirmed their service. Farah lifted a hand to scratch at her neck, but stopped halfway when the crowd interpreted her motion as a gesture to rise. She breathed uncertainly.

"...You all must be hungry. Come. We should all eat." she said after a moment of hesitation and offered a small smile. That smile too, spread like wildfire.








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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Based and RPilled

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The Merchant Kings 2 - A Match for the Ages




It was an uncharacteristically hot evening on the southern shores of Sso-Hwah. The palms stood as frozen in the windstill air - the inhabitants of the jungle sang their late night songs a little quieter as they had no gusts to compete with. At the borders between overgrowth and dry flats, rach Rose sat on a small wooden chair with a skin seat. He was hunched over, neatly chipped bone studs running the length of the shell of his long ears, his chin resting comfortably atop his intertwined fingers. He wore a leather harness that protected his torso, but left his arms uncovered to help his body stay cool; over his legs, he wore a kilt fashioned from skin strips and studded with bone, as well.

Opposite of him sat chief Tsarri of the Hui-Prra, dressed in, surprisingly, a black shadowtiger pelt, with thick fur bracers around his wrists and long strings intertwined with tiger knuckles dangling from his earlobes. His teeth, which he bared menacingly, had been sharpened with flint. His hands held tight grips atop his powerful thighs. Both his toenails and fingernails had, too, been sharpened to almost clawlike points.

The two of them had sat in silence, staring at one another. Behind them were lined up nelven warbands, all armoured for battle in the heat, most bare-chested and hardly dressed in more than kilts. They all wielded their pi-xxois and xwenkkos with intimidating presence, hissing sharply at one another. With regularly intervals, the warriors almost walked up face to face with each other, flicking their tongues out of their mouths and making animalistic faces. They squatted down and flexed intimidatingly at their opponents, and some would even growl to get attention, then jump out in the middle to do gymnastic exercises, such as handstands, cartwheels, flips and more, being cheered on by their comrades and cursed by their enemies. Eventually, Tsarri rose from his seat and stepped out, doing a high squat in the middle of the field and placing two fists on his lower abdomen with a sharp, challenging huff. Rach Rose stood up to meet him, and the two collided foreheads and snorted aggressively at one another.

“Ya got balls, kid, comin’ ta my jungle just like that,” the chieftain snarled to the hisses of his warriors. Rose purred in challenge.

“After you snatched a whole sled full of flowers? Roses no less! How could I not answer such a challenge?”

Tsarri snickered. “Where’s ya proof, huh? What makes you think we took it?”

“Come on, Tsar-Tsar - we found tiger fur all over the site of the ‘accident’ - by the way, do boulders really fall like that? Fairly certain they don’t.”

“Shit happens, Rosie - shit happens.” He stepped back and eyed the warriors Rose had brought. He shot hot streams of air through his nostrils. “Is this all you brought? Half look to be missing mother’s tits; the other half, wifey’s caress. What, has masculinity lost its meaning in Fragrance?” The insult brought wheezing laughter to the White Tigers. The Fragrancians unleashed almost deafening insults back, impossible to decipher on account of their volume. Rose flinched and motioned for them to quiet down.

“Harsh words, Tsar-Tsar; we’ll make you eat every single one.”

“Oh yeah? Do tell me how, exactly.”

“How about a dance?”

The chieftain raised a brow. “And which dance would that be, my lady?”

The rach smirked. “Toc-saox. My best versus yours.”

There came whoops from both sides. The chieftain tugged at his stubby chin. “Alright, alright - I’ll play your little game, provided you’ll play one of mine, too.”

“What’ve you got in mind, you sub-nelven brute?”

“Hoo, feisty, just how I like them,” the chieftain said and flicked his tongue sharply. “Only one game can follow up a dance - xxois-wooah!” The White Tigers threw their hands in the air and started grunting in a cheering manner. Rose sucked in a breath through the teeth.

“You sure that’s what you want them to play?” the rach mumbled and clicked disapprovingly. Tsarri snickered and clapped his hands to his thighs.

“What’s the matter, my lady? Did we scawe yoo, humm?” He drummed his chest and threw his arms out wide, stretching himself to his full height, torso musculature flexing menacingly. Rose would be lying if he said he didn’t feel intimidated.

“Ugh, this is why your jungle is seen as nothing but backwater in comparison to our glorious--”

“HEY, BOYS! I THINK WIDDLE WOSIE IS SCAWED!” The White Tigers roared in laughter as their chieftain jumped from edge to edge of his warband, cupping his hands behind his ear and drumming his chest to challenge his men to be louder. In no longer than a few seconds, the White Tigers were deafening whatever complaints and counter-insults the Fragrancians could throw back. Morale among the Fragrancians was weakening, and Rose felt the stares of his countrymen hardening the rach took longer and longer to think of a good reply. The other side was chanting and singing:


Behold, the man of tiger blood:
A man with skin of hardened mud;
A man with bones to rival stone;
A man who can’t be killed alone!

HUI!

PRRA!

HUI!

PRRA!

Behold, the son of moon and beast:
North and south and west and east -
Nowhere in life is safe from him
Yes, ev’n in death, he’ll do you in!

HUI!

PRRA!

HUI!

PRRA!


The rach struggled immensely to think, and it was visible all over him. The Fragrancians had all stopped their ruckus at this point, realising that they couldn’t compete with the fervour shown now by the White Tigers. The rach was halfway ready to acknowledge defeat when he felt a warm hand caress his sweaty shoulder. The anxieties clawing at his soul were momentarily alleviated, and he felt his old, secure self return. “Where have you been, my heart?”

“Yesterday’s kheft didn’t sit very well with my system. Took a while to get it out,” mumbled Lavender jokingly. Rose scoffed and rolled his eyes.

“Gross, Lav.” The warrior gave the rach a quick kiss on the lips and stepped in front of him. The White Tigers began to quiet down upon smelling him, and Tsarri turned away from his warriors to sniff the air.

“My, my, now ain’t that just the most familiar smell. Come to dance, have we, Lav?” the chieftain rumbled and stuck out his tongue. Lavender proceeded to take off his chest harness and uncork a bottle of lavender oil. He slowly poured it over his pectoral muscles and rubbed it in with slow movements. The scent oozed forth and almost knocked the Tigers back. Tsarri cringed.

“By the gods, man - in moderation, please!”

“‘Moderation’ isn’t my kind of word, pussy cat,” the warrior replied and then lifted flexing arms above his head, kicked his right leg up in the air and then hammering it to the ground, entering a low lunge. The moonlight glistened on his oiled body, and his black topknot spiked the heavens like a singular horn. He hissed sharply at the chief, who recoiled and snaked his head side to side, calculating his response to the challenge.

“Oh-ho, I see. You’ll step it for Widdle Wosie, is that it? Was that your plan?” The chief offered Rose a click. “Understandable, little seedling - you’re not ready to face me either way.” The chieftain blew Rose a kiss, who waved it away harshly. He then looked down at Lavender, who now had gone down into splits. “Good form, kid - not gonna lie, if you were one of my men, I would’ve adopted you as my own son.”

Lavender laid his torso over his left leg and grabbed his foot with his hands, barely suppressing a chuckle. “You ask every time, and as with every time, here is my answer: Thanks for the offer, kitten, but my heart is already taken.”

“Understandable,” the chieftain offered and hissed back at the rach. “Finally, you’ve brought an actual man to my borders - now I won’t have to worry about any women being hit.” He spat on the ground and the Fragracians brandished their spears. “But a chieftain can’t face a captain - that’s just not right. No, no, no - rank must face equal rank, such is tradition! Fursa, come out here!”

While the White Tigers reorganised and oiled up their champion, Rose offered a scoff to which Lavender snickered. “I had hoped you would be breaking that cretin’s neck within the hour…” muttered the rach. Lavender shrugged.

“I’ll be breaking someone’s neck. Don’t worry - we’ll hit him where it hurts. Someone as proud as Tsarri will be bugged for months over a defeat like this - especially after riling up his men for so long.”

“So… Got a plan?”

“You suggested the dance first, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, I took care of it. He ate it up like unhooked bait.”

Lavender ran an oily hand through his hair and took a long whiff of the air. He then leaned in. “Well, of course, he did. He’s an idiot. What did he suggest after?”
Xxois-wooah.”

Lavender raised a brow, then bobbed his head from side to side. “Not my first guess, but not unexpected, either.” Rose took his hand in his own.

“You’re not playing, right?”

“You kidding me? No! No, I’ll place my bets on the dance and the third challenge.” Both of them turned to regard the Tiger champion - he resembled the chief in that he, too, was a mountain of muscle with sharpened nails and teeth, but he had a wider jaw and stronger brows. He was also bald, and the sheen of the moon cast a blinding light off of his oiled scalp. Rose drew an anxious breath.

“Be careful, my heart.”

“Always am,” Lavender responded and kissed him softly on the lips. As they broke apart, Lavender spun around and drummed his chest in challenge. The Tiger champion Fursa did the same, wheezing menacingly. Lavender met the wheeze with a growl, and before long, the two clashed foreheads and bent down low and forward. Then clasped hands and tested each other’s strength. The Fragrancian warriors got a second wind as they saw that Lavender could, in fact, push back Fursa. However, Fursa refused to be pushed away so easily, and the White Tigers got reason to celebrate, too, when Lavender almost lost his footing.

Rose’s breathing quickened and he blurted out: “Should we perhaps get started with the games, then?” The champions stopped and the warriors quieted down. Tsarri clicked disapprovingly.

“Ugh, since you whine so much, I guess we can. Again, Lavender, how can you stand this woman?” Fursa and Lavender broke apart and each returned to their own comrades’ sides while preparations were made for the drum dance.

“He can be quite manly once you get to know him,” retorted Lavender with a chuckle as he pulled Rose to the side. Tsarri offered a polite click back.

“Why did you do that?” Lavender hissed at Rose a few steps away. Rose shrunk.

“I… I didn’t want you to--”

“To what? Appear weak? Rose, come on, I -had- control.”

“But--”

“Ap, ap! -Don’t- steal my thunder again. You make me look bad. Calm down and let me do my thing, okay?”

Rose sighed anxiously and forced a smile. “Yes, my heart.” Lavender raked his hair with his fingers. He then put one hand on each of Rose’s shoulders and kissed him quickly on the cheek.

“Now man up and join the crowd. This’ll be over in no time.”

Eight warriors from each side formed two crescents of a circle surrounding Lavender first. The warriors all held small drums and Lavender received two lengths of thin linen, which he tied around his wrists so that each of his arms sported a long cloth. He spun and tossed himself around for practice, the sheets soaring after him like representations of the air flowing around his body. All around the ring, whether friend or foe, the men clicked and purred flirtingly at his moves. Lavender’s chuckle was somewhere in there, too - it was evident that he revelled in the attention.

“Ya ready, son?” Tsarri asked and Lavender slowed down. He tightened the wraps on his wrists and took a deep breath.

“Yeah,” answered Lavender and tied a third length of linen over his eyes.

The chieftain clicked. “Then we will begin!” The drummers started slow, beats coming from all sides of the circle. This was to confuse the dancer first - keep them on their toes. Lavender started skipping in place to the beat. The beats grew louder and louder as to test the dancer’s perseverance. Lavender kept skipping, the oil on his skin hiding whether or not he had yet to break a sweat. The men around the circle started chanting:


Warrior, warrior, warrior of the night!
Is he, is he, is he born of might?!
Can he triumph over death?!
Can he grow as great as gods?!
Warrior, warrior, warrior of the night!


One of the drums sounded louder than the others. The dance had begun. With a flying high kick, Lavender skewered the air with his foot, casting himself out of the way of an incoming javelin. The javelin, being tipped with a length of obsidian, snapped, leaving the hilt and half the blade on the ground while the edge stuck up from the sand like a spike. Not a second later, he kicked himself back, snatched the javelin from the sand without getting cut on the spike and did an airborne pirouette. He landed right where the drum had been the loudest and hammered the drum with the hilt, making sure to stay on beat as he cartwheeled back to the centre of the circle. Another louder drum thundered, and Lavender flipped through the air off to the left, dodging the javelin. He picked it up and returned it to its drummer.

The number of louder drums picked up. Next came two javelins, but Lavender couldn’t return both in time without missing the beat. He thus skipped around the circle for the remaining percussions of the metre before returning the last javelin. Rach Rose watched as Lavender nearly danced right into a tall, lethal spike of razor obsidian, only narrowly stopping right before it. It had no doubt been sheer luck, but the man showed no sign of surprise, merely continuing on without so much as testing the confines of the rhythm. The dance went for three minutes without a single stop, and on the final measure, the dancer had to return as many as four javelins to their owners. By the time the dance ended, Lavender was shaking, the ring filled with closer to sixteen obsidian spikes that he had all avoided. One had grazed him slightly, and blood ran down his thigh in a black line. Still, he stood, and the White Tigers didn’t even look mad at his performance - in fact, they cheered louder than the Fragrancians.

“HAH! Now -that- was a dance!” praised Tsarri and slapped Lavender on the back. Lavender chuckled politely and clasped hands with the chieftain.

“Let’s see your little Fursa beat that?”

“Doubt he can, honestly,” the chieftain mumbled and Fursa behind him lowered his head in shame. Tsarri rolled his eyes and squeezed Lavender’s hand tighter. “Those were no sissy Fragrancian moves, son… Face it…” He leaned in to Lavender’s ear. “... You’re no flower. You were born to be a Tiger.”

Lavender sighed and pulled himself away. “Alright, settle down, kitty. I’m taken, like I’ve said a thousand times.” Tsarri clicked playfully and wagged a finger.

“Oh, ho-ho, I will get you yet, son - Fursa! Get ready!”

“Y-yes, chieftain!”

While the Tigers’ champion prepared himself, Lavender was surrounded by Fragrancians coming to congratulate him and hand him drinks and towels. Lav accepted a cup of lowee and sat down to wipe off the worst of sweat.

“How do you even do those kicks?!” asked one of the warriors.

“Yeah, don’t you get super tired after just one?”

Lavender chuckled. “Why, in the beginning, I did, but years of diligent training and the goodwill of the gods have given me the stamina I need to serve Fragrance as well as I do today.” There came approving clicks from the crowd. “Remember, train yourselves every day, keep in touch with your sages and have them help you take care of your body, and stay pious to the gods. The great moonfather Kipo smiles upon those who have the will to grow strong!”

“Yes, Lavender!” many half-squealed in their whisper.

Fursa’s dance wasn’t even close to as impressive. He frequently stepped off the beat, and while he never mistook which drummer had thrown the javelin, he often failed to hit the drum with the hilt on time. His dodges were simple and uninteresting, and while he has never hit or grazed, it didn’t feel like a dance, but more like a game of dodge-the-spear. Needless to say, Lavender was the undisputed champion. After the chieftain had given Fursa a stern talking to, he spanned his arms as wide as he could and thundered, “Next up - xxois-wooah!” The White Tigers cheered and the Fragrancians shrunk. Lavender put his hands on his hips and turned to the nail-biting Rose with a smirk and a click.

“Don’t worry, I won’t get hit. Remember our plan and calm down.”

Rose clicked anxiously and pulled his fingers out of his mouth. On the opposite side of the field, Fursa already stood ready with the spear. The javelin used in xxois-wooah was different from the standard Fragrancian pi-xxois: Rather than being a relatively short shaft with a long obsidian tip that would snap upon impact, the game spear was one long shaft of wood with both edges sharpened. The goal of the game was to throw the lance at one another and for the other to catch it before it hit the ground. If it did, the catching party would lose. Lavender and Fursa stood opposite of one another with around fifteen metres of distance between them. The chieftain eyed them both.

“Ready?!”

Both clicked their confirmation. “Begin!”

Fursa cast his throwing arm back, hopped a few steps forward and sent the spear soaring at Lavender. The man may not have been much of a dancer, but he could throw spears, that was for sure. The lance barely quivered in the air, but flew as though it was meant for nothing else, and would have skewered Lavender straight in the chest if the man simply hadn’t stepped to the side and let the lance plant itself deep in the sand. There came a collective groan of disappointment from the Tigers, and even some of the Fragrancians clicked their disapproval. Fursa threw his hands in the air with frustration and Tsarri growled.

“Come on, Lav, really? This is too low for someone of your calibre.”

Lavender shrugged and pulled the spear out of the ground with a bit of effort. “Am I not allowed to choose what games I participate in?”

“If you wanted to do that, you should have been here from the beginning,” the chieftain muttered angrily and caught the spear as Lavender gently lobbed it back to him.

“Sorry, I had shits to take that were more important than this. Shall we just get on with the third challenge already?” The chieftain exhaled hot air through his teeth.

“I’m startin’ to think I might have to teach you a lesson, too, son…”

“Finally! I may have my challenge yet. That’d be great!”

Tsarri growled. “Oh, you want a challenge? Let’s get you a challenge. Let’s make the third game a bit bloodier, shall we?”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Lavender took the linen from before and wrapped it around his knuckles. The chieftain lifted his arms to the nightsky.

“The gods decree that, if the two games lead to a draw, a third must be had! We haven’t had a lot of physical contact tonight. Let’s make it a wrestling match to the death.”

“Sounds good to me. Fursa?”

The Tiger champion spat. “Hope you’ve said your last prayers, budling.”

“Likewise, pussy cat.”

Once again, the warriors formed a ring around the two, though instead of drums, they all held their javelins tightly. The circle was wider this time, wide enough to fit every warrior. The space in the middle made for quite a battlefield, almost a diameter of six metres. The warriors rubbed themselves in with new coats of oil and assumed their stances opposite of one another. Each combatant entered a high squat, hissing and flicking their tongues and one another. Fursa clapped at his thighs; Lavender drummed at his chest. Rose couldn’t help but grab his hand to keep it from quivering - Lavender had come out of many fights without so much as a scratch, but he never knew when his divine luck would run out.

“Begin!”

The two nelves collided barely even seconds later, and Fursa immediately got the upper hand, catching Lavender’s attempt to lock his arms, smacking those arms out of the way and spinning Lavender around, catching his throat in his right elbow. Just as Fursa was about to place his left hand behind Lavender’s head, however, a well-placed punch to the jaw managed to stagger him enough for Lavender to break free, bend down and almost trip over with a strong grab around his core and a foot behind Fursa’s left. However, Fursa caught himself with his right leg just in time not to fall, and did it again as Lavender kept trying. Fursa lifted his fists above his head and brought them down with meteoric force on Lavender’s back, smacking him to the ground. Lavender tried to catch the breath knocked out of him, but before he could, Fursa had already laid his legs over his back, Lavender’s right arm trapped between them. The Tiger champion cackled. “Is this -it-?! The great Lavender of Fragrance, floored in a matter of minutes?” He grabbed the struggling right arm and tilted it a bit to the left, then a bit to the right. “Nooooow… Which side should we snap it, boys?”

Half the Tigers hissed ‘left’; the other, ‘right’. Lavender squirmed to get loose, but the grip was tight. He looked up at the Fragrancians, all of whom were telling him to persevere and fight on - break out of the grip! Lavender suddenly regretted having spent so much energy during the dance - he could’ve sorely used it right about now. He looked up at Rose, who was nearly in tears. If Fursa broke his arm, he would no doubt be killed by the next attack. He couldn’t do that to Rose - he couldn’t leave him like this. As quietly as he could, almost to the point where it could hardly be called ‘sound’ at all, he whispered, “Gods, give me strength…”

A simple rush of wind brushed past his ear. With it came a sigh, unassuming and soft, yet to him strong enough to drown out all other sound as it echoed in his mind. Ethereal hands ran along his form, unseen but felt. Finally, a warm and compelling voice burned in his ears, louder than anything he'd ever heard, but still somehow kind on his hearing. "So long as you dance, you shall have my favour, my sweet," the voice sang softly, and he felt a surreal touch run along his chin. "As you shall have the favour of all who watch you spin to your own tune." Another sigh rushed through his ears, and for just a moment an ethereal horned, winged woman rose from before him, her hand moved away from his chin. As soon as the image came, it vanished, as did the surreal sensation.

The shock nearly made him lose sense of his struggle, and his arm went flaccid to the point where Fursa had to see if he had given up. Then, before the spectators could get similar ideas, Lavender redoubled his efforts, flexing to release his arm. Fursa blinked - in the span of seconds, he had grown stronger - much stronger; in fact, Fursa couldn’t reroute enough of his own strength to his legs before Lavender broke free of his trap and rolled away. The Fragrancians exploded into a wild cheer, and the White Tigers were speechless.

“H-how did he do that?! That grip should be impossible to escape!” came a sharp whisper. Lavender pushed himself up to a kneeling position, brushed his black hair to the side and snickered.

“Not for me,” he said and clicked suggestively. The spectator who had spoken up fell back into formation, blushing. Fursa charged at Lavender once more, but an unnaturally strong second wind had overtaken him, as though the cheers of the crowd infused his breath and muscles with power. He danced out of the way and skipped over to the other side of the ring, posing triumphantly with one hand saluting the moon. The crowds whooped and drummed their spears on the ground. What was this sensation? Fursa came thundering towards him again, and Lavender avoided him again, as though their fight had become a game - entertainment for the masses.

“Get him, Lav!” came a shout. Ah, it was Rose, his precious Rose. Well, Lavender felt that he was nothing if not a crowd pleaser. He turned around, did a cartwheel into a backflip and planted his feet in Fursa’s chest, sending the large man hammering to the ground with unnatural force. The warrior looked to be struggling to stay conscious as he shakingly lifted his head off the sand - spots of black coloured the ground where his skull had landed. Lavender danced another round around the ring, cupping his hands behind his ears.

“End him, end him, end him!” the Fragrancians cheered. The White Tigers were covering their eyes at the sight and their noses at the smell of blood. The chieftain stood there grimacing. Lavender snickered and exaggerated some searching gestures to the struggling body on the ground.

“Oh, you mean this guy? Whaaat do you want me to do to him?”

“Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”

“Oof, such a menacing request - my, my. Oh well, as the crowd demands.” Lavender flattened himself down next to Fursa, who still hadn’t gotten his bearings. He then grabbed his arms, forced him onto his side before locking the arms behind his back and then laying himself on his enemy’s back. He locked his elbow over Fursa’s throat and squeezed. “Here we go, folks!” Then he squeezed - the man underneath him squirmed weakly to free himself, but there was no hope. Worse yet, whenever the crowds would grow quieter, Lavender would let up slightly, giving Fursa the opportunity to suck in a desperate breath, only to worsen the chokehold. Eventually, Tsarri growled.

“By the gods, just let him die already!”

“I dunno… What does the crowd think?”

“Kill! Kill! Kill!” the Fragrancians continued, and now the White Tigers joined in in the hopes that their comrade would be shown some mercy. Lavender clicked in acknowledgement.

“As the crowd demands,” he whispered and, with a final squeeze and a twist, snapped his opponent’s neck. Fursa laid limp the following second. The Fragrancians cheered as Lavender rose up and threw his arms in the air. The White Tigers had lost all the fervour they had, and Tsarri clicked somberly as he walked over and inspected the corpse, turning his limp head from side to side with morbid jerks of movement.

“Didn’t take you for a torturer, Lav,” he whispered coldly. Lavender cast a glance over his shoulder and snickered.

“Fighting is a show to please the crowd - one man’s torture is another man’s glory, after all.”

The chieftain eyed him blankly. “What?”

“You’re a crowd pleaser like myself - surely, you understand that the morale and enjoyment of the spectators must come before the wellbeing of the fighters; otherwise, they will be left dissatisfied and sate their bloodthirst through other means.” He scratched the chief under the chin. “Can’t have nelves wantonly killing nelves, now can we?” He then spun around and walked back to the Fragrancians to be carried by the warriors like a hero. To take his place, rach Rose stepped forth to meet the shattered chieftain. Tsarri eyed him briefly and clicked his acknowledgement of his existence. Rose clicked back.

“Ready to hear your terms of defeat, then?”

Tsarri waved dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, we know. Stay out of your lands and pay compensation for the roses. What do you want?”

The directness took Rose by surprise, but he couldn’t let the iron cool. “Roses are valued as among the most fragrant flowers we have here - you will repay us in something that can equal or equate to its value. Seeing as your… People have nothing that can compare to roses, we will settle for three sleds of junglewood.”

Tsarri sucked in a slow breath. “Fine, you shall have it. Meet us here again in a week, and you will have your carts.” He lifted one of Fursa’s cooling hands. “Did you know Fursa was our nelflings’ finest wrestling instructor? They’ll be devastated to know he’s dead.”

Rose shrugged. “Shouldn’t have let him fight Lavender, then - deep down, after all, you are aware that your people is inferior to the civilisation of Fragrance; he couldn’t have won.” Just as he turned away, Tsarri grabbed his hand.

“Fursa had the upper hand from the very start - then, just as he was about to end him, Lavender turned the fight completely around. How could such a thing happen?”

Rose hissed and pulled his arm free. “Accept that your man lost and mine won. Maybe Fursa had a lapse of judgment allowing Lavender to break free, or maybe he was toying with all of us and had control of the situation all along. If you even consider accusing us of cheating--”

Tsarri growled and lowered his head. “No, no, I would’ve noticed if he had pulled some chao-ggao nonsense… He won with his own power, but…” Before he could finish, Rose turned away again and kept walking.

“Keep your conspiracy theories to yourself, kitten. We’re done here. We’ll see you in a week - do not be late.” With that, the Fragrancians headed back north.

While walking, Lavender was praised and worshipped by his peers, and many stuck close to touch and smell him, clicking happily whenever the champion would return the gestures. Rose himself kept a steady pace some distance behind, and eventually grew a little anxious at all the attention his oia’ssi was getting. He sped up, plowed through the crowd and grabbed Lavender by the arm, dragging him a little ahead of the rest of the group.

“Woah, hey, I was going to get to you, Rosie,” Lavender whispered with a chuckle. Rose frowned, but kept looking forward so Lav wouldn’t notice. Lav giggled. “Oh, I get it - that jealous, huh?”

“I’m -not- jealous. I just…” He sighed and slowed down, matching the pace of the men behind them. “You really had us going back there, you know… For a second there, I actually thought you… You would…”

“Would what, die?” Lavender threw out as though it had never been and would never be the case.

“Yes!”

“D’aaaw, Rosie was worried about me…” A quick movement seized Rose’s hand and placed it to Lavender’s lips. “You’re so cute when you're anxious.”

“Please don’t be attracted to my stressed side. I’m having a whole pot of tea when we get home… This whole ordeal has not been good for my heart.”

“What’re you talking about - I’m doing great!”

“My bodily heart, Lav!”

“I’m just teasing, Rosie.”

Rose sighed harshly. “Dumbass.”




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The Reconquest 3 - Ours Again



Year 29AA, early winter, in the stronghold Caisteal Na Grèine, situated between Scawick and Ha-Dûna.

“Very well… We have taken inventory of weapons, supplies, clothing and medicine. Our clearest shot at retaking Ha-Dûna is in front of our very eyes.” Hilda the Leoness slammed her palm on the table, rattling ceramic cups filled with drink. “If we wait out the winter, we may never get a shot like this again.”

“Why not? According to our scouts based in Kirin’s Rest, the Sigerans are broken asunder - morale is shattered, their food supplies have been dry for months, and people are either defecting or deserting every day. It wouldn’t surprise me if we’d be arriving in a ghost town by spring,” countered Valix of Leothe. Hilda rolled her eyes.

“It’s evident that you have been far too busy escorting Kaer Pier to pay close attention, théin Valix - with the loss of Scawick’s support (good riddance, if you ask me), our túnskiolding numbers have been reduced considerably - even if they weren’t good for much, they could at least have served their duty as levies…” Valix offered a cold hum. Hilda paid him no mind and continued, “According to your own words, we have reason to doubt the self-proclaimed “queen” of Kirin’s Rest and her support. The Undûnan are not to be trusted under any circumstance, so we might even have to account for her turning on us.” The table before them displayed a crude map drawn in charcoal upon a wolfskin. Hilda straightened herself back up and gave a pensive hum.

“Perhaps, but half our warriors march alongside her. They will no doubt keep her in check if she tries anything. You must also remember that we also have the support of these… Oraeliari - the winged ones.”

Hilda’s face offered a raised brow, her finger twisting a few locks of her large black mane. “Oh yes, the winged ones, the angels of Reiya - the Reiyar. Proof once again that ours is the greatest people, chosen by the gods to bring order and civilisation to these wild lands.” She put her hands triumphantly on her hips. “Their presence only proves further that the time to strike is now! Who knows how long this blessing will last?”

Valix hummed. “... That is a fair point.”

“Isn’t it?” snickered Hilda. “Théin Boudicca, there is only one possibility here.” Boudicca, who had been listening from a chair not too far from the table, nodded slowly with her chin balancing on her fists.

“Spread the word,” she said. “Anyone who can carry a spear, wield a bow, swing a club - all are coming with us. Make certain to equip everyone with whatever sunforged weapons we have, and pack sleds and carts with food and medicine for the trek and a long battle.”

“It won’t be a long battle, Boody,” soothed Hilda.

“Then pack the supplies for when we settle back into the city. Once only our civilians are left, I would not want them to drag all of it for the whole week’s trek.”

“Oh, very well, then,” Hilda conceded and walked off. Valix and Boudicca’s eyes met.

“Ha-Dûna is finally within our grasp, Val.” The warrior nodded and walked off, as well. Boudicca sucked passively on a tooth, stood up and walked over to the map. The wolfskin was blacked with the continued erasure and redrawing of features and details. The entire artwork was centered around their home - that beautiful home which they hadn’t set foot in for almost three years now. She looked up again and drew a slow breath. Soon now - soon. She then walked off to seek out the Reiyar leader Tevuri.




“Oh, great Tevuri, please - would you enlighten me as to what sorts of sacrifices the Sun Goddess truly prefers? Please?” The angel was surrounded on all sides by druids hungry for any information they could receive.

Tevuri gave them a perplexed look as he walked. “Whatever do you mean, Humani? A sacrifice is unbefitting to the Goddess. She does not require nor preach for them to be. Only those with falsities in their heart would ever think that a sacrifice of any nature would please her. Oraeliara only wishes that the world would be at peace, in happiness, and that fellow mortals cared for one another, opening their hearts to love and growth. The best thing you could ever do to please her, is to live your life and help those that require aid.”

“Oh, you’re too modest in her behalf, great one! Every god adores sacrifices - food, crafts, vows. It’s well known!”

“Very well known, in fact!”

“Is it?” He mused. “I’m afraid we are unfamiliar with other deities. Do they speak to you? Do their avatars teach you of what they ask? From what I’ve gathered from this situation, one should always be careful of who they devote themselves so completely to. And never put our own words behind their voices.”

The druids exchanged looks before turning away. “Well, ahem… We thank you for your wisdom. Walk in the gods’ blessings, great Tevuri.” Then they shuffled off sourly. The angel wasn’t left in peace for long, however, as Boudicca approached instead, her arms crossed across her chest in a posture that radiated authority.

“Great Tevuri, we have decided to strike today. Are you and your soldiers ready?”

Tevuri looked down at the warrior and studied her for a moment, giving an inquisitive eye. "My people are ready to help you retake your home. What are the enemy forces?"

“From what our scouts tell us, only stragglers remain. They have supposedly been joined by your kinsmen, too, but their numbers cannot even measure against ours. Ha-Dûna is ours for the taking.” She clenched her fists triumphantly.

At the mention of his kinsmen, Tevuri frowned. "The Neiyari are here? But how…?" He shook his head. "They are not to be underestimated. If they have a Saint with them, fear shall rule the hearts of your soldiers. Let us handle them, we have the most experience."

“I won’t argue that. They’re all yours. If possible, though, I pray we can avoid bloodshed. The city is what we want - if we can retake it without spilling more Dûnan blood, then the gods will surely see that we are worthy again of their favour.”

"I shall inform Soluri and gather my men." He said, giving her a nod. Boudicca nodded back.

“Tonight, we will dine in the central resthouse. This, I swear.”

He gave a small smile. "I look forward to it."




The sunstone castle gates vomited out a great band of warriors, following Boudicca like a flock of lethal sheep. The highlands spread out before them like the a violent ocean frozen in stone, its thousand hills, cliffs and tops giving the Dûnan force, as well as potential other forces, ample opportunities to move unseen.

From the other direction a lone rider came. Seated atop a highland stag that looked nearly as old as he looked. The man had a long, braided, grey beard and was dressed in furs. Bird skulls, wooden discs depicting the four seasons, feathers and beads hung from him. A staff laid on the stag’s back vertically. It was a gnarled, twisted, thing, seemingly taken from a live oak. It was carved with intricate runes though. Only one thing did not look weathered upon him: a white painted medallion of an owl hung from his neck. He was softly humming and could be mistaken for a traveler simply going about his way. Yet as he grew closer, there was a focus to his expression. Boudicca raised a brow at the traveller, then nodded for Hilda to lead the warriors onwards as she herself strode over to the stranger.

“Good day, father. These are dangerous lands to travel alone in these times - may I know what circle do you hail from, so we can escort you to the nearest resthouse safely?” She looked him up and down again and furrowed her brow. “What happened to your robes?”

“That’s very kind of you, young lady.” The old man spoke with a soft, slightly hoarse sounding voice. “But I’m not from a circle, and I’m not from here searching for a resthouse. And thus, I do not wear the robes” No true Cenél would ever need a rest house in these lands. They knew the caves, the hills, the forest, the burrows. They had to, or you died. He looked friendly, almost grandfatherly though. His face looked terribly weathered though. As if it had been exposed to too much sun and snow as well somehow. “I am looking for the leader of the army that’s marching here.” He said, motioning at the people passing them. “Could you be so kind as to point them out for me?”

Boudicca pursed her lips. “Not a circle, huh? Are you--... Ooooh, no, I understand.” She eyed him up and down again, her gaze growing momentarily skeptical. “I command this force. I am Boudicca of Ha-Dûna.” She hammered her leathered chest in salute.

Darragh quite doubted the young girl actually understood. Nonetheless, as she introduced herself as Boudicca, he gave her a gracious bow before dismounting. “Ah, but of course!” He exclaimed. “Word travels fast.” Then he began to speak with a hushed voice. “I am Darragh of the Cenél tribes and I have come to offer you our support. In every way.”

The warrioress nodded. “Cenél, huh. I was at Grimholt myself - would that our peoples had met under better circumstances back then. Hopefully, reason will prevail once more and we can return to things as they were before the Conquests.” She looked around and chuckled politely. “Why are you whispering, friend? The druids cannot hear us from here.”

“Because I do not trust your druids. Any of them.” Darragh whispered as he turned so he stood beside Boudicca but with his back towards everyone else marching by. “Nor would we want things to return as they once where…” He continued. “But those are conversations for a later day. For now I have come to offer you our support of the Fakir of the Cenél tribes. Together with the support of the White Owl. Do you accept, Boudicca of Ha-Dûna?”

Boudicca frowned. “Now hold on, I’m still talking here. Forgive me if I seem suspicious, but our tribes haven’t seen eye to eye on many things, and now you come to pledge your warriors to me and our cause - seemingly out of nowhere?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Why?”

“Boody!” came a yell and she turned her head slightly. Hilda waved from down in a shallow valley, where the Dûnan portion of the force were treading over rock and stone to ascend a steep hill. The alviri had simply flown past it. “You coming?”

“Yeah, give me a bit.” She turned back. “Why?”

“Because my people and our way of life was once shunned, ridiculed and even endangered by the druids. And when peace returns, I would not have my people suffer like that again.” That was the formal reason. The reason agreed upon by all the Fakir. But there was a deeper one. One not all had agreed upon, but enough for Darragh to mention it. “And because the Sigerans slaughtered our kin as well… Ha-Dûna doesn’t know this yet but this land… it demands blood for blood.”

Boudicca furrowed her brow and eyed her force over her shoulder. “Take no offense from this, friend, but we have no doubt our current forces can hammer what stragglers remain among the heretics to little more than pieces. While we appreciate your pledge--”

“Boody?!”

“Coming! Right, while we appreciate your pledge, there are… Other fronts where Sigeran influence is growing stronger. Perhaps that would better suit your capable fighters?”

A small grin formed on Darragh’s face. “I would not want to hold you up needlessly. Tell me where, and my people will take care of it.”

Boudicca nodded and eyed the sky briefly. It was overcast, so she walked over to a large stone. Brushing off some of the light snow around its foot, she uncovered patches of moss. She turned back and pointed in the same direction as the side the moss was growing on. “Not six days ago, our scouts returned from the north with word of banditry by the waterside. The hoodlums left clear Sigeran tracks - butchered corpses, wicked altars - all of it. They’ve been picking off only the smallest hamlets, so they cannot be many. However, search for them by the sea, and you will find them no doubt.” She lowered her arm. “Doing this will serve both your search for vengeance and the Dûnan cause - I will vouch for you if you wish to speak to the druids in the future about their treatment of your people.”

The Fakir took a slight moment, even though he knew how valuable it was, to ponder on the task. It felt beneath him. Something too easy. Perhaps it was a test? Or perhaps Boudicca did not want them close to the druids? Alas, she gave her word. That was a start. “Consider the bandits taken care of.” He said as he mounted his highland stag once more. “We will be seeing each other.” With those final parting words, he ushered his stag on and headed north.

“Go in the gods’ grace,” the warrioress finished before turning back to her force, her cloak dragging in the snow. When she reunited with Hilda at the front of the warband, she flashed her a lopsided grin.

“What was that all about?”

Boudicca frowned. “Nothing much. Just someone coming to swear fealty to our cause.”

Hilda flexed her browns. “Another one, huh? Dûnan?”

Boudicca hesitated slightly, running her tongue along her teeth. “Yeah,” she said eventually, her eyes scanning the horizon as she did. Hilda raised one brow, then nodded with pursed lips.

“Not bad, sister. People join our cause left and right - the meek truly do gather around the strong to worship them at their feet!” The Leoness hefted her spear high into the air triumphantly. Boudicca nodded slowly.

“Right.”

The warparty travelled for five days and five nights, camping in the meadows and hills of the highlands. On the way, they met various roaming bandits, many of whom they chose to chase down with the help of the Reiyar. Those who survived were given the choice: Join the Dûnan cause and repent, or meet Sigeran the Hungerer in eternal death. Most joined to live another day.

By the end of the week, the warband had reached the outer borders of Ha-Dûna, ruins of the beginnings of a palisade gate blocking off the main entrance into their once-prosperous home. With the help of the Reiyar, the debris was shoveled out of the way without issue, and the warriors entered slowly. There had been estimates of what sort of resistance they could have expected, but even those proved too optimistic. Within the hour, the warband had reached the city centre, greeted only by the ghosts of their opponents. First when the palisade gates of the city centre were opened did the warband see their first faces - their former comrades who had deliberately or not ended up on the wrong side of the conflict. There were fewer than fifty of the once nine hundred strong Sigerans, and all who remained showed not a hint of despair at their defeat. In fact, nothing but relief could be seen on every face. Boudicca pushed herself to the front and looked around at the hungering faces.

“The true daughters and sons of Ha-Dûna have come home, traitors. You will be given this one chance to surrender. Deny us, and we will unite you with your false god.” She drew her sword and hefted it high. “Pledge your loyalty, Sigerans, to the druidic gods and the Dûna, and you will be our sisters and brothers again.”

Immediately, those who could walk and crawl approached her to beg for forgiveness; others were helped over. The reluctant few who remained steadfast in their beliefs were quickly taken away to be executed, many of them convinced that they could not be forgiven no matter what anyone said. Once the stragglers had been returned to the Dûnan fold and sent to be back of the line to be fed, Boudicca went to the Hall of the Weary, the great resthouse of the archdruids. Storming through the curtain door, she thundered her way to the end of the hall, sword drawn and glistening in the limited light shining through holes in the thatch roof. When she reached a bed at the far end, she grabbed the fur blanket and pulled it aside, sword aloft.

There laid the starved corpse of Teagan, the Sigeran Priestess. Boudicca lowered her sword and frowned.

“As expected, not even your god of death could keep you alive, you demon. May the winters bite you hard in the deathlands.” With that, she cast the blanket back over her and stepped outside.

She met with the others outside the resthouse, making her way to the centre of the city core. There, the Statuette of Prolificacy glistened golden in the sun, untouched despite the years of strife. Boudicca touched its belly with a smile and sighed in relief. “Even in their evil and wickedness, they could not bring themselves to strike down this gift of the sun…”

Hilda chuckled and patted her on the shoulder. “What, planning number three to celebrate?” Boudicca pursed her lips in thought.

“It would be a worthy offering to her, I feel… Maybe, maybe. How about yourself?”

Hilda shrugged. “I will have to talk to Fender about it. It’ll have to come after we settle down properly, though - the farmlands must be resown; houses, rebuilt. The chosen people are home again - the lands will flourish once more.” Boudicca nodded wordlessly.

Ever so silent, even for a being so large, the avatar of Reiya stepped forth over those gathered before the statuette and grabbed it within his mighty hands. He spun around and began to walk away with it in hand. The Dûnans didn’t understand what happened straight away, and Hilda suddenly called after him: “Hey, HEY! What’re you doing!” Remembering herself, she quickly added, “Mighty Solus - what are you doing?!” Bouddica instinctively reached for her sword as well, and many hurried to follow the giant pleadingly.

The Reiyar grew nervous and took to hovering over them. Solus paused in his step and turned again to face them. "This gift… Is taken. The cause of… Your wars… Your greed… Our fault. Oraelia does not… Wish… To see you this way. She… Blames herself for… What you've become. Keep the Basin… Keep the land… You are not… Ready… For this. We are sorry." And without waiting, he began to walk off again. The Reiyar in the air, followed with hard expressions.

“This is--! This isn’t right! This is unfair!” screamed Hilda and was joined by many others. She gave chase, but was stopped by Boudicca. She tried to wrest herself free, but the warrioress held her tightly.

“Stop, Hilda! If we fight them over this, we might never be favoured by the sun again!”

“SHUT UP! You got to touch it! You got its blessing before it was too late!” Her eyes flooded over and she cried after Solus and the Reiyar. “COME BACK! PLEASE! WE BEG YOU!” Men and women alike trailed the giant in tears, collapsing to their knees in prayer and rising back up to get closer when necessary, all weeping for mercy and forgiveness.

“How can we get it back? How can we be forgiven?!” the druids at the front of the column wept at the giant’s feet.

"Tend the land… Make peace… Find your… Roots. This is… Oraelia's will. Only then…" The giant rumbled. The Reiyar flew off towards from whence they came.

The druids slowed down to ponder this, while many of the peasants followed weepingly for hours more. Solus was silent now and the Reiyar that flew behind him seemed sad. For who, no one could say, for they were quiet as well.

Back in the city core, Boudicca and Hilda still remained, Hilda having slumped to the ground and Boudicca hugging her supportively. The warrioress ran her fingers through the Leoness’ hair wordlessly to the sound of her whimpers. “Now it’ll be like the days our grandparents warned us about in their stories,” she sobbed. Boudicca didn’t respond. “... Babies born unable to breathe or see… Cold and dead before they can even walk.”

“Hilda, listen to yourself! The future will not be so! We, we’ll get the statue back somehow and--”

“What do you know?!” snarled the Leoness back. Boudicca recoiled. “My grandmother had ten children, Boudicca! TEN! Do you know how many survived to grow up? TWO!” She pulled her legs to her chest and stared emptily into the air. “... Four of them died before their first summer… One of them died during their first winter… The remaining three passed away in before they reached the age of ten…” She looked at her hands. “... Will my future babies follow the same fate?”

Boudicca felt her stomach turn to icy stone. Their newborns would no longer be protected by the sun, and not even their druids’ extensive knowledge of medicine and midwifery would save the thousands of deaths that would come until they could be forgiven.

There had to be changes.




In the deep woods behind Ha-Dûna, where the Dûna had been found and declared the meeting place of the Circle of the Long Stride, the druids of Ha-Dûna gathered for the first time in many years. A week had passed since the capital had been retaken, but there was no celebratory spirit to be found around the great stone. Being the last druid of senior rank in the circle, Kaer Pier stepped forth to the rock, placed his hand upon it with rusty familiarity and spoke, “In the name of the Eight, this humble servant of the gods wishes the Longstriders welcome to this much too long-awaited moot of the Circle. Let there be no ill thoughts among us, and let no conflict arise as we speak before our sacred defenders on this day.” He then stepped back and took a deep breath. “So… What have we found out? Kaer Cwenn?”

“The Statuette has been taken to the Caisteal Na Grèine, where the Reiyar and Great Solus, too, seem to remain. While we may not get the statuette back here until we bring peace to the Highlands, we may be able to negotiate some sort of pilgrimage for our most vulnerable mothers and fathers to receive the sun’s blessing.”

Kaer Pier nodded. “We will send a delegation their way as swiftly as we can. Only our most humble and devoted will go - I will hold an election in the Circle of the Gods tonight under the stars of Seeros for clairvoyance. And what of the dark-winged Reiyar the survivors spoke of?”

“They supposedly left as soon as they saw us coming.”

Kaer Pier nodded again. “Let us pray we may never encounter them again. Now… How do we change to please the sun once more?”

A hand rose up in the air and Kaer Pier invited Kaer Myvon to step into the circle. The middle-aged man took a step forward and held up a piece of bark for all to see. Upon it was written a prayer in the Ketrefan script. Kaer Myvon took a deep breath and spoke, “My fellow druids - it is evident that our behaviour over the past years has been gravely sinful. I have an hypothesis for why that may be…” He gestured to the bark piece. “Gaze upon this… For decades, now, we have been writing in the Ketrefan script. A small matter, I know, but not an insignificant one - all this time when we have thought ourselves Dûnan, we have held on to our Ketrefan roots, and thus we became like them.” Murmurs bounced among the druids. “Our conquering ways came as a result of our Ketrefan hubris, and there is not a doubt in my mind that, if we were to purge ourselves completely of their influence, we may once again be favoured by the gods.”

The murmurs carried an agreeing tone. One hand was raised and Kaer Pier invited Kaer Semble to join the circle centre. “Forgive my disagreement, Kaer Myvon, but what will this change? Only the druids use this script, and there are larger issues in this world that the manner in which we write.” Kaer Myvon wagged a finger.

“I respect this view, sister, but I must disagree: It was us, the druids, who started the Conquests four years ago - we have made every decision that has brought us here. Under our leadership, Ha-Dûna has lost its favour with the gods.”

“Now hold on, Kaer Myvon, isn’t that--”

“No, no, he’s right,” Kaer Pier added somberly and patted Myvon on the shoulder. “Whether it be our Ketrefan heritage or not, the truth remains: The druids are responsible for this. So, Kaer Myvon - what do you suggest?”

Kaer Myvon tossed aside the piece of bark and took out another. The writing upon it was foreign - it seemed not to make much sense at first, but Myvon pointed at the various glyphs and explained their pronunciation and combined meanings. “I suggest we change our script to one of our own - sever our final link with Ketrefa and make ourselves, our bureaucracy, truly Dûnan. Then…” He continued. His voice put on a coat of reluctance, but persevered regardless. “... Then we step down as the leaders of Ha-Dûna.”

Outraged cries sounded from the other druids. “Wait, who else can lead if not us, though? Who can interpret the will of the gods if not us?”

“The gods are important - our greatest allies! We exist to worship and praise them. However, we have seen what can happen if their will is interpreted falsely - or if their will goes against what is right!”

“This is the talk of a defeated man, Kaer Pier - let us be sensible! No one in Ha-Dûna has the divine mandate to lead!”

Kaer Pier frowned. “No… No, there is one.” The voices quieted.

“Who?”

Kaer Pier stepped over to one of the mirror-like puddles surrounding the Dûna. He knelt down and hovered his hand over the water. The image of Boudicca springed to life, and there came agreeing murmurs from the druids who at this point were surrounding the puddle.

“Boudicca? But she’s no druid!”

“Indeed, yet she is charismatic, strong and clearly favoured by the gods. She has been the champion of many sports and games, and is an accomplished heroine of our people - a true daughter of Ha-Dûna.”

The druids nodded at one another. A few voices scoffed. “What, do you mean to suggest that she will lead us? What link to the gods does she have? She has never tasted the waters of Hir!”

“That may be, but nothing stops us from functioning as her subjects - her advisors and voices of the gods. Little will change - we will only turn to her to use our interpretations of the gods’ wills to lead our people.”

“You mean like a queen?!” came an outraged cry and the tone suddenly shifted to malcontent. “We will not have a despotic lineage take control of our people ever again, Kaer Pier!”

Kaer Cwenn raised her hand, quieting the others. “What if the title was not hereditary?”

The others hummed ponderously. “Go on,” Kaer Pier offered. Kaer Cwenn nodded.

“The gods’ wills are many, but from what we know, they share many views on what is an ideal person of virtue. Perhaps… Perhaps they could guide us to such exceptional individuals when Boudicca’s time has passed?”

“You mean like… We would go to search for a successor based on whom the gods deem will grow into a worthy leader?”

Kaer Cwenn nodded. The druids looked at one another. One by one, their heads began to nod. “That… That could work. The gods would naturally guide us to only the most virtuous individuals.”

“Indeed,” Kaer Cwenn agreed.

“Then so be it. Starting today, the archdruids are no more. Instead, we will continue to support Ha-Dûna as we always have - and the new sanndatr Boudicca! Long may she reign in the light of the gods!”

“Long may she reign!”

As the crowd quieted down, Kaer Pier drummed his staff to the ground to centre attention on himself again. “Now… We must also discuss other ways to regain our favour with the gods. The great Solus demanded that we should make peace in the land. During the Conquests, it became clear that many of our less refined countrymen showed gruesome undûnan behaviour. While we should all realise what this sort of behaviour entails, we cannot trust others to do so. Therefore, it is mandatory that we keep a record of the exemplary traits of Dûnan civilised behaviour so all may learn.” There came murmurs of agreement from the others. Pier gave Myvon a nod. “Once your script is complete, we will produce this codex of law so that we and all our descendants will be familiar with the true Dûnan way.”

Myvon nodded. “It would be a great honour to help create this.”

After the moot, the druids ventured out into the city to aid in restoring it to its former glory. The reparations would normally have taken years, but the Circle of the Long Stride devoted all their collective power into persuading the godly elements to grant them the power to rebuild ruins into building, mend broken materials, produce resources where none or few were available, and heal those injured during the work. Within a month, as the snows grew heavier, the city had been rebuilt again, just in time to hunker down for the winter. In the process, they helped finish the temples to the gods that were never built, houses to the gods built in wood and stone placed all around the city in an orbital pattern around the city core, planned precisely with the use of the map in the Town Hall.

While they were in the spirit of building, the Dûnans took note of the querns still used to grind grain into flour. Some druids reported having seen Scawicks employ the wind of the sea to power their querns through some sort of propeller setup. They had called this a ‘mill’. The druids took some time to draw and sketch it out, but eventually managed to create something similar, adjusted for the mountain and the sea winds of their home city.

Boudicca on her part was at first overwhelmed by her election to govern Ha-Dûna. However, she knew well that now was no time for reluctance. She wasted no time bolstering the Dûnan forces for the inevitable backlash they would suffer from their untrustworthy allies. Ha-Dûna needed to be moderators of peace, yes, but there would be no peace in the Dûnlands if the policing force was too weak to fend for itself. She rounded up the théins and drilled them and their soldiers in a formation she called the oksi aug órni: The most veteran soldiers would hold the two flanks of a line, where the weakest warriors made up the centre. If the centre caved, the two “horns” of the ox would charge the centre from the flanks, surrounding the enemy; the “eagle” archers would provide arrow cover before impact and then reinforce the centre line from the back, replacing the tired soldiers there if possible. Thereafter, she preached to her people a need to assimilate the Dûnlands into the ways Dûnan Dlíbók and its laws - this could not take place militarily, however; no, the Dûnans would assimilate others through example. If they could return to their old ways as the jewel of the Highlands, then others would surely adopt their way of life simply out of common sense. Others would see the glory of Ha-Dûna restored, and the city would once again become the capital of Highland druidism.

In honour of this political shift, the bards created a new music genre: the Dûnan opera. Great plays would be shown on stages around the city and the nearby towns of the accomplishments of Dûnan heroes, all performed with lavish costumes and sang in a special technique known as strûpisangi, accompanied by harps, flutes and drums. Time would show whether all these efforts would pay off.




Meanwhile, in Scawick...

“WHAT?!” thundered Burud.

“That’s right, brother! Not only have the Dûnans taken back the city, but they’re also saying they’ve changed their ways and will go on as paragons of peace!” The man spat on the ground. Burud grabbed his axe and hefted it to the sky, his spectators raising their fists in rage.

“Peacemakers, my ass! By the gods, their arrogance knows no bounds!” He scanned the crowd. “Mark my words, all of you - we will not bow to any stinking Dûnan in this life nor the next!”

“YEAH!”

“We will sooner see Scawick burn than to kneel before some filthy broad!”

“YEEEAAH!”

“Come! Let us show them what we think of their ‘peace’! For every head you take, you shall eat for a year - I will see to that myself! FOR SCAWICK!”

“FOR SCAWICK!” With that, bands of raiders charged out of the coastal village to raid Dûnan hamlets. Ha-Dûna may have been recaptured, but this was only the beginning of the dark times.

The Dûnland War had only just begun.






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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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Gibbou


&


Neiya




Gibbou’s slippers made soft slaps against the cobblestones of Antiquity. Having her sister over was a lot of fun, but occasionally, she needed to get some distance to vent out all that negativity her stories of recent events filled her with - all this mess with Neiya, the berries, the loss of Genesis… It sometimes just got a little too much, even for her. A thought popped into her head - aeons back, she would have given everything to stay with her sister for every second of every hour; now, she at least an hour’s walk to think for herself and just… Well, be alone.

She hoped nothing was wrong with her - why didn’t she worship her sister like she had all those years ago? Was it because Oraelia had appeared so emotional before her? Or had Gibbou herself changed?

While it was likely a bit of both, she decided not to dwell on it much further. She found herself a small bench next to the road and glanced off into the skydome above. How much had she changed since the days of old, huh? Would… Would Adrian recognise her if she woke him up? Dark thoughts returned to memories of that dark vault - the dormitory on the moon in which specimen of all life laid sleeping, doomed forever to dream about all the things that could have been. Gibbou comforted herself through force to think that, if the world ever faced a terrible threat, then maybe those species could be used to reseed the planet with life.

The comfort evaporated as her eyes fixed on a stray bone on the cobbles. She knelt down with a grimace and picked it up.

Thaa…

Really, she should have expected it. Guardian of the dead? God of the afterlife? Someone who spends their days looking after the dead were bound to be cynical. He needed a beanbag and some hot cocoa, she reasoned. He woulda been given it, too, had it not been for, well, his attitude. She pushed aside the circulatory nature of her argument and kept shuffling down the road. ”Dumb-dumb…”




The pressure of dirt pushing between toes with each step was the slightest distraction from her unfiltered anger. Neiya marched with haste through the dizzying yet sparse layout of Antiquity, flexing the white talons of her War Form restlessly as she pushed over the mostly barren roads. She had chosen not to hover for once, intent on saving every bit of her divine power in the righteous vengeance she was to enact on that conniving, hypocritical Life Goddess.

She'd hesitated in the past, worried she'd gone too far. Tried to let her take her lesson and leave her alone. Now she knew the emotions had been a ploy. She'd bided her time and struck at Neiya's pride all at once. Nallan and the Luminant - nothing was sacred. Neiya felt her blood boil as she stormed across portals at a quick pace, manically eyeing each as she searched for the realm of the Life Goddess. She'd arrive unannounced and knock that pleased, smug smirk the goddess was certain to have off of her pretty face.

Yet something felt wrong. With each step, Neiya's courageous rage and fervor filtered through niggling doubts and second-guessing. What if she didn't know the full story? What if she was playing right into her hands? What if Oraelia expected her to arrive, and sat ready to pay her back in kind for hurting her the last time they met? That thought - which Neiya refused to consider a nugget of guilt - grew like an acorn in her belly, a stone of her own making weighing her fury down

When the Goddess of Love, War and Sin finally stood a stone's throw from the portal she understood to be Oraelia's, it was without the anger with which she had travelled there. She stared at the portal intently, feeling the itch and drive to pay her back with force. Put her in her place. Uncertainty ruled for a few moments, before Neiya cut through her own tension with a scoff and turned on the balls of her feet. She wouldn't play into Oraelia's schemes so easily. Yes, that was it. Neiya was too good, too smart, to fall for such simple provocations. Stiffly she wandered away from the portal, staring into the ground.

Neiya walked aimlessly through Antiquity, trying to make sense of her own thoughts. A frustration boiled inside her, yet she certainly couldn't go back now. The moment was gone. Sullenly, she kicked a rock across the road with her bare feet, stumbling ahead with a sharp sigh.

There came a sharp gasp. A shuffle of fabric against stone halted behind her, and there came a voice like a growl in the darkness. ”You!”

Neiya stopped dead in her tracks, suffering the soft crunch of dirt under her feet as she narrowed her eyes. She knew that voice, didn't she? Neiya spun around to lay eyes on the source of the voice, flexing her white talons.

There, on the opposite end of the cobblestone road, stood Gibbou, her breaths deep and quivering with rage. Her lunar white eyes fiercely contrasted her skin as it darkened deeper and deeper, furious tears of shadow welling up atop her cheeks. Her fists tightened together as though the fingers sought to pierce her palms. ”Why are -you- here?”

Neiya's pearl-white skin flushed with a furious burn as her eyes narrowed further. Her gaze slid around the area, paranoia nipping at the back of her mind, but ultimately being silenced when she regarded the moon goddess properly. "Hello, Gibbou." she crooned with a venomous voice. "I have a lot to thank you for."

”Don’t give me that!” thundered the moon goddess back, moon light warping and twisting in a halo behind her. ”Had this been a normal meeting, I would already have had a bone to pick with you for your outright bitchy behaviour last time… But when I heard you hurt my sister?” The moon light intensified like a supernova. ”You’ve long since crossed the line - it’s time to kick you back to the other side.”

Neiya offered a full on smirk; a vicious and unpleasant expression full of frustrated excitement. Hands falling open, talons curling up in ready motion. "Oh, honey, you picked the greatest time," she rolled out with a sultry, condescending tone. Metallic shards and edges around her form came alive, floating and twisting angrily in the air right around her skin. "I was going to finish the job, but I'll settle for pulling the Moon out of orbit."

The white-hot moonlight spun itself into thread, twisting out of its halo to bind around Gibbou’s skin. As it settled, it hardened into silvery steel, covering her from head to toe. Her shoulders sprouted great pauldrons from which draped a long cloak covering her whole body below the neck like a curtain. The ceremonial blades on the shoulderpads glistened sharply in the dim light of Antiquity, and the moon goddess scowled through the thick visor of her plumed helmet. ”Try me, bitch.”

That was all the coaxing the alleged love goddess needed, and Neiya burst from her spot with uncharacteristically swift speed, sending dirt and gravel spraying from sudden force. "You think a few accessories will help you, Gibbou?" She growled in her charge, a talon lifted in preparation as she flew over the unassuming dirt path in Antiquity. Around her, jagged edges of metal twisted and aligned around her wrist, like a tangle of metal snakes ready to bite. "Let me show you what I've learned since last time!" the goddess cried with a strange mixture of venom and delight, and slashed towards the Moon Goddess as she closed the distance, talons and sharp metal both swept against Gibbou.

Upon impact, however, the talons snapped, splintering into shards that flew across the battlefield and dug reflective debris into the dirt as they landed. Neiya roared with a ferocity that suggested the impact hurt her more than it did the Moon Goddess. Despite her initial assault being an abject failure, Neiya did not relent. The collar of her dress around her head arced upwards to free itself and swung like a blade against Gibbou. That too shattered in a spray of metal. Gibbou snickered.

”What, is that the best you can do? I didn’t even feel that!” She retracted her left fist, her gauntlet growing spikes on the knuckles, and then sent it torpedoing forward towards her abdomen. Neiya gasped in surprise as she realized the opening in her own defenses. However, where a painful sensation of a fist should have been felt, there was instead a rush of air as Gibbou’s fist missed - by several centimetres. The moon goddess’ footing appeared unstable, and the momentum invested into the strike tossed her forward at least a metre, if not more.

Silence struck for a moment, as only the crunch of dirt under Gibbou's boots filled the air. Then Neiya cracked into a haunting chuckle surprisingly full of mirth - and mockery. "Oh, my sweet moon. Will you be ever distant?" she crooned with a mocking tone, before skipping through the air soundlessly to swipe a quick grip on Gibbou's shoulder. Her other fist clenched, and swung hard straight for the goddess head. Her white struck the helmet with a loud clang, and Neiya immediately recoiled; her face locked in a face of relentless pain as she nursed her hand.

”Sh-shut up!” came a fierce retort as the moon goddess enlarged her gauntlet to the size of a cannon ball. She wound it back and propelled it forward again, hoping to take advantage of Neiya’s pained lapse in focus. However, her fist’s added weight once again challenged her ability to balance herself, and her straight punch quickly became a downward hammer, only that it had been aimed too low for that. Her fist dunked against the ground and the moon goddess needed a moment to pick it back up. ”Oh, come oooon!”

Neiya recovered from her own lapse in both tactics and opportunity with all the speed of a particularly tired tortoise, seeming to be at first more interested in maintaining both balance and the poise that made her haughty veneer possible during a brawl. As such, she wasted almost the entirety of Gibbou's recovery on preening a broken talon. When the moon goddess rose in shape before her, the duplicitous Neiya launched back into her offensive with a rancorous frown, diving towards Gibbou once more to grab onto the sturdy frame with a fierce grip. "Oh, let me help you -- up!" Feet dug into the ground for the first time since the start of the fight, and with all her divine strength she tried to hurl the Moon Goddess in the direction of the nearest wall. But Gibbou didn't move much, if at all. Gibbou frantically waved at her with her free hand, slapping wetly at Neiya’s face.

”G-get your hands off me! Stop!” In a shift of divine power, she shrunk her fist and was immediately tossed into the wall. The wall tumbled together like a pile of rocks, the building it supported crashing down with it. However, Gibbou was undeterred and undamaged, grabbing at Neiya’s arms holding her and trying to toss her over her own shoulder. That went about as well as her previous attacks, and all she managed to do was hug Neiya close and lift her slightly, before her cumbersome armour caused her to fall backwards onto her back, dragging Neiya with her.

The love goddess went from an angered snarl to a sudden gasp as her footing was stolen, and crashed down softly with Gibbou, safe from danger and injury in her snug hold. A brief awkward pause followed as both of the two fighters tried to process what just occurred. Being quick to adapt, Neiya adopted a conspiratorial smirk and wriggled theatrically in Gibbou's grip. Her pale and sleek war form grew more and more pink with each passing moment, black horns raising from her head and her features twisting into the inviting and decidedly more curvaceous silhouette that was her corruptive sin form. "Oh, Moon Above," she crooned as her form pushed against armor. "You should have told me this is what you wanted."

Frustration bleached her voice as Gibbou whined and squirmed loose. ”No! Get off me!” Her armour blasted off of her like shrapnel and her small form morphed into the shadows, which all were growing at an alarming rate as though the light of Antiquity had decided it was night time. Two bloodshot eyes was all that indicated Gibbou’s presence, and they were glaring down at the demoness a pace or so away. ”You’re unbelievable - I don’t want anything like that, especially not from you! The only thing I want from you is your cry for mercy!” A spike of shadow shot out of the darkness and pierced the ground next to Neiya. There came a frustrated groan. ”Fuck! Why is this so hard?!”

Neiya sat still for a moment, processing what had just happened as she lounged on the ground where Gibbou had been. Moments later, she burst into a dramatic gasp, raising her nails to touch at her chest as though she were clutching at her heart. "Augh! You got me! You found my weakness, oh goddess of the moon; being slightly surprised!" She panned the back of her hand up to lay flat against her horned forehead. "Mercy, please!" She cried with insidious, and needlessly sweet tone.

Another bolt of darkness blasted out of the shadows, shooting past her once again like an amateurishly thrown rock. ”Shut up! This isn’t funny! This isn’t supposed to -be- funny! Just, just leave me and my sister alone, or I’ll--!” The darkness faltered, dimished, even, as the blood-shot eyes took on their softer, chalky colour and eventually grew a blue-skinned face around them with midnight hair, attached to a body that couldn’t seem to carry itself with joy and pride anymore. ”Why can’t I do anything right?”

A single beat of leathery wings brought Neiya up off the dirt path upon which their alleged battle had taken place, and back to her confident hover above the ground. She regarded Gibbou with a mixture of fascination and contemptuous pleasure, much like a feline toying with prey. Almost as if pulled towards the wavering goddess, Neiya drifted toward Gibbou, fingers flexing but still not as offensive as before. "War and sin are as inevitable as sorrow. Don't take it personally, my sweet. You can still apologize." she crooned haughtily from the air.

”Apologise for what? I’m just trying to protect my sister and, and… And why is that so hard for me? Why can’t I hit you?” She wound up a right hook and sent it forward. It struck air, for Neiya was nowhere close. ”I didn’t even try…” Her knees softened to the point where they could no longer support her, and the small moon goddess slumped down, sniffing weakly.

The 'Love' Goddess released a soft scoff, watching Gibbou sink to the ground. Her own expression seemed to fall back to frustration at her own apparent victory, but that didn't stop her from hovering closer. Her hand stretched out slowly, seeking to place a ginger touch on the moon goddess shoulder as she dared herself closer. "So much potential… So much wasted." she breathed, golden eyes flitting greedily between watching Gibbou's reaction and their surroundings. "All for someone else. Who ever cares for the Moon, hm?"

Gibbou looked up with white-hot eyes of hate, then softly placed her hand on Neiya’s. The grip tightened, and Gibbou cracked a small smile. ”Got you.” Then she pulled Neiya towards herself, gloved her opposite hand in spiked metal and rammed it into her abdomen in a strike that would be downright impossible to miss.

Neiya gasped in surprise, her arm instantly straining against Gibbou's hold. It was too late. The moon goddess fist connected with the sleek form of the corrupting love goddess, who could neither move away nor absorb the hit with that metallic coating she had had previously to changing her form. The air seemed to leave her and she whirled violently in Gibbou's grip, flung backwards in her airborne and vulnerable state. All that left her was a timid whimper, wholly uncharacteristic. Gibbou didn’t waste her chance - she put her whole might into grabbing the love goddess by her arm and, switching her momentum around, tossed her over her shoulder and into the ground, shattering the stone flooring. She pulled back, panting heavily. ”I may not be fast enough to, to catch you, but…” She heaved for breath. ”... But if you do that job for me, I’m stronger!”

The love goddess lay splayed on the cracked ground, a deep indent splitting flagstones in half where stone had met divine flesh. Golden eyes stared upwards frantically, her chest heaving to pull ragged breaths. She wheezed a few sounds that eventually formed words. "H--... H… How.. da-dare… you…" Another sharp breath as the goddess collected herself, her voice rising several hundred decibels. "How dare you!? You disgusting degenerate failure! Indignant thankless worm!" she screamed at full volume, her eyes filling with a dark swirl that seemed to dim their dubious golden glow. Her hands smacked against stone in a furious tantrum, and wisps of black energy shot out against the stone in erratic patterns. "How dare you touch me?!" she roared, and lifted herself up off the ground slowly to resume what she imagined was an imposing hover.

Gibbou entombed herself in armour plates to deflect the blasts, and pained screams rang out from within the unbreakable metal. She was evidently reaching the limit of her stamina. As her metal chrysalis broke, she stood in her full body armour, visor up, but had nothing left of the proud, powerful stance she had opened with. She hissed through her panting and hammered one metallic fist into an iron palm. ”That… That the best you’ve got?”

Neiya screamed in frustration at the sight of the cocoon of metal that was Gibbou. Wild and without the original poise and grace with which she had conducted herself. "S-Shut up! Just shut up! You and your sister can both just- just die!" she wailed, and raised her hands towards the armoured goddess. A torrent of black matter streamed from her hands and arms, like a swift moving fog twisting and coiling to spray forwards with the force of a tidal wave. With it came a cacophony; wailing, crying, screaming, pleading - the many emotions of the world beyond weaponized.

The moon goddess collapsed to her knees, the sound only intensified throughout the armour. Her own screaming was deafened completely by the storm of noise, and she ended up pulling her helmet off, lobbing it at Neiya without really looking where she was throwing, her black hair rolling down over her shoulders in a mess of stressed strands. She grit her teeth together and bumped her forehead to the ground, hoping some physical pain to the skull would alleviate the agonising storm in her head.

The storm twisted away from her in a violent jerk, the energies scoring deep marks in the stone and dirt alike. Soon after the energies dissolved into the air, the intense sounds of the beyond vanishing into nothingness. Neiya had been destabilized, nursing her head with both hands. Looking somewhere between ready to burst into tears and in pain herself, the goddess struggled in the air for a few moments before her wings began beating, carrying her further up into the air. The helmet lay directly beneath her, innocently rolled to a stop on the cracked stone.

With the rustle of chainmail and plate, the moon goddess below her slumped onto her belly, broken to the point of exhaustion by the attack. Her eyes were closed fiercely as though she was suffering a headache, and her heavy breathing had weakened into short, pleading gasps for air. She hardly moved, her armour looking as much like a prison as protection.

Though the moon goddess exhausted form appeared to be the perfect target, it seemed Neiya's taste for violence had abated. The bruised love goddess ascended higher in antiquity until she broke away entirely, wavering in flight as she made a straight beeline towards her own distant portal. For better or worse, Neiya was gone.

It took Gibbou hours to regain consciousness. When she did, she could barely haul herself to her feet. She had defeated Neiya and-... No, no, she hadn’t even been close. She had survived Neiya, more like. Gibbou punched the ground weakly in anger and regret, aimed mainly at herself. Why… Why was she so utterly useless? She had only gotten her opening because Neiya got careless - she had just barely been able to conceal her surprise by looking cool and in control in the moment. She had had no idea what she was doing for that whole fight. She had just tried to mimic the way she had seen mortals fight and she had failed - extraordinarily.

Eventually, she reached her portal, which she fell through rather than stepped. Once she laid safely on the moon’s surface, she felt her eyes well up. ”I’m such useless trash…” she whispered to herself. With a weak hand movement, she conjured forth a bottle with a strong smell. She gave it a swig and cringed.

”I’m hopeless,” she continued and drank some more.








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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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Reunion & Rearmament





It felt like a dream of sorts. The landscape extended in glorious widths in every direction, a marvel of colors as grass and prairies mingled with flowers and plants. It all looked incredibly real - undisturbed and preserved, much like the spot that Lucia and Sanya had found for themselves. Unlike their home, this landscape had an ethereal, primal quality. It was untamed, inviting and peaceful all at the same time. Sanya understood it to be the realm of the Sun Mother, or one of her many havens at the least; why a deity with access to such splendor would ever look down to Galbar puzzled her - perhaps that was why she was distant in the first place. There was no disputing its beauty, however.

Even Lucia, enveloped in the effervescent energy hanging in the air seemed to move and smile with an uplifted, ethereal glow in her tattoos and features. She was like a lithe spirit bounding across the vast painted canvas of green they found themselves in, and Sanya found as much peace watching Lucia react to their new surroundings as she did looking around on her own. Her eyes could not leave Rhiona for long, however. The being was divinely beautiful and imposing in her own way, and knowing she brought them here provoked an uncertainty deep in Sanya that she thought she had put in the past, and in the dirt.

She wouldn't let that stop her now, though. Lucia seemed perfectly at ease with this agent of her divine parent, and that was enough for Sanya to let her guard down and try to focus on the supernatural splendor that surrounded them and threatened to ensorcell them with its peace and tranquil beauty. So the warrior paced, hands resting behind her back. She walked idly, watching both nature and her giddy partner with a growing warmth, and allowed herself a genuine smile.

She found herself at peace, uncertain how long they just explored at a sedate pace. What she did know, was that at some point Lucia pointed out a house on the horizon. Sanya had no mind to question anything in this land aloud, and instead settled an arm around Lucia's waist before moving towards the structure in the distance.

Lucia placed a quick kiss on her cheek and then turned her head to Rhiona, "What's this place Rhiona?"

The avatar smiled. "Why that's your mother's house. It sits empty now but once your mother arrives, I think there will be laughter from it again."

Lucia leaned her head on Sanya's shoulder. "And when is she arriving?" She asked.

"Whenever you want. Simply ask and I will call to her." the avatar replied as they drew nearer to the house.

Lucia grabbed Sanya's hand and squeezed. "Oh… it's up to us. What do you say, Sanya? Ready to meet my mom?" she teased.

Sanya breathed half a chuckle, not quite pleased at being the center of attention for such a choice. She had spoken with the Sun Mother before - and she hadn't exactly had a history of being pleasant to her. On some level, the mark left by another goddess made itself known. She knew she was one sour mood away from a curse, no matter how kind the goddess was. That said, the Sun Mother had always been kind. Who says no to meeting a goddess? "Ah, no getting out of it now…" she replied with a theatrical sigh, returning the squeeze.

Lucia giggled, "Oh it won't be that bad, my love." she turned her head to Rhiona and have her nod. "Please, call for her."

"As you wish, Daughter of the Sun." and Rhiona shut her eyes.

Lucia then turned back to Sanya and gave her a kiss. Sanya glanced towards Rhiona briefly before responding with a peck of her own.




Upon the moon a goddess sat, staring at the statue of her sister. It had been sometime since she had first viewed it so long ago, but now she sat in thought. The quiet had been eerie and strange at first but Oraelia endured it. If Gibbou could visit her realm and be fine, then she could do the same. Now she found it comforting and peaceful.

Her gaze wandered up and to Galbar. It still took her breath away even now. Yet she was afraid. Afraid of what she had done when her wits had left her. She had caused pain and sorrow instead of happiness and joy. She no longer hated herself for what had happened but she couldn't shake the feeling of knowing she should have been better. Gibbou had reassured her that the things she gave the mortals wasn't her fault, but that of her I inabitions, but it still felt bad.

Oh her sister had helped her a great deal. Protector of the body and the soul indeed. They had played many games together and throughout, Oraelia had healed. Some days were worse then others, but a good cry was always nice.

She was finally feeling better but knew it would be sometime before she was… she again. Perhaps she never would be the same but there was hope. Her gaze shifted to her feet and she stood. It was time to bake a pie, one of her new favorite hobbies.

"My lady Oraelia!" Rhiona's voice cut into her head and Oraelia froze in her step. Her voice sounded frantic!

"Rhiona, what's wrong?" she asked back.

"My lady, you must come quick. There's… uh… There bee an accident in your realm! One I can't fix by myself!"

"Oh my! Oh my goodness! Don't worry I'll be there in a second!" Without hesitating she shot off towards her sun, and the gateway that Gibbou had created.

"Gibbou I had to go back to my realm! Rhiona says there's trouble!" she shouted out towards her sister, not waiting for a reply.

She arrived at her sun and within a flash she was through into blue skies and white clouds and and… sky whales?!

She nearly slammed into one but managed to dodge, shouting sorry as she went. So much had changed in her realm, there was so much life now! But she had to focus! Oraelia honed in on her avatar's position and came to a halt before her in another flash.

Rhiona looked much the same and she had… a giant smile plastered on her face.

"Rhiona what's wrong!" she descended, feet touching grass.

Rhiona wordlessly pointed past her and Oraelia tilted her head as she turned around. She froze again, eyes going wide as they fell upon two figures, one of which seemed to be from a dream, yet as real as the day she was born.

"L-L-Lucia?" Oraelia whispered, covering her mouth as the waterworks began.

Lucia took a step forward and nodded as she held back her own tears. "M-Mom…" she breathed.

The air between them was palpable and Oraelia could hardly take it anymore. She ran towards her daughter, arms outstretched and Lucia did the same. It was only a few steps before they embraced. Lucia grabbed her tight, digging her face into her chest as Oraelia wrapped her in a warm hug. They both cried tears of joy and those of relief. She kissed the top of Lucia’s head, not wanting to let go, never wanting to let go again. It was a miracle. How was she even here?

After several moments of this, Oraelia cooed, ”Lucia. My Lucia. Oh I never thought…” She paused, choking up. ”Let me see your lovely face, my daughter.”

Lucia looked up with teary eyes, taking quick breaths as her tattoos’ pulsed with joy. Oraelia caressed her face, moving her long hair away from her eyes. ”Oh Lucia…” She murmured. ”Breath, just breath.” She encouraged with a smile, pulling her in close again.

She could feel Lucia’s body begin to relax as she stroked her head and rubbed her back. Oraelia’s eyes wandered to the other who had been standing next to Lucia. She was still there and as their eyes met, Oraelia felt as if she had seen the beautiful woman before. She reminded her of…

”Lucia, who might this be?” She asked.

Lucia pulled herself away again and turned back to the woman, then to Oraelia with a beaming smile. She rubbed the tears from her eyes and said, ”This is Sanya, mother. You’ve talked to her before and gave her a gift. She is the love of my life.” She turned back to her and held out a hand towards her.

Oraelia blinked. Sanya! Yes, she remembered her and they were… She felt her heart flutter. Oh, they were in love. A deep love, one that grew with each passing day. It brought a happy tear to her eye, knowing that Lucia had been in good hands while she was.. Absent. That would be addressed soon, she could feel it.

The dark-haired warrior stepped forward and offered a stiff but polite bow of her head, doing her best not to look like an embarrassed outsider after Lucia's introduction - and failing. "It is an honor to be in your presence, Sun Mother. I, uh… Please forgive my lack of tribute." she offered quietly, wrapping her hands behind her back.

Lucia shared a look with her and let go of Oraelia. The goddess then stood up with her daughter and walked over to Sanya. "No, the honor is all mine, Sanya. Your tribute is your heart my dear, for without it I would not have gotten to see my Lucia, or you." she said, wrapping Sanya in a warm hug. "Thank you." she said, placing a kiss on her cheek and letting go. Lucia then went to her side and grabbed her hand.

Sanya squeezed Lucia's hand and nodded twice when the goddess stepped away. The normally stoic warrior seemed staggered, offering a self-conscious smile as the two divine women directed attention her way. "Ah, I… Well, Lucia is really the driving force in my life and actions. I act with her wellbeing in mind."

Lucia leaned her head onto Sanya's shoulder. "Oh stop you." She gushed with a very large smile.

Oraelia clasped her hands together and watched them. "Oh I'm so happy for you two. Truly. I know I haven't… Been around lately… And for that I'm sorry but I am glad to know you had each other." She rubbed her arm and looked sheepish. "I'm sure you have questions for me, Lucia, Sanya. Please, let us go inside and we can talk. Rhiona, I think I'll be okay. Give us some time?" she asked, turning to the avatar. Rhiona gave a nod and walked off but Oraelia knew she wouldn't go far. She then turned back to Lucia and Sanya and outstretched her hands towards them.

Sanya squeezed Lucia gently around the waist, seeming to keep a very keen eye on the actions of the divine even with her mask of peace. She nodded after confirming with Lucia, and stepped forward to let Oraelia take the lead.

Oraelia nodded her head and walked beside them up the steps. "I'm sure Rhiona has told you this is my home. It's not as special as some of the other God's realms but it is quite homely. A room is already ready for you both because here, anything is quite possible." she waved her hand and the door disappeared, revealing a grand interior, the likes of which had been hidden by the smaller outside features of the building. Large stairs sat directly in the middle of the room, leading up to the next floor. Oraelia smiled at their wide eyes and led them to a room off to the side with furniture Lucia and Sanya probably didn't know could exist.

She motioned to a plush couch and she sat opposite of them on a chair. She watched as they meddled into the soft cushions. Lucia leaned heavily on Sanya, whether for her own comfort or for Sanya, she did not know. What she did know was that it was adorable.

"What is this mom? It's so… soft and comfortable." Lucia gushed.

"Things exist differently here. So easy are thoughts made into reality that anything can be done here. But there are limits on the material plane. Oh but that is what we ca a couch. It is used for sitting. I'm glad you like it, Lucia." she paused. "Are you two hungry or thirsty? We might be here for awhile, it's best to have some snacks don't you think?"

"Oh yes! Sanya, what would you like?" Lucia asked, tattoos pulsing with excitement.

Sanya was rocked out of a daze when her name was spoken, looking up with an almost guilty look on her face; one hand nestled around Lucia and the other inquisitively squeezing the couch and it's curiously comfortable fabrics. "Uh, yes. How about some grilled snake?" she muttered in her best attempt at recovery, glancing to Lucia.

Before Lucia could speak Oraelia stood up and said. "I'll bring some stuff for you to try and a side of grilled snake." she smiled and Lucia nodded, returning her own smile. It felt good to see her so happy.




Lucia watched her mom leave the room and then turned to Sanya with an inquisitive look. She pulled herself closer to Sanya and caressed her cheek. "Are you okay, love?"

Sanya awarded her with a peaceful, thin smile. It'd taken her a long time but she let herself smile these days. Still, she languished under Lucia's watchful gaze, and briefly averted her eyes before raising a hand to place over hers. "This is about you, remember?" she professed modestly, before tilting her head to touch her forehead to Lucia's. A soft sigh later, she steeled herself to speak. "It's… intimidating. Being in the presence of a goddess. Your mother."

Lucia smiled. "You? Intimidated by anything? My oh my." she giggled, then sighed as well, wrapping her arms around Sanya's back. "This just isn't about me my love, for we are together now and your needs are important to me, you know that. I want you to feel comfortable and secure here. But it's okay to feel the way your feeling, I was in your shoes once and it can be intimidating. I just hope you know that my mother would never do anything to hurt us, she's probably the least intimidating of the bunch. And I mean that in a good way." She chuckled.

Sanya placed a hand on Lucia's thigh and squeezed gently, giving her a peaceful look and a minute smile. "I know that, honey," she offered. "It's not her intent that intimidates me… although meeting your mother is certainly scary for other reasons… It's the power. Around her. In here. Everywhere. It's amazing, and imposing."

Lucia's tattoos pulsed, beginning to wrap around Sanya's body as Lucia grinned with closed eyes. "I know, isn't it crazy to think the gods are here, living in their own seats of power and everyone else is just… I don't even know where. It makes me feel so small." she breathed.

Sanya lifted her arm that had gently nestled behind Lucia, wrapping over her shoulders to tug the tattooed woman closer. "If you're small, I must be tiny. Barely of note." she murmured back, and gave her another gentle squeeze. "Do you think all the gods live here?"

Lucia nestled herself into Sanya's warmth and relaxed in her embrace. "Hmm. Maybe, maybe not. Rhiona did say this was Mother's realm and she was with Gibbou so, perhaps they are connected or something?"

Sanya shifted herself, shimmying up against Lucia to hold her closer, and gently massage her where her hands rested. "I always thought Gibbou was on the moon. It made the most sense." she murmured quietly, scoffing to herself in humoured tone. Then a brief moment of hesitation. "Do you think we could even get back home from here, if we tried?"

Lucia's tattoos began to throb as they wound themselves up Sanya's arms. Lucia murmered, "No, probably not but hey," she moves her head to catch Sanya's gaze. "At least we're together." she said, going in for a kiss.

"That's all I n--" Sanya began but was silenced by lips touching her own. She responded with confident yet restrained passion, her hand on her arm and shoulder caressing her glowing skin with slow motion. The warrior leaned into the kiss firmer before her patience appeared to run dry, and her hands began exploring further.




"That was quicker then I suspected, my Lady." Rhiona said, looking out over the prairie. Oraelia laughed then sat down next to her.

"Let's just say they both need to relax a little before I ruin the mood." she said, picking up a blade of grass.

"I don't… Oh, oh my. You truly are kind, my lady."

She shrugged. "I love Lucia and I want her to be happy. There is nothing else to do, besides, they aren't children. They aren't children by any means."

"You are a wonderful mother, Oraelia." Rhiona smiled, placing a hand on her shoulder. Her lips turned into a small frown but she nodded anyways and spoke up with a quick voice.

"Tell me about what I've missed, Rhiona."

"Of course my lady. Well let's see. There are many things to say, from druids to wars, Aiviri to iskrill. But I suppose, have you heard about Nallan?"




Oraelia knocked on the door, carrying a platter of food and drinks. A brief pause followed before Sanya's voice called through the door. "Uh, hello. Come in, I mean."

She walked in, saying, "Sorry I took so long, Rhiona needed help with something and I just couldn't find any cups. But I hope I didn't worry you too much!" She looked at Lucia who avoided her gaze, tattoos pulsing with haste as she gripped the couch.

"Oh not at all Mom, we were just… uh… R-Resting our eyes." she stammered.

Sanya quickly ran her hands through her hair, doing her best to look no different than previously. It took her another good few seconds to straighten her clothes as surreptitiously as possible - unfortunately few things escape the notice of the divine. "Ahem. Rhiona is… your servant?" she queried to try and steer the conversation away from Lucia's atrocious excuse.

A table of white stone materialized before the two and Oraelia set the platter of food down. It had an assortment of delicacies and more homely snacks, including a platter of snake. Oraelia sat down across from them again and smiled. "Please, eat. You've been losing energy all day, it's good to have a full belly. As for Rhiona, she is one of my avatars. I suppose you haven't met Solus? He is existent on the material plane as of right now. I created Rhiona to watch over my realm why I got much needed help from Gibbou. I was not well…" she said, watching Lucia take bites as she listened.

Sanya drew a long breath, sat back and relaxed. She extended an arm to rest behind Lucia again, gaze fixed on the goddess. "I apologize for the intrusion. Rhiona suggested our presence would be positive, and," Sanya began, stroking a finger along Lucia's shoulder. "It looked like you both needed a family visit. I fear I've been disrespectful to Rhiona, as I was indignant to you when we first spoke. "

Oraelia rose an eyebrow. "No disrespect was ever perceived by my or her eye, Sanya. You are a welcome presence and like I said before, seeing you with Lucia does make me smile. I… I hope to call you daughter, if you allow it in fact. I understand if you feel otherwise." she said, twirling her thumbs as she looked to Sanya.

Sanya seemed to choke on her own breath, stiffly pausing halfway into reaching for one of the offered goodies. "I.. ah, you honor me deeply, Sun Mother. I would carry your good will with me always… as I have in the past." she offered and fiddled with a necklace, to pull out the mark of Oraelia granted to her decades ago. She cleared her throat and put her hand on Lucia's arm. "Unless it-... bothers you, of course." she murmured to her partner.

Lucia shook her head in swift motion and gave Sanya a big smile. "This is wonderful!" she exclaimed, giving her a big hug.

"Ah, it is good to see that again, dear. You are dutiful in more ways then one." Oraelia smiled. "But please, from now on you can call me by my name if you like. We don't have to be formal around one another." she shifted in the chair, eyeing Lucia for support. The golden hair girl gave her a thumbs up, one that Sanya couldn't see.

"Thank you-... I mean, it's.. I'll try to remember that." Sanya breathed in idle admittance of her own struggle to loosen up under the goddess' vigil. "Lucia makes a case for your radiance at least once a week. It's great to meet you. Truly." she continued unprompted, offering a small smile.

"Likewise, Sanya." she turned to Lucia and tilted her head. "Lucia, you are too kind. I…" she took a deep breath. "Perhaps it's time for me to answer the questions in your minds. Oh that doesn't mean i've been snooping around… er… it mean I could if I wanted but… um… I respect your thoughts I just… okay. Let's just start from the beginning?" she asked flustered.

Lucia settled in next to Sanya, cup in hand as she took a sip. "Relax mom, we know what you are trying to say… Just, go at your own pace and remember, I love you." she said. Sanya nodded crisply and leaned back to shift up beside Lucia properly.

Oraelia nodded. "Okay, my sweets. Close your eyes and listen to my voice. I shall start from the moment I awoke in a strange place, a small goddess before me..." She began, her voice growing stronger as her memories came into view before them. Nothing would be left bare…

And so they saw a small goddess, a child at mind but divine at heart. They could feel how Oraelia felt as she spoke to them of Genesis and Antiquity. The reunion Moon and Sun, the meeting of love and light. They were there, looking in at it, seeing it with their own eyes that were not there. Oraelia showed them everything since she awoke. From the time she helped the mortals, to Lucia's reunion, to Neiya's betrayal.

She shielded them from the brunt of those emotions but flavors were all too familiar but they endured it because Oraelia had endured it and they came to Genesis again and how she helped Oraelia. Then those negative emotions were purged away by Oraelia claiming Love as it should have been. More memories flashed before them of the times she helped Gibbou and created other heroes and gifts for the mortal world.

Then they came to her denial. For years she searched for Genesis until she came to a cold realization, she was gone. The next memories were a haze of joy and sadness. How she gave gifts to any just so she could please them and be happy. And her deepest thought of ending it all. But Oraelia shielded them from its dire influence and they endured it again, coming to a time when Gibbou made her see reason again. But the damage had been done.

The last memory was the profound joy she felt at seeing Lucia again and then she guided them back to the room with the snacks before them.

"And that, my love, is why I was silent for so long. I could not bear the thought of hurting you, or seeing reason by your voice. I'm so sorry Lucia. I've done terrible things in my need for escape." she confessed, wiping away tears. She looked at Lucia to see her doing much the same.

Lucia slowly stood, gently letting go of Sanya's hand and began to walk over to her. "L-Lucia I don't expect you to forgive me so easily… I-" but before she could finish, Lucia embraced her and Oraelia let her tears flow freely.

”Mother.” Lucia gasped. ”There is nothing to be forgiven about. Was I sad? Of course I was, but knowing how much you’ve… You’ve hurt… I… I wish I could have been here sooner.”

Sanya sat silent. Her face was a mixture of shock from the sheer volume of memory and the experience itself, but a kernel of something else lingered in her expression. A deep-seated frown that slowly turned her eyes distant and her frown bitter. Her fingers flexed as her thoughts seemed to call her deep away. It didn't last however - after a while, she refocused on mother and daughter, doing her best to appear in the moment. "You have gone through some terrible things, Su-.. Oraelia. I am sorry."

After several minutes, after Oraelia had calmed down enough, she pulled herself away from Lucia and looked up at her. She took a deep breath and then began, ”I’m so proud of you. You’ve both stood the test of time, struggled, fought and survived to stand here, right before me now. My sweethearts and look at you, you found each other. This… This makes all that I’ve endured worth it.” she sighed, frowning slightly.

”What’s wrong mother?” Lucia asked, settling down to her knees. Oraelia ran her hands through her hair.

”Like seeds my mistakes have bloomed into terrible problems. Upon Galbar there exists a winged man with bands who can heal him, Iskrill with a weapon capable of wiping even the strongest of men to ash and greatest of all, the Highlands suffer from war. It seems the druids went to war with their neighbors of the years, all in the need for more and more land because I gave them a gift that let them- Well you know, you were there after all. Now I learn that split and it’s just so… Horrible. Rhiona has sent Solus to deal with the artifact but I fear a larger conflict is brewing… What am I going to do?” she said, looking off into the distant lands behind the windows.

To this, Lucia gave no reply and instead looked to Sanya with a knowing look. Sanya's expression darkened with determination, and she simply nodded back to her tattooed lover. Lucia flashed her a smile and turned to Oraelia, moving her hand to touch her mother’s face and guiding back to look at her. Oraelia leaned into the hand and kissed her palm. When their eyes met, Lucia spoke, ”Send us. We can right these wrongs, it’s what we’re good at.”

”No, absolutely not, Lucia. You are all I have left, I won’t send you to fix my mistakes!” Oraelia said, her voice full of emotion.

”Mother… Please. I know you are more capable than we are, but we are your daughters, our words carry so much weight and if they won’t listen to us then they will answer to you. Let us help you, please, you don’t have to do this alone. We understand mortals, we know them better than any, please.” she pleaded, with stark determination on her face. Oraelia looked over to Sanya and saw much the same. It broke her heart, it did, but she knew Lucia was right.

She nodded. ”I… I am hesitant… But I know this place, my realm, as much as I want you to stay here forever with me, there is someone I need to speak to first. So okay. You will carry my authority, my will… But first, I don’t want to send you together alone and without anything to aid you. Solus and Rhiona have worked on a solution of sorts for now. Solus is going there soon and when he arrives I will send you too. For now you will enjoy yourselves here with me and train.”

Lucia nodded to Oraelia and then looked back to Sanya. The dark-haired warrior nodded back once more, then seemed briefly struck by an errant thought. It rolled visibly on her features as she considered it, and then exited her lips. "Sorrowsting is still buried."

Lucia tilted her head at Sanya, then she blinked and looked away, back to Oraelia. She gave her a pleading look and Oraelia knew what to do. She stood, letting her hand run through Lucia’s hair as she went over to Sanya. There, she knelt before the warrior and took her hand.

”Sanya.” she started, ”When we first met, your presence felt ever so familiar to me and when I atlast met her, did I understand that familiarity, that connection. And for that, now I tell you, sorry. I am sorry for whatever she did to you with her honeyed words and her… Love. She cannot understand that there are two sides and though she thinks she is incapable of understanding the other, she dwells on all the negatives regardless. Love works both ways. There is the bad, and there is the good. One cannot work without the other, but to overcome the bad, is to falter into darkness, or overcome it with bliss.” Oraelia’s voice broke into a hushed whisper. ”But you, Sanya, you’ve done it. To endure her, to live in the negative and overcome it, is to realize that there is a better path, one that you now share with Lucia. Sorrowsting is a part of you, but it does not define who you are. Thus, I give you this.” Oraelia removed her hands from Sanya’s to reveal a jewel the size of her palm, blazing with light. ”Add this to Sorrowsting when you retrieve it and never lose sight of that which you love.”

Sanya looked down at the gem with parted lips, a serene but troubled breath escaping her. She looked up at Oraelia, her eyes raw with the same vulnerability that harkened back to the original wound to her soul two millennia ago. A moment later, she nodded, and brought herself to respond. "...Thank you. I will look forward, for who I've become. For my love."

Oraelia nodded, and Lucia walked over to them. Kissing Sanya on the cheek as she sat down next to her to admire the gem.

Oraelia then waved her hand at the corner of the room and two sets of armor appeared upon stands, one golden and the other finest silver. Upon the regal-looking sets sat the insignia of Oraelia, and around one of them, hung a necklace of swirling beauty.

”This will do, yes. You will train, get used to the feeling of this armor and then… I shall send you back to your home. There… There I think you’ll see some familiar faces, Lucia but for now… Come, let me show your room and this house. For it is ours for a time.” she said.

Lucia smirked. ”Familiar faces?”

Oraelia just grinned.









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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Not Fishing
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Carn




Carn returned to his tent and took a deep breath.

It had been an eventful day.

First, they had discovered a group of slain scouts at the site of an abandoned wagon. That on its own would not have been so shocking - he knew that eventually they would encounter villages and people who were not supportive of his conquest. He also knew his men were not infallible, and some would inevitably being taking supplies by force. That was something he would need to start directly ordering himself, especially with the way his food was running low.

However, there were a number of oddities related to the deaths. The scouts were the only bodies at the site, implying that either they had all been taken by surprise, or whoever killed them was proficient enough to defeat them all without casualties. Additionally, they all looked to have been killed in the same method - a single precise knife wound. Lastly, there were only two pairs of footsteps leading away from the slaughter.

Carn had ruminated on the matter for a time, and then decided it wasn’t worth troubling himself with. Not yet, anyway. If it happened again he would need to reassess. But for now, it could just be an isolated incident. So he had increased the size of the scouting parties and the number of sentries meant to guard the camp, gave them an additional warning to be vigilant, and had left it at that.

Then they stopped for the day, and it was time to initiate something that had been on his mind for a few days. The organization of his army.

The composition of his army would be a simple one. His warriors, archers, and mages were to be developed in individual formations, which would continue to be called warbands for both simplicity and familiarity. Each warband had one hundred people, and as a result he had twenty-four warbands in total.

Four of these warbands were his best-equipped warriors; those whose armour fit the best. They were given bronze weapons that had been taken from the Ketrefans in Carn’s ‘skirmish’ with them all those months ago. Three of these warbands consisted of bowmen, and four were slingers. One, the smallest warband with only fifty people, was comprised solely of druids and mages. The remaining twelve warbands were the rest of his infantry, wielding assorted weapons of copper, bronze, or even stone, and wore mismatched pieces of armour - whatever pieces of Titania’s gift could fit them, really, as well as a mixture of hide and fur.

Then came the process of assigning command. Naturally he had taken command of the elite for himself. Ingrid was given the archers, Yarwick the rest of the infantry, and Lothar the mages. The process of handing out commands for the individual warbands had been more difficult, however. Simply put, he did have as many chieftains, lords, and commanders as he did warbands. Which meant some had to be relegated to second-in-commands, or given other less prestigious duties. Naturally, many had complained, and some had even threatened to take their men and leave.

But Carn had simply smiled, and said that if the men wished to leave, they were free to do so. But if not, the disgruntled commanders would have to find their way home alone. He had said this within earshot of the men in question, and unsurprisingly it had boosted his esteem in their eyes, to the point where almost none decided to follow their commanders after all.

And with that, they had pitched camp, ready for yet another day of marching.






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Hidden 29 days ago Post by Leotamer
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Gamla surveyed the amassing flock of people stacking bags, pots and baskets on sleds and pulks, some tied to elks, some tied to cattle, and some pulled by people. The snow had laid itself thick on the ground, so the trek to Ha-Dûna would be long and arduous. He pulled his woolen socks higher up and his woolen kilt further down over his knees. His plaid was wrapped almost twice around his body in hopes that it would keep the cold out - it remained to be seen whether they would be so lucky.

“Well, Rik,” Gamla mumbled. “This is it, huh. Heading home after two years already…” He took a deep breath. “Admit it - you’ll miss us.”

“Doubt it,” muttered the Queensguard, his club seemingly held ready to beat down any sign of tumult. Next to him stood a blindfolded young watcher wordlessly. Gamla scoffed.

“Come oooon, Rik - we had such great times! Remember during the Helgensblot when we--”

“When you kept the whole town up until dawn and refused to go to bed when we demanded you to?”

“Well, yes, there was that, but we also made you that porridge you like so much!”

“Then your druid Vona said you weren’t to share with us because we were ‘lesser folk’, isn’t that right?”

Gamla rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on, are you still hung up on -that-? We sent her away and everything! What more do you want?”

“Preferably that you all left, but you're in the middle of doing so, so today is quite a good day, indeed.”

Gamla frowned. “Wow, some friend you are, huh.”

“We were never friends, Gamla - at best, you have been very disrespectful guests and we, very patient hosts.” Gamla recoiled in offense. Out of his pocket, he fished forth a copper clump used for local currency. He flicked it over to Rik and flicked his tongue at him.

“Well, then, oughta compensate our host, no? Here, for your troubles.”

Rik caught the clump and tossed it back. “Don’t need it. Bring it home and show your people that there is such a thing as currency, and that it’s a hell of a lot better than that bartering mess you keep insisting on.”

Gamla had to dig the coin out of the snow and stomped off angrily. Rik groaned. “Finally, he decided to leave us alone. How are you feeling?” He eyed the watcher and lowered his club and head in respect.

The watcher muttered back, “The skies are deadly still. I am concerned about tomorrow.”

Rik looked up. “Will the weather turn?”

The watcher took a single step closer, and lowered his voice, “I can not tell, but it is not mundane weather which I find so concerning.”

Rik’s eyes settled on the Dûnans again, which were slowly making their way out of the stone gates. “Do the stars allude to whether or not they will make it home?”

Despite being blindfolded, he instinctively turned his head, “These times are uncertain. I only caught glimpses of outside the walls. I have seen bandits walk the road, but shadows dance just outside of my vision.”

The Queensguard made a short-lived frown. “Well, they’re not our problem anymore. Come, I reckon the queen would like to know they’ve finally gone.” Using his club as a walking stick, he started trudging through the snow.

As they left, Rik caught glimpses of the Light Wings, Kirin loyalists who were more charitable and accepting than most, helping the Dûnans prepare. Many of them were no less excited about their departure, but they were less inclined to directly state it. They were able to be told apart from the Dûnans by painted wooden butterfly emblems that they attached to their clothing. Hera, their de facto leader and the queen’s sister, was also nearby preparing to sing one of the zodiac songs in order to help them on their way.

Walking through the city, it was less busy than it was before, but still quiet alive with activity. The endless cycle of building and rebuilding had slowed. Not only had the Dûnans begun to leave, but there were other people who wished to remain loyal but no longer needed the immediate safety of the walls and could spread out into the surrounding region. However, instead of abandoning the multistory building, there was a greater focus on slowly building longer lasting and more sturdily built houses from the ground up.

The market was less crowded, but still quite busy. There were fewer stalls, but many of the stalls were larger, permanent ones run by two to three people. Trading was still considered the domain of the youngest son, but there were quiet, heated debates among families on who the stalls should be passed down too.

The part of town immediately surrounding the Nightward Tower was converted into a religious district. It lacked the megaliths or fancy temples of Ha-Dûna, instead there were simple buildings to house the faithful, supplied by the queen’s wealth. Smaller altars and shrines to the gods dotted the area.

The area surrounding the Queen’s Abode was converted into a military district, filled with barracks, training grounds and the like. It was agreed that a new building would be built for the purpose of serving as the religious district and the market, but it was still under construction.

The watcher walked up to the door, and nodded. The Queensguard was permitted to enter as he pleased. Rik nodded back and entered into the abode, approaching the Queen before taking a knee.

“Great queen - the last of the Dûnans are leaving for their home as we speak.”

The queen was turned to face a map carved into a wooden slab resting against supports on one of the side walls, she briefly turned around to acknowledge her guard stating, “You may raise.” before turning back to concern herself with her thoughts.

Rik did as commanded and approached the map. Running his eyes over it, he drew a breath. “What’s the plan now?”

The queen pointed to one of the symbols carved into the wood, “Trolbane, one of the older settlements. It has become occupied by a kin-feaster. We need to slay the unholy abomination and begin resettling our land.” The symbol, while not directly on the road to Ha-Dûna, was in the direction of it.

“A kin-feaster? Do we have the force to take on such a fiend?”

“We can not leave such a thing to fester and grow more powerful off of our blood, or to allow it to spread its evil any further. It must be handled promptly.” she said, glancing towards her maul beside her throne.

“Understood.” He surveyed the carvings around the Trolbane area. “Decent lands, those - the cows and sheep will enjoy the meadows between the cliffes. Are you certain you want to expand towards Ha-Dûna, though? I mean… We just got rid of them. Should we truly invite them back so soon?”

“The Dûnans may have forgotten, but that was the land of our sister tribe. If we ever wish to reclaim it, we need to do it now while they are still weak and disorganized.” The queen pointed to a further point in the map towards Ha-Dûna, “I have discussed the matter with Tak, I am favorable to his suggestion that we expand to here and form a buffer zone between us and them. They speak of peace, but people do not change so easily.”

“Agreed… First chance they get, they will no doubt slit our throats in our sleep, should we form bonds of friendship and complacency. We can have a war party of seventy ready to take down the kins-eater in two days. We’ll slay it for the sake of the heavens’ peace, and then begin fortifications against attacks from the north.”

The queen walked over to her maul and began carefully examining it, “Have the war party ready by the northern gates by that time. I will see to this matter personally.”

Rik frowned. “My queen, please keep in mind the terror we are facing here. A kins-eater is no small threat, and we need your leadership now more than ever.”

“Which is why I must fight. Our clan is the bedrock of this city, and I have the respect of the clan through this.” she said, lifting her maul.

Seeing there was no way to make her reconsider, Rik immediately conceded. “Very well,” he said and hefted his warclub. “But we will not let you out of our sight.”

The queen glared in response, but in two days time, the force gathered on the outskirts of Trolbane. The queen gathered her advisors around a wooden table with a rough map of the city inscribed into it. Among those in attendance was Rik, the midnight watcher that had accompanied him before, Tak, and Hera. A constellar and a stonemaul druid were invited, but they were busy making the necessary divine observance in dealing with such an unholy creature.

The queen invited Tak to speak first, “This was the city I was raised in, and I know it well as I know where the sun rises and sets. It will be an honor to reclaim for the rest. Reya sides with us, if we can drive the monster into the town center then it will have no place to hide from her judgment. If that is not enough, our slingers will pin and injure it until one of our druids can channel Reya’s light into one of our mauls and then we end its miserable existence.”

The queen’s face was unreadable, she merely turned and asked, “Rik, your thoughts?”

Rik wriggled his nose and eyed the light on the horizon hinting at the sun’s awakening. “It will not come out willingly, so we’ll have to force it to come out from wherever it’s hiding. I suggest we light its abode on fire and let the elements deal with it - if we can avoid confrontation at all, that would be safest.”

Tak bit his tongue until the queen’s still neutral face glanced at him expectedly, and he responded, “Surely you jest, we have every advantage. Why should we risk our past and future homes to the elements when we can crush this creature with our blessed might?”

The queen signalled Rik to continue.

“It would just be a single house - a kins-eater is nothing to scoff at, my queen. Without proper strategy, one can surely slay twenty of ours before we can slay it.”

The queen paused and took a deep breath, “The kin-feaster is a terrible blight upon the land, and one not to be trifled with. However, neither are the children of the gods. We will approach with all due caution, but fire is a power that we can not reliably control. Should we use it, we threaten the structure of the entire city, our city. Sister, prepare your singers for the blessings of divine harmony.” Hera nodded and left towards the main unit, though she wasn’t as good at hiding her concern as her sister. The queen turned back to the others, “Does anyone else have final insights before the assault?”

Rik sighed in defeat and shook his head.

“If there are no final insights, then meet him in the front to receive the blessings.” she said, grabbing her maul and heading that direction.

As the sun continued to rise over the highlands and the small army gathered in front of the city, Hera led her six other singers adorned with the butterfly insignias in performing the star hymns. The songs had few words, and those few where spoken in the old tongue that few on the battlefield remembered. As they continued, power emanated from the sound, opening the senses of those who heard it and granted them boundless vigor.

When the song was over, half of the singers readied themselves with slings while the others prepared themselves to make further use of their spirit-singing.

The queen signalled the warband, scouts surrounded the region with warhorns to signal if the vampire did somehow manage to escape, while the rest followed the blind-folded watcher into the city, his hidden senses reaching out in an attempt to detect the unholy being. Rik clutched his club and kept a close proximity to the queen.

The watcher led the group to a seemingly innocent building, before walking up and laying his hand on it. He made the agreed upon gesture for signalling that the vampire was here, but the building was trapped.

The queen nodded and signalled the group to surround the house. A group of soldiers, not including the queen or her guard readied themselves to storm the door several steps from it.

One of the lightwings sung and the door flung open, while Hera joined her voice into the song as rocks began to tumble down and roll down hill towards the group and they seemed to slow and roll around the group.

The frontline charged into the building, their mauls ready to bludgeon or guard, and were initially confused as the building appeared empty before one of the soldiers heard something above them, but by that point it was too late as the kins-eater had already dive down and taken a knife to his throat.

The monster lunged forward at the remaining soldiers, managing to deeply gash the leg of one of the soldiers but as the other knife pushed forward, it was caught by a war-club. Through sheer strength, it managed to push through the wood and make it one swing away from cracking in two.

A war club slammed into the back of the kin-feaster, but it seemed to barely have any effect. As it turned around to slash at his attacker, the visage of a spirit leon lunged at him from the side knocking him back. He burrowed his daggers into the spectral form, its paw still reaching towards him as the energy composing it grew dimmer and dimmer until it completely faded.

The queen voice was heard issuing the retreat to the safety of the sun. One of the soldiers stood his ground against the beast and was promptly eviscerated. Only one managed to stumble out into the light as the others were unable to make it the threshold.

The queen looked soberly on the would-be battlefield, her men being sent to die in an honorless battle, she issued her next order, “Clear the area. Burn the kin-eater’s dwelling.”

Rik, who carried a wounded warrior over his shoulder, he himself also bruised and bloody, shouted, “Well, you heard her! Burn it down!”

The warband began to move anything that might burn away from the building, including a nearby shed that was demolished and its rumble pushed away. The magically inclined joined in prayer to Reya, Clar and Bors, asking that the stone and water of the highlands would keep the fire at bay while the sun purifies it of a great evil.

The building was doused with the oils they used for cooking and making torches, and the building was lit. The spirit-singers joined together in a song to the fire, while the druids and soldiers readied themselves in case it spread.

As the fire began to quickly consume the roof and removed the barrier between the vampire and the sun, it screamed in animalistic fury. Looking through one of the windows, they saw one of the soldiers laid on the floor of the burning building, alive but unable to escape. As sunlight pierced the roof and smited the vampire, he smirked. As the roof continued to collapse and feel upon him, they could hear his muffled screams before they abruptly stopped.

Rik gently lowered the wounded soldier to the ground to be tended to by the druids. He then stormed over to the queen and pointed his club at the burning ruins, his face contorting in fury. “What did I say?!”

The queen glared at him, “This is not the time. Everyone, secure the area. I will give further instructions at sunrise tomorrow.”

After the town had been cleared and the remains of the fallen had been attended to, the queen gathered the remaining warband and addressed them, “The vampire has been slain. Queensguard Tak will fortify this location and start making plans to expand towards Ha-Gaard. Queensguard Rik will take the druids and the watcher to scout out the surrounding region to make sure it is safe for resettlement before regrouping with me and the spirit singers in the rest. You are dismissed.”




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Hidden 28 days ago 26 days ago Post by King of Rats
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These lands were no good, thought the great beast as he slowly lumbered through the forests and hills. He had come for feast, yet instead he had come across two types of winged flesh and nothing but armed soldiers who had no desire to become his next meal. Whatever reason the North God had for sending him down here was obviously a fluke.

His stomach grumbled, it had been long since he had had a good taste of flesh, having to sustain himself on elk and other animals, and he could see the sun lower in the sky, he would have to set camp, and find himself more meat to consume.

He found a nice clearing, hidden behind a mighty hill, this would do. He let his pack fall off his shoulders and crumble to the ground, gathering rocks and twigs to start a fire once he returned. With it all set, he grabbed his scythe, and set off, following the distant scent of meat.

Normally, a hunter would try to find tracks to hunt their prey, but he did not require it, all he had to do was follow the scent, and it would lead him to it soon enough. His cloven hooves softly passed through the underbrush as his head lay low, his mighty antlers looking almost like branches of a tree, providing him some slight camouflage. He had done this so many times before, it had become natural.

Yet this time, as he drew closer, he picked up upon other scents, different this time, that...of flesh, it nearly drove him into a frenzy, the sweet and mouth watering scent that only grew stronger as he came closer, this could be the feast he was hoping for. He came upon them soon enough, humans, five of them, gathered around a deer, it would’ve been perfect, yet, the Hunter only grew disappointed.

These humans were armed well, even worse, they were thin, starved looking, like those back in that accursed city. Why could he only find the flesh that was bad? They weren’t that good when they were thin, too stringy and they got caught in his teeth too much. As he knelt in the brush, staring at the humans, he soon realized, he recognized them, their armor and faces were familiar. They were those, boar things, whatever they were called, he had seen them flee when those bright winged flesh arrived in the city. Perhaps, this was a far better calling.

He rose, coming to his full height that easily towered over the humans, and walked forward, he didn’t bother trying not to appear threatening, his form made that impossible.

”I...am pleasantly surprised to see...some of you...survived.” He spoke, his voice harsh and deep as always, echoing off the trees and reaching deep into the forest itself.

The roamers turned to face the monster and immediately hunkered down to their knees in pleading. They looked weak and frostbitten, the winter having eaten away at them like an omnipresent vulture. “Great… Great hunter… We had to run… Forgive us - we had to run to avoid the axe.” The speaker gasped for breath. “Please,” he whispered weakly. “Please - do you have anything we can eat? We, we are starving.”

“Dying,” someone added weakly.

The beast sighed ”I fault you not for running away...a true hunter knows when to fight...i did the same...as for food” He raised his head, sniffing the air, he could smell other deer off in the distance. ”I do not have any with me...but I smell others in the distance.” He lowered his head, staring at the starving men ”Are you all who...escaped?”

The strongest among the survivors looked at his four companions and nodded slowly. “Ragnar died in the snow… Parix remained in Ha-Dûna and, to our knowledge, probably got the axe.”

“Aye, got the axe…”

“This is all of us, then,” the man confessed sadly. “But you said there was food?”

The hunter nodded ”Yes...to our north,” He bent down and grabbed the dead deer in front of them, despite its size, it wouldn’t be enough ”Let us
go get some more, then, we can return to my camp, so i may gather my pack”


The men salivated at the deer. “Can we eat this first?”

A low rumble emitted from the Hunter ”You...wish to eat it….now?”

“Please! We haven’t eaten for days! Just a small bite - that’s all we need! C-Coner here’s barely moving anymore!” The man known as Coner was lying on the lap of one of the other men, his cheeks red hot with fever and his breath weak and ragged.

The hunter nodded ”Very well.” He slowly put the deer back down, before raising his scythe, and cutting off chunks of flesh from the deer and handing the pieces to the men, with the weakest members getting flesh first, with the hunter himself taking the smallest pieces just to sate him over. The men ate the flesh with desperate haste, barely even gagging at its raw and untreated texture. Blood caked their faces and they showed only increased appetite as they consumed more and more. When they had finished, the colour had returned to their faces, though it was hard to tell whether that was the blood or themselves.

“Thank you, great hunter.” The men all bowed and knelt in respect. “Please, let us repay you how we may. You said you had a pack, yes? Let us join you - we will follow you gladly.”

The hunter thought for some time, allowing the men to eat from the flesh first, before finally speaking. ”I see...no reason to deny you that...I will welcome followers...we can survive longer if we stick together.”

“Then take us to more food, great hunter!”

The Hunter nodded ”Follow me, keep your heads and bodies low, follow my lead, and do not strike until I command.” With that, the hunter led the merry band northward, his massive form once more vanishing amongst the underbrush. The Boars followed suit, their weapons kept close to their chests and forms, trying their best to emulate the great beast in front of them, though it was still clear the frost and hunger had limited their capabilities.

They crept for some time, the Hunter often stopping to check the scent and allow the others to catch up. Soon enough, they finally came upon some more deer, grazing over some frosted grass, it was a herd, far more than they could ever kill, but, if their luck was enough, they could get enough to sustain them longer.

He gazed back upon the boars, and gestured to one of them with a spear, before whispering softly ”Your spear is the most adept at range...on my command...chuck it at that one.” He pointed towards one of the outer deer ”Then...you and the others shall focus on that one with your other weapons...if you kill it, try your best to kill another one, but stick together...I will focus myself on those...and kill as many as I can before they run...do not try to follow them once they do...that will only lose you energy.” He waited a moment for confirmation from the Boars, before motioning for them to get ready.

For a brief moment they knelt amongst the brush, waiting for the right moment, the boar with the spear had it readied, gazing at the hunter with the side of his eye to ensure he would hit the target when the time came. There was a brief silence, then, the Hunter raised his hand, and quickly closed it into a fist. The boar chucked the spear, landing it straight into the chest of the deer, causing it to collapse rapidly, now they had to act fast.

The Boars rushed forward, one quickly planting his axe into the deer’s skull to ensure the kill, the Hunter meanwhile almost leaped from his spot, his massive scythe whirling in a fury of death, slashing a deer across the chest before implanting itself into them. Letting go of his grip upon his weapon, he then pounced upon another one, his maw of teeth ripping into its throat as he grabbed a hold of its head.

By the time the blood had stopped flowing and gushing, the other deer were gone, rapidly vanishing into the distance. The hunter held the mangled corpse of one in his hands, another had his scythe embedded into its rips, and the Boars gathered around another, their willpower just barely keeping them from digging in immediately.

”I must say” The hunter spoke, his mouth caked in blood ”You did well...for yourself.”

“Hunting is nothing new to a Dûnan!” boasted one of them bravely while one of the others ran to collect a misthrown spear.

The hunter chuckled ”Good, that is something that will keep us alive longer, now, let us head back to my camp” He retrieved his scythe, before lifting the two deer to carry, aided by one of them missing most of anything above its neck. ”Tell me,” He spoke as he let them gather their deer ”I am unversed with these lands...is there a land we could...find refuge within? Not held by those, heretics...as you call them.”

The Boars exchanged frowns and began surveying the area. The snow made it hard to distinguish rise from rise, cliff from cliff. Green, colourful meadows and distant fields were now hidden underneath endless sheets of white, intermittently broken by piercing rocks or frozen woods. Suddenly, though, one of the paladins whooped in realisation and pointed southwards. “We raided a village close by - I recognise those woods over there. There should still be some buildings intact where we can shelter ourselves.”

The hunter nodded “That...is better than nothing...let us head there...once we have reached my camp.”[/color] He motioned for the paladin to march alongside him, so he could keep track of where they were. The snows proved challenging to traverse, cliffs often being hidden underneath misleadingly broad edges, and heads hiding great shrubs that proved all too easy to trip over.

“Bah! By Vanda, curse this cold!” had Coner shouted.

“Shut up, Coner - your whining only makes it worse.”

“Oh, you’re having a bad time? Why don’t you give those mittens to me, Mack, and we’ll see how cold it is!”

“My wife gave me these!”

“Oh, yeah, we know - you only brag about her every night.”

“You two - be quiet!” said the Boar at the front and knelt down, dusting the snow off a boulder peeking out of the snow. The boulder was inscribed with the now-outdated Ketrefan script employed by the druids of the Long Stride until very recently. Behind him, Mack and Coner were being pulled apart by the other two Boars. The man by the stone, Sedrick, stood back up. “‘Ha-Leothe’…” he mumbled. “I remember this place.”

“Aye - we had a good few runs here before that whore Boudicca showed up,” muttered Coner and spat at the snow. The village down in the valley ahead of them was little more than frosted ruins still untouched since they had been abandoned. Sedrick rose and turned to the Hunter.

“We have arrived, great one.”

He nodded ”Let us find the most intact house...we can hole up here for a time.” He let the one called Sedrick take point, while he continued to speak to the others ”So you two...are Mack and Coner...who are the others?” He motioned at the two boars he had not heard the names of yet.

“Knut,” said one with an unshaven chin and a thick, bushy mustache.

“Vegard, great hunter,” said the other, barely old enough to grow any form of facial hair - at least, he carried such an appearance about him. He seemed as rugged as the others, however.

The hunter nodded ”A...pleasure to meet...you all, and you need not refer to me as...great hunter.”

“Then what shall we call you?” asked Sedrick.

The hunter thought for a brief moment, his mind delving back into old thoughts "You...may call me...Azen...that is...was...my name...long before I became what...I am"

The Boars exchanged concerned glances. Around them, the skeletons and corpses of buildings and homes formed a gravelike backdrop to their conversation. “What were you before, Azen?” Vegard whispered warily.

Azen chuckled "I was...much like you...then...I met the North God...They...gifted me with what I am today...They are also the reason I am here.”

“What’s ‘the North God’?” asked Coner.

“You mean -who’s- the North God, boar-brains! Be respectful!” retorted Mack.

“I’ll respect your face!” snapped Coner back, his fists tightening.

“Shut up, you two!” Sedrick suddenly burst out as he stopped and looked around. The other men did the same, trying to pinpoint exactly what Sedrick had stopped them for.

“What--”

“Ssh! Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

There was nothing - at least, nothing that shouldn’t be there. The silence around them was almost too perfect, as though something was doing its best to hide the true nature of the ruins from the party. Azen’s gaze quickly began to scan the village, trying to discern any scent or notice anything that may suggest trouble was afoot. Something was definitely off, he could sense it.

”There is something here,” he whispered ”Keep...your guard up...form a circle.” The Boars did as they were told and flanked Azen on each side in two crescents.

“Oh, my, my! Guests, at last!” came a voice like satin and out from behind a broken barn came a black-winged man. From other corners of the hamlet around them, several more like him appeared. The man ushered forth a deep, mocking laughter before he choked on it. “No…”

Coner squinted. “Hey, wait a bit… Isn’t that--”

“I thought we had finally left you behind for good,” groaned Annihilari upon seeing the Hunter. The other Neiyari lowered their weapons in a moping manner.

Azen couldn’t help but laugh, his deep voice ringing out through the village, ”Winged flesh!” He proclaimed, his arm wielding the scythe extended in some jubilation ”It is good to see you again!...I thought for sure...your golden cousins would’ve...gotten you by now.”

“Alright, keep your distance, bone man,” hissed the angel and shoved the air before him. “That was a close call - too close. It was only by the grace of Neiya that we managed to escape. I thought for a moment that, that I wouldn’t ever be able to see my precious Aveira again!” Around him, the Neiyari gathered to touch him supportively. “BUT THEN!” snapped the angel leader, “we meet you again - you! Of all things in this land! And you’ve brought the meat sacks with you!”

“Hey!” snapped Coner back.

“Ugh, perfect! A butchered and his slaughter. Why did we even come this way.” Annihilari collapsed into a seat on a broken beam, his face dropping into his hands. The other Neiyari formed a supportive circle around him.

"They are...not my slaughter...they are...my pack." He planted his scythe into the frozen ground "You may...dislike me...but...We are...far better...to meet than your...cousins"

“Anyone’s better than our cousins…” he conceded. “Even you… What’re you doing here?”

"Find shelter...after hunt" he gestured to the deer he carried and the one settled next to the boars "And to...hopefully avoid...being found by enemies.

“Enemies, huh,” Annihilari mused as he looked between himself and his own and them. He then gave a lazy shrug. “Well, none to find here. We’ve settled in in hopes that someone foolish enough would stop by and, well, conveniently carry supplies with them - like people do.” He groaned, joined by some of his companions. “The locals must be itching to resettle their lands.”

Azen shrugged ”They may...be consolidating...hoping to track...each of us down...to ensure their safety.” He pulled out his scythe from the ground, and looked back at the men behind him, then to the Neiyari ”It....may be...beneficial…for all of us...to work together.

“Would you believe me if I said that was -exactly- what I hoped you wouldn’t suggest,” muttered the angel before covering his face with his palm. “Fine. We will… Tag along, I suppose - as long as you can take us to where there is food. We’ll have to wait out the winter, anyway.”

“Why’s that?” asked Coner suspiciously. Annihilari flexed one of his wings and rolled his eyes.

“Ever tried flying through snow storms and icy winds, hmm? Didn’t think so, cretin.”

“Who you callin’ a--?!”

“Coner, don’t. He’ll kill you in a single swing,” warned Sedrick.

“I’d like to see him try.” Before Coner could pull out his small axe, Annihilari had already whipped the snow beside him.

“Wow, I thought you were slow, but this is simply pitiful. I doubt you’d even make a good servant…” The angel retracted his whip and curled it together. “So, we have a deal, bone man?”

He growled softly ”I...would advise...not insulting my men...but...yes...we have a deal.” He motioned for the others to pick up the deer again ”Lets get inside...warm ourselves up...I shall tell you...more of the...North God.” He directed that last portion to the paladins, but made no effort to actually quiet his voice.

The group gathered their stuff and chose one of the more intact houses to stay the night in, ignoring the gaze of their now allies, though it was clear even the Hunter was sceptical of this. They laid their catches down upon the floor of the house, the roof and walls were still intact which was all they needed to keep them safe from the outside. They gathered around the firepit, the Hunter reached into his backpack, pulling out a fire starting rock and metal and, after a few tries, starting up the fire. Both him and the paladins began to slice pieces of the deer off, sticking them onto sticks or their weapons to cook them over the fire.

”Tell me,” The hunter finally spoke after a long period of silence. ”What do you know of the lands to the north?”

“Cold,” said Coner.

“Barren,” voiced Vegard.

“Weird people, I’ve heard,” muttered Knut with a scowl. The Neiyari tucked themselves closer together in the small space, their wings taking up quite a lot of space.

Azen nodded ”All...correct notions...it is a...harsh land...and it is here...that I was born.” He set the scythe down, tearing into a piece of deer before continuing. ”Up there...the winters are harsh….harsher than the lands you know...I doubt even our winged friends could...survive.” He flashed a smile towards Annihilari, as much as a smile as he could form. The Neiyari sneered back in disgust.

”I was...hungry...hoping to find...food...that was...when I met...them...The North God.” He paused for a brief moment, allowing the words to settle in ”Their voice was...harsh and fierce...they...blessed me with what I am now...the ability to survive...and a form...more befitting what I had...become after their....machinations...they sent me here...for reasons I am unsure of...all I know...is that they seek destruction...and chaos...to bring nations to heel...and remind mortals...of their own hubris…” He feel silent, staring at the piece of deer within his claws, seemingly contemplating it.

“Huh. So your master seeks to show mortality its hubristic weaknesses, and so they send a bloodthirsty mutt to, what, kill their game and give them scary stories to tell their children? Colour me unimpressed,” muttered Annihilari.

“What sorta destruction, Azen? Like… Total ruination?” asked Sedrick.

He shrugged ”I am...unsure...they...do no wish to destroy....all of mortality...but...I believe they would...not be opposed...to many dead…” He seemingly paid no mind to the comment of the angel, instead focused on the paladins in front of him.

The Boars looked at one another. “Did, did the god name itself Sigeran, by chance?”

Azen thought for a long time, delving into his mind ”They have...never given me...a name...even the North God is...a name of my own creation...who is this...Sigeran?”

The faces of the Boars got dark. They hardly looked anywhere but the ground, and when they did look elsewhere, it was to stare pleadingly at Sedrick for him to take the fall and explain. He caught the signal and sighed. “Sigeran is our god, for better or worse. His divine grace was all that saved the great conquest of Ha-Dûna some years ago now - our loyalty to him has been paid in blood.” He took a deep breath. “Sigeran is not a kind god, by any stretch - but unlike the Sunmother, the stars and any of those small gods our former kinsmen worship, Sigeran understands strength - what it means to be a killer.” He looked at his companions, who nodded in dedicated agreement. “His blessing is still with us. Even now, we have survived winter weather for longer than any other man has. Ragnar was already wounded when the snows came - Sigeran’s strength never truly faded for us. One day, I pray, the others will come to their senses and realise that our people shouldn’t be slaves to the rules of Hir’s masters. We are the masters of the Highlands, and only Sigeran ever understood this.”

“Preach,” Knut pitched in and bumped him brotherly on the shoulder.

”I see...while...I doubt that this...Sigeran is...the same...I have no doubts...that the North God...would see eye to eye...with this Sigeran…perhaps that...is why i was called...” He paused, before finally turning to the angels ”And what of you?...There is...surely a reason you...still hunker down here...for your...god”

“Oh, we stay because of the exquisite cuisine and beautiful view.”

“Really?” asked Coner.

“No, of course we don’t, you pink ape! The winter’s too cold. We can’t fly back until spring. Trust me - if we could leave, we would. Coming here was a mistake. Of course, those goodie-goodie sunnies would show up. They always do whenever something’s ‘amiss’.” His voice could have soured milk.

Azen chuckled ”Those...of light tend to have...that sort of...timing…” He looked around the gathered assembly ”And...we are all enemies of that light...a semblance...of unity will ensure...we are stronger...against them...but...for now...let us eat...it is getting late…” He let the deer flesh fall into his mouth, chewing, before carving off another piece, and handing it over to Annihilari. The angel sneered, but accepted it, sharing with his kin.

“... A tentative alliance then…” he remarked before biting down.




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Legion02

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The crystals appeared quite literally overnight. First as small fragments at first. Though through the night they seemed to take root and grew. Almost all of them remained undiscovered not until weeks if not months later. And even then, the Aspect Crystals remained untouched for weeks longer. Sometimes curious kids broke them off to see what happened. Nothing really. Mages, at first, thought they could use the crystals to their own ends. Except they lacked the proper methods to actually use them. As quickly as they had become intriguing, they turned dull and useless to most again. Elementite, the metal, traced the same story. Its veins underground appeared overnight. The yellowy metal was first to be thought gold. Only when people realized how brittle it was, did they lose interest again. The Cadheron berries were the only creation left alone for much longer than that.


Nidar slept quite fitfully. Nightmares had been plaguing him for two weeks now. Ever since that demon had appeared in the Labyrinth. Enura, the queen, had to lead the bravest of the Mystics into its bowels now. Many called it brave. Not Nidar. He called it foolish. The man was quite contend to remain above ground and draw his runes in the sand-pots that his slaves carried around. But his imagination took him for a stroll every night. Making him read those bloody words again and again.

Just like always he woke up in his tent, drenched in cold sweat. The full moon stood high in the sky. Nidar got up, but felt too late the heavy thing that was resting on him. With a heavy clang it fell to the ground. In the morning haze he barely recognized what it was. But as his scattered thoughts pulled himself together, he realized it were metal plates. Bound together with golden rings. He grabbed it, and carried it to the desk outside his tent.

Orb had come from no-where at night. Just like the Puzzleknots. Nidar still sat on the same desk. Four layers were opened up so far. He was certain in the coming year the next three would open and he’d gain his focus. But this book, it was something else. The plated slabs were showing symbols that were odd at first, but soon Nidar realized their not so hidden meaning. It showed water, over fire. Two rocks being thrown into the water and much more. The earliest pages showed some sort of processes, each with a unique circular symbol.

The rose far too quick for Nidar. Something about the night gave him insight. Now at day, in the shadow, his mind seemed to have turned sluggish. Beside him laid piles of clay tablets. Ready to be fired. Containing the notes of that which he already deciphered. But these texts, which he somehow knew were called the Topaz Texts, they seemed to contain vastly more knowledge. And that which he had would have to be put to the test as well!


Kiara sat hunched over the golden plates. Reading them again and again and again now. Beside her laid various objects in the cave. With a warm fire burning and a cauldron boiling away. She had done as the golden plates had told her to. It wasn’t had to find the berries as a Cenél. Though they had to be new. Her mother, nor her grandmothers recognized the strange berries. Which meant, almost certainly, that they didn’t exist until very long yet. It was a chilling thought. The idea that a god just went about and placed a completely new plant in the world.

Squeezing the seeds had been hard. She had been working on it for three day straight now. But at the bottom of her cauldron she saw the bounty boiling away. A Cenél was able to guess time from shadows and the sun. It was a skill you needed to survive. Especially in the cold, winter nights up here so far in the north. When the hour was over, she dumped a handful of raspberries and a clay cup worth of fresh water into the mixture.

Nothing particularly interesting happened as she kept stirring the pot. Until she felt like there were no more pieces and the strange liquid had broken down everything that was thrown into it. Carefully Kiara scooped up bit of the purple liquid into her cup. At first she just let her lips carefully touch upon the liquid. See if it burned or tasted wrong. To her own surprise, it smelled and tasted delicious. In one greedy gulp she down the rest of the cup. It tasted like true Cenél brewed liquor. Not that pissed out ale the Dûnans served. No this was a strong kind of stuff. Kiara laid back onto the bed she had made of dried grasses. Slowly the potion took effect. Unlike alcohol, it didn’t send her floating. Instead it took away the aching in her old bones. Making her feel less old. With a contend smile she closed her eyes and drifted asleep. Without pain in her joints for the first time in a decade.


Esiré had been obsessing over the gold-plate book for nights now. At day she kept it hidden away from everyone. At night though, she sat hunched over its heavy pages. Tracing her finger over the relief images. The symbols started out obvious, but as she kept turning page after page she noticed how the symbols turned more complex. She had persisted though. Right now she was reading alone at night, with only a candle light in the woods as her company. In in the still burning coals beside her sat a blackened clay pot, happily boiling away. It had taken her all evening to gather enough seeds.

The book detailed a fair few recipes, each calling for generally only mundane things. Nuts, leaves, berries. But there was one hinting towards something different. It was hidden in a clarification. Various ingredients were summed up only as an example involving a certain process. The next ingredients were hidden in similar fashion in the book. Esiré had discovered the pattern though. Once she was certain, she carefully closed the book again and stood up over the cauldron. With her own bone knife she slowly cut open her hand and squeezed it. Letting the blood run off her hand into the boiling cauldron. After she then added some blueberries and a marigold flower. Carefully she stirred it all around.

When she drank the mixture, at first nothing happened. Then her gut seemed to contract. Esiré dropped to her knees, feeling the intense need to puke up the vile mixture she had just drank. She fought that feeling though. With her eyes and mouth clenched close she rolled over the ground for a moment. Clutching her own stomach until the terrible, sickly feeling finally receeded. Slowly she opened her eyes. Not to find the dark world of the night but to see everything in a hue of light blue. The moon above felt as bright as the sun at mid-noon.


Qael’Naath watched with pleasure as his new gift was gleefully accepted. The Topaz Texts were only the start of mortalkind’s discovery of Alchemy. A vital skill that any mage worth his salt would have to master. For the next few years those who possessed the texts would be busy learning all there is to learn about them but then the interesting phase would start. Humanity exploring alchemy blind. Without Qael’s help. They would have to find experiment with what is given in the world. Create tools and better recipes. As he looked through his avatar’s divine senses, he wondered how long it would take before the first Magnum Opus would be build. Well, he supposed that was mortalkind’s test. An hourglass appeared beside him and the tipped it over. Letting the sand run down.





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Commodore Condor

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The western highlands had resolved out, less than perfectly. The two principle solutions had not come to pass, the region remained fractured and devoid of unity, it seemed certain it would fall once again into the previous pattern of any similar region. Petty squabbles and pointless suffering. Clearly the thoughtless interventions of other deities were to blame of course. To disrupt the initial flow of events but also to deprive the mortals of agency allowed them to fall back into the previous pattern set by the conditions of Galbar.

He needed to work quickly to provide something that could salvage something of value from the situation. While it may not be possible to redirect the course of the west with such interventions from dark deities, he might at least resist and allow moral action to flourish.

First they would need the ability to survive and endure whatever may come at them, that they can survive and fight beyond their wounds given the threats that face them. Of course such a device would also need to be well protected and need to have a strong connection to each of the ‘faithful’ as it so happened to be.

The design of course should echo what they expect in such a manner from the god Sigeran, after all, it wouldn't do to break the usage now. Thaa formed the golden artifact, a small mobile shrine that should be easy enough for a small group to bring with them. And quickly opened a rift, throwing it through once it had fully solidified.




In the sky above a rift opened and out came a small shrine, golden and mobile. Centered on a golden figure standing atop a pile of bodies. Gems and other colorful stones dotted the artifact, it tumbled before landing, skidding and throwing earth aside as it impacted without harm.

The million voices spoke, echoing out the words that described the use of the shrine to the few minds below. They spoke in the echoing words of Sigeran, that victory was still possible as the enemy had fractured and fought amongst themselves. News of all corners of the western highlands, and then the voice left them.





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