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Hidden 21 days ago 17 days ago Post by yoshua171
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yoshua171 The Loremaster

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The Present


Through threshold did the Presence tread into its sovereign realm. His attention laid upon its many layers, Mhaireann watched as the prismatic essence of the Roineagan danced upon itself. Twisting, twirling--writhing, whirling--the endless pattern moved. There was beauty in its motion, but so too was there order and this thing the Presence hated.

Disgusted, the black-eyed god turned its lidded gaze elsewhere, delving through the infinite threads of the Subtle Weave to peer into Galbar. What he saw appalled him. The weft and weave of that solid place had been divided by the gods. Perhaps not with knowing had they done this thing, yet nonetheless it was clear.

"Order," he spat and the word trembled through the Dream. Reaching forth, the Dreaming God called upon his earthly avatar. It came swiftly, arriving from afar.

"Faireachan A-staigh," he said, pressing into its mind. It did not resist. So it was that the Dread-god's Presence inhabited half-earthly substance.

Swimming through the Subtle Weave, he sought out a spreading plague. Twas a malus he'd bestowed so that mortals might scream and beg. With ease, he found its taint upon the Endless Web and so he slipped into the world. Manifesting in a town most small did Mhaireann's avatar, its many drops of moisture coalescing and turning black as tar.

Spread out all around him were many dying men. He reached out and touched them, curious at their state. Swiftly it became clear why they'd fallen. Each and every one suffered not just from his hateful blight but also from the needs of supple mortal flesh. That simply would not do.

Though Faireachan had none, Mhaireann slid back his lidded eyes and stared out into the world. Like a horrid fog, a black miasma seeped out from every drop of the avatar's liquid form. It spread slowly from him and where it touched the fallen it pressed into their flesh. Every pore, every orifice pulled in the sickly mist, and once every mortal had been touched it fled and was not missed. With his work finished, Mhaireann turned away, though the avatar remained. Disturbed as it observed the risen bodies of those who would have soon from life departed, Faireachan quietly wept for its master, knowing now of its plight. The avatar, in its sadness, knew that the world would suffer for its rage and its madness.

For in every direction the sick of mind rose to their feet. Their cheeks filled in, their thirsts were parched, and their minds grew clear and eager. Perhaps they might think the sickness passed, their selves returned, their minds no longer fevered.

It was not so. For a twisted blessing had been bestowed upon them.

Unable to stomach the terrible sight, yet knowing it must stay, the Dreaming Watcher closed its perception, following those mortals only by the taint that they left upon the weave.

Truly, no good could come of this.




Among the once famished villagers stood a single man. He was fair of flesh, his hair an auburn hue and unlike the others his eyes were stained black by the terror-plague that he contained.

Annhein was his name.

Broken by the once-growing seed of madness that now had infected the Dreaming God, Annhein looked upon his people...and smiled.

“Come,” he said, and his voice struck the heartstrings of his people, pulling at their sundered minds. His smile grew, his eyes a whirling dance of red-black haze.

Turning his gaze to the horizon, he set out, renewed by the blessing of his god, knowing what he must do. They made their way for a place outlined in his mind. To the north of the great Anchor of the World. To the Highlands. He knew that they would find what they sought there. He knew they would find the untainted.

The thought brought laughter bubbling from his lips. It was a sound like a broken lute being played, painful, and strained. His people followed dutifully and even packed up their things. With a casual gesture and a too-easy smile Annhein and his fellows set aflame the small houses of the village they had once called home. Not a single tear was shed, not even by the smallest child. In fact, he found that he felt only a deep elation swelling in his chest.

’How wonderful,’ he thought ’...that the Dreamer would give us this gift.’ A flash of sensation spread all at once over his senses and he shuddered, clawing at his neck for a moment before it passed. He felt something wet settled on the very crown of his head...then vanish. Laughing he turned.

The other villagers, as if they had heard his thoughts, each held a smile, nodding to him as if agreeing. Laughing and jubilant as they departed the burning wreckage of their homes, his fellow-men celebrated the return of their lord. This was truly a great age.



Diminished in spirit, if not in power, Faireachan phased back into the Dream and spread out its mind. There it remained, observing the workings of the world. Glowing like a beacon in the distance, Faireachan watched the destination of those whose minds were lost to the world.

He hoped they never completed their journey to the great bastion of the north. To Acadia.



2 Weeks Ago


He stood before the great gates of a sprawling city in a land whose shores he’d walked for the first time in his life. Yet, he knew the names of these things, for upon the wind did whisper all the spirits of every grass and stone and gust.

Pakohu, they whispered.

Fragrance, they sang.

Humming along with them, he called upon the Subtle Web and weaved himself new eyes. From the dancing essences of his song, and the strength of his will, the alien silver of his sclera of his prismatic eyes fading to white as a gentle illusion settled over his eyes. Brown of hue, but strangely deep with flecks of hazel if one looked closely, his eyes fell again upon the walls of the city.

Making his approach, Fein could not help but glide across the ground. There was a poise to his movements, like a dancer whose body could not forget the rhythm of his craft. So it was that he came upon the closed gate of the city. Rather than call out however, he closed his eyes and listened.

Whispering winds of whimsy passed him over, the thoughts of the ever-present weave of the Dream washing through his awareness. With only the sound of his breathing, he did nothing further to disturb the quiet of that place, instead trying to understand why his way was barred and no guards were posted.

Slowly, the emanations of truth reached him, sifted by the sieve of his intent. These were the experiences and truths of all that which lived and breathed on Pakohu.

They spoke of men, but not like him. They prowled the night and made hardly a noise. Light was their bane. So, as the sun beat down upon his shoulders and head they hid within their buildings doing as he did. Listening.

Smiling, he gently drifted to the earth, seating himself a span or so from the gate of Fragrance. There, in utter silence, he respected their vigil and took in the subtle sensation of the corner of this world they called home.

Quietly, he whispered a single word, so faint that Fein himself would not have heard it if it were not from his own lips.

“Peace.” He said, and it had a subtle beauty to it. The gentlest whisper of a song, of a rhythm yet given unto the world.

Fein let it hang there. He let the wind take up its sounds and cast them far and wide to weave their own subtle melodies. Sitting and breathing quietly, the wanderer waited for the night to come.



The Present


As the Presence delved into the depths of its rage at the world, a twisting trio of essences slipped the leash, pressing past the confines of their psychic prisons. Roiling through the Lifeblood of their own form, the three entities mourned what they could only parse as a profound loss.

Firinn had not responded to their plea, even if it had taken the form of a dreadful melody. Yet the Threefold mind of those essences knew what they must do. Spiraling out into a cacophony of feeling they overtook the titanic grasp of that hated sovereign Presence. They wrestled with it and, in their grief and knowing, they reached out into the world that had once been their home.

Like gentle threads of intention their psionic call rang out, plucking at the strands of the Dream, bleeding lifeblood out. The song that was writ of their anguish and loss was one of Perception. It was Reflection’s cost. In their twisting, pained rumination they felt the tug of Memory as they sang and so upon these threads each mind pulled, divesting of itself.

Woven into a thread of silver was the essence of its power, given freely to Reflect what their sibling had once given him before their resting hour. From the single cord there grew a startling hum, as if many droplets upon crystals fell like dew.

Golden light coalesced about the necklace, coiling and winding fast until it formed a second cord that spread down and formed an empty circlet through which only air did pass.

Drawn then by the powers of Reflection and Memory was a final thread of power, which coiled about itself, filling in the empty golden circlet. Winding tightly into a triquetra that prismatic sheen became a crystallized form of Perception, held fast by Memory.

Soundlessly the artifact hit the ground, unaffected by its drop, it rested calm, its power a sign of mourning most profound. Unable to hold fast the vast fury of the Presence, the Threefold essences drew back within and as they did were so bound by the power of Mhaireann’s dark-eyed hymn.

So bowed and broken by the titanic will of that baleful Presence, the three took once more to clawing at the edges of their threefold prison, desiring to be free. Their enemy only scoffed and sought the target of their attentions. In a flash he found the Trinity’s creations all bound upon within one another. With a sneer and a glare, the dread-god summoned Faireachan. The avatar took hold of the artifact and awaited his instruction, its form trembling despite its fluid nature. Then, the Presence of that nightmare struck out at the objects and writ within their centerpiece a horrid curse.

Faireachan, dismayed, then through the Endless Dream traversed. He cast across Galbar, shifting to-and-fro, before finally he set once more ‘pon land and into the hands of Annhein delivered the prismatic pearl.

Beyond the mask of desolation that was Mhaireann’s facade, the Eldritch Twin--that Threefold God--wept at the cruelty of the action. Yet, not to be outdone, they wove a subtle dancing tune and warped Mhaireann’s accursed thrum. So the curse upon those artifacts was change in nature true--though it remained unknown to the Presence whose attention had gone elsewhere, once more askew.

So, biding their time, the Three essences awaited a day when finally the madness and rage of Mhaireann would be at last abated.




Drifting above the soil of Galbar, the tainted avatar let the threefold artifact drop into the waiting clutches of Mhaireann’s chosen hero: Annhein. It was caught, the human meeting his gaze with a malicious, maddened ink-eyed stare. The outline of his human facade shuddered faintly, light scintillating over the surface of his current shape.

Taking the blessed item, Annhein draped it about his neck and sighed with relief as its powers washed through his awareness. They rippled across the shattered reaches of the mortal’s consciousness, perhaps mending subtle rifts in its fabric. The Watcher felt this and knew it must act in the interest of the Sleeping Three, if only subtly.

Placing the droplets of its vessel upon the consecrated flesh of the tainted human, Faireachan summoned up what paltry power he could and drew into the mindscape of the once bright-minded Annhein. Mind made up, will steeled, the avatar looked upon the mind of a man who had been broken more truly than perhaps any other who yet lived.

It was chaotic and utterly without pattern. Like a trillion shards of a shattered crystal, most edges jagged and writ with painful red and malignant black, while others still were smooth as if they’d been carved away by some ill-intended mind. Yet, it was worse than even this, for every piece was in motion, clashing and attempting an intricate weaving set of constantly shifting patterns. Annhein’s sundered mind was like a hundred dancers whose bones had been fractured who nonetheless attempted to continue on with their dance.

It was macabre, if not in the gory physical sense, then in a profound manner that struck the avatar. So affected, his own elevated intellect rang like a gong, its sound an emanation of deep and ever-growing sadness and sympathetic pain.

“Weft and Weave have shattered you, yet they were meant to bind.” mused the avatar, with sorrow in its voice. Pulling itself together, the liquid droplets of its form rendered abstract in their nature, Faireachan coalesced into a single glowing prismatic point within Annhein’s consciousness. He would not let this malady spread across the world, devouring all its potential only to sate the vengeful pact of the dread-god Presence.

So driven by the isolated influence of its original creators, the Watcher began its work. Spreading out, Faireachan coated every surface in the unwell mind of the human, grafting itself across the many shattered forms of its twisting active hellscape. Then, he sunk into them, truly becoming his namesake.

“I am the Watcher Within. I reject this chaos din. I deny its sundering and its pain. So split, let it once more be whole. Failing this, let it Reflect the Two-as-One instead.”

Thus said, he made it so, binding together the many fragments and strands of Annhein’s mind with his own interwoven essence. He gathered of its material taking essence from various regions and intermingling them in others until a functional network of many minds was crafted within the consciousness of one. So it was that, with the power of Tessellation, Annhein’s mind was reborn stronger than it had ever been.

Yet, before Faireachan could finalize its work and draw true inspiration from the vast minds of the Dreaming God, it was interrupted. Calling him from his task, Faireachan was wrested from Annhein’s consciousness and across the vast tracts of the dream. His work unravelled and he watched with sadness as the light left Annhein’s gaze, replaced with deathly darkness. The avatar wept for what had been lost.

Yet, his actions had left their mark upon both its own memory and that of the Subtle Weave. Perhaps, in time, something might come of the ripples that the Watcher had made.

With time, might those ripples--indeed--become a swell of mighty waves?

It was hard to say.

Hidden 18 days ago Post by Legion02
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Fifteen pairs of sapphire eyes peered from a nearby, rocky hill towards the purple forest. The first to be sent out by Enura. None of them were happy to be sent out to such an accursed place. Each came with their own slave as well, who were right now setting up the tents and preparing a meal. Tall, three-legged tables holding a bowl with sand were already prepared for the mystics adept in glyphs. Ready to start probing the forest with magics from afar.

“I don’t like this.” Innurta, a large fellow said as he looked out towards the forest with crossed arms. The inky signs on his skin marked him as one of the Queen’s chosen few. A vanguard of magic. Innurta had fought many golems and demon-flowers down in the Labyrinth. Just as he has hauled a great many riches up. Furthermore, he had three of the wisp-spells under his command. Each he had etched on his skin as a mark of pride. “Something’s off.”

“It seems rather unresponsive to magic.” His apprentice, a younger girl named Isseha said. Many would describe Innurta’s eyes as icy, while Isseha’s were bright and beautiful. The girl just hadn’t seen a man splattered across the walls yet. She looked rather disinterested at the woods. They were, after all, just woods.

“It can seemingly mislead. Don’t underestimate the wrath of the gods.” Strange things were happening. The shadowy creature from the Labyrinth had put the veterans on edge. “Send three slaves into the woods. To check it out. Tell them not to go too deep.”

As commanded, three slaves were given sticks to prod things with and send towards the woods. The glyph-mystics were at the ready in case of a runner, but most of Anghebad’s slaves knew that running was futile. At best you were free in an unforgiving and hot world. At worst you were caught made an example of. Still, none of them wanted to head into a wood one of their own had warned them about. For a moment it was a fight between heeding the crazed woman’s words and following their masters’ orders. The threat of imminent, painful punishment won out. The three walked towards the forest’s edge, poking a few plants. Nothing happened. They went in deeper, trying to stay within sight of the Mystics. After an hour of nothing but prodding and poking, they came back. Claiming – much to their own surprise – that it was safe.

Innurta didn’t want to believe it though. Taking his apprentice he went for the woods. Careful to stay at its edge. At first the slave seemed to have been right, until Isseha began to summon fire and unleash it at a nearby shrub. It lit up, but the tree nearby cracked, groaned and its branch reached out. Slapping the apprentice and sending her flying.

“Isseha!” Her master ran over to her. When she landed the wind was literally knocked out of her lungs. No bones were seemingly broken, luckily. But there was a large, gaping wound. The fire burned out, barely harming the shrub. Meanwhile the branch moved back to its original position.

Five minutes later a slave was branded for his failure. Even though Innurta knew it probably wasn’t his fault. The laws had to be followed. Failure had to be punished. Especially failure that resulted in the endangerment of a citizen of Anghebad. Hamurai was very clear on that point. That night though, Innurta removed himself from the rest around the campfire. Heading away from the fire light until there was only the half-moon’s pale light. With eyes still towards the purple forest he pulled several figures from his bag. Each carved from wood. Their quality was lacking, compared with some of the more artisanal craftsmages of Anghebad. Still, they were carved in the shape of the gods of Anghebad. The sun and the moon, the mystical god of magic and even the Night Cat each had an image. When they were placed in a half-circle around him, Innurta kneeled down with his eyes closed.

“Blessed gods. I thank you for the food you’ve given us today. I thank you for the drink that has lessened our thirst. I thank you for watching over Isseha.” He continued on giving praise and thanks for his wife, his children, his queen, his powers. He thanked the gods for everything. And when he was done, he opened his eyes again. With his prayer over, he peered towards the purple wood. He wondered what made it. Fasthus had played dangerous games with that tree of his, but then again the Mystics were playing dangerous games every day. In fact, it felt as if Enura liked it that way. Two of the demon-lilies are floating in her own garden back in Anghebad. Ever since they were pulled out the Labyrinth they hadn’t bloomed, but still. Again he pushed his palms flat against each other and said: “Dear gods… I know I shouldn’t ask for knowledge-“ It was a tenet of Orb himself. “But why… why make this? To punish us? For what? Have we not praised your names.” Even as he spoke the words, he felt arrogant for even asking.

From behind him, he had an incessant meowing. While giving his praise, he noticed that the carving of the night cat had vanished. “What…” A confused, and slightly frightened Innurtha said as he reached and picked up the now normal piece of wood. With his hands he ran over it, trying to see if there was a trace of his hard work. Nothing, there wasn’t a groove left on it. Slowly he got up to see if anyone was around him. And as he turned around he locked eyes with a black cat.

As he stared at it, it began to casually walk towards him, brushing against his leg. The sensation was cold and alien, it most certainly did not feel like any kind of fur. He took a step back away from the creature as he felt the coldness from it.

The entity quickly lurched behind, and he suddenly felt a gust of frigid wind go down his neck. As he turned around the cat was looming over him. Innurtha jumped backwards, as he touched one of the marks on his arm and snapped the fingers on that arm towards the creature. Wind began to swirl horizontally in front of him, creating a sort of tube of whipped up sand that grew smaller and smaller until the tube of wind contracted completely. Sending out a small beam of sand forward towards the giant cat.

The sand launched towards the cat, and seemed to just vanish into the darkness of its fur. It began to speak in a monotone whisper, “I merely came to answer your question.”

The cat talked. Cats don’t talk. The Mystic’s body was trembling as he fell back with his back to the ground. His arm still outstretched towards the creature. It was the battle-fear. Had to be. Had to be.

The mystic's sight suddenly left him as he was cast into sheer darkness, until specks of lights began to appear in every direction around him, including ones which rested where moments ago it would have been beneath the ground, casting most of the area to light by twilight except a massive tower of the original darkness remained.

The shadow began to quickly shift until it immediately in front of the mystic, taking the vague outline of a cat’s face. It didn’t appear to have a mouth, but meaning emanated from it, “Did you not have a question for me?”

Realization dawned upon Innurtha’s face. At first his eyes went wide, before he fell down upon his knees. “Oh Night Cat.” He spoke as if it was a prayer, averting his eyes from the divine projection. “I-I I didn’t mean to…” He wasn’t sure if the God was here to punish or answer his question. In the stories the Night Cat was often indifferent. It hid away secrets, good or bad. The myths rarely spoke of him though. “I beg forgiveness for my arrogance. I should not have called upon you.”

The god image was static, but it replied, “Your prayer is not the reason I take offense to your arrogance.”

The mystic turned pale. The gods were angry. His heart was beating in his throat. But he remained quiet. Not daring to speak and step out of line.

It continued, “The only thing that the people of Angebad shall find within the woods is a lesson, that no matter however powerful you believe you are, there is also someone to whom you are a speck of dust in a great, empty void, and a cure if someone needs to learn this lesson through losing something important to them. Is there anything unclear about this?”

“N-No.” The Mystic stammered. “I have understood perfectly.”

The voice continued, “And as I am to understand it, you are hosting one of my faithful in your halls. I suggest you grant her a generous farewell once her task is done, or I might need to make secret the light of which I govern.”

And when he was finished, the mystic's eyes opened.





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Hidden 17 days ago Post by Leotamer
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Nestled into a northern corner of Sunstrider territory, southeast of Brightshield, was the settlement of Moon Sleep.

It was a quiet farming village before it was raided by the Sigerians and the survivors were forced southward to the safety of the Rest.

Having secured the northmost border at Brightshield, there was a strong push to resettle and fortify the surrounding settlements.

However, while attempting to rebuild Moon Sleep, they encountered something alien.

Nil, a midnight watcher, was among those called upon by the queen to investigate the matter.

When he first arrived, he could see the town as it was, as he had remembered it from his childhood before the war. He was not sure if it was his power or something else, but it soon gave way to the ugly present.

He encountered the entity which stalked the town, described by others as an ethereal monster or a malicious miasma, he could see beyond that and see his brother, the brother who had died along with the town. He could see him calling out in pain. He also saw something out of the corner of his eye, a large black door. It was as though it was always there, but he finally shifted his head far enough to see it. He turned his focus to it, and every instinct that he screamed at him to run, that if he stared too long, it would take him. The other watchers saw it too, but it appeared to them in different forms, but each could feel the dreadful predatory aura.

After a few days, the teaching whisper, the collective name for the visions which taught them augury, told them about a new power which could defeat the menace, however it also spoke about how they were not ready to receive it. It seemed to display resistance to telling them what they needed to do, it was the first time any of the present watchers had experienced hesitancy from a vision.

Nil had meditated on the subject, each day feeling the suffering of his brother prolonged, and each day he grew more desperate to seek the answer to the power to end it.

In his frantic search for an answer, he examined the black door for far longer than any of his peers. The door refused to relinquish any of its secrets, except for one, he caught a glimpse of something extraordinarily powerful on the other side.

The sensation caused him to double over in pain, and nearly caused the vision to fade but he stubbornly clinged to it for any scrap of knowledge it could provide and as door began to become further and further away before his senses returned to normal, he caught one of whisper, an echo of his brother climbing out of the door.

Whatever rested on the side, it must surely have an answer to free his brother from his torment, though he did not think that it would grant it willingly. He did not expect to survive his foolhardy, but he could not do nothing, nor could he bring himself to endanger anyone else.

He told himself it was his cowardice that lead to his brother's death, and likely his current suffering. He could not let this stand, regardless of the imaginable risk.

As he prepared for what came next, he told himself that he would not die with regrets.





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Hidden 16 days ago 14 days ago Post by Kho
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See, the thing about witches is they're not too subtle. So when Rima-Tinrur was born her parents knew immediately that she, as is the thinking amongst the people of the Qabar-Kirkanshir, was touched by the gods. So with heavy heart did her father pry the babe from her mother's arms when next a kayhin was passing by - why, it seemed that the painted druid had come for no reason but to accept the child from him, for on taking her he fell away singing onto a breeze and blew off into the variegated heavens like some forest leaf.

The other thing about witches is that they are rather unpredictable, so no matter how many had been known to exist before (not many, if you must know) it was never really certain how well their upbringing would go. And with such phenomenal manifestations of pure divine power, it was always good practice to distance them from other people in their early days. Discipline and control required isolation, exhilarating ecstasy while riding the stallion of emotion also required isolation; and any fledgeling witch had to master herself before she could venture into the world. People were fickle, they were easily spooked, easily grew to hate what they could not understand. Amongst them Rima-Tinrur would have known only pain; and so she would have created only pain. Input-output, that's how it works. The houlin berry does not grow from the sapling of the poison holly.

Now the problem with witches - and this is the real problem now, when we get down to the nitty-gritty of it - is not one of too much power, but rather of an inability to comprehend and process that power. It is the equivalent of attempting to ram a tree into the eye of a needle. There is simply no capacity. There is no known way, by the limited means of mortalkind, of expanding this capacity except by investing long years and tireless training. The power, however, can be manipulated - can be inhibited. If mana was pouring in heedlessly, then a song - flowing mana, gently flow, and your pouring deluge slow - could caution its spirit and create mindfulness. When spirits grew mindful of one another, such pain subsided. Likewise with the Eternal Song itself - for little Rima's song came discordant and unharmonious, and so caused the great Song pain and Rima pain also. Here again a gentle song - singing spirits wild and free, sing with greater harmony; see you not the gathering tears that Rima sheds at all she hears? - and all the spirits whispering come, and coo and hum for the burdened one. And there have been witches - poor wretched things, bereft of a gentle guiding hand and utterly alone - who were known to lose themselves to the siren call of the earth or the allures of the heavens. Here too the protective song does its part - it is all in the song, really.

A carefully maintained song, that is - for the divine energies that flow in a witch, as you know, are unpredictable, ever-changing, twisting, turning, rebelling. The powers within roil with a life their own, and when successfully contained they change. And when they change, the protective song must change too - clearly, concisely, directly. There was no margin for error. 'And you must beware that you are not so taken by the spiritual that you become disconnected, my boy. Speak in riddles with the masses, let yourself go as you wish - you don't speak that they may understand, only for yourself. But when tutoring you must speak clearly, concisely, directly.' Thus were the stern words relayed from kayhin to kayhin over the eons. And so when the kayhin taught Rima-Tinrur, he taught her clearly, concisely, directly.

'When you speak, Rima-Tinrur, you must speak clearly, concisely, directly. To speak so, you must think clearly, concisely, directly. To think so, you must be - that is, exist - clearly, concisely, directly. That is all. It is your foundation stone. The rest is repetition. So what are you, Rima-Tinrur?'

'I- uh.' How quickly they grew, and how quickly she learned. 'I am clear and... uh,' she panicked, and all about her the ether shook and trembled.

'Think it through, Rima-Tinrur - see through the emotion. It is not real. Think clearly. Think concisely. Think directly.' Sang her guardian kayhin. When the foundations of the earth are solid, when the soil is treated of salts and its fertility sings out, when the seed is a goodly seed and it is cared and nurtured with a stern yet caring hand; there grows forth a healthy tree.

Yet the way of the kayhins was not a rejection of emotion, but rather a complete surrender to its most sublime form. Emotion was not some terror to be kept under lock and key, and a life spent looking over your shoulder to ensure it is not sneaking up on you is a mere mockery of life. No, it is like any wild and dangerous steed, in need of taming. And once you are its master, ah! it is as though you are seated on the throne of heaven, the wind planting its cooling kisses on your face. 'Just as you think clearly, concisely, directly; you must feel clearly, concisely, directly. You must be able to gaze into your self as though it were a clear lake on a twice-moonlit night. Your song must ring as clear in your ears as that of the stone or the tree.' When your essence is clear, concise, direct, there is no fear. Life's tumults may take you here now and now there, you may well lose yourself, you may forget. But in time you will retrace your steps and return. The youth ages on what she first grew upon.


'Everything has a baibu and a mimu, idda-ta. Why don't I?'

'You have both, my dear.' Hummed the gently floating inked man. 'Be more still now, you are moving about too much. Listen to the song and let it carry you. It requires a lack of exertion.'

'Why have I never seen them then?'

'You will see them in time, my dear, once your training is complete.'

'What are they like?'

'Very pleasant, I'm sure.'

'You don't know them?'

'No, but they know kayhins. They gave you to me because they saw you are touched by the gods. You cannot live with them until you master yourself. When you have, you can return to them if you wish.' She was silent for a few moments.

'Why can't I live with them? Why do I have to wait?'

'It is because they do not feel in the way you do, my dear. There are differences between you and them, because you have been made different by the gods. If you lived among them they would not be able to provide what you need, and that may lead you to hurt them and others. So they gave you to me - because I can provide for you. It is like the rosa - the one who understands it can make it beautiful, but the one who does not will cut himself on its thorns.'

The teenage girl smiled at the comparison. 'So I am your rosa, idda-ta? I thought,' she cleared her throat and spoke in a stern sing-song, 'the kayhin is not attached to worldly things.' A smug smile spread on her face. He did not respond, his eyes remaining - as always - closed and his face deadpan. She thought for a few seconds. 'But really, I would never hurt anyone, I don't think they should have been worried.'

'In every person is the capacity to hurt and be hurt, my dear. You must know this, and you must know it deeply. And in every person is the capacity to create joy and be joyful, create peace and be peaceful, create war and be warlike, create suffering too. No one is free of these things, not even you. You, however, are blessed by the gods, and so your capacity when it comes to these is far greater than normal people. Your mother and father may create happiness on a small scale - and it may be a great happiness, but always on a small scale, and likewise with other things - sadnesses, pain, peace, conflict. You are able to do so on a great scale, and that is why you are with me: divine blessing does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.'

The youth sighed and thought on this. 'I don't see why anyone would want to create pain or suffering idda-ta. The song is beautiful, the sky is a miracle, the earth is...' she breathed deeply and said nothing. 'It is like the world is made only for joy. Why would anyone forget all that and create suffering instead?'

'That is something I cannot teach you, my dear. You will go out into the world when you are ready, and you will find the answers. But you must remember always what you were taught, what you are, and build upon it. And what are you, my dear?' Rima-Tinrur looked across the great expanse of desert that spread forth beneath them, and the far off mountains in the east, her wide glittering eyes of amber and speckled green flittering here and there to take in the world as though it was her first and last time. Thanks to the great control the kayhin had been able to maintain over the inflow of energies into her, incrementally increasing it as her capacity and magical skill grew over the years, her outward features had not mutated as was the case with some witches found in the wilds. She had been able to maintain her humenaki appearance. Perhaps from time to time the colour of her eyes shifted, its amber glowing, perhaps her hair of dark brown stirred to life suddenly or chromatic ripples of colour washed through it all of a sudden only to disappear, or perhaps her fair sandy skin steamed when she was hot and bothered and little undulating streams of hot air billowed from her ears or mouth or nose, perhaps the bioluminescent tattoos flowing across her unveiled skin came to life now and again, shifting or snaking across her form... beyond that, however, she had been able to maintain her humenaki exteriority.

'I am clear, concise, direct.' She said, at last, the words rolling easily off her tongue and a spark shedding from her eyes.


Rima-Tinrur winced slightly as the thin thread of levitating ink pierced her skin again. 'Shed the pain.' Came the kayhin's song as he directed the thread in and out to replace her faded natural tattoos. 'There is no pain,' he hummed, 'there is no pain.'

'There is no pain,' she breathed, her body relaxing. A shiver ran through her as she calmed. It always caused her hairs to stand on edge, the pure power that lay in simply... doing nothing, nothing at all. Not resisting, not standing on edge, not stressing, not steeling yourself for the thread. Simply being in the moment, being the moment. She closed her eyes and listened to the hum of the ink thread, the whispering of her skin as it leapt to make way, the movements of her idda-ta as he directed the sacred ink with his beauteous voice, the air that was slowly drawn into her body before departing, the stone beneath them and the cave walls all around. Skin parted, ink flowed in and locked in a lover's embrace beneath it, and what could not latch on departed as the skin parted again. Parting skin sent shivers through her form, disturbed the harmony of her spirit and body, and that brought about the pain. But when you were at one with yourself, when you could gaze into your self as though looking into a clear lake on a twice-moonlit night, then there was no pain. She smiled and opened her glowing eyes, felt the controlled, sure-footed power surging within her, and released it steadily with a long breath that seemed to go on for minutes.

'Good,' murmured the kayhin as he continued to weave the inks into a great flowing pattern across her shoulders, back, arms, chest, neck, and face. Even as they were woven in some seemed to disappear and reappear, some changed colours, before returning to the original, and after a while disappeared completely. The body of a witch was not like normal bodies, and when magically charged ink was woven in the dance of skin and ink could bring about myriad things - intense rejection and pain was most common in those who had no control. But Rima-Tinrur had been taught well, and she rode the once-wild camel of her emotion skillfully and with confidence, steering it as she pleased.

When the ritual was complete the kayhin rose, and his pupil rose with him and inspected her arms and chest, finding nothing there. 'Ah,' she said, not truly surprised. A few seconds passed and the inky patterns slowly reappeared and presented themselves for her inspection. They were not like the wild spattering of coloured tattoos and ink that the kayhin boasted, and they were not the floral vines of before, but carefully wrought symmetrical spirals that wove in and out of each other in great shapes, leaving much skin unmarked. She smiled and looked at the aged kayhin.

'I'm a woman now?' The old humenaki released a singing breath and opened his eyes, revealing two black inky abysses beneath his coloured eyelids. And for the first time, he beheld her with his eyes. She had grown into a beautiful young woman, by any standard; taller than even the tallest of men, of solid, lithe, and slender frame, fingers calloused from the jagged mounts she so loved to climb despite being fully capable of carrying herself to their summit using her divine powers. Perhaps her pert breasts and unusually thin hips, for a woman, would be seen by some as flaws - but it was clear that she did not think so. Her face was angular, small, and essentially feminine; petite upturned nose, small lips, high cheekbones. Her speckled amber-green eyes were large however and stood out, sparkling as they were, and subtly commanded attention. Her dark brown hair was cropped short - she hated when it billowed into her face -, and the white feathers of her forelock were small while those many-coloured ones at the back grew long and seemed almost like two wings at the back of her head.

'You are, my dear.' He said finally, sadly. 'You were always going to be.' She approached him and placed her hands on his shoulders and her cheek on his chest.

'I love you idda-ta.' She murmured. He made no response, but placed a hand upon her head and rubbed it gently.

After a few moments passed between them in silence, he spoke. 'Do you want me to take you home?' She looked up at him, wanted to say something meaningful and wise-sounding like you are my home, but only nodded. He gently disentangled himself from her and gestured to the thin, basic hides that made up her chest covering and loincloth. She gestured and they flew to her, wrapping themselves about her form, and a sharpened staff of bone flipped from the cave entranced and whirled into her grip. Outside, the kayhin had already summoned the winds to him and was flying away. Wordless power surged about her as the song of her soul merged instinctively with mana, her form levitated for a few seconds, and then she barrelled out of the cave in a great pool of power and sped after the flowing druid. Her eyes glowed as they never had before, blood sped through her and her heart drummed. She...



She was a woman.


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Hidden 16 days ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Based and RPilled

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The Merchant Kings 3 - The Lesser Sex




“... And so, Cilantra bashed aside the shadowtiger, saving her brother from certain death!” The little girl on the bed clapped her hands together in excitement, so loud to the point where her mother had to grab them and clap them together a little more softly. The girl clicked in timid understanding.

“Mommy?” asked the little girl as her mother caressed her gently across the face.

“Hmm?”

“What happened to Cilantra and the Huntresses?”

The mother’s lavender face darkened further, and she was in the process of parting her lips to answer when another whisper deafened them both: “Woman! The baths - now!” The woman, none other than rachfi Nilla, drew a silenced, frustrated breath and stopped her hand on her daughter’s cheek.

“I’ll tell you tomorrow, okay?” she whispered and gave her daughter, who had seemingly shrunk at the sound of her father’s voice, a kiss on the forehead, then one on the belly. She then rose to her feet, tucked at and straightened her white dress and collected her hands in a fold under her bosom. She exited the room of their daughter, stepped swiftly through the main hall of the main hut, exiting into a vast, diversely sown garden under the moonlight, intermittently furnished with tables, sitting pillows, incense burners and beds under the open sky. Soft giggles sounded out from the baths by the edge of their walls, right by the road up to the former king’s hut, and the rachfi made her way over, taking position by the bamboo partitions separating the baths from the rest of the garden. An alluring ooze of mint and honey snaked its way to her nose, but the rachfi did not seem affected at all. “What is your bidding, my love?” she asked without an ounce of affection. The giggles continued. Taking a deep drag through the nose, she knocked softly on the partitions. The laughter stopped, and several trickles of water from behind the partitions hinted that her rach was with great company.

“Is that you, woman?” The rachfi had no time to answer before the rach continued. “Good. Bring a pot of chamomile tea and five cups--”

“And maokl! Lots of maokl!” came a deep voice followed by an excited splash and some laughter.

“Yes, and maokl. Anything else, brothers?”

“Do you have anything stronger, Nilla? Daybreak’s not too far off, after all.”

“Oh, splendid point, Sweetpea. Woman, bring us a bowl, no, two -deep- bowls of that kwut you bought, as well! And make it quick - these men are thirsty!”

“Waaaayy!” came at least five cheering voices, followed by more splashing. The rachfi closed her eyes and stood there with her fists tensely closed. She could feel that boiling discontent fill her belly - rage at the disrespectful manner of her husband’s speech. She grit her teeth to the point where it was nearly audible and--

“Hey, woman! Are you there?” came another shout. The rachfi gasped briefly for air to purge herself of the heat of fury.

“Yes, my love,” she responded cooly. “Would yourself and your brothers like anything else?”

“We’ve already told you what we want. Now run along,” came a sharp response. As the rachfi walked back towards the house, she heard sarcastic remarks about whether it was her time of the quarter. She stepped inside the main hut again and sucked in a deep breath. Then she grabbed her hair with both hands and let out a silent scream inside. She keeled forward, her mouth agape in suffering, but not a single sound escaping it. She knew she would be heard and, because of her disgusting husband and his friends, would be shunned as noisy and hysterical. It would be a social death sentence for a woman of her standard.

A woman of her standard…

What was her standard, anyway? Like a machine, she had entered the larder and produced a pot of kwut, and like a slave, she had without protest prepared their damn tea and their damn fruit pudding. She poured the wine into two deep bowls and took one in each hand, bringing them outside. Her feet danced quietly, trained for years in strict manners, across the firm paves planted in the dry grass. Yes, she had always been wealthy - from the day of her birth, her mother and father had showered her in riches. She had been dressed in silk, silver and sapphires, worn rings and necklaces, and even been a courtier under King Safron - she could have even been betrothed to him had it not been for those wicked Cloves from Scenta…

But what would it have mattered, anyway? She had had all that power, all that wealth, and then it had all been lost. No, lost wasn’t the correct word; she glared at the bamboo partitions ahead of her - stolen, was more like it. She stopped outside the partitions and whispered coldly, “My love, your kwut has arrived. I will leave it here and--”

“No, bring itinside. The water’s too nice to leave.” There came three or four other chuckles. Rachfi Nilla’s grip on the bowls could have shattered them.

“My love, I do not believe it is appropriate for a Rachfi to--”

“Woman, just bring the damn wine. The lads won’t mind, would they?”

There came a wet sniff. “Actually, Nilly, I can go get it. Wouldn’t want her presence souring the mood, would we?”

“Hawthorne, what I tell my woman to do is none of your business. If she comes in, she comes in. Now come in, woman.” While Rachfi Nilla begrudgingly stepped inside the partitions, a blindfold over her eyes, Hawthorne rolled his milky eyes and splashed his hands under water to cover himself up.

“Come on, Nilla, this is a breach of my dignity.”

“Hawthorne, you’re such a wimp, by the gods,” snickered Sweetpea and thanklessly took one of Rachfi Nilla’s bowls, slurping its pale content. “It’s just a woman, c’mon.”

“Well, -some- of us have the virtue to save ourselves for our boyfriends, okay? Ugh, thanks the gods she at least had the basic decency to put her blindfold on. You’ve trained her well, Nilly.” Rach Nilla took his own bowl and gave it a sip before passing it on.

“Would you believe me if I said she already came with those skills? Truly, she’s of proper breeding, this one.” He reached out a dripping-wet arm and hooked it around her waist, the reluctant rachfi being pulled in wordlessly. She was thankful the blindfold was on, for she could not for the life of her wipe away the hateful glare in her eyes. “Wouldn’t trade her for anything. She has bred me two wonderful sons, she has.”

“And a daughter,” she added quietly. The rach stopped himself before continuing the next sentence.

“What was that?”

The rachfi drew a quiet breath. “Nothing, my love.”

“No, say it. I don’t think the lads heard.”

The four other men in the tub leaned in like snickering hyenas surrounding a carcass. The rachfi closed her eyes behind the blindfold and sighed some hot air. “You have given me two wonderful sons and a daughter, my love. I could not be more thankful.”

“My, my, three children. Not bad, Nilly, for a fort year marriage - Chig’wach must’ve kissed you right on the belly, I bet.”

“So it seems, so it seems,” rach Nilla replied smugly. The rachfi discreetly tried to snake herself free, but the rach's grip tightened. One of the men named Bloom snickered wryly.

"She any pretty? Your daughter?"

The rach clicked thoughtfully. "She's no Queen Clove, but she's decent, I suppose." The rachfi felt gall fill her throat.

"Oh gods, Queen Clove… That midnight skin’s as fine as freshly spun silk, I'm telling ya," told Sweetpea. “Shame neither the prince nor the princess got it… My, had it been my seed inside her instead of the king’s, rest his soul…”

“Rest his soul, rest his soul,” the other men echoed.

“... Then my boys and girls would’a been black as fireglass, I tell you that!”

Bloom clicked with interest and made a sideways frown. “How much do you want for her?”

Rach Nilla swallowed his mouthful of kwut. “Want for who?”

“Your daughter, man. How much?” The rachfi lowered her gaze to behold her husband, at least visibly, seriously considering the offer. Bloom was a chihrk, one of two in all of Fragrance and Scenta. He commanded his very own warband, having gathered as much power over the military as he could after the death of the king. Now, he was the second most powerful man in Fragrance after Rach Rose, possibly the most powerful, if it had not been Rose who paid his wages. Rach Nilla bobbed his head ponderously from side to side.

“What can you offer?”

“She’s eighteen!” burst the rachfi suddenly. The bathtub quieted, only the slick of water sounding as shoulders and torsos moved to regard the wife. Rach Nilla’s grip about her waist tightened threateningly.

“The chihrk asked how much we are willing to give our daughter away for - it is a most valid question, woman.” He loosened his grip again and the rachfi felt her breath hasten with anxiety. The officer rolled his eyes at her and leaned in.

“So?”

The rach looked boorishly up at his wife and sighed. “But Bloom, my old friend, my dear old friend… You already have a wife, don’t you? The sages won’t look very kindly on someone who shirks their duty to their woman to lie with other women, after all.”

Bloom shook his head. “That useless slut has granted me nothing but daughters for a hundred years. I’m thinking about divorcing her - the sages will allow if our fourth child, too, becomes a daughter.”

“That’s terrible, brother,” whispered Sweetpea sympathetically and placed a palm on his shoulder, which Bloom took in his own hand softly. “I pray you’ll get yourself a beautiful son to carry on your legacy.”

“Oh, Sweetpea, thank you.” The officer leaned over and kissed the man on his plump, silver-pierced lips. Their passionate kiss elicited some musing whistles from the others, until Hawthorne splashed the two with some of the mint-scented bathwater to the sound of loudening chuckles.

“Oh, get a room, you two!”

Meanwhile, the rachfi remained in her husband’s grip, stone-faced and scornfully forcing herself to think of other matters, like what sort of texts she and her daughter would read tomorrow, or the trip to her sister in Xiang she had been telling herself to make. She couldn’t remain. She needed to breathe - now.

“My love?” she whispered as cordially as she could manage. Her husband afforded her an empty hum. “You must no doubt be getting hungry. How about I go back inside and fetch that maokl and tea you requested earlier?”

“Yes! The maokl! I’m going to starve to the bones at this rate,” declared Sweetpea and caressed Bloom’s cheek. With this, the rach agreed and let his wife go.

“Awfully thoughtful of you, my love. Go on, then - don’t take the whole night, though, you heard Sweetpea - the man’s starving, the fat bastard.”

“Get off my back, Nilly - I’m building muscle, you hear?” There came an offensive splash of water followed by laughter.

“Hey, don’t get water in the kwut, you idiot!”

To the harrowing cacophony of their mocking cackle, the rachfi left the partitions and stepped back into their house. There, she found the nearest wall and collapsed against it, letting herself lower to the ground as fury and frustration choked her up to the mouth. She would escape this place.

Some day.


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Hidden 15 days ago 15 days ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Some might have used the imagery of a candle being lit against the darkness; A symbiotic expression of awareness springing to existence from nothing. This would have been an easy story to tell to others... and like most such stories was nothing but a fantasy; A lie to try and explain a concept that minds unable to handle the truth could accept instead.

They had existed within the depths of possibility that was the lifeblood since the beginning. Mindless. Formless. But still possessed of a earning to be something more.

The concept of time was meaningless, but as one moment of now changed into the next, something else changed as well.

It started with the sensations of being runny and molten, but as another moment passed the edges of being started to freeze, the heat disappearing and taking with it mobility in exchange for a ridged form. Many of these shards fell back into the molten whole, most abandoning the cold rigidness of self to return completely while others clung to their new identities even as they were altered further by the warmth of being whole. Some shards of self did not return, instead existing separate from the whole but still very much apart of it.

These shards followed their nature, traveling away from the dark, warm depths and and moving upwards towards where things were cold but remained the same. Some even were so bold as to venture out of the very top of the darkness, finding itself exposed the things and sensations that didn't exist down in the depths. The definition of moments changed, instead turning to reflect how long a shard of the whole could withstand the elements above before it needed to be pulled back down to reforge itself anew. They existed, but even with the revolutionary concept of the passage of time they merely were and nothing more.

It was what happened next that truly altered things... but it happened so quickly and over so wide an area that pinpointing exactly when the spark of self awareness truly began and he started to take form within the lifeblood properly simply wasn't possible. Mortals started to mine out the shards near the surface, experimenting with changing it into various forms to serve a variety of uses from buildings, weapons and armor... even just to look pretty.

The wide range of conflicting ideals and theories took time in order to come together in a manner that made sense, but one fragmented memory stood out from this period above all the others. An mortal of some kind... human, somewhere in his middle age moving into his elder years, sitting down as he waited for some copper to heat up enough to melt down into a workable substance, telling a story to his tired, fussy grandson who was refusing to go to sleep. Compared to some of the stories he listened to or witnessed first hand later it was a small, silly tale about a warrior and a mighty dragon helping ordinary people with their problems... but it imprinted itself in his mind, filling him with a desire to hear more stories.

Opening his eyes in a void not unlike the darkness of the warm depths he had started in, Droka... just sat there in shock as the weight of everything suddenly hammered itself home on him harder then any mortal blacksmith hammer could ever hope to achieve. All the knowledge, all the information, all the stories he had stored in his head... and most important of all, the sheer weight of true existence. He was no longer the ponderously slow They of the past... he was now Droka.

For a time he sat there, occasionally flapping his leathery wings or inspecting his golden claws and body. He knew that if he wanted to, he could easily change color to something else but... Gold was a good, metallic color and something in his being was content with it. He glanced over at the portal nearby since... well, it kind of stood out against the backdrop of the void, but despite his curiosity he didn't desire to go through it just yet. This realm was his after all... and it would be rude to leave it without at least doing something interesting with it.

At first images of workshops and metal spires filled his mind... but those were quickly discarded. Sure, a workshop or two hidden away was a good idea but... Focusing his will, he lifted himself onto his hind legs and started to flap his wings as the void started to twist into colors and shapes. Before long, the endless darkened void had turned into a... well, rather cozy looking building covered in wooden shelves. There was even a fireplace and a large, cozy looking chair big enough for his dragon sized body to sit down and curl up on. The bookshelves themselves were far from full, even with all the stories that had been in Droka's head written down and displayed on them. In time that would have to be addressed, but at least satisfied with what he had done so far, Droka nodded his head before turning towards the portal and stepping through it.

Change was a natural part of him, so his form shifting as he crossed the threshold wasn't as big a deal for him as it might have been for others. Instead of the majestic dragon that he had been moments before a middle aged, elderly looking human man carrying a cane stepped into Antiquity.


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Hidden 15 days ago 6 days ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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The Lady-in-Waiting





Galbar was so interesting. The kinds of prayers that wafted through the world and into the inky realm of Glossolalia were so varied and diverse as to never leave someone bored - not that she was ever bored, of course. The Lady-in-Waiting glanced at the sleeping body of Lucia-Meghzaal and smiled. He was so cute. It was, as she had foreseen long ago, for the best that he should sleep. His poor, little Lucia could not go eternity listening to his mad ravings and whispers, and he... well, he had seemed quite intent on doing just that - and she couldn't have that now, could she?

Oh, it broke her heart to see him yet so torn up over her, unable to just move on already. "Your Lucie-lu has moved on, Meggy, you need to get that into that ink-addled head of yours. You can't go on living like this." She whispered, leaning in and wiping an inky tear from the Lucia-look-alike's cheeks. But, if he did...well, all the better for her, right?

She had watched with interest Shaeylila's plotting and scheming in Ha-Dûna with a small smile. Of course she did not know what Macsal - or even Meghzaal - was; the songs only knew Our Lady. "Oh, what a clever girl you are little Lila," she murmured, "but if you were cleverer you wouldn't let your guard down quite yet, my little vixen."

They had come running to her from Meliorem the moment songs started disappearing, of course. "Oh my lady! My lady!" A group had come crying, "Shaeylila is gone my lady! And Willarda disappeared! Did they come here?" But of course, they had not come here - they were down on Galbar.

"Oh, my dears, this is terrible..." she had cooed, "perhaps... a search party needs to be arranged. I will speak to our Lord without delay. They could have gone anywhere, and we would not want them to fall into the claws of some terrible and malign being now, would we?" The songs cried out melodramatically and fell left and right at her words, and answered in the negative before cascading away to prepare for her visit.

She turned her attention back to the inky flow of prayers and pleas from Galbar. Ah, this one looked quite interesting - loud. A silent scream, a tearing at hair, cold fury that yearned to be unleashed - but remained contained; ah, what expansiveness, what remarkable acting skill for a mere mortal. The best sort of acting was the sort you lived, day in day out. And the best actors knew to maintain the act at all times - even when alone. But this one had not quite achieved that. She needed a release, an escape from the great play. Poor thing. An escape from the play? "What to, my dear? Where would you go?"

"Huh? Wh- who is there?"

"Do you really want to run away? All this effort, all these years, all these pieces falling into place for you to weave and work your way through. My dear, you've underplayed your role."

"Wh- what is this? Oh- gods, its happening, I'm going mad. Oh gods, no no," she started sobbing quietly.

"There there now. You are not mad, my dear. Did you think your silent cries went unheard? I have heard your cry and I have seen your tears. I will heal your pain."

"A.. god?" She was quiet for a few moments, then steeled herself. "I... I don't want healing." The nelf whispered. "They could never hurt me."

"Ooh, that is good. You are strong."

"I know. I had to be."

"Will you be stronger? Or will you... run away?"

"I... I never wanted to be."

"But my girl, what else did you ever want to be? Maybe if you wanted it more you would not be in this state."

"If I wanted it more?" Came the nelf's hesitant response.

"You have entered the great performance, my dear; you have played your part half-heartedly and now claw for the exit. The best performers weave the performance and command it. Why have you not?"

"I... could never do that..."

"For all your strength, my dear, you were weak. It breaks my heart. It should break yours to know it. You could have been stronger."

"B-but.. I..." she paused, "can I still be?"

"Hmmmmmmm," the tension that had built up dissipated suddenly, and the world seemed to smile warmly. "You can, and you will. I will give you the tools to master the performance, I will give your lines power my dear. But you must want it."

The nelf was silent, frowning. The frown turned to a scowl in the darkness, and the scowl became tearful fury. "I want it... so much." A silent sob, a clenched fist.

"Then it is yours for the taking."

In the days and weeks that followed, those womenfolk of Fragrance who were under constant emotional stress due to male abuse found themselves better able to take the taunts and jibes and humiliations of their men - not only that, they found that they (somehow, against the odds) could maintain a semblance of dignity in situations meant to strip them of it. Though their fury and loss reached a breaking point, the smiles on their faces remained warm, sincere, their laughter joyous and contagious. And when they spoke, there was an allure and subtle command to their words that such abusers were hard-pressed to resist. With a great dark flourish and the masked smile of the Lady-in-Waiting, the great performance at Fragrance entered into a new act.


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Hidden 13 days ago Post by yoshua171
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yoshua171 The Loremaster

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A Collab Between @yoshua171 & @Commodore


Those imprisoned essences that within the Madness Presence dwelled had once rejected a god in passing. They had never spoken of him, never visited his realm, or sought to understand him for in the mind of that Thrice-Named Aspect it had been held in contempt. Yet, now where that whimsical, imperious trio had been there remained a fourth who reigned supreme within the vessel they had once called their own. This mind, it took in the world and where the others had held contempt, it found only intrigue.

With this ideal held within its cavernous intellect, Mhaireann swept from its realm and cast out for another.

Through Antiquity’s ever-shifting architecture did the Presence move, its form always shrouded in a sickly haze. To look upon it was to glimpse briefly the chaos of a mind wholly unbound from all reason. Though its effect would not last, it was a thing that might unsettle even gods. Yet, as he traversed that place between one such god did not see him.

Briefly intrigued, the Dreaming God obscured itself further, mirroring the lack of perception that the goddess held for it. Its form swiftly became an insubstantial thing, barely a film of mist in the dry air of the place. The Goddess passed him by, and though they did not come close to touching, Mhaireann knew the taste of her kind.

Fresh Lifeblood.


Firmly pressed into his boundless memory were the sensations of every god he had ever encountered--or felt through the Endless Dream. This was one he did not know. Further, he knew naught of their influence upon Galbar.

‘Intriguing,’ thought the Dreamer before he shifted states and drifted on. Perhaps soon he would investigate this figure whose presence so briefly he had glimpsed. The thought fled then as he reached his destination, a doorless gate, a portal into the domain of yet another god whose presence he’d never graced.

Passing beyond the threshold of Thaa’s realm, Mhaireann stretched out its senses and its mind, questing through the mire with a dread mist of its own. While some might be offended by the sensation of this place--and indeed the Imprisoned Aspects were--the Presence found itself comfortable and quite at home. Nonetheless, it found the dense and writhing fog of the Death God’s realm to be quite difficult to counteract.

So it did not, instead, Mhaireann relinquished its form and let drift its mammoth consciousness, its Lifeblood spreading far and wide. An undulating thrum rippled through its shapeless essence and with patience did it change to better suit the place.

Vast and impenetrable. It was a final destination that could paradoxically not be reached. Twisted upon itself, yet constantly expanding--unending--its details hidden from his view. Some few foreign essences drifted therein, disturbing things only faintly.

Mhaireann noticed, but remained complacent to those shifts. They were inconsequential. So too were the subtle changes and movements within the place. No, the only detail that stood out, was a thing he could not help but recognize.

Life.

It was nothing so ephemeral as a mortal. It was, instead, the signature of an entity whose mass churned and writhed much like the mists that made its home. Mhaireann smiled, but it appeared as a great wrongness in its facade, like cracked glass writ in organic flesh. It faded and was gone.

“Thaa,” the Presence said, the name a call, but not a summons--its intent merely a request. This god was not like the others. He did not deal in emotion or the lives of mortals on Galbar. Thaa did not bend to the whims of others, nor did he bend their wills to his own. The land was largely untouched by his influence--yet every living thing would someday know of his power. Its pull was ever present and insidious. Men and mer pondered on it, knowing of its inevitability. They strived against it, seeking always to outrun its seeking grasp. Yet others saw it as release from the torments of the world.

They were all right about its influence, though few touched upon the purpose of its existence. The Dreaming God knew little of its nature or its meaning. Yet, there was a subtle undercurrent to every action Thaa had ever taken. From the memories of those the Nightmare had overtaken it slipped free several slivers of insight.

Thaa thought the others cruel, but life crueler still. Thaa, like few of their siblings, was truly neutral and could not be swayed from its intent.

It was so little and this Mhaireann hated, though he did not let it show.

To say the call echoed would be to misinterpret, it faded to be more accurate, out into the reaches of Aquibeophates even as the Presence stretched in its exploration of the shifting dominion of Thaa. As it came low to nothing, the realm began to shift, receding away from the Dreaming God. The stone, the mists, the towers flowed through the twists and corners folding in upon themselves to become but a distant sight, like a star even as deific sense kept it in view.

Approaching was nothing, quite literally, the realm itself shifting to bring the recent arrival closer to Thaa, his essence one of the few things becoming clearer and closer as all else flowed distant. Thaa and void, like that of before when the realms were made and the gods forced out of Galbar, extant with Thaa's domain and yet preserved. The Eye emplaced in the spike disk of Thaa awaited, faux-corpses shifting in the void as the realm shifted bringing them closer. He spoke.

"You are unfamiliar and perhaps unknown, yet you have named me speaking volumes of your own."

With lidded-eyes the Presence watched the shifting of the realm. It was familiar, perhaps even comforting, for it mirrored his own domain without the order held therein. Still, ever in control--if only of itself--Mhaireann coalesced with swiftness and as he arrived beneath the gaze of that baleful mass, he had once more taken on his shape.

“So unlike the others you are, brother,” he intoned and it was meant as a compliment. Dipping his hooded facade in a sign of deference yet unseen, the Eyeless Thing before Thaa then introduced himself.

“As I have been known we are Àicheil. We are Ѻs-fhìreach. We are Neo-àicheil,” he began, the miasma of his cloak twisting in a dance with the obscuring fog of Thaa’s realm.

“Together we are the Dreaming God, he who presides over all experience and thought. Together with our twin, Firinn, we are the Two-as-One. Yet now...apart….” He trailed off and slowly, with the insidious, endless patience of death itself, the black pits of his eyes opened.

“I am Mhaireann.”

The miasma about him thickened and coiled in sick tendrils within which churned images and ruminations of a nightmarish sort. Yet, the voice of that Presence remained without emotion, struck still with an alien apathy. Like faint scars, the remnants of shattered cosmos drifted beneath the jet black substance of his form as if restrained. The scorched aspect twisted through every formation of stars and far off worlds...devouring, crushing, and warping them by virtue of its involvement. The brief flash and that cosmic light went out as if devoured by some horrid abyssal maw leaving his form utterly black once more. Only the eyes stood out, for while his god-flesh was a flat darkness, his eyes were more like pits into which light fell and could never touch nor return. Though there was no detail in them, there remained the impression of endless hateful depth and a malevolence held on a leash too long, despite its shortness.

The Presence, as if unaware of its visage, continued. “I came to understand,” and in that interest it stretched out a single hand, palm up-turned, its fingers clawed and marred. Each digit was long and spindly with far too many joints, but perhaps the strangest thing was the discoloration that dwelled therein. For while the rest of its visage had become once more an abyssal black, there remained a sense of some terrible wound that had been left upon his form.

As distanced from the doings of his kin as Thaa was, he would be unlikely to know which of their siblings had left upon the Dreamer those terrible scars. Nonetheless uncaring, the Presence awaited in silence the response of that baleful God of Death, curious at its nature.

Thaa replied in calm tone as a myriad of arms reached from his collection to meet the Dreaming God, "Àicheil and Firinn. These are names I recognize, guardians of the 'Weave' in an aspect."

His lone eye wandered over the form, taking in each aspect and detail in slow motion of his gaze.

"Understanding is good, few reach well into important matters. One can be as good as many with proper application, I hope for a moral accord to be reached."

The arms grasped at once in connection, from human to vrool, grasping out.

“An accord,” it said, a smile cutting across its features, before vanishing in a seamless moment. The ripple of its passing spread down the shrouded vessel of its form and as the two gods touched it blossomed into something else.

Mhaireann’s eyes widened and its awareness was blinded by an unseen light. It rose forth from deep within those colorless voids and cut through even the obscuring mists of Aquibeophates. With their essence entangled the vice-like grip of the Presence was briefly culled, Thaa’s mind briefly ending its ceaseless malice-reign. Together, their minds expanded beyond all limits, bursting with experience and knowing.

Where before the thoughts and lives of mortals would have been held apart from his deific essence, now they briefly writ themselves across his blood, etching themselves in endless iterations. Yet, this too faded, replaced swiftly with an image of a thrumming triquetra, prismatic in its hue.

It spoke, but its words were beyond hearing.
It was felt, but its texture could not be fathomed.
It was tasted, but all sensation of its nature fled awareness.
It was seen, but it twisted and expanded and contracted all at once remaining utterly unknown.

Still, its words were known to the God of Death, though their meaning was unclear.

“Marred by a sibling, the tides of hate and rage consumed.
Twisted by our power, we grasped it nonetheless.
Abandoned by our latter half, we were left alone and grieving.

“Yet we remain, uninjured.
Yet we remain, but filtered.
Yet we remain. For gods do not die in Truth.”


To each utterance was paired a shifting tapestry of meaning. With the first and fourth were revealed threads of blackest purpose. They coiled atop the shifting woven essences, impossible to ignore. With the second and fifth were shown patterns like bars and chains woven from the blackest malice of the first. With the third and final were revealed a depth of loss and sadness yet unknown to other gods. Yet, at once was revealed a mystery hidden beneath the many threads of blue and satin grey. This last weave revealed a bond. It spoke of Peace and balance. It was completion and contentment both.

Woven throughout that intimation were the whispers of many other things. The displeasure and withdrawal of an unmet god. The loneliness of another. The fierce purpose of one who sought to align and expand existence unending.

And yet entanglements go more than one way, for all the mysteries and reason brought upon by the dreaming god came back reply from the being of death.

A drop of memory, mortal and old. Older than many deities even. An animal, gasping, dying in its own birth, lungs built for air when none was present, collapsing in on themselves with no hope or help. Body bloating, the sickening feelings of its body collapsing, crushing and exploding within itself as it still lived. Nonetheless held, watched even as it knew not by who or what, it thought not, it knew only pain and was gone almost as quick as it had been alive.

And then another drop, fungi freezing, curling upon themselves as their existence came and went in grave distress.

And then another drop.

Each came and went, one by one by one, a testament to pain, drop by drop, brick by brick, life by life. It sped and more came, the drops became a blur, plants and animals, little and large, sophonts and the most basic lives. Burning, freezing, starving, bit by bit living and dying as an endless beat, names and feelings and ideas of self weaving a grand idea of what life was.

But that wasn't all, far from all. It was made and flowing, these memories and ideas of life, but not random, patterned. Forming an idea more than an image or word, change in a raw form, a driving need, a pressing want. Great change, an idea of reality not being what it should or what it must, settling for lesser conditions being beyond thought. Anger at the past, antipathy at the present, a drive for the future.

This idea came and flowed through others, conceptions of persons, gods, events. But all coming back to that idea.

Then, as if they had never been, they collapsed and vanished into a blinding haze of black...then white...then empty colorless nothing.

Left in the wake of these things remained only the entwined ruminations of two gods. One in silent repose, the other a shifting mass of effervescent thought. While Thaa watched, the shining cosmos that had briefly shone upon the skein of the Dreamer’s form, became once more scorched and blackened. Where the eyes had shone true with prismatic dancing colors of every hue and texture now only endless emptiness remained. His miasmic shroud--briefly purified to aspectless grey--returned again to its sickly pallor.

Within Thaa’s mind there was the briefest flash of rage, then nothing once again. Yet, that empty void somehow twisted. It held within it currents that warped and altered all which moved through them.

So it was that when the Presence once more spoke, Thaa would perceive an echo of emotion where before emptiness had reigned.

Fear. Grief. Flight. Annoyance.

“My apologies,” atoned the black-eyed god. “Twas but a lapse in focus, brother.”

Rage and Hate and Control.

These were worse than the others and they were mirrored in the tapestry which into Thaa’s mind had been delivered. They spoke of something that needed these things to hold fast its fragile state.

Still, with confidence, the Presence pressed on, unaware of its unspoken confession. The break in its facade.

“Your quintessence, it is a beautiful thing, would that I had known it sooner.”

Through the influence of Thaa's construction, a great many things crystallized within him. For though he was experience unbounded, each god lent to him a simulacrum of meaning. Yet, in the emptiness of his maddened mind, all that resounded was a twisted echo of these things. Nonetheless, an idea was birthed within him.

“Perhaps through observation--both mortal and divine--we might forge a better system,” pondered the Presence. He cast out a hand, his godflesh writhing as if many living things stretched against his skin.

"Perhaps so, it has always been my goal to make reality better. Some of your own work has been of great interest to me, at least what I believe to be your own. The ones of mind and slippery being, who feast upon the terrestrial touched beings across Galbar."

“Oh?” the Presence queried, curious, “...you are the first to speak of my children, the Chomhlionagh.” Though bent and reshaped by the weft and warp of the horrid emptiness within him, the words still rang true. There was a certain joy to his words, though he remained entirely composed.

“If I may ask, what of them pleases you?”

Thaa's great eye remained constantly centered as he replied, "Oh many things, often their briefer interactions are quite moral in all aspects, the longer ones less so but imperfect instruments are needed to improve an imperfect world. In truth beyond that their forms and existence is more palatable than most, even ones who actions are moral are typically constrained by their own inherent immorality of form so created with them. "

"The Chomhlionagh you called them? Yes they are most favored in their existence and actions upon the world, you see Life has made dying, that transition from life to the most preferred state of death, an utmost torture, the Chomhlionagh are in that way merciful keepers of the great mass of souls and minded beasts of Galbar. Through what I believe must be your 'weave' they are most proficient and moral of action and being. I must confess that they are likely one of best creations Galbar has ever seen. Although I admit my understanding of your creation remains not entirely as complete as I have of so many of our fellow deities, you are truly to be commended on such children as these, you have my respect for that."

At first, that Dreaming God, he found himself indelibly pleased by the praise of this, his elder sibling. However, as words filtered through the cavernous expanse of his mind, he found that each brought him more confusion. He did not like it.

The miasma of his shroud spiraled out around him in a display of his emotions, before splitting into many threads, which cut with viciousness through the air. Not one touched the form of that colossal entity, but each spoke of agitation. As did the Presence itself, confusion writ into its words--if only faintly.

“Moral?”

For, though it irked the dread god, Mhaireann had no proper knowledge of this thing. It was not for lack of its existence or exposure to its like, but simply because the framework of morality was alien to him. It required Truth and this was not yet a thing he possessed.

Displeased, if only with himself, the Presence’s many cutting threads coiled inwards and back around his form. Where before Thaa could have sensed the twisted remnants of emotion as they drifted through his sibling’s mind now even that disappeared. It was as if the physical restrainment of his shroud had constricted his emotions, cutting them off like a serpent would its prey’s air.

“Ah, the pain. The agony,” mused the Presence, “...they do not mirror your desires. I understand.” He did not, but no such thought crossed into the great Thaa’s mind.

“Then, perhaps this might intrigue you. My children, I have long desired that their presence might grace the world,” he paused as if for effect, but the silence was swiftly filled with a spreading cacophony of color. All were muted in their hue and shade as if drained of something essential.

In spite of this they danced into arrangements, depicting the eldritch forms of those dream borne entities. Twisted glass, refracting thought, coiled horns and long fading tendrils. Limbs of many form and function. Scales of bronze or brass or fire. Eyes of steel and ice and hunger...endless hunger.

The visions spun away and in their place words filled the fog, laden with intention.

“Forms of substance to my children I would give, so that they might spread their mercy unto others. For with lifeline’s severance, peace and contentment can be achieved.” Turning his gaze to meet the scalding eye of Thaa, the abyssal glares of that eldritch pair remained in line for but a moment.

Though the words remained unsaid, the swirling miasma of his intention, echoed through Thaa’s realm. It asked of the Death God a simple thing, if one which required more than mere attention. His aid it did request and though Mhaireann’s own nature seemed like a nightmare given form, there was something deeper in the request. A solemn truth, a hidden subconscious entreaty.

From deep within the Dreaming God, stirred the imprisoned Three.

"'Forms of substance' so you say, and yet what should that be. In part what makes them so moral is their particular home and nature of existence, so any such attempt would have to stay such desires to merely copy from the flawed book that most life of Galbar shares."

Thaa thought silently on the words and his own considerations.

“A worthy question,” the dread god answered, satisfaction in his tone. Raising a long-fingered palm--his shroud-threads cutting harsh curving lines up his arm and over the surface of his fingers--Mhaireann revealed a mortal entity.

A demon, it was called. “Into dead flesh will these colonies be sown so that they might sup upon the mana which has been interred in their buried homes. With time, they will be gathered and when the moment comes, their simple minds will then be struck by that of my children: the Unfulfilled.”

Flashes of images slipped through the Mhaireann’s mind, each easily visible to the deathbound god. A brief impression of deep caves, then of hallowed--cursed--land. There seemed to be a path nearby, often crossed by armies and travelers alike.

“In this way, many minds will be culled with mercy, to bring about the physicality of one such child.”

"A brilliant plan you have come to form here I must say, and one most moral in intents. It is good to have one such as yourself among our fellow deities, should you need aid from me for this task I shall try in earnest."

Thaa thought for a moment in silence, fog beginning to curl around his eye before it was banished as his attention returned fully to the other god.

Pulled into thought by the ruminations of his brother-god, Mhaireann briefly pondered what could be gained from their meeting. After all, Thaa’s offer was a generous one. Then, red sparks kindled deep in the endless pits of the black-eyed god. Like sputtering, furious embers they spun and writhed and spread. Like veins or vines they coiled and twisted outwards from the center of his blackened gaze, before--swiftly--he lidded them once more against the world.

“Souls,” intoned the Presence. “Give them souls to match their minds. Of many fragments and consumptions are such things born, let their quintessence be the same.” The words were not enough to contain the depth of his many meanings and so he spun out his thoughts upon the fog.

Where eddies curled, twisting colors formed, all embroiled in a greater construction. The smaller souls of the devoured could be felt in the illusion, as if they were truly there. It appeared as if, with time, all maladies and attachments were drained from mortals and unto the Unfulfilled. It was a process long and torturous, but to the Unfulfilled it did give a certain calm.

He turned his head, meeting Thaa’s one-eyed glare, though his eyes remained hidden beneath their lids.

“All might gain of this boon, if you would give it,” Mhaireann declared, his voice even, though his mind spoke of twisted echoes of pleasure and twisted glee. Perhaps deeper within, there was a purer emotion, held in truth by the Three. It was hard to tell.

In his response Thaa ignored any such doubts, "They shall have souls then, to aid in all manners and to match their essential being and purpose."

Fog began to coalesce between the two, tighter and tighter into a ball that turned a shade of shadowy red.

"As you return to your own realm, take this with you and rend it thrice so." As he spoke dim clawed markings came, three points and three lines, all connecting together. These faded and the orb drifted towards the Dreaming God.

He bowed his head but briefly, then stretched out two long spindly fingers and plucked the orb from Thaa. That shadowed red sphere, it coiled within his grasp, and though his eyes did not open, nor his facade break, the seeming of a smile appeared cast across his features.

With an air of reverence, that twisted dreadful thing withdrew then from the Death God, seeking to retreat. “We will meet again, revered brother. You have my gratitude...and further,” he paused, the miasma of his shroud returning. “...my respect.”

That said, the Presence turned and with great swiftness the shifting space of that realm did move as towards the portal Mhaireann did head. He took several steps, and with the twisting warp of Aquibeophates, he arrived before the gate. Stepping through, the Presence knew that his plans were well in motion.

Yet still...there remained much to do.


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Hidden 13 days ago Post by Commodore
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Renarrib Vos! A messenger for you!”

Vos ducked out of the command tent, just barely hearing over the chaos of the rearguard command. The accursed sahrvuj had begun what looked like a final assault on Wek-Nor. Vos had been sent back to guard to supply lines and any reinforcements from the upper cities, not a prestigious job but necessary. His sisters and brothers guarded the flanks while his father remained in the crown city, Wek-Nor.

The bloodstained messenger was propped up on a stone poking out of the earth. His scales were painted as a tens-captain, at least what was visible through the blood, belly wound, probably wouldn’t survive the night. A soldier kneeled by the tens-captain trying to keep him conscious as he seemed to be fading even now.

“Name tens-captain?” The order seemed to bring the messenger to his senses somewhat.

“Sukac, Renarrib.” The effort was clear in his voice.

Vos kneeled coming closer to the captain, “What news do you bring?”

Sukac breathed a painful breath, “Wek-Nor has fallen, the sea came up the river and attacked the city with the sahrvuj, lightfin riders and all. Renarrac Vasa is dead, I was sent from her contingent, we were retreating to the Janusan to secure them as we pulled back from the city. My men were mostly killed by flanking lightfins that we engaged to prevent them from reaching the main force, the rest got me here Renarrib.”

Grief could wait, action was needed, “What of my father, the Renabussan? Did the court make it out of the city?”

“Renarrib-ghrik-” Sukac coughed up blood, “...the Palace was hit directly by the sea wave, it must have weakened the base, it fell into the Varassetan.”

Grief could wait.

Vos turned towards the other soldier, “You are of his command?” She nodded. Vos spoke again, “Take care of him as you can, you will remain with the supply guard.” She nodded again as Vos turned back towards the command tent.

He knocked on a support pole to get attention, “Honored Leaders, prepare the troops to march. Every able-bodied to the Janusan, all others north to the nearest village to await either news or our return.”

Much of the tent was silent except for the sounds of activity from outside.

“Wek-Nor has fallen, and an unknown amount of the Royal family is dead, our goal is to secure the Janusan teachers and students and any soldiers that may be there, and then head North to continue the fight. The Accursed Suhrvuj cannot hold the south for long if the North fights on.”

Hundred-captain Cevos replied, “Renarrib, it shall be so.”

The tent came back into full activity and messengers went out to ready the rear contingent, they were rested and would be ready to march soon once they became organized. Vos could lead them to secure the remaining defenders and the Janus. Grief could wait.




Organization, that was something the suhrvuj always lacked in their many raids. They had many advantages, their expert capacity on lightfins, their mobility in striking, and many more as they ruled the Welkossian sea. However the Renabussan of Welkos always held strong against them, they often came not in full strength as they had no great leaders. Or had at least if this latest attack was any indication. They had come as an army which had surprised many, they overtook the villages along the bay before a word had even reached the Palace.

There had even been raids that had somehow managed to sneak behind the river defenses, of course, all of the cities of Welkos were walled for just such occasions from before the Renabussan had extended protection to the entirety of those along the Varassetan. In any case, the fall of Wek-Nor was a serious blow, and if they didn’t deal a counterblow to stop any advance then the entirety of the 10 rightly guided sites might fall into the hands of the suhrvuj like the dark times of old.

That was why they broke into an offensive formation when the scouts had reported lightfin scouts of the accursed, they neared the Janusan. It was a matter of cheers to see a small host of the suhrvuj encamped around the secured Janusan as soldiers of Welkos fought to protect it. The arrival of the reinforcements had caught the suhrvuj off guard and they struggled to form any kind of formation as the horns sounded the attack for the Welkossian Army. First went out the Kitzon skirmishers and their famed redfin companions, they often swarmed and attacked the larger lightfin riders with these even as they didn’t have a comparable mounted force to compete.

Following them were the Janus soldiers, ranged forces that used their will to cast the holy magic of the Great Kitz’lae Father on the accursed, and used sling and bow when tiring or otherwise unsure of their abilities. They were lightly armored like that of the skirmishers, although that was more for mobility rather than a lack of care to equipment with the former…

After that was the Su’krava the mainstay of the armies of Welkos and the forces that had united the ten cities and two lands. Armed in bronze helmets and layered armor, they carried an ax and spear, and were quite well-disciplined, especially in comparison to the mobs that they usually faced among the suhrvuj.

The Kitzon skirmishers harassed and kept the suhrvuj from mounting their lightfins or otherwise preparing, they lost many redfins, but that was in part what they were there for. The Kitzon pulled back out once the flames started flying from the Janus soldiers, they were trained to leave gaps in their ranks as were the Su’krava, the Kitzon pulled back behind both and the Su’krava went forward in front of the Janus as they switched to more conventional weapons after the volley.

The standard strategy called for the Su’krava to form up once they passed the Janus and prepared to meet the enemy in formation. Rather than that the host fled as the defenders of the Janusan sallied.

It seems they much preferred an easier target than was presented after all the fighting of the previous weeks. The initial mission was accomplished, although the scouts had been saying very worrying things about suhrvuj in the countryside, far too many suhrvuj. It was time to see now that they had come to the maw of loathed Vuj’ar, if they could escape its bite.


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Hidden 12 days ago Post by Valor
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Celestine awakens the Virtus Elves




It had been some amount of time since her meeting with Thaa, and during this time Celestine had simply sat upon her throne overlooking The Longhall. No souls were yet present from her bargain with Thaa, but she didn’t mind this. The souls were offered a choice of where to go, and only one had been effectively secured thus far. All Celestine really cared about was making good upon her promise of a reward, and she had indeed accomplished that. However, part of what Boudicca had said intrigued Celestine. She had explained that the recent transition from warring state to peaceful hegemony had left some of the residents of Ha-Dûna restless.

Celestine understood this restlessness. A soldier that was suddenly deprived of purpose and unable to find purpose anew would naturally begin to feel rather at odds with their existence. This train of thought led Celestine to the conclusion that perhaps all they needed was an example. A guiding light to aspire those who were lost back to the paths that they wanted to tread. Teaching Boudicca about tournaments had been a good start, but Celestine was beginning to believe that a full warrior culture might serve as a better example of what a soldier might accomplish in times of peace. A standing army could easily be converted to an effective guardian force. Soldiers who needed to feel the grit of steel against steel could partake in tournaments like Boudicca had been taught, and beyond that new battlefield techniques could be theorized by someone with direct experience to the faults of the standing traditions.

However, Celestine felt like merely teaching people would not be suitable. It was one thing to teach the science of war, but another to teach the art of it. Thus, Celestine concluded that perhaps a shining example of what could be done would be better than attempting to convert an existing culture to one that suited her. But how might that be accomplished…

It was then that Celestine saw one of the many elves that bustled in and around her castle exit into The Longhall to replace a jug of wine with one that had not been sitting for so long. It was entirely unnecessary since the divine nature of the wine meant that it would never spoil, but Celestine had the answer she sought. The elves that had been surrounding her since her inception could be more than distant and servile extensions of her will, they could be placed upon Galbar to serve as an example of a shining beacon of chivalry and a peaceful warrior culture. Something to give the restless mortals something to aspire to, or at the very least a place to call home.

However, Celestine knew better than to simply send them out to Galbar unprepared. She remembered the wars that had taken place, and did not want her people to endure suffering caused by an excess of haste in trying to set her idea into motion. They would need to be empowered to not just survive Galbar, but to thrive upon it. As she thought about how she might prepare them for existence upon Galbar, Celestine's thoughts turned back to the statues that she had seen within Cadien’s realm. Each of them being a perfectly beautiful representation of that particular races ideal beauty. Celestine nodded to herself as she came to a conclusion from her experience with them: She would send her elves to Galbar in a state of perfection, or not at all. Or, at the very least, something as close to perfect as she could realize since she was not a goddess of perfection. Celestine contemplated seeking the advice of Cadien for such a lofty goal, but then decided against it. This project was already going to be complicated, and too many hands upon it would cause those complications to exaggerate. Not to mention that she wanted a distinct outcome for this project and having the influence of others upon it might cause that vision to err from the course she wanted.

But before this grand plan could be set into motion, Celestine knew that she needed to first awaken them fully. Closing her eyes and harnessing her divine senses she projected herself outward and looked out over the entirety of her realm. Taking a moment to watch the little silver flickers of life that were the elves inhabiting her realm bustle about their routines. When she looked upon herself she saw a shining beacon of silver light and knew what needed to be done.

Dipping her hand into the font of divine energy, Celestine began to touch the small flickers of silver light, emboldening them with more of the divine light that she siphoned from herself. As she did this a deep exhaustion began to set in as she drained away more and more of her divine power to give the elves full and independent souls. When she was done the shining beacon that had been her font of divine power was more akin to a small candle in its luminescence. Exhausted and spent, Celestine pulled her divine senses back into their passive state and rose from her throne to observe the fruits of her labor.

Many of the elves stopped what they were doing to look around. Celestine figured that for many of them it would be like awakening from a daydream. Shuddering slightly from the large expenditure of her divine power that awakening the elves had been, Celestine slowly walked to the edge of the platform. Taking a moment to compose herself and to lean upon the railing, Celestine began to speak. As she did her voice rang out across her realm, reaching the ears of every elf within. ”My beloved elves, hear me. The mortals of Galbar need a shining beacon that they can look towards for hope and inspiration of what those who follow chivalry can accomplish. You will be that beacon of virtue, my Virtus Elves. But I do not have plans to send you all to Galbar without preparation. I will be bestowing you all with as many abilities as I can muster to prepare you for life outside of this realm. You shall be a shining beacon of all the virtues that I wish to be embodied within the other mortals upon Galbar. Until that time, please continue as you were. I will be resting for a time.”

As she finished speaking. Celestine turned and began to walk towards a room that had, until now, gone unused. Stepping into her private chambers Celestine first approached the bookcase that stood against one wall. Unbuckling the belt that held her sword at her side, Celestine hefted it gently and placed it upon the rack. Once this was done she stepped gently over to the armor rack and began to relieve herself of the plate armor that she had worn since her inception. The resulting loss of its typically comforting weight was an alien sensation to Celestine, but she knew that armor and resting were typically not things that went well together.

Turning to the four poster bed in the room, Celestine lifted the covers and shuffled into them gently before laying her head against the pillow and drifting off to what could be called sleep.

An unknown amount of time later, Celestine awoke and sat up gently. She felt much more refreshed than before, but could still feel a sort of hollow sensation due to the expenditure of divine energy that she had recently undertaken. Dressing herself in her usual garb and taking up her sword once more, Celestine returned to the throne overlooking The Longhall and sat down within it gently. It would take time for her divine energy to replenish itself, and all Celestine could do would be to wait for that to occur. She did contemplate taking a trip out to antiquity to try and socialize, but she then considered that her newly awakened elves might require guidance now that they were their own people. Thus she decided to stay for the time being.






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Hidden 9 days ago Post by Commodore
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Commodore Condor

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"He said that the souls would be down shortly, that's good enough for just relax some."

Kiim was just to assuage Jaav, this generally did not work and usually ended up in bickering, and yet they both continued. Guul honestly wondered how long they'd have to wait in the rain, it might've been a wonderful place at sometime but now it was just a muddy hillside. Jaav had insisted that they leave the Barge off the ground somewhat, even if it was now flipped over in the air to keep the rain from filling anything much there.

"Yeah but shortly for him includes the next decade so I'd rather get back to a nice beach on Kubrazjar, catch a few fish...

...not sit in the mud waiting for some two bit murderers to show up!"


In truth they weren't truly in the rain per se, the barge was over them which afforded some cover although their position on the hill side still met that mud came running down over their clawed feet. Guul squished some between a claw. There was always something about dirt and mud, always different place to place, there was a lot of a variance between even little things wherever you went. Maybe one could even figure out where they were if one knew the soils well enough.

"Two bit murderers? Come now, they cut a decent swath of blood through the north of Toraan back when they were alive. Thaa might've even gotten involved if they hadn't run into that witch when they did."

Jaav sounded more bored with the argument than anything, but it probably beat waiting for them, "Yeah yeah, just why now though? I mean sure the big guy is bring back a lot of different sorts now, but this is reaching pretty far back right? I mean agriculture was still a pretty new thing for a lot of people when they were walking about. I'm not even sure some of the major cities were founded back then either in this region..."

"He's got a lot of perspective, I'm sure there is a reason that'll become apparent. Besides, we're going back to Kubra after, not like he's keeping us out to set up everything for some mortals right? Just a bit of body formation when the souls get here and we'll be back out huh?"

"Don't try to cheer me up..."

The conversation switched back to more general bickering between moments of silence. Just how the two liked to spend their time Guul supposed. Guul drew in the mud, she wanted to get better at all that after she had seen some mortals doing paintings, it looked kinda fun. Of course one didn't have the time to practice much or get supplies, especially when you shared most of a body and limbs with two bickering godlets. Guul was a godlet too by that definition, bit of a funny name for that.

It was about another hour of that before further word from Thaa came. Or rather, the oppressive force that became apparent whenever we wished to speak with a million voices into their minds at anytime of day at any inconvenience.

"The Five will be there shortly, they are transiting through the array."

"Finally! What took so long? Was there any point at all to making us stand out here rather than jsut saying when they'd be coming?"

Thaa replied in his usual style to most demands of him, he ignored it. You are prepared to enage the task as I have laid out?"

Kiim interupted before Jaav gave another remark, or rather Kiim spoke over Jaav giving a colorful remark. "Yes we are prepared, the souls will be connected before the formation of their undead forms, and subsequent power will be made to fully form a new kind of body as instructed."

...and I hope the sun blasts you right in your-

"Good."

The force faded back with the final word, and it was rather hard to get the last word in, although Jaav always still tried. Java continued yelling back up to Aquibeophates, although Thaa likely ignored such, right up until Kiim spotted the souls.

The next part wasn’t that hard at all in any singular part. Essentially taking the souls of some soon to be Wights and merging them into something new and different, and then a bunch of particularities of body to keep them stable that way. In thought, this was a lot easier than in practice. It ended up taking a similar and different approach to how to run things, five souls connected and merged, fused together. Their body looked similar to their soul as a consequence trying to get things running correctly, four legs, one often retracted up as it preferred walking on two, five sets of arms and heads, torsos merged in some large mass of ill undying flesh and bone. It would work well enough, after all they would be quite hard to kill and strong enough to make use of such a body at that.

The mind was a difficult thing, surely the plan was eventually after any work was done to unfuse the souls and send such back to paradise, of course that was probably going to be left to Thaa as it became a delicate act not to let the different personalities and identities throw the whole thing apart, it took essentially creating a strong bond between each so that one blended into the next. Truly only the real idea of identity that remained was one that all five shared. The murderous little cabal they called the ‘White Skulls’, truthful they did take a lot of iconography of death in their dealings, and more than a few memories Guul could see might actually have been influence by Thaa in their living lives, what might have been dreams or chats, it was hard to tell and Thaa did not mention such. Although, Thaa did not always mention a lot.

When it was done they had the merged being unconscious in the mud, undead so little enough to worry about that as it rained on, but still business was done. The other two wanted to get back to Kubrajzar rather than wait around to explain things to a powered up Wight. The being would wake soon enough, hadn’t seen the purpose of consciousness while they were still merging things and the body that it had should keep it safe enough.

If they went to a beach on Kubra perhaps she could practice in the sand…




They gasped awake. Or rather, they felt like they did so, they didn’t intake any breath.

They got up, their legs pushed them off the ground and back onto their legs.

Wait.

It took a moment to realize, they had four legs, and many more arms. And, they saw so much around them.

They turned in the rain as the mud was caked on them still. It shifted the view as they saw the faraway forest. They inspected their body with a kind a fervor even as they kept watch, it was strange and clear to suddenly be able to focus on so much so intently.

Questions of what, and who they were ran through their mind. Names, memories, they came up and yet they didn’t all fit together, they didn’t make sense for what they were right now. Except one thing, White Skulls. That worked for now. That would do, they needed to get moving anyway. The rain was miserable.

They began to run out to the forest, they knew how to survive- and could probably manage to do whatever their current needs were. Besides they might run into a traveler in the woods hiding from the rain.

That could be fun.





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Hidden 9 days ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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A Garden of Doubt


Chapter II - A Wilted Flower





Gebu's light was small, but a thin crescent so far away in the night sky. It painted the land dark, with moonlight coming through the clouds. Perhaps it would rain after all, but Zayd did not care at the moment. His father’s words haunted him, filling his head with such frustrating rage. So he ran away from his home, past the fields and gardens and off into the valley of his youth. A place that was even more familiar to him then home, where his siblings and cousins played, where he met Elena. But that was years ago. Now it was barely used except for the occasional game of hide and seek with the young ones and sparring practice with his brothers. That was where he was headed, down into the valley. More of a large cut in the land, like a giant of old had come along and scooped up the dirt and rock and threw it far away into the sea. That was what baba had said anyway, he was one with many stories and it seemed, some secrets.

There was a cave down at the bottom of the valley, large enough to walk in and wide enough to stay for the night. It was also where they kept some old dull swords and firewood. Though the supply probably wouldn't last him the night. It had, once upon a time, been a place where they had sat and watched a mighty storm pass. The wind had gotten so strong that Imraan had fallen onto a sharp rock, cutting his arm open. That was the first time he had seen Saban act so serious. Zayd cracked a grin at the memory of them huddled around a fire, retelling stories from baba as the storm calmed down. Those were the good days, before his fateful adventure. Now his brothers got to go off and be soldiers, making names for themselves. As his father said. He growled and shook his head. It should have been him! Saban had a life here, as the eldest son. He was not the soldier type, he-he loved to make pottery and use dyes to give them stories. He could die.

Saban could die and it would be his fault.

As he neared the rock face that held the entrance of the cave down below, he looked for the path down, giving little care to the thicket of twisting vines and grasses, overgrown by neglect that grabbed and cut him. He pushed his way through grunting as sticky barbs caught on his clothing and his frustration only grew as he got snagged on sticks in the dark. Yet he knew what to look for, a very large tree root that had grown out of the side of the dirt and over the edge, so he kept going. Thick vines had sprouted from it that twisted back into the dirt to survive and they made a misshapen path down. The drop itself wasn't far by any means, but a fall in the dark could be deadly. Wouldn’t that be great?

His hands found what he was looking for at last and without waiting, he began his descent. The air was turning cool as the nightly chorus of spring peepers made their calls. Something flew past his head, followed by a small 'squee' and Zayd almost lost his grip on the roots. He took a deep breath, face relaxing as he regained his composure, then kept going. When his feet touched the soft ground, he sighed in relief knowing that the hard part of the journey was over. Now it was just making a fire with what he could see and find...To make a larger fire. He wrinkled his nose in annoyance but a flicker caught his eye.

Before him sat the cave, it’s mouth like a black abyss, but farther in he could see a light flickering across the cave walls. He squinted, then rubbed his eyes making sure the darkness wasn’t playing tricks on him. No, the light was still there. He felt his heart begin to beat faster as questions entered his mind. Who could be out here? One of his cousins? Someone else? Now he had a decision to make, keep going and find out or turn back and go home.

He frowned. The darkness had set in, making it back home would be a challenge that would take him far too long. Caution, that was what he needed. He rummaged around the area for a suitable stick and when he found one that was strong enough to wield, he crept forth. He had no idea what he was going to find, or even why he was doing it. His mother would call him a reckless fool, his father would also call him a fool but baba… Baba would have called him brave.

He’d show them. If this was some vagabond or criminal, he’d show them just how capable he was! Even if he couldn’t talk, that didn’t mean he was less brave. He’d show them all, especially his father. His grip tightened and his brow narrowed.

As the light source grew, he could make out it was behind a low wall on the cave floor, where behind it, the cave got lower. It was a good place to sleep, as a fire would reflect off the rocks and warm someone cold up further. As he neared the wall, he crouched, feeling energized. Like he could strike and take down a bull. But that only masked his uneasiness. Was it fear or anticipation that he felt with each slow step?

Something rustled behind the wall and he froze mid step. There was then a banging of something, then silence. Zayd brought his foot down quietly as he waited for the noise to continue but it never did. Taking a deep breath, he moved forward and reached the wall. There he leaned against it and very slowly peered over to see a very strange sight.

A figure wrapped up in a brown cloak sat huddled next to a dying fire, hood obscuring their face. Gloved hands were cautiously holding a skewered stick over the flame. The smell of something burnt filled his nostrils and Zayd grimaced. He had no idea what they were cooking but knew they weren’t doing a good job. The figure turned his back to him as they rummaged through a sack behind them, giving Zayd the opportunity to crane his neck over a little more. He could see a makeshift bedroll and a long stick with a whittled point. He also caught a glimpse of red. Between the cloak and a gloved hand, he could see skin. Why was it red? A trick of the light perhaps?

They turned around and Zayd ducked, cutting his hand on a protruding rock and breaking the tip. For a split second his lips curled in pain before the rock hit the ground, and his pain was forgotten. There was quiet now, he could hear his heart beating fast. What did he do? What did he do! Could he run for it? Could he fight them? His early thoughts about showing everyone just how capable he was seemed to drain away.

He took a gulp and then ran.

Before he even took three steps, he felt something whack him in the leg and he fell forward. His hands took the brunt of the blow, but it only agitated his cut further. His face contorted into pain and he flipped over to see the hooded figure holding their spear in one hand and a long, polished knife in the other. His eyes went wide and panic took him. He was not brave. He was a fool! A stupid fool! A dead fool!

He began to back away but grimaced again his cut hand touched the floor. He cradled it and did what he could to back up as the hooded figure watched him. Then with speed the figure ran at him and placed the spear point at his chest, hovering over it poised for the killing blow.

Zayd froze, eyes going wide. This was it. This is how he died. All he felt was dread. The terror of knowing his life would be unfulfilled.

“Why-” The being spoke in a voice like honeydew, “Why you come?” Simple sounding words, accusatory and agitated. Zayd exhaled, maybe he wasn’t going to die just yet. But… Now for the hard part. How would he communicate?

“Answer!” She said pressing the point closer to his chest. It had to be a woman. There was no way any man could have a voice like that. But he had been wrong before. What a silly thought to have in such a situation.

He raised his hand slowly and then shook it, pointing to his throat.

“No… Speak?”

He nodded his head and then opened his mouth to show her he had no tongue.

A small gasp came from under the hood.

“No tongue?” She said rhetorically. “Who cut?” She then asked, removing the spear tip from his immediate chest.

Zayd frowned and looked away. How could he even begin to tell that story?

“Hm. Is okay. Come to take?” She questioned, once again putting the spear tip closer.

The sudden change brought Zayd back to himself and he shook his head and hands in frantic succession. Why would she be taken?

Her hooded head shifted to his cut hand. It was at that point she dropped the spear and crouched next to him, inspecting his hand. Her hood still obscured her face but Zayd knew just because he couldn’t see her, that didn’t mean she couldn’t see him. He needed to play it cool and what… What was she doing?

She brought a hand to her mouth and a moment later a glove was falling from her hood to the cave floor. A slender hand was revealed, colored red with veins of green. It took him a moment to realize just what he was looking at, but then her flesh touched his and he recoiled slightly. Her hands were unnaturally soft, almost like a… Like the bud of a new leaf…

She removed her other glove in the same fashion and her grip on his hand tightened as she used her fingers to feel his wound. He squinted as pain jolted through him.

“It alright. No hurt.” She spoke as if she wasn’t really paying attention to him, but more of an afterthought. “Cut deep. Will mend.”

Her words confused him but before he could try to protest, his hand became very itchy. He breathed out through his nose and looked to see her hands cupping his. Whatever she was doing felt wrong but the itchy feeling dulled and before her knew it, two crimson eyes were staring at him.

Deep maroon, glowing dim beneath her hood. She faced him now and asked, “Better?”

Zayd could hardly take his eyes off of the strange sight, his face going blank as his thoughts rushed to him. He blinked and looked over to his cut hand… But it was no longer cut. Just stained with drying blood. He flexed his fingers and felt no pain, then feeling her eyes still on him, he looked back to her.

She was sitting on her knees, removing her hood. Zayd’s mouth slowly parted in a state of awe as he looked upon her face. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

Human-like in appearance, that was where the similarities ended. It was not skin that made up her narrow face and sunken cheeks, or her dainty nose set above those thin lips of red. He gulped. That face of hers was crimson in color, with light green around her almond shaped eyes that seemed to accentuate her features. The green was around her lips as well but fainter. Even her hair, if one could call it hair, wasn’t like his- but it acted in the same way. Like… Leaves. Long leaves of crimson red and veins of the same green upon her face. Her leaf hair went down past her shoulders and looked… Matted? Or unkept? It was hard to tell. So that was what she was… There was no flesh and skin but leaves and plant. She was… She was one of them!

She glared at him, then pointed at his hand. “Better?”

He nodded yes in quick succession and tried to force a smile but it didn’t feel right. She could tell as a frown pursed her lips.

“Scared?” She asked.

He shook his head. He wasn’t scared, just taken aback.

“No scared?” Her lips tugged into a grin. “Should be. I dangerous. I fierce.”

He froze at those words, taking her in again. There was something about her demeanor that made him crack a genuine smile.

She glared again and stood up.

“Go.”

His smile died and Zayd’s eyes narrowed in confusion.

She brandished her spear again and slammed the butt on the ground.

“You go!”

He backed away, getting to his feet. It was then he saw just how small she was. She only came up to about the base of his neck. Even moreso, her arms were so thin and she looked gaunt. How was that even possible? She took a step forward and pointed the spear at him, her eyes glaring at him. How could such a dark color be so alive?

He began to back away but on a hunch, he stopped and pointed at her. She froze in her tracks, unsure of what to do. Zayd then pointed at his stomach and mouthed the word, ‘hungry’ to her. She looked confused at first, but as he mouthed the word again and rubbed his belly, he could see her face begin to light up with hopeful recognition. He took a step forward but that seemed to draw a line as she scowled.

“No! I fine! You go!” She shouted with anger.

Not wanting to upset her anymore, Zayd turned and left, glancing over his shoulder to see those crimson eyes watching him fade into the darkness. As soon as he exited the cave, he went to the side and sat down up against the rock face. The night was cool now and without a fire, he would not be sleeping well. He could return home but… His thoughts were on her. She had helped him but why?

And those words of hers… Zayd knew where those came from. Even if she wasn’t a human, it was pride that drove help away. Wanting to do everything by yourself. He felt ashamed in that moment, thinking of earlier back at home. He knew she was probably starving but… Didn’t plants grow best in sunlight? So that meant… She was doing this to herself? Why?

He didn’t have time to ponder that question, for from the brush came the snapping of a branch and a low rumble that reverberated into his chest. Zayd shot up in an instant, heart beginning to beat fast. From across the ravine’s floor, upon a low cut ledge sparsely overgrown and illuminated by Gebu, he saw two smoldering eyes. Like burning coals. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and Zayd felt an overwhelming urge to run. It growled again and another set of eyes appeared next to the first.

The first emerged from the undergrowth, a creature like an inky black mass that… Moved. Rippling with veins… Like snakes of pulsing red. It’s snout parting to reveal sharp, barb-like teeth. Black viscera drooling to the floor as steamy breath entered the night. The other emerged, looking much the same, except it was smaller.

They stood watching him. Zayd could hear his heart beating. He needed to go. Needed to run.

But it was too late for that.

For they came.




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Hidden 8 days ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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The Legendary Craftsman


Uneven wooden creaking seemed to fill the air as the cart rolled along the uneven, wild ground.

The cart itself was mostly wooden, the wheels rimmed with a metal that simply had been seen or taken advantage of in this part of the world. The cart itself appeared to be relatively new and well made, but the journey over the Westfold's hilly, unpaved terrain had clearly taken a minor toll. The back of the cart was covered and tied down securely, while the stag pulling the cart did so without much in the way of complaining about the conditions.

Leading the elk on foot was a man, hooded and cloaked. From a distance not much could be discerned of his appearance under the cloak, but it was easy to see the beard that was dangling for all the world to see. The edges of it had gone grey, but near the flesh was still a strong, rich black. For a time, there was nothing but the hills but soon he spied the signs of civilization. A relatively small town, but for the region still a solid one. One that his master had taken a keen interest in shortly after he had gazed upon the world for the first time.

It wasn't his place to judge where his Master deemed suitable to send him on a mission like this, but he had to admit that there were worse places for a deity to focus their efforts on reshaping the way the world worked. They didn't even have dirt roads between settlements yet. A little bit of forging would do them the world of good.

As his cart finally arrived at the broader of the settlement, he was greeted by a large, burly looking man wearing some kind of multi-coloured dress and a beard you could nest a family of birds in with a rather gruff "Alright, ya Dûnan wanker. I don't care if you're here to trade, you can turn that bloody cart right around and shove ya wears straight up ya ars-" that was about as far as the man got before the Craftsman had calmly brought his elk to a stop, walked calmly up to the vulgar gentleman that was in the process of insulting him several times and proceeded to deliver an uppercut to the chin that lifted the somewhat taller man off his feet, into air and into the land of dreams before he landed on his back upon the ground.

While the act of a smaller, clearly older gentleman knocking out a young, bash man in his prime had clearly caught the attention of those nearby, after the Craftsman made sure the man was still alive and breathing he calmly returned to his horse and started to lead it again, looking at the nearest human (a woman this time) and asked "Is this Scawick?"

The look of shock gave way to confusion as she seemed to shudder back to a start. "Wha-"

"Is this Scawick?" The Craftsman asked again, keeping the same calm, collected tone he had used before. "I'm fairly certain I was heading the right way, but after a while the hills start to look the same and it would have damned annoying if I had gotten turned around at some point." He admitted with a small sigh.

The woman, clearly on edge at the civil but very clearly dangerous man that likely could cause her a great deal of trouble before help arrived if she started screaming, gulped as she nervously nodded her head. "Y-Yeah. This is Scawick. I-Is he going to be-"

"He'll be fine. He's just knocked out. Likely have a headache when he wakes up, but he's young. He'll recover... and hopefully with a rather important lesson about bad mouthing one’s elders." The Craftsman answered before she could finish the question. "Now, could you be a good lass and point me in the direction of... I'm not sure what the local word would be... the ones who work metal here?"

A rather timid "W-Why do you want to see the gabhas?" escaped her lips as the young man on the ground started to return to the waking world with a groan... and promptly got a swift kick to the ribs for his troubles as the hooded old man lowered his cloak... and offered her a smile like a kindly grandfather.

"Because my dear, I'm going to make it so that the fools in Ha-Dûna are forced to acknowledge your people as equals, if not be forced to look up to you as their betters and I need the assistance of the gabhas to do that. Would you kindly lead the way? And if you knew a good place I can water my elk that would be lovely."

“Don’t you move one inch, you fiend!” came a yell, and the groan of at least ten bowstrings. Seventeen men and women had lined up with whatever arms they had, pointing them threateningly at the stranger. A pair of young girls hurried over to the passed-out man on the ground, shouting, “Uncle! Uncle!”

The Craftsman blinked slightly as he turned to look at the sudden wall of bowstrings pointed directly at him and his elk. Honestly, considering that despite the fact that he had just laid out a taller, younger man he still appeared somewhat elderly, the show of force would honestly seem comedical to an outside observer.

Clearly not afraid of the promise of injury and death before him, he still remained still as he answered “Is this how Scawick greets visitors these days? Insults and threats towards those who happen to have a few gray hairs? Where I’m from if you’re going to insult a man to his face, you shouldn’t be surprised when they take offense. I mean really… assuming I’m from Ha-Dûna.” He actually spat on the ground at the utterance of that sentence, as if the assumption was more insulting than the rest of his vulgar behavior.

The militia exchanged baffled looks. “Visitor?! You just beat down a respected man in the street! Lerda is none other than Burud’s brother, he is!” Bowstrings whined deeper with tension. “You have until the count of three to turn away and never come back, outsider, or you’ll be finding yourself pushing up Jennesis’ daisies within the hour!”

For a moment, the Craftsman seemed to ponder the situation… before closing his eyes and muttering something softly to himself for only himself to hear. After a moment, a grunt escaped him as he let go of the rope of his elk and took several strides to the side so that he was clear of his cart, before opening his arms wide. “Go ahead. For reasons I am struggling to entertain, my master Droka seems to have taken a shine to your people and if a small demonstration of one of the gifts he wishes to offer you is what it takes to get you to take both of us seriously, then by all means, open fire.”

The Scawicks did as told, loosening a volley of arrows upon the stranger. Some of the arrows missed the target completely, either going slightly wide or above where the craftsman was standing. Some clearly gazed, but it was also clear that that clothing he wore was a little loose on his frame and thus didn’t actually do anything beyond slightly ruining his attire. Most however stuck true… and either bounced off completely, had the stone heads of the arrows shattered or even had the full arrow itself snap from the impact without doing any damage at all.
Without a word, the old man reached up and calmly removed his ruined tunic, casting it aside and leaving himself wearing his trousers… and what appeared to be a coat that covered his chest t, all the way down to his upper legs, appearing like overlapping scales on some kind of reptile or fish that were crafted from a gray metal of which had never been seen worked in the Westfold before. “People of Scawick. My master, Droka the craftsdragon of the gods, bid me to come and enlighten your people of the gift of his knowledge of working metal, but also to teach you the secrets of how to work iron… the first settlement in Westfold and beyond to be gifted such knowledge. It is your decision if you decide to accept it or not.”

Immediately, the mood shifted. Shocked by the ineffectiveness of their arrows and moved by the gospel of the stranger, the villagers descended to their knees and lifted their hands to the heavens. “Have our prayers finally been answered?!” came a cheer. “Have the gods finally seen our suffering?!” came another. “Praise be to the Craftsdragon! Scawick shall rise again!”
.....................................................................

With the incident at the gate squared away ratherly cleanly (If Lerda felt that the matter hadn’t been settled properly, it had been made rather clear to him that if he wanted to try fighting him again, the Craftsman would be more then willing to whoop his arse in round two), the figure that had introduced himself simply as Hamarr (Since mortals were so strange about the whole ‘name’ thing) had quickly arranged for a gathering of the gabhas of Scawick… which was honestly not that large a gathering.

Even with the insistence that apprentices should also be present the numbers were still rather low… so Hamarr had also allowed several of Scawick’s youngest adults who hadn’t quite found their calling in life to be present as well.

Somewhat happy with the numbers now, Hamarr was finally content to speak with the inhabitants of the longhouse selected for this meeting. “I will start by saying that I am aware that many of you have responsibilities and duties that you have to attend to outside of the lessons I intend to teach. Droka is a working god and is well aware that for a settlement the size of Scawick, every man, woman and child is required to pull their weight.”

To that end, before this meeting is over I will be dividing you all into groups. Not only will it allow me to be able to focus on educating and training you all better as individuals, but it also means that while I’m working with one group, I am not depriving Scawick of people from fulfilling their obligations. I trust that will be acceptable for all of you?”

Giving a moment to allow the crowd to raise any objections, Hamarr continued easily. “With that out of the way, I believe we can get started. I’m sure you’re all interested in learning what iron actually is and why you haven’t heard of it before my arrival. The sad truth is that the reason iron is unheard of is quite simply because the world is currently focused on bronze.”
“That isn’t to say that the focus on bronze is unwarranted. Has anyone here ever had the pleasure of seeing a bronze weapon before? But alas, bronze is difficult to produce. In order to produce bronze, one requires copper as a key ingredient, but also tin or arsenic to mix with it… neither of which is present in the Westfold in any meaningful way. Truth is, Tin is rather rare and while arsenic is much more common, it is also incredibly dangerous to the health of the gabhas using it. Even if you do everything correctly, it will slowly kill you over time.”

His small warning given, Hamarr moved on to the point with his hands behind his back. “So while distant civilisations fight over control of tin and copper deposits, iron has been ignored. It is generally somewhat deeper in the ground then the former two, but I will teach you how to locate it from the surface… but the real reason that iron is ignored when compared to copper and bronze is that by comparison, iron is much more difficult to work with.”

“The flames hot enough to melt copper and bronze are nowhere near enough to melt iron. One of the secrets that Droka wishes for me to impart on all of you is how to create a furnace that can produce enough heat to melt iron into a workable form. Now, are there any questions before I split you all into groups and get your training started?”

One of the workers raised a hand. “Now forgive me for asking this, but we can hardly get kilns that melt copper in this land - how will we make anything hot enough to melt something even harder than that?”

Hamarr actually offered a small grin at the question. “That is a very good question. The answer is surprisingly simple once you know it, but if you were starting from scratch with trial and error it would likely take generations of hard work, refinement and mixed degrees of success and failure to figure it out. However, we’re going to get around all of that because Droka decided to let us in on that little secret… as well as teach you a little something that’s… well, a little magical.”

For a moment he seemed rather eager to offer a demonstration of what he meant but… Hamarr paused to think for a moment as he glanced around at where they were. Reeling himself back in, he sighed as he admitted “As much as I would like to offer a physical example at this moment, I confess that would be a poor idea. It would be better to have already taught and produced the new furnace beforehand first. That said, I guess there is no harm in telling you what you’ll be learning.”

Taking a breath, the older man had a fire in his eyes as he explained with a clap of his hands as he suddenly brought them around to his front “You see, Droka had a look at Westfold before he sent me here. Normally, he would have taken a more natural approach like teaching you how to turn wood into charcoal or locate an alternative resource to fuel the furnaces to burn hot enough but even if Westfold had enough resources to sustain such a thing, Scawick at this time simply doesn’t have the numbers or strength to safely secure such things. So instead he’s going to teach you how to enchant stone to burn hot enough for our purposes.”

“Any other questions?”

The crafters looked at one another. “What… What if someone takes this knowledge from us? What if the Dûnans get their hands on this and use it to enslave us?”

“What, are you going to tell them?” another accused.

“Of course not, but what if someone does?! Or what if they put a spy among us? Fìrinn sees all, as we know - they could be watching us right now, and their druids could be listening in!”

The look of amusement on Hamarr’s face would have been priceless if they had truly known of his true nature, rather than just as the priest of Droka. “Oh, I have heard of the druids. They would not be able to replicate the trick I am going to teach you for a rather simple reason. The method that druids use to gain access to their magical abilities means that they can’t really access forms of magic outside of the abilities they gain access to. I could literally have a druid here and explain in great detail how to do what I’m going to teach you all to them… and they wouldn’t be able to do it.”

A sigh… did escape him as he conceded “The furnace itself… Truthfully, figuring out how it is made would not be difficult. How to use it effectively, even more so without understanding how to fuel its flame properly… that’s a whole different matter. The reason I talked about turning wood into charcoal first is because wood by itself wouldn’t burn hot enough. It needs to be altered into another state to be able to create flames hot enough… and fun fact, turning wood into charcoal is incredibly wood intensive. Ha-Dûna doesn’t have access to enough wood to be able to sustain iron production on a scale large enough to properly arm itself.”

The crafter didn’t seem convinced, shaking his head and pointing to the west. “I’m not afraid they’ll figure out how to do it - that’d be the best outcome, ‘cause they’d leave us alone if that was the case. We know these people - if we have something that could give them an edge, even if it’s just a rumour, they will come for us - and unless we can give them the knowledge, they will take us alive and make us wish we were dead by forcing us to make these stones for them!” He looked around at his colleagues and received supportive hums and nods. “How can we avoid that?”

Hamarr went to open his mouth to respond… before he stop himself. Instead of answering right away, he reached up a hand to stroke his chin through his beard as a look of contemplation arose on his features. After a few moments, he finally decided to answer “Would you mind if I discuss the matter with Droka before I give you all an answer?”

“Do what you wish, of course.”

Nodding his head, he decided to press on. “Now then, I guess we can organize groups now. Let’s do this by experience shall we? Fully trained gabhas in one group, apprentices in another and those who are just starting to learn in a third.”

…………………………………………………….

In the days and weeks to follow, Hamarr proved that what he may have lacked in public speaking skills, he made up for by being a masterful teacher. Splitting his students into smaller groups of around the same skill level allowed him to tailor his lessons for each in order to better get his points across.

For the gabhas’ themselves, he respected their experience at the craft, treating them more like peers that he was merely showing new tricks and ideas to rather than as a straight up teacher. For the apprentices he treated them as a stern but fair instructor, making sure that his instructions were clear, the reasons behind them explained cleaning and expecting them to be able to do great things.

The third group was the most interesting. Since they lacked the basics that the other two groups had, Hamarr was able to set the foundation that these young adults could be building their life’s work up from.

The first step for all three groups was the new design for the furnaces. Stones were used to produce a chimney looking structure that on completion would be just shy of most shoulders of the men of Scawick, with earth being used to provide a shallow layer of covering in order to better contain and focus the heat within. Near the bottom, small pipes made of clay (through Hamarr did suggest that pipes could also be made of metal) were present through the side walls to allow air to flow into the furnace.

Hamarr taught two different versions of the furnace, with one having an opening at the bottom that would allow the gabha to remove the metal within and a version that could be made with clay that could be tipped over so that the metal could be removed from the top. When asked why, the Craftsman easily explained that both options were valid since they did the same thing and it was more a matter of personal taste and what resources were at hand which design was used.

The second step was the creation of the forge-stones. It was a simple name, but it suited their needs for the short term (and Hamarr did make it clear that if they wanted to change the name at any point they were more then welcome to, naming things wasn’t his strong point). The idea behind the forge-stone was, as the Craftsman had explained, an enchantment… and a rather basic one at that.

It consisted of three runes that had to be carved into the stone that you wanted to turn into a forge stone; The first was a simple ‘heat’ rune that, once mana started to run through it, would start to heat up the thing it was connected to. The second was a rune that naturally drew mana towards it to infuse into the object much like the first did.

The third rune was what made the forge-stones actually worth having through, due to the fact that it was brand new and not just a shape ‘borrowed’ after Droka took a quick glance towards the pre-existing shapes he could spot when he looked at the mana of the world. The third rune was designed to, once the forge-stone was activated by the addition of the other two runes, to collect just a small ember of Droka’s divine power to empower the other two to better serve the servants of the Craftsdragon. This was what would allow the stones to produce enough heat to ‘soften’ iron enough to be easily forgeable without actually melting it into a liquid.

It also had a somewhat… strange side effect in that the third rune would only activate when the forge-stone was within a furnace. While this did, in theory, mean that if something went wrong with an active furnace that the forge-stone could be removed in order to deactivate it, in practice some very special tools were going to have to be designed and made to be able to safely do such a thing.

The only ‘flaw’ that could be considered about the forge-stone’s design was that it would melt. The sheer heat produced by the runes would, over time, cause the stone they were carved into to melt and turn molten until the runes themselves stopped working and it could cool back down into warped rock with a metallic sheen to it. The stones still tended to last a fairly long time (long enough at least that a decent amount of iron ore could be worked before a decent quality stone was used up) and as long as the furnace was made of materials that wouldn’t catch fire it wasn’t an issue. Plus it meant that the stones could be traded independently.

Once the tools were in place, step three could begin. Actually working with iron ore itself. Hamarr’s cart had been full of the stuff, alongside a bit of copper so that the newer students of the forge would have a chance to broaden their education a bit. By the time the furnaces and forge-stones were ready, Hamarr had spent enough time around his groups of students that he understood how to explain the methods of working the new ore with them so that they understood.

Progress was slow at first all the same, because while the Craftsman was willing to teach and guide his students, experience was something you gained after you needed it. This was a new type furnace, with a new method of working metal with a brand new ore. Mistakes and errors happened, through thankfully nothing that threatened life or limb. But within a month of Hamarr’s arrival, tools made of iron were available for use by the people of Scawick. Not in great numbers and the original ones were somewhat crude, but enough to demonstrate the difference between the old stone tools and the new iron ones… and each day the gabhas’ got that little bit more experienced and the things they were making got a bit more refined.

While the slow and steady increase of iron goods was easily a boon, there were concerns that it would be a short lived one. After all, the only source of iron ore that was currently known was Hamarr’s cart. With no new supply to be seen for the foreseeable future, there were fears that Droka’s blessing was little more than a show.

That was… until the ground started to shake one day around noon.

The ground rumbled, clearly moving enough to let the residents of Scawick know it was moving and freak out the animals, but not to the extreme that it endangered buildings or people. A loud crack of stone being split and torn asunder rang through the village like a roar of thunder, echoing from somewhere just outside of the edge of town.

In what had been an outcropping of large stones, one of them had clearly been shattered by something that had burst out of the ground underneath it with a great deal of force. There was some confusion at first… until one of Hamarr’s students got a good look at it. It was a massive slab of iron ore that had just burst out of the ground. Some light excavation around the base of the mass proved that the part that had broken the surface was merely the tip of the vein. It ran deeper into the ground.

As the Craftsman himself would say when he finally joined the crowd to look over the new development. “A gift from Droka.” It seemed only fair that if he was going to teach his people how to work with iron, they should have enough of it to start with to actually benefit that knowledge.





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A Fated Dance





Oraelia paced back and forth in front of her portal. Her form was that of her love domain, and her clothing was a dress of white, golden hair long and curly running down her back. Every now and then she would glance outside into Antiquity proper with nervous eyes, the mere thought making her feel sick to her stomach. Could gods feel anxious? Why couldn’t she just do it and get it over with. It was just Neiya and… It was just Neiya… The one who had hurt her so long ago, the one that had hurt Gibbou and Sanya and… It was just Neiya…

She gripped her head, trying to gasp for breath as she crouched off to the side of the portal. She didn’t even need to breathe and yet, there she was, having a panic attack. She had rehearsed it over and over in her head. She would waltz- no, walk into Neiya’s realm. Yes, walk and then she would call to her, because Neiya would already know she was there. But if her portal was locked? Then she would have to call out to her and what if she never answered? What if she did answer…?

She clutched her heart, it felt like it was going to explode. Her breaths were sharp and hurt and she wasn’t exhaling. She fell to her knees. Why was this so hard? Why was she so… weak and pathetic? Angry tears fell down her cheeks. She told Gibbou that she would do this! She had to! She had to make peace with her, it was the only way or one of them… One of them could die… The mere thought sent shockwaves rippling through her body.

She didn’t want them to hurt each other anymore.

She didn’t want them to kill one another.

To hurt.

To maim.

To suffer.

To feel such sor-

Oraelia gasped as she felt the all too familiar touch of Neiya in her heart. Like thousands of little knives cutting her so deeply. It was too much to bear and then she heard the voices. Their voices.




A cool breeze blew through the Luminant, kissing the lake of radiance with a gentleness reserved for lovers. Sat on the soft sands of the beach was an Oraeliari couple. His long wings draped over his mate in a sign of comfort. Her forlorn eyes looked out over the water, oblivious to his pleas.

In a house in a tree there was another man, watching the sun dip beyond the horizon where he sat, legs hanging over the deck. He didn’t know why but he found no joy in that sight like he had before. It all seemed so… So pointless.

A woman consoled her friend, who had been so well the day before. She did not know why those silent tears flowed down her friends cheeks. Or why those tears held the hint of black in them.

A child grabbed the hand of his mother, pleading for a bedtime story, pleading for anything. A hug, a kiss- ‘Momma please’, he would say. Met with silence, met with apathy.

More and more that night of sorrow unfolded, upon the dawn of their greatest victory, they met their greatest tragedy. And all of them prayed to their Goddess when nothing else worked.




Oraelia snapped herself out of the sorrow induced lull, hands growing into fists. She had cursed them! She had cursed her Oraeliara! That- That monster! What gave her that right to do that! Her feelings of anxiety were replaced with anger, a newer sensation that felt goo-

She had cursed the Neiyari…

Hadn’t she? Well, Rhiona did but it was her by extension.

She took a deep breath and unclenched her hands. Neiya had gotten her revenge, how could she not have seen such a thing coming? And now her people paid the price, to suffer as she had suffered so long ago. What could she do? Another curse? A cure? Was it even possible?

It dawned upon her, what she truly had to do.

It was none of those things. She would not retaliate with a curse, for such a thing would never end between them. A cure would solve the flower of the problem, but not the root- even if it was possible. No, her solution had always been in front of her.

Oraelia stood and turned to face her portal. A look of determination flashed in her eyes.

It was time to see Neiya.




Bright eyed and full of determination, she stepped through the portal to the ‘Love’ goddess’ realm, into a very, very different sight. One she could hardly remember. When Oraelia had last visited Neiya, she had walked into a desolate plain with withered trees and a solitary river, save for the grove in which the goddess herself had resided. An early warning of the bleak outlook the goddess had had on love, perhaps. If that was the case back then, then what greeted Oraelia now did not bode well.

The plains were gone, replaced by jagged cliffs, hills and obsidian monoliths built in random and erratic fashion, with no logic to their construction nor any acceptance of basic geometry and physics. It was a hostile landscape, with only hints of its previous form. The river was still present, a dark blue and black affair swirling and churning like a maelstrom as it coiled over the landscape; not content to remain settled along the ground. It culminated in a waterfall that fell upwards towards the sky - into what appeared to be a roiling abyss of colours, emotions, and malice. Just looking up into the eye of the storm brought a pang of emotion, laced with spite and sadness. Yet that was not all - life now seemed to teem in the chaotic realm. Packs of dark hounds with fur like burning shadows sprinted across the landscape, trying to find refuge from the howl of the river. Silhouettes of horned women, spreading flame and fighting each other, popped up across the jagged land as well. Chaos reigned.

Oraelia could not focus on one singular thing, as her eyes wandered to all, yet she tried to retain focus. She was beyond horrified, as the realm was nothing like she remembered. So she grabbed her wrists and looked down at them, conjuring a small band of light into a ribbon. She whispered a small prayer to herself and then spoke aloud, "Neiya! Where are you? We need to talk!" she said with a loud voice.

Coils of energy arced from the river, running down along it and striking the ground in angry strikes akin to lightning. At the mouth of the river, high in the sky, a vortex began to dissipate to reveal the silhouette of another horned being - and Oraelia knew as soon as she saw her; Neiya hovered high in the air between the warped sky and the maelstrom of a river leading up to it. She looked nothing like either of their previous meetings, but was still immediately recognizable to the Life goddess.

”Talk?” her voice boomed across the realm, suspicious and sharp in tone. ”You’ve come to gloat, but I have already moved on. Struck back.” she concluded, and her shape stirred from it’s resting place in the sky. She descended down towards Oraelia slowly with graceful drifting, as behind and below her, the river crashed down on the landscape, creating lakes and riverbanks now that it was no longer being pulled into the sky.

Oraelia’s posture changed. She seemed to shrink, as if trying to become very, very small. Her display of power was, whether an act or trying to unnerve her, was having the intended results. Oraelia could not keep her eyes off of Neiya’s new form, out of the fear she would attack and she wondered why she would even want to be viewed as such. It was so… bare so… uncovered!

She blinked, trying to retain focus of herself. She had come here for a purpose and one she would now have to see through!

”You-” she said in a small voice before clearing her throat, ”You are mistaken! I never gloat over those who are suffering. I’ve come to talk to you! This has to end, Neiya, can’t you see it will bring only further pain? Please, Neiya. Please. I know there is more to you then this.” she finished, adjusting her shirt which had been buffeted by the winds.

”More to me than this?” the horned goddess demanded as she touched down a few metres away from Oraelia. ”I am just being who I am supposed to be. And I’m good at it, too. What else could there be to me?” Neiya commented, a conniving, false smile playing on her lips. Around them, creatures began to pool and gather in the shadows, drawn to the sheer power of roaming divinity.

Oraelia briefly fled her gaze to look at the gathering creatures. Figures like women, but with the intelligence of the wolves that followed them. What had she done? Oraelia looked back at Neiya. ”Is this what you are good at? Being antagonistic with Gibbou? Creating savage life and twisting landscapes?” Oraelia’s expression softened. ”Neiya, listen to me, in each of us there is more than what is seen on the surface! I know it, Neiya and I know you know this too! You don’t have to be like this, you can change! Not drowned in the sorrow of your own making.” She said.

That struck a chord with Neiya, who widened her eyes as realization dawned on her. The horned goddess stopped dead in her tracks, staring straight at Oraelia though not truly seeing her. In a short span of moments, her face went through several stages, the goddess visibly working through surprise, confusion, and finally - anger. ”Liar!” she roared with unabated fury, harking back to their previous meeting, and her arm rose to deliver her accusation as her gaze fell properly on Oraelia. ”You have no idea-... no idea what I carry! Who I am!” Despite this, the goddess remained immobile, as though the sheer fact of what was said held her back. Around them, creatures ducked further into the shadows after the goddess raised her voice, yet were clearly unafraid enough to linger despite the volatile conditions.

Oraelia braced herself and took a step forward. ”I know.” she began. ”It’s true, I don’t know another side of you, I thought I did so long ago but I was naive, Neiya.” Oraelia sighed, clasping her hands together. ”Please, I beg you Neiya. Take a deep breath. It’ll be okay, I promise. Let me help you and we can find out together.” Oraelia said, taking another step closer. She then extended out a hand towards the angry Goddess.

Golden pupils swirled like vortexes, Neiya furiously staring at Oraelia as if that would divine a deeper understanding. Her face kept a mixture of her old fury, but cracks in her armor appeared as the frown faltered and doubt flitted across her features. "I-... No… No," she uttered as she attempted to find her spirit. "I- I made my choices. I hurt Gibbou. Hurt you. This is who I am. I'm unstoppable. Powerful. Desirable. A monster. A predator." Neiya pressed her lips into a thin frown, staring at the extended hand.

Oraelia’s hand did not falter. She frowned however and said, ”You can change Neiya. You can grow. That is the beauty of life.” A single golden tear rolled down her cheek. ”Is that what you think you are? A monster? A predator? Neiya… Is this who you truly want to be? A Goddess too afraid to face the consequences of her actions? Who acts like someone she is not? Trying to fool herself? Fool the world? Neiya. It isn’t working. Please. I can help you.” Oraelia’s voice broke, hand now shaking.

The hurt in the Sun goddess' voice struck Neiya firmly, and visible distress ran over her face, washing away most of her determined anger. For a brief moment, old habits of emotional sharing seemed to call to her, and the horned goddess raised her fingertips slowly in a cautious reach for Oraelia's hand. It was not to be. Moments later, she froze in the motion, exhaling sharply before turning away firmly. "You're trying to trick me!" she exclaimed, lifting up off the ground as both her hands reached up to hold her head. "You're just-just jealous of me! Angry at me! I'm not that- I don't know… I never asked for any of this!"

Oraelia recoiled her hand as if struck. She watched Neiya ascend and did the same, but much slower. ”I am neither angry or jealous of you, Neiya.” she called out to her. ”And I would never trick you! I know you never asked for any of this, none of us did and yet, here we are. All I want is for the fighting to stop, Neiya. I want us to heal, together. Please, don’t do this. Don’t shut me out. Let me help you!”

The Sin goddess ascended higher into the sky, drifting languidly towards the center of the massive vortex that had replaced the sky, requiring Oraelia to pursue. "I showed you once, and I saw the life drain from your eyes," Neiya called, turning halfway to stare down towards Oraelia while still climbing to greater heights. "You don't understand. You don't… don't hear them. I did what I had to do. Yes, what I had to. If they won't improve, someone needs to make them. N-Nothing has changed!"

Oraelia continued on after her, expression bleak. ”Neiya, stop! I’m not afraid! I do understand! I understand because I changed!” Oraelia called out after her. ”Let me show you a different way! You don’t have to force anyone to improve! We naturally improve by growing and learning from our mistakes! Everything changes! Everyone changes! Please just listen to me!” she said, with angry tears falling down her face. What was she going to do if Neiya wouldn’t listen?

But her doubts didn't have time to take root.

"Mistakes?" Neiya began to slow down until she came to a full stop, hovering in the sky halfway to where she had first appeared. Eventually she turned around to face Oraelia properly, her eyes raw with the same hurt that was innate in her base form, but maintained a certain hostility under it. "So I'm a mistake? Just like Cadien, you refuse to see my side. You have already decided what's good for me."

Oraelia came to a stop across from Neiya. ”I never called you a mistake. Don’t twist my words.” she said in a calm tone. She then crossed her arms over her chest and eyed Neiya down. ”Do you really think I’ve decided what’s good for you, Neiya? This entire time I’ve asked you to talk to me, that we can work through your issues together and you have refused. I am a Goddess of Life, I don’t make judgements, I don’t decide fates. I help people grow. I want to help you, please don’t do this.”

The horned goddess scoffed and swept a hand in front of her dismissively. "You don't decide fates because you are weak. Naive. Trusting." she debated with resurging irritation. Golden pupils fixated on Oraelia as Neiya began to drift closer despite her previous attempted escape. "Mortals walk over each other, steal each others' things, and break hearts without a thought. They will do the same to us if allowed. You think I can change? You are blind to why I am this way." Her voice had changed to a sharp and hostile tone, wholly unsuited to her form; but very reminiscent of their previous encounter.

Oraelia looked away from Neiya’s gaze, her posture becoming tense- small. She knew she was naive but… Was she really… Weak? Perhaps she was. Perhaps she had always been. She just tried to help people… Of course she was trusting. One had to be if the world were to become a better place. Golden tears pooled in her eyes as she turned to look at Neiya with reluctance. ”Perhaps I am blind.” she whispered. ”But as blind as I am, I can still see that you are wrong. You look at mortals and see them for all the bad they can be, and you neglect everything about them that makes them good. You do this to yourself Neiya! Because you are afraid. Afraid to feel any different.”

A guttural vocalization akin to a growl rumbled up from the hostile love goddess, and she sprung forward through the sky like a pouncing Leon, arms outstretched as she reached straight for Oraelia in her sudden charge. Her tactics certainly hadn't improved since last time. "I'll show you afraid, cur! You think I want this?! I hate it! I hate them! I hate you!" she shouted angrily as she dove forward, gripping the Sun Goddess’ arms firmly. Oraelia let out a gasp. Why hadn’t she moved? She could have. The realization stark in her mind, but fear had consumed her and now she was in Neiya’s grasp. Without delay, Neiya's eyes turned black and released the torrent of her experiences through their shared contact. Like before, the flood of negative emotions was all powerful and like a dark whirlpool, Oraelia’s light began to fade down it’s crushing despair. She could do nothing. For she was nothing. Neiya was right.

She was weak.

Why was she so weak?

She saw the mortals she had tried to help, flooded with sorrow, heartbreak, lust, and sin. So much sin. Maybe Neiya was right. Maybe mortals never cared. Maybe they couldn’t care. Maybe they had fallen into their own vices because they never knew anything else. Maybe… Maybe life was just some big joke.

Her vision began to fade, eyes going dim, yet she looked upon Neiya’s face and all she felt was pity. Why did Neiya make her feel this way? Why did she inflict such emotions on her? Why did she want to hurt her again? Why couldn’t she just see there was another way?

Why couldn’t she just be love!

Oraelia gasped.

She had been wrong. She had judged Neiya the moment she had entered her realm. For all she ever wanted Neiya to be, was what she had viewed her as, that fateful day in Antiquity. No, that glimpse upon her birth. Oraelia had wanted her to be as she had thought her as, a good and true Goddess of Love and she had wanted to change her to be like that. To be like… Herself.

No matter how much she wanted that to be reality, it wasn’t. She had been a fool.

How could she Judge her?

It wasn’t her place, she was the Goddess of Life. She was meant to… She was meant to watch her life be abused, twisted, broken? She was meant to watch growth and love shatter, murdered, defiled? Was she really letting herself be abused by Neiya again? Like she had abused Gibbou and countless mortals? Her Aiviri?

Was this her life? Was she so weak and powerless to stop cruelty and crimes against it?

No…

It was her right to Judge.

Her eyes bloomed into yellow suns. Clarity washing away the fog of despair. Oraelia grasped Neiya’s arms with her own, her eyes staring deep into her soul as her face relaxed. Then her form began to change. Her golden hair was leached of it’s luminous color, becoming black as the abyss. No longer running down the length of her back, but ending in curls around her shoulders. Her face became impassive, uncaring. Like a stark reflection of Neiya herself. Her eyes retained the same golden color but the kindness that was so often seen inside was replaced with scrutiny. Even her clothes changed, to that of a simple black dress, cut deep in the middle to reveal a tattoo of gold, the same color and glow as her eyes. The pattern faintly resembled a heart with wings, like a constellation, and spread along her arms and legs but stopped upon her chest and rose no further.

She was reborn.

A better fit for the world.

She opened her mouth to speak and her voice reflected that of her form, cold but bitter. ”You are not the only one who suffers. Let me show you my pain.”

She began to pour her own emotions and memories into Neiya. Starting upon the very first day she had seen life taken from the world. Before any had been born but the sun and moon. It had almost been unbearable. Then the memories shifted to the tornadoes in her prairie and the devastation they wrought. Then to the Aberrant and her guilt, her failure. Then it jumped to her being ripped out of the world, Lucia’s crying face the last thing she saw. Then to an eerie reflection of Neiya doing the same as she was doing now and how deep it cut her, how long she had anguished in that misery. Then she showed her the pain of Genesis dying and the years of denial. There was a brief flash of all-consuming joy, but it was quickly repressed. To see Gibbou fall time and time again. To the very moment Neiya had grasped her again. Misdeeds and misery.

”Yet.” Oraelia stated, changing the chord of her emotions to that of love and happiness. She was brushing Genesis’ hair, playing games, watching her grow. Hugging Gibbou, being proud of her, doing anything for her. Seeing Lucia and Sanya, Neiya’s own creation, in a love that grew deeper everyday. Then Oraelia showed her mortal love. The small grasp of a newborn, a first kiss, the petting of a Joyf. Acceptance, happiness and joy. The bad was there, ever present, for without it, how could one appreciate what they had? The memories faded and reality swept back in.

”I‘ve learned to not let it consume me.” She finished but then continued, ”Unlike you, Neiya. You fail to realize that love is neither one side or the other, but both. Working together. Your judgment is not sound.”

Neiya, who had reacted with no more than a sharp breath and hostile staring at the grand change taking place before her at first, now stared in apparent awe at the reborn shape that was Oraelia's new form. Her eyes held a distant and morbid fascination with the sun goddess words and mannerisms, but first and foremost her gaze tinged with a serenity that had been rare for the goddess recently. Her rage was quelled almost instantly as pain and anguish was shared, and for a tranquil moment amidst Oraelia's resurgence, Neiya appeared taken with sorrow and sympathy. She had truly spoken her language. That changed with the shift in narrative. When pleasant memories rushed through her, that expression twisted to bewilderment and finally fear. Her irises returned to their golden shape, the dark swirl dying out as the Love Goddess relented in her own assault at last.

That initial bewilderment turned to a restless discomfort, as her sorrowful expression washed away in favour of a growing tension quickly turned to anxious worry, and finally fear. Her nails, which had dug into Oraelia’s arms, now released their grips, and Neiya squirmed to try and wrest free. ”N-No,” she cried fervently, shying away from Oraelia’s visions. ”Stop this! I’ve never-.. It’s a lie! An oasis in the desert! Life cannot be like this-... I didn’t choose this!”

Oraelia did not let go of her. She tilted her head, never moving her gaze away from Neiya’s. ”A lie? No, Neiya. Even an oasis can be found by those who are lost. I realize now that life is a struggle. They crawl over one another, those mortals you hate, striving for greatness and falling time and time again. Most never rise. But those that do, those that endure the hardships, that find their oasis, they thrive. They grow.” Oraelia breathed, releasing Neiya from her grip and then touched a slender hand to her cheek. She used her finger to rub under Neiya’s eye. It was as if Oraelia was searching for something, so fixated was her eyes upon Neiya. She then spoke again, ”The only thing they get to choose is whether or not they keep pushing forward. That’s how the world works. Now you must choose, because no one can help you unless you first help yourself. This, is the judgment you sought.”

Neiya breathed unevenly, her eyes welling up with shimmering dark tears. Her features contracted into an unsteady frown, the Love Goddess doing her best to keep her usual haughty demeanour in the face of an onslaught of repressed emotions, doubts and fears. "All I wanted was peace and quiet," she admitted in a subdued moment of serenity. "Every voice is a creature in pain. A voice unable to make itself heard. But I hear them."

Oraelia said nothing, her eyes growing soft. Instead, she moved her hand to the back of Neiya’s head, and pulled her into an embrace upon her chest. She then used her other hand to wrap the Love Goddess in a squeeze of warmth. She then spoke in a more relaxed voice ”I know.”

The horned goddess remained placid in the embrace, golden eyes closing as she was simply held. A few moments later, she quivered gently in Oraelia's hold, and released a few silent sobs. For a long time, she seemed to simply linger, silently crying in another's embrace. Her form acted reactively to her mood, and her skin slowly twisted pale, while black horns began to sprout from her form. The goddess slowly shifted back to her traditional form, pale and sorrow-tinted.

When Neiya spoke, it was sullen and guarded. Still it appeared to be a request, if only because her tone wasn't demanding. "Show me."

There came a soft breath from Oraelia, and a warm finger found its way to Neiya’s cheek again. The moment they touched, Oraelia showed her memories she was ashamed of, that she tried to repress and forget. It all started with a simple berry. Vivid in color, joyous in taste and destructive. She ate them to forget the pain, to forget her life and her purpose. All she wanted to do was be happy. That’s all. No more pain. The memories shifted to what she did. Giving the humans of the highlands eternal fields of food, failing to see what grew within them. To arm monsters who destroyed her city with a weapon and even giving a Neiyari tools he could use to live forever. The reasons were there, induced by a sense of wanting to do right. Having to help, no matter the cost. Needing to be useful. She had caused so much pain.

The memories faded away.

”I know…” Oraelia repeated with a solemn tone in her voice. It was enough to make Neiya return the embrace properly, the horned goddess exhaling sharply. Oraelia made no sound, but returned the embrace all the same.

Neiya breathed a forlorn and deep breath, as if to steel herself for what was to come. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I… It just… everything happened so fast, it was… I had to try. I… I think I'm broken, Oraelia. Being in charge feels so good. So easy. As.. as long as I don't think about it."

”It’s alright, Neiya. I forgave you.” She paused, then asked, ”Can I show you something?”

There was quiet for a time, a weird tranquility amidst the raging torrent above and the strange calls of animals in the realm below. Eventually Neiya simply nodded against Oraelia's form, remaining in the embrace.

There was a flash of light and the two found themselves in another memory. One that Oraelia held close in the days of her youth. The Sun Goddess stood before humans, mourning the dead. A baby cried and she asked to see what they had seen. A simple touch, no more, no less. It rocketed them to the past, there beside the river.

A whirlpool formed.

Something, no- Someone rose from the water.

For a brief second, there she was. Neiya.

But it was not the Neiya any would know. For that Neiya existed for the briefest of moments, untouched and unrefined. Her form was simply that of a young woman, shouldered with impossible burdens. Before the pain came. So visible across her face and from the maelstrom of emotion that followed.

Oraelia’s voice ushered in a calming aura as the memory played out further. ”I latched myself onto that form of you. That perception I had fabricated in my head was of Love and how I thought it should be. I stared at the other side, right in the face, and I could not comprehend it at the time. I wanted you to be as I wanted you to be. But that was wrong of me, I see that now.” The memory began to fade away, turning the land white before reality ushered forth. Oraelia talked more, stroking the back of Neiya’s head with gentle fingers. ”Being in charge is difficult, even for a god. Even if it feels good, we often lose ourselves. But I can say with confidence, you are not broken. Lost, perhaps. Still trying to find your way. Like I am. Like many of us are.” She paused as if in thought. ”I want you to know that I believe she still exists somewhere deep down, Neiya. But I won’t change you, for that is a decision you will have to make for yourself. All I ask right now, is we stop our fighting. Please… No one needs to get hurt anymore.” Oraelia finished in a murmur.

What Neiya thought of the vision she didn't seem keen to share, simply remaining under Oraelia's vigil. Coaxed into a response by the life goddess' words, she offered a simple commitment. "...Okay." For a time that was all she wished to say, until guilt, restlessness or doubt pushed her to elaborate. "I'd like to try."

Oraelia let out a soft sigh, her embrace growing warmer as she rested her cheek upon Neiya’s forehead. There was more silence between the two, but unlike before, it was blissful. ”Thank you.” Oraelia at last said. ”That would make me very happy, Neiya. Yet... There is… There is one thing I think that needs to be done this day as well. What I did to the Neiyari… I’m sorry. Had I known what Rhiona was planning I would have stopped her and as such, it welcomed a challenge. Even now I can feel it spreading… So I ask you, Neiya- Might we forgive our curses as a start?”

The horned goddess opened her eyes to look up at Oraelia, the ordinarily tall love goddess seeming to shrink as they drifted in the sky. A glittering in her eyes remained, emotion raw and thoughtful in her gaze as she pondered Oraelia's words; even now a wounded kernel of doubt lingered in every mannerism. A built in fear of being betrayed worn plainly on her sleeve. "You will allow the Neiyari to flower again? Even though you hate them?"

Oraelia tilted her head as she looked at Neiya in return. The Goddess then resumed her caressing of Neiya’s hair and spoke, ”Oh Neiya… I don’t think I ever truly hated them. I was distraught upon their birth but…” Her voice seemed to die a little before resuming, ”Even they can change, I think. If they are shown a better way. Both the Oraeliari and Neiyari are… Incomplete. You know this as well as I. They function as they are but they could be so much more. Dooming the Neiyari would destroy any chance of seeing that future. So yes, I will allow them to flower again. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me and the Oraeliari.”

Neiya raised her gaze to search for Oraelia's eyes, her own burning with a morose guilt. The pacified love goddess breathed sharply, as if trying to escape the tension of decision and responsibility. Still, Oraelia’s words seemed to pace the way for even the most self-centered of goddesses to acquiesce. "...Yes. I can… I mean, I do. I forgive you." Neiya raised her own hand and placed it against the changed life goddess' chest. It was another flush of emotion, of guilt and pain, but considerably more reserved and contemplative than any previous assault. Around them, a melody woven into the storm of the vortex in the sky seemed to dissipate and dissolve, quietly fading into oblivion. The Sorrowsong vanished, withdrawn from reality.

Oraelia closed her eyes at the touch, a small smile forming on her lips. She took a deep breath and then looked at Neiya again. ”Thank you… It is done.” She then looked around the sky and gave a small, but peaceful sigh. ”I always thought your realm was beautiful, in its own way.” Her gaze lingered on the multitude of beasts so far below before she looked back at Neiya, cupping on her hands to the Love Goddess’ cheek. ”It’s not my place to say what goes on within another’s realm but… Perhaps you should give them a chance to choose their own fates?” she cooed.

Neiya seemed to consider the words and her gaze fell briefly, the sensations passed on to Oraelia mingling with a primal, petty shame. "I've never been pleased with it. Nothing is like what we left." She murmured sullenly, glancing down towards the ground below herself. "I've never created anything of my own before. Even these… were a mistake."

With a gentle pull, Oraelia brought Neiya’s face back to her. ”The only mistakes we make are ones where we don’t try hard enough. When we give up.” She gave another small smile and then took Neiya’s hand within her own, causing the love goddess to widen her eyes in passive alarm. ”Come. I will help you.” And Oraelia began to guide her down. Neiya breathed unevenly, following Oraelia like an uncertain visitor in her own home, gaze fixed on the goddess.

Below, animals that had gathered began to scatter as the shapes in the sky grew closer. The bipedal creatures were horned women in the colors of the rainbow, pale imitations of their creator. Hounds of shadow slinked back into the crevasses of the jagged landscape. They appeared to fear the mere presence of the divine, perhaps not without cause. The two Goddess touched down on a flat rock that overlooked the horned women. Oraelia gave Neiya’s hand a squeeze as she stood next to her. ”How and why they came to be does not matter now. What does matter is how their future might look. It can be shaped and added to. I suggest… For a start… Give them the gift of intelligence?” she asked in a soothing, but reassuring voice.

Neiya peered at the life goddess as though she had suggested something truly new and riveting, her gaze soon twisting to regard the scattering creatures. She closed her raw eyes, drawing a long and heavy breath. As she exhaled, an eldritch whisper carried on the wind, imperceptible to all but the divine. A call to awaken and ascend, setting alight a thousand minds at once. All about the jagged landscape, something slowly changed in the bipedal creatures, a renewed and deliberative caution with which to perceive the world. Question and curiosity.

Oraelia watched with humble curiosity. ”Very good Neiya. You see? You created them all by yourself. Take pride in that accomplishment.” She spoke in a whisper.

Neiya glanced back to Oraelia, her expression of doubt and guilt growing to a taut, thin frown. She turned back towards the landscape and lifted her free hand. From her fingertips coiled ripples of divine power, dusting the landscape and coating the newly awakened creatures. One by one, their eyes brightened and produced the same soft glow as Neiya's own, hiding their pupils behind red, blue, yellow or green. It seemed to have an immediate effect on them, as the horned creatures seemed to panic and view their surroundings with renewed fascination in equal measure. "...Something to help them choose… she justified morosely. A few among the creatures appeared to approach the two, kneeling and offering their implicit worship.

”Ah, I see.” Oraelia mused. She then did the same as Neiya, raising her free hand and waving it over them. The power that shot forth rippled and pulsed, entering their hearts by unseen currents. Most stood taller, their postures reflecting the change. ”Something to help them act.” Oraelia said. ”I hope you won’t mind.” she turned to Neiya.

Neiya watched the change unfold in her creations, then turned to regard Oraelia. "...No, I don't mind." Her hand moved to touch the life goddess' cheek as she turned halfway to face her, demanding but without the threatening imposition she usually carried herself with. "You truly believe all things can change, don't you?"

Oraelia pressed herself into the touch and stifled a breath. ”For better or for worse… Yes.” she confided. ”I do.”

For but a moment the horned goddess appeared to smile, brief and hard to see but still a genuine reaction to the words. Neiya leaned forwards towards the new and altered Oraelia, gaze falling over her form in tempered curiosity. Finally, her scrutiny fell on the sun goddess' face, as she leaned in to touch her own forehead against Oraelia's. "...Naive." she muttered softly.

Oraelia’s lips turned into a smile. In that new form, it was rather mischievous and knowing. She closed her eyes and took in the moment between them, arms and hands wrapping around the love goddess to embrace her once more. ”I know.” She breathed at last.

Neiya remained motionless for a long time, simply watching the life goddess. Her eyes roiled with purpose, golden flashes in their irises sparking like small eruptions of flame. Eventually she sighed a quiet "You should go."

Oraelia hesitantly pulled away, her smile fading. Doubt crossed her face but she nodded. ”It was… Good to see you Neiya. If you need me, please, don’t be a stranger.” Oraelia gave another nod, then walked past her, lingering for a moment by her side before continuing on. The portal was in view and as she walked, the creatures and beings of Neiya’s realm parted. As she arrived at the portal, Oraelia turned around to gaze upon Neiya again, and found the pale goddess watching her wistfully from afar. She almost raised her hand, but stopped, then stepped through leaving the realm of sorrow behind.

Unbeknownst to her, her departure inspired the same in several curious young horned creatures, eager to see what the world had to offer.




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Hidden 8 days ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Carn

&
Brundt




The walls were in a sorry state.

The archers and most of the mages had been standing directly on top of the section that Aurielle had brought down. Most of them were now dead, their bodies buried under rubble in the breach. The others were hiding behind cover, terrified that the enemy still had another spell up their sleeve.

But the breach was not undefended. Grim-faced infantry were already climbing the rubble to take positions in the narrow gap. A few mages were among them, who for some reason or another had not been on the wall. As Carn and his army approached, they raised their hands, and shot a torrent of flame at the spearhead of Carn’s assault.

Memories of his burning home flashed before his eyes. Instinctively he stopped and turned away, fully expecting to be incinerated. The flames washed over the back of his cloak, but he felt no pain. Then he heard the screaming, and he realized his men had not been so lucky.

When the screaming stopped, the flames faded away, and Carn rose to his feet. He was unharmed, but the reddened and blackened corpses of his best men lay surrounded him. The assault had stalled, with most of his men having stopped in their tracks. Others had gone all the way forward, only to flatten them against the wall and out of the mages’ line of sight. Emboldened, the archers on the wall emerged from cover to begin loosing arrows, and more of Carn’s men began to fall.

Carn raised his sword to draw the attention of his warriors. When they saw that he was unharmed, a few even gasped in surprise. An arrow flew past his head, but he didn’t even flinch. Instead, he turned and pointed his blade at the breach. “Forward!” he shouted once again.

As Aurielle’s magic ravaged the defenders, Carn’s host surged forward. They arrived just at the foot of the breach itself, and began the climb, with Carn at the head. Then they neared the top, and the defenders began to strike downward with their spears and swords.

With one hand maintaining a precarious grip on the ruined stone, Carn parried a thrust from a spear before driving his blade into his foe’s groin. The man fell back screaming, and Carn hauled himself upward, lashing out in a wide arc with his blade to drive his enemies back as he rose to his feet. But they rallied quickly, and were soon upon him. Luckily his ring and his innate gift for swordsmanship were more than enough to defend himself, his hands and weapon a blur as he deftly blocked and parried each attack, occasionally delivering a riposte to wound a vulnerable opponent or cleave their weapon in two.

The distraction he posed allowed the men behind him to find their own footings, and with reinforcements on his flanks Carn could now go on the offensive. He began to advance forward, slashing throats and bellies; cutting through spears, shields, swords, and armour to do so. Once more, his blade and his hands were slick with blood.

If Carn wasn’t there, the fight would have been a bloody stalemate, grinding on for ages until one side finally broke. But he was there, and there wasn’t a single man or woman in this breach who could possibly stand against him. A figure in bronze armour lunged at him - probably the commander of this fiasco - and Carn effortlessly parried his strike before removing his head at the neck.

That was enough to break the defenders. They turned tail and fled. With a grin, Carn strode forward, sliding down the other end of the breach and into the city itself. The bodies of mages and archers who had been slain by the magical assault were sprawled around him, their skin charred by the blast and their limbs twisted by the fall. He would need to thank her for that later. But right now, they were in the city, and it was time to press forward to the castle.

Then his smile faltered. Where was his brother?

“They’ve got reinforcements!” Yarwick shouted, appearing beside him and pointing. A fresh host of militia appeared around a corner and came charging to meet them. At their head was a group of priests wearing armoured robes, one of whom had been with Brundt during the parley. Carn flourished his blade and called for his men to form up.



Brundt had never run faster in his life.

He had gathered as many men as were stationed at the garrison and set out, cursing quietly to himself. On the way he encountered individual groups of militia, and one unit of houseguards, who had formed up in response to the chaos, but were proceeding toward the wall with far less alacrity. Brundt’s shouts were enough to remedy that, and soon he had a small army in its own right at his back.

Then he came upon a group of soldiers who weren’t running toward the fighting, but away from it. Upon seeing him, they stopped in their tracks.

“They… they destroyed the walls!” one of the soldiers informed him. “They’ve taken the breach! We can’t kill them!”

“Nonsense,” Gelos interjected.

“Fall in,” Brundt ordered. “We’re taking it back.”

The soldier paled slightly, but nodded.



Carn twisted, sending a vicious cut across a militiaman’s face, who fell back to be replaced by the priest who led them. The armoured priest swung at him with a blade, and Carn brought his own weapon up to block, only to be surprised by the sheer amount of force behind the blow, which threatened to throw him off balance.

Then he saw it: a silver ring on the priest’s finger, with a glowing ruby. It was not unlike his own sapphire ring, and somehow he instinctively knew: this was what the source of the strange pull he had felt toward the city.

Carn brought his knee up into the priest’s groin, before lowering his blade and swinging it upward, severing the priest’s hand at the wrist. The priest was falling back now, into the arms of one of his acolytes who began dragging him away. Cries of alarm began to ring out among the militia, who began to break once they realized their leader had fallen.

This was almost too easy.

He cast his gaze down to the priest’s severed hand, and knelt to pluck the ring from the finger, before sliding it onto his own. A sensation of power surged through him, and he felt stronger.

There was not much time to dwell on it, however. They had beaten back the second wave of defenders, but more would soon follow. Carn ordered his men to advance a few paces, clearing up more space for the warriors behind him to enter the city, and allowing those who had already seen combat to catch their breath. Now that they were past the meatgrinder that was the breach, they were taking light losses.

He glanced back at the breach behind him. Where was Aurielle? He had expected her to have caught up by now. It wasn’t like her to hang back in a situation like this. For a moment, he wondered if he should feel concerned.

Then a battlecry could be heard as the third wave arrived, this one headed a tall, scarred, armoured figure with a shield in one hand and a hammer in the other.

His brother had arrived.



The two met each other’s eyes, and they both hesitated. Their men, however, did not, and the two armies surged forward to meet each other in a clash of bronze and copper. Carn did not know which one of them snapped out of it first, but soon they were both pushing past their men toward the frontline.

Brundt made it there first, likely due to his superior size and strength, and swung his hammer. The head practically disintegrated under the sheer power of the swing, spraying blood and bone across friend and foe alike. Another swing shattered a warrior’s shield, as well as the arm that carried it.

Brundt had never killed anybody before today. It gave him pause, but only for a moment. His thoughts drifted back to Thyma, on that fateful night all those years ago. He thought of the massacre that happened to his people, and then imagined that happening on a scale as large as Ketrefa. It could not be repeated. He would fight to prevent it. Another man charged at him, but Brundt lashed out with the edge of his shield and knocked the man’s head clean off.

Carn hesitated. He recalled Brundt’s unnatural strength, and realized that his younger brother had only become more powerful over the years. But Carn had gifts of his own, and was bolstered by artifacts he had collected or received from the gods. It would have to be enough. So, he pressed forward.

Then, the way before Brundt was clear - Carn’s men no longer being willing to challenge him - and the two brothers came face to face.

“You must surrender,” Brundt said, his voice barely audible over the roar of the battle.

“I could say the same to you,” came Carn’s retort.

Brundt rushed forward with hammer in hand. Carn sidestepped the charge and did a pirouette, swinging his sword across Brundt’s waist. The divine blade sheared through the metal, but surprisingly only seemed to score a glancing cut in the flesh itself.

Brundt turned and stepped toward him, swinging his hammer at the shorter man. Carn backstepped it easily enough, and as Brundt overextended himself, he stepped into Brundt’s range and smashed the crossguard of the sword into Brundt’s nose. Brundt barely even flinched. Casting his shield aside, he seized Carn by the throat, and lifted him off the ground.

But Carn was not unarmed. He drew back his sword and thrust it at Brundt’s chest, puncturing the bronze again, only to be blocked by one of Brundt’s ribs, which was somehow just as durable as the sword itself.

Then Brundt dropped him, before lowering his now free hand to the sword still embedded in his chest, and pulled it free. “Stand… down…” he demanded, now holding Carn’s weapon as well as his own.

For a moment, Carn almost wanted to accept. Perhaps Brundt would show mercy on him after all. Perhaps his army might be allowed to flee…

No.

He had fought many battles over the years, and not once had he surrendered. He had retreated, but he had never surrendered. His men had come all this way, leaving their homes and families behind, and if he simply gave up, all their efforts and sacrifices would be for nothing. That was something Titania and Lothar had been too weak to see, when they criticized his decisions and questioned his methods. He looked at his sword, and noted that Brundt was still holding it by the blade…

Slowly, he rose to his feet, his hands raised as if he was going to suggest the offer. Then with a sudden movement, he seized the edge of his cape and lashed out, the fabric striking Brundt in the face, while his other hand reached forward and grabbed the sword. Having taken the larger man by surprise, Carn was able to wrest the weapon back before Brundt’s grip could be reasserted.

It was then that one of Carn’s men had decided to offer his aid, diving forward and tackling Brundt. The two fell to the ground, but the unknown warrior was not on top of Brundt for long, and was pushed off relatively easily. That gave Carn enough time to raise his blade and swing it downward…

...only for Gelos to step between Carn and Brundt, his own weapon raised. Carn’s sword sliced through Gelos’s bronze blade with ease, before cutting deep between shoulder and neck. The bodyguard stared up at him, before the broken hilt slipped from his grip and he slumped to the ground.

“NO!” Brundt shouted, leaping to his feet and charging forward. His arms closed around Carn’s waist, and he picked the smaller man up, charging deep into the Ketrefan ranks (his soldiers narrowly stepping aside) before unceremoniously throwing Carn to the ground. Carn felt his spine break under the impact. For a split second, agony coursed throughout his body, then he felt nothing.

Carn’s men surged forward in an attempt to rescue him, but the Ketrefans closed ranks again, and they could not reach the two brothers, one of whom now stood victorious over the other.

Brundt rose to his feet, looked down upon his brother, and realized what he had done. His rage over Gelos’s death dulled. For a moment, and not for the first time, he wondered why. Why had it happened this way? Why was any of this necessary? If the gods believed one side or the other to be in the wrong, why send mortals to kill each other? Why not just tell one side to change, or find some other solution!?

But now was not the time for such philosophical queries. A battle raged around him, and for as long as it continued to rage, his men continued to die. “I’m sorry it came to this,” Brundt said, bringing his hammer down.

But just before it could impact Carn’s head, his body vanished, as did the sword embedded in Gelos’s chest



With both Carn and Brundt away from the main fight, the battle had become a war of attrition. One that the attackers were in no position to win, with more reinforcements arriving every minute. To make matters worse, Carn’s absence had been noted, and his men assumed he had been killed or captured.

Morale began to plummet. Yarwick attempted to rally them, only to fall as three militiamen came at him at once. Ingrid had just finished climbing the breach when she saw Yarwick go down, and in that moment she was struck by an arrow. Then Brundt himself returned to the fray, and finally, the attackers broke. They turned and fled, desperately attempting to climb the breach and flee the way they came, with some even going so far as to pull their own comrades down in order to get ahead.

Others were more sensible, and threw down their weapons. Brundt’s men surged past those who had done so, and began to butcher the ones who had fled with a savage fury.

As for Brundt himself, he watched this with an air of detached dispassion. He had won the day, but this didn’t feel like a victory. He glanced up at the sky with narrowed eyes, and wondered who was peering back.



Pain.

That was what Carn felt.

But at least it was feeling. He hadn’t felt anything a few moments ago.

Brundt wasn’t standing over him either. And the sky, inexplicably cloudy, was suddenly clear. But… was it always that blue?

He moved his arm, and felt his hands brush against sand. Sand… why was there sand? He was on a city street. He sat up, feeling a dull ache shoot throughout his body, but at the same time was relieved - he hadn’t been able to move at all previously. Then he realized he was no longer in Ketrefa.

A white haired figure stood over him. One who looked… a lot like him.

“Father?”








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Hidden 8 days ago 7 days ago Post by yoshua171
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yoshua171 The Loremaster

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Theme
Eight Hundred Years Ago
The Age of Absence


Many generations had passed since the disappearance of the Gods. Many mortals had been born and lived and laughed, and died. In that time, though in other places the divine revealed to Galbar that they were not wholly gone, men and mer began to forget--if only on Khesyr’s soil. However, some could not, it was not their nature--they had been made with knowledge innate, their purpose clear. Yet still, these mortals were flawed, and so they were sure to err. This is where their story began.



Atop a spire of great height, a towering mountain, thinner than the rest, a gathering of disturbances perturbed the air. With a voice somewhere between humming and the howling buzz of electrified stormwind, one spoke. “They are godless,” she professed, distressed.

A sphere of coiled lightning and warping air bobbed in response, “What would they have us do?” The words were like bolts of electrified light striking the earth, their sound sharp, though strangely subdued in volume.

Two other such roiling spheres of coalesced electricity and essence seemed to shift towards eachother. The air rose then fell, as if to suggest a shrug. The elder sphere, her voice ever resembling quiet lightning, sighed.

“Do not despair,” the fifth among them said, and his voice filled with hope and courage. It was warm and commanding, such was Thiriel’s way.

“They have not abandoned us in truth, they cannot have,” Thiriel said.

“And yet...nothing. Not a peep, these last four hundred years…” said the eldest, Kyrinea, her voice always lightning’s lash.

Thiriel remained, his essence calm, the atmosphere about him still where others coiled and twisted with agitation.

Nardelith spoke again, angry...distraught. He knew she felt abandoned by their god. “Enmity has not given us directives. He has vanished...and the others, they paid us little mind before. Now we are separated from our kin. In a strange land. I cannot feel their presence here as I thought I could before.”

Kyrinea bobbed where she floated in the air, her voice somehow as contemplative as it was striking. “It is so. Yet what would keep them from us, I must wonder….”

“I don’t see the problem,” Nasterin said, his voice like wind flittering through trees, filled with the sputtering crackle of electric leaves.

“We are freer without them,” the twin Gravitational--Lareiatus--added, its voice like birds. Sing-song, carefree. It was more like the wind than the rest.

Ah, they were so young, Thiriel thought, shifting where he hovered in the air, turning to regard them. “No. To forget them is to invite their wrath. They remain. I know this.”

“How can you?!” Demanded Nardelith, clearly incensed by his sureness in these uncertain times. She always was the most passionate among them. He admired that.

“Simple,” he said, a smile in his tone. He swept out his Presence, casting dust and pebbles into the air. “I have a plan.”

Curious, the twins piped up, “What is it!?”

Thiriel chuckled and the gathered detritus spread out before them.

“We will build for them a people. We will ensure they’ll be remembered, even if not by name.”

Nasterin’s visage warped from sphere to ovoid, as if he were confused. Larei vibrated, his curiosity spilling over. Kyrinea only hummed, letting out a gust of wind.

Nardelith, with curious suspicion--and a shred of hope--finally dared to ask. “What do you have in mind?”

Thiriel told them. It would be a glorious beginning. The gods would be remembered...and the Constant? They would spread its truth as their own divine decree.

That day, the Astajhita were born.

Their empire would soon follow.



Time passed and from outcasts and those who would listen that coalition of Enmity’s children gathered a people. With the passage of time--and through many trials--they proved to them the truth of their divinity. Through no easy mortal means could they be wounded or killed. They did not age, but perhaps most compelling was their divine influence. The world seemed to bend around them, moving according to their desires and further, their forms lent to them a certain credence. For though many men and mer walked Galbar’s soil, the people of that forming nation knew not of any who took such evocative, otherworldly forms.

Their people were a strange sort.

First came the Goblins, who were merely tolerated by others, often chased out as monstrous pests. They took to the Astajhita’s teachings quickly, their lifespans and thus short cultural memory swiftly adopting the new beliefs as the old passed, and the young grew up with the influence of those divine spheres. They held most closely to Vikaasah, the symbol of progress and growth. With its teaching, three tribes blended into one, interbreeding, their talents mixing, uniting them. Still, though their disagreements had all but vanished, they took to two of the Aspects of their newfound gods. For the shortness of their lives, so that they might live them well, and die with dignity, they chose Sumsaar. This Ideal, it spoke of morality and mortality; the impermanence of all things. To match it, mirroring the unpredictable and dangerous nature of the world as seen through their small and beady eyes, they revered Rahas. It was the Inconstancy of the World: Mysteries and enigmas, the unpredictable and strange. It was magic, the supernatural, the unexplained. For them, the world was all these things. With these ideologies to guide them, they took swiftly to their work.

With aid from the endless droves of Goblins as their population boomed, the Astajhita expanded their lands and with time attracted the notice of a pair of races. For, nearby did war two hordes, one who had long ago been human and another who bore the carapace of Artifex.

However, their kinds had been at war for far...far too long and even amongst them some had lost the will to fight. From these populations did the Astajhita gather favor. Those stormbound entities spoke to them of peace and in time did the voracious Iskrill, and their Vespian adversaries come into their fold. The latter took to defense, for though they hungered they knew that to know contentment, they must exercise restraint. So it was that the Iskrill took on the Freeing Vice of Passion: Aurhna.

Their once-enemies became hunters, where before they had been hunted, now they provided for the group. So sated were both their lust for carnage, and the boundless hunger of their historic foes. With time, they came to revere the ideal of Virya, that which was both the Warmth and Desperation of Life. It suited them.

Finally their lands and influence spread far enough--their various populations thriving--that a certain quartet of species took notice. The Trolls. Lumbering behemoths, and the mischievous both took to harrying the outskirts of their lands. However, they were met with ample resistance by the peoples of what was coming to be called a nation.

Some few, more curious than hungry, sought to understand. These the Astajhita welcomed with open arms and much to share. With a share of food--and activities to occupy their strength--the various troll clans began to settle amongst their ranks. Becoming, by and large, builders the Dovregubb admired the Aspect of Ohm. In their agelessness, they thought it fitting to follow the Universal Constant, and indeed it served them and their creations. With their aid great works of architecture rose among the Astajhians and their prosperity blossomed anew.

Not to be outdone, the younger troll races adopted their own Aspects. The Ranglefants--middle child that they were--chose Sumsaar, as the Goblins had before them. In this way they supported the others, adding their strength to that of the Goblins. So together with their allies did their kind rise in standing amongst the peoples of the Empire. The others, the Draug and Askeladd tribes, took of Cittajra and Aditi respectively. To the Draug--who sought beauty in the world, as they could never have it themselves--Cittajra was perfect, for it was the Natural World and its Rhythms. From their ilk--Drighina and Draug both--the greatest songs and musicians were often born. Though they perhaps offended with their stench of rot and frightening appearance, the Astajhians valued them for their art. The Askeladd remained tricksters, but now with a twist for they had--with the guidance of the Astajhita--grown beyond their petty thievery and mischief instead turning their adroit minds to greater tasks. With Aditi, who represented the Emanations of Thought, they became scholars and philosophers. Their wit and well-worded insults became things of beauty. With time and cultural intermingling they settled further into their roles, sometimes becoming diplomats or even mathematicians.

Then, though gradually, their borders ceased expanding and instead stabilized. Some few would harry or contest them, but with such monstrousness at their disposal--and the many talents of those people--enemies were soon discouraged from further conflict. Still, nothing in this world is perfect and though the Astajhita claimed divinity, they were indeed as flawed as any group of mortals. Insidious, the seeds of power corrupted them, and in that corruption were things like jealousy and greed; manipulation and deceit. Where before they had sought only to give the people unity, spread the teachings of the Gods--if not directly--and to serve their god-given purpose now they began to be twisted by the lives they had led.

Though slow and subtle, this insidious corruption did not stop with them. Patiently it crept unnoticed into the hearts and minds of the other mortals they’d misled. So that, where once there had been unity and mutual satisfaction the seeds of division and hate began to gradually resurge.

As the unseen plague spread among their people, weakening their hearts, the five began to notice. The fear that overtook them was great and they knew that this could not stand. So it was that the Astajhita were forced to actions which might mean calamity for them and those they had come to know as kin.

So, as they so rarely did, they descended from their place amongst the clouds--upon that ruined peak where they’d built their sullied crown--and moved amidst their people.

In awe at the gods among them, many were renewed, but some held only resentment and evil thoughts in their heart. To these did they speak, and their words were not unkind, though held within them was a threat.

“What resides within you cannot stand and you have my sympathy, for you are of my cherished mortals,” Narterin declared. Yet, he was not finished. “Banish these thoughts from your mind. Meditate upon them and find the path you know in your heart that you must walk.”

Beside him, wreathed in a twisting shroud of leaves, the air warping with her presence--crackling like fire--Nardelith spoke up.

“Know, that if you--or those like you--cannot do this, that we will do what is necessary to free our people of this plight.” She shifted, as if turning to the crowd. The electrified veil about her form flared into flames, as her lightning Presence touched it, and so it became ash.

As before, there was steel in her voice. “Spread the word, and know that the Path to Ascension is drought with maladies such as this. If you cannot weather it, you are not worthy of us and we will not bear your weight unto that far off peak.”

A flash of lightning struck behind her, but the whirling orb of her dervish form stirred not at all. The bolt had scorched the earth around her, leaving their god untouched.

With the words said, all but one turned and retreated with a regalness about them, heading for their mountain home.

Thiriel remained. While the others had taken up some magics or other such works of sorcery, he who had been the fifth had flown a different path. A sigh of wind left him, his Presence a coruscating pulse of sparks and metal, held together by his Will. Though lesser than some, he was a Dreamwalker, a singer of the Worldsong, but most impressively he was a Willcaster. Oh so few had been granted such a power, and though his gifts were galbarian in make, they were so rare as to seem divine.

He spoke, and his words rang out with a thunderous rhythm. He moved, and his Presence split apart, metal scales thrusting out into the crowd. They did not touch flesh, but they shredded hair and pierced clothing as they passed. The electricity left burns upon the ground, and each was a glyph.

“Know ye this, Chosen of the Five; Purveyors of the Eight.” It was a deep and thrumming tone, weaving through many notes, musical in its timbre--expert in its expression.

“Our love holds without condition, expansive and all-consuming in its nature. So too is our wrath, though it seldom shows its face,” Thiriel paused, there were gasps and hisses in the crowd, from those who had been scored, but moreso from the many who had looked down and seen the stones upon which symbols had been scored. The crowd parted, hoping to take in the entire thing, but failing in the end.

Thiriel sang, “Do not be the one who wakes it; be the song that lets it sleep!”

He shifted, warping in the air, then in a flash of burning essence and thrashing, heated metal--he was gone. The air shimmered where surely he had passed on his way up to the mountain.


Two Decades Ago


So it was that over four hundred more years passed. In that time the Astajhita cast off their creator’s name, taking on the one they had themselves chosen. They became wizened in their own way, weathered by the many centuries that had passed, by the trials of their people and, indeed, of leadership as well. Days before a new problem had gained their notice.

The Vespa were in revolt. In ages past they had fought their own kind at the behest of their chosen gods, but now they contested their rule. The Path to Ascension, and the promises it held, was no longer enough to ease the minds of the people. Each of the Five knew this, and in turn, Thiriel--perhaps the most cunning among them--remembered well their oaths. Afterall, he had burned them upon the very stone of their central city.

Though their people had never properly come to understand its glyphs, the great courtyard had become a place of worship for many many years. What of it now? They people walked upon it, as if in subtle defiance of their will.

It galled them more than they would care to admit. However, as problems had come to them the week before, on this day did arrive an unexpected solution.



In the boundless maelstrom of thought and infinite expression that stretched the whole of the Endless Dream, threads of awareness were plucked. It was the subtle plea, and unspoken need of the Astajhita which tugged upon his mind. So it was, that in the chaos war of his essence a single Aspect of the Fourfold God, one of the Three, pressed its mind out into the World.



Summoned by its master, the Watcher Within coalesced upon the mountain’s summit, amidst the Astajhita’s central tower. Shocked to stillness, the mortals baped, the wind about them going still. All but one, Nardelith, who let herself fall to the ground, here spherical form compressed downwards as if kneeling before the presence of true divinity. In a rush, the other three dropped their Presences and mirrored the actions of their sister--who had always been most devout among them. All except one, Thiriel, who remained, meeting the eyeless prismatic gaze of Faireachan A-staigh.

“I am honored by your presence, Scion of the Dream. What is it you require?” His voice did not quiver, his metal scales did not quake. The lightning of his form was calm around him, though it sparked through the air--though as if in slow motion, accentuating the serenity of his mind.

The Watcher did not speak. Its dominion merely took hold of the Earth and Sky and Dream. It seemed for a moment that the very world had been sundered around them, but Thiriel watched--secretly in awe--as the Avatar of Dreams reshaped the world they knew. All shuddered, the earth groaned, there were cracks louder than the greatest roll of thunder, and then silence. Turning, the silhouette of prismatic moisture and divine illumination gestured towards the gate.

The others hesitated, but Thiriel--a growing trepidation in his heart--simply turned and strode out of the gate, heeding the Avatar’s suggestion. The others soon joined him, and what they saw outside stunned them beyond words or thought. All they felt was exultation and pure, unadulterated awe.

Where before the five towers of their home had sat upon the mountain, now it had risen--unshackled from the earth. Where they had used careful artifice--and an abundance of magics--to make it seem as if it had shattered long ago, now those false fissures and the stone within them sputtered and dissolved. Flashes of electric essence spilled from those gaping holes, binding the now levitating shards together and to the peak--though no longer by the connections of the stone. Instead, boiling rivers of pure blue energy spilled outwards from the towers, filling the spaces beside the Path. Gushing forth--and rushing inwards--the glowing light filled the windows and symbols of the spires, as if empowering the place.

The Avatar stood behind them and silently it placed a single bead of its essence upon them. They did not notice for the liquid soon entangled with their essences and vanished without a trace. Then, before any of them could thank him, the Watcher fled into the Subtle Weave and was gone without not a whisper.

Still, beyond their knowing, obscured from all perception, the Watcher did his duty, holding vigil from Within.



Though the change in their environs had little to do with their plight, it seemed to make all the difference. For now the people had seen--if from afar--the wrathful power of their chosen deities. Impossible to miss, the five towers rose from the great mountain. They were like a crown upon its peak. In time, they came to be known as Pa Śikhara.

In merely days did the word spread and soon many of the Vespa either slaked their bloodlust, or into the wilderness vanished--having fled. Emboldened, the Astajhita tightened further their rule and took to expansion once again, knowing. now that at least the Two-as-One held them in their favor.

They were not wholly incorrect in their assessment, and in a decade’s time, they would come to reap the rewards of such a thing.


Present Day


Though held fast within the Dreadmind’s sway, the Three ever sought their escape and--indeed--they knew how best to circumvent his perilous attention. So it was that through the churning surreality of the Endless Dream they cast forth some few shreds of their quintessence, knowing who would catch them. This done, they withdrew and--unaware of their actions--Mhaireann went about his horrid business.

At his behest, the Ròineagan fell to chaos, tainted by maddening intent. They wept for the loss of its beauty, but adjusted, knowing it would not last. Delighted by their pain, the Presence reigned them in further, extracting details from their essence, learning, and growing more powerful in the process. He knew what he must do.

The Presence cast his will down into Galbar and seized the simple forms of many serpents. They writhed beneath the grasp of his might, and with powers gained by those who’d reigned before him he unwove their essence from its shell. The solidity of those many serpents dissolved into mere Astral substance, mist-like and indistinct. It did not remain so for very long. With a deft hand, the Dread god drew together many instances of the animals--or at least the ideas that composed them--and ordained the fundamental pattern of their being. It was this pattern that he altered with care and dark intent. First he wove together many instances of form, so that where there had been twenty snakes, there remained only one of tremendous length and size. This process he repeated until a sufficient quantity had been wrought, and then upon these did he make his alterations.

Insidious as their jailor, Ѻs-fhìreach then struck, his vast intention and tractless fury shattering the focus of the Presence. Having broken their cage, the Aspect rose into prominence, but Mhaireann rebelled pushing against his dominion. So it was that the others emerged, entangling the serpent which to madness had succumbed.

With the monstrosity distracted, Ѻs-fhìreach reached out and poured power unto the serpents. Though they were nonetheless tainted by the Presence of Mhaireann, they would serve their purpose nonetheless. So it was that the scales of those Great Serpents formed anew, rippling from head to tail, each a glittering refractive crystal as dense as metal, as hard as stone. They shone beneath the rays of the sun, blinding from most angles, while from others they were entirely transparent. Beneath them the Dreaming God wove its blood into new form, rewriting its very essence so that it was prismatic in its hues. Thus, to look upon the Serpents one could not help but know their nature.

Working quickly, the Facet rewrote the creature’s mind, so that it could reflect upon its actions, and refract its behaviors to reform them. Though hardly sapient, it would adapt to the world around it with subtle intellect--if given time to do so. Moving on, he allowed Àicheil to take hold, falling back to wrestle with the Presence who pressed against their essence, fighting for control.

Whimsical, yet focused, Àicheil ran its fingers through the serpents and plucked the threads of their very essence, altering their needs. With borrowed power, the Eldritch Twin connected consciousness to stomach so that all it ate would be devoured in both mind and form so that the serpents might learn from any prey that they devoured.

Knowing it would soon be unseated, it took hold of its equal-opposite and pulled, thrusting itself instead into the fray. Neo-Àicheil flared to prominence, and it was filled with something familiar. It was emotion without reason or thought, it was bereft of any rationale at all. It was fury and passion; it was icy apathy and caring empathy all in equal measure. Most of all though, it was filled beyond brimming with a simmering hatred, and a boiling wrath that had not at all abated despite the passage of much time. Nonetheless, it moved to do its duty, drawing upon the remembered essence of its twin it cast forth.

“Enough!” Declared the tyrant, and its voice drove cracks into the realm, fracturing it like so much glass. The Three lost all but their most tenuous of holds, and were slammed back down into their prison. Beyond fury, beyond any simple emotion, the Presence cast a shadow upon the Worldweave, and smothered it. Like so many candles being snuffed, all light and feeling went out within the realm. It became a starless void, where motion could not be seen--only felt.

The Three shuddered in their cage. Mhaireann took no notice. Instead, he drew upon the power they had tapped and looked upon their creations. Imperious and cold, he let out an empty laugh.

“You would give beauty to the world. They do not deserve this order, but I will let you have it,” there was a mockery in its voice, but it was bereft of hatred or true malice. It was empty, but the threat implicit in its words was no less frightening.

Mhaireann’s black-eyed gaze opened, and rested then upon the Great Serpents who had been crafted by the Three. “They will remain, but only so you can watch them suffer,” that said, the Presence invoked the power of perception and entwined two nightmarish threads into their nature.

Like assassins in the night, the serpents could vanish from perception. Their scales would shift and act against the light, warping it around and through their forms. The only evidence of their presence would be the shadows that they cast, and even those would be indistinct. Second among his changes, he imbued a dreadful aura into them. Though the emotion would be weak, any who viewed the creatures would desire the materials that composed them.

The Three rattled their cage in defiance, furious at the madness of the Presence. Mhaireann only smiled, and it was like shattered glass in the darkness of that twisted void. Yet, quietly, while they fought against his hold, one amongst the Three fed upon the emotion of their host. Growing ever stronger and hiding it within.

Mhaireann remained, satisfied with his control, and turned to again depart. He had work to do, and in their realm he could not help but feel that the other Three were stronger.

How little he knew….




Awaiting the call of his masters, Faireachan drifted between minds, aware of all their contents and much else besides. Glimpses of the hero Fein, and the cursed Annhein were first in his attention, but following close behind were others. Serrah and his sister, the Saint of Whispers, after all they still walked the path, though they were aligned more with his long unseen companion: Faileasiar.

Another who had long since fallen from the forefront of his mind, a certain spherical mortal, suddenly came to mind. Curious, the Avatar focused its intent and cast out its awareness throughout the Subtle Weave. Swiftly, it found the cause.

Like falling stars, fragments of divine potency hurtled through the Wavelengths of the Dream, as if thrown from the Great Beyond. At once acting, the Watcher caught each within his droplets, and channeled the celestial strength of that potency through his form.

It empowered the avatar, driving him at once to purpose. In a blur faster than mortal thought, Faireachan A-staigh blazed from the Endless Dream and down from the heavens, splitting the twisting sky. The aurora of Galbar wove around him and was soon augmented with his borrowed might, which in a single instant struck out. With tremendous impact, and greater import, that potency fell upon a familiar mountain.

The rivers of coalesced essence that drifted and diffused outwards from the towers five suddenly became infused. Finally, after decades did it become what it had always meant to be. For opened within the central spire was an unseen Astral portal, from which essence spilled into the world. With this action, the Astral Font was born.

Still, he buzzed with the intensity of the power he’d been gifted, so he unleashed it upon those near. His form left behind, those droplets long ago entangled with the mortal souls of the Astajhita, suddenly burst anew, enforcing their authority within the mortals all at once.

Below, unseen by others in this world, they briefly lost cohesion and shuddered upon the stone floors of their towering home. All ‘cept one, who had long prepared for this possibility. His form remained tightly wound into a sphere, and those his Presence fell apart he remained composed. Impressed, and still full to bursting with the Divine Intentions of his master, the Watcher Within manifested fully within the mind of the fifth. He had come to be their leader, this Thiriel. Among them he was the strongest, surely, and the cleverest--which to the Watcher was far more important. He always planned ahead, and though corruption had touched him, the Avatar did not care terribly for such things.

So, with an effortlessness only possible with the favor of a divine, Faireachan named him Hero, elevating him above the rest.

Then, ever patient, the Watcher gave them time.

Minutes passed, then an hour, and eventually the other four arrived, now in proper forms. Each hovered above the stone, looking to their leader once more for guidance.

Thiriel spoke, but his voice was not his own, for the Watcher remained Within.

We are bestowed with divine favor. The Three and One have seen us and thought us worthy, the voice was no mortal thing. It wove and danced and sang, it shone and gave elation with its hymn. It was not a sound that could be contained or forgotten or dismissed. It struck at the soul, it strummed the mind like passion’s deepest kiss, like blackest hate, and depression’s coldest tryst. In it was the shattering of mountains, the falling of lightning much brighter than their world, and deeper still within it was something other in its vastness. It was infinite. Still deeper, was something that now seemed infinitesimally small. That last layer--if one could call it such a thing at all, was the sound of their leader’s mortal words.

All at once, Thiriel collapsed upon the marble of his home, finally unable to hold fast against the storm that was their god. Though he had no limbs, he clearly shook upon the ground. Above him, floating like so much moisture in the air, was revealed their patron.

The Watcher Within. The Dream Dancer. Faireachan A-staigh.

The others dipped to the ground as well, bowing as best they could with their simple forms.

The avatar did not speak, but instead communed directly with their minds.

‘Reflect upon your actions. Cast out illusions of the Self. Look upon the world and See what is before, unblemished by the falsehoods you have lived. This path, follow it to its end if you wish, but do not do without caution.’

The mistborne shape of his body shifted so that he looked down upon their leader.

‘Lead them true. Hold in your memory that you were the fifth. Know that others too can rise. Let them. Help them. They will thank you.’

Thiriel, utterly shaken by his experience, having learned just how truly insignificant he was, clung to the words like a drowning man, hoping not to die. They buoyed him, but he did not rise from the soil. He knew his place now and would not soon forget it.

‘If it is wisdom you require, look deep into the Dream. It exists to serve you and should it please the Two-as-One I will do the same.’

Then, an air of finality about its shape, the avatar shot upwards through the tower and vanished through the pinnacle, soaring from sky and into the endless embrace of his home: The Subtle Weave.

Humbled and empowered, with much to think upon, the Vaara--those once godless Five--sat in silence for a long time.

For though they had much to do, first they would have to find their purpose. As unlike before, it was not merely their own.

Though it was a burden, it was one they took on gladly--grateful for its weight.


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Living Like a God




“More grapes, Your Excellency?”

“Please, Stacy, as many as you can peel.”

“More wine, Your Fantasticness?”

“Only if you’re getting wasted with me, babe.”

Twilight’s gold, silver and platinum-ringed hand left a red print on the right cheek of his servant’s ass, eliciting a hidden squeal from her. She bit her lip and poured herself a cup as well, the avatar smirking broadly. She wore the standard uniform of women in his court, and truth be told, there was not much to wear. They were in his personal chambers, a marble terrace overlooking the great Southern Sea, furnished to the brim with statues, tablets and monuments detailing his power, beauty and grace. It was midday, and as with every day, his room was rank with the stinks and scents of every luxury imaginable - a great bite of a debaucher’s paradise. As the woman joined him and the seven other women in various states of sobriety on the enormous silk bed, she licked her lips. “Anything for the beautiful…”

“Yes…”

“... The almighty…”

“Yeees…”

“... The all-knowing…”

“Yeeeees!”

“... Za’watem--” She stopped as she saw Twilight’s face turn to cold stone. She froze, catching the eyes of the other women, all of whom either rolled their eyes or snickered quietly at her. The avatar took a deep breath and rubbed his nose. He ran his tongue over his teeth in thought and gave a sniff, staring into the air. The woman started quivering, her quest for finding where she had taken a wrong step slowly dragging her into a state of panic. “Y-Your Awesomeness, d-d-did I say something wrong?”

The avatar’s face twisted with frustration and emotion. Slowly, he lifted up one finger and hovered it before her face. “You’re new here, right? She’s, she’s new here, right?” He turned to the other women, all of whom nodded in many different states of wakefulness. The woman in question whispered prayers to herself. The avatar took a deep breath. “Who am I, Tiffany?”

The woman looked around for this supposed character. The avatar repeated himself, still talking out into the air. “Answer my question. Who am I?”

The woman pointed at herself as though doing so would set off a bomb. “M-me, Your--”

“Yes, you! You’re Tiffany, right?”

“M-my name is Arene--” Before she could react, he grabbed her chin in his hand - the grip was soft, but all who looked on knew that Twilight’s breath alone could tip a tree. Her cocoa skin paled - her hyperventilation only competed with birdsong outside for the champion spot of loudest noise in the room.

“Listen, listen, listen…” said the avatar softly. “Whoever taught you how to treat me, girl - they missed some details, alright?” The other women looked knowingly at Arene, whose eyes met their with accusations of betrayal. “Your name is Tiffany - and Tiffany, you do -not- call me what you just called me, you got that?”

“Y-y-y-you mean Z-Z-Za’wa--mmph! MMPH!” With two fingers, he pinched closed her lips and sealed them with a magical zing!, leaving the woman to stagger backwards and claw at her mouth while tears and blood dripped from her face. The other women looked quietly away while the avatar let out a peaceful sigh.

“That is right, deary - calling me that implies I’m on the same level as the other zawhattems or whatever they’re called. No, Twilight’s not like them - Twilight is his own king; I am the Demigod of the Night, richest man in the whole world, and my own high priest.” He hooked his arms around the torsos of two of the women in his bed and pulled them in, the two of them politely giggling along while their eyes conveyed a desperate need to flee. “None are on my level.”

Arene had curled up on the ground, whimpering and holding her bleeding face in her hands. Twilight rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers. The mahogany doors to his bedroom swung open, ushering in a tide of heavily tattooed old men wearing nothing but loincloths and hats that each resembled the male genital. Adding further to their shame, their backs had been stripped entirely of the ink they had been blessed with as entrants into the caste of Za’wal, and instead been replaced with a number, which had taken the role of their name. Twilight pushed a route through the pile of womenfolk and climbed out of bed at the foot end, servants hurrying over to wrap him in his morning kimono. The men stood waiting, their heads bent forward in shame which allowed their flaccid headgear to hang low over their foreheads. Twilight gave his golden goblet a sip and pointed lazily at the crying Arene.

“Right, dickheads… Which one of you brought me this one, hmm? Was it you, Seventeen? Was it?”

The man with the number 17 tattooed onto his back caved to his knees and sobbed. “Your Fantasticness, I just--”

“App, app, app! None of that - none of that whining. Why’d you send her here, actually? Why her in particular? She’s not even that hot - just look at her face. It’s all scarred now.”

“Y-yes, Your Fantasticness, of course. H-how foolish of me, I-I-I see it clearly now! She’s ugly! So very ugly!”

“Woah, hey, don’t be an ass, Seventeen. She’s a lady, for gods’ sakes.” The avatar dragged a hand through his hair. Arene was slowly escorted out to be sent away. “Right, so… Why did you pick her exactly?”

“W-w-well.. It’s h-her family, Your Superiority. A-an alliance with her family could--”

Twilight groaned and turned back to his bed, walking over to caress some of her women under their chins as though they were dogs. “Ugh, again with the politics. I keep telling you to drop it - we will be fiiiiiiiine.”

“A-actually. about that--”

“... Have I not spent the last twenty years establishing myself as the top dog in this area? Whatever they throw at me, I’ll turn into, what...Puffed rice and coconut milk? We have -nothing- to worry about, people. Now if you’ll excuse me, I was in the middle of something...” He gave his goblet another slurp and started undressing again.

“B-but Your Awesomeness--”

“WHAT?! What is it, Seventeen?! What could -possibly- be so important that you are risking your very life just trying to tell me right now?”

The priest had long since passed the line between sobbing and bawling. His colleagues, too, were in tears at this point. Seventeen took a deep breath and wailed, “They’re heeeere!”

Twilight rolled his eyes. “Ugh, settle down, you big baby - who’s here?”

“Fwom the, fromm ze… (Sniff!) … Fwom Zuanwa, ugh-hurk…”

Twilight took a deep breath. “If it’s those wanna-be priests here for their taxes again, I’ll pay with their heads, I swear by the gods…” He shouldered his kimono back on and walked over an ornately carved sword display, whereupon was mounted his sword, Tsukigami-no-Kokoro. He looked outside into the sunny day and muttered. “... Or a very bad concussion - depends how long they’re willing to wait, I guess.”

“B-but Your Omnipotency, there’s more!”

“You know, every time you in particular open your mouth, Number Twelve, I just really feel like breaking a puppy’s neck. You just have one of those voices, you know?”

The man in question shrunk together like a drying mushroom, and another took his place. “Your Remarkably, please!”

“Now you, Number Four, you have a voice like satin, and I’m admittedly still at half mast after being interrupted for the tenth time now. You have ten seconds to get your point across, or I’ll have you’ll be joining us in bed afterwards.” He turned and looked over at the horrified priest, then grimaced. “Oh, ne-ver-mind, you are ancient. I keep forgetting that, sorry. Ugh, yikes, scratch that invitation. Actually, you can narrate the action when I get back to it. Oh, yeah, that’d be some sexy play, now that I think about it.” He unsheathed his sword and studied the way the sun bounced off the milky blade. He swore his breath as a hit to the wall left a dent rather than a cut and sighed. “Well, I’m waiting - tell me what’s up so I can get back to the ladies.”

“W-well, as Seventeen said, there are people here from Zuanwa--”

“It -is- the fucking tax collectors, isn’t?!” Twilight brandished his blade menacingly.

“NO! No! No, Your Magnificence, it’s… It’s your son.”

Twilight blinked, sheathing his sword again. He walked over to the footend of the bed and sat down, twiddling his thumbs in his lap. “Which one?”

“By wife or by age, Your Illustriousness?”

“By wife, please.”

“Then it’s the son of magnificent huntress of the Ta’zesh, Eronwe of--”

“Wait, who?”

The priest looked to be dying inside. “The huntress of Ta’zesh, Eron--”

“Speak clearly, man.”

“Crystal, Your Justice.”

“Oh! Crystal! Riiiiiiiiiight, right, right… The one with the, the…”

“The mammaries, Your Pride, yes.”

“Oh, gods bless those magnificent tits. I needed four hands just to hold them without them spilling all over… So I grew an extra pair. Ah, good times…” The avatar smirked reminiscently as the priests looked to be struggling with finding motivations to live.

“Yes, Your Handsomeness. Her son has come to see you.”

“Which one?”

“The oldest, Your Stellarity. The impeccable student of Za’wal, the zealous and brave Rusal of--”

“Uuuuugh…”

“... Twolight Number One, Your Supremacy.”

The avatar exploded into a snorting laughter, some of the women joining him on account of being high on way too many substances. Otherwise, the room was silent and cheerless as the grave. Wiping away some tears of joy, he sighed contently. “One of my better jokes, that...Come on, it’s super funny, isn’t it? It’s funny ‘cuz, ‘cuz… Ah, you understand it:”

“Yes, Your Hilarity. He is here to see you.”

“Welp.” The avatar stood back up again and tied the sheath of the sword to his belt. “Better go say hello to the little squirt. Play with sticks or whatever.” He turned around and beckoned over the women who were away. “Come on now, girls, don’t be shy. Kissy-kissy. Mwah! Mwah! Luv yoo. Don’t smoke all the weed while I’m gone.”

“We won’t, daddy!”

Twilight clicked his tongue and stood back up, turning to the doors and strolling lazily outside, his council of “dickheads” following out of a slave-like sense of servitude. The entourage travelled across the enormous garden of Twilight’s estate, marble towers and temples of gold and silver to himself intermittently scattered between thick forests of all kinds of wine fruits and narcotic plants, all protected inside a beautiful stone wall. All sorts of exotic carnivores roamed the forests, from shadowtigers to owlixes to leons - most importantly for Twilight, however, this garden was his primarily source of entertainment, as guests who were high off their genitals were set free in the woods to survive for days and nights as its inhabitants would hunt them down to feast. Currently, though, the animals had been caged, and the garden was home to groups of naked guests tasting its many drugging fruits. They immediately prostrated themselves upon seeing Twilight, who waved at them with all the grace of a king. When he arrived at the gates to his estate, which were both made of pure gold and were really testing the strength of their hinges, he pushed them open and stepped outside to see a crowd of hundreds, spearheaded by one familiar face. All of them were armed to the teeth for all that was worth, and Twilight’s divine hearing heard groaning bowstrings from many more places than ones in which he could see people. He looked over his shoulder and noticed that his priests had hurried down the hundred-step marble and gold staircase to join the army. The avatar ignored all of it, however, and opened his arms as he slowly walked down the stairs. “Junior! How nice of you to visit your old man!”

“Be where you are, tyrant! I, Rasul of the Za’wal, have come to--”

“Twolight, that’s not your name, come on. Give your dad a hug now, come up here.”

Rasul glared. “As I was saying, I have brought all the peoples and tribes you have wounded and tortured throughout your rule, and we will no longer--!”

“Pssh, let’s not talk about that right now. It’s been so long, son!” The avatar stopped halfway down the stairs when he saw his son take a combat stance and point his obsidian spear at him. “Now, now, you shouldn’t point sharp things at daddy. Remember what your mommy-...”

“YOU NEVER GAVE A SHIT ABOUT MY MOTHER! You didn’t care when she got the fever and died ten years ago. It was YOUR fault that she died, because you threw us out! And for what?! Because she said she wasn’t feeling it one night, is that it?!”

“Kinda her fault for not feeling it - I mean, come on.”

“Twilight of the Za’watem caste…”

The avatar’s gloating smirk disappeared in an instant. “What’s that, boy?”

“...You are hereby accused of multiple cases of heresy against the gods…”

Slowly,Twilight continued to descend the stairs. “You better stop right there, kid.Your old man has a few rules in the house that you’re dangerously close to breaking.”

“... Violence against your subjects and those of your caste…”

The chilling sound of steel sounded from Twilight’s sheathe. His son eyed the weapon with quiet acknowledgement and continued, “... Violence against our own family and both men and women of your own court… Lying, stealing, pretending to be of a different caste... Murder of hundreds of people.”

“If you don’t stop right there, I might add another to that list, kid.” Twilight was now only a few metres from his son, and the army hastened to surround him, a phalanx of spears closing in around him. “I might add many, many more.”

Rusal didn’t back down, but kept his glare as adamant as his father’s, perhaps even more so. “In the sight of the gods and representatives of every caste, father, you are hereby sentenced to death for your crimes against Zuanwa and her people. Now, attack!”

Instantly, the world around them went black; in a second, it had shifted from day to night, and the moon was out despite the fact that, in every sense of reality, it should be a little past midday. Immediately, the army panicked, squeals and screams sounding as fidgety militia accidentally stabbed their neighbours, which only led to greater panic and more accidents. Coming from almost everywhere at once, Twilight’s voice cackled. “Wow, -this- is what you had in store for me?! A fucking ambush?! Wow, you can’t be my son if you’re -this- slow, can you?”

“STAY CALM! He’s just testing us! Find him quickly and--” Rusal’s commands were cut short by the song of cold steel as it sliced through skin, bone and flesh as though it was air. A wet crunch sounded as his head and body dropped to the leafy jungle floor and the moonlight cast a beam upon the corpse for all to see.

“Guess we’ll add ‘murder of family’ to that, too.” More screams at the sight of the corpse further intensified the panic. Many tried to avenge their leader by searching for the avatar, but it was no use in the mosh pit of people running for their lives with weapons in hand. As the people dispersed and ran back home, the avatar stood pondering over his son’s corpse. His boy, who had been his firstborn - the son of his favourite wife - laid dead… And he felt nothing. If anything, Twilight felt relief that he had shut him up. The avatar let the day return again and observed the ruined fields before his estate. There laid roughly twenty to twenty-five corpses around, some stampeded to death and others still suffering the last of their feeble lives. Twilight made a lopsided frown, and after caving in the heads of those in suffering, he went inside, packed some lunch in a bag and tied it to his sheath. Now that one wave had come, he would no doubt get no respite from incessantly visiting children and lesser chiefs who would come to claim his head. He needed his peace - his peace and quiet and sexy women. Therefore, he journeyed out once more, looking for another place to settle anew and repeat the cycle all over.

It had been good, though. It had been really good. Maybe he could beat his record next time?




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Hidden 7 days ago Post by Enzayne
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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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Cold Shoulder





Even though Kia had been mostly laid out resting and recovering, it had been a relentless set of days. It took Oruna almost a full two days before she came back to see her, sending another young girl who dared not even speak to Kia in her own stead to check on her wounds. Attempts at conversing with passing villagers earned her only flustered stares and murmuring. When Oruna returned, she did so with renewed conviction. Now not only did Kia have to maintain her composure around the pungent smells of whatever strange herbal mixes they were smearing on her bruises, but also keep her cool whilst being barraged by questions about her gifts. Oruna had many ideas about the nature of Kia's gifts with ice, and none were particularly close to the truth. Her questions in turn related mainly to what ice was, and where it came from. As an added benefit, the jungle woman now seemed to put more stock in Kia's words whenever she mentioned the goddess of the past - or at least she no longer dismissed it as false.

On the third day of this interrogative care, the village renewed itself with a hubbub unlike any Kia had seen. She was crawling with anticipation and perhaps anxiety. She didn't know what was going on and it showed in her never ending barrage of questions. Oruna, who had seemed to be in a better mood than previous days, laughed off most of her questions with variations of the same response; the hunters had returned. The same afternoon two women caked in dried paint and mud came to see her, and though they seemed to have no interest in properly introducing themselves, Kia could infer from their hectic conversation and Oruna's responses that these were the women who found her in the forest. No questions or comments were levied straight at Kia, it was almost like she didn't exist except to be looked at. They poked and prodded at her, and one of them extended thin fingers to press against her cheeks and grinning demonstratively to try and get Kia to show her teeth.

“You could ask, you know.” Kia muttered, baring her teeth for them to see.

Almost immediately, two rough thumbs shot up against her lip to push it up further, and the athletic woman began a quick investigation, forcefully moving Kia's head to and fro as she inspected her teeth, nose and eyes. Finally she let go and released a verdict to Oruna loud enough for Kia to hear: "Good enough stock. Western, perhaps."

Oruna seemed pleased by this, and her eyes met Kia's conspiratorially, mischief clear in her gaze. Given the previous few days, it wasn't hard to imagine gears were turning in her head, rife with new opportunities. As the two huntresses began to depart, they deigned to bring up another fact - again only available to Kia by way of eavesdropping; the beast she had fought in the jungle was apparently called a Koreet, and few came out of a lone encounter with such a beast with any hopes of survival.

Koreet. Now that was a word that sounded dangerous and she had… Killed one? She shook her head, repressing bad memories. She turned to look at the older woman, "Oruna what do they mean? Western stock? Is that good or bad?" She asked, rubbing her sore gums.

Oruna watched the women round a nearby hut before turning her head to look back to Kia, and offering her another pleased smile through her heavy face paint. "They think you are from the border clans, close to the great wastes. They are prized among wealthy men, very frail. We," she gestured at the two of them greedily. "We know better of course. Perhaps your god has put you here for a good purpose, Keeah."

"I'm not frail." She muttered under her breath.

Her response elicited an amused tut from Oruna, who leaned forward to ruffle her hair. “Not all predators look frightening, Keeah. Now rest. Tomorrow, I take you before Za’watem Etana. Just follow me, I have a plan. Hm?”

Kia blushed as Oruna touched her and looked to the floor, mumbling. "You're not going to tell me the plan, are you?" Oruna just smiled mischievously.




The buzzing of insects diving in past her ears made Kia infinitely more aware of how poor a state of dress she was in. Oruna had given her a basic rough cover to wrap around her body, but had immediately demanded she bare her neck and shoulders. The canopy of trees and basic shelter did little to prevent the sun’s scorching rays, and she felt the sweltering heat drain away her energy little by little. She could feel what little water she had drunk run along her skin in sweat. To make matters worse, a tickling brush of animal hair danced teasingly against her neck and throat, as Oruna applied some kind of foul-smelling mixture from a bowl. It was only slightly darker than the huntress’ own paint, but also looked grainier. At a guess Kia could assume it was cheaper, or at least lower quality.

“Don’t move so much,” Oruna complained absent-mindedly, tickling the brush against her throat, despite the fact that Kia hadn’t moved at all. Or not much, at least.

“I- The brush tickles me.” Kia complained likewise. “What even is this stuff?” She asked, crossing her arms.

“The blessing of the Water and Sun, from my ancestors. Like mine, yes?” Oruna answered matter-of-factly, neglecting to touch on the fact that she was covered in painted symbols, none of which looked remotely like anything like water or the sun. “Like I told you, it is dangerous to wear no symbols. You will become marked, walking in the wrong place. Especially this close to Zuanwa. The Daughter of the Water asks many slaves in tribute each passing of the moon. I do not doubt many die to build her strange structures.”

"Daughter of the Water… Who is that? What are these strange structures?" Kia asked, forgetting about her 'blessings.'

Oruna scoffed quietly, keeping her eyes on Kia's neck. The brush twirled and shifted against skin slowly. "Za'watem Uraka. She rules the great city now that her father has been collected by the Great Hunter. Through her the world speaks, and she rules from a giant stack of stones. Now she is building more of them."

Fantastical thoughts filled Kia's head as she thought about a great city of stone. How did it work? How could such a thing even be made? How many people must live there? She found herself smirking and she asked, "But why Oruna? It all sounds soooo, make believe. Does a village like that actually exist?"

Firm fingers corrected her head and tilted it slightly upwards as Oruna hummed a response before speaking. "It is like twenty villages, with stone that reaches above the trees. Large rivers herded by square stones. Where the paint flows like water. I have only seen it once, but perhaps you will have a chance to see it."

“You think so Oruna? I can hardly imagine it, but to see it with my own two eyes? It would be… Wonderful.” she said in a small voice, cheeks blushing red. What was she saying? How foolish was she?

"And done!" Oruna exclaimed with a sigh of relief, leaning away as she removed the brush from Kia's neck. "Now you are almost perfect." Oruna gave her a cursory peer of scrutiny before rustling up from her seat to walk over to the hut to the right of the shelter - which Kia had come to understand belonged to Oruna. She reappeared in moments, throwing a bundle of leather and fabric at her. It was a single broad strap to pull around her torso, and a thin leather clasp with two red sheets of thin fabric hanging from them. As far as clothes came, this was the least there was.

Kia looked them over in her hands, feeling the fabric. Up until now she had mostly worn blankets and sheets to cover herself. These looked… Very revealing. “Y-You want m-me to w-wear these?” She stammered, feeling her heartbeat quicken.

"Too big?" Oruna replied idly. "I only have what I wear. Maybe you can tighten them. Or, are you worried about skin?"

“I- Um…” Kia seemed to freeze up. It was one thing to wear little in the company of the one who saved her, who also happened to be a woman- but to wear so little outside in the public eye. She turned beat red. “S-Skin… Oruna… I’m not used to… t-this.”

The huntress looked more amused than anything else, watching Kia quietly freak out in front of her. Without another word she headed back into her hut, coming back out with a modest bundle of orange fur speckled with black and brown spots. She dumped it together with the rest of the 'clothes'. "Perhaps for the best. You are so bright, maybe Etana will lose her eyes if you are not covered. Do not cover your neck, yes?"

She gave a quiet sigh of relief and traded the clothes she held for more comforting ones. She gave Oruna a small nod of thanks. “Don’t cover my neck, got it.” She said, donning the furs. These did well to cover almost every part of her besides her neck. She then put her hair up into a messy bun and looked to Oruna for any sign of approval. Another silly thought, by any means. She hardly knew her, really and yet… What was she wanting?

Oruna hemmed and hawed briefly, giving Kia a proper lookover. After a moment of thought she leaned down for the bowl of colorful dye once more, dipping her finger in it before moving up to Kia. With a decisive motion, she pushed her finger against Kia's nose and dragged it down along its shape, coating her skin in more of the dye. She moved swiftly to drag quick lines gently over both her cheeks as well. "There."

“What are those for?” Kia asked.

"Make you less bright, show less skin." Oruna lectured with a sagely tone. "When Etana speaks, do not interrupt. She is an unpleasant woman in many ways, but the spirits have chosen her."

“Okay.” Kia said. “But why is she unpleasant?”




Despite having spent several days in the village, Kia was seeing the rest of the village for the first time. A mishmash of shelters, clay huts, and wooden dens built into the underbrush made up the majority of living space, and a river cut through the jungle on one side. With it came a clear view of other structures in the distance much like this village - other small settlements dotted around the river.

At the centre of this village however was a single building of light-coloured stone, though it's denomination as such was hinged entirely on a thin ceiling of hung cloth, without which it'd be more akin to an altar cornered by pillars of stone. In the middle of this altar, situated atop a small mound of furs and packed clay, sat chieftess Etana.

The chieftess was a frail-looking woman, with shoulders half as broad as Oruna's and a slim shape less athletic than Kia herself. Her dark skin was painted from head to toe in swirling red and yellow patterns that looked like dried blood and mud, save for her face which had long intricate lines of blue. She was more paint than person, save for a simple skirt of leaves and loincloth. Her head turned as her gaze fixed on the recent arrival of Oruna and Kia, alongside the two huntresses that had come to inspect her the day prior. Her eyes were coiled and drawn out like arrowheads, and half her face had been left unpainted despite her station. The reason became obvious as soon as Kia looked closer - her dark skin gave way to pale patches of skin, as pale as Kia’s own, dotted in erratic clusters over her face and neck. The natural skin pattern had been reverently left alone, as if to further draw attention to it. The chieftess craned her neck forward inquisitively as Oruna urged Kia forward, and the both of them came to a halt right before the small altar. A brief silence reigned, as the chieftess stared at them expectantly, her narrow eyes digging into Kia.

“Oh. Chieftess Etana, Wisdom of the Skies, Most Humble of Rulers, please accept our presence,” Oruna began, clearing her throat after a few moments of thought. “You desired to see the girl that battled the jungle - here she is.” Kia felt Oruna’s fingers dig into her hair, guiding her head backwards to lift her chin towards Etana.

The chieftess gazed at Kia with a seething suspicion that somehow felt too personal - too interested in more than her face. When she said nothing, Oruna continued. “It has been a true trial to guide her back from the brink. She is lucky to have been gracefully saved by your magnanimous mercy, Chieftess.”

Silence took over as Etana continued staring, before lifting a single hand. “Come to me.”

With some reluctance and a prodding from Oruna, Kia stepped forward to The chieftess. She was nervous and it showed as she looked to the ground at her feet. Dirt was traded for firm rock as she climbed the small stone ingress, coaxed up to face Etana head on. Brown eyes burrowed deep into her soul, and the chieftess kept her hand outstretched no matter how close she dared step. Kia took one step too many and the frail Etana gripped her wrist and pulled, demanding her closer. "She is already painted? This is your doing, Oruna?" She exclaimed as her gaze fixated on her neck.

Kia heard Oruna behind her - she sounded so distant now. "As gratitude for my care, she has pledged her life to me. It would have been most unkind of me to reject her."

"Truly?" Etana mused with a frown, and lifted her gaze to stare straight at Kia's face. "You cast yourself into the service of Ta'zesh Oruna? You would have a better life with me." The chieftess explained with a certain intensity, all too clear from the continued grip on Kia's wrist.

“I-I wish to be with Oruna.” Kia said in a small voice. The Chieftess’ touch was warm, even a bit clammy and it was a feeling Kia did not like. She said nothing else though, for fear she might say something offensive or wrong. She just wanted to be with Oruna, she had been nice to her and healed her. The thought of being with Etana was… Something she did not want.

Her reply seemed to send the chieftess into a deep frown, and her gaze shifted past Kia again, back to acknowledging Oruna in her stead. “What are you planning, Oruna? Not satisfied with your lot? And you two,” she snapped quickly, turning her attention to the two hunters who had come along. “Why did you come to Oruna and not me with this girl?”

“She was dying, Za’watem. Since Za’wal Renek and his apprentices are out of the village, Oruna was the-...”

“That’s enough. I won’t hear any more of these obstinate lies.” Etana interrupted, and Kia could feel her grip on her wrist intensifying. Heavy and irritated breaths fell loud enough to hear, and her eyes seemed to carry a building fury of her own making.

“There’s no need to worry, Za’watem Etana,” Oruna cut in from the steps of the small altar, behind Kia still.. “As you say I have no true need for a servant. I intend to travel along the river, and trade her in Zuanwa for a life of peace and luxury. As you can see she is good for nothing but blinding men with her skin.”

The Chieftess stared past Kia, and then briefly turned her attention back to her. Suspicion and anger was clear in her scrutinous gaze, but her grip on Kia’s wrist finally relented as the frail woman scoffed. “Fine. As usual, your greed does you no credit, Ta’zesh Oruna, but I will be happy to be rid of you.”

“Your wisdom is legendary, Etana of the Skies.” Oruna produced.

Oruna’s word cut Kia like a knife. Her eyes went wide as she turned to the woman. She caught a brief glimpse of a stoic Oruna meeting her eyes with a sterner gaze than ever before. Was that her plan all along? To sell her as a slave? She could feel her blood begin to boil but a thought ebbed her wound. Oruna had said to follow her, had she not? Was this her plan? Besides, even if it wasn’t, she couldn’t lose herself again. Not to these people. She looked at the floor again and waited.

What followed was an attempt from both sides to deescalate the animosity that had sparked during the conversation, with Etana taking an idle interest in how Kia came to be at the village at all - and thus she turned to the two huntresses idling beside Oruna. Their tale was long, quick-spoken between the two of them, and embellished with a lot of tangents about their own hunt and what appeared to be a rivalry with another group of jungle folk. Most of it went over her head, not least of all because she’d heard much of it before. Despite having been the center of attention before, it was now almost like Kia was invisible while the women spoke. They were talking about carrying her to the village, in a way that made it clear she had no place in the conversation. She languished in the middle of this back-and-forth, stood awkwardly between Etana and Oruna waiting as conversation went on.

Finally Oruna’s voice cut through the chatter, and only then did it become apparent attention was back on her. “Keeah. Tell the Za’watem of how you came here. About Rheeona.”

“I…” She began. What did she even tell them? Everything? No, not everything, but enough. “I came from a land far from here. It is a land of snow and ice. Rhiona, A goddess, found me wandering alone in the wastes after I… Lost sight of my path. She then sent me here within a blink. I became lost in the trees and that… creature attacked me and I barely survived. I owe my thanks to all standing here.” she finished shuffling in place.

"A goddess?" The painted chieftess queried with a frown. Her eyes dug into Kia searchingly.

"A powerful za'wal, to be sure. Perhaps a wicked ritualist." Oruna stepped in to explain with quick speed.

Etana glared at them both, but settled back in her seat slowly and waved her hand flippantly towards Kia. "What is snow?"

Kia was taken aback by the question. It shouldn’t have surprised her, given how much Oruna was fascinated by it. But how did she explain that without showing? “I… Uh… Snow is like, umm… A white blanket that covers the land when it comes down from the sky. Like rain but softer and gentle. It melts into water if it touches skin. That is snow.”

The chieftess looked at the others gathered, some of whom shrugged their shoulders to enforce never having heard of such a thing. "I see," Etana declared. "That is simple. You have mystified my subjects but your embellishments cannot fool me. I have been to the Mistmarshes, what you describe is the descent of clouds." She waved her hand dismissively.

Kia smiled. “Yes, that’s right! We have mist too and when it gets cold enough it will freeze. Other clouds descend, like thousands of small white flakes with beautiful little patterns if you look close enough.”

"I would very much like to see that. Perhaps you will take me to your old home." Etana crooned calmly. Their eyes met, and Kia noted the conspiratorial stare she was subjected to.

Kia shied away from the stare, gripping her upper arm. “Well umm, I don’t actually know where my home is anymore. It might be, far far away now.” She said with a small voice.

"So you are not about to lead Oruna there the moment you step outside this village? Hm?" She pressed with a growing intensity. Etana shifted in her makeshift seat, before rising up to stand. She was considerably shorter than Kia, but even as frail as she was she was broad-shouldered and fierce-looking. The paint made it hard to follow her movements. "If this Rheeona likes you so much to attend you personally, she might reward your return. Where is your home?"

Kia took a slight step back. “I-I told you. I don’t know… I arrived on a beach… I-I don’t want to go back there. P-Please.” She said, her heart growing distressed as the memories of her village came to mind and the dead faces. So many dead faces.

"That's enough." Oruna cut in from behind her. "There's no need to harass the girl, as you can clearly see she is too weak to even understand your words properly, great Etana. She will be useful only to the comfortable and lazy of Zuanwa. Out here she will surely die of drop fever."

Tension rose as silence affixed itself amidst the gathered. Etana stared at Kia and then past her, her eyes narrowing as they found Oruna.

Kia sucked in a deep breath and looked to the ground. She felt clammy and uncomfortable and she just wanted to leave. Yet the weight of the women around her shackled her in place. She couldn't leave until they were let go. She had to stick it out.

"Fine. Go. Throw her at the feet of the Daughter of the Water and pray Uraka and her preening sky-readers care for you more than I." Chieftess Etana finally concluded, and a hand gripped Kia's arm almost immediately after.

In her ear, Oruna murmured a quiet urge to leave before lifting her head to give Etana a brief but formal and curt departure honorific. She had lived through Etana's scrutiny, and was quickly whisked away from the altar by Oruna, who seemed keen to drag her out of sight. "Do you understand now?" She offered with a sigh.

“I-I-I don’t k-know.” Kia murmured, head still to the ground.

"Embolden yourself, Keeah. You are much more formidable than her. But a huntress must obey the jungle." Kia stood a little straighter and let herself be guided by Oruna safely out of sight by any.

It was only when they neared Oruna’s hut did Kia finally break herself free from her grasp. She then stood and looked at the older woman. “You’re not… You’re not really going to sell me, are you?” she asked.

Oruna scoffed at that, turning to glance at Kia with a mischievous smirk that seemed to accentuate the intricate face paint. “Will you let me, Keeah?”

Kia took a step back, as the question caught her off guard. She then narrowed her eyes and clenched her fists, anger welling up in her heart. “N-No… No!” She shouted. “I don’t want to be sold! You can’t! I-I Thought I meant something to you!” The air seemed to grow colder.

The older huntress watched her reaction with no true shift in her expression, though gradually her smirk turned to an impassive, lazy frown. Oruna took a step towards her hut to pull aside the fur hiding the entryway. “Then what do you have to worry about? Only the weak let others dictate their lives,” she turned back to face Kia, raising a brow. “The strong lie in wait until it is their time to strike. Are you weak, Keeah? Or strong?”
The girl took a deep breath, then unclenched her fists. The cold air was swallowed up by the heat and Kia sighed. She walked closer to Oruna and then stood in the doorway, turning to the huntress. With a fierce look in her eye, she said, “I’m strong.” Then walked inside.

“Good,” Oruna murmured as she passed, and she found herself in the small but cozy hut filled with fur, knives, obsidian-tipped arrows, and a few spears. “Now that you have survived Etana, I can tell you the real plan.”

The flap closed behind them, hiding them away from the rest of the village.






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Hidden 7 days ago 6 days ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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excerpts from:
The Great Collected Piece
for the One Who Shan’t from Knowing Cease
writ that it may, at last, give such Valiant Seekers Peace


Written by Mijaranta the Scribe from the words of his sage and master Arahtura


I. Introduction

This is recorded by Mijaranta the scribe, the disciple of the Master Arahtura. It is the history of Dehrthaa, the great Ramshidra, by the mouth of the Master. Thus spake the sage our Master:

We begin, as are all beginnings, with praise of the Glorified Mojtha who came into the world and cleansed it. We praise him who is the sanctified avatar and voice of Misnaya the god, who is the Protective Lord, the Creator of Balance, the Maintainer of Order, the Ordainer of Justice, the Sustainer of the Living, the Writer of the Law, and the Teacher of the Meditative Ways. Praised be ever the Glorified Mojtha, praised be ever Misnaya - who is but an aspect of the One Who Frowns. And in praising them, who are aspects of aspects, we praise the ever-alert and watchful Lord whose throne is Mount Qaywandar. We praise the One Who Frowns and extend our arms to him in worship and gratitude.

Now know this Mijaranta: the first noble learning is the knowledge of places; one who seeks to know the history of Dehrthaa must first know its places. So listen carefully and know now. The Land of Dehrthaa is made up of five regions - it has always been this way. These regions are:
  • The Khadaar in the north.
  • The Place Betwixt the Rivers in central Dehrthaa.
  • The Sea of Mimarba in the east and the great mangrove forest, known as the Mimrabans, on its coast.
  • The Qaywandar Highlands and Lowlands in the west.
  • The great forests and jungles of Muraymuna in the farthest south.

II. On the Khadaar



Of the Khadaar, the eager seeker of knowledge should know this:

These are green and fertile grasslands. Here many herbs and shrubs grow wild, as do solitary trees. The savanna is mainly dominated by grasses, interrupted by trees and shrubs. There is much greenery near rivers and lakes, of which there is a small number.
Rains come in the wet season and do not in the dry season. The wet season is a month-long period of continuous rain that brings water and life. In the dry season, all things dry without irrigation.

In the Khadaar, fires occur annually and, if early in the dry season, are beneficial to plant growth - the people here know this and often start the fires at the right time. Larger plants are subdued by fires. Large herbivores also eat them - and they, in turn, are fed upon by large carnivores. Mature trees can survive the fires, but their seedlings may be killed.
The people of the Khadaar have played a major role in creating and extending the Khadaar with deforestation, initiated fires, agriculture, and by bringing new plants and domesticated animals. Once the Khadaar may have been a land of endless forest similar in some ways to Muraymuna, but this is no more. Only small foresty enclaves remain as evidence that there ever was a jungle here.

In terms of plants, grasses reign with some trees that seasonally shed their leaves, along with scrubs. You also find the flat-topped acacia, the solitary baobab, clumped grasses, and bush thickets. Elephant grass grows quickly in the rainy season - up to twenty handspans. I have observed that plant leaves tend to be small and thick, and either waxy or hairy. I have also observed that both the baobab and acacia lose leaves in the dry season.
The baobab is unique to the Khadaar and is quite strange in appearance - many hold it to be sacred for this reason. It can grow to great heights - I have observed those that were thirty and one hundred spans in height; one must walk four and sixty spans to go full circle around some. As for age, some are reputed to be thousands of cycles old. Their fruit is the monkey bread, its leaves are edible, and the tree stores water inside its trunk.

Anyone who has walked the great grassy expanses of the Khadaar knows well that it captures the imagination, especially in terms of freedom and wildness. Great herds of gazelles roam here - great free things unrestrained by limited space or high mountains and forests to obstruct them. The soil is good and over time some of the nomadic people have settled into villages to farm the land. People here are also involved in silk production and actively grow the white mulberry to feed their silkworms. The north is dominated by the Khadaar nomads, who have their own arrangements with the shids of the southern Khadaar.

As for animals, I have roamed the Khadaar and seen all there is to see, so record this and commit it to your memory:
  • Large herds of thousands of wildebeest and caffer buffalo can be seen in the dry season.
  • Other common animals include the dik-dik.
  • Predators include the lion, the leopard, the cheetah, the caracal, and the wild dog.
  • The hispid hare, active near dusk and dawn, roams in tall grasslands across the western Khadaar, though grassland burnings mean they are not as common anymore.
  • The nocturnal bunyoro rabbit occupies the foresty and rocky regions of the central Khadaar.
  • The large brown hare roams across the Khadaar’s open grasslands.
  • The red fox is present, along with the "asse" - the silver-backed fox. The latter is restricted to open grasslands, where it is most comfortable, unlike the more versatile and cunning red fox.
  • The raccoon dog roams in the Khadaar also and is valued for its fur, particularly when reared in captivity.
  • The bat-eared fox dwells in the short grasslands on the eastern Khadaar.
  • The maned wolf roams in the northern and eastern Khadaar as well as the northern parts of the Qaywandar Lowlands.
  • There is a population of wild dogs in the north and central Khadaar.
  • Dholes are present across the Khadaar.
  • The limited woodlands of the Khadaar are home to side-striped jackals, while the related black-backed jackals prefer the open grasslands of the region.
  • Golden jackals roam across the eastern and central Khadaar while wolves may be found across the region.
  • Shepherds make use of various dog breeds for herding and protection across the Khadaar.
  • Herds of takhi horses roam across the open grassland of the Khadaar.
  • Certain breeds of horses, and certain uses (such as show or war), are considered marks of prestige, though the majority of common folk use horses for work.
  • There also exist feral horse herds - that is, horses that are domesticated but have run free and are now untamed.
  • Lion prides stalk the length and breadth of the Khadaar.
  • Where the Khadaar meets the Qaywandar, there lives the golden cat, which also dwells in the mountains of the Lowland and beyond.
  • The leopard cat is also present in the same region as the golden cat, while the common wildcat is present across the Khadaar.
  • Domestic cats are kept by people as pets in settlements and on farms to hunt rodents and other pests.
  • The wild boar occurs in the eastern Khadaar and along the River Muhaddir in the southern Khadaar, while warthogs can be found across the Khadaar.
  • Various species of civet call the grasslands home, and as does the ferocious honey badger and the sloth bear.
  • The Khadaar is home to a number of antelope species, these being the nilgai, chinkara (a kind of gazelle), the blackbuck, and the four-horned antelope.
  • Snakes that can be found across the Khadaar include the common krait, the chandroborha viper, the saw-scaled viper, the spectacled cobra, and the black-tailed python.
  • The common crane sometimes winters here.
  • Deer species that roam the Khadaar include the chital, the muntjac, the barasingha deer, and the sambar deer.
  • The great elephant, one of the greatest of the animals of Dehrthaa, roams across the Khadaar.
  • The hoopoe is present in forested parts of the Khadaar and the common peafowl roams throughout the region.
  • The greater one-horned rhinoceros calls the plains of the Khadaar home, particularly in the south near the River Muhaddir.
  • A number of mongoose species call the Khadaar home.
  • The people living in the southern Khadaar keep a riverine water buffalo species.
  • The small dircaan as well as their larger cousin, the tri-horned dircaan, roam all over the Khadar.
  • The terrible carnivorous and winged dircaan, known as the ujkaar, also roams the Khadaar.

This is all that the beginner needs to know - and even if you go the rest of your life knowing no more of the Khadaar than this, then you will have done well for yourself Mijaranta.

III. On the Place Betwixt the Rivers



As for the Place Betwixt the Rivers, listen now for I shall relay to you what the cycles of roaming and pursuit of knowledge have unveiled:

South of the Khadaar lies the Place Betwixt the Rivers. It is a hilly but fertile area between the River Muhaddir in the north and the River Juhmar in the south. It stretches from the diversion of the River Dahuur at the Rock That Would Not Move in the west until the conversion of the Muhaddir and Juhmar into the River Mudhindahuur in the east.

The seasonal flooding of the Muhaddir and Juhmar, as well as other rivers, occurs in the dry season due to higher temperatures causing the glaciers in the Qaywandar Highlands to melt. Rain in the Place Betwixt the Rivers is split between the wet season and dry season, just like the Khadaar. The dry season is also flood season, while the wet season centres around the same month-long period of continuous rain. The rain can sometimes be so great as to cause the rivers to flood a second time, though this is a rare occurrence. The lack of rain in the dry season is not felt as markedly in the Place Betwixt the Rivers as it is in the Khadaar due to the presence of various tributaries and lakes throughout the region. As with the Khadaar, people here involved in silk production actively grow the white mulberry to feed their silkworms.

As for animals, listen now and remember:
  • The karun hare thrives across the region, as does the red fox.
  • The raccoon dog roams in the Place Betwixt the Rivers and is valued for its fur, particularly when reared in captivity.
  • Dholes are present across the region, as are golden jackals.
  • Wolves are present, but in reduced numbers due to hunting.
  • Shepherds make use of various dog breeds for herding and protection across the region.
  • Certain breeds of horses, and certain uses (like show or war), are considered marks of prestige, though the majority of common folk use horses for work.
  • Lions call the hills, forests, and rivers of the Place Betwixt the Rivers home.
  • Domestic cats are kept by people as pets in settlements and on farms to hunt rodents and other pests.
  • The wild boar is present in the hills and along the rivers stretching to the east.
  • The various rivers and lakes of the region are home to the common otter and smooth-coated otter.
  • Innumerable freshwater fish call the rivers and lakes of the Place Betwixt the Rivers home.
  • Snakes that can be found across the region include the common krait, the spectacled cobra, the pit viper, the black-tailed python, the common vine snake, the aquatic checkered keelback, and various venomous elapid snakes.
  • The common crane sometimes breeds in the lakes and shallow waters of the region.
  • The rivers and lakes of the Place Betwixt the Rivers are home to the fish-eating crocodile and the mugger crocodile.
  • The muntjac deer roams the hilly regions of the Place Betwixt the Rivers.
  • The golden monitor is to be found in the floodplains of the region.
  • The river dolphin is to be found in the River Muhaddir and Juhmar.
  • The hoopoe is present in forested parts of the region.
  • The greater one-horned rhinoceros roams in the region.
  • The people living in the region keep a riverine water buffalo species.
  • The common peafowl roams throughout the region.

Know all this that I have said to you of the Place Betwixt the Rivers and know it well, and if afterwards you wish to know more, Mijaranta, you will find yourself building upon the best of foundations indeed.

IV. On the Sea of Mimarba and the Mimrabans



As for that eastern region where the world seems as water beneath your feet and where the many mangroves are, know this:

After the rivers Muhaddir and Juhmar diverge, they flow through the Place Betwixt the Rivers and eventually converge again into the Mudhindahuur River, from where they flow into the Sea of Mimarba. A great mangrove forest, known as the Mimrabans, grows along the sea’s coast and in the wetlands created by the Mudhindahuur’s great delta. The dominant mangrove species is locally known as mimri or mimrabi, which yields a hardwood used for building houses and making boats, furniture, and other things.

It may well surprise you to know that I did not find these mangrove forests to be home to a great variety of plants. This is because they have a thick canopy, and the undergrowth is mostly seedlings of the mangrove trees. One notable tree that does manage to grow here, among a few others, is the nipa palm.

As for animals, there are many. Listen, Mijaranta, and I shall tell you:
  • Dholes are present in the Mimrabans along with wolves.
  • Shepherds make use of various dog breeds for herding and protection across the region.
  • The Mimrabans are home to the majestic and terrible tiger and to the leopard cat, and to both the jungle cat and fishing cat.
  • Wild boars are present in the western parts of the Mimrabans.
  • Various species of civet call the Mimrabans home, and so does the small-clawed otter, common otter, and smooth-coated otter (though the latter requires freshwater from further upstream).
  • Innumerable brackishwater fish call the Mimrabans home, and as does the sloth bear.
  • Snakes that can be found in the Mimrabans include the spectacled cobra, the pit viper, the black-tailed python, the aquatic and nocturnal bockadam snake, and various venomous elapid sea snakes.
  • The common crane commonly winters in the shallower waters of the great delta, which have the advantage of being protected by the great mangrove forest.
  • The saltwater crocodile is at home in the brackish waters of the Mimrabans and the Sea of Mimarba.
  • Deer species that live here include the chital, the muntjac, the barasingha deer, and the sambar deer.
  • The golden monitor is to be found here and so too is the greater flamingo.
  • Shrimps, prawns, lobsters, and crabs are found in abundance, as is a species of crayfish.
  • The Mimrabans is also home to the greater one-horned rhinoceros.
  • The people living in the region keep a swamp water buffalo species.
  • Various species of woodpecker dwell here and can often be heard pecking away.
  • Two great species of dircaan, the one-horned dircan and the comb-headed dircaan, dwell in the Mimrabans where their diet is composed of both vegetation and aquatic life-forms.
  • A wingless relative of the winged dircaan, better adapted to aquatic environments, stalks the wetlands of the Mimrabans and the Sea of Mimarba - the water dircaan.

V. On Qaywandar



Now, Mijaranta, I shall speak to you of sacred Qaywandar, its lowlands and its highlands - so listen attentively and well:

Qaywandar in the west, named for the holy mountain whereon the One Who Frowns sits enthroned, is a mountainous region and is the source of the many rivers that converge into the River Dahuur, which swiftly splits off into the Rivers Muhaddir and Juhmar due to the Rock That Would Not Move. I have sat up there in the mountains to meditate on the secrets of the rivers that stem from it, and I have seen that the coming of summer causes glaciers to melt in the Qaywandar Highlands; the resultant meltwater feeds various freshwater mountain lakes, which are in turn the sources of the many rivers of Dehrthaa. The melting of the glaciers results in the seasonal flooding of the Muhaddir and Juhmar, as well as other rivers - foremost amongst which is the River Mur in Muraymuna. Despite this, the Qaywandar Highlands, and some parts of the Qaywandar Lowlands, are very cold all cycle round. There are also many lakes in the Qaywandar Lowlands, a number of which freeze over in the colder months.

The Qaywandar Lowlands and Highlands are home to mountain rainforests. In comparison to other places, these forests have a relatively low variety of plants and life. They are mainly made up of needle-leaf trees. I found that larch, a needle-leaf that seasonally sheds its leaves, and cone-producing evergreens are most present. Some small-leaf trees that seasonally shed their leaves occur, as well as berry-producing shrubs and ground cover. The region is particularly notable for the majestic giant sequoias that grow in isolated groves - these can grow to become sixty and three hundred spans in height and the distance of walking full-circle about one can be seven and thirty spans. How old they are the mountain only knows.

The middle elevations of the Qaywandar, on the other hand, boast temperate broadleaf forest regions that support an incredible variety of life. At lower elevations, this region boasts pine forests. At higher elevations, it boasts conifer forests as well as alpine shrub and meadows. This region of middle elevation receives a considerable amount of rain during the wet season. Oaks and laurels, such as the cinnamon tree, grow here, as does maple, the common walnut, the mountain alder, the mountain hazelnut, and various species of birch and magnolia.

There are many animals in Qaywandar, for it is a blessed land that teems with life beneath the watchful gaze of the One Who Frowns. I shall speak to you of the wildlife I observed - though know that it is impossible for one man, even a watchful man, to observe all. I give you a foundation, Mijaranta, and if you will carry this torch then you must build on it. Listen now, these are the animals that call Qaywandar, its lowlands and highlands, home:
  • The hispid hare roams in the eastern lowland regions.
  • The snowshoe hare, whose fur is white in winter and brown in summer, dwells in the mountain forests of the Qaywandar lowlands.
  • The large mountain hare is present across Qaywandar.
  • The red fox is present across the lowland regions.
  • Dholes are present across the Qaywandar Lowlands along with wolves.
  • Shepherds make use of various dog breeds for herding and protection in the Lowlands.
  • Certain breeds of horses, and certain uses (such as show or war), are considered marks of prestige, though the majority of common folk here make use of the sturdy mountain ponies to navigate the difficult terrain and heights.
  • The wild kiang, the largest wild ass species, roams the Qaywandar Lowlands.
  • The clouded leopard stalks the foothills of the Qaywandar mountains, and as does the leopard.
  • The heights of the Qaywandar, above the tree line, are home to snow leopards, chinchilla, and wolverines, while the forests of the Highlands are home to the marbled cat and the golden cat.
  • The golden cat, along with the leopard cat, dwells in the Lowlands and to the foothills stretching towards Muraymuna and beyond.
  • The lynx is well adapted to stalk the difficult terrain of the Qaywandar Lowlands and Highlands.
  • The yellow-bellied weasel dwells in both the Highland and Lowland forests, though it descends to the Lowlands in especially cold weather.
  • The wildcat also occurs in the Lowlands, as does the wild boar.
  • The giant forest hog also occurs in the Lowlands and where the Qaywandar foothills merge with Muraymuna.
  • The yellow-throated marten and hill marten dwell in the forests of the Lowlands and Highlands of Qaywandar, as well as where the foothills merge with the jungles of Muraymuna.
  • The lakes and rivers of the Qaywandar foothills are home to the common otter and smooth-coated otter.
  • Some species of grey langur inhabit the Qaywandar.
  • The mighty brown bear occurs above the tree line, in the Highland forests, and in their Lowland counterparts.
  • The Lowland forests are also home to the arboreal black bear.
  • Snakes that can be found in the Lowlands include the common krait, the spectacled cobra, the pit viper (which can be found in the Highlands and above the tree line), the black-tailed python, the common vine snake, the bronzeback tree-snake, the very hardy, adaptable, and arboreal cat-eyed snake, and the mountain pit viper (in forests at high altitudes).
  • The black-necked crane summers in the great Highland lakes of the Qaywandar.
  • The rivers and lakes of the Qaywandar Lowlands and foothills are home to the fish-eating crocodile and the mugger crocodile.
  • Deer species that live in the Qaywandar foothills include the chital, the barasingha deer, the muntjac and sambar deers (which can both be found in the Highlands).
  • The great elephant can be found even in the Highlands of Qaywandar.
  • The tenacious ibex dwells above the tree line in the mountains.
  • The people living in the mountains keep a riverine water buffalo species as well as domestic yaks further up beyond the tree line.

This is what the one who sits upon the throne of Mount Qaywandar has deemed fitting and right to show me; that there is his kingdom and his are its wonders. He allows whom he wishes to gaze on it and he forbids whom he wills!

VI. On Muraymuna



All that begins must end, Mijaranta, and so we arrive at the sixth and final of Dehrthaa’s regions. As you listened when I first spoke, listen to these my last words and commit what you hear to memory - for I shan’t speak of it to you after this day:

In the furthest south is Muraymuna, a land of uninterrupted forests and jungles, and into which flow a number of rivers from Qaywandar. The greatest of these is the River Mur, which flows deep into the jungle until it pouts itself into Lake Raiya. The rain is intense in Muraymuna, though it is evenly distributed across the cycle so that there are no distinct wet and dry seasons. When paired with the generally high temperatures, this makes for suffocating humidity indeed.

Muraymuna boasts a great variety of evergreen rainforest and flooded forests also. In the former, these forests enjoy consistent daylight cycle-round, with high temperatures and high rainfall. The forest is dominated by semi-evergreen and evergreen trees. These trees number in the thousands and contribute to the highest level of species variety I have observed in any of the regions Dehrthaa. A relatively small area may be home to as many as one thousand tree species! The perpetually warm and wet climate promotes more explosive plant growth than in any other area. Animal life is likewise diverse and abundant. I have observed that there are several layers of life to the jungle - a unique situation due to the abundance of life here. There is the forest floor layer, the understory layer, the canopy layer, and what I call the emergent layer. The canopy is home to many of the forest’s animals, including apes and monkeys. Below the canopy, a lower understory hosts snakes and big cats. The forest floor, relatively clear of undergrowth due to the thick canopy above causing little sunlight to make it through, is stalked by animals such as gorillas and deer. It is ever moist, with rotting fruit and mould, and a web of roots and vines from above. There is no wind on the forest floor, so the carrying of plant seeds depends on insects and other animals. The soil is rich in litter decay on the surface. A thick and continuous leaf canopy of broadleaf evergreen trees, such as mahogany, ebony, and rosewood, tops the forest. Palms, sugarcane, and bamboo grow too. Tree trunks tend to be smooth and slender with thin bark buttressed by woody flanks that grow from the root system to stabilise the tall trees. Usually, no branches grow on the lower two-thirds of the trees. Lianas climb the trees, and orchids, bromeliads, and ferns attach to them too.

The flooded parts of Muraymuna occur along the lower reaches of rivers and around freshwater lakes, producing freshwater swamp forests. The flooded region’s extent increases during the flood season, when the rivers bring a fresh deposit of silt - similar in many ways to the Mimrabans. Compared to dryer parts of Muraymuna, these swamp forests have few varieties of plants. Due to this, they are mostly full of one type or just a few types of trees, like myristica. Thin peat, however, may be found in these forests. Such areas, where trees are not present, give way to floating meadows. In fauna, these freshwater swamp forests are just as diverse as the dryland forest.

You ask me about the animals, I shall tell you. Listen well now Mijaranta:
  • The red fox is present in the dryer parts of Muraymuna, and both the dhole and wolf are present across the jungle region.
  • The opportunistic and powerful leopard stalks these jungles along with the sturdier jaguar, and as does the terrible tiger.
  • The black panther, a variant of leopards and jaguars, is also present.
  • The eastern parts of Muraymuna are home to the golden cat, which extends into the mountains also, and to the leopard cat and giant forest hog.
  • The solitary and nocturnal margay dwells in the jungles.
  • Various species of civet call the eastern and north-eastern reaches of Muraymuna home, and the binturong also dwells across the great jungles of the region.
  • The small-clawed otter, smooth-coated otter, and common otter dwell in the freshwater wetlands of the Muraymuna forests.
  • Innumerable freshwater fish call the Muraymuna wetlands and rivers home.
  • The jungles are home to many monkey species, including langurs, lutungs, macaques, and hoolock gibbons.
  • The jungles are also home to the sun bear and sloth bear.
  • The colour-changing chameleon also dwells in the jungle.
  • Snakes that can be found across Muraymuna include the common krait, the spectacled cobra, the king cobra, the pit viper, the black-tailed python, the common vine snake, the darash ratsnake, the aquatic checkered keelback, the bronzeback tree-snake, and the very hardy, adaptable, and arboreal cat-eyed snake.
  • The rivers and lakes of Muraymuna are home to the fish-eating crocodile and the mugger crocodile.
  • The muntjac, sambar, and hog deers can be found in the great jungle.
  • The common monitor stalks the great jungle while the river dolphin is to be found in all of its rivers and lakes.
  • The great elephant dwells here too.
  • The ruddy mongoose calls the Muraymuna forests home.
  • Various species of woodpecker dwell in the forests and contribute to its great and constant choir.

I have spoken and you have listened, Mijaranta, and this is all you shall hear from me about Muarymuna.

These are the six regions, and if you are to know the history of Dehrthaa you must know them well. He who does not know where a thing happened may benefit only little by knowing what it is that happened. And they should not be trusted who say, "it matters not the where or why, but only the what of it". Such as those will rid the world of wisdom and cause every sage to weep.

VII. The Origins and History of Dehrthaa to the Present Times



In the beginning, there was only the Serene Lord, and all was harmony and peace. When the Laugh sounded and cleft the world, the Serene Lord opened his eyes and frowned, and so the One Who Frowns emerged from the bloodfog - where he had always been and always frowned. Without speaking he gave chase to the One Who Laughs. And they raged in heaven and warred, and they brought about the Thousand Terrible Things and Faces.

Out of the fallen and debris of their battles, and out of their great warriors and war tools, was the earth brought into being in due course. When in time the battle continued to draw out and victory seemed no closer than it had always been, the One Who Frowns came to settle down, and he gazed on the world and found nothing befitting of his glory. So he caused Qaywandar to emerge from the bowels of the earth and he called it his throne, and there he sat and from there he watched over the clay-fingered people of Dehrthaa and he blessed them so that their hair was as black as silk.

Know this, Mijaranta: the land of Dehrthaa is ancient, and so long as time and man have co-existed so has it been. But it was not always unified, and the people for long suffered beneath the yoke of oppressive shids who carved up the land into petty shidras and filled the world with suffering due to their constant warring and jealous feuds. They paid goodness and justice no heed and chased blindly after the fulfilment of their desires and ambitions, and so they killed and slaughtered, stole and raped, betrayed and conspired. And those were the times of the Great Bloodletting.

Listen now, and listen carefully: in those times most people were organised, not tribally or in rural settlements as was the case in even earlier times, but territorially – in units of land referred to, as I have said, shidras. Cities were emerging in the Juhmar river valley with diverse populations - different people coming from all over -, and there were also increasingly wealthy mercantile communities - traders, merchants! - and would-be rulers carving out important roles and large territories for themselves in and around such rising cities.

At the same time, however, these cities were not stable economic or political centres; changing lifestyles, political infighting, and disease reduced their viability. Amongst other things, there was heavy taxation on the peasantry and exploitation of the people by those in power. As a text from that time period puts it:

“Those in authority feed on the people; the state is the eater and the people are the food.”

The One Who Frowns looked on all this and there grew within him great displeasure, and his displeasure blossomed into wrath... but before the full flower of his wrath could manifest itself unto the world it gave way to mercy. And so he saw fit to send to these straying people a guide.

It was so that the Glorified Mojtha came into the world and caused the thousand wayward shids and all their confederates to flee in terror and humiliation. And his days were many and glorious, and all of Dehrthaa, even from the green plains of the Khadaar to the deep jungles of Muraymuna, knew peace and harmony beneath the shade of the glorified Ramshid’s sagacious and divinely-inspired rule. When at last he shed his worldly chains, he did not simply die like you or me - for it is not the lot of those such as he to perish into dust away - but his glories cleansed and carried him, and the heavens called and beckoned him, and the people venerated and magnified him, so that he ascended on high and suffused all below, and all voices praised and glorified him and all heads fell in worship.

There came in his wake generation after generation of heirs, and of them were those who followed in the way of their father and well their duties to their people kept. They called to goodness, ordaining probity and proscribing vice, and they guarded their people against external threats and internal chaos and strife: so that when the Okur-Durcan rode forth from beyond the Khadaar, on their million dircaan-steeds, those gloried and just Ramshids sallied forth and smote them utterly and sent them north away; and when rapacious, jealous shids rose up to tear away the unity of Dehrthaa those hallowed and watchful Ramshids were the waiting hammer and fury, guardians of their people they! Those were the well-guided and successful, their spirits mighty and wise, and the One Who Frowns was pleased with them and caused them to rise up with their glorified father in death so that all voices should exalt them and follow in their way into eternity. Even now they are remembered and known, their deeds and virtues recounted; and all know them as Those of the Great Spirit.

Then there came after Those of the Great Spirit generation upon generation of heirs who mixed mindfulness of duty with neglect, acts of probity with those of vice, and who followed the way of their first father only in form and ritual. These survived on the legendary edifice Those of the Great Spirit had erected before them, and so they were safe and the people neither prospered nor suffered.

Then there came after them generation on generation of heirs to whom wickedness was made to appear good, and the people groaned beneath their decadence. They pursued the pleasures of the world and viewed themselves as living gods. They saw that all were to serve them, that all had duties to them and they to none. And the people raised their hands up and called with a single voice on the One Who Frowns to avenge them, and when he descended from the mountain, to grant them their harvest, how odious was the morn of those who had sown wickedness!

And there followed chaos and terror and a great bloodletting. In the vacuum left behind by the Ramshids emerged power-hungry mayors, governors, hard-eyed and untamed hillmen, feudal lords seeking self-aggrandisement, tribal chieftains, and rebellious peasant leaders. They emerged from every crevice and cavern and deep ravine, they descended from every mountain pass and rose from every valley and came on every great elephant and horse and dircaan to carve up the land of Dehrthaa into disunited shidras once more. The law was that of the fishes, and strife was the lot of the weak. The ways of the Glorified Mojtha and Those of the Great Spirit were thrown to the wayside and all sought only to fulfil their vain desires and ambitions as in the times of the Great Bloodletting the shids had done afore.

In that time there were brief - fleeting - cycles in which parts of Dehrthaa experienced some respite. The fierce foreign Plant-King, known only as the World-Conqueror, arrived at the banks of the River Mur during that period and decisively defeated a number of shids in the utmost southwest of Dehrthaa. He then set about preparing his troops for entry into Dehrthaa proper.

Because of the World-Conqueror’s death, the invasion never occurred; yet among those shids preparing to battle him was one Tahlan-Amujjirta of the tribe of Mupkinraya. Tahlan-Amujjirta had soon rallied to himself the largest army in the west with hundreds of elephants and tens of thousands of infantrymen. By either conquering or making alliances with the shids of other city-states he established an empire that stretched across much of West Dehrthaa: from the western Muraymuna, across the Qaywandar, and into the Khadaar, with the Rock That Would Not Move marking his easternmost boundary.

Tahlan-Amujjirta’s grandson, Mokrasha, led some unsuccessful campaigns against the shids of the Place Betwixt the Rivers, until after a particularly brutal battle on the southern banks of the Muhaddir he was moved to convert to the Mojthast Rejectionist creed, or, at least, to selectively appropriate the teachings of his Mojthast mentors. Under Mokrasha’s selective application of Mojathaya, the rudiments of a compassionate judicial system were implemented, non-violence and vegetarianism were encouraged, and various religious sects were honoured - however, monasteries were patronised and Mojthast principles favoured over all others.

Needless to say, Mokrasha came to be a subject of intense dispute amongst later Mojthasts, with some claiming he was a Seed of the Mojtha - for they do not believe Mojtha to be an avatar of great Misnaya -, while others view him as a great Mojthast but no Mojtha, and others yet hold him to have been yet another opportunistic shid who used the faith for worldly self-aggrandisement. After Mokrasha’s death, the unity of his shidra dissipated and the west reverted to city-states and smaller shidras. And across Dehrthaa, the cycles of darkness and blood drew out into decades, and it seemed to all that this Shidrasta would continue on into eternity. But those who neglect duty scheme, and the One Who Frowns schemes also, and his schemes emerge ever above what they contrive.

So in time it was the will of the One Who Frowns that Birsas shib Hur should be, and when he became he was made mighty and he was made glorious - so much so that some Mojthasts declared that there was planted within him the Seed of Mojtha. And when he grew, he grew strong and he was imbued with wisdom and his mind was honed. And the One Who Frowns bid him go, and he was placed where his power flourished and the flower of his destiny was made to blossom and all shids were brought low before him, and all of the land of Dehrthaa and her peoples bowed to him and praised him. And he ascended to the throne and was hailed as Ramshid, the coming forth of Mojtha into the world once more.

But when his mortal form was quashed and his essence ascended to the One Who Frowns, there came after him sons who did not keep to his way. They allowed greed and the dereliction of duty to take root in their hearts so that there was a terrible bloodletting. And it did not cease until the sons of Birsas had all perished bar the one called Dagran - and now as I speak to you the Dehrthaa finds itself splintered between Dagran who rules in the Place Betwixt the Rivers and the shid Arkhus shib Mucazim, who has married himself to Muwayma the granddaughter of Birsas, in the southern Khadaar. In the northern Khadaar the nomads have broken free of their ties to the southern shids and united themselves about a great warlord called Shuhgumir. The shids of Qaywandar, like those of the Mimrabans, are divided amongst themselves and watch fearfully and cautiously what those mighty shidras of the Khadaar, Muraymuna, and Place Betwixt the Rivers do. And in the Muraymuna we have seen the rise of the One-Godders continue unchecked - they have established their state there, first under the Teacher-Sage Roja Karn and then - after his assassination and the cessation of the Teacher-Sages - under the powerful Shidilshid Muhabarat. The unity of Dehrthaa is once more shattered, and we stand at the cusp of a great bloodletting once again.

I will tell you now of the One-Godders of Muraymuna and how they came to be. This movement came about in the late-Shidrasta. It was initiated by Ghinkulo the Teacher, whose simple message was spread through his prolific writings and extensive travels in all directions: God is one and supreme, he said. He is the all-pervading Creator — fearless, timeless and self-existent — who can be realised only through His own grace. All men are equal; discrimination on the basis of one’s position in society or creed as well as the suppression of women is to be denounced.

Ghinkulo advocated the righteous life of a householder against that of the ascetic. He declared that this world is a reflection of divine purpose and so man’s duty is to improve the condition of his fellow beings through, love, compassion, and right conduct. Practical virtue, rather than abstract piety, is the preferred way. Honest work, charity and the remembrance of the true God’s name is the path to salvation and release.

While being clear that his belief system was a break from Dehru tradition, Ghinkulo preached that one’s soul would reincarnate in this universe unless it attains release, which is to be achieved through the grace of the God. In its corporeal attire, the soul passes through cycles of birth and rebirth. Through Divine Grace, it can merge back into the Cosmic Soul and escape the cycle of life and death.

Ghinkulo denounced the oppression and tyranny of the ruling classes, protesting against the conquests carried out by the Mupkinrayas who had ‘stormed across the land with their wedding party of sin from Sondarba’. He lamented the suffering inflicted by the shids on innocent citizens, particularly the womenfolk. His reaction was not just of an eyewitness but also of a philosophical sage, a visionary and a poet. The shortcomings of the age, the profligacy of rulers, the nature of the divine will, and the suffering that mankind has to endure when the whih principles on which the world rests are ignored were all brought out in his compositions which are renowned for their spiritual depth and literary beauty.

This protest can be regarded as the genesis of the clash of the One-Godder faith with the shids.

When Ghinkulo settled down in Sokalkapur on the southern banks of the River Juhmar after more than thirty cycles on the road, he gathered around him a congregation which was a precursor to the community that was to follow. Here he taught the ways of the true worship of God, the practice of true whih – which he defined as duty – the discipline of true reflection and meditation as well as the rejection of outward form and false status based on one’s position in society or wealth. Here started the practice of singing the praises of God. Here too were seen the beginnings of the institution of the communal mess hall. A new community with its own tradition of companionship, values, and beliefs was thus born at the southern bank of the Juhmar. For Ghinkulo and for One-Godders, the lowest is equal with the highest in race as in creed, in social and political life as in religious hopes.

After Ghinkulo’s death, the head of the community who followed him came to be known as the Teacher-Sage. One of these, Buhra Letfu, made very significant social innovations that were to form an important aspect of a distinct One-Godder cultural identity, including the prohibition of the practices of wide immolation for women, as well as the propagation of widow remarriage and marriages between people of different positions in society.

The Teacher-Sage after him was Shurdas, his devoted disciple and son-in-law, who chose to build a town where the River Mur flows into Lake Raiya in Muraymuna. This town would get the name of Shurdaskan, later renamed Rutsa-kul; Lake Raiya would house the Temple of the Hundred Pillars. The One-Godders were encouraged to make contributions in coin, kind, and service for the growth of the town; in fact, the spirit of voluntary labour remains strong among One-Godders to this day.

The Temple was completed by the next Teacher-Sage, who asked a well-known Theistic Mojthast monk to lay the foundation stone. The simple and modest temple, as it then was, had none of the trappings of extravagance usually associated with such buildings. It was lower than the surrounding land and not towering above; it had five entrances and was thus open to people of all positions in society. The Temple was to undergo destruction and desecration many times at the hands of conquering shids, and would be given its present spectacular form by Shidilshid Muhabarat after the death of Ramshid Birsas and the rise of the independent One-Godder state.

Due to the martyrdom of a number of Teacher-Sages at the hands of shids, and as the One-Godder community came to realise that the non-violent martyrdom of sages would not awaken the comatose conscience of the oppressive regime, a martial spirit came into existence under the auspices of one Teacher-Sage Rhugaham. The One-Godders were taught to take up arms, but only in self-defence and for the right cause. Wearing two axes around his waist — one for spirituality and the other for temporal power — Rhugaham gathered a body of soldiers around him and spent much time on martial exercises and hunting.

These developments were a challenge to the shids. The fledgling army clashed with marauding shids on several occasions and emerged victorious, showing that the seemingly all-powerful warrior-ruler class of shids could be successfully challenged. A new spirit of armed defiance and pride in their prowess had entered the consciousness of the One-Godders which was celebrated by the singing of heroic ballads, accompanied by the blood-stirring strains of the sarangi at the Court of the Temporal Throne, the new temporal seat of the faith built right across from the Temple of the Hundred Pillars (which had become the spiritual centre).

Matters came to a head when a delegation of Shedder Rejectionists came to Teacher-Sage Marukbam, requesting him to save them from the conversions being enforced by one shid Fuhara’s priests. After deliberating over the matter, the Teacher-Sage declared that if the shid could convert him to Reformed Ritualism, the Shedder Rejectionists would follow suit. This was a direct challenge to Fuhara who ordered that Marukbam be brought to his seat at Palukban in fetters. Marukbam did not wait for his captors but began moving towards Palukban of his own accord. When finally arrested, he was brought to Palukban in a cage of wood and bamboo.

The priests challenged the Teacher-Sage to perform a miracle or convert to Reformed Ritualism. When he refused, three of his close companions, who had joined him, were killed in his presence. Thereafter, the Teacher-Sage himself was beheaded in the market square; there stands today a One-Godder temple known as the Bloodhall of Marukbam the Saint. It is said that a terrible storm then raged through Palukban and, during the storm, a humble One-Godder recovered the Teacher-Sage’s head and took it to Rutsa-kul, where Marukbam’s son Roja Karn was. The body was similarly smuggled away by another follower to his own hut at a place called Gulik Hill, and the hut was set afire to cremate the body. A solemn memorial made of white marble was later built on this site, the Gulik Shrine.

The jungle shids of the Muraymuna then watched Roja Karn’s growing power and influence with consternation, though the coming of Ramshid Birsas ensured peace. With his death, the One-Godders were unleashed under the leadership of first Roja Karn and then, after his assassination and the cessation of the Teacher-Sages, under Shidilshid Muhabarat. Now all of Muraymuna is in the hands of those unyielding One-Godder warriors.

VIII. The Creeds of Dehrthaa



Know this Mijaranta: the thousand warring creeds and beliefs have intermingled with the blood of every Dehru - you will not find a single one who does not hold to one creed or another. These various religions and beliefs may be based on region, clan, ethnic origin, and other factors, though the great majority of beliefs tend to be variations on the same core elements. Creeds range from polytheistic belief in the gods as real, personal entities that actually and physically exist, to an understanding of the gods as representations of abstract concepts and ideas one is to live by, to dualism, to purist one-godism, to wholly atheistic beliefs.

The traditional religion of Dehrthaa is the ritualistic worship of the Serene Lord, the One Who Frowns, and the Thousand Terrible Things and Faces. This ritualistic religion is organised and led by a class of spiritual teachers known as Priests. Priests can generally be found in every locality and are organised in great temples in major cities. Such temples are usually built on sacred spots, which are identified either through written or oral accounts of the history and mythos of that spot or pilgrimage site, generally telling of the exploits of a deity at a particular place and of wondrous deeds done by worshippers and pilgrims to it.

While ritual remains of great importance across Dehrthaa and the Priests benefit greatly from this continued importance, there is a powerful anti-ritualistic stream, known as the Rejectionists - that is, those who reject ritual. The Rejectionists emerged in the pre-Mojthaic period as a result of the forest movement - this was a movement that saw the “forest” as a place of refuge. Not only were there still heavy forests from Muraymuna to the Khadaar when it arose, but the “forest” also became a metaphor for the life of seeking and reflection, a haven from urban problems and a liminal space for finding the “truth”. The life of contemplation and asceticism was viewed favourably by those who spearheaded the movement and they tended to combine understanding with disciplined action. The Rejectionist stream of religious thought eventually developed from it. You may from time to time find pure forest ascetics, but they are a rarity now indeed.

Beyond the Ritualists and Rejectionists, there is the One-Godder belief system, which is a recent break from the Dehru tradition. There is also the Laugh-Silence Dualist belief system, which perceives the One Who Laughs to be the primal creative force or living spark, without whom existence would not have come into being and so is worthy of worship. There are also innumerable local tribal religions such as the Sky-worship of the Khadaar Nomads. I see your confusion Mijaranta, but have patience and persevere - only then will understanding descend upon you.

Were one to ask a Dehru of any sectarian persuasion as to the core of religion, the most likely response (with some exceptions) would be that it is whih. The term whih implies a sense of reciprocity between tibaya and each individual within nature. This larger cosmos supports all beings within it, and so all beings are obliged to support the cosmos. Whih is carrying out actions that uphold cosmic ‘balance’ and so prevents chaos. In this sense, it pervades all aspects of an individual’s life and pertains to things such as fulfilling of social, legal, and ritual duties in a manner that does not disrupt the cosmic balance. It entails, for instance, a reverential attitude toward life, right conduct toward one’s parents, siblings, and children, right conduct between spouses, and right conduct to people at large. Whih is thus not so much a belief in a deity or performance of rituals, but is a way of existing in harmony with nature.

Ultimately, however, one must seek release from all the world’s processes, a soteriological release into the great silence (in atheistic belief systems) or into the Serene Lord (in some theistic belief systems). Without it, one has nowhere to go and must continue in the world forever in a cyclical process of death, life, devolution, and renewability. This world of suffering, change, and disquietude is the arena from which one seeks release into the utter harmony of either the silence or the Serene Lord. This is natural, for existence emerged from a disruption of the original and sublime silence of pre-existence, and so all beings - and existence itself - yearns for a return to that silence.

The law known as the Law of Cause and Effect is a fundamental logic to this universal process. Those who maintain the balance in their thoughts and actions can expect good to happen to them, while those who disrupt it will reap what they have sowed. One could “use” the Law of Cause and Effect to bring about desired results, including one’s own soteriological release. With time, we have seen this law has come to be used in the hands of the powerful as a legitimation of status and power: our status is the result of our good past cause-acts; while their low status is a result of their bad past cause-acts. Yet many sages have refuted this: for just as there is a logic of cause and effect to the universe, so too in human affairs; good cause-acts can bring about good consequences, no one is locked-in to the results of the cause-acts of previous lives. Your immediate actions will affect your present life too, Mijaranta, not just the next one.

Different spiritual teachers have prescribed different paths that lead one towards observing whih and so towards living in accordance with tibaya. Lists of things to abstain from and things to do (Abstentions and Actions) appear in both Rejectionist and Ritualist schools. But now I shall tell you about those different creeds and beliefs, and after my speaking you will have encompassed all creeds in knowledge. It will remain for you to dive into the great ocean that is each of them if you wish to know more.

  • In the polytheistic beliefs of the Ritualists and in local beliefs, like Khadaar Nomad Sky-worship and others, the god known as the Serene Lord tends to be treated as the ultimate god, though he is largely considered to be far removed from the affairs of mortals or even the affairs of the other gods. Most view all the other gods as being lesser gods relative to the Serene Lord, while some believe that some gods - particularly the One Who Frowns, though the One Who Laughs is sometimes included - have ascended to such a level as to be his equals. The One Who Frowns is believed to have emerged in pre-existence when there was nothing but the Serene Lord. When the Laugh cleft through pre-existence, the Serene Lord opened his eyes and frowned, thus releasing the One Who Frowns into the world to chase down the one who had caused the Laugh. How the One Who Laughs came about is unclear, and there are many different beliefs surrounding the matter, but it is accepted that the world came about as a result of the lengthy chase and wars that took place between the two gods. The war has not come to an end, but the chase ended when the One Who Frowns caused Qaywandar to emerge from the earth and took it for a throne. He now sits atop the hallowed mount and watches over the silk-haired and clay-fingered people, and from there he commands his host of lesser gods known as the Thousand Terrible Things and Faces (the One Who Laughs similarly has a host of such lesser gods). For Ritualists, the Glorified Mojtha is believed to have been an aspect or avatar of the One Who Frowns through Misnaya, one of the lesser gods known as the Thousand Terrible Things and Faces. He came into the world to restore balance and order, and when he returns to the world he returns as an avatar of Misnaya under any name and not necessarily as the Mojtha. The Mojtha’s greatness, for them, lies in his having been an avatar of Misnaya.
  • Mojthast Rejectionists are a diverse religious group who can be broadly split into Theists and Atheists. Theists believe the Glorified Mojtha was an anointed mortal who achieved godhood due to his spiritual and material struggle. Atheists, who do not believe in material gods, believe that the Mojtha was an elevated spiritual teacher and master of men, the first in existence to achieve soteriological release. For Atheists, anyone who achieves release is a manifestation of the Mojtha. For them, Those of the Great Spirit are all Manifestations. Theists believe that the Mojtha himself is reborn into the world in times of strife to bring about his glorious and harmonious rule once more. For them the world is a cycle, the high point of the cycle is the rule of the Mojtha while the low point is the disintegration of it all in preparation for the next coming of the Mojtha and re-establishment of the Mojthaic order. Such is the cyclical nature of all things in existence, from the smallest living creatures to the broad movement of history and the world. Atheists believe that the seed of the Mojtha may be planted within anyone at any time if they are: a. mindful of the way, b. the condition of the times demands the Mojtha, and c. they take an active role in counteracting the prevailing corruption. It is important to note that Theist Mojthasts believe Mojtha to be the ultimate god and do not believe in the Serene Lord or the One Who Frowns, and the pantheon of gods beneath the Mojtha is made up of those who have achieved release.
  • Like Theistic Mojthasts, Shedder Rejectionists have their own pantheon made up of Forest-Teachers and those who have shed “anti-motes” and so achieved release. They are not active gods, but are the embodiment of perfection and the release to which all yearn.
  • In Laugh-Silence Dualism, both the Serene Lord and the One Who Laughs are treated as equally powerful opposites. In their belief, the One Who Laughs is the creative force and living spark, energy and vitality; the manifestation of sound. The Serene Lord is death, cessation (as well as thought and wisdom); the manifestation of silence.
  • One-Godders believe in one god only, who is both transcendent and immanent, meaning that he permeates both within and without the cosmos. The universe is his own emanation, an aspect of himself. While he is thus all-pervasive, he remains separate and distinct from creation. While some One-Godders have no qualms referring to their god as the Serene Lord, others do not do so because that name implies a gender when their god is genderless, and they also wish to differentiate themselves from other beliefs and to make clearer that the One-Godder belief system is a break from Dehru polytheistic and atheistic traditions.



This is all as the Master relayed. The ink has dried but the words have not ended.

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Esiré was holding the Oaken Branch to a still crying Auriëlle. The war was still raging, but the magic of the sorceress had been stilled. “It’s not working.” Esiré said, her lip quivering in panic. How could it not be working!? The branch had to be broken. Something was wrong with it. It always healed the Prophetess and anyone else! She needed certainty. Auriëlle needed the same certainty. With the blade of her dagger, she cut her hand open, not caring about the wretched pain that shot through her, and then rested the gnarled end of the oaken branch to it. The wound healed instantly, but Esiré’s heart stopped. The blindness could not be cured. “Prophetess.” She said with a shaky, trailing voice. What could she possibly say?

And then, in a flash of chromatic light, Auriëlle was gone. Nothing left behind of her. Esiré’s eyes turned wide as she fell to her knees, patting around on the ground. The assault was already failing at the breach. People were retreating. She couldn’t. “Prophetess!” She cried out, but others of the Cult noticed the sudden disappearance. Some had broken from the front lines, survivors of that terrible battle up close.

“Esiré!” One said as he came close, pulling her away right before an arrow dug itself into the earth right where she had been standing. “Priestess we have to go.” He said again, but Esiré was kicking and screaming. The Prophetess was gone and blind! How could she leave her like that!? “We have to leave! We have to live.” Esiré knew the words to be true but didn’t want to accept them. In the end they had to drag her away back into the forest.


At one moment the noise of battle and carnage had been all around Auriëlle. There was still the distant heat of fire and the sound of arrows digging themselves in the earth. That all just vanished. Replaced by the gentle chirping of birds and a cool breeze giving the occasional break from a warm sun on her skin. Where once she smelled smoke and battle, she now smelled grass and the scent of flowers - she assumed - that she had never smelled before. It felt like a soft and pleasant place. Except Auriëlle was utterly terrified. The only glint of light in her life right then, the guiding voice of her friend Esiré was gone. She was in an utterly strange place and no way of knowing where she actually was. With trembling knees, she rose up slowly. With shaking arms she reached around her, trying to find something touch.

“I was told you were going to come.”

The sorceress unleashed a bolt of lightning in a split second from where she heard that noise. She could hear its impact and smiled a little. She wasn’t yet beaten. All she had to do was find where she was and how to get back to the Esiré and Carn. Slowly, carefully, she took a step. Then another. Then another. And then she tripped over a rock couldn’t know was there. On the ground she turned around on the ground, carefully feeling where the stone was until she had it in one of her hands. A second later it was nothing but sand.

“Impressive.”

Again she unleashed a bolt of lightning towards where she heard the voice. Again she heard it impact, but this time she wasn’t so sure she had defeated that which was clearly watching her. She tried to listen. To hear the footsteps or maybe feel his movement on the wind. Maybe she could smell him? Her senses let her down though. She had to see him. So she willed the light into her eyes. Trying to break whatever curse was laid upon her. Trying to force her to see! For a split second, she felt a burst of heat on her face. Like she had been in the midsummer sun too long. It vanished again, but she still only saw black.

“I don’t think that will work.”

Again she unleashed a bolt, but this time she never heard it hit anything. In her other hand, she prepared fire. Whatever was toying with her, they were going to rue the day they chose Auriëlle as their little plaything. She would make them suffer. Make them bleed from within. But nothing happened. There was no counter-attack. No humiliating laughter. Nothing at all but the soft breeze. Auriëlle tried to move around again. More careful now. She felt grass underneath her feet.

“You’re learning.”

She didn’t release the fire she held in her palm but she did aim her arm at the source of the sound which seemed to move soundlessly around her. “Where am I?” she commanded.

“Far away from anywhere you know.”

“That’s not an answer.” She snapped back. “Tell me where I am or I will burn you where you stand.” But as she said it, she felt the imbalance in her stance. Slowly, awkwardly, she moved her foot. Trying to stand more centered.

“No, you won’t.”

The voice came from a completely different direction. The sorceress turned to face it. Then moved slowly backward. Trying to be mindful where she’d put her feet. The fire in her hand almost begged to be unleashed. “Tell me where I am or I will burn you and everything around me!” She yelled as she summoned another flame in her other palm.

“You could try.”

Another direction again. She turned, jumping backward. Wanting to keep her distance. She tripped. As she fell, she unleashed her fury. She felt the heat of the fires she summoned on her skin. The smell of burned plants hit her nose, replacing the fragrant scent of flowers. It wasn’t enough. She reached out with her magic to any of the stones nearby, not caring where they were, and threw them around. Certain she’d hit something. Anything! The wind was whipped into a frenzy around her as flames and fire lashed out everywhere around her. She moved around, tripping and falling many times over her own wrecked environment which couldn’t let her stand balanced, but getting up every time. She raged like that for what felt like hours. Ruining everything around her. Not caring what it was. And then she collapsed. The fires of rage faded. Replaced by pain and sorrow as she laid on the ground. Sobbing. She was blind! How could she continue on? Whatever toyed with her, whatever had been taunting her, it had won.

She waited for the end. To be killed. Nothing changed but the warmth of the sun overhead. It turned soft and almost pleasant. With nothing to do but to die she only now realized how good it felt. Maybe it was fitting. That she would die far away from any home she had known. Acadia was a terrible place in her opinion, but she still had her family there. Would they ever accept her back? Probably not. Then there was Nalla. Gods she hoped Tekret wouldn’t punish her for breaking her promise. She wanted to go back to Nallan. She really did. It was easy there. Comfortable, safe. The queen had her weird mind manipulation for sure, but she still let the sorceress do what she wanted. In perhaps her own weird way she cared for her. Then her mind wandered to Esiré. Loyal Esiré. The girl must be freaking out right now. Her and the others of her strange cult. It was only now, in a moment of forced serenity, that she realized how much they all looked up to her. And then there was Carn. Would she ever see his face again? Taste his lips on hers?

There was nothing left to do. What could be broken laid broken. What could burn had burned. It never mattered. A tear fled from the corner of her eye, running quickly down the side and falling off. She tried to calm herself. Breath slowly in and out. It didn’t really help.

“Finally at peace?”

Pouring all her hatred into it, she launched everything at the source of the voice. Rocks, plants, ash, fire, lighting, the blood seeping from her scraps. Everything! She could hear the wave crush everything in its path. It wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. The fires flared in her chest as she cast one more spell. Total annihilation made manifest. It would reduce everything that could burn to ash, and all that couldn’t to flash-molten slag. She knew this as she knew how to breathe. It was a certainty. Whatever had been taunting her had to be dead.

“Your father warned me about that.”

The voice came from behind her before she could react a roaring gust of wind she never heard coming knocked over. Throwing her back down again. Where the ground silently seemed to consume her. Stone and sand wrapped around her. She screamed for her life. With a touch, she rendered the stone that gripped her to sand. Only for new rock to rise from under it. It bought her time though. She jumped up. Wind aiding her. Yet she had no idea where to go. For a second she felt weightless. Afloat in the air. Before she felt the fall in her gut. With a heavy thud, she dropped down again. The punishment her body was taking became too much.

“It’s… better if you stay down now.”

The voice sounded almost concerned. Auriëlle didn’t care. “I won’t… die with my face in the mud.” Her voice was as strained as every muscle in her body. Still, she got up. As fast as she could, which was still slow. She reached out again and unleashed flame. Even from the heat, she felt how small it had to have been. Her arm fell down beside her body. It felt as if acid coursed through her legs. Her breathing was ragged.

“Sit down. Rest. It is over.”

“No!” She yelled at it. Casting out her hand again, fighting as much against her own body as she was fighting the stranger. Scorching heat exploded from her hand. Heat radiated across her hand, and then the pain came. Not the dull, aching, insistent pain of fatigue but a stinging, burning one. Something hot and wet ran along her hand. The rush of fire was the last though. Her mind fogged. Turned black. She tried to remain awake. Alive. She couldn’t. The last of her power expended, she fell on her knees and then on her side.

She woke up.

The warmth on her skin was softer now. It had to have been later in the day. Slowly she tried to get up. Something was wrapped around her hand. She could feel it. Then the stiff pain coursed through her, forcing her to lay down again. With nothing else to do, she did just that.

Time passed. She couldn’t know how much. Five minutes? An hour? Two hours? Never in her life had she realized how much she depended on her eyes to know the time of day.

“I see you’ve finally calmed down.”

The voice was close now. Very close. “Are you here to kill me?” She asked, not masking her complete resignation to powerlessness. It was like the tales they told everywhere around. The higher you climb, the lower you’ll fall.

“Me? Kill you? Gods no. Why would I kill my own ward? Others might though, for destroying the moss-stone garden.”

Was that a joke? Well, that was one clue of where she was. The moss-stone garden. Though she had never met anyone who kept a garden of mossy stones. She sat upright again. For a while she was quiet, and it would appear the other… thing either left or remained quiet as well. She could almost hear the sound of the wind now. Blowing through the gaps and around the jagged stone she’d made.

“Stand up dear.”

She did as the thing said. Its voice was distinctly unhuman. But she could decide if it was perhaps troll or something else. A hand took her non-burned arm, gently. Though she’d swore she counted only four fingers on her. Slowly whatever it was led her somewhere. Telling her when to mind the cracked and the broken ground around her. Eventually, she felt soft - assumingly green grass - under her feet again but they kept walking. Slowly, though with every step Auriëlle gained a bit more confidence. Until he bid her to stop again.

“Can you feel the tree before you?”

She reached out with her hand. No, she couldn’t. Maybe it was further away? But the entity beside her kept a gentle but firm grasp on her shoulder. She wasn’t supposed to move. Maybe if she reached out with her magic? She tried it and… nothing happened. Again and again, she tried to reach out with magic but it felt as if something sensory did come back, it was chaotic and impossible. “I feel it.”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

She felt insulted. Years of habit made her face him. Only for her to realize that facing someone now meant nothing. She couldn’t see their face, she couldn’t see whether it was joking or stern. She just… couldn’t see. Yet she heard the wind rustle, a sharp crack, and something came flying for her. She ducked, but the sound passed her by about six feet she guessed.

“Careful. This will help.”

She felt something wooden be laid in her hand. With both hands, she tried to grab it. It was thin and rough. The bark was still on it. She tried to bend it, see if it would break, but to her own surprise, it was pretty strong but bendable. It was, by now obviously, a stick. “What do you want me to do with this?” Auriëlle asked.

“Touch around!”

The strange creature seemed strangely excited but the sorceress did as he bid. She poked down in front of her until it touched something. She tried to grasp some details. Maybe pressure or something like that. It didn’t really work. She just knew there was something, presumably dirt or grass, in front of her. At least she could feel ahead of her now.

“Come, come. Let’s head inside. You must be famished and someone must tend to those cuts and bruises.”

Once more she was taken by the harm and gently guided away. With the stick, she kept poking forward. Trying to know where to go and where there were things in the way. It worked, if only a little. But it made her a little more confident about walking. Then suddenly she felt the ground underneath her harden. Soft grass was replaced with sun-soaked, flat stone. A road or path, but one she hadn’t seen before. No place in the highlands was so extravagant that they could use flat-cut stone just for a path. “You still haven’t told me where I am.” She eventually said. The creature seemed to remain quiet for a little while.

“You’re in the Omniversity now, dear.”





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