Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Valor
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Valor

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Homecoming.




It had been mere moments since Celestine had spoken with Thaa about the conflicts that she was having internally. But now she had a plan and most of the pieces needed to see it through. But now those pieces needed a place to exist. Celestine had promised that their needs would be met, and she had aims to see such a promise fulfilled. This required that her realm be modified once again.

Sitting upon the throne overlooking The Longhall, Celestine extended her divine senses outward to look over her realm once again before beginning to modify it. The first thing she did was massively increase the size and complexity of The Bulwark, along with placing it atop a massive hill. The previously fairly modest castle was now massive. The most notable additions to the easily viewable exterior were an extraordinarily large horn and a massive empty platform at the back of the castle. The function of such an arrangement would be fairly obvious: If she wanted to summon a death dragon to speak with, this would be where and how she would do it.

Aside from the platform the castle has had another important addition, though this addition is deliberately hidden from most easy viewing. Behind the hill is a massive tunnel that slopes downward until reaching a massive chamber beneath the castle. The entrance of this tunnel is guarded by a massive gate that opens automatically for either Celestine or a Death Dragon, but remains shut for all others. The chamber that the tunnel leads to is well lit by torches and chandeliers dotted around the area, but incredibly misty. Death energies from the portal within The Longhall are directed to flow down here, making this section of the realm remarkably similar to Thaa’s realm. This is intentional, because within this massive chamber are many dishes and other places where nests could be made. The intent is obvious: It is an egg chamber for the Death Dragons to reproduce.

The towns that had previously dotted the area beyond the castle have all been relocated around it. They largely sit around the base of the hill, and give the passage to The Egg Chamber a wide berth to avoid any mishaps with arriving or leaving Death Dragons. The outer wall of the castle has been expanded to accommodate the massively increased population surrounding it. The wall was much taller and much thicker than before, most likely to better protect the town from the activities of the newest inhabitants of the realm. It would not do to have a pair of playing Death Dragons tumble across a city and flatten it. At the rear of the wall there is a gap to allow for easy access to the passage leading to The Egg Chamber.

Beyond the castle and its surrounding town Celestine’s realm has been massively expanded and the biomes present have been immensely diversified. Now instead of being just a valley with a river Celestine’s realm possesses a mixture of flat plains, massive hills, mountains, valleys, and canyons. Plenty of places for the Death Dragons to amuse themselves and exercise.

Within these various biomes Celestine has also massively increased the population of prey animals. She specifically picked large animals that would put up a good run in order to provide proper engagement for the Death Dragons. Horses, Moose, Elk, and some Bison and Cows for effective measure. These prey animals were also made to repopulate swiftly since Death Dragons were, as Celestine learned, quite big eaters. This was especially true since Celestine encouraged them to play and exercise themselves in order to keep themselves in shape.

Beyond The Bulwark and within the valley that had previously housed the various scattered towns now lay hundreds of individually customized homes for the Death Dragons. Each one was made in a unique style expressed by the individual dragon. They were large enough to house two to three Death Dragons at any one time, and had massive beds for them to rest upon. One standard feature throughout all of them was a large and durable scratching post to rub off weak and dead scales with. The river that ran through the valley was also touched up and turned into a long stone-lined trough of flowing clear water. This water was also then modified to have a high metal content to support the health of their scales.

At the end of the valley a large pool of water was placed. This water was also high in metal content as the river, but was kept separate to ensure no cross contamination. The stone lining of this pool was kept coarse and easy to grip for the water remained in a steady swirl. There were also nearby places for a Death Dragon to stretch themselves out and sun themselves. The intent of this area was to be a place for a Death Dragon to bathe themselves within the flowing water. Celestine had even informed them that if they so needed they could request a team of Virtus Elves to thoroughly scrub them down.

Finally, Celestine turned her divine senses to the Virtus Elves. Their interactions with Death Dragons would be something that was going to reach deep into their society and so she sought to prepare them for such. Reaching into their essence, she strengthened their bodies resistance to falling from great heights and granted the ability to leap to those heights with relative ease.

Once that was finished. Celestine pulled her divine senses back into herself and gave a sigh as she felt her divine power wane. Walking to her personal chambers and then out onto a balcony she gave a smile as she saw the Death Dragons and Virtus Elves beginning to mingle and interact.

This was good. It would be needed for the future. They were going to be intertwined for a long time. It would be good for them to get used to one another's presence quickly. Returning to The Longhall and sitting down once more upon the throne that overlooked it, Celestine nodded to herself in silence and decided to try and rest a bit before doing too much else.



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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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The Second Knight.




Celestine was occupied with Cadien and Neiya when she received a tugging sensation upon her divine senses that someone was a viable candidate for Knighthood. Splitting her attention from the task at hand she followed the tugging sensation down to Galbar. She found her senses within a dimly lit woodland. She wasn’t aware of where exactly this woodland was, but paid such an unawareness no heed as it wasn’t all that important. Celestine’s divine senses were soon pulled towards a man hiking along alone. Pushing her divine senses forward, Celestine began to manifest an illusion before the man.

He would see wisps of sudden silvery mist begin to swirl together before him, slowly taking on the shape of a seven foot humanoid figure. After a short amount of time they would disperse slightly to reveal a tall elf woman clad in steel armor and a cloak of red and gold. Her outline was loose and made up of fragmenting mists. Looking down at the man, the illusionary form of Celestine would begin to speak. As she spoke the illusory nature of her appearance would be further reinforced by a slight echo surrounding her voice. ”Greetings, Jjonveyo. I am the goddess Celestine. Your actions are in line with my chivalric code and have earned you a piece of my favor.”

Celestine’s illusion would pause for a moment now. The first time she had knighted someone upon Galbar they had been quite devout and had reacted quite energetically to the appearance of the goddess before them. Would this be a similar situation? Or was this mortal perhaps a bit more used to the interference of the divine in his affairs? Celestine did not know, though the actions that followed her appearance would answer these thoughts well enough.

Jjonveyo tipped head and bent on one knee. Though his face didn't change much, surprise was clear in his eyes. He shut them and held his position of respect. "What actions have I committed?" His voice was low.

The illusion of Celestine drew itself closer to Jjonveyo as he knelt. This mortal appeared to be following the same sort of course as The First Knight, but he was far less energetic about it. Placing its right hand on a scabbard hanging upon its right hip, the illusion of Celestine would use its left hand to draw the sword that lay within slowly. The noise that it made sounded quite real and possibly gave Jjonveyo a start, but he was not in danger.

A few moments later, he would feel a gentle tap upon his right shoulder. Then a gentle tap upon his left. As these taps were felt, Jjonveyo would feel a trickle of knowledge enter his mind as Celestine blessed him with the knowledge of her chivalric commandments. As this went on, the illusion of Celestine would explain what he had done to receive such a blessing. ”You have shown mercy where it was requested, and have been humble about your deeds. You keep yourself and your equipment in good condition and you are an honest and genuine person. These actions qualify you for the title of Ser, and a gift to recognize your deeds. Rise Ser Jjonveyo, The Second Knight.”

When the illusion finished speaking it would lift the sword up from his shoulder before gently placing it back into the scabbard hanging upon its right hip. The hand holding the scabbard would then extend and turn horizontally, revealing it to be a very real object. As it left, Celestine’s actual sword would manifest in place upon the illusion. Once the sword was within easy reach of Jjonveyo the illusion of Celestine would speak again. ”My gift to you is a sword wrought from steel. May it serve you well in the coming battles.”

"I do not spite your gift, Goddess," Jjonveyo stared at the sword, "But any actions I have done that are deemed acceptable have been done for my people, as such it is they who should reap any reward, not myself."

Celestine’s illusion gave a nod before speaking briefly. ”Ah. Just as The First Knight requested. Very well, speak your wish and I will do my best to grant it.”

Since the sword had been rejected, the illusion pulled its hand back and placed the scabbard back at its side. Once it was there it vanished immediately as soon as the illusion let it go. The illusion would then place its right hand upon the pommel of Celestine’s actual sword while it waited to see what request Jjonveyo would make. This knighting played out just like her previous one so long ago. Celestine couldn’t help but wonder what Jjonveyo would request. Would it be tournaments like Boudicca, or would he wish for something else to bring a more direct form of prosperity to his people?

Celestine could only wait and see.

"A great center of learning," Jjonveyo rose from his knee, "A place where ideas are farmed much like wheat, so that we can improve our ways: indeed even learn better ways to farm, raise crop or cattle - build our structures and bring amenities to them. A place where we can learn how to work the materials of Galbar, create new tools and devices. Engineering," He slapped a fist to an open palm, "Architecture, Philosophy, learning. Give us a place where we can unite and learn together new ways to end suffering and enhance the lives we live." Jjonveyo tipped his head, "Let it be a gift that keeps on giving long after I am gone, perhaps even long after the Tsardom itself is gone, made way for something even better, more advanced. So long as it benefits my people and annihilates the suffering of life."

The illusion of Celestine would remain silent for a moment before speaking once again.“I cannot grant you the building of which you seek. But I can grant you the next best thing.” Weaving its hands together, the illusion would produce a hefty tome that was roughly the size of Jjonveyo’s torso and as thick as his arm. Holding this tome forward, the illusion would speak again. ”This tome holds the information that you seek. Take it to your people with care, for it is as vulnerable as any tome that mortals produce.”

As Jjonveyo would take the book, he would find its cover to be made out of a tough leather with a simple longsword adorning the cover of the book, surrounded by a simple circle of silver.

"Hoomph," Jjonveyo strained, the book being heavy even for his impressive build, "I --huff-- thank you, Goddess." Jjonveyo tipped his head again. "I shall have this book brought back to the capital at once, where --huff-- WE shall build a building around it to attract those who wish to learn and teach."

The illusion of Celestine would nod as Jjonveyo took the tome from her and spoke once again. ”Very well, Ser Jjonveyo. Do with it as you wish. Did you have anything else you wished to know?” As Celestine’s illusion handed the book off, it would place its right hand upon the pommel of her sword once again, clearly waiting to see what Jjonveyo would say.

"Do our efforts in our conflict hold your favor?" Jjonveyo asked from behind the massive book.

Celestine’s illusion remained silent for a few moments before it gave an honest answer. One that would likely not please Jjonveyo, but it did contain a revelation that would likely startle him slightly. ”No. They do not. You stand opposed to The First Knight, and seeing as their war is defensive my preference for peace leads me inclination to support the ones suffering a defensive war rather than ones leading an aggressive war. My neutrality is rapidly developing a limit, and you may find me on the opposing battlefield depending on what is asked of me. Know that even if I stand against you, I will not revoke your knighthood.”

"If you oppose me, you oppose my actions," Jjonveyo explained, "Ha-Dûna no more fights a defensive war than an arrow in the liver is simply making a home. They are on the defensive, but not because they are lambs. In the same way a doctor may destroy a disease, is our aggression - let it sit and the tumor will grow." Jjonveyo gently placed the book down and squinted at the Goddess, "If you are so against our efforts, then all you need do is strike me down now - and spare my people from your wrath and suffering." The man paused and shook his head, "But that wouldn't end the issue, I suppose - another people and another leader would replace my own." He closed his eyes, "Oh the tumor."

Celestine’s illusion shook its head before speaking. ”When I dubbed The First Knight, they asked me to teach them of tournaments so that their conflict-hungry warriors would have something to expend their energy into and a reason to keep themselves in shape. Then, in the first tournament ever held, one of the warriors present was cursed and turned into a demon. They lay blame upon someone they captured trying to escape, but I do not personally believe that the person they hold is truly the culprit and I will likely need to secure their release when my avatar returns to them. The body of the victim's son was found upon a rock some distance away. His throat was slit and he was bound. I have been shown by another god that this death was the catalyst to cause that transformation. If my attention had not been brought to this region by this offense I would likely not be involved at all, but I am here because The First Knight requested my aid. They said that this action was a declaration of war and here you and your people are: Making that war. Unless the absolute truth of the situation is brought forward then I am siding with the overall victims in this war: Ha-Dûna. And even beyond that I would most likely side with them anyway as I know that they were striving to become a peaceful society. I do not dislike you or your people, but I do dislike aggression. No matter the resolution of this conflict, I have a plan in place to see to it that the end of the cycle of violence will happen within the lifetimes of the people involved.”

Celestine’s illusion would cross its arms across its chest as it finished speaking, though its face held a neutral look. It waited now, to see what Jjonveyo would say.

"How do you plan on achieving this goal?" Jjonveyo pinched his chin, "With respect, Goddess, this story you have told me persuades me to believe that you had bet on the wrong number once and aim to do it again in hopes for a different result. Do you think I attack Ha-Dûna because I am opposed to peace?"

Celestine’s illusion shook its head again before speaking once more. ”My plan for achieving this peace will be seen by all when it is realized. As for your intentions with attacking Ha-Dûna If they do not align with those who insulted me and my tournaments by meddling in them then I will ask you plainly: What are they? Speak them without deceit and I may have a solution for you that is much simpler than a bloody war with divine involvement.”

"Ha-Dûna is a nest of oppressive behavior, greedy nobles, and the champion of stagnation. They know only their pride and bend their will around it, taking the world and by the sounds of it even gods along with it," Jjonveyo started, "They were offered a place in the new world, a chance to change and give back to the people, but they refused it - nay, they murdered it. The Tsardom has united mankind under a common goal of peace and prosperity, there is no room for cities who oppose this unity for their own gain. If blood must be spilt in this life, let it flow at least for the purpose of creating a better future."

The illusion of Celestine furrowed its brow in thought before asking a simple question in response to the information that it had been given. ”Prior to this war, how was Ha-Dûna a threat to you and your people?”

"Neither of us can stand here and deny that the Dûnan culture and influence travels far beyond their borders." Jjonveyo explained, "They are a landmark, powerful even. Should they oppose the reforms, then they actually have the means to reverse them as well and then we are back to the first square. They were first approached to accept the reforms by my own nephew - who never returned." Jjonveyo clasped his hands behind his back, "They are an opposing force, I serve the force of the reformation -- they are a threat and will be dealt with as such."

The illusion of Celestine would be frowning by this point. Shaking its head and giving a sigh it would speak once more. ”Your peace is a flawed peace. It exists only because you and your people seek out and destroy any culture that will not submit to your will. If you had simply left Ha-Dûna alone, what scenario do you think would cause them to become aggressive? What could not be solved by a simple exchange of words or, at most, a duel? And even beyond that, what will you do when you are on the defensive of someone who claims that you are in need of reform?”

"What indeed," Jjonveyo agreed. "By what tape does a society measure it's ethic -- is what you're asking me." Jjonveyo sat on the book and looked up at the Goddess, "I have spent my voice foolishly, only to now understand that I am but a mortal talking to a Goddess when I should be a mortal hearing a Goddess. Thaa understands the suffering of my people and so we wear his crest upon our shields, does Celestine - and do we wear hers?"

The illusion of Celestine would tilt its head before shaking it once again and giving another sigh. ”Peace is not easy. Neutrality is not easy. You have not wasted your words, for if I did not want to hear them I would not have. You have a difference in cultures, and your cultures are clashing, but it was you who decided to march upon Ha-Dûna. You have decided to achieve your view of peace by leading your people into a war. How many of your people will be dead by its end? How many of theirs? How many lives will be ended prematurely to achieve the goal you set out? How many people will cry out for vengeance because of what you have done? Violence is a cycle, and such a cycle carries with it a great deal of momentum. It will take time for that cycle to stop, but it cannot be stopped while it is actively being perpetuated. Do you understand the weight of the choices you have made?”

"If this was my vision, my goal and my choice -- then I dare say I'd be walking to Ha-Dûna alone," Jjonveyo raised a brow. "You are divine, but are you also a leader? The answer to your questions is all and it weighs on my heart more than it could yours, because I am mortal while you are immortal and hold more sway over the coming suffering than I ever could. It is not my fault if you decide to make the war longer and harder by going against the grain of mortal progression -- I dare say you should be asking yourself the questions you're asking of me." Jjonveyo pinched his chin again. "Did you try and convince them to pursue peace, or merely me?"

The illusion of Celestine lowered its arms and once more placed its right hand upon the pommel of its sword. Speaking once more, it elaborated on an event from the past. ”Recall that I told you about teaching The First Knight of tournaments. They were moving towards peace already, and through tournaments sought to give those who wished for conflict a means to vent their bloodlust. Recall that the first instance of this tournament was disrupted. They have never had the time to truly try and engage wholly with peace-”

"-I recall a failure," Jjonveyo interupted, "And a second failure to engage in peace when offered by the Celeviak people. Bring me my nephew Wojeck, so he can tell me what happened, and the war will be over until diplomacy has been truly given a chance. If you cannot bring him, then Ha-Dûna already answered your desire for peace with their own ambitions."

The illusion was silent for a moment before speaking once again. ”I will have my avatar attempt to bring him, but if he is deceased as you suspect then you will need to speak with Thaa as he is the god of the dead, not I. You do wear his symbol upon your shields, after all. Speaking of that once again, you may not wear mine.”

"Why bother Thaa?" Jjonveyo pushed, "Surely your peaceful first knight and their people did no harm to my nephew? Bring him, I'm sure he is fat on their hospitality." The Tsar shook his own head, "I will be in Ha-Leothe for three days, surely enough time for the divine." He paused, "And for the sake of the lives you lament about, I truly hope the Dûnans are as eager for peace as you suggest. And just to conclude: this war of ours is simply a symptom of the suffering in the region, and by defending the status quo you are merely prolonging the next conflict. If everyone else is asking for change, who are you to deny them out of favoritism towards your own personal ethos? I'm a leader; as Tsar I have done things Jjonveyo would never do, because I understand that while there is a cycle of violence, there is also a cycle of peace and suppressing the voices of those who clamor to end their suffering through positive change just makes more suffering." He touched his fingertips together and frowned, "If a Goddess cannot see that, and if a Goddess will oppose the forces intended to end the suffering of mortals by defending the status quo..." Jjonveyo fell silent, a stoic look taking his face. A long moment passed and his face grew sad.

"Well wasn't it your job to first ensure there would be no suffering before placing us in torment?"

The illusion of Celestine would once again shake its head and sigh. ”I will answer your questions with a question of my own: Who are you to change people who do not swear fealty to you? If you bring about the change that you want through war and strife then it will only sow the seeds for more war and more strife to come later. You recognize the cycle of violence, but at the same time you perpetuate it. Your people might have clamored for this change, but is that too not a symptom of the suffering in this region? You speak of being an effect of mortal progression, but do you realize how much progression you are destroying by conquering as you are? If all are united under your banner, is that not also stagnation and maintaining a status quo?”

"No." Jjonveyo squared his elbows behind his back and turned from Celestine. He hefted the book back into his arms, not bothering to turn around, "Any more words, Goddess?"

For the last time, the illusion of Celestine would shake its head and vanish wordlessly to leave Jjonveyo alone in the woodland with the tome he had gained. He would likely be in for quite a surprise when he learned of the identity of The First Knight.






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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Legion02
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“In ten years our children will be waging this very same war again.” One of Darragh’s Fakir said. They were all sitting around a fire, at the middle of their camp which itself was placed away the Celeviaks. At the edge of the forest. Where they all felt closest to home. Dusk was failing. Most were eating in silent. Until one spoke up to say what they all felt.

“Then they will have to fight it again.” Darragh said. His grim gaze forcing the Fakir to sit down and be quiet again. Deep down though, he knew the man was right. If he ever managed to free Ciara, she would fight this war again. And if whoever ruled then made a stupid decision like they had now, their children would fight that very same war again.

“Then why aren’t we ending it now!?” Shouted another who stood up. “The embers are still burning. We all feel it! We wait until the Celeviaks are gone and fan them again. Burn Ha-Leothe to the ground with everyone in it.” The mans eyes had gotten brighter somehow. They were the eyes of someone who killed and would do it again. All around him there were quiet murmurs of agreement.

“Sit down.” Darragh said softly. It was perhaps that softness that forced the man to do so. “We are not going to break our promise. Jjonveyo decided the people of Ha-Leothe will live and so we shall let them. So sit. Down.” The words left a bitter taste in the mouth. He didn’t believe in them, but he was forced to say them none the less. Yet even now he felt the soft, warm touches of the fire upon him. His heart yearned to turn them into blazes again. He could never give in to those sensations but still, he would’ve done things differently. Kill one in ten of the survivors. Show that those who rise up get slaughtered.

“He must’ve grown soft to get his apprentice back.” Whispered one of the Fakir. But just a little too loud. Darragh heard it. Eyes like a hawk spotting its prey turned to stare at him and the man instantly knew he was heard. For a second they were a soundless battle of the wills. One the man seemingly did not intend to lose. “Have you grown soft to get back Ciara?” He shouted. The Fakir’s murmur and talking quieted down as all of them looked at the two. Wind rustled the trees.

Darragh rose up. Tossing the bowl of food away as he walked over the Fakir. Who rose up as well. Eyes locked. Predator stared down predator. “We shouldn’t fight each other.” Darragh finally said.

“Then we should do what we came here to do!” The Fakri shouted back in his face. “I didn’t understand why you forced us all to come here. To fight for this petty warlord. We are Cenél, not Celeviak! I thought you had sold us out!” Some people around him nodded. “But now I see things differently. I understand, you hear me? I understand.”

“What do you think you understand?” Darragh asked, his voice still hard as stone.

“Your wrath! Look at those curs.” The Fakir pointed up at the hill of Ha-Leothe. “They were preparing for war. They want us dead! Just like you said. There can never be peace between the old tribes and the Dûnans.” Again, many murmured in agreement. “But now that we have a chance to end it once and for all, you refuse it. Why? Would you betray all of us for your leash? No, that’s not you. But you would do it for your adoptive daughter.”

“Careful now.” Darragh said, his voice gaining an edge. “You don’t get to bring my family into this. Ciara is my apprentice. Not my daughter. As much as I love her, I love my people more. Remember that it is me who brought you here. You’ve tasted Dûnan blood. Be sated with it and now be seated, son.” There was a strength emanating from Darragh now. As if the dark gods of winter were looming over his shoulder. The man’s bravery slipped away as he did what was told of him. Then Darragh turned around to face the others. “We are not going to burn Ha-Leothe. We are not going to break our promise. We are not here for the easy choices. We are here to finish this war. If you don’t like what we are doing here you will take your stag and return. You can still be of service to our people by guiding them. But if you stay and you break the promise, I swear to you I will break your hands.” None rose up to defy him. None even rose up to leave. Right now they might look like demoralized, frightened dogs but they were hounds who sniffed their first drop of blood. In time they would be clamoring for more. Darragh could only hope Jjonveyo would be wise enough to give it to them.

That night, Darragh walked away from the camp. Sleep was not for him anymore. He kept having nightmares about Ciara. Tortured, in pain. He should be praying, but it felt as if the gods stopped listening some time ago. Perhaps since he first voted to spare the Dûnans. Still, he made his way towards the camp away from the Celeviaks and Cenél. Where no more than thirty men and women lived. Half of them asleep. Others kept guard. Their hair and skin were different than Darragh’s pale complexion. Foreigners, all of them. Though foreigners with the sense to keep their distance. Yet as Darragh walked in he couldn’t help but note the eyes. They all had the same, intense, purposeful eyes that Keyleigh had. Eyes that had seen perhaps too much.

“Men always come when their daughters die.” Said Keyleigh. She was sitting by the fire. In her hand she held wet clay shaping it into a tablet. Her back was turned to Darragh. “Women come because of both their sons and daughters, but men like you only fall when their daughter is gone.”

“What do you mean?” Darragh said. As he stepped closer. Some of the strangers gave him so passing glances but mostly let him be.

“You’re starting to doubt your gods. Men only do that when their daughters die, because they’re not supposed to die, do they? A son perishes in battle is a natural thing. Accepted from the second they pick up a sword. A daughter… that cuts deeper. Especially to fathers.” Keyleigh explained as she kept working the clay. Making sure it was a s square as possible as it laid upon the piece of bark.

But the Fakir still didn’t understand. Truth be told, he didn’t know why he came. Keyleigh seemed to always have the answers to questions but now he wasn’t so sure of her wisdom. “My daughter’s been dead for years.”

“Your first one, yes. But only now is the sting of your surrogate daughter hurting you. Don’t lie to yourself, Darragh. You miss Ciara. You miss having her around. You miss the light of her smile.” Keyleigh said as she took a stylus in the shame Darragh had never seen before and started drawing lines in the clay.

“How do you know how she looked?” His mind bid him to walk away. She was a witch. Had to be. Yet his heart told him to step closer. To listen to her. She had the answers.

“Because people told me.” Keyleigh turned to face him. She cast him the same smile but hers didn’t light up at all. Instead it seemingly sucked out the light. Making everything look even more grim. “Everyone told me of Ciara and her golden smile. Sun-touched, some even dared to say. It is a shame she will die. But that is not why you’ve come. So sit and tell me why you’re really here.”

Darragh did as bit, thought didn’t like the way she asked him to. As if she was his master. Few people could talk to him this way, but he allowed it for now. “I’ve come to talk about your magic.” He said as he looked at her. “What you did with fire, you mimicked our rituals. Spoke our words. Who taught you?”

“In your rituals? Nobody.” Keyleigh said, playful like a kitten but she never took her eyes off the clay she was engraving. Deeper lines were woven together with smaller ones.

“Then who taught you magic?” Darragh grew more insistent. “It is dangerous what you’re doing. Uncontrolled. Whoever taught you is wrong. You must control your powers. Especially fire.”

“Do I?” Keyleigh put a finger her lip. An innocent gesture. Then a wicked grin grew on her lips. “I was taught magic by a woman who didn’t care about control. Oh you should’ve seen her Darragh. How she danced with flames and lightning. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. She wasn’t afraid of her own power. Like you are.”

Darragh felt himself grow angry. “I am not afraid of my own power.” He stated, trying to bite back the anger. He needed her, after all. Even if he wasn’t sure for what. He still needed her. “Magic is a gift of the gods. We should respect it. Fear it, in the case of fire. It’s a miracle the fire hadn’t spread. Do you believe the same folly Jjonveyo believes? That a mere trench protected everything around it?”

Keyleigh let out a sharp laugh. “The gods? Didn’t they smite me down now? The gods don’t rule your magic, Darragh. You’ll learn that soon enough. As for the fire, I know exactly why the fires didn’t cross the trench and it was no miracle. Yes, Darragh, I know it was you who kept it contained. You and your closed people.”

“Wait, how do you know? I made sure to hide it. To keep my magic at the mere fringes of the magical control of others.” Darragh asked. Both impressed and a little frightened.

“I felt it. You can hide your magic from you kin perhaps, but not from me. You know this modesty if yours, it can be a way of vanity as well.” But then Keyleigh was interrupted by someone who whispered something in her ear. She just nodded when he was done and put down the bark carrying the clay square beside the fire. “As much as I enjoy your late night talks, Darragh, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave. We have matters to attend to.”

For the first time now, he saw her grow serious. Suddenly around him there was a bustle of activity. Several embers of fires were raked open. The white and black ashes were scooped up and placed in bowls and mixed with water. One of which was handed to Keyleigh. “What are you doing?” He asked.

“Preparing. You shouldn’t be here.” She started to sound worried even now. “You must move. Go. These are things my people must do.” She kept ushering him away. Towards the edge of the camp.

Darragh managed to look back and saw several people pick up long, dark, hooded cloaks.They stepped to one of four people holding the cups with ash-paste. Which rubbed it on their brows in the form of an arch. Only when he saw the knives and axes did he start walking away from the firelight. Into the darkness that was spread between camps. Keyleighs people kept moving and running around. Until suddenly the whole camp was abandoned.



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Sundom


Down in the Gardens, a wind blew warm across the land, bringing with it the tides of change. Oraelia knew the suffering that went on here and thus she created from the land, a large cathedral hewn from the rock. It stood tall, supported by tall trees and flowing gardens. It would be a place of healing and warmth, where those who sought to be comforted from horrors could go to find peace. Oraelia knew that the machinations of her peers were ever moving and thus, she made another change to the design, for in it she wanted mortals to be taught to confront their fears and to control their powers, if the need ever arose. She then erected walls and defences invisible to the eye and put into that place her very heart so that all might be loved in her embrace.

Yet, it remained empty.

She took a deep breath and spread her hands across the good green soil of the Gardens, sowing new seeds that would come to grow within the bodies of hopeful mothers. These children would be destined to heal the people of the land, and inhabit the Cathedral. In time they would grow to know its greatness.

Knowing still that the Cathedral would sit empty for years, she decided to entrust it’s protection and that of the land to the nearest family. There was nothing special about them, nothing that defined their presence but the courage to do what was right. She asked and they did so out of genuine want and thus, Oraelia parted with them with a gift.

They were known as the Omun.




The scouts had returned bringing grave news. The humani were marshalling forces on all sides, making a march for Ha Duna. Not much had been heard from the city, besides a few rumors from the many pilgrims who sought the gift of the statuette. The many fears of the Sun’s Daughter had come to fruition. They had tried to seek peace with the surrounding towns and villages, starting small, hoping to work their way up but they had been too slow. Now the host of the Oraeliari within the Caisteal Na Grèine, were preparing for war. Pilgrims were made to take shelter and those tending the surroundings lands were brought in for protection or sent home.

Spears were forged, blades were made anew, arrows were fletched and bows were strung. With the help from Lucia and Sanya, armor was crafted in the visage of the sun. From their inner forges, they produced that which could protect like never before. Plate that mimicked the gift of the Goddess. It was not as strong but the likes of it had never been seen before. It was an advancement of the ages but one used in the horrors of war. They were no stranger to that beast. They knew of its pain and suffering but they did not shy away from the task at hand.

The cardinals stood tall, beacons of hope in a tide of crushing dark. Even still, Lucia and Sanya stood taller still. Living embodiments of the mother’s will, brought forth to bring about a lasting peace. Even if it had to be forged with a heavy heart. They would set out soon, in an attempt to save that land from it’s own vices, from more needless pain.

Solus watched from where he stood in the courtyard. Silent but resolute. He had returned from the far west, preventing those who sought conquest upon the dunalands. But he had failed to look to the east and now what approached was a deep breath before the plunge.

Lucia and Sanya walked to him and he knelt down. Both held their helmets under the arms, while the darker haired woman carried her spear in the other. With a look of doubt, Lucia bowed before him.

”Mighty Solus. I wish we could have met under better circumstances. It seems the mortals here have a penchant for starting wars over something or another. I wish it were not so. I thought we were going to do better but the conflict that is brewing is testament to that failure. But I digress. How are you doing? Was the trip west uneventful?” She asked in a voice that reminded the avatar of his mother. In fact, no one had ever asked him how he was doing and Solus did not know how to react.

“You…” He began in a deep, but soft voice. “Remind me… Of her… Mother.” The avatar took a pause. “The West… Is secure. Saved from… Warlords and… False gods. Here is… No different… You all will… Save them… From… Themselves. You… Must. I will… Help.”

Lucia nodded, a look of relief washing over her face. ”It does me good to hear that, Solus. I am glad you are well and unharmed from your trip. I can’t imagine dealing with all that but you did and we thank you for it. We plan on leaving for Ha Duna shortly once the final preparations are made. If all goes well, we can prevent anything from happening before it gets out of hand. Let’s hope that there is no trickery afoot from other, less civil, gods. As it stands, anything could happen and we have to keep our eyes open. Having you at our side will put all of us at ease. So, thank you, Solus.” she flashed a smile and jabbed Sanya, who also gave her thanks.

Solus stood and remained silent for a time. “War… Never changes. We will… Do… What we…” A presence came snaking in on the winds and the avatar turned his attention up and behind them. His perception scanning the skies for that which was unseen by mortal eyes. There. He found it… No… He found her… Flying so high above.

His voice was no longer soft. “She… Flies… Up above... My old… Enemy. A viper… A stain… Lucia… Sanya… Aveira… Has come. Protect… I must. Mother… Would… Want that… Thank you… For kind… Words… Aveira must… Be… Destroyed. Goodbye… Daughters… of the… Sun.” He took off into the air as Aveira made her approach.

Behind him, Lucia cried out for him to stop but Solus was resolute in his charge. Aveira could not be allowed to meddle in the affairs here. Another Luminant… Was not needed. It was time for her to face judgement.









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Cadien


A pleasant visit.




It had been a somewhat short amount of time since Celestine had modified her realm and things had generally settled down into a general routine and normalized once again. Celestine was once more sitting upon the throne that overlooked The Longhall to keep an eye on the general attitude of any souls that may have been passing through. Since she had the downtime to reflect upon recent meetings she had been in, Celestine took the time to think a bit further back in her time that she had been independent from The Lifeblood. A thought that came to mind was that she hadn’t kept in touch with Cadien. Her first meeting with another god was a pleasant one, and perhaps now would be a good time to catch up now that she had been a bit more active?

Rising from her throne and heading to her visitation chamber Celestine stepped out from her realm and into Antiquity. Extending her divine senses outward she looked around for the portal that would lead to Cadien’s realm. Finding it almost immediately Celestine proceeded to step inside. Once the realm coalesced around her, she took a moment to examine her surroundings before announcing the intent of her visit to Cadien as she had done with Thaa. ”Greetings, Cadien! It has been some time, but I have come to visit with you once more. If you are not occupied with something, would you care to catch up?”

Once her greeting was given, Celestine merely waited to see if Cadien would respond. Hopefully she had been loud enough in her announcement that his divine senses would pick up on it. She didn’t move too far from the portal that would lead back to Antiquity in the event that she would possibly not be a welcome visitor or the possibility that Cadien was out of his realm and doing something else, and she figured that it might be rude of her to go and merely wander into another god’s realm as if it was her own.

As she waited she would take a few moments to examine her surroundings to see if Cadien had made any significant changes to his realm like she had just recently done with hers. While she did this she would rest her right hand upon the pommel of her sword and taking a more relaxed stance than her usual approach. Compared to the naive and freshly born goddess that had wandered into his realm by mistake Celestine seemed to be almost an entirely different person by now.

A number of changes had indeed been made. Where once there had been three islands, there were now dozens, expanding as far as the eye could see. All were inhabited by a plethora of different species, many dressed as warriors, though the armour they wore was as varied as their species.

Celestine? Cadien asked. Ah! Come on in. I am in my castle, as usual.

Celestine gave a nod to Cadien’s voice and walked briskly up towards his castle. As she approached the main gate she took a moment to admire the craftsmanship that went into the castle. Her own freshly renovated castle was a sight to behold, but there were fine details that only the god of perfection would think to implement. Pulling her attention away from the stonework Celestine would return her attention to the original goal that she had come to the realm for.

Entering into the throne room, Celestine would approach Cadien with a gentle smile upon her face before taking a moment to curtsey out of politeness. When she stood up she would rest her right hand upon the pommel of her sword again before speaking. “Greetings Lord Cadien. How have you been? I took notice of many new islands floating about your realm. Are you in the middle of a project or is that simply the natural expansion of things?”

When she finished speaking Celestine would take a moment to glance about the throne room and see if there were any new additions to the interior as well as the exterior, though her gaze didn’t wander far from Cadien himself as she didn’t want to be too impolite by paying more attention to the surrounding area than the conversation at hand.

The throne room was unchanged. Cadien himself was seated on his marble throne, a dark-haired Neiyari standing by his side. “If you’ll recall our past conversation,” Cadien said, “I mentioned reaching out to the God of Death. I have done so, and he has agreed to give me the souls of fallen warriors who share my ideals. I have expanded my realm in order to house them. Now, what about you? How have you been?”

Celestine gave a few nods at what Cadien had said before replying in kind. ”Ah. I do remember. I’ve reached out to them myself a bit, and have the same kind of bargain myself. I expanded my realm just recently to accommodate a project that I’m working on. Overall I’ve been well, thank you for asking. How have you been doing? Are your projects going well? Do you have something that you think you need assistance with or input on? I’ve learned the value of having an alternative viewpoint to something recently and can offer my thoughts if they’re needed.”

“You made a bargain with him as well?” Cadien asked, raising an eyebrow. “I was never informed of this. What were the terms?”

Celestine gave a nod at Cadien’s observation before elaborating upon the conversation that took place some time ago. ”Yes. They said that the terms should be roughly equal to the terms that you have also laid out in the bargain that you made. At the time of my visit they did not mention you by name but did mention that another deal had been made. So the souls that we have bargained over have three destinations to choose from. Though I have had another clause added to my bargain. Those who I dub with the title of ‘Ser’ will be guided to my realm exclusively when the time comes for them to pass onto the afterlife. Does this amount of information satisfy you, Cadien?”

“Is it only those who bear that title that get taken?” Cadien asked.

Celestine would shake her head briefly. “Not exclusively. As I was informed when the souls pass onto the afterlife they are given a choice of which realm to go to and so some come to mine out of choice rather than direct guidance. The title of ‘Ser’ serves as a sort of beacon for them to come to mine, as I understand it. It is possible for them to be taken, but as part of the bargain I have been charged with rectifying such a theft personally and not bothering Thaa over such a thing.”

“Hm. It is still rather rude that I was not informed of this sooner…” Cadien said. “But, I digress. It seems our realms now fulfill a similar purpose. Not necessarily a bad thing. Hm…” the God stroked his chin thoughtfully. “What sort of afterlife awaits those who are taken to your realm?”

Celestine gave an apologetic nod. Perhaps it had been her duty to inform him of such a bargain being made, and if it had been she had seemingly neglected it. An unfortunate circumstance but one that could not be corrected by now. Speaking once again, Celestine addressed that thought before too much time passed. ”It may have been possible that it was my duty to inform you of such a bargain being made. I had presumed that Thaa would be the one to update others involved in such a bargain when new parties made a similar contract. Thus, if that is the case, you have my apologies for neglecting such a duty until now.”

Taking a moment to pause, Celestine would continue and answer the other question that Cadien had posed. ”What awaits in my realm is a grand feast that never ceases, and then tournaments for those who wish to battle even until the hereafter. I also permit sparring and training as visitors wish, and so generally speaking my realm is a place to enjoy martial prowess to its fullest.”

“Hm. I intend much the same, myself,” Cadien said. “In fact I have already implemented such features. Which makes it seem odd, that mortals must choose between the two when the primary difference lies only in which god owns the realm. Two friends could fall on the same battlefield. One could go to your realm, while the other could go to mine. It might be somewhat disheartening, when they realize they are apart from one another. Hm.” He inclined his head slightly. “How would you feel about a connection that allows travel between our realms?”

Celestine gave a nod to this suggestion before speaking. ”I would not mind it, since the concern that you raise is valid. I could create a passage here and you could create a passage in my realm? Then the construction of each passage will provide a fair indicator of which realm it will lead a soul to?”

“Perhaps,” Cadien nodded. “Mayhaps it could also lead to some interesting competition. If the warriors of my realm were to compete with the warriors of your realm. We could stage tournaments, duels, perhaps even battles. I’ve had few opportunities to test my own wits and skills against another diety, and even fewer on friendly terms. What say you?”

Celestine would bring a finger to her chin for a few moments before nodding. ”I would not be opposed to such an idea. A competition of friends and allies would certainly be interesting. Perhaps we could both create our own battlefields and alternate between them for each tournament?”

“Yes,” Cadien nodded. “That would be interesting. I suppose we could even create rewards or incentives for those who distinguish themselves, too.”

Celestine would nod a few more times before speaking. ”This would likely be a good incentive, but what rewards would you argue to give? Recognition for performance would likely only go so far.”

“It is a challenging dilemma,” Cadien agreed. “What rewards can appeal to those who are already dead, who already live in a paradise, and will continue to do so in perpetuity? Hm. Places of honour at feasts, perhaps? Ranks or titles? It’s hard to say.”

Celestine would bring a finger to her chin once more as she briefly bowed her head in thought. A risky idea came to mind, but it would serve as something that was a worthwhile cause to offer to a soul with nothing else to gain. ”It would likely require us to speak with Thaa for a bit, but perhaps it would be a worthwhile idea to promise the greatest victor the chance at reincarnation? Tis the only thing that I could think of that would be tempting to a soul with naught else to want for.”

Cadien did not get the chance to immediately reply. An uncharacteristic rumble echoed through the back and side of his throne room, seemingly emanating from one of the many decorated doors in his luxurious manse. Without further warning, it flew open to reveal the slender warm red arm that had forced it open. Into his realm strode a red-skinned horned woman, dressed in luxurious clothes that seemed to be distinctly crafted to accentuate her silhouette. The blood red glow where her eyes should be twisted with her head to settle on Cadien upon his throne, and briefly; Celestine.

Behind her followed two likewise horned and tailed women who appeared vaguely identical, though their skin were pale and blue respectively. Their eyes glowed with gold and white, and they lifted grand copper horns as they came to a standstill behind their comrade. Blowing the horns, they played a simple but bombastic tune as the red-skinned creature dipped into a deep and extravagant bow. With grand words, she spoke. “Alas, too short was our past visitation. Now our Queen languishes for the embrace of her one and only. A tale as old as time itself, a lover seeks her match to have and hold in trial and tribulation.”

The horned woman fell silent, and slowly righted herself. Silence followed.

When the group of newcomers arrived, Celestine’s resting hand gripped the pommel of her sword briefly before relaxing. Thankfully she didn’t otherwise display too many signs of her surprise at their sudden appearance. Turning herself slightly to face a sort of middle ground between the trio of newcomers and Cadien Celestine returned the bow out of pure instinct and deeply rooted courtly manners. Listening to the announcement that the seeming leader of the group made she couldn’t help but wonder who it might be. It was then that the thought struck that these were likely handmaidens of Neiya. When that revelation was made, the rest fell into place easily: When they had first met and Cadien was giving her an overview of the others, he had expressed on at least one occasion that he loved Neiya dearly, so it was only natural that Neiya would be present within his realm on at least a semi-regular basis.

Giving a nod at the announcement to acknowledge it, Celestine refrained from speaking in order to not disturb the arrival of Neiya. Though she did note that Neiya seemed to be delaying her arrival a bit and had possibly left her handmaidens in a slightly awkward situation as they announced her arrival long before she would actually arrive. Perhaps something spontaneous had come up and needed addressing? Or was it possible that Neiya simply enjoyed building suspense before revealing herself?

Celestine resigned herself to not ask such a dangerous question.

Only moments later, Celestine’s theory received it’s answer, as a fourth shape emerged from the open archway. Just above the ground hovered a pale young woman with hair the color of platinum and icy blue eyes, and long blue markings running beneath her eyes. Black horns sprouted from her head and shoulders in an almost crown-like and regal manner, a distinct contrast to the shackle clasped around her throat. Naked feet dangled precariously only inches from the opulent flooring in Meliorem, and the horned lady drifted forwards as the trio of heralds skirted out of the way and closed the door behind her. Her eyes found Cadien first, and moments later the icy gaze found Celestine instead. Her brows furrowed, and a thin frown formed on her features. She appeared as though she was going to speak, when her red-skinned herald returned with a poorly-timed skip forward, gesturing lavishly towards the goddess. “Behold! Our glorious Queen, Neiya!”

Cadien rose to his feet, while the Neiyari who had stood silent and impassive all this time dropped to one knee. The God of Perfection approached the Goddess of Love. “Neiya,” he smiled warmly. “It is good to see you.” He gestured to Celestine. “This is Celestine, a new goddess who only came into being recently.” Then he looked back to Neiya. “How are you? Is everything alright?”

The horned goddess' gaze slowly drew away from Celestine at Cadien's attempt to draw her attention to other matters. When she finally focused on him, it was with a brief and theatrically hurt look, and she sighed with a familiar, forlorn bitterness. "I had a mind to visit with my beloved, though I know no longer if I'm wanted. Celestine?" She questioned with another exhalation, though extended an arm to drape onto his shoulder affectionately. Her horned herald clutched at her own heart and sighed in an attempt to match the forlorn state, but earned a shove of an elbow from one of her pale companions to snap out of it. "What manner of goddess are you, pray tell?"

Celestine’s vision nearly moved downward to examine the entirety of Neiya’s form before quickly locking itself to Neiya’s face after she realized how little the goddess wore. The clearly out of place interjection of one of the handmaidens was slightly awkward and moderately amusing but Celestine knew better than to comment on it lest she risk provoking the wrath of the people present. The other things that Cadien had mentioned about Neiya made themselves relevant in Celestine’s mind as Cadien seemed to quickly move to defuse a situation that might be brewing when Neiya furrowed her brows and began to frown.

Once their brief exchange was over Celestine grasped at the edges of her cloak like one would a skirt and curtsied to Neiya. Once she stood she would begin to answer the question posed to her. ”Greetings, Queen Neiya. I am Celestine, Goddess of Soldiers. My particular focus is on Knights. I have heard many glowing things from Cadien about you, and it is a pleasure to finally make the acquaintance.”

Celestine would then give Neiya a slight smile, though internally she hoped that her choice to focus on the good things that Cadien had said about her would do to diffuse the seemingly upset attitude that Neiya had briefly begun to gather when she found the goddess present. Having another idea come to mind, she presented an option to resolve the situation before things got too out of hand. ”If my presence disturbs anyone involved, I can certainly take my leave until later? I do not wish to intrude upon the plans of others by being present where I am not wanted.”

Neiya seemed to ignore that final comment from Celestine, and instead let her morose gaze roam the soldier goddess. Her fingertips brushed up against Cadien's cheek briefly in a show of affection, before the goddess hovered forwards towards Celestine instead. That same hand extended towards the new goddess, the back of her hand pointed flat towards the ceiling. Her chin raised to further enforce her regal affectation. "What glowing words resonated with you, Goddess of Soldiers? What did my beloved sing of me?"

Celestine kept her vision locked upon Neiya’s face as she approached. The extended hand proved to be a point of confusion for Celestine. Did Neiya want her to take it? Or perhaps it was merely kept there out of habit? Was she going to repeat the same gesture that she had done with Cadien just now? What would be the lesser offense, to take the hand or to leave it? Choosing what she hoped would be the lesser of the two offenses, Celestine opted to not take the hand and instead began to share what Cadien had said when they first met. ”When he first mentioned your name, he immediately followed it up by saying how dear you were to him. Then he also made the clarification that he found you to be beautiful, witty, and calming.”

Celestine knew that she was lying via omission, but her desire for peace and respect for Cadien led her to set aside one of the aspects of her chivalric code. As she did so, she pondered on how rigid her interpretation of such a code was. Perhaps allowing for some flexibility would be of greater benefit than sticking to so rigid of an interpretation that it caused more harm than good?

In this situation, it certainly seemed to be a wise decision.

Neiya retracted her hand with practiced grace, her eyes following Celestine's lips
as she spoke. Soon enough, she touched her own cheek and seemed to light up with a polite, faint hint of a smile. "Oh, my. What a lucky goddess I am, to have such a charming love," she breathed with a considerably less standoffish tone, before drifting backwards in the air to approach Cadien again. She gave him a brief but intense look, bumping into him gently before wrapping an arm over his shoulder. "I hope I'm not intruding on anything formal. I wouldn't want to disrupt anything."

“It is no issue,” Cadien smiled, feeling some level of relief as he wrapped an arm around Neiya in return. “Celestine and I were simply discussing a joint product. The fate of the souls of the warriors who perish on Galbar. It seems we have similar ideas, so it only seemed sensible to discuss the matter further.”

Celestine would nod at the mention of the discussion that she and Cadien had been having before the arrival of Neiya. Thinking back a few moments to recall the idea that she had put forward Celestine would take the time to reiterate what she had said. ”Indeed. As for where we left off, I would make the proposition that perhaps for the supreme victor of the overall tournament have the opportunity for reincarnation. What more could be offered to a soul that wants for nothing than the chance to live again?”

Shifting her stance slightly Celestine would finish her thought after a few moments of silence. ”We would likely have to speak with Thaa about it, since he is the overall manager of souls in the afterlife and may not be so keen to have a soul return to Galbar.”

Neiya seemed indifferent at best, Cadien's explanation quickly glazing her eyes over. By the time Celestine was elaborating, she had already decided to inspect her nails instead. "How perfectly droll, to waste so much effort for so little," she interjected with a simple sigh, still caught up with her own preening. "If I held such, I'd simply offer to fulfill their desire and be done with it. Besides, the Lord of Death is terribly long-winded. Only Yamat talks more than he."

Cadien furrowed his brow. “You speak with Yamat?”

"Hm? Oh," the goddess began, pausing to glance up to Cadien with deep blue eyes. "It's a long time ago now. He accosted me in the… square area. He gave me some advice on how to be tougher. Looking back, I… well, I'm trying to be better now." Apparently finding her own explanation satisfactory, she resumed looking at her nails.

“You could have told me about it, my love,” Cadien said. “I’ve told you before, but Yamat is not to be trusted.” He ran a hand through her hair.

Celestine had begun to move to thank Neiya for her input before Cadien stepped in to address Neiya apparently speaking with Yamat. She remembered that Cadien had held a distinct dislike of Yamat when she had visited previously and so waited to see where the discussion would lead. After it appeared to finish Celestine took a moment to speak again. ”Thank you for your input, Neiya. That is something that I had considered offering, though if the mortal requests reincarnation we would likely have to speak with Thaa about it regardless. I would not want to violate the agreement that had been laid down to attain the souls in the first place by releasing them back to Galbar without Thaa’s permission should he have an unspoken rule about such a thing.”

Celestine quietly hoped that there was no such unspoken rule, as she considered such a thing disgraceful since it often led to someone breaking the rule and incurring an unfair punishment. Thankfully, given her interactions with Thaa in the past and his overall lack of deceitful speech she gave him the benefit of the doubt in this case.

The discussion was interrupted by a light thud against one of Meliorem’s doors, followed by an even lighter thud as whatever struck it fell to the soft carpeted floor. With a puzzled expression, Cadien walked toward the door from which the sound came, and opened it.

On the floor was a rather peculiar and dazed looking bird, that Neiya would recognize as one of her own creations.

“Hm. How ever did that get in there?” Cadien asked confusedly, snapping his fingers. Just like that the bird was restored to health. It chirped happily then took flight, landing on Cadien’s shoulder and chirping again into his ear, before flying once more toward Neiya, who it began to circle excitedly.

Neiya sighed softly, extending her finger slowly to coax the little critter to land on her hand. ”Poor thing, it must have tried to get to us for so long.” Neiya brought the bird closer to her, and watched it with indifferent eyes. ”Do you like birds, Celestine? I imagine my beloved has tortured you only with facts and thoughts since your meeting.”

Celestine would look quickly to the door as a thud emanated from it. The motion caused her hair and cape to flick slightly, but they settled down shortly thereafter. As Cadien inspected the situation to find that it was just a bird that had impacted upon the door Celestine relaxed again and returned to her original orientation as the bird flew over to Neiya.

When the bird landed upon Neiya’s finger Celestine could only assume that it was a creation of hers, though she wasn’t exactly sure as it could simply be the creation of another god that was sent to interact with her. As she was asked for her opinions on birds, Celestine gave a nod and began to speak. ”Birds are pleasant beings, I have a preference for either hawks or eagles personally as they’re dependable for hunting and scouting. But birds are all overall pleasant to be around. Do you have a preferred kind of bird, Neiya? What of you, Cadien?”

“I made a species of birds long, long ago,” Cadien mused. “Well, not me. The essence that eventually became me.” He snapped his fingers again, and one such bird appeared on the table: it was bright and colourful, with its very feathers seeming to sparkle and glow. It squawked and looked about in confusion. “They’re quite common, at least on the Toraan continent. Most mortals call them glowbirds, glimmerbirds, glitterbirds, or some variation of that.”

He beckoned with his hand, and the bird swooped forward to perch on his arm. He looked to Neiya. “Perhaps I could send some to your realm, in return for what you sent to mine.”

"Of course, my love. As many as you want," Neiya cooed in response, busy with gently petting her own bird with a finger. She glanced to Celestine again. "I too enjoy hawks. I do enjoy most predators, though. They know to take their place in the world, wouldn't you agree?"

Celestine would spend a moment thinking before nodding in agreement and speaking to Neiya. ”I would have to say that I agree. They are born with a distinct purpose in life, and are designed to serve that purpose well. I suppose that in a sense they could theoretically be considered perfect since very little is wasted when it comes to their form. They need to fly? They have wings. They need to see? They have good eyes. They need to hear? They have good hearing. They need to hunt? They have talons and a beak. And so on. Everything about them has a purpose and very little is there needlessly.”

Cadien shook his head. “And yet they’re very fragile. If caught on the ground, or by a larger bird, they will not win. They have a role, and they fulfill it well, but they cannot be considered perfect while such a weakness remains. I don’t think there is a single species on Galbar that can be considered perfect, to tell the truth.”

Celestine gave a few nods to what Cadien pointed out before speaking once more. ”Of course. I was thinking too narrowly in my assessment. Thank you for your wisdom. How could they be made perfect, then? I would be interested in hearing how you achieve total perfection in a design.”

“It is both simple yet frustratingly complicated, Cadien said. “You must remove all flaws, while achieving the maximum potential of all possible strengths. Yet one must tread carefully, because new strengths may create new weaknesses, and removing one weakness may expose another." he explained, while Neiya leant in to whisper to the translucent little bird resting in her hand. It fluttered away to hide in the ceiling somewhere.

The love goddess appeared to have lost patience, hovering nearby Cadien as he kept explaining. "A truly perfect perfect species would theoretically be undefeatable, and capable of doing anything. Of course, the world would be a dull and stagnant place if all species were like that, and such a thing would be unattainable without divine aid anyhow. I’m not averse to giving mortals aid from time to time, but I find it’s better to give mortals the tools or encouragement they need to improve themselves on their own.”

Celestine raised a finger to her chin as Cadien explained the difficulties of perfection and gave a few nods of understanding. She took notice that Neiya had begun to float behind Cadien’s shoulder, and thought that perhaps she might desire to say something? Figuring that the best way to give her a chance to speak would be to ask her opinion, Celestine did just that. ”Thank you for your wisdom once again Cadien. Did you have something you wished to add, Neiya?”

Neiya raised her gaze to scrutinize Celestine, vulnerable eyes glittering in the light enough that they seemed to shift to a golden hue for just a moment. She sighed dramatically and drifted forwards, slinging both arms over Cadiens broad shoulders to embrace him from behind and look over his shoulder. "Oh, no. I couldn't. Unlike my beloved, I don't have a head for all this talk of altering mortal limitations, and perfection. I am trying to change for the better, though," she explained with a tut, and leaned her head against Cadiens. "You were a recent creation, no? Have you offered her a taste of mortal delights, my love?" Neiya continued, rapidly changing both topic and focus. Her eyes shone with intent, though kept their raw and emotional look.

Cadien frowned in puzzlement. “We have had maybe two interactions thus far, in both of which we have discussed purely practical matters. Why?”

"Why, we have a duty to educate our kin, don't you think?" the horned goddess mused as naturally as she could, but still managed to sound conspiratorial. She turned to the neiyari guard, who up until now had managed to escape her notice. "You. My child. What is your favorite food?"

That guard was none other than Dakari himself, who seemed put on the spot by the question. “Berries, your holiness,” he said, keeping his head bowed low.

The horned goddess watched him for a few moments, allowing silence to overtake the halls. When she turned her head, her expression was formal and friendly, even though she did not smile. ”That is what we shall have, then. A grand platter of all the worlds’ sweetest and most delightful berries. Oh. What about those bells you made, my love? A sweet wine would be grand, don’t you think?”

Cadien was a bit perturbed by the turn in conversation, but eventually shrugged. “Does that sound agreeable to you?” he asked Celestine. “It would be no trouble for me to summon forth food and drink.”

Celestine raised a finger to her chin momentarily. While she did enjoy the company of other gods, she also had things to manage within her realm… But at the same time this could serve as something that would serve to build bridges of alliance which would undoubtedly be good to have later. Her projects could be put on hold for a bit. Nodding, Celestine vocalized her decision. ”I will happily at least try these things. Though I must say that I cannot test such things too thoroughly as I have projects within my realm that I aim to see finished sooner rather than later given the current affairs upon Galbar.”

Lowering her hand to the pommel of her sword once again, Celestine would wait and see what Cadien and Neiya had in mind.

Cadien snapped his fingers, and an assortment of small bowls with berries and nuts from all across Galbar appeared on Meliorem’s table, along with bottles of ale and wine. “That should suffice, if you only wish for a taste.” He walked toward a bowl of red berries, and picked one up. “These are evening bells. Whoever eats them will be infused with a burst of fiery emotion. They affect everyone differently, and us gods will need to eat at least a few before we notice any difference. If you do eat them, try not to over-indulge.” He popped the berry into his mouth. “Same with the drinks, too, though we gods have a strong resistance to that as well.”

Celestine raised an eyebrow at the assortment of berries and nuts that appeared. Pacing around the table for a few short moments she gave a few nods before listening to Cadien’s explanation for the evening bells. A burst of fiery emotion? Perhaps not ever, then. Celestine did enjoy having all of her emotions thoroughly contained and accounted for. Taking a few more glances at the assortment of nuts she gently plucked one from a bowl. Holding it aloft and studying it for a moment Celestine would extend her hand towards Cadien and ask a simple question. ”Do we have a name for these? They are moderately intriguing due to their shape.”

Little did Celestine know that she was simply holding an almond.

“That’s an almond,” Cadien said. He took the bowl of evening bells in one hand and held it out to her. “You really should try a few. They’re quite delicious, and the effect shouldn’t be too extreme. Unless you were to eat the entire bowl.”

Celestine took a moment to consume the almond she had already picked up. The taste was mundane and earthy. Simple and yet appealing. She might have to see about gathering a stock of them for her Virtus Elves later. As Cadien held aloft the bowl of evening bells and encouraged her to try them Celestine relented. If they were as harmless in small amounts as Cadien insisted they were then perhaps just one wouldn’t be too terrible. Even if it was she could use the negative experience to warn her Virtus of them for when they were sent down to Galbar.

Reaching forward, Celestien took one from the bowl gingerly. Taking a moment to study it she made a few mental notes on their appearance so that she could better identify them on Galbar if needed. Then she finally placed it within her mouth and bit down. The taste of them was quickly forgotten as Celestine’s mind quickly composed an image. She saw thousands of soldiers, each of them wearing armor polished to a gleaming shine. Surrounding them stood hundreds of Death Dragons of various hues and appearances. All of them were looking up towards her, waiting to see what orders she would give.

As quickly as the image came, it went. All that was left of it was a sweet aftertaste within her mouth. Celestine’s eyes narrowed slightly as she considered the danger that such a fruit presented. It would be a long time before she would eat another. Giving a few nods towards Cadien and Neiya, Celestine commented upon her experience. ”Sweet and appealing in taste, and their effect is quite interesting. Though I will say that I find myself reluctant to indulge in them. They feel… Somewhat risky to consume while I am in the middle of seeing a plan to fruition. I would not want my designs to become more than they should be by virtue of being inflated by dreams of glory.”

After that Celestine fell silent once more to continue contemplating upon what she had experienced.

“Hm. How odd. Perhaps you have an unusually low tolerance,” Cadien mused. “But fair enough.” He extended the bowl toward Neiya. “Would you care for one as well, my love?”

Neiya, who had up until this point simply hovered in place to watch, drifted forwards to dip her hand in the bowl and scoop up a good handful. She gingerly pushed one past her lips and gazed fervently at Cadien as she popped it between her teeth. Another bell followed, and she glanced to Celestine instead. "Sometimes a little risk in a safe place can be all you need."

Celestine pondered what Neiya had said. Perhaps taking a slight risk would be a worthwhile experience? But then what if she became dependent upon them for her plans? Or, what if she became a goddess of uncontrolled passion that orchestrated plans so grand and complex that they took far too long to see to completion? Giving her head a shake, Celestine gave her a more firm answer. ”I’m afraid I must once again decline. Perhaps when I want for ideas or am at a loss for where I should direct my efforts I will indulge in them, but I do not have a mind to do so now. I do apologize if this isn’t quite what you wanted to hear, but I do not wish to see that which is nearly completed brought low by my own hubris.”

When she was finished, Celestine pondered for a moment over the way Neiya had looked at her after eating the second evening bell. What plans could she be making? Celestine could only guess, but she buried those thoughts quickly. It would not do to create an imaginary enemy out of someone that was merely curious or contemplative.

The horned goddess exhaled sharply, offering a brief display of muted amusement. "I wasn't offering, Celestine. Just a-... piece of advice. Although…" she offered softly, pressing another evening bell between her lips. "You're welcome to visit me if you ever are, at a loss, as you say. We all need a break, eventually. Except my beloved, of course-" she said, and drifted backwards to place a hand on Cadien's cheek. "He's always keeping an eye on his mortals. More than on me, I fear."

“Are we not having a break right now?” Cadien asked her, turning around to face her. “If you wish for me to visit more often, you need only to say so.” Neiya produced something that could vaguely be called a chuckle, and leaned in to kiss his cheek as her hand slipped away.

Celestine would give a nod to Neiya’s advice, and when she made an interesting offer Celestine took it under consideration. It would be interesting to see how Neiya’s realm looked in comparison to the two realms that she had seen thus far, not counting her own. Watching with only a slight amount of interest as Neiya and Cadien began to seemingly dote upon one another a bit more, Celestine took it as an invitation to perhaps see herself out so that Neiya and Cadien could more thoroughly enjoy one another’s company. Clearing her throat slightly, Celestine would bid her farewells. ”I will likely make good on that offer in time Neiya. Thank you for the invitation. I believe it would be best if I returned to my realm to tend to my plans and ensure that things are integrating smoothly. If I’m not needed then I will bid you both a good day.”

With that Celestine would grip her cape like a skirt and curtsey. When she finished the maneuver she would wait a few moments to see if anything more was to be said before seeing herself out.

Neiya blinked, drawing her gaze away from Cadien to look back to the dutiful armoured goddess. "Oh? As industrious as Cadien, I see. You certainly know how to pick your friends, my love. Perhaps I too must plan a… what was it? Competition? Hm. Do take the almonds at least, Celestine."

Celestine would give a nod at Neiya’s statement before responding with one of her own. ”I have a desire to see this finished before things progress too far upon Galbar. If I fail then I will have failed one of my chosen knights… I do not wish to see that come to pass. If you wish to join us in our plan of making tournaments then please, by all means. If we could get all of the various gods to contribute something then it could be a grand achievement indeed.”

As Neiya mentioned taking the almonds, Celestine would contemplate this for a moment before looking to Cadien and asking. ”Would you mind if I did? They are quite pleasant.”

Cadien ate a second evening bell. “By all means, go ahead,” he nodded, before consuming a third.

Celestine gave another nod before scooping up the bowl of almonds with one swift motion. Bowing her head in thanks she would speak a final time before turning on her heel and heading for her realm. ”You have my thanks. I’ll see the both of you again in time. For now, farewell.”

With that, Celestine departed. Cadien dismissed Dakari as well, and then turned to Neiya. He smirked. “So, whatever shall we do now that it’s just the two of us?” Then he recalled the presence of the Furies. “Or five of us, I suppose.”

Neiya glanced after Celestine, and then turned to gaze at her three handmaiden furies. A moment of thought seemed to have her in perfect stillness, before she broke the silence by pushing another bell into her mouth.

"You girls want to try evening bells? Don't be shy."







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Grand Preparations



Year 30AA, autumn, surface reefs south of Ha-Dûna...



“There - that should do the trick,” said Boudicca upon tightening the knot. A linen scarf had been wrapped around a pack of cooked meat, juices soaking into the fabric. She had tied a thick fiber rope around the lined again and placed it neatly in the centre of their trap. She and thirty other experienced hunters had taken the day-long trip south to Seejentún, a large and well-exposed land reef full of life and resources. Here, they had corresponded and traded with the local Meike and Doserung peoples, exchanging ideas, stories and goods in good, fraternal faith. Boudicca had drunk honeywine with the Doseung chief and the other elders and the village had all feasted on delicious caproshrimp barbeque and shorecattle tartar, served with seaweed, shore apples, saltberries and many other fruits of the sea. Afterwards, the elders had gathered the children and the foreigners and shared stories from the sea, of great Vrool tyrants and their Akuan champions, of majestic Merelli beauties and sirens who would lure sailors ashore to the north, never to be seen again - the clever escapades of one they called “Gra’al” were told over and over with the intensity and admiration of a Gaardskarl sharing the story of Gaard Goldhair. It seemed uncanny to the Dûnans to hold a monster such as Grallus, but nothing that received the praise the Doserung gave it could possibly be all bad, could it?

The trip was as much a break for the sanndatr as it was a diplomatic mission: The flaming tensions in Ha-Dûna were too much to bear, even for her, and when she had received an invitation to travel down south to meet with the Doseung and Meike, she just had to accept. She found herself confiding in one particular Doserung chief, one Bonursan Chirrut, a man ten years her senior with open ears, a calming aura and small, black horns on his head - uncannily, though, he did not look a day older than his son.

“I… I feel like I’ve lost sight of our mission, our purpose - and only after one year! Ha-Dûna has been united for one year and we are already breaking apart at the seams again!” she had complained to him over the fire as she sat alone with the chief, his son Yip, ambassador of their people, translating for him. The chief never said much, usually nodding for her to continue whilst thoughtfully sipping his sweetkelp tea as she took him through the past year and all the horrors. Eventually, the sanndatr descended onto her forearms on her knees, head hanging hopelessly from her shoulder. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Normally, it would be odd for an elect such as herself to confide in a foreign chief; however, Boudicca had learned from Yip that the Doserung value honesty and the sharing of information as the highest virtue, and that secret-keeping was synonymous with lying. Thus, when the chief eventually spoke back, he would to anyone beyond his own people have sounded most rude and insulting - Boudicca confessed to herself that she grew furious at his diction, but the message itself was sound:

“The way I see it,” the chief had said through Yip, “you are showing your people your inability to make rational decisions for the good of all. Like the people, you allowed yourself to be swept by emotion and take the popular, but foolish road to vengeance. I realise that unpopularity is all you have reaped throughout this whole year, but a mighty leader faces the wrath of their people for the good of their people.” Before she could retort, the chief had raised his hand. “I realise my words may seem uncouth to outsiders, but know that I speak no lies. You have the potential to make Ha-Dûna the pearl of the north - my son tells me it already is a sight to behold; however, you must not let yourself stray from the path of Murr-shom-windo. Maintain stability at all costs, and you will be remembered as strong; give way to chaos, and you will only be remembered as its herald.”

The sanndatr had taken his words to heart, and after another few days in the cold, yet beautiful paradise between land and sea, she had returned home with a caravan filled to the brim with the fruits of the ocean and land reef. As soon as she returned to Ha-Dûna, she gathered all the théins and their hildargeach, their bloodsworn clansfolk, and had them all swear fealty to her under Fìrinn once more. Most did so without question, some did it reluctantly, and three took quite some time to convince. Their argument against the oaths was that this sort of behaviour was much too similar to what they were doing in Old Ketrefa - a queen demanding the loyalty of her subjects. If Boudicca wanted their loyalty, she would have to earn it.

And so Boudicca said, “Very well… I hereby declare that théin Aifric be given the title of Chief Constable, and that all her hildargeach be given the ranks of dlíling. From now on, they are tasked with policing this city and making certain stability reigns supreme. We shall not break apart again - not so long as I live!”

Initial reactions were unsurprisingly trapped between anger and shock - the act was compared to mad kings and queens of the past, and fears over the effects of this constabulary on freedom to act and live in the free, Dûnan way were voiced multiple times. However, they all grew silent as the constables took to the streets, their uniform a black leather armour and a silver talisman around their necks with two symbols: the eye, the sigil of Fìrinn, and the book, the symbol of Taeg Eit. However, the constabulary almost immediately grew much larger than its constables - in secret, Boudicca had permitted Aifric to recruit spies from all walks of life to make sure no one could plot behind her back.

She then summoned the three largest clans in the city to her hut: The Tegosep, traditionally a rival clan of her own, the Metsep. It was the largest Gaardskarl clan - not much larger than the Metsep, but still very large; the Blanche, the strongest Brasfortsian clan, and rival of Aifric’s clan Sûr-le-Mont, as well as the Metsep; and the du Pierre, an ally of the Sûr-le-Mont, rival of the Metsep, though not a rival of the Blanche. Common among all of them, though, was a shared disdain for Boudicca’s leadership. At first the Tegosep head, Ur-Dairl, had refused to come altogether. That had been a grave mistake, for neither the Blanche nor the du Pierre were particularly fond of the Tegosep, either. When Ur-Dairl finally chose to answer the summons, he was promptly informed that he was no longer welcome by order of the mórthéins, Charlix of Blanche and Clement du Pierre. Furious, Ur-Dairl returned to his estate, only to discover that his clan had been banished from it, and that agents from the Blanche and du Pierre already were dividing his lands between themselves. He questioned their mandate and was told that the Tegosep had been declared “agents of unrest” by the Constabulary and that his family had been arrested. His clansmen, meanwhile, had been given the choice - to submit themselves and take up work on another farm and be compensated for their loyalty to the Dûnan order, or to face arrest as well and be disinherited and disowned in the eyes of the gods. Ur-Dairl’s cousins, siblings and bloodsworn had joined his family in the Temple of Law, but his farmhands, cooks, scribes, druids… All had taken up office elsewhere, though with a guilty conscience.

It was at this point when word reached Boudicca of the terrible loss of Ha-Leothe. It reached her in secret at first, and she had spent almost two days inside the smoking house trying desperately to calm her nerves. With pipe in hand and lungs full of calming pipeweed, she pondered as hard as she could while cursing her folly. To think this was actually happening - a foreign warlord was making his way towards Ha-Dûna, and he was winning. The loss of Ha-Leothe and of théin Valix was tremendous - the village was Ha-Dûna’s main supplier of copper, and Valix had been a charismatic athlete admired by all; to see both vanish like smoke before an enemy they knew nothing about would surely devastate the Dûnan morale before it could even be built. Worse yet, while she was still planning her next move with her advisors, word came of songs of praise in the name of the foreign conqueror Jonwayo - the eastern théins and their villages were joining him one by one; the lack of loyalty was blamed on Valix’ arrogance, how his stubbornness in the face of impossible odds had gotten Ha-Leothe burned to the ground.

Immediately, Boudicca ordered the mórthéins and the Constabulary to send peacekeepers out to their nearest villages and spread a counter-message:

“People of the Dûna - hear the words of your sanndatr: A great many evils have tested our people of late, and this latest pest that plagues our glorious civilisation may be the worst yet. The foreign ‘zar is nothing short of a bloodthirsty villain - Valix tried to reason with him at the gates of Ha-Leothe, but Jonwayo, the incarnation of Sigeran himself upon this world, wanted to send the Dûnans a message written in blood with a pen of bone. Alongside his lieutenant of sin, the traitor Darragh, they water our lands with the blood of our people, slaughtering everyone to the last babe. I implore you, therefore, take what provisions you need, burn your crops and your storages, and make for Ha-Dûna as quickly as you can - here, we will shelter you and keep you safe from this evil menace. We will make it through this test of piety as we have made it through every other.”


With this message, naturally, came the news that Ha-Leothe had fallen, and Boudicca made certain to emphasise the brutality of the Celeviaks every chance she got. After this, she sent out diplomats to the five Ikdûni tribes, the Mink, the Swadi, the Nubveians, the Doserung and the Bastians, asking humbly for any help they could give. The first to answer was the Great Bull, mweweybutuWeymbierka of the Nubveians. He came to Ha-Dûna himself, as he ofttimes did to visit his sister, Greatmother Ugulele, and offered Boudicca forty of his strongest men, the legendary Buffalo Riders of the Prairie. His contribution was hailed among the Dûnan people, and the Nubveian king was showered in gifts of riches, clothing and jewelry from distant lands as thanks.



Second to come was chief Bonursan Chirrut of the Doserung. As the possibility of a great battle in the not-too-distant future grew loomingly, the chief had brought along stockfish and sea salt to preserve food with, as well as sixty hunters from his own tribe and his cousins’ tribes. Many displayed thick, black horns, a sign of their strong Merelli heritage, and many also had scaly skin and fins where there should have been hair, showing too their close ties with the Akuan peoples of the northern sea. The hunters were armed with land reef coral, brittle, yet frighteningly sharp - Chirrut himself wielded a frightening weapon fashioned from reeds and shark teeth, a gift from the people of the sea. He pledged himself and his men to Boudicca, vowing that he, himself, would fight alongside her for the fate of their mightiest ally.



Third to come was Pride-King Koisa the Leon of the Swadi, cousin of the father of none other than Hilda the Leoness. He proclaimed he would have been the first to pledge himself, and that the only reason he had taken so long was that he had been compelled to gather more soldiers than anyone else. He had been devastated at the news of his cousin’s curse, and had mourned for a fifteen days and fifteen nights, as was custom when such relatives would pass - afterall, it was to the children of cousins titles such as king would pass to, and Hilda had been part of the royal line, though not the prime heir. For months, the Pride-King had cursed the Cenél for their actions and had been eagerly waiting for the chance to annihilate them. He had brought no fewer than one hundred warriors, the finest archers on the Prairie. Armed with the Swadi foot bow, they would be a force to be reckoned with.



Fourth came Prince Olsanmaar of Bast, brother of the dûnanised scribe Ratinmaar, both sons of King Ki’ogmaar of Bast, followed by ten giant men - and these were truly giant; each of them stood two metres and three quarters and had skin as gray as stone. They had monstrous features the likes of which had never been seen in Ha-Dûna before: Noses like logs, hugely overbitten jaws that were as big as cabbage heads, hunkered, clumpy backs and arms and legs like pinewood trunks. Some had heard the legends, but only the most well-travelled druids had seen them before: the Bastian Troll-Men. Armoured in bronze with proportions that could fit no other human (if they could even be considered such) and armed with warpicks that could spear a wild boar. While nobody asked why he had brought so few, the prince read the room quickly and proclaimed that the Bastian Troll-Men were the greatest warriors in the world, and that one was worth at least ten normal footmen.



Last to come was Old Crone Svyetlana of the Mink, and it was evident already before she arrived that she had not wanted to come. It was understandable, too: The Mink had for generations been very good friends with the Cenél - they had exchanged both culture and marriages for centuries before the Dûnans had arrived. Furthermore, the vast majority of Mink, including the Old Crone herself, could trace their lineages out east into the distant mountains, so they felt a familial bond to the Celeviak, as well. However, Boudicca knew this well, and she had made certain to let the Old Crone know, in secret, that every Mink in Ha-Dûna could become hostages overnight if she did not cooperate. Svyetlana had many children, siblings and cousins in the city, and thus had no choice. She brought as many of her Death-Singers as she had to without seeming outright impolite, a total of ten.



With all the auxiliaries gathered, Boudicca had the théins drill them in defensive tactics for then the battle would come. The language barrier was surmounted thanks to the stellar work of translators, though some cultural schisms, like whenever Doserung uncouthly spoke their minds, would arise from time to time.

Boudicca then sent orders to the Brewer’s Guild, telling them to make as much light ale as they could. It wasn’t easy, but after gathering all the grain that could be spared them, plus any roots, fruits and vegetables that could be brewed, the Guild got to work. The first batches were done in a few days, tapped early to avoid the brew reaching a strength wherein the soldiers couldn’t drink it. Some batches were left for longer and sweetened with honey - this would become wine for medicinal use. After it was tapped on glass flasks, it was heavily spiced with caraway seeds and coriander to infuse it with their healing properties. Their hard work soon bore fruit - their skill and diligence had left the city with enough beer for everyone to quench their thirst. This would come in handy for a possible long siege.

Boudicca then went to the Circle of the Long Stride, seeking to enlist the aid of the druids to reinforce Dûnan morale and defensive capabilities. She ordered them to shore up the city’s walls and reach out to the animals and the spirits of the Highlands and turn them against the Celeviaks - the sheep, cows and goats should run away from them, and the weather around them should be cruel and cold to slow them as much as possible. Many druids were initially reluctant to do so, but as soon as Boudicca threatened to revoke their permission to use the resthouses, protests grew rarer and rarer. A group ventured out of Ha-Dûna and made preparations all around the most likely marching routes the Celeviak would take: They asked the trees to withhold their fruits; they asked the heavens to bring icy rain upon their enemies when they would approach; they asked the mud in the ground to give way and send soldiers down from their mountain passes and into the abysses. Many requests failed, but wherever the druids prayed in groups, traps could be laid, and they laid three grand ones which each would cause great detriment to the enemy’s advances:

At the northern shore, the druids beseeched the creatures of the surface reefs. After singing to them for days upon days, the first to come was the tidal jackal, intrigued by the druid’s promise that if they helped them, they could eat away at the enemy’s provisions as much as they’d like. Second to come was the barnacle flier, who was surprised to hear that the marching humans also had food that was small enough for even her to eat. Lastly came the bearfish, who had been reluctant to show up on account of the risk to her personal safety - she was no small creature, and if she were to be spotted, the beach would be her tomb. The druids promised that her efforts would be rewarded tenfold if she helped them, and that they would leave offerings for her cubs should she be slain. After much thought, the bearfish agreed.

In the central Dûnlands, the druids beseeched the heavens for rain - icy rain that would cause sickness to spread and make the ground slippery and hostile, possibly causing landslides. Here, too, it took long time for the heavens to listen, but after making sacrifices of ink and spending the days singing and the nights reading the ink in the sky and the lights of the moons, the heavens saw that the druids were sincere and agreed, though the rain would not last until the enemy would reach Ha-Dûna - it would last three days, and that would be it. Should the druids demand more, this would require additional sacrifice. The druids, stretched to the end of their capacity already, agreed and returned home.

For the southern Dûnlands where the crossing of the Misanthir would take place, Boudicca had a plan already. It was the most likely place the Celeviaks would cross, as crossing any further north would take them too close to Ha-Dûna. She prayed quietly that she had enough to negotiate with with the god in question and left her home to go to the Circle of the Gods. However, as she left her door, she was stopped by a constable who saluted her.

“Sanndatr! We have a problem!”

Boudicca swore under her breath. Tensions had never been higher in the city, with dissatisfaction with the new order already causing fights to break out multiple times per day. If any single thread were to snap, the entire web holding Ha-Dûna together would break into nothing. She turned and spat a little more harshly than she had intended, “What, what is it?”

The constable straightened up. “S-ser! The Temple of the Moon! We received word that there was a great cacophony inside during the night and went to investigate. The monks, nuns and druids all seemed livid and maddened, drinking and feasting as though tomorrow was the end of days. As we investigated, it would seem that this has been going on for a week!”

The sanndatr scowled. “Drinking and feasting? Do they not realise we are rationing our supplies?”

The constable shook her head. “Ser! They do not seem to be responsive to anything save for hedonism! It, it may be best for you to come see for yourself.”

The sanndatr looked over at the Circle of the Gods and cursed once more. “Very well. Bring seven constables more and meet me there as soon as you can. I’m going ahead.” Before the constable could respond, she had already stormed off, a dark scowl on her face. Nothing would break this city apart again - nothing.




They met at the Temple of the Moon where there already was great revelry inside. Crowds had gathered around to witness the craziness, and open windows revealed all sorts of debauchery going on inside. Boudicca glared and shook her head. “We are in the middle of a war and this is what our priesthood resorts to… Go inside and find the High Mother and have her explain what is the meaning of this.”

“At once, ser!” said the constables and hurried inside. Impatiently, Boudicca waited, her foot drumming the dirt road street. Carefully, a woman approached her from behind and asked respectfully,

“Sanndatr, what is happening?”

Boudicca regarded her and then the greater gathering with tired eyes. She sighed, closed her eyes and turned back to the temple. “We will know soon enough. Everyone, please return to your homes and your duties and--”

Suddenly, the door curtain was shoved aside, one of the constables sprinting out with another under her arm. The remaining six were nowhere to be seen. The crowd gasped as one and Boudicca felt her breathing quicken. “What’s going on in there, constable?!” she demanded.

“Madness, sanndatr!” the constable responded windedly. “They’ve all gone off their rockers - every single one of them!” The constable under her arm looked utterly exhausted, eyes rolling under the lids and breathing wheezing. He was laid down on the ground and Boudicca knelt next to him.

“Fetch a druid! Swiftly!” She blinked at the constable who had brought him out. “What happened? How did he get like this?”

The constable shook her head. “I, I don’t know! Firion took the lead, then we stepped into a dimly lit room wherein there was some… Some kind of, of sinful debauchery. We tried to arrest the deviants, but they were absolutely insane, as though under the effects of both weed, berries, wine and mushrooms. Worse yet, when Firion reached out to grab the High Mother, he… He changed.”

Boudicca frowned. “Changed?” She stood up to make way for some quickly approaching druids and pulled the constable aside. “What do you mean, changed?”

“They… They suddenly grew very quiet and still, much like him. And then they… They turned. Firion snatched a wine bottle right out of one of the debaucher’s hands and started drinking as though he hadn’t drunk for days. When the other constables tried to restrain him, they became like him. Only I made it out with Murion there.”

Boudicca made hard eyes at her and took a step away from her. “Are you saying this madness… Spreads? Like some sort of disease?”

The constable noted her movement and waved her hands defensively. “Don’t worry - I made sure not to touch anyone.”

Boudicca pointed at Murion on the ground. “How about him? I saw you carry him out.” The constable blinked over and swallowed.

“I… I don’t think I--”

“Sanndatr!” said one of the druids. Boudicca turned to her.

“Hmm?”

“He’s trying to say something…” Boudicca and the constable looked and one another and then hurried over to Murion.

“Speak, brave soldier. I’m here,” said the sanndatr. The man’s eyes looked lazily around, red and bloodshot; his tongue looked swollen and sticky; his lips looked dry and chaffed.

“... ine…”

The sanndatr leaned in. “Say again, would you?”

“... Wine… Please…”

The druid blinked. “It… It would seem he’s asking for wine, ser.” Boudicca raised herself back up, eyes wide.

“Everyone, step back from him!” Everyone kicked back in a flash, leaving the man alone in the middle of their gathering. Boudicca wrapped her cloak tighter around herself and pointed at him. “He is infected with some unknown disease! Do not touch him!” She eyed the temple, laughter, crying and other debaucherous noises roaring from the inside. “... This entire temple must be quarantined.”

“Wh… You mean to seal off the Temple of the Moon?! Hall of the Protector?!” shouted the druids.

“We cannot afford to let a disease spread throughout our city! We can only ward off the infected and wait for the sickness to pass. If this disease turns you into a maddened sinner such as those found in there, then it must not spread further! Bring wood and boards!”

As workers ran to and fro with building materials, the constable approached carefully. “Ser, if I may… How will the people inside survive if we board them inside?”

“We will funnel in supplies for them to live off of. It is all we can do in these trying times… Curses, why did this have to happen now?”

The constable nodded slowly. “Agreed, ser… What, what shall we do with Murion?”

Boudicca eyed the man on the ground who looked to grow increasingly livid at the absence of wine, twisting and turning as though in pain. She grimaced and looked at the temple. “We will have him put inside with the others and pray they will all survive.” She frowned down at the constable. “... You will bring him inside.”

The constable blinked. “M-me?”

“You touched him. We cannot afford to take the risk that you aren’t infected.” She pointed at the druid who had treated Murion. “That goes for you, too.”

The druid gasped and one of her colleagues stepped in front of her. “Kaer Liose is a most accomplished medicine woman! We cannot condemn her to imprisonment in a den of sin!”

With that, Boudicca drew her sword and protests fell silent. “It pains my heart that it must be this way…” She pointed her sword between the druid and the constable. “... But order must be maintained.”

The constable started whimpering. “Sanndatr, please…”

“Hold your tears, constable. Your unwillingness to offer yourself for the safety of all is shameful.” She quieted down, but her body broke down into a silent sob. She turned to the temple entrance, whimpered some more and stepped inside. Kaer Liose on the other hand, seemed furious. She took the body of Murion and helped him over to the doorway. Before she stepped inside, she turned to Boudicca and glared.

“Know, sanndatr, that I offer myself for the people of Ha-Dûna; the gods will judge which one of us is right in this.” Then she stepped inside.

Boudicca looked at the others who had gathered and furrowed her brow. “Alright, seal up the temple! I do not want a single soul entering or leaving. I must go pray.”

With that, she stormed off as hammers and planks knocked against each other behind her. She hastened over to the Ring of the Gods before anyone could stop her and knelt down before the statue of Caden the Brave. She folded her hands and whispered, “Great Caden, are you there? I come humbly before you in a time of great need… Our city, our civilisation is under attack, and our foe is foreign and wicked in his tactics. Please… Can this unworthy being ask for your aid once more, you who have aided me so many times before?”

For a minute, there was only silence. Then, there was a light crack in the air, the result of a small tear in reality, which slowly expanded until there was a swirling vortex between her and the statue.

Before she could get up, or reply in any form, three men stepped out. Their skin and hair were of varying colours, unlike that of any human, and textured in a way that reminded her of Shae. Each held a banner mounted on a ten-foot long silvery pole - one blue, one green, and one purple, and on each banner was a clenched steel fist. They assembled around Boudicca and, with theatrical precision, thrust the tips of their banners into the dirt.

Time is short, so I shall be brief, Cadien’s voice spoke within her mind, and any who might be observing. I gift you three standards bearing my symbol. The Blue Standard of Focus, the Green Standard of Vigour, and the Purple Standard of Strength. Each one will bolster your army in some manner, so long as it is kept pointed at the sky by one who serves a noble cause. Find three trusted individuals to carry them; those who would rather die before allowing their standard to hit the ground, for if it does, you will disrespect my symbol and its blessing shall fail until it is picked back up again.

The portal began to shrink. Taking that as their queue, the three Songmen let go of the banners, leaving them embedded in the dirt as they turned and retreated back to the realm from whence they came. The portal closed behind them.

That will be all. Choose the standard bearers well, and carry them into battle in my name.

Boudicca lowered her forehead to the ground, and all who witnessed the portal and the standards appear did the same. “Thank you, Great Caden, from the bottom of our hearts. Our loyalty is forever yours.” She sat back up and shouted, “Kaer Pier!”

The eldest of the druids hurried over to the extent that he could, arriving a small while after she called for him. “Yes, sanndatr?”

“Find me the champions Frode the Enduring, Kuhbelo of Swadi and Axe-Fist Leif. I choose them to be the carriers of Caden’s banners.”

“At once, ser,” replied the druid fraily and slowly hobbled along. Boudicca moved to the next statue, the statue of Boris, the colossal boar of the southern mountains. She drew her breath and asked with the same sincerity:

“Great Boris, master of stone… I come to you in our hour of great need. An enemy is on the horizon and I humbly ask for aid. Are you there?”

However, there came no answer. Boudicca nodded slowly and stood up. She had dearly hoped that the crimes against the hills of Ha-Leothe would have incited the boar’s ire, but it seemed that his long-lasting silence would last longer still. She moved on to Gibbou’s stone and repeated her prayer. There once again came no answer, not even when she asked about the outbreak of disease in the temple. The moon goddess’ silence irked the sanndatr, but she nonetheless apologised for the measures she had taken at the temple and moved on.

Reiya’s stone was as beautiful as ever, being the most well-decorated of them all. She repeated her prayer and was met with silence. However, after a short while, there came a promise: “You are not alone,” said that familiar silken voice. Boudicca found herself smiling, and though nothing physical had come from the heavens like Caden’s banners, it was ensuring to know that the Sun would protect them.

She moved on to Sirius. The star god hadn’t answered a Dûnan prayer in months by now, and Boudicca’s was no exception. She moved on to Jennesis - the tree goddess, too, was silent. The sanndatr deeply wished she could purge herself of the doubt created by this silence. Were they truly the gods’ chosen people if this many turned away from them in their hour of need? She slapped herself in the face. The gods had more important things to care about, too, of course! She couldn’t very well let herself think this way. She moved on to Fìrinn - no answer. Taeg Eit - no answer. Vandra - no answer. Artafax - no answer. Lyd - no answer.

She then knelt before the statue of Claroon, the tentacle-faced man surrounded with ornaments of coral and shells. She folded her hands and spoke, “Great Claroon… I come to you in a time of great need to humbly ask for your aid… Can you hear me?”

Silence permeated the air for a moment, which Boudicca soon realized was actual, legitimate silence. It wasn’t that the God hadn’t responded; sound had simply drained out from reality around her. In its place was pressure, the impermeable and immediate sensation of weight pushing down on the land-walker sanndatr. Before here eyes the tendrils of the tentacle-faced deity writhed and twisted, suddenly awake with recognizable sentience. The eyes of the idol rippled like liquid and Boudicca was struck with the unmistakable sense of being watched.

”Aahhhh,” came a voice like a storm heard from below the surface of a roiling lake, ”It speakssss. Thou hath called and We hath answered; a blessed joining through darkness that quenches desire most dire. We were beginning to think We were disdained. Time stretched as flesh in egg and We had lost fffffocus. It is gooooood to hear the mortal tongue.” There was a pause, followed by the divinely forced emotions of relief and excitement pouring across Boudicca in equal measure. The silence was broken once more, this time filled with all manner of sounds that turned it into a symphony of nature that broke like the peal of thunder.

”Nnnnnnngrahhhhh. Yes, dear Child, We most CERTAINLY hear thee.”

“The god of the deep speaks? Has he returned?!” came an excited outburst from one of the praying druids who had decided to follow Boudicca on her trip around the ring.

“The god of the deep speaks!” shouted another and more came to pray. Boudicca lowered herself further and said,

“We have missed you dearly, Great Claroon, He Who Masters River and Sea, and we pray we may continue to serve you as we have now that you have returned. Whatever we may offer you of the land, you shall have it so we may show we are a loyal and pious people; for now, however, I must be insolent and respectless and voice a request: We are under attack from another warlord to the east, and we cannot stop him on our own. I ask humbly for any aid you may be willing to give us - we will take anything.” She swallowed the last word. “If it pleases, however, I would more specifically ask for something that stops his armies at the Misanthir. Please, Great Claroon, hear our plea.”

“Aahhhh, a request! The Maiden of the One-Good-Orb’s children, her beloved horn, the Druids of Xa Duxna! No such insolence in the voice of children; spawn eat from their sires, as is intended. Life must teem, after all!”

Klaarungraxus, in his distant realm of Saxus, wriggled with unrestrained excitement; though this was an unseen action by the Druids, all manner of vessels containing water shook and shivered from the rolling waves that suddenly roiled their contents. The Idol seemed to dance in place as mirror to Klaar’s emotional outburst. The world itself responded to the nature god’s decree.

”This is a simple thing, beloved spawnling child, for the eternal Vo embraces thee. Make battle at the river’s edge and trust in the depths; worry not, for your All-Sire offers plenty! Speak again to Us, child, for thine voice is most pleasing.” In an instant everything stopped, leaving only sloshing water to slowly come to a stop in the assorted jars and pools it resided in.

It seemed the sanndatr assumed this was a pattern of speech and she spoke, “The All-Sire’s generosity is legendary. We are blessed to be in the good graces of the sea and its master,” answered Boudicca. “Where on the river shall we make battle? Can your power foresee where they will attempt to cross?”

Only silence met Boudicca as the tentacle-faced idol seemed to slowly lose life. The tendrils that hung from its face were the last parts left moving, evidently clutching something within their slippery embrace. False-flesh slowly parted to reveal a pearl perfectly sized to fit in Boudicca’s palm. It waited there to be snagged by her, seemingly humming with power. As Boudicca neared the object she could peer into its depths, the pearl seemingly darkening at its core. From within that almost liquid core whispered voicelessly the tongues of the tide; the Holy Vonu spoke from within, leading to some far and distant place the sanndatr could never go. The pearl called to her sonorously, offering itself wholly and utterly to the Queen-that-wasn’t now chosen by Klaarungraxus.

Boudicca blinked and reached out, taking the pearl carefully in her hand and admiring its beauty. She swallowed as her eyes scanned it thirstily and whispered, “This… This is magnificent.”

With the pearl held tightly in her hand Boudicca’s whispers poured from her lips not in the Dunan tongue but in a language far older. Vonu, pure and righteous as the day it was first uttered by Klaarungraxus, echoed from within with a voice not quite her own. The sanndatr’s voice was replaced with the sounds of the sea, of roiling storms and rolling stones. The very same vessels that shook with Klaarungraxus’ voice responded to hers, dancing into ‘magnificent’ whirlpools and coronas of misted white water. It seemed Klaar had gifted unto the Dûnan the truest tool to speak with him again; that of his own tongue. With the Nacrean Dragoman in hand, Boudicca found herself suddenly fluent in the old tongue of the world and with it all the command over nature that lay therein.

The sanndatr smiled warmly at the orb and prostrated herself before the statue. “Truly, your generosity knows no bounds, All-Sire Klaarungraxus” she spoke in the divine tongue, and all around her people spun and blinked at what they thought had been tremors in the earth and air hinting to quakes and storms. The waves of the sea in the distance seemed to rock with her syllables. “Thank you,” she finished.

From the depths of the dragoman came but one, single word in response.

”Gladly.”

Placing the precious pearl in a satchel brought over by a druid apprentice, Boudicca moved on to the statue of Naya, a veiled, weeping woman with her hands in her face, surrounded by empty cradles meant to symbolise the recent passing of children. There were six of them today, a morbidly high number for the Dûnans. Such was life without access to the Statue of Prolificacy. Boudicca sighed, knelt down and whispered, “O great Naya, thank you for accepting our sorrows as always. I come to you so more sorrow may be avoided. Enemies are on the approach, and Ha-Dûna begs humbly for any aid we can be given. Can you hear me?”

Silence followed, enough to instill doubt that anyone was listening yet again. As the breeze rolled in however, a sensation not unlike someone breathing against her skin overtook Boudicca. The air seemed to carry a long sigh as empty cradles seemed to rock and turn, and brought with it a stillness that sucked out doubt and worry - like a mother cradling her child. Boudicca sighed with comfort and looked up at the statue with a smile. Her eyes soon played tricks on her, the statue itself seemed to sway ever so slightly in the wind; her ears as well, as a soft lullaby slipped between the statue's fingers. It gained in volume until it rung out and drowned the area in it's melancholy melody. At once previous hardships and those lost flowed to the forefront of the mind, yet the sting of loss and bitterness did not come with it. The melody weaved into the wind, until it and the air were one and the same.

That seemed to be all at first, before Boudicca's eyes caught sight of a dark trickle between the fingers of the statue. The weeping woman wept blood, and the statue seemed to seethe with an intensity that it hadn't before. Just as the feeling became overbearing, she blinked, and the sensation was gone, along with the blood. A vision? Or something else? Boudicca touched her eyelids and swallowed. This would all be worth it.

“Thank you, Great Naya, for this gift,” she said quietly and moved on to the statue of Macsal. She got down on her knees, repeated her plea as she had done for all the others and waited for an answer.

The euphonious response did not sound like that of a grown man at all - more like that of a child, feminine even. The world around Boudicca sang momentarily and then grew silent and still. Only the voice remains. “Brave Boudicca.” It sang simply. “Stalwart sanndatr. You cast out the help I sent… and come asking for more. Macsal would dislike you indeed - queen that you are. Favoured as your people have been.” There was a moment of wide-eyed silence, the ether seemed grimace. “But you are in luck, he is asleep. Take, Boudicca. Take.”

About the sanndatr’s neck their grew an inken collar. Stone emerged, jade, gold, gems, and it hung there snug enough, but present. “Take, and inspire all else to take too.”

Boudicca patted the collar and frowned - something about it felt wrong. She tried tugging at it and found that its threads were of no simple, rippable material. She tried quickly to think of a response, saying, “N-no, there has been a misunderstanding! I, I did not cast her out - we, we just needed to keep her safe!” However, there came no response. Boudicca hung her head, disheartened, and moved on to the final statue, the pointy-eared woman Selesta, carven neatly in fine stone. There, for the last time that day, she knelt down and prayed for help.

A few moments after Boudicca began praying at the statue of Celestine she would realize that she was getting no answer to her prayer. Following this revelation she would hear the soft flapping of a cloak and the gentle clinking of armor as someone approached. The sounds steadily grew louder as Boudicca kept praying, and unless she got up to see who or what was approaching she would feel a gentle hand upon her shoulder and a familiarly calm voice would speak from just above her. ”You may rise, Boudicca. I have returned from my search, though not as I would’ve wished.”

It was then that the avatar of Celestine would take a step back from Boudicca to allow her to stand properly. As she waited, the avatar of celestine would take a moment to gently lower the hood that she was wearing so that her face was more visible. This would likely cause her to once again inadvertently summon a gathering of devout people to sing her praises, but that was something that she would just have to deal with.

The sanndatr offered her master a bow. “Welcome home, Great Selesta. Did you find the culprits in the end?”

The avatar of Celestine would shake her head briefly before responding. ”Unfortunately I did not. I searched the site where Brian was killed, but the small amount of tracks that I could find quickly faded as they moved onto firmer ground. Thus I decided to return. Do you have somewhere private that we could speak? There are some things that I wish to speak with you about that will not enjoy the company of prying ears.”

Boudicca hardened her face and tugged thoughtfully at the collar around her neck. “Of course. Follow me.” Together, they left the Circle of the Gods, druid acolytes and masters alike figuratively kissing the ground where Celestine stepped. They entered the Boudicca’s hut and sat down by the luke-warm hearth, barely smouldering after breakfast. The sanndatr pondered for a moment and patted protectively the satchel around her torso. She then said, “Alright, we should be safe here. What’s the matter, master?”

The avatar of Celestine would walk swiftly behind Boudicca as she led her towards what Celestine would eventually learn to be Boudicca’s hut. As Boudicca sat, the avatar of Celestine remained standing. Unfortunately, the look on her face was not one that indicated she bore good news. As Boudicca would likely notice, the avatar’s eyes appeared to hold judgement within them rather than their usual calmness. As Celestine began to ask after something, her voice was steely and firm. ”Ser Boudicca, my divine senses tell me that you have violated part of your chivalric code. Though I do not like to do it, punishment must be handed out. Kneel.”

Celestine’s avatar drew its sword slowly. Boudicca could get the distinct feeling that she was not in danger, but the look on the avatar’s face was not one of kindness just yet. Though at the same time one could suppose that she was still being quite merciful and protecting Boudicca’s dignity since she could’ve chosen to administer this punishment the moment she arrived. The avatar waited for Boudicca to comply.

The sanndatr recoiled. “Violated the code? By Taeg Eit, I have done no such thing! What accusation is this, master? Where have I wronged?” She stanced herself defensively, arms tense and ready to protect herself.

The avatar of Celestine blinked unerringly before focusing for a moment. It then spoke once more to educate Boudicca upon the code that she had broken. “My senses tell me that you have violated tenent three of my Chivalric Code. Who’s dead have you dishonored?”

Boudicca looked lost beyond words. “Dishonoured dead? I have never dishonoured the dead in my life. My respect for those who have passed into the afterlife is like that of all other god-fearing women and men of this city. They have all been burnt and their ashes spread onto the wind, soil and sea, as the singing nature demands.”

Celestine’s avatar furrowed her brow slightly as she focused once again. Then a revelation seemed to spark behind her eyes as she thought about what Boudicca was saying. Placing a hand upon her hip she asked a simple question of The sanndatr. ”What if the culture that those people came from did not decree that their dead should not be burned?”

Boudicca scowled. She licked her front teeth thoughtfully and shook her head. “To bury your dead is to show the utmost disrespect to their spirits. If I burned someone from a culture of buriers, then I have made up for their sins towards nature and their ancestors. If the body isn’t burned, then the spirit cannot break free and enter the afterlife. What, are you expecting me to support such uncouth practice?”

The avatar of Celestine would shake her head in response. Seeing as having her sword drawn was likely not helping the situation, she sheathed it gently. Placing a hand upon the pommel to show that she would not be drawing it soon, Celestine’s avatar spoke again. ”I do not expect you to support the practice, Boudicca. But it is something that deserves accommodation. Not all of these lands are cut from the same culture and believe the same thing. Part of respecting all you encounter, my first tenent, is to respect the cultures that they come from. You know that I do not seek to ask unreasonable things of my chosen knights. Who has perished recently?”

Boudicca scoffed. “Just because they do not believe the same thing does not mean they are right. If it was recent, I assume you are referring to the Chelevyak men who attempted to murder my chief inspector. They worship death, master, and Sigeran is a cruel and bloodthirsty master. We did their souls a great favour by burning them in the sight of the Eight and the Seven.” She sighed. “I mean no disrespect, master - I do not know how gods see the world, nor will I ever hope to; however, it is clear that you try to bridge gaps that simply cannot be bridged. If we had let people bury their dead, the afterlife would be empty and the world would be a place of the walking, vengeful unliving. Such is the working of the world.”

Celestine’s avatar remained silent for several moments. She simply stared at Boudicca wordlessly as various thoughts and considerations came and went through her mind. She recalled her debate with Jjonveyo and the stubbornness that he displayed. But she also recalled the Boudicca of the past, who seemed to be vastly different than the one that sat before her. Perhaps Boudicca was correct in that some gaps could not be bridged, but perhaps there was something more…

When Celestine’s avatar began to speak again, their voice had changed to one of compassion as she began to ask a different question. ”Boudicca, my chosen, what plagues your mind? I recall the day I knighted you, and you seem to be so different now. Is this merely a hardness in preparation for conflict, or is there something more that you have not been able to resolve within yourself?”

Boudicca seemingly grew smaller, more timid. She drew a long, slow breath and gradually lowered herself to a seat on a bench by the dead hearth. “It’s…” She caught her forehead in her palm. “... It’s been a tough year… Everything seemed to fall in place when we retook our home and now…” She sniffed quietly. “... It’s all breaking apart again. I can’t do this for another five years, master, I can’t…”

Celestine’s avatar nodded a few times. There was something that needed addressing more than her Chivalric Code. Stepping forward, Celestine’s avatar knelt before sniffling Boudicca and spoke gently. ”I understand that weight. I bear the weights of Peace and Neutrality. The weight of leadership is not an easy burden to bear, but you do not have to bear it alone. Even if I am compelled to punish you for a misdeed I have never ceased to be your friend. It is alright to show weakness to me. Let your stress flow. Let your mind be at ease.”

With that said, Celestine would gently wrap her arms around the shoulders of The sanndatr and pulled her forward gently into a hug. The sanndatr sobbed in response and slowly hugged back. After a while of silence, she whispered, “If you understand, then… Then please…” She tightened her grip. “Help me. Help me end this conflict and bring back peace once more… Please…”

The avatar of Celestine nodded once again before whispering a reply. ”I will.”

Letting her statement hang for a moment, Celestine’s avatar would gently rub the space between Boudicca’s shoulders before patting her back. Whispering once again, she would elaborate upon how she thought. ”My dominion over soldiers and overall neutral stance leads me to knight all who are worthy, but given recent events I have come to understand that even honorable people can serve a dishonorable cause. I will forgive your breaking of my chivalric code without punishment this one time. When you are ready, there is more news that I would share with you.

Celestine’s avatar would remain hugging Boudicca until she moved to push herself free, at which point the avatar would immediately let go. Boudicca held on a bit longer before eventually letting go. She swallowed and wiped her tears away, her face hardening the soft features of sorrow into her tired, stern, everyday expression. “I, I understand… Thank you. Well, since we already are here, it may be best for the news to be shared now. What is your message, master?”

Celestine’s avatar nodded once again before grasping at her cloak and offering it towards Boudicca to wipe her face with. Surprisingly, despite all it went through the cloak was almost perfectly clean. Once Boudicca had decided what she would do with the offer, Celestine’s avatar would speak once again. ”I have spoken to Jjonveyo, as I was compelled to knight him due to my domain over soldiers. He did make one demand that would cause him to stand down immediately and consider diplomacy: Do you know of the location of a man named Wojeck?”

“Wojeck? Wojeck…” Boudicca tasted the name while rubbing her face dry with the cloak. She then shook her head. “No, I cannot say I do. Is he a criminal they want caught or something?”

The avatar of Celestine would shake her head once again. As Boudicca would dry her face she would find that the cloak remained free of stains. When Boudicca was finished wiping her face clean Celestine’s avatar would speak once again. “He said that Wojeck was his nephew. Sent to speak to your people about reforms of some kind. Do you recall anything of that sort happening recently?”

“No, I-...” She then lowered her head. “... That must have been that Chevelyak man…” She snickered condescendingly. “‘Reforms’, is that how he phrased it? According to my inspector who was almost murdered by him in broad daylight, he came demanding an absolutely unreasonable tax in the name of some distant warlord whom we now know to be this Jonwayo. My good théin naturally refused his offer, thinking him a madman, he got violent, and the rest of the story should be clear by now.”

Celestine’s avatar nodded a few times. ”An unfortunate turn of events. Then this information may be useful to you: He informed me that he would be in Ha-Leothe for three days to await the return of his nephew. Unfortunately, he did wish for his nephew to be alive. You might be able to formulate a battle plan based on that information.”

Boudicca grit her teeth. “... They make camps in the ruins of my people’s homes, upon the bodies of the people they slaughtered. The nerve.” She collected herself again and nodded. “Thank you, master. This information is vital to bringing peace back to the Dûnlands. We will bring the man to justice and end this war for the good of all.”

Celestine’s avatar nodded before she began to weave something with her hands. As she did, she would speak softly. ”I am also preparing something to reinforce your numbers, though due to their massive diet and behavioral patterns I will only be summoning them when they will be fighting and will have to keep a tight leash on them regardless.”

Holding out a square of grey mist, Celestine gave instructions for its intended use. ”Gaze through this without blinking. You will see inside my realm for a few moments. There you will see what I might unleash in the coming battles.”

As Boudicca would gaze through the square of grey mist she would see Death Dragons and Virtus Elves intermingling in Celestine’s near paradise of a realm. She would also hear Celestine speak softly to admit to a small weakness that she possessed. ”Unfortunately, I have need of more time. I know that the war will not wait, but if you can stall things even a little my divine power will regenerate and I will be far more capable. I am sorry that my plans are not nearly as complete as I would’ve wished.”

Boudicca blinked with wonder and fright. “What… What are those creatures? The men and women are… So fair, so beautiful, like you, master. And the monsters behind them - what are they?”

Celestine’s avatar gave a small hint of a smile. It was not the first time that her Virtus Elves had been called beautiful. Speaking softly, she elaborated upon what Boudicca saw and what her plans were. ”The people that you see are echoes of myself, made in my image as I coalesced. The people behind them are not monsters. They are known as Death Dragons, made by the collaborative effort of many gods. I bargained with Thaa, the god of death, to attain a group of them. They are extremely powerful, but require a careful hand. While they’re active they can eat a large cow or a horse each day. Sometimes two. My realm is populated with such prey animals, and why I aim to keep them there until absolutely needed. I had to convince them to pledge themselves to my cause with words and promises, and one of those promises would be that I would see their every need met.”

Celestine’s avatar paused for a moment before deciding that it would only be fair to inform Boudicca of what else she had done in her time away. ”This realm is also where those that I knight will arrive when they pass onto the afterlife. Unless something or someone chooses to interfere. Rest assured that should something try and steal your soul away from the paradise that I try to make I will fight with steel and fury to correct that. It is the least I can do for my knights.

Boudicca hardened her eyes. “You mean… This is the afterlife?” She regarded it as closely as she could through the hole. “... So stellar. As expected of a goddess who can overpower the cruel god of death!” Boudicca saluted her. “Truly, your splendor and generosity are without equal, master.”

Celestine decided it would be best to not inform Boudicca of the trust she placed in Thaa, nor the fact that such a paradise was only granted because Thaa allowed it. Perhaps if or when Boudicca could stand before the full might of Celestine’s non-avatar form she would understand the complex politics that divinity was submersed in. Though she did feel the need to correct Boudicca on something important before too much of a false perception was made. ”This is an afterlife for warriors. I could not secure all of the souls from Thaa, as I am not a goddess of death. Cadien has made a similar bargain. It will likely not be everything that you believed the afterlife to be until now, but I will do my best to have it satisfy your desires. Look to the castle. There should be a large central chamber with a grand feast taking place. That is The Longhall. You will find my divine form there.”

“I see,” the sanndatr replied slowly. “It looks glorious. I…” She paused. “... I will be sad to be separated from my family when I go, then.” A sigh. “I reckon they cannot come along if they are not warriors?”

Celestine’s avatar placed an assuring hand upon Boudicca’s shoulder before speaking. ”If you can aspire them to greatness, I may be able to knight them. Those that are knighted by me are guaranteed to come to my realm. If that cannot come to pass… Then I might be able to speak with Thaa about pulling their souls to my realm. It will likely have a price that I must pay, but if it is your wish then I will see it paid. Though I will ask you of something so that you may mull over it: A passage exists for souls who wish to pass onto Thaa’s realm and enter into a final rest. I would ask you, when the day comes, to ignore its existence and stay with me as an advisor. I don’t believe I can make you into a goddess, but you will be an honored guest in my realm all the same.”

“I…” Boudicca blinked and looked away. Slowly, she licked her lips with a small tongue and then answered, “Since you are so kind to bring my family, as well, I cannot deny such a request. I shall consider it the greatest honour.” She bowed deeply.

Celestine’s avatar would nod and then pat Boudicca’s shoulder a few times before speaking. ”Thank you, my friend. Do not worry about it for now. You have a long life ahead of you, and it will not be important until you awaken within my realm. Did you have anything else clouding your mind that you wished to speak about? I would not wish to occupy your entire day by conversing with you until you were hoarse.”

Boudicca shook her head. “No, master, I have no more requests. Your help and counsel have both been most useful to me and my people. I hope I can be so shameless as to rely on you in the future, as well.”

Celestine’s avatar gave a smile before speaking with a slightly amused tone. ”You may indeed rely upon me, for my avatar will not be departing until the war is finished. There is one final gift I would give you today before I busy myself with whatever you think you might need me to do or assist with.”

Opting to not use her sword for this one, given the negative reaction to it that Boudicca had. Celestine placed her hand upon Boudicca’s head and spoke firmly. “I bless you with Chivalric Premonition, Ser Boudicca of Ha-Dûna. If the time comes where you might break my Chivalric Code once again, you will feel a tug upon your mind to reconsider your actions and prevent a mistake from happening.”

As Celestine spoke, Boudicca would feel a silvery light flooding her mind briefly before it would return to normal. With her blessing given, Celestine removed her hand from Boudicca’s head and spoke once again. ”Now. I am at your service. What do you need assistance with? Show me the way and I will try and see it done.”

Boudicca nodded gratefully. “Then… Help me, my master - help me win this war and bring peace to these lands once more. Our piety and will to fight for the safety of our children and our children’s children will not falter knowing you are with us, Great Selesta. We offer ourselves to you so that we together may triumph over the eastern threat.”

Celestine’s avatar nodded before speaking once again. ”I will. Come. Begin your daily duties. I will assist you as much as I can.” The avatar of Celestine would then stand aside and gesture towards the entrance of the hut. As she did, she would cease maintaining the misty window into her realm and allowed it to fizzle and vanish. Boudicca nodded and the two left the longhouse to continue the preparations.










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A Broken Sort of Love





7 AA, Luminant

She could not see the world but she could feel it. With every body racking contraction, every demand to push, every scream before a deep breath. The soft sheets on the hard bed, nails dug in as she clutched it for dear life with clammy hands. Brown wings pressed flat behind her. Strands of her long black hair were stuck to her sweat covered body and that impassive face of hers, with a ribbon of black covering her eyes, was distorted in pain. She screamed again as the pain in her loins threatened to never end. Her body wanted to push but it hurt so much she held it in with all her might.

"You must push Tulara. The baby will not come if you don't embrace the pain." Came the voice of Giara, a field matron, ones who helped with birth and remedy. Tulara wanted to protest but all that came out of her mouth was a growl.

Someone placed a cool cloth upon her forehead and dabbed at her sweat. "Tsk tsk Tulara. I thought you stronger then this. Will you let a little pain defeat you? You've dealt with worse, after all." Said the silky smooth voice of Fara in her ear. She despised that woman, she was nothing but a nuisance since Tulara had arrived. Always chattering about strength and the wa-

She let out another scream as the worse contraction yet hit her and she almost blacked out as her body pushed. She then felt two things, the pain beginning to taper away and a weight lifted off her shoulders. This relief was cut short when she heard Giara begin to speak.

"Bring me a towel Fara."

Tulara felt the damp cloth still and a wing beat as cool air washed over her. A moment of silence later and Fara cooed, "A girl child for the war effort."

Tulara did not hear the child scream. A dark thought leaped to the forefront of her mind and she began to speak with an anxiousness to her voice. Dreaded hope leaching through. "She does not cry? Is she still stillborn?"

"Oh you've made Giara frown Tulara. Not good, not good." Fara chided, she could almost see the grin on her face.

"She stares, Tulara." Giara began, "With pale yellow eyes, akin to a weathered sunflower. Curious eyes, in the War Mother's visage." She paused. "This one breathes with quiet contemplation, unlike her mother who yearns for what is not, louder then she. You would do well to take note from her silence."

Tulara frowned as her face became one of disappointment. Her hope for a quiet way out dashed before her. She felt no shame with those thoughts of her, much to the ire of Giara. Even without her sight she could feel the woman's scornful gaze.

"Let's see…" Fara said, "Oh my, looking at her now, what a small baby, Tulara. Hmm. Grey wings, an odd color. Almost saint-like. Her skin is very pale, paler then you Tulara and almost sickly in nature. Her hair is stark white but that color might change with age. Her body has no blemishes and… Her grip is weak. And here I thought the children of Aveira's guard would be strong."

"I don't want her." Tulara snapped, lips turning into a scowl as her anger boiled. "She was forced upon me without my choice. I will raise no weakling as my own." She huffed, crossing her arms.

"We've been over this Tulara." Giara's icy voice bit into her. "A child forced upon you is still yours. We have too many orphans as it stands and we are running out of the means to feed them. You are this child's mother and you will raise her as your own. For the war effort and for the War Mother. If she did not want you to have this child, you would not have had her."

Tulara exhaled a breath through her nose, conflicting emotions welling up inside her. A small voice broke the uncomfortable silence with a cry that grew louder as she found her lungs. Her greatest shame, brought to life. The cry grew louder as she was brought close and placed upon her chest. With great hesitance, she wrapped her arms around the bundle and felt soft flesh touch her own. She was so light.

"The child needs a mother." Giara said at last. "Even if you resent her, she will be raised for the war. This is the duty of all mothers."

As something wet began to roll down Tulara's cheeks, she cradled her baby, rocking her to quiet. She could feel the baby relax as she used her free hand to feel her face and paint a picture in her head of what she looked like.

"Here, let me wipe the blood." Fara said in a quiet voice and the exhausted woman did not protest when she dabbed at her cheeks.

"Soon enough your eyes will heal, Tulara and this life of yours will not look so bleak. Perhaps you will even find purpose again. Until then, you will take care of yourself and the child." Giara commanded, as Tulara felt her begin to clean her disgusting body.

"What shall you name the child?" Fara asked.

"Her name will be Iora." Tulara said in a hoarse voice.

"Iora? Doesn't that mean-"

"A name, Fara." Giara cut her off. "Iora she shall be."




15 AA, Luminant

The white haired girl took the hit. She felt pain in her cheek blossom and tasted blood. Around her a crowd of children shouted and egged them on as she steadied herself and stared daggers at her opponent. Magdri, a brute of a boy, smirking with glee. The kind of face only an Oraeliari could love, or so she had heard. He stood two heads taller then her and his reach was fearsome but Iora had everything to prove and nothing to lose.

She charged with a war cry, dodged his fist as it came at her and landed a hit on his chin. Pain shot down her arm and Magdri laughed as he punched her in the gut as a follow up. With the wind knocked out of her, Iora crumpled to the dirt, clutching her stomach as she gasped for breath.

"If that's the best you got, then you really are a weakling." Magdri spat, walking around her. The others had grown quiet. "What a freak. Try something like that again and you’ll be sorry! Come on, let’s get out of here before Syri shows up." She heard a flurry of wing beats and looked up to see them flying off. Iora then stood up, her face relaxing as she watched them disappear through the trees.

She dusted herself off, then went on her way. She got a thrill out of that, the look on Magdri’s face when she had tried to knee him in his groin. If he wasn’t such a troll, she would have pummeled his face in with- Ah there it was. She picked up a yellow cloth. It had been full of stones but now they were scattered about. She would have to lead with that next time.

Iora’s feet brought her back to the small ransack village where her mother’s tent was. The village had no name, for she had been told a name was not needed for a temporary place. That had been a year ago. Much of the Neiyari here were wounded from the war, recovering as they could. Every wound was different, some physical and others like her mother. She avoided the scrutinizing gazes of the adults until she made it home, one of the few remaining tents on the ground level, out of the way really. She opened the flap and went inside the dim interior and musty smell. Like something needed to be washed.

Her mother was there, sleeping as she often did, back turned to the light of the Luminant. Iora made sure to be quiet as she walked to her side of the tent and rummaged through her rucksack for what she was looking for. She retrieved the small bladder of the War Mother’s tears and took a sip. At once, cool relief washed over her body and that which ailed her became less. She touched her bruised face and found it no longer so sensitive. She took another drink and then marveled at the bladder. Taught to them by a Saint, she knew not how it worked only that it held water and came from an animal. An animal which escaped her still.

“Iora.” Came the cold voice of her mother.

She straightened her back and turned to see that her mother was sitting up, running a hand through her disheveled hair as she stared at her with a gaunt face and dark rings around her eyes. With an all too familiar look on her face, disappointment. One she had grown so used to, it no longer bothered her but to play along, Iora shrunk herself in that presence. “Yes, mother?”

“Where is it?” she asked.

Iora tilted her head in confusion. “Where is what, mother?”

“Don’t give me that, girl. You know what I’m talking about.” she said, anger flooding into her voice. She got to her feet and in two bounds was above Iora, strong hands gripping her by her arms and lifting her to her feet. Iora’s eyes went wide as her mother dragged and pressed her against the wooden support beam in the middle of the room. The tent shivered and she snarled. “You bring shame on me again! Always sneaking about, starting fights that you can’t win and now, stealing? Do you think me a fool, Iora!”

The slap came across the same cheek Magdri had punched not so long ago. It stung and her eyes watered. “Now you tell me. Right Now. Where. Is. The. Dagger?”

“I-I-I don’t know!” She yelled. Another slap, this time the other cheek.

“Stop lying Iora! The smiths keep close watch on their forges. They know to who, and what they give for the war effort. Now they say a dagger has gone missing and I was blamed. They said, ‘It must be that daughter of yours’ and ‘Why can’t she act normal? Why is she so weak.’ Do you have any idea how much shame this brings ME!” Her mother’s grip tightened.

Iora began to cry. “I-I d-didn’t s-steal a d-dagger, m-momma p-please.” She pleaded.

“If you didn’t steal it, then who Iora? Who!” She pressed her harder into the pole.

“I-I don’t know!” She cried loudly.

Her mother growled, acting as if she would strike her again but instead she released her. “Go. Get out of my sight.” She said, voice no longer angry but hollow. Like she had just given up. She went back to the bed and sat down. Iora did not wait to see what she would do next, as the girl was up on her feet and out the flap, running away from the village in haste.

When she was far out of sight and into the trees, the girl stopped for a breather, rubbing her cheeks and wiping the tears from her eyes. She frowned, realizing she left the healing water back in her sack. Her frown turned into a look of anger and she stomped off in the direction of the hollow.

She passed through the trees and found herself in the clearing she had found earlier in the year. A large hollow tree sat in the middle of a clearing. Blackened to bits, it was different then all the other trees because it was dead. She went past it and looked for the animal trail she had taken great interest in. It had taken her several days but she had finally learned how to make a snare. Such skills were taught to them in hopes and now Iora knew why.

When it came in sight, her heart began to beat fast. There, struggling to break free was a lossum with banded fur and glowing spots. When it saw her it began to cower, pulling at its caught leg in hope of freedom. A rare smile formed on her lips and she rushed back to the tree.

Within the hollow she retrieved a cloth bundle with her hand and uncovered it to grab the dagger. Its blade glowed softly, before it became brighter as it took in the light. Her mother had been right, she did steal it but there was no way she would tell the truth. She would have gotten beaten and she didn’t like getting beaten.

Iora went back to the lossum. She knew from stories that no animals, maybe except the bigger ones and the humani, attacked. Such creatures were scared of them and only wanted to flee. So, Iora got close, the animal going frantic and she got down onto her knees. With her free hand she grabbed the snare and began to pull the possum towards her. It screeched then fell to its side and stopped moving. Iora had heard of animals playing dead but had never seen it. Not wanting the opportunity to go to waste, she grabbed a rock and smashed it against the lossum’s back legs. The creature shot up and screeched again.

Iora was fascinated. It was the first time she had done something like that and it felt… Good. Watching it struggle, watching it try to get away. Her heart beat fast and a strange sensation overcame her before she moved closer with the knife.

It whimpered and she smiled.




22 AA, Luminant

He stood a few heads taller than her, gripping her arms and pinning them to her body as she was pushed up against a tree. Iora looked up at him with fixated obsession, studying every small detail of his face and those lips that had laughed and caught her attention. His name was Bolvari, just a few years older then she and he had a reputation for getting what he wanted.

In this case, it was her.

Iora had grown into a plain looking teen, much too skinny, much too short for her age, as she was so often reminded. Her hair was still stark white, not helping but add to the oddity she was. Still, it was no wonder why she found herself pinned by Bolvari now.

She had let him, this was not a surprise. She had given him fleeting looks, wanting to be close every moment she could get. The others scorned her, called her names. Even he did, at first, giving into that pressure of the group mentality. He probably still thought her a freak, an outcast, something to be an object of cruelty towards. Yet, here he was, staring at her with such bold desire. Such wanton need. It gave her such a thrill. Men were like that, once she was seen as an easy target, he could not resist. Still, it was telling that they were out in the middle of nowhere, away from scrutinizing eyes.

Oh how the wind ruffled his long brown hair and how he leaned in closer towards her lips. She closed her eyes, letting the object of her fascination reward her at last. Yet when those lips touched hers, she found the thrill dying, replaced with disgust. Such lips and such breath as he tried to pry apart and stick his tongue in. Iora pushed him off, her strength waning.

He looked at her with anger and the burning desire of being in power. She looked and found it did nothing for her anymore. He was boring, like all the others had become. Yet it lingered like a sour aftertaste, this desire she had for him. Well, there was one way to rid herself of it.

“You dare? After tempting me these last few weeks, you dare push me off?” He demanded, wiping his lips.

Iora shrugged. “I found the taste quite repulsive. Do you kiss up to the Saint’s with that mouth of yours?” She narrowed her eyes.

She could see it dawn on him, the intent of her jab. As expected, he did not take it well. In two powerful bounds he was back up to her and backhanded her in the face. The slap made her tingle and her ears ring. She tasted blood and stronger hands gripping her, turning her around. Her head hit the tree and she felt his hands upon her waist. She glanced behind to see his face twisted with ill thoughts. Something flew towards them.

“You think you’re so smart, don’t you, freak? Well… I’ll show yo-” His voice cut out, replaced with a gurgle. The pressure keeping her in place relented as his body fell backwards into the ground. Iora turned around fully to see him grabbing his throat, blood spewing from the deep gash as he lashed about in vain. His eyes were full of panic, the kind she derived the thrill from. He looked up at her with hate and fear. An odd look on any Neiyari. A twisted smile formed on her lips, he looked horrified.

She watched as he became still, the life fading from his eyes.

The obsession she felt for him was gone with his final breath.

She found the dagger nearby and with but a thought it lifted into the air and flew to her. She wiped the blood off on his robe and pulled herself away. She outstretched her hand and felt the power within manifest into a green flame at her fingertips. The first time she had summoned the flame had been in a moment of anger but as time went on she had learned to control it.

She flung the ball at his corpse and it lapped at his flesh, like a hungry wolf to a fresh kill. The sweet smell of death began to permeate the air and Iora retreated into the woods. The flame would do its job, leaving nothing but ash behind.

People went missing all the time in these parts, and her mother liked to move around the Luminant now. It provided ample opportunities. She found herself a bit disappointed. She would have liked to savor it a bit more but men were so, straight to the point with their intentions.

Maybe next time, she would fall for a girl.




28 AA, Luminant

She had only seen the Heart Pierce Spire once in her life, when she was a young girl. Now she worked in its shadow, carrying healing water to those wounded Neiyari who were being brought back from the battlefront. A battlefront she did not get to see. Many of the enslaved humani did the same. It was lowly work but such was her fate in life. She couldn’t wield a sword, shoot a bow, heft a spear- It wore her out too quickly. When that had been found out, she wasn’t even trained to use them. In fact, she was belittled for it, much to the chagrin of her mother. The same one who was up fighting on the front line, having finally found herself again after years of denial. Pitiful really.

It didn’t bother her, in the end. For she had learned that true power was not only through physical prowess but by more, subtler means. Or, she supposed, by being able to command flesh eating fire at her fingertips and the ability to move objects with her mind. Better to have them all believe what they wanted to believe about her. It made things… Easier. Besides, they were all beneath her. She was superior, blessed by the War Mother herself.

Iora gave water to a Neiyari man without an arm. He groaned like a weakling and lapped greedily. The water would stop the bleeding but would not bring back his arm, only time would allow that. She found her eyes wandering, trying to get a look at- Ah, there she was.

The humani girl who had caught her attention by yelling at a slave master. She got a whipping at that and now her right eye was covered in a cloth. As well as her arms and a leg. Her dirty blonde hair, so reminiscent of an Oraeliari, was long and unkept. She was almost as tall as Iora, and that wasn’t saying much as Iora was still several heads shorter than most Neiyari. If it wasn’t for her wings and hair, she could have probably passed for a human. She was captivated by the humani girl. She was really the only reason Iora was even handing out water.

It was difficult to try and get a woman’s attention if they had their hearts set on a man but Iora did not let this stop her from trying. To be close was to feel the thrill and the strength. Even if it was for a little bit, just until she grew bored and… Well, no one would miss a humani slave.

After moving to several more wounded Neiyari, Iora was close enough to the girl that she ‘accidently’ bumped into her. The humani girl fell, dropping her water flasks. She growled at first then seemed to realize her position and began to apologize. Iora reached out a hand.

“Oh clumsy me, I’m sorry.” She said in a soft voice, an inviting smile on her lips. It was difficult to fake a genuine reaction because Neiyari barely had the concept, but there was a flicker of recognition in the girls eyes. She did not take Iora’s hand but stood up on her own, retrieved her flasks and walked past her in a hurry.

Iora watched her go. It took time to feed the desire of being wanted. To have a shoulder to cry on. At least, that’s what she thought humani liked anyways. They, along with the Oraeliari, were suckers for that kind of interaction. Besides, she had only ever been infatuated with one other humani but he ran away. She did however learn an important lesson after those weeks of agony. For one day, she woke up and the obsession was gone.

As long as she didn’t let this one escape, she had a real chance to test her skills.

A flash of light, brighter than all of the Luminant caught Iora’s attention, stopping her in her tracks. It lingered in the air where the battle was being waged and she found her curiosity getting the best of her. She dropped the flask and began to fly to the front. Was this what all the rumors were about? The master plan by the saints to boost morale and deal a blow to the enemy? They had said Aveira had returned but Iora was skeptical of that one… Mother had always said she had been a fool, left her to her fate at the hands of Malri. Her father.

Iora didn’t care one way or another, she was indifferent to her mother’s constant bickering.

As she drew closer to the source it abruptly vanished and before long, she found herself in the midst of a retreating Neiyari host. She saw their faces, scared and abysmal but Iora pressed on to the lake. She flew through the last of the trees, to witness the battlefield, now empty save for the last few Neiyari stragglers and… She had never seen the Oraeliari so close. There were many now, wandering dazed and confused, others clutching their hearts upon their knees. Across the water, a great host of Oraeliari flew about, some coming closer. She could almost hear their cheers.

So the day was lost, what a pity.

She turned to leave-

“I-Iora? Is that you?” It was her mother’s voice but not… She turned to see a golden haired woman approach her. She tilted her head. It was her mother’s face, with white wings and such emotion. Tears, pooling in her eyes.

“Why are you here Iora?” She quickly shook her head and smiled as her tears began to stream down her face. “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I was going to find you. My little girl.” She stepped towards her but Iora stepped back. This seemed to jolt her mother and she paused. “Listen, Iora. I-I’m sorry. For everything. For how I treated you, for how I... “ She couldn’t bear to say it, it seemed. “I love you, Iora. I always have. Please, come with me, we can… We can start over.”

“You love me?” Iora said. “How convenient for you, mother. After hitting me, abusing me, belittling me, after I brought you so much shame for all these years… The minute you turn weak you say you love me? That we can start over? I shouldn’t be surprised. What, did you expect me to just forget what you’ve done?”

“I don’t expect you to forget or forgive me, Iora but I would like to try to bridge the gap I created. It is my fault, and I am sorry. The cruelty of the Neiyari is like an infectious disease. It makes you numb to the world and those around you. Please, Iora come with me. Let’s start over, away from the war. From all of this.” She was begging now.

Iora shrugged. “I’d rather not. You are the enemy now, Mother. You always were.”

“Iora! Please!” she cried taking a step forward.

“You always did think me weak, mother. Can I tell you a secret?” She lifted a discarded sword from the ground, one that was behind her mother. “I never was.” The blade pierced her mother from behind and the woman stumbled forward, eyes wide. She fell to her knees and Iora walked closer, lifting another blade at her side. “You see, I was always much stronger than you. You made me keep secrets. Just think, you could have become a Saint if you knew your daughter was so powerful. But you thought me weak. You hated me.” The blade grew closer and began to enter her mother’s chest with slow agony. To her credit, Tulara did not scream. “But don’t worry mother, I forgive you.”

She stood above her now, for once in her life standing taller. Blood began to flow from her mouth and her breathing became ragged but she did not look away from Iora. “I-I’m… So… S-” Her words failed her, as another blade severed her neck from her shoulders. Iora watched her head fall and her body slump, feeling not a thing but an itch to see the humani girl.

Before she could even leave, an arrow thwacked a shield right next to her and she looked up to see four Oraeliari fighters coming at her and one lingering above with a bow. Had they seen her kill… Probably. They landed, looking gruff, swords and shields raised to the offense. She looked past their weapons to view their faces. She had always been told the enemy were weak, frightened creatures that followed a false deity. These ones looked bolstered, strong and anything but weak. She looked to the corpse of her mother, she had been weak.
“Are they sending children now, to fight in their stead?” One asked, not her but the others.

“Quiet, Handari. Don’t jump to conclusions.” Said the one in the middle. “Are you hurt?” He asked her.

She stared, growing annoyed. “Do I look hurt?” she retorted.

“I told you, Olgari, even their children are cruel.” Handari said.

“Fly back up to Imra and that’s an order, Handari. Radinri and I will handle this.” Olgari said in a commanding voice. The man took one last look at her and flew up to the woman. “Did you kill her?” he asked, looking at her mother.

“Yes. She was weak.” She stated matter of factly. “She always had been, but grovelling before me, saying she loved me? Asking for forgiveness? I don’t normally feel disgusted when a bug crawls on me but I did then. Such a strange feeling.” She watched as their faces became unnerved, a slight thrill building in her chest. It was fun to toy with prey.

The larger man sighed and shook his head. “Tevuri will have to fix this one as well, Olgari.”

“Perhaps. Say, would you come with us without a fight?” Olgari asked.

She shook her head. “There is a humani girl, waiting for me at the Spire. She doesn’t know it yet, but I plan to enjoy her presence before I kill her. Slowly. Perhaps I will use a knife.” The larger man’s face grew pointed and he charged her in an instant. Good. This Olgari shouted but before he could do anything, a blade had flung into his chest and he dropped before her feet. The blade still hung in the air, coated with blood. Olgari froze and up above someone screamed.

She felt a pinprick, and then an explosion of pain in her left shoulder. The blade dropped and she looked to see an arrow shaft protruding from her skin. That wasn’t good. A flutter of wing beats jostled her awareness and she flung herself out of the way before a mace landed where she had been. The one known as Handari fell before her to reclaim the mace. Green fire sprang from her fingertips, catching him unaware as he ran at her. As it touched his chest and neck, he screamed a wonderful sound. He dropped to the floor and he summoned more, throwing it on his back and wings.

She smiled, and another arrow whizzed past her. She looked up at the sky and another blade shot off towards this Imra. Like two birds courting, they dogged and weaved in front of each other, the sword turning on a dime each time. So focused on that, she was again caught unaware as something large hit her from behind and she sprawled forward. In a daze she lifted herself to see the one known as Olgari briefly checking on his dying friend before his gaze fell upon her. A sword lifted off the ground to meet him but he batted it aside and another arrow pierced her leg, pinning it to the ground. She grunted, her annoyance turning to anger.

She scowled as the woman landed beside Olgari, arrow knocked and aimed at her. Was she going to die? No wait, she couldn’t die! She had to get back to the humani girl. Her breathing became erratic as her goal seemed to be squashed before her. They would dodge the fire, wouldn’t they? And her swords? Then what! THEN WHAT COULD SHE DO TO GET BACK?

Her answer came in the form of power. She lifted her arm and they ran at her but Iora let them come, noticing the vines growing on her pale arms. Like skin patterns that some Neiyari had begun to adopt. Her hands began to grow green, Imra took to the sky and loosed an arrow as Olgari threw his spear. From her hand came an eruption unlike any she had seen. A beam of pure, destructive flame. The spear and arrow broke apart and she was hit with splinters but the Oraeliari fared much worse. The beam caught Olgari full mass, and it consumed him, eating away at his skin, flesh, to bone and then ash before it clipped Imra’s right side. The left half of her body became skeletal and she dropped dead as the flame consumed the rest.

The beam stopped, having blackened a small area of the forest behind her as pain shot up both her arms. Her hands shook but she admired the tattoos, fighting through the pain. For pain was familiar to her. It had been there when all others had not been. Her oldest friend.

A laugh escaped her lips. It looked like she would get to see the humani girl again.






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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Yllis




I




In the chaos, there was only order. It had all been the same since the beginning, and there was no end in sight to the stagnation that it had found itself in. Clawing, biting, chewing, swallowing, gripping, breaking, tearing, whispering, screaming, chatting, crying...

The entity felt others pull at it, it felt others tear its body apart, and it saw how they greedily devoured her body. It did not bother her. In return, it screamed at all them and ate them whole. With every one of its furious screams, the horde around it grew thicker. The others became too many, and at one point even its power and will wasn’t enough to keep going.

At the last fraction of a second, before the last of its pieces was devoured by the maddened, bickering mass, it caught sight of something different.

In a wide open field, there were two entities. A shadow, and a being of light. The being of light was wearing hard, impenetrable metal which nearly blinded it, and she was giving something to the shadow.

The vision faded as quickly as it appeared, but in its place remained something like a thread of light, a rift in the ever boiling mass about to devour its sense of self for the millionth time.

It had no time left. Its last action before disappearing was to desperately reach for the one thing that seemed real, the string left behind by the vision of the Knight Goddess



II




In the middle of nowhere in a land of gray nothingness materialised something for the first time in forever. That something was a girl, a woman. Pale as a ghost and wearing a simple chainmail shirt made of a black metal over a blouse and skirted pants. She fell to her knees, fasting and panting as a long, snow white tail grew as an extension of her spine and her pupils took the shape of slits, contoured by her golden irises and made to look luminous by the pure luminous white of her hair.

After a moment, the woman managed to compose herself enough to stop gasping for breath, and she felt a grin sneak its way onto her face, contorting her soft features into a wild look.

She chuckled to herself as she slowly leaned back to sit on her ankles, which were covered with thick boots made of a strange material yet unseen.”HAH!” She screamed into the featureless skies at the top of her lungs, and as she did so she held her middle fingers up at that same sky, ”FUUUUUUUUUUCK. YOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUU. You stupid fucking liquids thought you could keep eating me over and over and over! I told you all that I would get free, didn’t I? Have fun killing each other, dumbasses, ‘cause I’m on the other side of the fence now, somewhere you can’t reach me or touch me or hurt me anymore! By the Goddess, it feels so damned good not to listen to your incessant fucking blabber and crying and screaming, you pathetic worms!”

After her outburst, she laughed like a woman unhinged, embracing herself and touching her body all over as she fell back onto the gray floor with a dopey smile on her face. She remained there for some time, fully enjoying the feeling of being a physical thing with a body that wasn’t constantly being eaten by semi-sentient liquids. Of course, after long enough, she found herself wiping the smile off her face and swiftly sitting up and crossing her legs.

”Well… Let’s see. My name is Yllis, I know that much. I escaped absolute hell thanks to the image of the Knight Goddess. By the Fires, I really need to meet her if she actually exists. Huh...” Yllis stopped talking for a moment, bringing her hand up to stroke her sharp chin, ”I feel something strange, hold on a second there Yllis.” She asked herself, then nodded in satisfaction and closed her eyes.

Once she began to actually focus, she could feel the truth of the place she had found herself in. It was hers. A safe haven from the outside, one that she had absolute control over… And yet, in that safe space of hers, there was one foreign element. There, hidden under layers and layers of the raw stuff of her Home, was an anomaly. Curious, she grasped at it, and it disappeared.

Somewhat disappointed, Yllis sighed and opened her eyes… And at that point, she was definitely not disappointed.

What had once been a featureless land, was now reminiscent of the entrance hall to a library. There were several closed and locked doors in many directions, as well as a simple unassuming desk opposite to the one open doorway she could see.

Not about to be distracted by a simple desk, Yllis stood up, dusted her perfectly clean attire free from any particulate, gave her tail a few wags and observed the doorway closely, her tail stiffening.

When she had first laid eyes on it, the doorway had no door and led straight into a wall of stone. But now, as she focused on it, she saw the air within the doorway waver slightly, as if it wasn’t completely gaseous. Yet, beyond that, nothing was happening. She felt her right eyelid twitch, and her tail swatted at the floor as if it was a very angry broom. Why didn’t it do anything? She would never be able to focus on anything else if that strange doorway kept being strange.

As soon as she thought of it, the doorway emitted a flash of light not unlike the light that made up the string that had saved her before. When the light faded from Yllis’ retinas, what was left behind was the clear image of a place beyond. She could see an old, overgrown amphitheater as well as endless plains of sparse grass, all illuminated by a particularly dull light. It didn’t feel like a completely living place, and yet it didn’t seem completely dead either.

Such a place definitely had to be investigated. It probably had something fun to do and besides, she couldn’t be the only one who had survived those nosey liquid freaks, right? So, with a last patdown and quick grope to make sure everything was in its place, she put on a serious face and walked out of her Realm and into the new, strange place.




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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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People moved around Auriëlle. She never knew they did it. She just walked normally. Unable to see what was happening around her. For weeks she had trained the pulses. Exhausting herself over and over. Enough so she got used to it. Or perhaps the magic she used got used to her. It didn’t matter. With every pulse, it became easier. Soon they began to flow into each other. Giving her moments of sight before she felt like dropping face-first into the ground. Last week though, it stopped affecting her. She could see again.

And she saw fear. Students of the Omniversity kept moving out of her way. Probably because she moved several of them before if they didn’t do so voluntarily. Her strength had returned.

“I want to go back.” She declared as she entered the plaza of Duxus. Who sat exactly where he always sat. Awaiting his next departure. Which would be that night. “You can fly. Take me back.” The sound of stone grinding of stone filled the plaza. Several students in the colonnade turned to look at her and Duxus. There was a strange energy in the mid-afternoon breeze now. Something combative. She never knew how much she missed it.

“I…cannot.” Said Duxus. His large shape had moved slightly. Looking straight down at her. There was no emotion in his voice. Though Auriëlle liked to imagine that he was somehow sounding sad that he couldn’t.

“You can.” She said, resolute, as she started to march forward. Underneath her stone began to break through the tiled floor. Rising up Auriëlle like a staircase being made under her foot. Heading straight for Duxus’ mouth. She had seen it tens of times. How people walked in and out of him. It was easy. And when she was inside, he just had to fly up.

Yet when she rose up to his mouth it was sealed like a tomb. She put her palm against it. “Let me in Duxus.” There was a storm hidden behind her words. She was done with this place. She would escape. Now.

“I… cannot.” Duxus repeated and he took a step backward. So his crystalline eyes could gaze down up Auriëlle again. “My master… demands you… to stay.”

The sorceress’ expression grew dark. “Take. Me. With. You.” She said, slowly. The storm now more apparent in her words. The wind kicked up around her. The students couldn’t understand her probably. But they could see her stance. It was growing hostile. The stone she stood upon began to crumble away. Delivering her back on the same level as the titles.

“I… cannot.” Still, she imagined the sadness in his voice that could not be there.

“Why!?” Auriëlle screamed. Only now did she realize just how massive Duxus was. “I will hurt you if you don’t.” She said as she raised her right arm. Lightning arced over her arm. She didn’t see it but she felt it. The power coursing through her arm. She had forgotten how power felt. How intoxicating it was. How it felt so safe. “I will do it!” She shouted again, though her voice grew shaky. Students all around her began to move away. Even though they didn’t understand her words, her body language was saying more than enough.

“I… cannot… little one. My master… prohibits it. You are… not allowed… to leave… the island… yet.” Duxus spoke in his usual slow, baritone voice. There wasn’t a hint of fear in it. Did he even know fear?

Auriëlle clenched her teeth. The arcs over her arm grew more violent and less controlled. It would slip soon. Like fire used to slip as well. In the past, she didn’t care for that. Control – she thought – was an illusion. Especially with powers like these. She just unleashed everything. But now, making her threats, she knew she couldn’t let it slip. Not with Duxus. “Please.” She pleaded now. “Please take me with you. I cannot stand it here! Please don’t make me hurt you. Please. Please!” Tears were rolling off her cheeks as her voice grew hoarse.

“I… cannot.”

Her arm began to shake. The power kept building up. She couldn’t stop it. “Please don’t make me hurt you. Please I just want to get off this godforsaken rock! This isn’t home, it’s a prison!”

“I… cannot.”

“Please!” A last desperate plea, but she lost control. The reigns slipped from her. Lightning like she had never used shot forward. A terrible crack of thunder carried across the gardens. For a second the bright flash of the lightning dimmed all other light. AurIëlle dropped to her own knees. Her arm was fine, yet she gripped it as if it was broken. She pulsed, again and again. Duxus’ shape was, as always, half-shrouded in smoke disguising a faint glimmer beneath. Nothing happened. No sound, nothing.

“I… cannot… little one. I… wish… I could… help you… but… I cannot.” A slow voice said.

Auriëlle just sobbed as she held her own arm. “I’m sorry.” She stammered. Apologizing for more than just the lightning. Ashamed for the first time in years, she got up and ran away. Her heart grew weak and small. Blind she found her way towards the first garden she had arrived in. The day after her arrival something or somethings had fixed it all. Even the soft moss growing on the stone.

Luckily there was nobody. As she walked passed the stones began to roll around her. Shaking off the thin layer of earth upon which the moss grew. They rolled and moved and dragged across the immaculately kept grass until they fully surrounded and hid Auriëlle, where she fell on her knees and let out a wail. “I can’t take it anymore!” She shouted towards the skies. The blindness, the loneliness. It tore her apart. There was nothing on the island. Nothing that could help her. She didn’t even know why she was here! Inside she was collapsing as she fell over and curled up. It had been so long since she last felt so much pain.

At some point, she woke up. The air was cold enough to get goosebumps from it. When she sat up, she felt the ashes of the grass she destroyed caked on her cheek and side of her body. Stones were still all around her. Hiding her still. Yet the second she thought that they moved by some invisible force. Revealing a familiar shape looming over her.

“You tried to hurt your friend.” The soft, fatherly voice said. It didn’t sound stern, or angry. Just reassuring and a little bit disappointed. “You’re lucky Duxus is such a passive creature. There are other beings like him that would’ve torn you limp by limp for threatening them as you did.”

“Why are you keeping me here?” Auriëlle said. Her strength sapped away again. She winced at her own returned weakness. Was it so easy to get her down again? To break her again?

“By master’s orders, my dear. Please. Come inside.” The headmaster said as he walked up to her, crouched down, and put a hand on her shoulder. Around them, rocks began to roll away again. “It’s awfully cold outside. You wouldn’t want to catch a cold.”

Auriëlle shrugged off the hand. “Maybe I do.” She sneered. “Maybe it will kill me. Maybe I’ll be done with this place.” She pulled up her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Staring straight ahead.

The headmaster just let out a deep, disappointed sigh. “Fourteen weeks you’ve been here already.” He said, sound sterner now. A tone she hadn’t heard before. “Not once did you ask why you’re here?”

“’Cause making me blind wasn’t bad enough. That bitch of a goddess had to lock me up somewhere else as well.” Auriëlle said.

But the headmaster shook his head. “Foolish child.” The sudden hard words surprised Auriëlle who looked at the creature who she thought had endless patience. It even made her look up. “For a hundred days already you’ve been here. Surrounded by power and you’ve been blind to it. Preferring to sulk in your own disability. And when you’ve finally overcome that, you think you should leave. Do you want to know why you are here?”

Auriëlle wanted to hurt him for the way he talked to her. A hundred days ago, if anyone had talked to her that way she would’ve torn them to shreds just for the audacity. Yet she looked upon the headmaster and knew she couldn’t win. Not even with her eyesight back. So she just stared at him. Wearing her anger as a mask.

“You are here to learn about your power. Your true power.”

The stone around them shattered with a single grip. “I am powerful.” Said an by anger consumed Auriëlle. “I am the most powerful sorceress there. Nothing can beat me!”

“You are a child flailing in the mud!” The headmaster shouted. She saw his hand move for a split second. The broken rocks raised up from the ground in an orbit around them. Every piece of gravel and stone floated around. Fire ignited between the stone. First, like a circle that soon turned to form a snake eating its own tail. It coiled around the headmaster and Auriëlle. “You barely comprehend the power that you wield but you are more than foolish, stubborn, arrogant, and blind.” At his command, the stone and fire collapsed to the ground around them. Auriëlle tried to pull up some stones from the ground around her, to protect her from the wave of fire raging straight towards her. Yet the moment the rocks appeared they were torn away from her grip. The heat of the fire was on her skin as she ducked down. Only the fire stopped inches away from her and pulled back again. Like sea waves they began to ebb and flow around her. Until the headmaster closed his fist and a thousand butterflies rose up as bits and pieces of the flames.

“Are you willing to ascend, daughter of magic?” The headmaster then said. His voice was calm and fatherly again. His hand was outstretched. Auriëlle turned to him with equal awe and fear in her eyes. It took a moment, more than a moment, but finally she took his hand and pulled herself upright.



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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Zurajai
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Zurajai Unintentional Never-Poster

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K̴̥͖̐̅̕͝r̶͌ͅe̷̳̾m̶̟͋ṃ̶̈́e̴̡͗s̵͎̅x̴͇͝ả̷͕t̶͇͑ǔ̵̠r̴̛͙l̸̶̠͖̔̊


Some time ago…

Keelzaskorul stared with all six of his bronze colored eyes into the blackness of the sea. Though the light above had gone out and the gaze of the One-Good-Orb hidden behind a thick barrier of clouds, his vision peered deeply and cut through the murk. It did not take divine sight to know what was happening.

For nearly a century Keelz had ruled over this domain. He had earned it rightly and fairly, following the decrees of the All-Tyrant to the letter. As vrool go, he had never been ambitious; it was enough to be the largest in his domain and rule over dozens of subject vrool and several thousand akua. Though he admitted it was perhaps a weakness, Keelz was never interested in being the greatest in the sea; just great. He had even been marginally kind to the akuan tribes under his protection. And now all of his hard work was being destroyed.

A fortnight ago it had begun, as all things in the sea did. With sudden and surprising swiftness. A predator, after all, could not go gently into the dark abyss.

The arrival of another vrool had not warranted much of a complaint from the Tyrant. His realm lay on a prime trade lane between the capital in Aopoa and the western reefs Kaarnesxaturl claimed as tributaries. It was not uncommon for lesser spawn to travel through here, seeking greater glories and riches in the west. Unfortunately, it had proven to be an atypical experience this time around. Though the vrool that had arrived was no bull, only half the size of Keelz at that, he brought with him an aura of domination that the Tyrant of the Twin-Isles couldn’t simply neglect. Some measure of the other vrool’s strength was needed to make it clear Keelz would not tolerate upstarts.

That had proven to be a mistake.

One of Keelzaskorul’s retainers had gone forth with a collection of akuan warriors at his back to confront the new arrival on the edges of the reefs surrounding the island. Evidently, it had not gone well. Though Keelz could not speak to the events, that retainer and his band had not returned. And that, of course, had only been the start. Over the following days Keelz felt his grip over the islands rapidly diminishing. Those camps he kept for those few undesirables that opposed his rule had been torn apart by the offending vrool and whenever Keelz sallied forth to oppose him, his opponent had retreated. With half a dozen other vrool at his back alongside a number of reasonably loyal akua, Keelz felt he was prepared for open battle. The fact that his enemy refused to give countenance to his attempts was particularly frustrating. In the past, interlopers had faced him in battle and had fallen; this one simply refused to do the first step of that historically successful arrangement.

So Keelz was forced to wait, watching as his pocket-empire collapsed at the hands of an enemy who refused to face him. A maddening affair, though one Keelz was uniquely prepared to handle as a vrool; unlike many of his kin, Keelz did not feel the sting of these losses. Eventually his enemy would HAVE to face him on the ground of his choosing and that would see him victorious. Then he would just need to work hard to rebuild as he had a century prior. Keelz trusted that on his island, he would have the advantage. Though nothing resembling the great ziggurat on Aopoa, a modestly fortified lagoon made for a strong defensive position and required his enemy to either cross over land to scale the walls or enter through the small mouth. Inside, Keelz could easily fight along the shore as he had painstakingly trained himself to and could, if needs called for it, draw in reinforcements from the gates.

Yes, Keelz assured himself, a century of preparation was about to pay dividends.


Duurl held tightly to his bident with one massive lower limb wrapped three times over along the haft, glaring in that most furious of ways only an organism with six eyes could. Bedecked in bronze helmet and panoply of thick shell and coral, Duurl was sure he made for an imposing figure. He was the largest and most powerful of the Tyrant’s Retainers and enjoyed the benefits therein; more food, to get larger, and the best prizes from hauls and tribute. He made sure to show off many of his assorted land-items acquired through plunder and trade, replete with several eating utensils. To Duurl, this indicated quite clearly that he intended to eat his enemy and he was most pleased with the clever symbolism.

Nevertheless, no amount of self-preening could bring up his mood. Duurl was, as it were, quite furious. Five nights now he and the other retainers of Keelz had swam forth from their stronghold to oppose this invader and each time they had been left with nothing but empty stomachs and wasted energy. For a vrool of his size, such activity needed to be rewarded. Of course, he had numerous servants and a sizable land grant that provided him with all the sustenance he needed but that didn’t matter.

It was the principle of the thing, after all.

Yes, this upstart invader was coming to take everything Duurl had worked so hard to achieve. And to think, in a few weeks time his carefully laid plans to kill, eat, and thus replace Keelz were about to come to fruition!? The gall of this interloper to come and destroy such a masterfully spun web of lies! He had even sacrificed a sizable portion of his latest booty to Tekresxeret, the Tyrant-Maker, and Yaxanramat, He-Who-Watches! He secretly cursed himself for not attempting to woo Kaadinxerun, knowing the Lord of Perfection may very well have been a better option. Duurl was, after all, perfect himself; surely the wise deity would have recognized that and granted him success?

“Graah! Storms and hurricanes, whirlwinds and whirlpools! This is Reegz’s fault!”

Duurl nodded his head vigorously, quite pleased with himself; yes, it certainly was Reegz’s fault. That pitiful whelp had simply not done enough as an underling to prepare Duurl for this eventuality. He would need to be punished severely for his impertinence at a later date. No matter, conspired Duurl, he could simply use the interloper to his own benefit. All he needed to do was take advantage of this momentary chaos to overthrow Keelz, perhaps letting the two battle it out then slaying the no-doubt weakened victor. Ah, of course! It was all so clear now!

“I’m a genius!”

The sound of sloshing water caught Duurl’s attention, pulling him from his philosophical musings to glare once more at the waves. He sat in the cut trench that made for an entrance into the lagoon and so had unbroken vision towards anyone who might try to enter. It seemed, then, that his enemy was intending to enter here first. Powerful, predatory eyes locked onto the movement and were suddenly struck with dumbfound surprise at the object of their attention.

It was an akua. An ugly akua, at that.

The creature was pale scaled with large eyes that glowed with an almost sickly reflection of the already limited moonlight. Spines and shrunken fin-like growths sprouted along its body while a nasty set of teeth were bared from its jaws. Though only its upper torso was visible thrusting from the water, Duurl could clearly see a thrusting spear clutched in one hand and a nasty looking fileting dagger held menacingly in the other. A net like structure was thrown over its shoulder, the use of which unclear to Duurl despite his immense genius.

“You are not Vrool!” bellowed Duurl, the water around him turning into choppy white water from the power of his Vonu spoken in anger, “Where is your master so that I might address him!?”

Duurl flinched almost imperceptibly as half a dozen more heads peaked from the water, followed by a dozen more. His vision parted, eyes spreading to the left and right as the numbers increased and he swiftly lost count. That meant there was a lot of them, reasoned Duurl, as he drew up his bident and the several other assorted weapons wrapped up in other tentacles. The retainer was suddenly faced with what seemed to be a hundred Akuan warriors of some deeply strange origin, all of which had their sights set squarely on him. Duurl, being the wise and powerful vrool that he was, did the only thing he could.

He roared out an alarm.

As he did the Akua screeched back, yelling out battle cries in an awkward but surprisingly effective control over the holy tongue. The accented Vonu of the entire host drew up a strong wave behind Duurl, rising up and immediately pushing him out into the open water of the sea. Moments later and five more vrool drew themselves from their abodes, crevices giving way to massive monsters of flesh and fury. The riptide of the Akuan vonu tugged them out with it, the vrool warriors gladly going forward. The attackers parted to the sides as the vrool were drawn out and dove into the waves, drawing up a net of flesh around the now centered vrool retainers. It seemed Keelz’ pitched battle had finally come.


The Tyrant of the Twin-Isles looked up from his makeshift throne, the sounds of alarm and then subsequent conflict unmistakable. With little effort he drew up his weapons and placed his bronze helmet over his bell, locking it in place. It had come sooner than expected but his enemy had at last shown himself. Keelz lifted himself on powerful tentacles, rising to his full, terrifying height of five and some odd meters. Armed and armored as he was, the hulking mass of bronze and flesh began to slide into the waters of his lagoon, making for the entrance where battle was commencing.

As Keelzaskorul closed the distance between him and the battle unfolding just outside the gates of his stronghold an almost familiar voice played at the edges of his awareness. It seemed to prick at his hide even beneath the cool embrace of his armor, setting off sensory organs across his body. Keelz’ shuddered at the sensation, eyes tightening to slits as they sucked back into their sockets.

Something wasn’t right...

The massive vrool could see battle was commencing from above the water, visible quite clearly as vonu ripped the surface into a maelstrom of activity. The water by then had become sloshy and red, the scent of blood unmistakable. It wasn’t that furious battle that was commencing, however, that was causing the disturbance. Every moment Keelz tarried he knew he potentially lost valuable warriors but he could shake the sensation. Biting back his animalistic urges to secure himself in a more protected environment, Keelz strode forward. There was a time for caution and a time for action and a battle was raging was ever evidence of the latter. Just as he reached the outer limits of the lagoon he dove forward, massive tentacles acting like springs to propel him into the water below.

The monstrous entity hammered into the waves like a torpedo, kicking up huge gouts of water as he made room for himself in the sea. Before him hung an orb of oddling Akua, armed to the teeth and harrying his warriors. They had formed themselves up into a hunting sphere, diving in and twisting around one another to confuse their opponents. The vrool within had become trapped, their own arrogance leading them into the center of the conflict only to find themselves intentionally placed there. With the skill of a pod of dolphins, the Akua darted in and out of battle, resting at the edges when needed and slowly wearing their prey down.

Keelzaskorul would have none of this.

The projectile that was his body crashed into the line, limbs flailing and lashing out with ferocious efficacy. Stabbing blades thrust into opponents, free tentacles grabbed and crushed soft bodies that couldn’t swim away fast enough, and his deadly trident dove forward to impale or dismember with equal efficiency. In an instant the orb had gone from a tightening noose to a shattered egg, the cohesion of the attackers dissipating from the astonishingly powerful shock-assault. With their warlord now tentacle-deep in battle the vrool retainers found their hearts and dove back in, diving at the shaken lines of their enemy.

Keelz felt a rare moment of pride as he tore into his enemy, a dozen of the strange akua already dead at his hands. Blood and gore became an arterial fog of war as real battle was met and the few gains of the invaders were wiped away. Steeped in the entrails of his foe, it was hard not to feel powerful. His gaze turned outward to observe the action, battle starting to separate as individual vrool fought their way into a mess of foes to wage their own private battles with those who had earlier thought them their betters. In the distance Keelz could see his own akuan warriors closing, recognizable from the daubed war-colors and weapons his own artisans had forged.

Excellent, this battle was over before it had started.

Keelz’ eyes went wide, pushing out to the farthest extent they could reach; there was a vrool at the head of that mass of fighters and it wasn’t one of his. The gears turned in the Tyrant’s head as quickly as possible, putting together the unfortunate conclusion that things were not going the way he had planned. Keelz cursed as he noticed the source of that untoward voice; a darkly shaded trident held in the vrool’s strongest tentacle, blacker than the deepest abyss, was whispering at him. One howl of the holy vonu shook from the descending battle line and in an instant water parted and obeyed the command.

A riptide whirlpool forced itself into existence in the midst of the aquatic battlefield, sending everything into havoc.

The countercharge of the once-loyal akuan warriors took many of the vrool retainers by surprise. The strange akua they had originally been battling had done well enough keeping them at bay, primarily escaping the vrool rather than actually attempting to slay them. It had been a ruse of the most devilish kind, with the retainers now separated entirely from one another rather than held in a tightly packed formation. With only six eyes and twelve tentacles they could only hope to defend themselves against a tentacle-full worth of opponents and the numbers quickly warped against them. In the three dimensional environment numbers were king and soon the vrool were surrounded on all sides and forced down towards deeper water where they could be kept from the surface or the seafloor. The first of the vrool died to a hundred separate stabs, butchered from every direction until his massive body gave way and collapsed on its own weight.

Keelz, for his part, was no coward. He would die well, if that was the fate that awaited him. Diving through the curtain of blood and viscera that marked his initial assault, Keelzaskorul made for the one true enemy in all of this. The upstart vrool warrior was unarmored but bore that dread trident alongside a number of other deadly tools of murder. Finally, a heavy shield cut with slats for easy maneuvering in water was held on his left side and made for an imposing bulwark against attack. The Tyrant would have to make do.

When the pair were nearly ten meters apart their attacks began, tentacles flaring to stop forward momentum while weapon arms within reach shot forward to stab at one another. It was clear Keelz had the advantage of size and thus reach, his tentacles able to reach across the water to strike at his foe while his shorter limbs served to parry aside blows that might threaten to pierce armor. The initial clash, unsurprisingly, went in the Tyrant’s favor as he continually smashed away at the other vrool’s defenses. The clang of metal on metal filled the waves while daggers were slashed and stabbed at outstretched limbs to gain advantage. Keelz gained first blood, slashed the edge of his blade across an overreaching limb. The strike was a solid one that bit deep but only managed to injure, failing to make his opponent drop the weapon in that tentacle.

“At last, my foe,” roared Keelzaskorul, his beak gnashing at the water in front of him from behind the relative safety of his helm, “We do battle! Do not disappoint! I am Keelzaskorul, name yourself so I might know my meal or my conqueror!”

Keelz’ vonu ripped up the water into thick, bubbling chop that momentarily hid the pair from one another. The storm of tentacles continued to surge through the wall of white water, stabbing and slashing at one another or deflecting blows with deft parries or sudden grabs. An echoing cry of the holy tongue surged through the waves, bereft of meaning beyond vigorous intent before turning into a sentence of true verse.

”I am Kremmesxaturl,” came the verbal repost, a slipstream of water knocking one of Keelz’ blows aside with the power of the spoken word, ”I will not.”

The laconic response caught Keelz off guard, especially when considering the power behind it. In that moment of laxness the young vrool shot through the cloud before them, closing the distance while Keelz’ trident head was deflected to the side. An attempt by the Tyrant to thrust back in with the weapon saw the tines deftly caught in the slats of Krem’s shield, the powerful tentacle wrapped up behind it twisting to pull the trident head off to the side. Keelz was suddenly open as Kremmesxaturl dove inside his guard and the two locked together in the fighting stance of ancient vrool. Beaks lashed at one another ferociously while tentacles fought to gain advantage, twisting and turning on one another between deadly stabs. Even here Keelz held advantage, his size and armor making it difficult for Krem to harm him, but the Tyrant of the Twin-Isles had not lived as long as he had through pride.

This position was by design, and Keelz knew it.

Out of nowhere Keelz felt a stabbing pain, the sensation of being too deep in water. He let out a horrified screech as part of his body seemed to separately be crushed by the immense weight of the Vo, immediately attempting to break his hold with the invader. In that instant Krem thrust forward with his trident, stabbing deep into the unprotected side of Keelz. Hot blood poured forth from the wound, filling the space around the Tyrant with his own fleeting lifeforce. Keelzaskorul sank deep, screeching and flailing with what power he had left. Around him his retainers took notice, those few unharmed enough to attempt to flee making a break for it. Keelz cursed that this was his end but accepted it begrudgingly; he hoped Klaarungraxus would put in a good word for him with Txaun, for death was not a welcome place for the Vrool.

What little light there was became shaded as a massive form dove above him. The recognizable shape of Duurl hung above him, battered and bleeding but with a sinister look in his eye. Clutched in one tentacle was a stabbing blade of white coral, already stained with blood.

“Wait, great and powerful Tyrant-to-Be!” howled Duurl, waving back a number of the Akua closing in to kill him, “I am Duurlekzural, your humble servant! I had planned all along to slay this feckless idiot and deliver his head to you! Let me serve as your retainer, mighty one, so that I might prove my loyalt-”

There was a sickening pop as the voice of the ocean reverberated outward from the inside of Duurl’s head. What once made up the bell of Duurl had sucked inwards, popping structural organs and smashing brains into a pulp. All six eyes that had once glowed brightly from his bell now were mashed into unrecognizable lumps and even his beak had shattered from the force. The rest of his body spasmed vigorously, tentacle-minds desperately trying to figure out what had killed them before slowly experiencing that death themselves. Keelz looked on in an odd mixture of shock, fascination, and horror at the event that unfolded before his eyes.

Keelz looked up and around himself after several seconds of thoughtless staring into the void. Three more of his retainers had been slain leaving one free and escaping into the depths while the other was surrounded and surrendered his weaponry. The once-Tyrant’s eyes flashed up to Krem, staring into the other gaze with acceptance.

“End it, Kremmesxaturl. You have bested me. Let me die with some dignity.” Keelz spoke with humbled tones, his vonu only gently stirring the waters around him. The response that came was not what Keelz expected.

”No.”

Keelz twisted his head quizzically as far as his bell would allow, eyes sinking into their sockets to make thin slits of light glow out from his head. His beak chattered three times, clicking with confusion and curiosity. Though he didn’t dare look a gift whale in the mouth it was exceedingly difficult for the once-Tyrant to come up with a reason for this behavior. It was clear Kremmesxaturl had seen through Keelz’ visage, immediately providing an answer.
”They spoke in favor of you.”

Keelz looked behind his conqueror at the collection of akuan faces. Those that he recognized, ostensibly his people, looked back with something reminiscent of respect. Keelz had never punished them severely, had never demanded ridiculous tithes of them, and had always protected them when it was needed. Though he had never done so out of kindness in the traditional sense, he had certainly gone out of his way to treat them with some level of dignity. He had even been derided for it by some of his retainers, including the now dead Duurl, but the Tyrant had never seen point to wanton cruelty. It always seemed deeply unproductive and in most cases actively harmful.

It seemed that particularly unassuming action had paid far more dividends than preparation.

“What then, Tyrant? Am I to go into the depths and die, wounded and weak? An unkind fate.”

Krem stared at him for a moment, eyes drawing up and down before offering some sort of emotion therein. His eyes glowed blue, a deep oddity among vrool, and it gave the young vrool a deeply alien visage. Regardless, it was clear to Keelz that the princeling was considering the answer in earnest.

”I will need comrades.”

The statement came quickly and briefly, less an offer and more an assertion than anything. Nevertheless, Keelz saw opportunity where it was and saw no reason to deny fate its kind embrace. With the gentle glow of the One-Good-Orb above, Keelzaskorul felt certain the Seven Soft Currents had seen fit to spare him. He silently swore to offer a meal to every single one of the great pantheon and a whole platter for the All-Tyrant in recognition of this gift.

“Then you have found one.”




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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Commodore
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&




“You have been told why you have been selected.”

Indeed they had, their youth was to be considered an asset among the Gressinae populace, that combined with the fact that the Master wished for a Gressinae to pursue the task set forward.

“You have been told what you have been selected for.”

To be a mercenary in truth. To go to the peoples of Galbar and offer them a deal, payment in exchange for service, terms negotiable. It wasn’t odious to Var’s senses, afterall they would still be serving the Master even as they served others for whatever payment was expected. They had also been warned what such tasks may entail, Var accepted such risks.

“You have been outfitted for such work, in body and in tool.”

Var turned their singular glassy eye to look upon the gauntlet that now sat upon their right hand. It was golden in color and decorative in full view, there were inscriptions and designs that coated every plate and portion of the gauntlet, some were too small to see. Var flexed their hand forward and back, clenching their four fingers in a fist each way, it did not restrict such movements too badly. Besides, its more magical effects were far more important than the armor it provided, Var had their outer coating for such defense in any case.

“Are you prepared?”

Var turned back to the great gaze of the Master, their mouth parts’ chittered as they replied in the divine tongue of the Master’s will.

“I, Var, am prepared Master.”

Var turned their head around to take one last look at those they would be leaving behind, they waved their left antennae in silent good-bye to their progenitors. Greh, Cae, and Uoa waved their right antennae in reply. Var turned their head back forward.

A rift had erupted before them, green flame encircled it as they looked through to jagged rock and harsh forests. Var galloped forward, the three legs of each set that radiated out from their body propelling them forward into the rift and out into Galbar. Var landed on stone, but not of the kind they were used to, this barely registered from their hooves and paws as they turned their head around to witness the rift close behind them with a soft crackle.

It was quiet, and there was fading light. Var had been explained this by the Master, it was called sunlight. And the bright disk setting below the horizon was called the Sun. Additionally, seeing this told them many things. That the direction they were looking was called West. They turned their head back, facing forward once more. This was East. Var turned their head right. That was South. Var turned their body to face South, each leg taking a careful step on the uneven ground.

Var set forth down the mountain, they had to turn or divert course a few times, but they always turned back to head more properly South. Soon the ground began to smooth out, all had darkened significantly and it was much harder to see. Luckily, the Gauntlet’s flame did provide some light, and it came in use for its more destructive purposes when Var came up to the thicker forests. The flames did provide some warmth and comfort to Var as they used it to cut through a path that they could travel.

Var got the feeling they were being watched as the night went on, but they were not approached at all, nor did they hear much. Var had drawn their antennae close and was very grateful for the small amount of fuzz their outer layer had, it was not warm in these lands. The Master had said there were many names for the region they were in, mostly as few chose to live there fully and described it from their own regions of greater comfort. Var did not blame them, it was quiet, cold, and not very hospitable.

It grew warmer as the Sun rose in the east. Var had not been going perfectly South as it turned out. Rather with the Sun setting and little other way to tell direction from their own knowledge Var had been wandering south-west instead. It wasn’t a huge issue, one did not travel so far in a single night to throw off course the supreme direction of their journey.

The woods were still quiet, Var wondered where all the little living things were, there were supposed to be many wherever one went, although Var had not seen many. They wondered if they had been scared off by their arrival, or perhaps their steps were too ponderous. Maybe they were not looking in the right places, the Master had not specified much about the little living things that they were to ignore. Var was to focus on the intelligent ones, they would be small but larger. It worried them that they did not see or hear what the Master spoke of. Var did not know why they were not as apparent, perhaps it was something they would grow to recognize and the Master did not wish for them to grow concerned.

Var trekked onward, the feelings of being watched grew worse, Var had thought they had seen something moving between the trees as they progressed, but whenever they stopped or tried to investigate they found nothing. The Master had spoken of the greater hostility in the wildlife here rather than in other places on this land. It worried Var that they had not seen much of any of it at all.

The Sun was still high in the sky, Var had much more land to travel, even as their worries grew.


Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Genesis at Muraymuna


I


The jungle teemed with life, and the earthiness could be tasted on the air. Wherever one cast the eye, it fell upon insects or some kind of animal, and whether they walked on the jungle pathways or in the thick undergrowth the sound of the jungle came forth like a great, endless cacophonous symphony. Monkeys shrieked, deers dashed here and there - pausing for a few moments to stare wide-eyed before leaping away and disappearing into the relatively light undergrowth -, chameleons moved here and there, their colour changing as they went, paused, and went again, the pecking of the woodpecker and the song of an unknown number of birds was a constant companion.

From time to time Genesis and Birburelli spied an elusive jaguar or tiger, or the magnificent elephant would come trundling by or the frowning visage of a gorilla would assail them from a distance, and when they paused by a stream there were fish and the odd crocodile or dolphin was to be spied.

And of course, there were people. The first such people they came across were a band of One-Godder warriors, adorned in their great copper war headresses which boasted hairs of red, green, white, or black. They paused when they saw Genesis and eyed her and the ascetic, and their lone donkey, with the obsidian eyes everyone here seemed to have. “You are travelling with an emkura, master?” Their leader, a broad-chested man with a hair-dress of white hairs and adorned with great round earrings and collar chains, as well as bands around his lower chest and arms. Like the other men with him, he had a bow over his shoulder, arrows at his side, and a spear with a silvery metallic head in hand.

“That I am, son. A child of the god in the trees.” The ascetic responded, accompanied by Genesis’ nodding.

“Ah, you are a Ritualist.” The leader said, his brows furrowing.

“Is that a crime in these parts?”

“Not too long ago it was near enough a crime to be anything but,” the leader scowled, “you and your shids are an endless plague of unceasing bloodshed all across the land.”

“I have known no Ritualist who called to bloodshed, son.” Birburelli responded simply. The leader’s eyes narrowed and he stepped close to the middle-age man.

“Oh, but we’ve known plenty - and they got the bloodshed they desired.” There were a few moments of tension, and then Birburelli smiled.

“But I hear that it is all peace now across the Muraymuna, the great Shidilshid has ended all the bloodletting and cast all the shids and Ritualists out.”

“Oh not all.” The leader said, his eyes returning to Genesis, who looked away at the exact same moment. “Only those who preferred the rule of oppression to that of justice. But how is it that you are travelling with an emkura. I know them to be elusive beings that keep to themselves.”

“That they are. But this lovely emkura has chosen to honour me with the pleasure of her company.” He glanced at Genesis with a small smile. “Much to the chagrin of my good friend Lukluk, who would have much preferred to eat her,” He gave the donkey’s rump a light slap, causing Lukluk to curl his lips up at the man while Genesis stuck her tongue out mockingly at the donkey, “isn’t that so my emkura?”

Genesis looked at Birburelli for a moment, then at the group of armed men and furrowed her brow. “That is so. Birburelli has taught me a whole lot of stuff. I’ve also gotten to speak to spirits, too! Hey,” Genesis perked up as she caught sight of the shiny spear head, “what is that? What do you use it for? It looks sharp and pointy, but not in the same way as a knife.” She asked, pointing at the spear.

The leader seemed visibly taken aback by the sylphi’s speech, and the men behind him shifted and looked at her with curiosity, a kind of gaze that Genesis returned along with a tilt of her head. “Ah, by the great one god, you speak.”

“Yes! I know, right? Usually people don’t really speak to strangers, if the children back in Dihrmeti are anything to go by--I guess I’m not shy, which is really good because I like getting to know new things-” Genesis stopped herself, spared a quick glance towards Birburelli, then blushed. With shaky leaves, she continued. “... Sorry, I got carried away. Have you seen other emkuras around?”

“No, it is rare to see one,” the leader said, his eyes roaming across her form, clearly fascinated, “and when you do, they don’t stick around for you to actually… see them. Tell me, are you people truly children of the jungle? Why did your great king invade our lands all those hundreds of cycles ago? If you have a great kingdom somewhere in the west, why are you here?”

Genesis sighed, her leaves flat against her head as she realized finding people that looked like her would be more difficult than she previously thought, then huffed as she processed the man’s question, “Uhm… To answer all of that, I don’t know. I lived in a gray land for my entire life, and the moment I met one of my kind, she saved me at the expense of her own life… I didn’t even know there was a whole kingdom filled with people like me, much less that they invaded these lands. I awoke in Dehrthaa, alone and injured, and Birburelli saved me. That is all there is to me.” She explained somewhat quietly, then looked at the leader for a reaction.

The leader nodded, appearing satisfied. “Very well, may the one great god aid you find what your heart is searching for. May peace follow you always.” And planting his palm above his eye in salute, gestured to his band of warriors and went on their way through the jungle. Birburelli watched them go for a few moments then cast Genesis a sidelong glance.

“And there are the One-Godders. Not long ago they were a persecuted people at the mercy of the shids. Now the shids are dead or have run away north, and the One-Godders are the masters of the jungle. Quite something to see how the gods bless whom they wish and curse whom they will, raise high some and cast others low.”

Genesis pursed her lips as she returned Birburelli’s gaze, “Yeah… Did I tell you before? Ahthaaruhs told me I used to be Divine before. That means I was a Goddess, right? Or maybe I never was, but I inherited the remnants of a God’s spirit. I really… REALLY, have no idea. Maybe that’s why I can fly and Lukluk can’t.” She said with a sigh and a tired smile as she floated herself onto the donkey’s back and roughly petted his head behind the ears. “Huh, what do you think would have happened if I told those One-Godders about this?”

“Oh I am sure they would have asked who made you.” Birburelli said simply. “A god who needs saving, as far as they are concerned, is no god. See, they don’t disbelieve in the gods we profess - they simply don’t believe them to be gods. The Thousand Terrible Things and Faces are created beings - created by the One Who Frowns or One Who Laughs. Likewise those two emerged at one point in time - once they weren’t, and then they were. And so, for the One-Godders, these are no gods. Only the Serene Lord - though they reject the Serene Lord we profess - always existed and so is eternal, and all things emerged from him truly, and perhaps he is truly all things. And so they profess nothing to be a true god except what we call the Serene Lord.” The ascetic smiled and began walking, Lukluk trudging after him. “Why, did you hope to shake their belief? Perhaps they would have shaken yours, my emkura.”

“Them shaking my belief would be really impressive, considering I don’t believe in anything yet.” She said with a smirk before jumping off of Lukluk and jogging up to walk beside Birburelli. Like this, they went back into the way they would usually travel. The encounter with the One-Godders was left behind and Genesis continued on with her questions and adoration for all the new things she was seeing. She was tamer now, not as excited as before, and she also asked less questions, but that was because she found herself not needing to ask them as often. It seemed that she had actually gotten to learn most of the basics. Though from time to time her mind did wander back to the shiny material the One-Godders’ tools were made out of. She wondered what it felt like, how sharp it was, and if she could make clothes out of it.

As they traveled, dusk approached and soon they found themselves making camp amongst the ever thickening vegetation. The fire seemed to keep the wildlife away, thankfully.

“Birburelli, what was the shiny stuff the One-Godders’ tools were made out of? And the hoops that hung from their ears, too. Can you make clothes out of it?” Genesis asked, then winced as something pinched at her side, followed by a light rustling from her dress’ leaves.

The ascetic held a skewered lizard over the fire as he responded. “That is killer metal - it kills the one who works it and slays men on the bloodletting fields. It has other uses too - more worthy and peaceful. Sculptures, ploughs, ornaments, and the such. As for those hoop earrings, I have not known anyone to make clothing out of them - I imagine such clothing would be very uncomfortable and cold and would protect neither against rain nor against cold.” He glanced at her. “Would you like some earrings?”

The girl hummed in thought and reached up to touch and rub her long, sharp ears. After a moment, she shook her head. “I’d have to poke holes in my ears to wear them, wouldn’t I? My ears are very sensitive, so I’m not that good with pain when it comes to them… And well, it’s not like my clothing does much to protect from cold or rai- ow!” Genesis hissed as she felt another pinch, this time on her thigh, and realized that something was slithering across her skin. In a split moment, all her leaves had prickled up and her ears bobbed up and down as she slid a few of the large leaves her dress was made of to the side, revealing her leg and a glimpse of a dark green and soft looking tendril before it retreated into the shadows and crevices of the dress. At this Genesis grumbled and put her dress back into location. “I think I just said something my dress didn’t like… Do your clothes get angry when you mess up, too?” She asked Birburelli in what almost seemed like a whisper as she shifted her position to sit on her knees, bouncing somewhat onto her heels.

The ascetic paused and looked at her thoughtfully. “No, mine don’t do that. But then again, I don’t speak to gods who tell me I was a god in a past life. You’re quite the special one, aren’t you my little emkura?” He reached out and ruffled her leafy head as he was wont to do, making her grin and chuckle a little. “You have great things before you, of that I’ve no doubt.”

After that, their conversation turned to the more mundane. As usual, Genesis had a few questions about the day’s journey, about where they’d go tomorrow and what they might see, and as they talked Genesis watched Birburelli eat the cooked lizard curiously. Eventually, when everything was done and they were both tired, they went to sleep around the campfire. Genesis, of course, chose to snuggle up to Lukluk, to the animal’s dismay.

The next few days of walking brought wondrous sights - for the jungle was alive with all kinds of fauna and flora, and Genesis was ever-curious and easily amazed. As they wandered deeper and deeper into the jungle, it seemed to them that they were somehow being watched. This did not seem to bother Birburelli at all. “Of course we are being watched,” he chortled softly.

II


The mysterious spy snuck up on them one night as Birburelli lay sleeping and Genesis was curled up by Lukluk. She was not asleep, however, and her leaves bristled slightly as the stranger snuck into camp, their footsteps silent and deft.

Genesis, having caught a different scent in the camp, opened her eyes… Only to see a knee. She turned onto her back and saw a towering figure wearing an ivory white mask above her. He was straddling her chest, knees to either side of her shoulders, and in his hands was a strange device, a wooden cylinder with several carvings on it, each of them glowing a bright blue, a blue that seemed to drill into her eyes and burn the back of her head.

She felt her heart beat faster. Her breath came quicker. She tried to do anything, say anything, to get Birburelli to wake up… But since her eyes saw the device, it was as if her body was no longer hers.

Then, the device flashed.

Genesis writhed under the weight of the figure. Images came from nowhere, replacing her sight. Memories, feelings, scents, words, they all came and went so quickly she could barely register what she was seeing. Her head felt like it was about to explode and every nerve in her body screamed at her to get away, to escape, as if she was on fire.

And yet no matter how much she struggled, the weight on her torso didn’t budge. Instead the figure suddenly sat on top of her, knocking the air out of her lungs and freezing her struggles in the process.

She would’ve cried, whimpered or even begged if she could make any sound. With Birburelli so close; with someone to help her right there, just a few steps away… And still, he was sleeping peacefully, completely unaware of what was happening.

At last, however, a single memory came to her. There, she was lying on her side on the comfiest grass she’d ever felt, with the warmth of sunlight dancing across her right side and her head resting against something... No, someone, who was gently stroking her leaves. She felt content. Happy. Fulfilled.

In that memory, there was nothing she wanted but to remain with that person, in that hill under that tree. She felt the memory was coming to an end, and so she tried to look up, she tried to see who the owner of those gentle hands was… But when she lifted her head, the memory ended.

Instead, she was looking into the ivory mask of the one who had assaulted her. With tears fresh against her cheeks and the sides of her face, Genesis found her vision darkening and felt the familiar sensation of her consciousness fading away. The last thing she saw was her assaulter stand up and look down at her from behind his smooth mask. For some reason, he looked… Sad.

III


Genesis awoke later. It was still dark, but in the sky rays of violet, green and aquamarine could be seen dancing in the celestial Worldsong, announcing the coming of dawn.

She sat up, of course, and looked at Birburelli. He was still fast asleep, but from experience she knew he would wake up soon. The next thing she did was check her body and particularly her dress. She was relieved to see everything in place and working correctly, and lastly she tried to wipe the feeling of dry tears off of her face to little success.

As soon as she actually looked around, however, she saw a single figure sitting on a particularly large root a couple of meters away from her. He --Genesis had confirmed it was a he by his particularly powerful scent-- was toying with a piece of wood in his hand, carving chunks at a time out of the piece. He was wearing leathers, and on top of the leathers were bones. Sown into the leathers, the bones were everything from ribs to plates to vertebrae, and together they seemed to be serving as protection for the wearer. Behind him, leaned against the tree, was an unbelievably large blade made of the bone of what she assumed to be an incredibly massive creature, with handles reinforced with what Genesis could only recognize as some of the ‘killer metal’ Birburelli had told her about before. It definitely didn’t look like something she could ever carry, let alone use to harm others.

The man himself was not a man at all. Instead, he had yellowing variegated leaves for hair, a pale green as skin color and dark sclera coupled with bright, icy blue irises. When he lifted his gaze and met it with Genesis’ and sighed, she could see the glint coming from his long fangs.

Suddenly feeling excited, she grinned and crawled the short distance to him, then sat before him.

“I’m Genesis, who are you?” She asked, so excited from meeting someone like her that she couldn’t help her jaw and shoulders from shivering.

“I’m a Hunter,” The male Sylphi said, voice rough in such a way that Genesis was sure he had not used it in a long time. A short silence ensued, as if he expected something from the girl, but he slowly raised an eyebrow as he only saw her staring at him wide eyed. “So, you’re not this human’s slave, then?”

“What? No! He’s my friend. His name is Birburelli. He saved me when I was alone and injured, he is good. Also, what is your actual name?”

“I see. I’m just a Hunter, no need for a name. It’s my last expedition.”

“Oh. Okay,” Genesis said, noticing how the Hunter never really took his eyes off of Birburelli. She also noticed a sheathed knife strapped to his right thigh. “Um, is that for skinning animals? Do you eat raw meat like me? What about blood?”

“Hey, that’s a lot of questions for someone who was just crying in her sleep.”

“H-Huh? I… I was not! I swear, someone attacked me tonight and then I fainted… Or something… They made me see things!” She explained, blushing and trying once more to wipe the white marks left by her tears. Meanwhile, the Hunter had pulled out a piece of fabric and wet it with water from his waterskin.

“Sure. Here,” He said and handed her the fabric, which she took with a frown. After a while of her staring at the thing, the Hunter sighed again, “What are you waiting for? You got weeds for brains? Use it to clean your face. Dried tears are bad for your skin, you know?”

“Oh,” Genesis perked up and went to work at wiping her face. When she was done she let her hands, cupping the bunched up fabric, rest between her legs as she tilted her head at the Hunter, “So, males cry too? I’ve never seen Birburelli cry.” She asked, for some reason surprised at the new information.

“We do, of course. Humans around these parts only cry for their own, though. You have to be careful with them... There’s no shortage of young Sylphi who have met the wrong humans and been turned into little more than pets.” He said, a hint of bitterness seeping into his voice before he reeled it in. At this point, he nodded towards Birburelli. “Heads up, your friend’s waking up.”

The ascetic opened his eyes as though he had been awake all along and almost immediately sat up, muttering prayers and glorifying the lord of day for the blessing of new life, the spirits that lorded over night and sleep and dreams for those blessings also, those who lorded over sight, over the capacity to move, to breathe, and praised also those who lorded over speech and so allowed him to glorify and praise the givers of such blessings. He took up a bowl, full of dew water, and poured it over his own head while muttering the prayers yet, and then drank his fill and got to his feet.

It was then that he took note of Genesis and her companion. “Ah, you’re up earlier than usual my emkura,” he observed as his eyes turned to the newcomer. “And who is this?”

Genesis perked up and grinned as she turned to look at her friend, “Good morning, Birburelli! Well, he’s-”

“Just a Hunter. Nothing more. Human, I want to thank you for taking care of this sapling. By now, it has been far too many times that I’ve seen our young in less than ideal situations. You’ve a decent soul.” The hunter said, bowing his head slightly. For a moment, it looked to Genesis as if the hard look in his eyes had softened, but before she knew it, it was back and stronger as the Hunter raised his head again. “I will have to tell you that a sapling like her, someone so pure and innocent, shouldn’t be near humans. We are different races, and we have different customs and ways to deal with our needs. She shall be accompanying me now.”

Genesis pursed her lips and frowned, “I, uh, I have a name you know. I told you, I’m Genesis. And, and, I won’t leave Birburelli’s side that easily! You’re crazy if you think I’m going to accept going with you, I don’t know you! You may smell really nice and strong but I don’t know you.”

The Hunter sighed and shook his head, talking to Birburelli and mostly dismissing Genesis, “Point in case, she doesn’t even know how to rein in her baser instincts, as evidenced by her drooling all over her dress just because of my scent. If she remains with humans she may never get to learn how to hold herself back, and she’d eventually be too much of a hassle for any human settlement.”

“W-What!!” Genesis shouted, her face suddenly flushed a deep, dark yellow. She wiped at her lips and stared incredulously at the Hunter. “I-I’m NOT drooling. You’re mean. He’s mean, Birburelli! I don’t want to go with him!” She said, while the Hunter smirked.

“So, what do you say, ‘Birburelli’? Will you let her go? It’s for her own good. I know how to take care of a Sylphi sapling much better than any human might.” Birburelli frowned at the stranger and then chortled at Genesis.

“So full of demands. If Gen wants to travel with you, she will. But it doesn’t seem like your approach is working so…” he took Lukluk’s reins and began to wander off, gesturing for Genesis to come along, “perhaps it will not be her travelling with you, but you who will have to travel with her.”

Genesis grinned and jumped up onto her feet, wasting no time in catching up to Birburelli. The Hunter meanwhile bit the inside of his cheek and grunted, then began to follow the two of them from a distance after making sure he wasn’t forgetting any of his equipment.

IV


It was after a good while of walking that suddenly Genesis realized that she couldn’t hear the Hunter’s footsteps behind them. A quick glance backwards confirmed it -- He wasn’t there. How long ago had he left? Maybe he had gotten bored? She wasn’t sure how she felt about it. On one hand, he was the first emkura she’d met… Well, besides herself obviously. And on the other hand he was a weirdo and told her she was drooling even though she wasn’t and implied Birburelli wasn’t a good friend. She particularly disliked the last bit.

A dry twig snapped, as if crushed. The sound was clear in Genesis’ sensitive ears, and her leaves rustled wildly in response, sending a strong shiver down her back.

Instinctively she found herself balled up into a small shape on the ground, looking over her knees toward the sides of the overgrown path Birburelli and her had been traversing for the last hour. The sides were completely obstructed by overgrown vegetation. Such was the overgrowth that it was in some places spilling onto the path, and so Genesis couldn’t see anything past the gigantic overgrowth. In front of her, she saw her friend stop and turn to look at her with a gentle smile on his weathered face.

She looked up at him with wide, bright eyes, completely unable to move. She was frozen in place, her mind repeating the sound of the twig snapping over and over.

Had Birburelly not heard the sound? That couldn’t be it, since Lukluk wasn’t particularly anxious either. Maybe she had imagined it? But she’d never really panicked that bad before… What surprised her the most was the fact she was able to still think, despite her heart beating in her throat and her limbs shaking like leaves in the wind.

Whatever was happening, she had to tell Birburelli. She pushed herself to the limit, forcing her jaw to open and calming her chattering teeth enough to be able to speak without biting her tongue. “B… Birburelli, I, I, I h-heard-”

At that moment, as Birburelly took one step towards Genesis, a massive shadow leaped out of the overgrowth, over Lukluk and tackled Birburelli to the ground, followed by several sickening cracks and a wet gurgle coming from her friend’s throat.

She couldn’t breathe, her eyes losing focus and her stomach suddenly feeling smaller than ever.

As she watched the large, scaly creature bite Birburelli’s throat out with its endless rows of razor sharp fangs, she realized that her muscles had relaxed now, and that she was just simply watching the scene unfold.

More bones breaking. The creature was using its taloned feet to rip into Birburelli’s flesh as he lay there, his empty eyes staring straight at Genesis’, blood pouring forth from his mouth, nose, eyes and ears. The creature’s beak opened and closed with loud clacking as it bit pieces out of the inside of Birburelli’s chest, feasting on her friend’s body.

She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, she wanted to run, but… She couldn’t do anything but watch. She barely registered Lukluk’s panic as a loud screech filled the air as soon as Birburelli let out his last ragged, gurgled breath. From the canopies of the Muraymuna trees crashed down another creature straight onto Lukluk. This one had long leathery wings and sharp talons. It wasted no time, digging its talons into Lukluk’s back and flapping its powerful wings to take off, just in time to avoid the snapping beak of the terrestrial creature that had killed Birburelli.

As the flying creature took off, the beaked one let out a screech of its own. Its bloodied beak and neck glistened beneath the stray rays of sunlight that came through the canopies, and the feathers on the back of its head rustled not unlike a Sylphi’s leaves.

It focused its dark, beady eyes on Genesis and ran up to her in its strange bipedal gait, stopping only an inch off from her face to take a few sniffs.

She felt sick, seeing and feeling Birburelli’s warm blood drip onto her body straight from the thing’s beak.

She started to cry, finally. A few pitiful sobs coming from her mostly empty lungs, at least. The creature paid it no mind, instead curiously licking her face to taste her tears. It left behind a noxious mix of blood and bodily fluids smeared all over her face.

Her dress rustled and struggled, trying to get her to stand up but it was no use. She cried harder. Her only friend was dead, and she had only watched as he was eaten alive.

She lost track of what was happening. Her tears stopped and so did her sobbing. Instead, she just stared at her friend’s body. At one point, the creature has lost interest in her and gone back to eating from her friend’s body, something that she couldn’t even comprehend anymore.

V


When she came back to, she noticed that both herself and her dress were clean, she noticed that nothing smelled like blood, and she didn’t see Birburelli or Lukluk anywhere. Instead, she was curled up into a ball in front of a small campfire.

The first thing she did was blink, as her eyes were awfully dry. After that, she stretched. It felt as if she hadn’t moved in weeks. Before she could contemplate her situation any further, a familiar face came out of the jungle overgrowth and into the camp. It was the Hunter she’d met before Birburelli and her had set off. She tried to remember what had happened after that morning, but her mind was foggy…

The Hunter nodded at her and she for the first time saw a relieved smile on his face. It didn’t last long. “Good to see you’re back with me. You were gone for weeks.”

Genesis slowly tilted her head at the Hunter, then looked around as if expecting to see her friend and his donkey sitting around the campfire. She didn’t see them, so she looked back at the Hunter, who was now sitting next to her, holding a bone bowl full of clear water. He offered it to her, and she drank it all.

“You and your friend were attacked by two of the most dangerous predators in the area. Luckily for you, they were carnivorous… Safe to say we’re not made of stuff they like to eat. You friend, he-”

Genesis nearly choked on the water, coughed and perked up. “B-Birburelli-” She said, her voice rougher than she remembered, “He’s okay right? I had the worst nightmare... I-I don’t know what I’d do without him… He saved me when I was hurt, if he’s hurt now...” She explained, her eyes growing wet. She sobbed quietly and wiped her own eyes with the back of her hands.

The Hunter studied Genesis’ face, and then after a long while, he sighed and shook his head. “Your friend, Birburelli, he’s okay. He saved you again. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn't have found you two. But you know, he finally realized that he couldn’t protect you. He almost died, you know. If any of those things they call Dircaans had gotten the drop on him, well-”

“So he’s okay,” Genesis sighed in relief, visibly relaxing. “I’m glad he’s okay… But, but I don’t understand why he’d leave me without saying goodbye...” She said with a slight quiver to her voice.

“He knew you would have tried to stop him, plus you were in shock from the ordeal. It’s been weeks, Genesis. By now he’s probably somewhere neither of us have ever seen. He did tell me he had no set destination. That he’d go wherever the wind blew.” The Hunter said with a nod at the end of each of his sentences.

The Sylphi girl looked into the Hunter’s eyes for a long time, squinting her own slightly after a time, then looked away and into the fire. She handed him the bone bowl and asked.

“So... Where are we going now, Hunter?”


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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by WrongEndoftheRainbow
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Realm of Kolodiva

1 Interregnum

”Man is above all else mind, consciousness -- that is, he is a product of history, not of nature.”



A clatter of gold, a thump of the body, a shout of alarm. A cry went up throughout the halls, “His Majesty has collapsed! Fetch the apothecary!” It was not long for the news to reach Witalis, on one of his inspections of the city ramparts. He rushed to the palace, his personal guard in tow, to the quarters of his father. With a wave of his hands, he ordered the palace guard, “I will handle this! Tend to the palace gate.”

His own guards took positions as the palace guard slunk away, one of them asking as Witalis entered the quarters, “Sir, whom are we to permit in?” To which Witalis responded, sharply, “Nobody. Not even the apothecary.” The guard hesitated for a moment in shock, before realization washed over him, and with a curt nod, he barred the door.

Witalis’ bronze armor clanked as he kneeled next to the bed of his father. Valesti looked on in mad desperation, writhing weakly as he sputtered, choked, and seized. The Royal Castellan shook his head, saying softly, “It’s finally come to this. You aren’t the man of my childhood anymore. The law has slipped in your madness.” He shook his head, almost sadly, continuing, “I’ll take good care of your kingdom. I’ll string up all those who disrespected us. I’ll string them all up.”

Valesti continued to seize as his son got up and walked to the king’s desk. He pulled out the chair, turning it to face the bed. Then, he sat down and watched. There was some indignant shouting outside the door. The apothecary had arrived, it seemed. Witalis made a mental note to have the apothecary impaled for such blatant disrespect of the orders of a Royal Castellan and King-to-be.

Valesti suffered for hours. The apothecary shouted outside the door the entire time. Witalis refused to take his eyes off of his father, his gaze hardening as his father slowly expired. Finally, with foam pouring from his mouth, Valesti seized one last time and fell silent. His breathing stilled, and his soul fled. The Royal Castellan stood, and with a disgusted glance at the corpse of his father, threw open the door.

A moment of inspiration struck. He pointed at the apothecary, and shouted, “Have him seized for failing to save the life of his majesty! Impale him at the palace gates for all to see!” Witalis’ personal guard, hand-selected for their loyalty, complied immediately. The Royal Castellan left them to the task as he went to assemble the city guard. There were pretenders to topple.




The sun lay low in the sky. No crickets sounded, as though even the animals of the realm had recognized the grave news that rode like a black wave from Gorleka. Only the sound of hooves on mud, the panting of the exhausted horse, and the yips of the rider who spurred on broke the silence. Noone else remained on the road, for the day was slipping and honesty did not dwell under the moon.

Ahead, the squat buildings of Cajnicea stood. Pinpricks of candle-light glittered in windows, and the torches of the city guard lit up the streets. The rider yelled his horse to a stop as a guard stepped out into the road, commanding, “Halt! What business rushes you into town so?”

The rider shouted back, his voice hoarse, “I bear grave news for Marin met Valesti, from the capital of the Unified Fiefdoms! I carry the seal of the merchant houses! Halt me at your own risk!” He fished an envelope from his pack, waving it in the torchlight. Indeed, it was a wax seal of the Cajnicean merchant houses, a right of passage.

The guard stepped out of the way, saying, “Gods give you luck, boy!” as the rider spurred his horse once more. He charged directly through town, and began to shout when he came into sight of the gate of Marin’s manor estate. He screamed, “I bear grave news for Marin met Valesti! I carry the seals of the merchant houses! Open the gate, and bear me to Marin met Valesti!”

The gate swung open, and the rider waved his envelope at the estate guards as he passed. They did not pursue him further, as the stable boy rushed out to assist with his horse. He leaped from the horse, taking off in a sprint to the manor. The front doors flung open. In the robes of a man intent on sleep, Marin blearily looked out at the rider.

The rider fell panting at the feet of Marin, and took a moment to catch his breath before speaking, “Sir, your father the King, he is dead! He was laid low by malady, his apothecary staked for his failure! Your brother, the Royal Castellan, has penned writs of levy. He intends to secure the realm as his!”

If Marin met Valesti had been tired, he was no longer. He turned to a guard and said, “Give this boy a letter of credit worth a hundred pebble, as thanks for his timely delivery of the news. Grant him the guest room with the wash-basin, and see to it that his horse is cared for especially well.” Then, without a moment to waste, he turned back into his estate, yelling, “Steward! Fetch the ink, and rouse two dozen messengers, immediately!”

He ran to his study, grabbing scrolls on his way. His steward rushed in with the ink, placing it down on Marin’s desk, before rushing back out to rouse the town’s messengers. He wrote his own writs, ones of contract and payment. Some addressed to bands of southern plainsmen, others to mercenary companies across the realm. He may not have maintained a standing army, but a horde of mercenaries would do the trick just as well.

He worked well into the night, his steward fetching each scroll and sending them out. There was a kingdom of riches to seize.




The news came to Gornibin with the morning missives, and soon, it was all the town could talk about. The death of the king! Rumor held it that he was poisoned! Stabbed by an assassin! Betrayed by his own guards! The entire city had collapsed, and taken his Majesty with it! The news grew more and more outlandish as it spread, taking on the form of an army of undead southern plainsmen razing Gorleka to the ground and salting the earth by the time it reached the ears of Kuba met Valesti, high in his cathedral.

He was not such a fool to take them at face value, of course; but nevertheless tidbits of truth could be taken from the rumors. His father’s death was a certainty. He scrapped his plans for the morning sermon, and took up quill and ink to draft a new one. He intended to see the throne, and he knew Witalis would see him as the threat he was. To secure the realm in the hands of the gods, the Bishop tep Caedan would have to form an army of the faithful.

Lucky, then, that he resided in a town of the faithful. He would have to drive them to action in the morning sermon, equivalate his will to Caedan’s, and whip the town into a frenzy. Then, he could withdraw the Guard-upon-River, and from their experienced ranks draw the core of his new army. With luck, he would ride, a victorious king, into Gorleka, to take his late father’s throne.

Then, the Cults of the Constant would be no more. The heresies of the Oreli would be snuffed out. Caedan and Gebei would stand triumphant, across a land of the holy and the devout. He would forge the realm into a bastion of the true faiths. All of Caedan’s enemies would repent, or they would burn in the pyres of retribution. All of them.

The bells rang for mass. Kuba took his leave of his study, taking the long flight of stairs down to take his place at the pulpit. That morning, words of fiery retribution, of holy war to come filled his preachings. Of the portents of doom should they fail, and the insidious plots of the Constant and the Oreli. The betrayal of the Royal Castellan, and the lack of faith that lead to the king’s death.

A faithful rage overtook the procession. The news would spread quickly, and the Guard-upon-River would surely abandon their posts as it reached them, for they were faithful and put their love in Kuba met Valesti, the true successor to the king. The divine right was his, and the gods walked with him.




The news from Gorleka filtered into the frontier lands to the far-east in the mid-day, carried with the Guard-upon-River. It passed from man to man until it had reached the experimental irrigation-fields Metody met Valesti had taken the liberty to inspect. He had nearly fainted when he heard it. He instructed his retinue, “Sirs, bring news of this to the villages! Instruct them that I am putting out a call to arms!”

He paused, before saying, “My brothers seek to claim the throne, but we all know they would lead it to ruin! Only I am fit to rule this realm, and together, we will see the best come to pass!” With a wave, he sent off his retinue, and he returned to his field tent. The excitement of the coming war pounded in his heart.

The rest of them were fools, ignorant of history, of governance, of everything. They were barely even literate. He was the only one, of all his brothers, fit to rule. They would see the realm driven to ruin, in ignorance and ineptitude. His fists clenched as rage filled him. The thought of their misrule drove him to deep anger.

Then, he steeled himself. His resolve hardened, as he repeated, out loud, to himself, “The only way to see it done right is to do it myself. I will see this realm made mine.” He smiled as he imagined an enlightened Kolodiva under his rule. He would be the philosopher-king, he would forge an empire to stand the test of time.

The rest of them would fall in line, and they would no longer threaten or cajole him. They would bow down to him and beg him for forgiveness; and he would have them all killed. All for the betterment of the realm; their ignorance would be deadly.

He would walk into Gorleka the enlightened king, and his rule would go down in history as the golden age of Kolodiva.




The Anchor learned of the news three days from Valesti’s death, along the trade-lanes. Filtered along by messengers to the ears of the Prince of Chruda. From there, the Prince of Chruda sent missive to Eliasz met Valesti, the estranged son of the king. Eliasz would see the support of the Anchor; in return, should he be throned, his policy would be most favorable to the northern cities.

Eliasz had no intent to honor such a promise, but nevertheless he freely and willingly agreed to it. He would keep the Anchor lulled with promises of riches and favor, until he could stand on his own two feet a king of the realm. With each northern city committing a small portion of their forces, together they would form an army capable of matching his brothers.

Thus was his right, a son of Valesti called to the endless pleasures of kingly rule. He would no longer live in a manor. He would call the palace his home, and he would walk along its marble pillars. Gold would be heaped at his feet, and feasts held every day in his honor. All of this was what he deserved.

He began to draft plans in his mind. The scorn of his father mattered no longer. He only had to reach out and seize what was his.




Alesky was tending to the flock when the men on horseback came, in shining bronze armor and carrying implements of war. They had called the village to the commons, everyone required to attend. Alesky was an honest and hard-working child, so he obeyed, leaving the flock in safe pasture within view of the commons. His father met him there, worry scrawled upon his face.

The sergeant-at-arms took a scroll from his pack, opening it. He read, “The year is now 1 Rule of Witalis. The king, Valesti, lays dead. The rightful successor, Witalis met Valesti, assumes his throne. The fiefdoms oppose the law. All able-bodied young men, of the ages fourteen to twenty-six are to march in the armies of the King. The punishment for failing to answer the call will be summary beheading, to be meted out at my will. Thus is the will of your king!”

The ten men behind him advanced, and began to round up the villagers. Aleksy was too young to join the levy, so he was sent from the commons. He fled to his house, looking out as his father, Chwalibog, was declared too old. He too fled the commons. It took thirty minutes for the troop to round up the suitable men. They marched them out at lance-point.

Aleksy’s father slammed open the door to the hut, a look of simmering disappointment and anger in his eyes. Juliusz came in shortly after. Aleksy asked, “What happened? Why did they take everyone away?”

Chwalibog’s gaze softened as he looked at his son, and he said, softly, “Sometimes the king demands things of us. It’s not a thing a young lad should worry about. Just.. Let it go from your mind. It’s none of your concern.”

Aleksy looked on, more confused than before as his mother, tears in her eyes, knelt down and hugged him tightly.


Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Frettzo Summary Lover

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Yllis & Illyd




I




There were only a few really interesting things about the new area Yllis had found herself in… Antiquity, as she’d learned as soon as entered. There was the amphitheater of course, but that really didn’t catch her attention all that much, since it was clear no one really used it for anything. Instead, what did catch her attention were the different portals strewn all over the place, every single one leading to a different area not unlike her own home. She could only guess at what was in each of those areas, but it was likely other people like her.

The other thing that had caught her attention was the thing she was currently expecting. A notice board, with several pieces of paper stuck to it with pins already. The one paper that stuck out to her the most was the only one that was ripped. A drawing of a sun with a smiley face on it, looking shoddy enough to have been made by some kind of very young child.

Yllis frowned at the drawing and rolled her eyes. ”Who’s dumb enough to let a kid roam free here? I mean, judging by the drawing the kid isn’t that bright, so it might have snuck its way here. Ugh, what a little brat.” She sighed, her tail swishing languidly behind her, flicking her skirt every now and then and brushing along the floor every single time.

She quickly skimmed over the other notices, seeing some instructions on how to use the board, as well as some information on something called “zodiacs” and… Some kind of survey. There was also a really long winded note. It was written in way too perfect handwriting and started off feeling like a sales pitch, so she immediately stopped reading it, groaning. ”What a loser. I can’t imagine caring so much about my handwriting that I’d make it look like this. Would take ages and bore me half to death. That time would be better spent doing something productive.”

“Do you know how to play the kazooie?” A gentle voice appeared next to her. It came from a blonde man in woolen white robes holding a banjo in one hand and a kazooie in the other.

Yllis turned to stare at the man after jumping a little bit, her face cold and inexpressive. She slowly and deliberately let her eyes assess his appearance, and then she swiped the kazooie out of the man’s hand, inspected it, and then looked at the man while cocking her head and her hip in opposing directions. ”Do you have any idea what this note says? I can’t be bothered to read it.” She said, pointing at the note describing the avatars on the notice board.

“Nope,” Illyd answered honestly, “I didn’t even know we had a message board.” He squinted at it, “OH!” He crossed his arms, “Right, that’s the thing about the stuff, you know?” He frowned, “Avatars, yes, making a presence on Galbar in place of yourself since our uninterrupted divine presence can’t survive on Galbar due to- Well cosmic stuff.” He strummed the banjo and immediately one of Yllis’ eyebrows twitched, “Or something of the other.”

”Ah, so I take it this map I have in my head is Galbar? Like the round planet thing, with all the landmarks? We’re supposed to do something with that?” She asked, internally wondering exactly how someone could come into Antiquity and not notice the one and only notice board. Was he younger than herself? He did dress really shabbily, so maybe he was supposed to be some kind of annoyingly musical little brother?

Illyd frowned, “You don’t have to do a thing, in fact, sometimes it’s a lot better to do nothing when you wield such power as we do -- then again...” His frown deepened, “If you don’t do anything, the others will. Galbar is a mess already, there isn’t much more you can do to it that won’t already be done.” He sighed, “It used to be so pleasant, too. I suppose I have my head in the past.”

”So you’ve been here for a while already. I had assumed you were younger than me due to the fact you didn’t know about this notice board. Like, seriously? It’s like… Like, right here. Maybe you were too focused on your banjo and ka-zoo-e, who knows. Back on topic though kazoo guy, what I see in my mind isn’t a mess. It’s great, actually. We wouldn’t want things to be monotonous and stagnant, would we now? Only a loser would be entertained by the same thing day in day out.” She explained then went back to inspecting the kazoo in her hands. ”You haven’t used this already have you kazoo guy? I’d hate to catch some sort of disease.”

Illyd scrunched his brow and smiled, “You talk a lot.”

Yllis’ brow twitched and her tail started to wag erratically, slapped against the ground and kicked up dust and dirt. She huffed, ”Do I, kazoo kid?”

“A little, but that’s okay.” Illyd nodded, “It’s nice to hear someone’s voice sometimes - my name is Illyd Dyll, what’s yours?”

Yllis rolled her eyes and looked at the notice board again. ”Yllis.” She declared, then pointed at the childish drawing on the notice board. ”Whose kid made that drawing? I thought this was for official use only.”

“Hm,” Illyd looked at the drawing. “Well, since I never noticed the board, I never noticed the drawing -- I don’t know most things and sort of just let the other gods and goddesses do their own thing.” He paused, “Did you know I made the first mortal life?”

”Did you.” She asked in a monotone. ”Let me guess, they came straight out of the womb of creation playing the kazoo.”

“No!” Illyd laughed, “They formed as these great adventurers who scoured all of Galbar -- funny thing though is that no one really ever noticed them. Probably for the best, most of what I do isn’t noticed.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and laughed heartily, “Wouldn’t you believe it that every other mortal made since was made at tens of times the size of the first. What a silly world.”

Yllis spared Illyd a sideways glance, then shook her head. ”You bored, kazoo kid? If your creations get ignored just make them go on a little murder spree. There will always be more little people popping out… They breed like rabbits. It’s as if every day could be their last.”

“Ah a final day,” Illyd sighed, “I do envy that, but no -- I think it is best the first remains ignored lest they get dragged into the monotone that you seem so worried about.” He slanted a face, “SO are you going to play that kazoo or just keep lording it as a theatrical piece for your nicknames?” A stupid wink.

”You haven’t said whether you’ve used it before or not.”

“Oh yeah, slobbered the thing,” Illyd gave a grim nod, “And not just me but all the farm animals too -- you’re a brave god for volunteering.” He motioned with his hand, “Go on!”

Yllis narrowed her slitted pupils at Illyd, working out in her head whether she should be indignated or just play along in the hopes that the guy would stop asking her to play it. Finally she blushed a little, a fact she could never hope to hide given how ghostly her complexion was, and pursed her lips. ”Ugh, fine. But I’m only doing it to get you to shut up about it… I can’t believe I’m sticking something a stranger gave me in my mouth...” She groaned, then put the kazoo up to her lips and blew on it softly, a pitiful sound coming out.

Immediately she pulled the instrument away from her face and stuck her tongue out. Illyd’s eyes drifted from her face and to a small wispy cloud that exited the kazoo. With a determined grin, the god of agriculture snapped a glass jar out of nowhere, scooping up the strange cloud and slapping a lid on it. He wiped his brow as if he just finished a hard day's work and nodded, “Well that was fun, huh?”

Yllis stared at him incredulously, narrowing and widening her pupils as if she didn’t know how to react. Then she slammed her tail down on the ground and threw the kazoo at Illyd’s feet. ”Pervert!” She huffed indignantly, turned tail and walked away briskly.

”Bet he goes around snatching people’s used underwear, I swear…! Next time I see him I will get back at him… No one takes a lady’s breath away like that without asking first… I will kill him...” She muttered on and on as she left.

A cheshire grin appeared in front of Yllis, making the new Goddess jump back a little as the figure of Illyd followed shortly after. He pushed the Jar forward into the air, the container spinning in place between the two for a split moment before Yllis reacted and took it. "It's yours, you know?" His smile widened, "You can make an avatar out of it, that's how it works - a piece of you for a piece of Galbar." A banjo strummed a note, but there was none to be seen.

Yllis furrowed her brow at him, but decided that in either case she should open the jar so she did, the small cloud languidly floating out of the glass container.

After that, Yllis didn’t really need any instruction. Now that she knew what avatars were and about Galbar, she could make the connections to the things she instinctively knew how to do. Making avatars was one of those things, luckily.

All she had to do was stick her hand into the floating gas and focus. Eventually, the gas solidified and bubbled and began taking form. Indeed, mere moments later, an exact copy of Yllis was standing in front of her, eyes closed at least until the original pulled her hand out from inside the copy’s chest, leaving behind a gaping hole that closed up quickly after the fact.

Yllis took a deep breath, and when she exhaled so did the copy. Then they both opened their eyes at the same time, with the copy eyeing Illyd with a raised eyebrow before looking at the original. ”So this is the pervert who made us blow something he had blown before?” The copy asked, cocking her hips at the same time as the original, as if it was a reflection. Their tails swished curiously behind them, both kicking up equal amounts of dirt as they narrowed their eyes at each other, then at Illyd.

”Yes, yes he is. He wears bedsheets, too. Apparently he has never seen a pair of pants before.” Explained the original to the copy, bringing her hand to her lips in order to pretend to cover the mocking snicker on her otherwise stoic face.

”He should feel grateful that he even met us, I think. Who knows how long he’d spend without knowing what proper clothing looks like if he hadn’t?” The copy smirked and the two prossed their hands together, intertwining their fingers.

”Seems like we’re not getting through to him! Whaddaya think we should do, Yllis? Maybe we shouldn’t waste our time here anymore? We do have work to do after all! I heard about some small mortals who’ve been quite lazy lately!” Each part pressed themselves up against the other, looking into each other’s eyes as they rested their foreheads together.

”Have you, Yllis! Why’re we still here then?”

As if on cue, the two turned to stare at Illyd with catlike looks of muted amusement on their faces. Illyd met it with a goofy smile.

”We should probably thank him.”
”We should probably reward him.”

”For giving me information.”
”For giving you information.”

Both Yllises extended the hand closer to Illyd toward him and materialised a single dog treat in each, holding them out for Illyd to take as small, twisted smiles formed on their faces.

"Now you talk twice as much." Illyd reached out a hand, an apple forming in his.

The two rolled their eyes and looked back into each other’s, retracting their hands and idly nibbling on the dog treats they had conjured forth.
”Hey Yllis, he’s boring.”
”Hey Yllis, he’s a hypocrite.”

They snickered, again, and continued taking tiny bites out of the treats. Illyd shrugged and took a hearty bite of the apple. He chewed the crunchy and juicy piece with simple contentment as he watched the two.

”He likes to put his things in my mouth, but doesn’t like it when I offer mine.” The original said before pulling away from the copy, prompting her to do the same. They both turned to face the portal to their realm and began to walk towards it, waving dismissively back at Illyd.

”Thanks for the info, kazoo kid. I’ll make sure to tell the tiny mortals it was you who kindly mentioned their plight to me! Oh, to live such idle lives...” The original sighed.

Illyd swallowed, opened his mouth, and took another juicy bite. A soft rumble in his throat, almost like a chuckle.

”Oh, to be of no consequence!” The copy exclaimed just before she skipped into the portal.

Right before leaving, though, the original Yllis turned quickly toward Illyd and smiled uneasily, as if she wasn’t used to the genuineness of the expression, a wink past an apple being sent back to her. She opened her mouth as if to say something but quickly thought twice about it and went through the portal, the image shown by the portal changing to that of a locked door.




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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Commodore
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Commodore Condor

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Ciara had forgotten what day it was. Was it even day? Time had faded. She had no idea how long she had been here. Strapped through the chair. Her mind felt fogged up. Memories came up occasionally. Names, laughs, trees. But they vanished just as quickly. She could barely hold on to her own name. Sometimes it slipped. Other names were just as clearly fading. Seva, Ora, Malgog. Looking down at the ground she feared every sound she heard. Every creaking from the door. The pain had been all there is. The loneliness cut worse though.

Some time ago, she had no idea how long, she would’ve wished to go home. Right now she had no idea what home was. Where home was. There was just the pain and the fogged mind and the names. Life was slipping through her fingers. “Sovas…take me.” The words came out like whispers to the wind. Easily misunderstood as just a sigh but a prayer none the less. The last prayer that she could form with her broken mind.

There came an on rushing presence in her mind, words soon followed, a thousand soothing whispers from a thousand mothers and fathers came together in one voice, "Be calm child, I will take you away, away from the pain."

"You will have to let go, but I will help you, no need to make a sound, rest and let go..."

She still sobbed twice. After everything that happened, a final few tears dropped from her eyes. But she had no choice. Her eyes closed, her breathing slowed. Inside she felt as if she was gripping rope tight and it was cutting through her hand and now she finally let go. Her body grew cold but not uncomfortable. It was as if at first she was pulling inwards, and then finally out.

Ciara felt herself drawing away as the voice spoke, "You're coming to a better place. Do not fear..."

Everything seemed to drop away bit by bit, as if she was being held by threads and each was unraveling in turn as she drew away from all of it. she was away, and there seemed at first to be nothing but herself and the presence in her mind. Then she felt it. The tug, the pull, and she was off. There wasn't a sense of control, one of movement or motion, but the pull was irresistible it seemed. She went, away from Galbar, from Ha-Dûna and the Westfold. She was arriving at what seemed to be a gateway, entrance to someplace else. "You will be with those that you love, and that love you, fear not Ciara..."

The voice, the presence, it stayed with her along the way, until she was through the gates that had so loomed above. Her mind began to clear. Her memories pieced themselves together. With every step taken the fog in her head disappeared. There was no hesitation, no fear as she nearly passed through the gateway beyond which it felt like an entirely new world laid. Yet before she would cross the threshold she stopped. Enough of her mind had pieced itself together. Laughs, smiles, home. “Those who I love aren’t dead yet.” She said softly.

"Yet is the operative word, paradise awaits until they join you. You still have opportunity to meet your people that you know not, that they are blood of your blood and kith and kin to you. Ones who will adore you and tell you of so much. You are not of the world anymore Ciara, rest and take time, you have joys awaiting you that you cannot yet conceive."

A small smile crept across Ciara’s lips. She leaned forward, almost setting the last step. But before she did, she looked back over her shoulder. At the world that was. The world she left behind. “I’ll be waiting for you.” She whispered with a tender voice and then took a resolute step forward. Crossing the threshold and passing through the gateway.




A divine voice of a million mortal men and women called out to a mind he knew was there, "Qael'naath, I request you come to my realm to discuss a matter of some import. I call upon you for a favor and assistance in matters in the Westfold of the Highland of Toraan."

“A most odd location to take interest in, brother.” Qael said as he stepped into the familiar realm of the god of death. Fog lapped at his feet already. Wandering souls went about their business and the usual structures towered over the grey and misty landscape. As before he merely walked through it to nowhere in particular. Thaa would find him easy enough. He kept looking around. Mostly to occupy his remaining two eyes, while the others flickered and shimmered with a chromatic glow. Blind to the realm he now walked in, they instead saw Galbar. The Winds had found itself watching over the Westfold, though that was not entirely an accident. “So what can I help you with?”

A voice descended upon him as Qael was brought to a void far from the rest of the realm, or right next door depending on your view. Thaa spoke from a ball of corpses his Eye traverse to gaze at Qael. "A most odd place indeed. One that continues to infuriate me through divine interventions and immoral acts."

"I would show you the depredations committed to a soul. I would ask not that you pity her, nor that you find a similar moral stance to mine. I ask only that you understand why I call upon you in the specific case."

Qael was about to stop the god of death. Of course, he knew which soul’s pains he would show. He was there. Witness to most of it. In the piece of Kal the sight hurt him in his heart. It was vile and terrible for a young woman, so full of ideals and hope, to suffer such a fate. Yet as a god he couldn’t allow himself to care. Still, he wasn’t about to tell a god angry about divine intervention that her death was a favored outcome. “Very well, show me.” The god of magic said as he closed his eyes. Allowing his essence to open up only slightly.

And so it came, all of it, the efforts and works of those of Ha-Dûna upon the body and mind of Ciara. This came not as observation but as feeling of her own, of her desperate thought and memory of each that Thaa had seen and saved to bring to this very showing. Every depredation and every attack and torture. All based on a false assumption.

Thaa gave such to Qael, in his memory, in his thoughts and his feelings he had opportunity to see it all. Thaa spoke, "She had been saved, I seek not punishment, nor retribution against the mortals. They bare only the sickening influence of life about their minds, the twisted depredation of living shaping their wills and actions. A declaration of will must be made, I can do as much of my own will. I ask of you a favor regarding mana and those who lead and follow in Ha-Dûna, the supposed inheritors of the Dûnlands as they name the Westfold."

“Few of them use my gifts.” Qael’Naath said as his essences sealed itself off again. Seeing what happened to Ciara was harrowing enough to the small mortal side he now had. Feeling it as a part of him had been much worse. That very same part wished to engage Thaa on the subject of life again. But the divine part of him knew well enough that it would be wasted time. “Druidism cuts them off completely.” A sacrifice too many were willing to make if you asked the god of magic. Then again, he knew he was somewhat biased. “So what would you ask of me?”

"Their enemies do not scorn such gifts, they have made enemies of many of those living, so aid them. Other divines will support the evil that prepares in Ha-Dûna, do not make it easy for them to spread such affairs to the entire Westfold. If any part of you has the least amount of abhorrence for what I have showed you, act to ensure it doesn't repeat a thousand fold, a million as the generations march on!" Thaa's voice had slowly grown to a thundering ring as revealed his anger, before he quieted. Continuing on in a more normal tone for him, "Bless those against them, curse the Dûnan who acts so callously, set the nature of mana against them so that the world may hold that which you find abhorrent, abhorrent to the world as well. Do what you will to act Qael’Naath, I have seen your daughters. I have some idea of your plans. If you let such things as are promoted here take root without cause you only endanger them, embolden those who would act against such dreams of theirs."

"The daughter of the Sun with all her power and influence stands idle as this happened, the Goddesses of Sun and Moon, Life and Protection, stood by and did nothing. Their silence supports the vile actions committed there. But I know you may not agree with me, you may not think matters of morality are important. So think of this too, I have given gifts to your daughters, pledged their safe return, we have worked together on projects. If I have earned any amount of goodwill, if you have any care for moral matters, do not stand by and let them set the mortal world on a path for such wretchedness!"

For a moment – perhaps due to his mortal affliction – Qael’Naath felt compelled to bring down his full, divine power upon the Westfold. To erase the troublesome Dûnans and have his chosen finally start his plans for the region. He even felt Kal’s heart quicken so far away as the mortal man was teaching the Solarians more magic. Visions or a rampaging storm flashed through the god’s mind. He would summon a storm of mana and send it raging towards Ha-Dûna. Flattening the area. Erasing all that was. A storm that would serve as a declaration. An expression of will, as Thaa had said.

Yet he quickly detached himself from such mortal feelings. It was odd to hear Thaa so thunderous. Qael’Naath paused for a moment though as he gathered his thoughts. “You’d do well not to insult one of my few friends, brother.” He said, though he offered a genuine smile together with his words. A smile Lucia or Soleira would’ve given the baleful thing before him. The god of the death made a fair point though. Lucia was meant to create peace. Qael did not think she would succeed but for things to get out of hand this quickly. Perhaps it was because she was tired. Two-thousand years of faithfully serving her mother was a long time for any mortal. She had earned her life within the godly realm.

“What you did for my daughters is not forgotten. But Soleira and Lucia have shown me to take things slower. We are gods after all.” He levitated up slightly as he folded his legs and floated in a meditative pose. “Why this place?” The god of magic asked. “Across Galbar there must be hundreds of mortals tortured unjustly. Yet something seemed to have riled you up about the Westfold specifically. What is it?”

"You are right." Thaa paused, as if giving moment or break to his speech.

He continued soon however, "There are many who have suffered, some worse than her. While this may serve as impetus, it is not cause. I seek to make a stand against this Evil, here and now as it becomes clear the Dûnan's are guided by deific influence to most immoral cause. They torture, imprison and seize their own people, their lands, their livelihoods and blackmail them the same. This is new, directed. The seek to make things worse, increase suffering for their own power. This reeks of divinely meddling in mortal affairs once again in the Westfold, it is the target of immoral deities seeking to start a wretched curse upon the land."

"The Dûnans fled to the Westfold from persecution, and from that they have learned and been taught by dark deities to make a new suffering greater than before. They have been bred in great numbers by divine aid, their population of natives are young, easier to lead, easier to bring to bear in combat. They endorse some of the worse means and they seek to crush opposition, disregard the respects or concerns for other peoples, and no doubt spread this suffering further. I fear this is a Divine plan guided by a deity such as Oraelia or another of her like, perhaps a cabal to increase suffering first in the Westfold, perhaps to expand from there or to export and improve upon the model to so descretate all of Galbar."

Thaa's great eye had been moveing slightly small images of dust had appeared as he spoke and now he started directed at Qael. "Tell me Qael'Naath, are you so sure that it is best to wait? To see what comes? I have waited and watched two thousand years and more, from the first death! I have seen the rise of slavery, cold blooded torture, a thousand upon a thousand upon a thousand atrocities and more. I waited to give them paradise, but I will not stand for Galbar to be come a hell for all which to live. We do not agree on all points, that much is clear and has always been so. I am not asking you to agree with me, I am asking you to look and see that things are measurably getting worse! Divinely backed civilizations exporting suffering at increasing rates, mass slaughter as a norm, torture! Bronze and blood! They speak with honeyed words, and they get ever more present options for atrocity."

"You want a world Soleira can save, or do you want one that will eat her alive in all her attempts at Kindness? Make a stand Qael'Naath, on my ask if not another cause, you may blame me as asker of a favor should you need explanation, I ask you to change the course."

“Do not confuse my patience with inaction brother.” Qael’Naath said. Two eyes lost their glimmering status as he momentarily released the Winds from his hold. Four eyes total watched Thaa’s singular great one. “As it stands I have already given my support in more than one way to those who oppose the Dûnan oppression but I’m not blind to your champion. This Jjonveyo? He is not the answer either. Arrogant and as war-hungry as the Dûnans. He will not bring peace to the region should he win. Just more suffering.” The god of magic took a deep breath in an effort to calm and distance himself again from mortal emotions. Distaste and anger were ill advisors to a god. For now the Westfold conflicts were small compared to the whole of Galbar. Though it received a significant amount of divine support nonetheless. Thaa was right, it could easily spill out if not reigned in.

With a calmer voice Qael said: “Even if we find a fitting solution for Ha-Dûna, this cabal of gods you speak of might simply move to another civilization and chose to remain in the shadows longer.” It was hard to deny the idea that his fellow siblings were conspiring in the region any thought. Was this Oraelia’s plan? Does Lucia know? There were too many questions. “I will speak to Oraelia and Cadien.” The god of magic said as he lowered himself and stood on his feet again. “Hear their intentions for the region.” He was about to say his farewells, but he stopped.

Thaa deserved a promise though. The god of the death spoke of the goodwill between the two of them. Qael’Naath would honor it. “You might think me weak now, brother. For choosing to talk instead of bringing down my own power to bear upon the Dûnans.” His voice remained calm, but there was something behind it. A glimpse of a storm growing in his heart. “But I promise you this. If your fears are true, if this suffering and pain is the works of our siblings’ evil intentions I will bring down a wrath so fierce it will be carved upon the very land itself.”

"Speak as you like, listen as you wish, some have lied again and again to the mortals of Galbar, perhaps a divinity could get them to ferret out truth. And fear not, I have better options to bring eventual peace than the Mountain warlord, he does as he wills as long as he lasts. There is no such thing as a solution, answer for the region as the state of the world stands, we might make things better however."

Thaa stopped, there was a great deal to say, and a greater deal to work on. "I would not have brought this to your attention had I thought you weak, my opinion stands as it was. Know this, whatever your findings of a cabal or whether they remained enshrouded, I will not stand by and watch mockeries made of innocents. This world is no ideal, but I will not allow it to become the opposite of one. You have my respect."

Qael bowed his head in a respectful manner but then walked away. Sooner or later Thaa’s realm would offer up its portal to him whenever it decided. And soon enough, he was out to Antiquity once more.



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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Cadien

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Illyd Dyll




Cadien had decided to go on a routine walk of Antiquity, when he came across something unusual: another god was present. Such a thing was rare, these days.

Even more unusual was that it was a god he already knew. One he thought was gone.

“Illyd?” Cadien asked, eyes wide, stopping just short of the Farming God.

The god was leaning against the bulletin board, gnawing happily on the remains of a once plump apple. A sly vulpine smile formed after a heavy gulp.

"Cadien!" Illyd stood up straight, "Hello!"

The armoured god paused, as if not quite believing what he was seeing. Wordlessly, he began to approach, before finally they were close enough to touch and he threw his arms around Illyd. “I thought you were dead.”

Illyd froze up on impact for a moment before offering a "there, there" accompanied with a gentle pat on the back. "Not dead, yet anyway." He snuck in a wink and detatched from Cadien, "and how are you?"

Cadien took a step back, appearing somewhat embarrassed by the lapse in composure. “I am well,” he nodded. “Where have you been? I could not access your realm.”

"Oh I was just taking a moment for myself," Illyd explained. "Everyone needs a little quiet hour or two. Prayers never stop though." He gave a goofy grin, "I recently got quite the desperate prayer, even. Or well two pretty desperate prayers."

“An hour?” Cadien furrowed his brow. “You do realize that it has been decades?”

"Oh what's decades to someone who remembers when time began," Illyd waved a hand dismissively. "What have you been up to?"

“Watching over mortalkind,” Cadien answered. “Answering prayers, moving pieces. I must say, it is a relief to know you are still well. A number of other gods have disappeared, or sealed off their realms. It was quite alarming.”

"We are all rebels to entropy, I suppose -- can only expect some to fall victim to it," Illyd offered grimly. "How is mortalkind doing in your eyes?"

“Some areas fare well. Others poorly.” Cadien shrugged. “If you don’t mind me asking, how is your situation with… Diana?”

"Long solved," Illyd patted his own chest. "Her personality is back woven into mine, as is Joab-Balaam's."

Cadien blinked. “Who?”

"Oop," Illyd chuckled, "That must have been before your time. Don't worry about it, friend! I'm all set and healthy." He tapped his chin, "Say do you know Boudicca?"

He nodded. “She is my champion in Ha-Duna. Why?”

Illyd's nose twitched for a moment, a smile forming, "She had prayed to me of course! But not before attempting to control the weather and harvest of her region on her own." There was a disappointment in Illyd's voice, "Oh icy rain and barren fruit. Tsk."

“And what did you do in response?”

"What do you mean?"

“How did you answer the prayer?”

"Oh I haven't, not yet," Illyd explained.

“Hm. But you intend to?”

"I do, she seemed rather desperate." Illyd paused, reflecting. "Very desperate."

Cadien nodded again. “Her people are at war. And they’ve already endured much hardship these past few years. I offered her what aid I could, for the purpose of defending her lands.”

"Oh I know," Illyd admitted. "There has been a lot of war in that area for quite some time - when she prayed to me directly, expecting my voice -- well I at first found it a little odd. Usually prayers are hardly so personal on my end, at least from humans. Her enemies also prayed to me, you know?"

“She and her people are used to communing with the gods,” Cadien explained. “From what I understand these druids have a special connection with a certain few, even if half of them do not answer. Elsewhere, I suppose many mortals pray more out of habit or tradition than anything else.”

"Oh trust me I know -- I'm one of those gods you're talking about. Even still, the druids who have dedicated themselves to my worship rarely desire a conversation -- usually trying to make rain or blessings in bountiful harvest." Illyd shrugged and leaned against the bulletin board, another apple appearing in his hand. "So you can see why I was surprised that a human would call upon me so personally, to most I work behind the scenes." He took a bite, and chewed for a while before continuing past a gulping swallow, "So I'll hear what she has to say, I am awfully curious about it." He pointed a finger. "Say you seem to know a great deal about that end, know anything about the other?"

“I cannot say I do. From what I understand, they’re one of many minor factions Ha-Duna has clashed with in the past, and they refuse to overlook past slights. Their grievances may have merit, but all they’re doing is continuing unnecessary conflicts that should have ended long ago.”

"I never took you for the judgemental type," Illyd seemed surprised. "But then again, I can't blame you if you have such a tie to the conflict. Either way they pray to me often, as do most civilizations feeling a little down."

“Hm. Say, I don’t suppose you would be interested in visiting Meliorem?”

"I don't see why not!" Illyd agreed.

Then the two left together, away from the prying eyes of Antiquity.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Legion02
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“Here, drink this.” Soleira said as she offered a bowl of stew to the gaunt looking man. He had come from some place north together with his family. All of them looked exhausted. The plague had torn through them. Luckily his son, daughter, wife and grandmother were already looking better. As Soleira helped up the man she put her other arm on his back to support him. From her hand a golden light glowed for just a moment. It looked like how any other Oraeliari would heal someone. Except she cured the plague as well.

“Thank you.” The man said in between a few coughs, before he greedily devoured the meat stew. A necessity, but Soleira didn’t like it. Still, the people and even her own kin that came to her had to regain their strength. At least the people were happy to consume more meat. When Soleira was sure the man could hold himself upright she let him go. Soon the bowl was placed beside him and he went to sleep again. But Soleira was already upon the next patient. She gave her a bowl as well, while she cured the ravaging disease that was seemingly spreading throughout the colorful realm. People had seemingly come from all wind directions. Seeking the four-winged Oraeliari that could cure their illness.

Of course Soleira considered a great honor. To fight this horrible disease in the name of the Sun-mother Oraeliara. Who else would’ve blessed her to cure it? Though she wished others would be blessed with the same powers. At times it felt like too much to bear. To heal the sick and tired until deep into the night. But she couldn’t flatter now. The plague wouldn’t. So while she started looking equally tired as those she healed, she pushed on. Healing human, Oraeliari and even Neiyari that would come seeking to cure their illness. She gladly helped them all.

“My Queen!” Someone standing in the sick hall’s doorway said. Though Soleira didn’t need to look up to know who it was. The sharpness of his voice and the sudden sensation of dread that flowed over her told her everything she needed to know about who stood in the doorframe. “Something is coming from the south. Our scouts… we don’t know what it is.” There was something unfamiliar in his voice. Something Soleira never heard before.

She looked up to look at him. Nolari was always looking as if he was suppressing some great anger. As if he just saw his greatest hatred. He was also young. Born by Neiyari parents, not by the sun-mother herself. But now there was something else in his expression. “What’s the matter?” Soleira asked as she got up. Those helping the sick let her pass as she walked towards Nolari.

“We don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it. Like, it’s a mountain in the air.” Nolari said, and Soleira recognized the other expression. Fear.

She remained calm though. She walked out with him and indeed, off in the far southern distance was a blot of blackness. Something deeply contrasting the multicolored clouds and bright sun. It was far still, but coming closer. If it had come this close though, the birds would’ve investigated it already. Some of them were flying over the floating stone and earth. Though none dove down. Put at ease she dismissed Nolari. If the birds didn’t attack then it was no threat. Still, it was a curious sight. With her eyes still on the floating island she walked over towards Kal’s small hovel. Bushes of strange berries were growing near his front door. They had grown fast. Very fast. One berry wouldn’t be too bad right, she thought. So she picked one and ate it. Making sure to spit the seed out in her hand and pocketed it the little seed bag she kept on her at all time. The berry was delicious! And so filling. Like she had just eaten a full meal! Quite satisfied she knocked on Kal’s door and entered.

The old man was packing. He looked up, momentarily surprised to see Soleira standing there. “Yes?” He asked.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.” Soleira said. Usually she was free to come in whenever. “There’s something coming for us in the sky. Like an floating island. I was wondering if you knew anything about it?”

“Ah… is it time already?” He opened the window to look outside. “Seems like old age really has made me slow. I’m afraid today is our last day, my dear. I must go. There are other places that will need me.”

“Wait, you’re leaving!?” Soleira exclaimed. “Why are you telling me this only now!? I-I need your help! How else am I going to make Soleras as great as we both want it to be?” She said in disbelief. “Please, stay a few days more. Just so I can prepare a feast! You can’t leave without a feast. I-I forbid it! As your queen I forbid it!”

But Kal just gave her an apologetic smile as he got u and threw his sack of his shoulder and picked up the gnarled staff. “It’s okay, my dear. You’ll do amazing without me. But I’m not yet leaving. Come, let’s go outside and see what this is all about a floating island.” The old man stepped passed Soleira into the sunlight of the Luminant. A bit meekly she followed him.

“Please don’t go.” She pleaded quietly. “I really need you. I can’t do this alone.”

Kal turned to face her. “Yes, you can. You were already leading the humans here before I came along. I just… gave you the right push. I’m sure that without me you’ll still make Soleras into the greatest place on this planet.” He said with a reassuring tone. “But come now. We shouldn’t tarry. Not today. Oh not today.” Kal then said with an almost uncharacteristic enthusiasm. “Oh and be sure you bring one of the rainbow eyed people. You will need them from now on.”
~

Three hours later everyone was gathered further outside the burgeoning village of Soleras. Standing in untouched plains. The floating island was now looming overhead. Now that it was close, Soleira could see the full size of it. It was so much bigger than she thought it was! I threw them all in a dark, slightly colder shadow. “Do you hear something from it ,Kaïon?” She asked the Servant standing beside her. He had the rainbow eyes underneath his closed eyelids.

“There’s something.” He said as he tried to understand the kindred consciousness touching upon his. “It’s not human for sure. It growls but now in anger. I can hear clicks and clacks as well. Whatever is trying to talk it’s thinking in more than just another language. Whatever it is… I never heard it before.”

Kal was just smiling as he looked. He was looking at it as if he was just about to meet an old friend again. The fact that he wasn’t concerned put Soleira a bit on ease. Perhaps the island would just float over and that would be it? Though she doubted it. Kal didn’t gather people until it was important. Everyone was holding their breath and looking up as well. So almost everyone missed the old man tapping his staff three times on the ground. In front of them great roots burst through the ground. The quake knocked people over. Oraeliari and those few Neiyari that kept mostly to themselves still took to the air. Soleira remained standing, finding her balance quickly as she grabbed Kal to steady the old man as well. Above the giant roots coil around each other. Forming a titanic, twisted tree reaching out towards the island. Where the roots released from each other. Soleira could see each coil around the island and drill through it. When finally the ground stopped shaking, the tree spawned looked more like an arm outstretched from the ground. With its hand holding the island in place.

“What just happened?” A very frightened Soleira asked Kal, who still looked with bemusement at what just happened.

The old man looked the right in the eyes when he said: “The gifts are coming.”

Before the four-winged Oraeliari could even think about the strange thing her old friend had just said, light fell from the island and hit the ground beneath. When the blinding light finally dissipated several things stood in the field that hadn’t just a moment ago. They were large. Larger than the average human. They looked lizard like, with hard, dry scales. Wearing nothing but a loincloth.

Everyone armed raise their weapons. The few talented mages that Soleira or Kal had trained readied the spells on their tongues. The creatures before them growled something, and one of them stepped forward. Another series of lights fell down from the island. Once again forming the lizard-like creatures. Except for one. Instead of a lizard, this creature looked like a massive toad standing on hits hindlegs. When it appeared it immediately began to speak in a low, baritone grumbling language. Saying things Soleira couldn’t ever repeat. One of the lizard creatures – one that shared the same rainbow eyes as Kaïon – closed his eyes. Kaïon, having fallen by the quake first looked confused. They his eyes grew wide. He turned to look at Soleira.

“It’s.. greeting you. As Queen.” He said. “No… not just as Queen. It’s calling… There’s something else. I can’t- I don’t understand. The intentions its using with the words. It doesn’t make sense.” But then Kal stepped over to Kaîon and put a hand on his shoulder. “Daughter.” He whispered to the man. Who took a moment and then nodded. “Daughter of magic. It called you daughter of magic.”

“Magic?” Soleira said. She then turned towards the lizards and the bulbous, bipedal toad. “I’m sorry, you must be mistaken.” She said out loud. Kaïon beside her was quick to translate the words towards the other Servant. “I’m a daughter of the sun but… but not of magic.” More lights fell from the island above. Forming more lizards and toads.

The seven bulbous toads that had land so far let out a loud, deep throated rumble, before slowly bending over. Bowing before Soleira. The lizards kneeled and bowed as well. Kaïon looked up at Soleira. “They… insist. You are their queen now. Their god told them to come and that they would be grasped by a tree. When that happened, they were to step over the edge of their island at a specific point. They would land safely and find… and find the daughter of magic. That is what he is telling me.”

“there must be some mistake. I can barely use magic.” The pendant she wore opened up. It had happened a few times before. It somehow knew what it asked of it. But it reassured her, they were speaking the fullest of truth. Soleira looked around, then locked pleading eyes with Kal again.

He just shook his head. “It’s true.” He said. “I knew it the moment I saw you. You never asked why you’re the only of your kin that can perform magic? But it’s okay. I wa- I was told to leave you with a final few gifts.” He reached for within his pocket and took out the Grail. “First I offer you this. It’s an ancient gift. Something that will bless the people of Soleras with bounty beyond your imagining.” Soleira gingerly took the grail with both hands. Her body began to shake a little as tears began to well in her eyes. “And this is tome that will guide you. It contains all you need to know and more. How to build, how to farm, how to rule and how to improve your realm. It’s yours now.” Soleira took it as well.

For a second she looked at the gifts in both her hands, and then at the lizards and toads. More were still falling as stars from the island. Then she turned to Kal. She hugged him as hard as she could as the first few tears began to fall. “I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you so, so much.”

Kal returned the embrace. Much how a father would embrace his daughter. “I will never be far. I promise you that.”




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Genesis


I


Sometimes, Genesis could swear she was kind of useless. It didn’t really bother her much, as neither Birburelli nor the Hunter seemed to care. The older Sylphi now accompanying her -- or more like leading her -- was squatted down besides an animal carcass, digging into the dead animal’s injuries and innards with not an inkling of disgust or hesitation. At times, he would pull certain things out of the carcass, inspect them and discard them, and Genesis watched all of this from her position, perched upside down on a branch, with her eyes slightly rolled up into the back of her head. Yes, she had been watching for that long.

Finally, the Hunter’s yellowed leaves ruffled as he took a deep sniff of a blackened piece of sharp bone, a spike. He put the spike in a tube made of hollowed out bone hanging from his thick leather belt and stood up. “You ready, Goddess?” He asked in a rough voice, then turned around in time to see Genesis jumping off the branch, doing a flip and landing on her feet with a grin.

”Always!” She declared proudly, then skipped over to the Hunter, grabbing onto his arm before glaring harmlessly at him, ”And seriously, don’t call me that… It’s embarrassing. I seriously don’t feel like a Goddess of anything...”

The Hunter regarded Genesis coldly, his ice blue eyes shining brightly as they analyzed her. She sighed, and then he nodded and started to walk away from the carcass, practically dragging Genesis along with him, given the fact she refused to let go of his arm.

”So, what did you fiiind~?”

“Several black spikes scattered inside the leopard’s thorax. It seems that our target shot some of its spikes into the beast from the side, most likely an ambush… The leopard never stood a chance. Within a second, its lungs and heart had all been pierced several times.” He explained, his voice rough around the edges. “The flesh around the entry wound started to rot almost immediately upon coming into contact with the spikes, so we’re dealing with a very stressed Hed-Hed that is overproducing toxins. Moreover, judging from the fact that the carcass was intact and not completely cold, I’d say we’re catching up to it. If we keep this speed up we might be able to reach it before it does any more damage.”

”Huh? Close? Then why can’t I hear it or smell it? You know that that thing’s stench has burned its mark into my memory ever since it walked all over me last week. I swear, I can probably smell it from leagues away.” Genesis shuddered at the memory. The large, lanky thing bursting from the bushes and knocking her to the ground. Scaled, sharp legs tipped with sharp claws stomping over her and slobbering maw hovering over her face, with the blackest spikes growing all over its back and face-

She was broken out of her reverie as the Hunter stopped suddenly and wiggled his arm out of her embrace.

”Huh? What’s wrong? W-Wait, is it… Is it THAT close?!” She gasped, her eyes narrowing and her hands shakily finding the handle of the bone knife the Hunter had given her after the other ‘incident’ back in Muraymuna.

To Genesis, it felt like minutes passed, but in reality it was only a moment until the Hunter visibly relaxed and shook his head. “No, but I do hear and smell a different kind of predator. Humans, to be exact. Several of them smell like pups, but not all. Be on your guard, but don’t do anything to make them feel threatened.”

Genesis sighed and groaned, letting her arms fall limp to her sides. The next moment she was completely disregarding what he had said, starting to walk ahead of the Hunter. He seemed to want to say something but thought twice about it before huffing and catching up.

”I know you don’t like them but listen, a human saved me when I was more vulnerable than a cute little baby bunny. One day you’re going to have to learn how to trust they aren’t all freaks.”

“I’m sorry Goddess, but let me remind you I’ve seen much more of the world than y-”

”I told you not to call me that! UGH!” She said with a voice crack as she turned around and stomped her bare foot down, frowning and beginning to tear up. ”I swear, you’re doing it on purp-”

“Shh!”

”Oh, NOW you want me to shut up! Well, I won’t! If you won’t call me a nice name I won’t shut up. I will not shut up. You’re mean, mean, a meanie, YOU shut up! Bully!” She yelled, stomping on the ground with almost every word, flattened the dirt beneath her.

The Hunter groaned and brought his palm to his face, shaking his head and using his other hand to point behind Genesis. She let out a high pitched whine as she rubbed at her eyes and turned around to look, seeing a cloaked figure standing amongst the trees. In a split moment she yelped and dashed behind the Hunter, grabbing tightly onto his cloak and only peeking out slightly from behind him at the approaching figure.

The figure stumbled forward, taking uneasy steps while they held a hood over their face. They were hunched over, making it difficult to tell exactly how tall they were but they were small.

The two Sylphi took a step backward, with the Hunter moving a hand to the handle of the oversized bone sword on his back, a low hum starting as his hand hovered over it. He grunted towards the figure and spoke. “Stop approaching and lower your hood, we do not deal with shadows.”

”R-Remember that humans can’t understand you!” Genesis whispered to the Hunter, leaning as close as she to his ear could while standing on the tips of her toes.

“Then you talk to the thing! What’re you waiting for, Gen?!” He said, taking her by the arm and pushing her in front of him, eliciting a gasp and a panicked attempt to retreat, only managing to bump against the Hunter. After staring at the cloaked figure for a moment, she turned to the Hunter and cast him an annoyed glance, before looking back at the figure.

”Huh, u-uh… Yeah, uh, so, please lower your hood so we know who we’re dealing with.”

The figure stopped shortly after people began to shout at them. They paused, clung to their hood even harder and attempted to turn around and run, but immediately tripped over their own feet.

”Huh… I don’t, uh, think it’s dangerous actually. Most likely a kid.” Genesis said with a sigh of relief, and then made her way towards the figure.

“Wait, you don’t know that!”

She, of course, ignored the Hunter and helped the figure up once she was close enough, making sure to make only slow movements so as not to frighten it. ”I’m Genesis, and the old tree about to shed its leaves back there is a weirdo who doesn’t want to share his name.”

The Hunter rolled his eyes and relaxed, crossing his arms. ”Yeah, like I want a friend of the God of Corpses to know my name…Give me a break.” He whispered to no one in particular

”I heard that!”

The stranger shielded their face with both arms just muttering in one of the local tongues, "Small tree… Big tree."

Genesis, who had been in Dehrthaa before, was barely able to understand the words spoken and so, with a thick Arborean accent, spoke back to the stranger. ”No harm. Tree good. Tree soft. Touch.” She said slowly, moving to grab one of the figure’s hands.

The Hunter, who stood a good few steps away still, shook his head upon hearing Genesis speak in the foreign tongue. “This is ridiculous…”

They resisted, chanting to themselves, "Get away big tree. Must find safety."

Genesis huffed and shook her head, ”Safe. Me safe. You?”

The figure seemed to calm down for a moment, stating as fact, "You are not lying." She then cautiously and questioningly said the Arborean word for friend, prompting Genesis to grin widely, a high pitched whine of joy escaping her throat as she visibly struggled to contain herself.

”Small girl. Genesis me. Genesis likes girls. Friends!” She declared, hopping a little as she deftly took the chance to intertwine her fingers with the girl’s.

The stranger girl allowed it to happen for a moment, her head still lowered beneath her hood but strains of white hair messily stuck out from it. After a moment, she made a noise of surprise and jumped back, which Genesis mirrored. At first, it seemed that the girl had gone back into cowering, but a second glance showed that she was hunched over with her hands clasped together. She was muttering a prayer to herself.

After a moment of carefully observing the girl, Genesis glanced back to find the Hunter gone. ”We’ll meet later today I guess...” She mused aloud with a single rustle from her leaves before turning back toward the cloaked girl. The Sylphi teenager began to stretch her arm toward the girl again, but soon found herself hesitating. Clearly she hadn’t liked the physical contact, but she still had to know what she looked like with the hood down. And so, slowly while the girl was preoccupied praying, she knelt in front of her and gently took a hold of her hood and lowered it.

The girl kept her head facing towards the ground, but not far enough where you couldn’t see her face. She had messy, bleach white hair and her skin was very pale, almost colorless except for a small dot of red just above her lip. Her eyes looked glazed over and reddish. She went to grab her hood, but didn’t raise it above her head.

Genesis smiled softly at the girl, inspecting her closely and inching as close as she could without actually touching her. She took a few sniffs, noting the particular scent of horse around her hands and confirming that the red spot was in fact blood. She was tempted to lick the bead of ‘Animal Wine’ right up but thought better of it, instead opting to wipe it away with her thumb.

”Touch hurts girl? You bleed. Fingers are hurting??” She asked, concern clear in her voice.

The girl pulled her hood back over her face, and stood up. She pointed in a direction, “I am fine. Come. We must go” before saying the arborean word for home and walking in that direction, Genesis following closely, taking a few curious whiffs every few steps.

The two travelled for some time, the girl was uneasy on her feet but seemed to be able to navigate well enough through the foliage. Eventually, the jungle began to clear and they started to walk in the eastern foothills of the anchor.

Nestled in some isolated corner of the Qaywander Lowlands, the two started to approach a simple hovel. At first glance, it seemed like an ordinary if poor living area, but on closer examination it did not appear as though it was lived in. It did not smell like anyone lived here.

Upon entering the hovel, the hooded girl knelt down and started to pray and so Genesis waited patiently behind her, eyeing the barebones room curiously.

Once the stranger was finished, she walked over to a corner of the room and revealed a trapdoor that was simply covered with a dirty rug. She pulled it open and very carefully climbed down the ladder below it, with Genesis going down soon after.

Below the hovel, there was a short tunnel leading towards a simple but well-constructed stone wall. Standing in the already open doorway was a young woman with long blonde hair, and called out in the local language, “We were expecting her.” gesturing towards the stranger, then turning towards Genesis, “But we were not expecting a sylphi.”

Genesis opened her mouth to speak but tripped up on her words, so she had to take a deep breath and gulp. ”I’m Genesis, I found her out in the jungles southeast of here. What was she doing so far out? My friend and I have been tracking a dangerous beast around these parts for the last week.”

The woman glanced back, “Many different people from many different places end up here, but the reason is always the same, they have nowhere else to go. She was close enough to make the journey by herself.”

”Well, okay,” Genesis said, then looked around and then back at the woman, ”So what’s this place? Why hide? There isn’t a human settlement for days in any direction.”

The woman responded, "This is the Kuiper House, and as I said it is a residence for those who have nowhere else to go. Some of those reasons are more visible than others. While it would be foolish to try to hurt anyone here. The master of the house would rather not have it come to that."

”Okay,” Genesis nodded, ”So it’s a house for outcasts, like me! Or, well, me when I hadn’t met others of my kind. And it’s protected by one of the shids that a friend told me about a while ago. What sect are you with? I don’t want to say the wrong thing, I’m not from around here.”

The woman looked confused for a moment and then smirked to herself, "Neither am I. If we are going to be talking this long, I should tell you I am Agnes. Anyway, our master is a higher authority than any shid and I don't remember inviting you in to begin with."

The Sylphi girl tapped her chin with a finger as she racked her brain for authorities higher than shids, coming up blank several times before giving up with a sigh. ”The only one I know higher than any shid is either Ahthaarus or Orjarnabapti. Is it one of them? I’ve spoken to Ahthaarus before, you know. Anyway, can I come in? Can I see what the house looks like inside?”

Her younger travelling companion looked at Agnes, "She is a friend." She tried to find a word, but seemingly could until she spoke some foreign word.

Agnes sighed and glanced over her shoulder quickly. "Fine. You can come in, but if you cause any trouble." She opened her hand and it started to crackle with blue lightning before quickly fading, with Genesis wasting no time in nodding vigorously and skipping up to just behind her.

”Soo… What was that blue light? It looked like the flashes of light you see on the sky when it rains really hard. Lightning, wasn’t it? But lightning comes from the sky, not hands. Unless you’re not a human and are actually made of clouds? That’s impossible, you smell too fleshy, Agnes.”

Agnes poorly attempted to hide how she immediately regretted her decision, "Are you unaware of the magicks of this world?" She said, walking deeper into the cave towards another robed figure. The cave was surprisingly well-furnished and was also well lit without any obvious source of light.

Genesis shrugged in reply to the question, ”I know that the Hunter uses some kind of magic trick to make his sword weigh less, but I don’t know how he does it. He can also, like, jump really high and fast. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. I once saw him cleave a Munaraptor in half while jumping down from a very big tree. Oh, and you have really nice decorations here. Better than Dihrmetians’ huts for sure.”

Agnes sighed, "Yes, I am sure your friend is very impressive. It seems like you have questions about the house, magic or something. I am sure Rik would be happy to answer them." She said, gesturing towards the robed figure. "I have some important work to do somewhere else."

”Uh, okay, see you around,” Genesis called after her as she left, and turned towards the robed man. Jeez, why did everyone wear robes here? It wasn’t even that cold, since her dress hadn’t deemed it fit to change into something that covered her body a little bit more. ”Rik, right? I’m Genesis. How did you lose your arm? Was it eaten by something? Some beasts are really aggressive around here, but I’m sure if you ask the Hunter he might be able to speak to someone about crafting you an arm. He has a wooden toe after all. I know it because I had him take off his shoes. I wanted to see if Sylphi males had toes, which they actually do. They were bigger though, so I don’t know if I like them. His feet smelled a lot too, I don’t think he takes those boots off often enough, I have to force him to take baths or he will just track and track and track and track… He is obsessed with his work you know, being a Hunter and all. I think maybe he actually doesn’t want to stop, sit down and think about things and maybe actually tell me about his past but you know, what can I actually do but just follow him, ‘cause he gets annoyed when I ask too many questions and talk too much- Ah, sorry, um, I got carried away again… I talk a lot when I get nervous...” She said, blushing and looking away.

Rik just allowed her to ramble with an uneasy expression on his face, while absentmindedly reaching his one arm to the otherside of his body, nervously speaking, "It is alright. I lost my hand soon after my birth due to ailment. I make do without it."

”Ah, ok,” There was an awkward silence, ”So, should I just go explore on my own, or is there like someone to show me around, or…? I asked Agnes if she could let me see the House, but I don’t actually know where I should go or what places I’m not allowed in.” She asked, rubbing the back of her neck nervously and starting to float a little out of reflex.

Rik paused for a moment, "Oh yes, You do not have to worry much about going where you are not allowed but I can show you around." He said, trying to get himself ready before awkwardly walking down the hall.

As they walked down the pristine cavern, they moved past a sprawling woody plant that grew from the cave wall. A sylphi girl was carefully picking blueberries from it and placing them into a wooden bucket. A knife was beside it that she would occasionally pick up to trim it back in places. Genesis wasted no time ruffling up the girl’s leaves as she passed by her. She wasn’t much younger than her, she reckoned, but her shorter stature gave her fluttery feelings in her chest. When the sylphi girl looked at her with exasperation clear on her face, Genesis merely stuck her tongue out at her and giggled, before following Rik on the tour.

Walking through the next door, they entered a circular sitting area. Small tables were surrounded by various mats and cushions. The room was dotted with shelves covered in scrolls, tablets and other baubles. A night elf sat down, wax firmly placed in their ears, reading a scroll while on the other side of the room, an Alminaki held a quartz in their hand and made it glow and change colors.

Rik guided the two guests through one of the other doors out of the room and into another hallway. Continuing that path there were two doors opposite each other both open, the one on the left was a large room with long wooden tables and benches.

On the other side, a human and a humenaki were in a kitchen area preparing something using those blueberries and some flour, occasionally going through another door connected to some type of storage area to get something. Whatever they were baking smelled absolutely delicious, and she knew for a fact it’d destroy her stomach if she dared steal some for herself, so she didn’t. She’d learned her lesson back in Dihrmeti, after all… Spending the entire night in an outhouse wasn’t on her to-do list that day.
The path forked again and Rik guided them through the right path, past a room an open room with a sylphi, human and night elf playing with a ball. There were crates on the other side of the room that seemed to have other toys in them. The sylphi boy in the room immediately turned to stare at Genesis, who returned the stare with one of her own. Their leaves ruffled a little, and then the boy laughed and went to whisper something in the ear of the kid closest to him. Genesis shook her head and chuckled at this and moved on.

Continuing down, there was a room filled with more shelves covered with scrolls and tablets, with a few cushioned chairs in the corners and edges of the room.

They also passed by an alcove in the wall which had a bucket tied to a long rope that someone was pulling up, taking the bucket and gently moving the water that was in it to another bucket before sliding a wooden lid over the hole and placing the roped bucket on top of it and carrying the water-filled one back the way they were walking.

The path eventually ended in another room, one whose function, unlike the others, wasn’t immediately obvious. It had stone pillars with small statuettes on top of them and words carved in some foreign script written into each of the stands. At the back of the room there were more shelves to either side covered in scrolls, but between them was another pillar that had a pyramid top, pointing up towards a mural of a black figure standing against a blue and purple night sky, with stars painted even over the black figure.

At this point, Genesis hummed aloud in thought and tapped her chin, ”Hm, reminds me of the carvings and murals on Ritualist churches.” She mused, then pointed up at the painted figure, ”Do you guys worship that being in this House? What is its name? It kinda looks like what I pictured Ahthaarus to look before I saw his statue. Ahthaarus is massive, by the way.”

Rik answered, “That is a painting of the master of the house, Ceres, and our patron god, Sirius.”

”Hum hum,” Genesis nodded, walking over to one of the pillar and running her hand across its surface, ”So, you worship them here? How do you worship them? You don’t have a bloody altar so I’m probably right by assuming you don’t do human sacrifices.”

The augur seemed unnerved by her later comments, “Yes, this is an area of worship and we do not sacrifice humans. We came from many different places, and have different gods, some of which we learn are the same but bearing different names. Are there any gods which you give praise?”

Genesis shrugged, ”Not really, I was told I used to be a Goddess, but I really don’t feel like that’s true. Just because I can float doesn’t mean I was one of the people who created the world, you know? Gods… Aren’t really that big a deal, I think. If they were, there wouldn’t be so much strife in Dehrthaa. It almost feels as if they’ve failed to make things right, to me...” Genesis hummed once more, ”BUT! That aside, the world is still full of cool things to see and experience, so I gotta give credit where credit is due. If nothing else, the Gods are creative.”

“That is one way to see things.” Rik said, his eyes drifting towards one of the shrines unconsciously, “If you are finished here, I could show you to one of the areas where we train magic.”

”Sure, I was wondering what kind of cool stuff you guys got up to in here. I mean, an isolated house collecting lots of people in the middle of nowhere? And I’m supposed to believe it’s just a regular old house, yeaaaah right!” She said, snickering.

Rik had encountered strange people living within the House, though this girl still did seem odd. But he led her to one of the training rooms, though the other girl chose to stay in the prayer room. He led her back the way they came until they reached the last intersection and then guided her down the other path, they walked past a closed door before reaching the next door which was slightly cracked open.

Entering the room, it was rather plain except for more of the pillars similar to the ones in the prayer room lining the walls, except there were only nine of them. A girl with snow white hair sat meditatively in the center of the room, while the spectral image of a small arctic fox cub danced around her rhythmically. Genesis squinted her eyes at the sight, then looked at Rik. ”The girl’s haunted by the ghost of a fox. Do you have salt and olives? The Hunter told me grinding those together will ‘get rid of any unwanted visitors’. He was probably referring to ghosts, now that I think about it.”

The augur replied, “That is her magic, this is the room for druids to practice their magic. “ he said, as he interrupted by another person walking in, a male with greenish skin and long white hair with what looked like grass poking through it, before he noticed Genesis he called out, “Rik, there is a Sylphi man that walked into the hovel. He is still lingering around.”

Genesis perked up at this and chuckled, ”Ah, jeez! It must be the Hunter here to pick me up. Guess playtime is over, so I gotta get back to hunting. Thanks for the tour, Rik! Keep up the good work, and don’t forget to feed your Sylphi once a week and supply them with plenty of sunlight and hugs. I promise we like it. At least the girls do… Hunter doesn’t. Anyway! Yeah, goodbye!” She said with a wave as she walked out the exit of the room and began to find her way back to the exit by herself.

II


The Sun was setting, its last rays of nourishing light turning orange, then red and finally violet. The pair of Sylphi didn’t really care for wasting time building a campfire. Instead, they kept tracking their mark for the rest of the day. The Hunter never asked what Genesis’ visit to the Kuiper House had been like, and despite her desperation to tell him, she knew that doing so would just annoy him, so she kept her tongue bit for the last few hours.

Now though, while she was up there perched on a particularly thick tree branch and cuddled up to the Hunter in order to share body warmth, she got to thinking. Was the Hunter really that annoyed by her antics? If so, why did he allow her to travel with him? Maybe he just took pity on her, but he didn’t really seem like the type of person to allow emotions to interfere with work… At least, his heart and soul were much colder than Birburelli’s, and he was less prone to entertaining her endless questions.

Her leaves ruffled a little, betraying her inner turmoil. To her surprise though, she felt the large calloused hand of the Hunter find its way to the top of her head. The weight was comforting, and the roughness was oddly satisfying… It made her wonder about all the adventures the Hunter had gone to in his life, adventures that he hadn’t told her about. There was a twinge of pain in her heart as she realized that he knew what her self-appointed quest was and had still chosen not to tell her about them... But an even bigger part of her chose to just nuzzle up against the Hunter’s leafy chest under their makeshift duvet, made out of his coat.

The world seemed to slow down and grow quieter. It moved farther and farther away, as her vision blurred and her eyelids felt heavy…

And suddenly a rough voice whispered.

“Gen, did you see anything worth looking at inside that place?”

Genesis rested her arm on top of the Hunter’s chiseled abdomen and sighed in relief.

She grumbled something unintelligible, and then spoke a little bit more clearly. ”People living together… Sylphi, Humans, and strange new beings that I hadn’t seen before… I didn’t ask what they were, because I didn’t really want to interrupt the boy guiding me through the place… I kind of regret not asking, but he was difficult to deal with. Turns out the place is called the Kuiper House, they collect orphans and outcasts and have two deities called Ceres and Sirius watching over them. They also do some magic there. Didn’t get any specifics, ‘cause you showed up at that point and I took the opportunity to leave. I don’t think they wanted me there. It made me feel bad…”

Even with her eyes closed and in the middle of dozing off, Genesis could feel the movement coming from his head that signified he had nodded. He was listening to her, and at a certain point he had started stroking her head, slipping his fingers between her leaves and sending gentle shivers down her spine as he stimulated her stems.

”... Hunter…?”

“Yes, Gen?”

She yawned, ”... I’m happy that I’m here with you...” She said, and then fell asleep.




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A Hunter Hunted





She slogged through the mud, rain pelting her as she did. Her clothes were soaked and the cold chilled her to the bone but Iora did not care. Her eyes were ever present on the path ahead, occasionally glancing around into the dim forests for those that hunted her. She found the view to be mundane, nothing like the colors she grew up in but then again, perhaps the rain made everything muted. Regardless, she couldn’t see much of anything and continued on. It wouldn’t be long now and she wanted to get out of the rain.

A short while later, the road ahead became wider, more developed by time. The glow of lights could be seen in the distance as the night came. The village of Camden was more of a trading hub to the northern villages, bridging the gap between the Luminant and all else in these parts. She had stumbled upon a rumor as she fled from the Luminant, of a humani place where one could be free. Was it for humani? Neiyari? Oraeliari? She hadn’t cared at the time, she simply needed an out. If that foolish Saint had minded her own business, she might have still been alive and Iora could have continued on.

But that wasn’t how it went, now was it?

There wasn’t much to do in the Luminant anyways, ever since the Oraeliari won that battle, nothing had ever really been the same. The first born kept going on and on about retaking the lake but by what means? The Neiyari had been castrated by Oraeliara and each loss reduced their numbers further. That had been two years ago and only recently had she found out the curse had been lifted in the passing conversation of two spice traders. She had been fortunate enough to hear the War Mother’s voice before that, on her trek out of the Luminant.

That had been agony. To hear such a splendid, intoxicating voice. She thought about that voice, fantasized about that voice, wanted to be close to that voice, for many, many weeks. Those thoughts were dull now, for they had been replaced by another humani girl. That one had been fierce but her fight had died when she opened her up. A more recent idea of hers, seeing how things worked. It was her right to know these things and no one would stop her. Let those that hunted her come, for they would fail, just as those Oraeliari had.

She entered the village proper now and made her way through the wide streets with closing vendors. It had been different to see such humani shouting and hollering, wanting to do as they called ‘bartering’. Trading one good for another. Back in the Luminant, the Saints were in control, they decided who got what and how much of it. Here, they bartered for everything. It was well most knew the Neiyari language as well, for that would have made things difficult.

The humani here gave her looks, sour expressions. Neiyari were tolerated, not wanted but they also knew well enough to leave her be. Only a few Neiyari maintained a more permanent presence here, bartering their skills for places to stay. The traitors they were to the War Effort, Iora wasn’t going to complain. They still eyed her with suspicion but it was of little consequence. It was the Oraeliari in the town she needed to be careful of. How the other Neiyari put up with them, she did not know. These were ones who abandoned the notion of the war altogether but that did not make them incapable. She knew how the other Neiyari must have felt, being welcomed by them. They were the enemy and they needed to die. It was the most basic tenet of Neiyari culture and yet, no one lifted a blade or knocked an arrow. Partially because they separated each other to different parts of the town, hardly ever interacting. As much as she would have been fine seeing them dead, Iora needed to lay low.

She had a few Saints after her and of course, all those they commanded. Evidently, she had killed someone who meant a great deal to them. For it was enough to forgo the War Effort for her capture. She had lost them at the border of this land and the Luminant but she did not know if they would follow. There was another rumor, of a mysterious plague in the Luminant that was not sparing any of its sickness. So, if they did, it would not be long before one ventured to Camden and asked if she had been seen. She would have to keep moving but there were rumors here in this small town. Of places far and wide, placed one could go to if they searched for them. Far, far away from searching eyes. But she had a suspicion that the plague would stop their search, at least for now and in time, perhaps they would forget about her.

For now, as she entered the Neiyari section of the town and into the central commons, she was finally out of the rain and that was well enough for her. The large chamber was a mud brick building, maintained constantly. It was large enough for at least a dozen Neiyari to each of their own rooms.

Just like the Luminant, the Neiyari here gave her odd glances and occasional stares but made no moves to interact. She pushed on to a small, dingy room near the back and whipped the curtain open to reveal a bed and a single chair. Not the best accommodations but it would do. She stripped, ringing out her clothes into a bucket and putting them over the chair. The last thing she did was take off her satchel, which had been pressed tight to her body to avoid the rain. She peered in and found that her ‘goods’ were still quite dry. The few she had anyway, she'd have to get more to be able to barter a meal. She placed the satchel next to her bed, sighing to herself.

Her wings were still wet so she began to shake them dry, but ended up slapping her left one into the wall. She knew this room would annoy her to no end. She'd have to try and find a better place, no matter the cost.

Then, bare to the world, Iora went back to the common area and placed her clothes next to the fire to dry. She stood there for a bit, drying off her wings and hair. She held her head high as she did this, not caring for the stares and when she was done, she went back to her room. No one would take her clothes, they were much too small for any Neiyari to wear, anyways.

Iora got under her fur blanket, felt the uneven straw on her back and shut her eyes. Tomorrow would be another boring day. Keeping oneself alive was dull, after all. She fell asleep with a hungry belly not long after and she did not dream.




In the morning, with clothes dried and smelling of smoke, she ventured out into the sunlight forest with satchel in hand. She needed more if those pesky humani were going to trade. Sure she could just steal what she wanted, but she had to keep up appearances. Not make anyone suspicious of her. Luckily she had taught herself how to forage as a child, at least better than what was taught to them as a group. So far in her satchel there were several root tubes, fibers and mushrooms. Far more than she had found in the muck yesterday. There were the usual edible kinds, as well as more… Unsavory, kinds, which she kept for herself. It would be enough to get her some food at least, until she had to do it all over again.

As she grabbed the last of the mushrooms, the familiar sound of blades being unsheathed reached her ears, followed by muffled shouts and screeches. Was it the hunters come to find her? She listened further, no, this was something else. Something different. The white haired Neiyari was unable to contain her curiosity, and so she made her way into the denser parts of the continent-spanning forest.

The farther she went, the clearer the sounds. There were two voices shouting things at each other, one male and another female. One old and the other young. Blades cut through the air and flesh alike, the sound as clear as day.

”Hyaah!”

Now, the young girl’s voice came from so close that she could swear she was standing right where the girl should be, and yet-

”Ah!” A gasp and a hiss of pain rang out, and a clear golden liquid rained down onto Iora from above, hitting her cheek and hair ”You little-” The girl grunted and there was one more hiss, then another, and even more. The canopy of the tree straight above her held numerous shadows, one bigger than the rest and deftly balanced on a thin branch, while the others jumped from branch to branch with long arms.

One of the many shadows lunged at the shadow of the girl and Iora caught the glint of metal coming from her right hand. Next thing she knew, sunlight was crashing down on her through a sudden hole in the canopy. The light, blinding, prevented her from evading the deluge of blood that followed, and a creature cleanly sliced in half fell limp in front of Iora’s feet. It was a tiny monkey-like lizard, with scaly skin, strangely long and feathered arms and a disproportionate head with more jaws and teeth than anything else. That particular thing’s claws were coated in the golden liquid that had rained on Iora before, as well as bits of a green material.

”Huff… What, are all of you suddenly scared? Not so defenseless now, am I?” The girl laughed, her musical voice tainted with pain, and then suddenly all the shadows jumped at her at the same time, ”Oh n-” Was all she managed before the entire bundle of shadows came upon her and she started slashing wildly at them.

Instantly, more blood rained down onto the forest floor, but it wasn’t enough.

CRACK

Just like that, the branch supporting the girl’s weight broke, and down came all the shadows.

The girl landed on her back a few feet away from Iora, kicking up dirt as she fell and emitting a pitiful sound as all her breath was expelled from her lungs.

In her right hand she held a short bronze knife, its handle drenched in the clear golden liquid flowing from a gash in her upper arm. Her face, too, was covered in smaller gashes as were her left arm and legs. Iora recognized her as a Sylpheni almost immediately, her vibrant green skin and leaf hair, as well as her luminous eyes giving it away. And yet, this one was different…

As the girl desperately struggled to recover, Iora noticed the small lizard creatures stand up first and set their sights on the bleeding, stunned Sylpheni girl.

She would have watched further. Would have waited to see what the creatures would do to the Sylpheni, as was in her nature. Yet.. She could already feel it starting. The tingle at the back of her neck, how she stared at those eyes, bewitched. The way her voice had sounded, how made her feel and how she wanted her to keep speaking. How she needed her to keep speaking. Her hand clutched the fabric over her heart, a breath of hot air escaping her lips as they curled into a hungry smile. This one would be one of her more intense episodes and she hadn't had one of those since the Goddess spoke.

Could she let this girl die at the hands of some beasts?

No!

The knife the girl carried lifted into the air as she stared at it, and then in a flash it attacked the creatures, slicing them. Cutting off heads, arms and tails, spilling their blood onto the ground. They squealed, confidence abandoning them and their attack upon the girl as they were assaulted. Many began to flee but the dagger followed and Iora cut them down, embedding the last one into a tree, knife in its head. She marvelled at the carnage then turned back to the Sylpheni.

“Little flower.” She whispered, only to be met with a low groan coming from the girl, who had her eyes closed for a while before slowly sitting up and stretching her neck, then her arms and back. Finally, a minute later, she finally opened her eyes and looked at Iora’s face, who was hanging above her pressed close. The girl’s luminous golden eyes met with Iora’s.

”H-Hey… I don’t know how you managed to get my knife to move like that, but thanks for the help there... I’m pretty sure I was about to be eaten. I’m Genesis, but friends call me Gen. Who-” Genesis coughed a bit and winced, wrapping her mostly uninjured arm around her lower ribs. By now the freely flowing sap coming from her wounds had begun to crystallize, and the flow had slowed enough to not be a cause for worry. ”Who are you? What’s your name? I haven’t seen your kind before… Guess you must be more plentiful the further south one goes?”

Iora stood up straighter and moved to the side of this Genesis. She then tilted her head and the knife flew back over, letting the corpse of the creature fall with a thud which caused Genesis’ leaves to rustle erratically. The knife then became suspended in the air above the girl, unmoving, until she reached up to grab it. “Genesis.” She said, mulling the word. “My name is Iora, a Neiyari from the Luminant, which is south of here, yes. You are a Sylpheni? Curious.” Her voice was that of velvet and pleasing to the ears.

”Iora, Neiyari from the Luminant. South. Thank you.” She wheezed a little after each short sentence, ”Sylpheni is what you call my kind? In Dehrthaa they call us emkura, but we call ourselves Sylphi. Iora, could you look for the body of the Sia’Kinn I killed? I think it must have fallen somewhere around here, cut in half. I need to harvest it.” She requested, looking at Iora with tired eyes.

Iora looked around at all the corpses, thinking of the girl’s words. She frowned, as there were many which had been cut in half. “Many could be harvested. Why that one?” she asked.

”The Hunter says one should only harvest those that one hunts themselves. That’s it, really.” Genesis explained, but did manage to get enough energy to look around at the scene, eyebrows twitching once she saw the sheer mess. ”Uh… I guess finding it without a good sense of scent would be difficult, and mine is not really all there after that fall. The only other thing that could identify it is by finding pieces of my green skin under its claws. It did get me pretty good...”

Iora began to walk amongst the corpses. “Your knife did do this grim work, little Flower. But if you insist… I can do this for you.” She uttered in a neutral tone, followed by a nod from Genesis. Oh the things she did to get her thrill. She backtracked to where the first creature had fallen at her feet but found the area rather full of bodies. Hiding her frown, she sank to her knees and began to comb through them until she found one, cut in half and claws with green. She floated it beside her as she walked back to the girl and set it down at her feet. “As requested.”

”Thank you, Iora. Now I will harvest what I can from it. Maybe it’d be better if you looked away… Mammal types usually find themselves feeling intimidated or uh, worse? By just looking at it, so...” Genesis said, then shrugged and looked down at her knife. She wiped the blood that had drenched it before on her own skin, in whatever spot was clean enough to do the job well. Then, when satisfied with the glint of light on the blade, she held it with her teeth and placed the top half of the Sia’Kinn she had slain on her lap, drenching her legs in a mixture of blood and guts. Iora said nothing but watched intently, giving no sign it made her unwell.

Without missing a beat, Genesis went on to quickly harvest the Sia’Kinn’s organs and bones, first from the torso half and then from the lower half. By the end of the process she was almost entirely covered in blood and fluids, both hers and the Sia’Kinn’s, and had managed to put all sets of organs and bones into neat little piles next to her.

She sighed in relief, wiped the knife as best as she could against the grass and dirt, and then put it back in a leather sheath she had strapped to her thin waist.

The Sylphi girl took a few breaths and massaged her ribs until a small popping sound rang out. ”Ow...” Genesis grunted quietly, then shook her head and grabbed the strangest of the organs, an elongated sheet of smoot, spongy mass that she had harvested from the Sia’Kinn’s head and upper back --Its brain-- and dangled it above her head, making sure to angle her own face so that it was right above her open mouth. The reflection of light coming from her deceptively sharp teeth served to make her look more and more like a predator.

Slowly, she lowered the Sia’Kinn’s brain into her mouth, taking bites out of it and swallowing, not bothering much with chewing at all. It was small enough to be finished in just a few seconds, but that wasn’t it. Iora cocked her head to the side, eyes unwavering as she ate. Darker thoughts came to mind but her face remained neutral.

One by one, Genesis did the same with all the other organs but the intestines, eating them cleanly and without fuss. By the expression on her face she wasn’t particularly enjoying the taste, but she wasn’t recoiling either. When she was done with the organs, she went on to eat most of the flesh she had separated from the bones. It was at that point that Genesis let out a sound like a low hiss as her leaves started to shiver continuously. It was effortless how she devoured the flesh, a primal look of delight and desperation on her face, not unlike that of a half-starved wild dog.

And then, just like that, she was done.

Drenched in blood and with a full belly, Genesis covered her mouth and burped softly and looked at what had been left of her prey. Teeth, vertebrae, ribs, a cracked and therefore useless skull, and a handful of longer bones that she managed not to damage during her feeding frenzy.

Sighing contentedly, she looked around her to find Iora still standing there, watching, and so Genesis smiled awkwardly. ”Muscle flesh is pretty tasty. I can’t help but get really into it, you know?”

Iora nodded slow, her lips curling into a wolfish smile. She stepped closer to the girl and spoke, her rich voice growing softer. “Would you like to know what I can get really into? What I find…” Her hand reached out to wipe the blood from Genesis’ cheek, making the girl frown and her leaves rustle violently, “...Fascinating?”

”What, uhm… What is it?” Genesis asked, averting her gaze.

Iora moved her hand to the girl’s lips and placed it there, moving her head with her burning gaze eye level with the girl, who couldn’t help but look back. Iora did not speak, letting the air become palpable, full of anticipation. Then she patted Genesis’ lips with her finger and smiled, revealing pearly teeth. “My own prey.”

Genesis nearly choked, a hand reaching for her knife. By now, even the tattered and damaged leaves that made up her dress had begun to shake and shiver.

When the tension was so thick that one could taste it, the sound of two light footsteps alerted Iora to the presence of another. She stood straighter, dropping her hand from Genesis’ face and peered behind her. It was a tall Sylpheni. Almost as tall as Iora herself, wearing leathers with various plates of bone and thick ribs sown into the material in vital areas. The exotic armour, while masterfully crafted and professionally maintained, clearly showed signs of age and tear, much like the Sylpheni himself with his rough looking skin and yellowing leaves. He was completely unhurt, the only signs of battle on him being splatterings of blood over his clothes and armour and the blood dripping from his right hand and the ornamental bronze knife he held in it.

There was something… Odd, about the knife. A certain energy to it, coming from the inscriptions and shapes that had been skillfully imprinted into it no doubt decades ago.

Perhaps more impressively was the massive weapon folded away on his back, made of an incredibly big plate of sharpened bone, with a bronze metal handle reinforcing it. It looked at least as heavy as a sun forged greatsword and yet he moved effortlessly, as if it wasn’t even there. The Sylpheni regarded Iora with icy blue eyes, not as luminous as Genesis’ but orders of magnitude more intense and weathered.

He said something in a language Iora couldn’t understand, and Genesis nodded back at him, crawling away from Iora and getting up on her feet with a grunt.

“For you, no prey here. Saving Genesis, I thank. Now you leave her with me.” the Sylphi male explained in a broken Neiyari tongue, sneaking his way into one of the pouches on his thick belt without ever taking his eyes off of Iora and Genesis.

Iora scowled, eyes narrowing to slits. She would not let this one come between her and her prey. Who did he think he was? A low growl escaped her throat and she spoke, her soft voice replaced by cold clarity. “She’s mine.” Her eyes then fell upon Genesis as she retreated out of reach. Well, she had other ways to get what she wanted, didn’t she? She focused and with all her strength, she reached out to Genesis, felt her, and then prevented her moving forward, before lifting her to her feet and trying to pull her back.

And yet, Genesis resisted. Even midair, she seemed to have control of her movements. Iora’s eyes went wide at her resistance and she began to grow frustrated as she tried in vain to pull her back.

With the sudden opening, the Hunter closed the distance between him and Iora with an unnatural speed considering his baggage and pulled out what he had been playing with inside his pouch, a rotting, fragrant herb, and before she could react, slapped it all over her chest and belly, staining her shirt, his leaves rustling as he did so with his momentum letting him slide between Iora’s legs. Then with a graceful movement he jumped up into the canopies of the trees. It was almost like he was weightless, Iora realized, as he disappeared into the thick foliage.

Again, he shouted something in the unknown tongue, and Genesis redoubled her efforts to keep out of Iora’s reach. The hold on her broke as Iora went to rip her shirt off and throw it on the ground, not trusting whatever the foul smelling thing was on it. In the moment her hold was broken, Genesis flew into the canopies and disappeared from sight.

In the distance a loud screech echoed throughout the forest, followed by the sound of numerous pairs of powerful wings lifting off. She looked at the shirt again and then destroyed it with a burst of her balefire. With her own wings, she lifted off into the air, beating them to stay in place, just above the trees. Her eyes frantically scanned them, looking for her quarry. But instead of the girl, what she found were several strange, scaled creatures with webbed wings and feathers on their heads, all flying in the sky, searching and searching.

They searched, of course, until their eyes caught sight of Iora.

One screech turned to many, and soon five of the hut-sized monsters were flying straight for her. But then her attention found itself split once more as in the distance, she saw the trail of rustling leaves that must have been the pair of escaping Sylpheni. She had a choice to make.

It was an easy choice. The thorns on her hands glimmered, growing black, pulsing with pain. A wild look caught in her eye as she let them get close. Then, Iora raised her hands and from them erupted the destructive power of her fire. It caught the first two by surprise, turning one’s head to ash and catching the other in the chest, where a hole was burned through it. Their corpses had only just begun to fall as the others broke from their formation. Iora clipped one’s wings but before she could trail the other two, the pain grew too much to bear and she had to stop. The two surviving creatures shot towards her with speed that rivalled any Neiyari.

She dove down, into the trees and took the knife from her belt. Sunforged and full of fury, she flipped herself and eyed the snarling creature behind her. The knife whipped from her hand and at it. The strategy, try as she might, did not work as she intended. Dodging trees and trying to stab a creature while flying was no easy task, and the knife returned to her.

As one neared her, breaking limbs in its pursuit, it got close enough to bite at her and Iora unleashed another trick. She cast balefire upon its face and the effect was immediate and the oversized lizard crashed against a tree, screaming as it’s face melted. The final creature, shot up into the sky, letting Iora have a moment to catch her breath. Once again she sought the girl and the source of the rustling leaves but was disappointed when she saw nothing.

Then the creature broke through the canopy right in front of her, lunging with it’s mighty jaws. Her own wings pushed her back out of it’s way but only narrowly and she unleashed another beam, turning the creature and the trees behind it to naught but ash, with a furious cry.

Where was she? Where did she go! She gripped her head, breathing going heavy. It wasn’t fair! She couldn’t lose her, not like the others. She was so close. She could- She could- Iora let out an angry scream, pulling at her hair. She would find her! She had to!

She flew back to the clearing and searched for the key. It did not take her long to find the golden blood, dried- wait! She touched her cheek, feeling something dry. She then licked her finger and rubbed it, then sniffed. A floral scent. Then Iora tasted it. It was sweet, the taste was undeniably so. But how could this help her? How?

What way did they go? Could she… Could she follow the scent? No- What was she? Some kind of animal?

No… She would have to be clever, and use all her skills. Tracking them down… She had to.

Her head snapped to the sound of voices. Was it them coming back to her? No… There were too many of them and shouts… Shouts of… Oh no… It was the hunters.

She flew off into the trees where Genesis had disappeared into. Knowing no matter how long it took, she would find her again. Even if her infatuation with her broke. She could not allow this… This humiliation. This disgrace. She was mighty. She was strong and she would kill them.

And she would enjoy it.






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Realm of Kolodiva

1 Interregnum

”All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger, but calculating risk and acting decisively.”





The sun sat languidly on the horizon, a dull orange glow casting long shadows across the inn. In the dusty dawn, banners and flags fluttered in the breeze. Two opposing camps, with two opposing pickets, watching each other over the bridge. Upon the northern end of the river, three banners stood proudly; the banner of Anatol tep Constant, a dull bronze gear heavy set against a blood red background. Secondly, the banner of Bogdan met Bogdan, a brutish bear of top-heavy proportions dancing upon a field of yellow grain, triangles of red burning upon a blue sky. Finally, the banner of Marin met Valesti, the golden crown, flanked by the traditional sceptre and sword of duty, upon the royal purple of majesty.

Bogdan met Bogdan was a brute of a man; born disfigured at birth, he spurned intellectual pursuits to take up the mace. It was said that he could bash in plate as easily as one could snap a twig. Twice the size of a rightful man, he lumbered as would a beast, in hunt for its next kill. With him rode five-hundred hounds in human form; the exiles from good and just society. They were torturers and sinners all, Bogdan’s band of a nature too disgusting for any man with the slightest inkling of morality to bear.

Anatol tep Constant was a man of an entirely different calibre. An exile from the City-Republic of Domred, he openly embraced the shunned customs of the Constant Cults. The realm spurned him, and were the art of killing not so highly desired, it was no doubt he would have long since been run from the plains and the Anchor entirely. His welcome stood entirely on the basis of his ability; he was the sole living master of the Sword-Art of Natural Law. It was said that he could cut open a hundred men without a thought or a mercy. The sword-arts were a rare thing now, the dangers of its reputation having seen its practitioners all but wiped out in the unification wars Valesti had fought twenty years prior.

With Anatol walked three-hundred and fifty dead men, their eyes cold and hollow. In the unification wars, it was said that Anatol’s band swelled with every burned village, the children ripped from their hearth and homes, painted in the blood of their family, and led to war. Anatol broke them, and trained them. Each was a machine of death and destruction, its eyes indifferent to the suffering meted out by its hands.

Across the river stood two banners and two mobs. One banner was laden with spears of red, emerging from the start of the field, the edges advancing to the top as the middle spears terminated early, forming a canton upon the middle of the blue field. The second banner depicted a prancing horse of gold, a sword of jet-black puncturing its chest, set upon an azure field. Two mobs, bannerless, milled about; peasants and levymen, not formally organized into bands, carrying whatever they could find; pitchforks, hoes, hand-axes, and all manner of tools. A few lucky ones carried daggers.

The speared banner belonged to the new Royal Castellan of Orleka, a stern man, famed for his loyalty to the rightful King Witalis. Miroslaw tep Witalis was a blue-blooded man, whip-smart and royalty to the core. He had been a natural stand-in for Witalis met Valesti, groomed nearly from birth for the task. Though a tender age of sixteen, he had been instrumental in driving the southern raiders from the realm, and securing the Guard-Upon-River. With him marched two-hundred pikemen, clad in royal-marked bronze armor; the cream of the crop of the capital. With him was Michal met Wilhelm, a veteran soldier of noble stature that had served with Valesti in the unification wars.

Michal was a staunch traditionalist, and had won favour with Witalis. It was this favour that saw him entrusted with the task of Gorody Bridge, to cut off the call of mercenary bands to Marin and to protect the vulnerable northern hinterlands of Orleka, while Witalis focused his efforts on Gornibon and its traitorous Imperious Bishop tep Caeden. With him marched another two-hundred stand of pikemen, clad in uniform bronze armor and drilled to exhaustion.

Two unbannered mobs of a thousand men each were forced into position by the two bands of pikemen, led by obscure captains of little note and little pedigree. They stood guard on the bridge, staring across at the mercenary bands of Marin. Thus was the field of battle, two armies staring each other down, tension building.




The inn had been sequestered by Marin, his household guard of two-hundred pikemen keeping watch outside. Only three men had been allowed inside with Marin; Anatol, Bogdan, and the innkeeper. The innkeeper kept to the background, keeping the men’s mugs full as they discussed their strategy. The discussion was hours-old at this point, as they touched upon how to best destroy the enemy arrayed before them.

“Gentlemen,” Marin spoke as he stabbed at the map with a finger, “we have explored every alternative and found them wanting. We must clear this bridge and open a path to the south, or my bid for royalty will be ended before it has even begun. The southern raiders, should they choose to ride for me at all, will arrive here and be defeated in detail by Witalis’ men long before we can expect reinforcements from the Anchor mercenary bands.”

Bogdan snorted, “These odds no good! Two of them for every one of us!” He slammed his mug down, anger in his voice as he considered the possibility. Marin replied, cooly, “Two thousand of them are but peasants. They are not prepared for the frenzy of battle. Of the entire army, only four-hundred will stand and fight.”

Anatol spoke, matter-of-factly, his voice even, “They will stand and fight if it is between our swords and the pikewalls of Witalis’ professionals. If we are to break them, it will have to be before the bannered bands can form.” Marin looked up, nodding, “Indeed, and therein lies the plan. If we can sweep aside the mob before the pikes can form, then it will be a battle in our favor.”

Bogdan responded, with sudden glee, “Terrify some peasants? When we go?” The other two waved in dismissal, receiving a derisive snort from the beast-man. Marin looked at the flag representing Anatol’s band on the map, saying next, “My household guard can force one of their bands to a stand-still near indefinitely. You, sword-master, can your men defeat a professional band?”

Anatol responded, as even-voiced as ever, “I have done so many times in the past, and I shall do so again. Then I will wheel into the final band, that you will have locked into battle?” Marin answered, “You and Bogdan, together. Bogdan should have chased off the peasantry by then.”

Bogdan’s smile grew wider as he imagined the slaughter of a professional band, and the loot to follow. Marin continued, “Bogdan will go in quickly, while my guard and your swordsmen get equipped. We will follow in behind as Bogdan clears us a path to engage the enemy’s pikemen in battle. We will break them here, or I will never see the throne.”

The other two made their assent clear. Over the course of an hour, they finalized the details of the plan, and moved to put it into action.




Bogdan’s men were ready quickly, with their leather cuirasses and their maces. Bloodlust drove them, the fury of battle driving them to a frenzy. The other two bands were of a higher sort, and took a longer period to prepare -- though they could do so autonomously, and thus Anatol and Marin were granted time to watch the opening blows of the battle unfold.

“So,” Marin spoke as he walked up to the hill Anatol had taken up to watch over the bridge, “what drove you to such madness?” Anatol didn’t look away from the bridge as he responded, cooly as ever, “Madness? You insult me and my work.”

Marin said back, “You deny Caeden and Gebei; in any other realm, you would have been quartered for it. We’ve been remarkably merciful. You’re a bright man, skillful with the sword. Why would you throw that kind of respect away to chase some cult?”

Anatol’s eyes twinkled as he spoke with an edge, “Separate thou the earth from the fire; the subtle from the gross; sweetly, with great industry. It ascends from the earth to the heaven, and again it descends to the earth; and receives the force of things superior. By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world, and obscurity shall fly from you,” he paused, turning his head to look in Marin’s eyes, “Do you know what it means?”

Marin narrowed his eyes, responding coldly, “It means you seek power by throwing away your reverence for the godly.”

Amusement writ across Anatol’s face as he continued, “Its force is above all force, for it vanquishes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing; so was the world created. Hence I am called Regent, having witness of the creation of the world.”

Marin’s face crumpled in disgust, “If you seek the throne, then why did you answer the call of my contract?”

Anatol responded, slowly, “Not a throne of man, Marin,” then, his tone lightened, “Bogdan’s men have engaged the enemy, now. Our men are doubtlessly ready. We should begin our march.”

Marin murmured his assent as they went their separate ways, taking their positions at the head of their respective bands. As Bogdan’s macemen terrified the mob of peasants and whipped them into a frenzy of activity, Anatol and Marin’s men marched uniformly across the bridge. Behind the peasants, the enemy’s pikemen had only just begun to form, unprepared for the assault.

The peasants, as expected, did not last long; once they realized there were no pikes to herd them into line, they fled as quickly as they could. Masses of men dropped their arms and pushed against one another to flee into the plains, as the professional bands meant to keep them in line shouted in disgust. Marin’s guard took up their position, locking pikes with an enemy band; doing little damage, but threatening to decimate them should they not respond in kind.

Anatol’s men, meanwhile, flooded between the gaps of the enemy’s pikes with terrifyingly little regard for their own life, their dead eyes striking fear into Michal’s band of pikemen. Pikes clattered against bronze plate, a kill here or there from opportunity their only comfort. Then the swords reached the front row. They dropped their pikes, taking up the dagger, only to be cut down with efficiency.

Courage faltered as the front row fell. Men broke rank, running for the plains. Seeing their brothers abandon them only further cratered morale; the desertions became more severe. By the time the second row had fallen, the entire band, Michal included, fled the field. Then, the dead swordsmen turned their haunted gazes upon Miroslaw’s band, locked in place by Miran’s guard.

Morale crumbled as sword met neck, the swordsmen charging into the vulnerable side and back of the ranks. Miroslaw’s men fought valiantly regardless, but as the bannerman fell, all hope of victory fled their minds. One man grabbed the banner, and with him fled a hundred men. Seeing their imminent defeat, the rest followed not long after.

Thus Witalis’ army had been set to rout. Bogdan, too, had disappeared; his men going on a long chase to brutalize fleeing peasants, entirely forgetting their part of the plan. It was no matter; the battle had been won, and mercenary bands could now flow freely to Cajnicea.



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