Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Calign


Between two great quillwort trees of ancient stature, about four or five metres up from the forest floor, there fell a bright and dazzling sunbeam. In that sunbeam drifted nothing but the dust of travelling fern spores, and, occasionally, a wizard. The light dappled past the swaying leaves of the canopy, changing shape with the wind. Like the wizard, the flecks of sunlight were now broken, now unbroken, now here, now nowhere to be seen.

Now nothing. Now a wizard.

Calign levitated in silent upright meditation, the white folds of its robes spilling down around it, arms limp at its sides, its wooden horns blooming gently in the light of the afternoon sun. At no particular signal, it fell slightly, flicked its cervine ears, and pushed off from a bough to float weightlessly forwards to where its curios were waiting.

It was an androgyne, delicate as the doe and yet hard, antlered, like the buck. Its body was slight, its face quite soft; yet it bore the claws of a hunter, and so its people called it Sire.

They were simple people. Their women gathered pith and fern and nursed. Their men would hunt and fish. They seldom spoke, and often sang, and rarely ever thought; Calign kept them because they were family, of the tribe that had once borne him. He kept them also to study them, and for this they were left untouched, bound by his spell but labouring under no command, permitted the art of wooden spears and body paint and even the use of fire.

There was no fire here today.

Calign's feet touched the ground and he crouched over what had been brought to him without making eye contact with the men and women of his forest, without even speaking to them. They watched him with nervous, flighty eyes as he laid his hands upon the body of the outsider.

The outsider was taller than the people of the fern forest, and wore... much more. His beard was thicker, his body stronger. His muscles were honed, sculpted even, not wiry and worn like the ragged fern dwellers, not lacking in protein. Calign rested a hand against his forehead, over his bulging eyes. Vomiting, seizure, paralysis of the lungs... a sure sign of poisoning. Malnutrition. This man had taken to the fruits of this forest in hunger, without knowing how to purge their poisons.

Calign explored his clothes until he found what he had hoped not to find, and retrieved it.

Sleek as a fish and sharp as a fang, denser than granite and embedded in ornate bone. Calign saw his own delicate face reflected in the blade of the knife. Unable to touch the strange thing, his fingers fading into fog the moment he grasped it, Calign wrapped it in a leaf and took it with him, marvelling once again at the unearthly weight of the alien tool. The little gathering of foragers watched him go, then disappeared into the forest.

Kampret. Astaga, astaga...

Calign kicked off from the lichenous floor and floated in one smooth, slow motion to a second grove. He set down the knife on a bed of moss, next to seven others. He looked around.

Hung on branches and splayed over rocks were helmets, tunics, cuirasses, and cords laden with charms. Bone, bronze, and polished jade glinted at him all around. On the ground, pairs of boots arranged in a row, as if standing to attention. Between the roots of a tree, seven skulls, all of Calign's collection but one.

He stood once more over the center of the grove, and the great skeleton.

It was two heads taller than him, easily, and laid out next to its spear. The bones had been picked clean in record time by worms at Calign's command; their smooth surface belied their freshness. Calign saw once more the deep scratches on its ribs and cranium, the shattered assemblage of its left wrist. In one place, its spine had been visibly broken- in another, beneath the head, completely torn in two.

Astaga...

Calign picked up the lower vertebra he had broken. There was something very wrong about the way it had shattered, and the way it was formed. There was too much smoothness and growth around the break. Between the destruction of the spine and the removal of the head, this bone had healed.

As he well knew.

What is going on out there?

Materials that did not chip. Hides bathed in some concoction of brain and urine that did not rot. False armour that protected against no earthly predator. Giants that would not die.

Calign knew there were great men beyond his forests, beings like him that bore powers from the Great Before. Men of sorcery, knowledge, and influence. Wizards. Magi. He had never met such men, only heard their presence whispered on the clouds.

It was past time for that to change.

As quick as a cat, the spirit flung itself across the forest, now flying, now running. It passed pools of disc-bodied salamanders, duels of giant dragonflies, the trunks of mighty ferns that speared through the canopy like fireworks. When it emerged on the white sands of the coast, a great beast was waiting for it.

"Buaya! Datang, datang." The big suchus wiggled her huge, studded shoulders and looked at Calign with dumb eyes. "We will go. Come, now, datang. We have a great journey ahead of us."

The crocodilian beast roused itself, yawning its enormous mouth, as large as a rhino and almost as stupid, much taller than its aquatic brethren. For its part, the spirit turned back to the heavy fog of the forest and started to trill a high, resonant whistle from the back of its throat, singing far across the ocean and deep into the woods.

Before it had finished, a dozen glossy black birds had emerged from the woods before it. They were plumed like ravens, but bore teeth and horny snouts instead of beaks, claws on their wings, and a second wing on each foot. Their tails were long as lizards', and ended in sleek vanes of plumage.

"Pergi keluar. Go out over the lands and seek the great magi." As it spoke, the spirit handed each of them a magnolia blossom plucked from its horns. "Give them this, that they might know a wizard is coming. Fly safely." One by one the birds departed.

Calign mounted the waiting suchus and clicked its tongue, beckoning the beast to move, and plucked a leggy little lizard from a nearby liana as they began to saunder steadily northwards.

"Witness me," Cal murmured to the lizard, sliding it into its robe, next to the leaf-wrapped knife. "A long journey lies before us, and we have much to learn."




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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Terminal
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Terminal Rancorous Narrative Proxy

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Aeoch of the Eternal
In the Heel of the Western Realm

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In the open atrium grounds of the Palace of Kadesh-Caro, several dozen peoples made merry in celebration of the bonding of the young Quarrymaster Feldis and his new bride Baerike, the daughter of the local priest. Kadesh-Caro had graciously opened the atrium for the celebration to be held, and the bride's family had seen fit to supply the gathering with fermented drink. The groom had presented a ritual gift of three amphoras, as well as a copper coffer bearing cuneiform and jade figurines, and now came the traditional presentation of gifts from family and friends to the new bonded pair as they sat in union before everyone who was assembled.

With many parties having approached the two to present their gifts, with great murmuring and apprehension the line of guests parted, and a pall of dread fell upon the gathering as the figure known as Aeoch strode amidst the gathering and approached the wedded couple.

Before either party could speak, Kadesh-Caro himself rose from his place of honor and rebuked the intruder. The ruler of the settlement was clad in splendor, with pristine white robes, a headdress of copper, and bearing a ceremonial collar symbolizing his authority. "Stand fast, Eternal. Your schemes and troubling of the families of the wed are well-known by all who are assembled here today. If you have ill to wish upon this union, begone or suffer the bludgeons of my guard."

Aeoch, who wore but a plain gown of gray and a vest over a bared chest, with plain and unassuming features, replied.

"Although it is no secret that in my furtherance of my distant master's aims I have made many and frequent attempts to deter and prevent this union, I have come not to dissent but to pay homage. Although it be contrary to mine own purposes, the day of this joining is still a blessed day, for these two remarkable beings have found eternal joy and measure in each others' embrace. There is no further purpose in opposing such a union, nor in cursing it, and so there is no sense to pursue anything other than its celebration. I come here this evening with the intent to present a gift upon the groom, if it would so please him and if none in this gathering would object."

"Do you come bearing your gift seeking forgiveness?" Baerike's father, a priest of the ancient and passed Primordials, ask with suspicion.

"No. Even in light of the circumstances, I acted as I did precisely as I intended to, and would do it all again if I bore the need." Aeoch spoke with an open voice that carried easily over the crowd. "The gift I bear is presented not in the hopes of reconciliation, but merely as assurance that my deeds were borne out of duty alone and not from animosity. If they elect not to forgive me that is permissible, but absent animus they truly deserve to live without fear of possible retribution from myself or my master for their defiance of his wishes."

Aeoch's words greatly assuaged the crowd and the tension that had been brewing amongst them - there was even a smattering of impressed clapping amongst some of them, struck by the graciousness of the man and his humility in the face of those who had successfully opposed him and his efforts.

"But I will not force my gift upon the union if it and my presence are not desired." Aeoch continued as he turned from Kadesh-Caro back towards the wedded couple. "Feldis, Quarrymaster, will you tolerate my presence and my tidings?"

"Although your trespasses against us are many Aeoch, as a man of business and affair myself, I can understand how you may have enacted such unpleasant things in pursuit of your duty alone." The young groom said. "If my mate Baerike can bring herself to accept your presence, than we would be pleased to accept your gift."

"I do not believe I can forgive you for all you have perpetrated against us, Eternal." Baerike admonished Aeoch sternly. "But the sentiment of desiring to deter future animosity and allaying our fear of possible retribution is a compassionate one, and I see no reason not to accept."

"My thanks, young mistress." Aeoch nodded cordially to Baerike before addressing the crowd at large.

"As many of you doubtlessly know, Feldis here was offered eternal youth and immortality by my master, the Sorcerous Master Aurochylys, in exchange for his vow of service and fidelity. A vow which he could not take so long as he intended to wed Baerike, for her father had sworn that he and his issue were to never take avowal of my master. My master is not one to curry favor - he desires that the worthy be graced with the time and vigor to perform great deeds unhindered by time and frailty, and sees unity under his providence as a worthy means of facilitating that end. It sits ill with me to threaten and withhold the grace of timelessness from one so clearly capable, and so I offer now the gift of everlasting life and youth to Feldis."

"Just like that?" The priest asked incredulously amidst raised cheers from the assembled crowd.

"Just like that!" Aeoch affirmed with a nod.

"What must Baerike and I do to attain just a state?" Feldis asked eagerly.

"It is already done." Aeoch replied, his tone irreverent and conversational.

"What? Just now?"

"Well, in truth, several moments before I even arrived." Aeoch remarked contritely. "So it is just as well you are satisfied to have accepted it. You shall not suffer the passage of years upon your body from this day on."

"Oh Baerike, this is so wonderful!" Feldis exclaimed as he turned to join hands with his bride, now positively beaming with unexpected fervor. "To know we shall never again be parted, joined as one for all ti-"

"Not her." Aeoch interjected abruptly. "Just you."

A heavy silence struck upon the assembled party like the passage of distant thunder.

"I thought you said you intended to gift our union -"

"I specified you particularly, boy." Aeoch interrupted to clarify.

"But - but Baerike shall wither and grow old as I remain as I am!" Feldis cried. "That is a most cursed affliction! However am I to stand besides my love as an equal with youth eternal if she will eventually pass from this world without me?"

"It is not my business to dictate how you should lead your life, nor in what manner you should watch your mate die." Aeoch delivered with the contemptuous air of a serpent.

"Eternal! You have abused the hospitality of this union and of me!" Bellowed Kadesh-Caro. "I care not that you cannot know death! I will have you seized in bindings and entombed for this offense!"

Aeoch could do naught but shrug as Kadesh-Caro's armsmen came and seized upon him. "Do as you must. Come 'morn I will be gone from this place."

His very word proved two - for as Kadesh-Caro's armsmen came the next day to seize upon him from the cell where they had left him, they discovered he had gone.

Some distance away, Aeoch walked, barefooted, to meet with his attendants, all Immortals themselves, who had awaited and anticipated his need for a departure in haste and had set out in advance, in expectation that he would catch up with them.

"It is done." Aeoch declared as he exchanged salutes with his aide. "The Quarrymaster has been graced with life everlasting."

"Truly? And our Master is upholding his being?" The aide asked curiously. "Without the Quarrymaster having avowed his service, what purpose is there in such a thing?"

"It is merely the appearance of our Master's grace. I have left behind a servant to watch over their family. Whensoever the Quarrymaster's bride passes from this world, a moon thereafter his grace shall abate - and he will perish. The Master's grace is given solely so the fool may suffer under the burden of his preconceived eternity without his love."

"...Our Master seems a mite capricious." The aide ventured after a moment's hesitation.

"That he does." Aeoch admittedly freely. "So too, as I have heard in legend, were the gods of old."


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Regalion of the Deathless
Traveling North

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The dark of the night was broken by a great bonfire in the midst of the plains, serving as host to a fellowship of twelve warriors - who had settled to eat, drink, and to maintain their kit - for their arms and armor were such as had rarely been seen in this corner of the world. Adorned in cuirasses of bronze that gleamed with a sickly luster in the firelight, with blades and spears edged much the same, the worth of the warriors' armaments exceeded that of an entire settlement. With how openly they bore their wear and blades, not even bothering to conceal them with cloak or garb and having piled high the bonfire they rested before, they would have made a most tempting target for any raiding party of the steppes. Yet they traveled openly and brazenly, ensuring all were aware of their passage with neither fear nor apology. For their fellowship of twelve all bore a grace unmatched in common men and women.

They were Immortals blessed by the sorcerer Aurochylys - and they would never die.

"...and he had a red scraggly beard." One of the Immortals finished recounting to the others.

"...So not a one of us met with the same lot amongst the Eternals." Another mused. "So when did Ayrochylys bless each of us? Is he omniscient? Can he see afar with his mind's eye as mere men such as ourselves can scarce conceive?"

"If he could, what need would he even have no attendants? No, I personally suspect he never saw any of us - but that he has some method, some magic, that he can pass to the Eternals for them to work on us and others."

"Well none of us are Eternals." Piped up another. "So how are we to spread Providence to the peoples of these lands? We've our mighty armaments to be sure, and with the gift of life given by our master we are sure to seize victory and overcome all adversity - but how are we to convey our honors to him, and his tidings unto new champions?"

"Our Master is a power of many means." The members of the fellowship turned to look on at their Twelfth member as he spoke, the man known to them as Regalion.

Regalion was a man of intensity and frankly terrifying immensity - he stood eight feet tall, and his body bristled with thick cords of muscle. In the long dark of the shadows cast by the bonfire, he sat and patiently oiled his greatbow - a monstrous weapon with oddly curved ends, which no normal man and indeed, many of the Immortals themselves, could not have ever hoped to so much as hold properly, much less draw. Secured in the ground by his side was the long, metal-capped pole which bore the standard of Aurochylys, and resting at his feet was a quiver of throwing-spears so thick around it could have carried a corpse wrapped in a burial shroud. But where the other members of the fellowship carried with them packs of provisions and sustenance, and measures of cloth for erecting makeshift shelter, the giant of a man carried neither food nor drink, nor any form of respite beyond his own oversized armor and cloth - for Regalion had not been graced merely with eternal youth, but with true defiance of oblivion itself. He was the First of the Deathless, and required neither sustenance nor shelter, and bore fear of no thing in the whole of the world.

"Unlike the lot of you, I have met with our master. I have not spoken with him, for I was only in his presence but a moment - but as the First of the Deathless, he has entrusted me with great duty and peerage. A means of informing him of our travels and of the worthy we might encounter has been entrusted to me - and where we go, Aurochylys will assuage the worth of all who stand before us."

"We did speak of this matter briefly before our departure of the Onris vale. What is our purpose in distant lands as we travel forth?" One of the Immortal queried Regalion.

"We shall assay the lands in the stead of Aurochylys. He will determine the worth of all we see. The worthy, we shall support and curry favor with. The unworthy, we shall sweep aside to be forgotten by the tides of history, swallowed whole by death like kidling preykind."

"What, just the twelve of us?" One of the Immortals scoffed. "No offense to you of course, bold Regalion, for I doubt any man save our master is your equal - but we are not numerous enough nor so skilled in the arts of battle that we may lay waste to entire settlements. How do you propose we so impress upon the realms our master's aims?"

"In the manner of champions." Regalion answered simply. "I do not bear for you answers to how we might overcome any and all opposition. Only that whatever opposition we face, it shall be our duty to overcome - with prowess to be sung about for a thousand years of glory." He paused, and then added. "Of course, our master shall likely press to add additional manpower to our fellowship, which shall never be unwelcome and will be most helpful in the spread of his Providence."

"Of course - one imagines that shall have to be done if only so there is always one amongst us who speaks the local language." Ruminated one of the Immortals in response. "But let us not question further or doubt our intentions, brothers. For our aims are clear. To spread our Master's Providence to the twenty-six corners of creation, and to do so in glory and with great valor!" This was met by a hearty cheer from the remainder of the fellowship, who then turned to more mundane topics.

In the far-off distance, a keen-eyed scout noted them, their numbers, their bearings, and their weapons - and then fled to report their findings.
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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Cyclone
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Journey to Akk-ila

At the borderlands, where the foothills gave way to flat grasslands and the great mountain ranges were no more than a hazy grey band looming over the distant horizon, the Akkadean ambassador and his party were met by their escorts. There was a modest party to receive them rather than some grand entourage or small army, but it was enough to be polite if only just. The head of the escort was flanked by an honor guard of ten armored warriors bearing axes. Further back, that their presence would not offend, there were two dozen slaves acting as attendants and porters (for the rocky lands here were not conducive to drawing carts by oxen or horse) as they shadowed their masters.

The man who looked to be the leader of the escort stepped forward. To call him a man was perhaps being generous; this was a youth barely old enough to have a beard. Even so, the presence of a sword at his side, its exquisitely decorated scabbard, his haughty countenance, and even the way that he groomed what little facial hair he had demonstrated that this was some sort of noble.

In an flawed and accented, yet passable enough dialect of the Aïryan tongue, the boy proclaimed, “On behalf of Lugal (blessed be his reign!), you are bid good tidings and warm welcome to his realm. I am he who is called Ut-ahum, the fifteenth son of Lugal Zulmash.”

“Praise,” spoke a respondent echo and violent whisper originating from an inanimate mouth accompanied by the steeled gaze of an entity whose eyes were not of the typical kind. “Good tidings onto ye. As was written in the epistle, we are Ahn-khaan.” It stood looming, a fair few heads taller than the next, as it lifted its lifeless, yet blistering gaze from the noble lord and out towards the distance and the impression it wrought into the mind of this individual of stone.

They were no ordinary man, much like how the sons of Lugal proclaim their right and justice from their birth. This fellow, however, need not whisper word of his origin for others to comprehend his station, for he was made of stone. Life made infinite in inanimate form. No different from the silhouette of man, merely taller. Slender but bulky, adorned with the unnecessary garments and robes expected of those who came to impress and honour in the same sentence. A shimmering mask of thin bronze covering most of his otherwise uneven face, adorned with three finely cut gems and accentuated with master-craftsmanship-like embossing. Accompanied by a moderate band of servants and assistants clothed much the same as themself, only that they needed the protection from the elements that clothing brought, and lacked the domineering importance which the uniqueness of their master produced.

The stone-man named Ahn-khaan took a step forward, a thud audible at his motion, and moved next with his left hand forward onto the yet distant horizon, the dust of the travel shaking off of his figure as he did. “A fine land we see towards the distance, Ut-ahum, son of Lugal.” Clear courtesy in his gesture, undoubtedly he had learned of the nation he had chosen to venture, but sparking topics of conversation was one important aspect of his task here.

And in turn, the boy almost scoffed. “What, this hinterland? Savage, backwater hills as far as you can see. We have many days of travel ahead of us before we will come to greater parts, so let us be off. Perhaps along the way we may stay at some of my own holdings, where the Lugal’s are more sparse.”

A curious glimpse was all that was reciprocated between the young prince’s groveling and the monotone Ahn-khaan before their continued venture.

The first days were not so impressive. The many porters must have been well trained, for the slaves were always first to break camp. Most of the slaves were trusted to press ahead of the group and prepare the next site with felt tents (where there was not some herder’s hovel to requisition, anyways), fires, and warm food. And of course, being further ahead, their presence could not offend any of their betters.

With time, the narrow game trails and rarely used dirt paths widened and became true roads, even paved in some places. The trees and ungrazed fields also grew much more infrequent until everywhere was ploughland or open ranch, and only a few trees so remote or scraggly as to not be worth the bother remained unfelled. Where at first there had only been the occasional band of shepherds tending their herds, many agricultural hamlets existed deeper into the Akkylonian lands. There was a strange mix--in one place there would be a massive village owned in the name of some lord, with one or two great fields all tended to by throngs of slaves and their overseers. Yet in other places there were clusters of smaller farms owned by free men and worked by families or clans.

“And this field and the thousand oxen and all its herders are my father’s,” Ut-ahum pointed out once. “And that one, too. And the cropland yonder,” he went on to say on many further occasions. “But that, there? The village beyond? That is mine,” he eagerly announced after the fourth day. “Let us visit it; there you may be made more comfortable, and I can attend to my holding for a night.”

Ahn-khaan made a polite look backwards, honouring his entourage with his presence of mind, and noticing their exhaustion. He nodded as he turned back towards his accompaniment. “Let us, they are bound to be as lucious and prosperous as your fishermen’s bounties of prior seasons.” Upon finishing his response, Ahn-khaan turned towards the yet distant but approaching domain of his escort.

Needless to say, he did not go beyond realization of the maneuvering of the Akkylonian supreme lord in matching him with such a manling as Ut-ahum. A clear insult for those experienced with the arts of diplomacy such as he. But a card to use all the same. With luck, Ut-ahum could prove to be the first piece of the grand game unfolding between two nations, and whilst the ambitious and ever-conquering Lugal desires one thing, Ahn-khaan’s master wished for another.

The smallfolk of the village, upon seeing the axe-bearing soldiers and their master approach, bustled to assemble themselves. One stewardly looking villager, a petty magistrate or perhaps just the locals’ headman, granted the party greetings and excessive pleasantries. The many folk glanced constantly at Ahn-khaan through the corner of their eyes, but were sure to never stare, and the steward did not address any of the foreigners directly but simply referred to the whole group as “Our master and his guests.”

Ut-ahum did not bother to elucidate them as to the identity (though surely they knew) nor the purpose of Ahn-khaan and his own escorts either, so they rested and were served for a time. The porters restocked their supplies, and then erelong they were off once again. Despite his posturing, the young Ut-ahum had done nothing to inspect the fields, or see to it that the laborers were working, or even speak to steward of any such matters. Instead he spoke of his father and of a few of the countless past exploits of Lugal (just be his holy hands!). For every tale that the Akkadeans already knew and had to hear repeated, the proud son recounted two that they hadn’t. He spoke rarely of his own accomplishments, or of his elder brothers, whose mere mention caused his upper lip to stiffen, and their feats. For a short time, the soldiers shared their own tales of the Lugal (forever may he rule!) and of their own experiences following him on campaigns. Unlike the sword, which conveyed wealth and nobility but not necessarily anything in the means of competence or valor, the Akkylonians regarded the axe as something sacred. Thus it was bestowed only upon the most elite soldiers, the Lugal’s own men, and those that guarded the great city of Akk-ila and its immediate surroundings.

In due time they departed that hamlet and were back on their way. The roads were frequented much more in these parts, and they passed and were passed by various travelling peddlers and caravans hauling grain and other supplies toward the great city. The road that they followed ran north to Akk-ila, alongside the great river and rarely were its banks out of sight. Date trees and farms were everywhere; this must have been the great Akkylonian ploughland. Glorified as it was in all the tales, it was not so grand. The soil here was dark, muddy, and rich, and it annoyingly clung to one’s sandals or bare feet. Even the farmsteads had a filthy look about them, built from brown or tan mud brick for lack of timber or stone quarries in this area.

Another two days saw them finally nearing Akk-ila itself. The flat floodplains by the river was at last broken on the horizon by the rise of a distant hilltop--only that was no natural hill, but rather the foundations of the greatest ziggurat that would ever be. The ziggurat was not being built from mud brick, of course, for that material was ignoble and ephemeral. So teams toiled endlessly under the sun to haul massive stone blocks from distant quarries, that the ziggurat could be built immortal and eternal.

Even the airy Ut-ahum was quietened as that grandiose beginning began to dominate the horizon, so awe-striking and imposing was the sight. There simply were no words. The great river, which had dominated the landscape for the past days, was still there, but now it was utterly dwarfed, a child beside a giant.

“It is like a land-born sun,” responded Ahn-khaan to the distant landscape’s visage as it spoke to him without need for words themselves. It was impressive, no doubt could be had about that prospect, however at the same time, he disliked it for its dominance and demanding subjugation of the land in which it inhabited. The building itself spoke not of why it was built, but he knew that those who wished for its construction had desires and ambitions which could pose danger to those who found themselves stuck therein.

He turned to Ut-ahum, the stone face and copper mask in which he was blessed to occupy feigned his mental worry, and continued promptly, “Most impressive.”

Ut-ahum caught the unease that even the golem’s face betrayed, but he misunderstood its source. In what was supposed to be assurance, he idly spoke, “Daunting and ambitious, but my father says that it will be finished in due time, certainly within our lifetimes. The architects have reported that progress has been faster than was expected. Of course, finding enough labor to sustain its construction has been something of a challenge.”

A vast labor camp was sprawled out across the plains all around, with hundreds of various tents and structures both temporary and permanent. Even from afar, where the distant silhouettes appeared only as uncountable ants, it was easy to see that there must have been thousands of them. With all those little villages of two or three score souls that they’d passed on their way here, it was maddening to think of how many entire settlements could have been populated by all those laborers, and of how many more toiled to grow the food, brew the ale, and quarry the stone to sustain such a vast operation. Of course, the boy Ut-ahum likely understood nothing of such logistics and their extent, so how could he appreciate the full weight of even his own words?

“Not merely labor, Ut-ahum. Resources, motivation, purpose; projects like these do not live off of the air. Ambition is needed. Akka, much like Akk-ila, is birthed by ambitions such as those of Lugal, and Khaar-am-khaar,” he interjected at the boy’s misplaced sense of assistance and reassurance, politeness explicit in his otherwise cold voice. As he gazed upon the ziggurat, a construct which undoubtedly dwarfed the rest of its city in both purpose and significance, he viewed it like the will of the Ambitious One, merely that it originated not from him, but another.

The manner of its construction, similar yet different to those of the dreamers in Akka, carried another atmosphere in its entirety. Whilst those same dreamers persist, but scattered amongst them there was another kind of force acting towards the finalization of such a grandiose construct; those of slaves and the begotten men and women who work not with fire in their eyes and strength in their chest, but with monotony in their intent and food their only desire.

“Indeed, constructs such as these, the lifework of those blessed by fortune and prowess, do indeed require much to be completed.” Ahn-khaan could not help but feel conflicted at the sight of something which seemed to challenge the legitimacy of the grand project which was Akka, a city built with perfection in sight and endlessness as its destination. And not only was it produced on a similar scale as to his home, but within some measly decades in comparison.

The party kept walking for the better part of the day, of course, but they did not truly or fully leave the ziggurat behind. It loomed so large upon the horizon that it remained there, its vague silhouette watching over them, until they came upon Akk-ila itself. A large mud brick wall encompassed the city, though already there were hovels and shanties built outside the perimeter. Another wall was already partially built to encompass them as well, and further inside one could see even more concentric walls. It was a formidable city, but also one that spoke of hasty construction and poor urban planning. Then again, it’d been raised from the ground of empty plains within the span of just a generation and a half, so what else was to be expected?

A massive gate wrought from unbroken logs of cedar guarded the outermost gate, but it had been pulled open for the day that the merchants and farmers could come and go about their business in the city and then be well on their way back to their villages and hinterlands by duskfall. The roads were well paved inside the city, and they bustled with makeshift stalls and merchants set up all along. But the axe-bearers walked ahead of the group, and the awesome shine of their bronze armor struck the throngs with fear and admiration; they parted to make way for the delegation.

Here, even more than in the muddy and dirty agrarian villages and ploughlands by the river, there was the overpowering reek of filth. There were magnificent sculptures and large stellae adorned with lapis lazuli and other extravagant stones, and then ten paces ahead would be piles of excrement--human and otherwise. And though the city had its statutes on animals and laws forbade swine being left to run loose upon the streets, there were still enough merchants with their fetid donkeys and goats to make the air smell of reeking fur as well.

In the center of the city stood Lugal’s palace. Ut-ahum and his men walked the Akkadeans right up to its doors, and then with a short farewell they left them to the palace guards. The delegation were led into the palace and brought to a parlor besides a hearth, and then the waiting began.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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“Drink!”

A forest of drinking-horns, cups wooden and gilded, and skulls stoppered with the wax of forest bees rose to clash with each other like blades on the field of strife. Drops of thick dark mead, sour braga, fermented berry-juice and thicker, redder, less mentionable things splashed over their edges, running down grey-skinned fingers and dented bracers. Where they spilled into the fires amid the celebrants, the flames crackled and turned crimson for a brief moment; where they flew over their shoulders and pooled on the grimy stone floor, crawling things with bulging eyes crept over to them, leaving trails of slime as they went, and lapped them up with lashing pale tongues.

At the head of the gathering, behind the largest cauldron, in truth more akin to a great bronzed sarcophagus, a towering figure stood up. A thick, rough brown pelt hung down her back, its eyeless snout resting over her wild mass of steely hair, and the patchwork of purple rags from far lands that formed her robe was adorned with braids of black feathers. A huge, bloated toad sat on each of her shoulders, throats nauseously pulsing in their own raucous feasting-song. She raised her crooked talons to the blackened ceiling, and all eyes turned to her as the mismatched jewels on her gnarly arms jangled, calling them to attention.

“One for Vroha atop the trees!”

A reveller stood up from the row of benches to her left and, vaulting over the bench between the shuffling of his neighbours, made his way to the closest edge of the platform. He cast the liquor in his horn into the warm evening air, watching them fall among the mounds of bones and stretched, dried-out flayed skins that adorned the tiered steps below.

“One for Keben among the brush!”

Another feaster stood from the opposite row and hurried to his own ledge, and down hurled his share of the libation.

“One for Zhaav under the stone!”

A third one, who had sat facing straight against the great hag across the length of the many pots and roasting ember-beds in the chamber, rose to her feet and followed suit after the other two, sending her offering in a third direction yet.

“And one for us all!”

There was naught behind the witch herself but a sheer wall, and so she raised her enormous, finely carved wooden cup and overturned its contents into her mouth, emptying it to the last drop in a single draught. A roaring cheer went up from the benches, and the feast began in earnest.

Who was not to be found there as dusk fell upon that day? Truly, it seemed that every drevič who dared bear the name proudly was in attendance at the great gathering atop the Bone Ziggurat. There was Lujko, great chief of the stryvesti, a mighty man with a broken nose and a scarred eye who guffawed as he jested with his sworn brother-warriors and bit into sizzling chunks of meat. He was the one that had led the raids into the wild eastern lands that were being celebrated, and it was his good right to be the loudest and merriest. There was Velnin, ruler of the kolche, the urshi and the moresti, who was old and withered, but cunning, and received tribute from many tribes of wood and field. There was Arzna, wise woman of the strakhne, who had made her people rich by being the first to sell the secrets of working the ores from the mountains down south. And there were Yarog, and Perevest, and Gleva, and Tmutin, and many many others.

And, of course, there was the host herself, the Beast Hag, looming over even the likes of the brawny Lujko, and biting chewing almost louder than him. She did not sit on a bench like her guests, but crouched in a great wooden seat, padded with human skin and inlaid with bones. On the wall behind her, fastened to the stone or heaped at its foot, were the skulls of those she had bested in either arms or wits, whether as she roamed abroad herself or as they came to challenge her in her home. Foremost among them, marked with a circle of dried blood that was renewed every day, was something warped and yellowed by age, crumbling and worn at the edges. That was, so the tales told, all that remained of the being whom Kulgha had devoured long ago, before she had been the Charnel Witch, and thereby gained her strange might; yet that had happened many years before, and no one knew for sure whether it had been a man or something else.

Anon, however, no one paid it much mind, for they all had seen it before. Everyone had better things to attend to in the heat of the feast, and so did Kulgha and her table-comrades. They thrust long knives into their great bubbling vat of bronze, which none but the boldest of the other guests dared touch, and drew morsels from its churning reddish depths. A few of them had clustered around a younger kinsman, and were putting to trial how fine his tongue was.

“What’s this?” one asked, holding a linen strip over his fellow’s eyes while another put a knife with a steaming, brew-soaked bit on its end in his hand. The one being tested gnawed off a mouthful, briefly ground it between his teeth, thick rivulets running through his dark beard, then exclaimed: “Game!” A whole section of the attendees around him, both of Kulgha’s acolytes and not, bellowed out applause, drawing the curious look of the Crone herself.

“And this?” Another knife was offered, and again the man blindly tasted its prize. This time he chewed down a few more times before confidently calling out: “Man!” The celebrants cheered again, but the one who drew forth the knives stilled them with a gesture, and brought out a new morsel from the depths of the stew, staining his grey forearm with the boiling red. “And this?”

The blindfolded sampler took a bite, chewed pensively, then took another. He frowned. His nostrils twitched as he tried to discern it by smell, but found it even less helpful. After some more laborious gnawing, he conceded: “Can’t say, the spice’s too strong. Wager you that Sovnij here won’t tell you either!”

The audience’s jeering hoots quieted down as over a dozen faces turned to the one who held the linen strip. With an air of bravado, he took over the knife and bit in himself. His certainty visibly faded as he strained his face, grinding down his mouthful to little avail. However, he, too, was not found witless when the howling mockery turned on him. “What’s that, I’ll say nobody here can know a bit from that deep in the pot from another!”

Most began to nod sagely, but a piercing hoarse cackle cut them short. Stretching out an enormous branch-like arm over several heads, Kulgha snatched away the knife and brought it to her face. She did not even taste of it, but held it briefly under her long crooked nose before saying, loud enough for half the room to hear: “It’s man, and one of the southron blood!”

This time everyone who had heard gave out calls of admiration, a good few not knowing what the occasion was but joining in either way, as Sovnij growled “‘Course, she’s not count.” It was thus not clear when exactly it was that someone first noticed the strange thing that flew in from the darkened sky. By the time almost everyone was more or less quietly following the dozen pointing hands with their gaze, it had alighted on one of the wooden stilts that supported the bronze cauldron. It was a bird, yet not quite a bird; its head was like a skull, and its skin like that of a lizard, and those who saw it close marvelled greatly at this. In its mouth it held what seemed to be a blossom, but as strange as its bearer, for no one present had ever seen any that was quite like it. The beast gave a few sharp nods towards the hostess and screeched through its closed beak as she watched, as puzzled as anyone around her.

Finally, one of the attendants found his own tongue. “What’s that, Kulgha,” he cheerily shouted from across a roasting body, “you got a suitor?”

The words carried well over the stillness in the room, and so it was that this time everyone knew why they burst out in bellowing laughter, not least among them the witch herself. Still wiping out tears of mirth from the wrinkles around her eyes with one hand, she reached over and slapped the joker on the back of his head as a matron would a riotous grandchild, knocking him off the bench amid everyone’s merriment. In the same motion, she took the flower from the winged messenger’s teeth, quickly smelled it and made it disappear into one of her many pouches and sacks - before deftly snatching up the bird and snapping its neck with a hold practiced over decades and decades.

“Keben gore me if I know what this is,” she said to the expectant acolytes to her right, “but we’ll find out fast how it is. Bring me my sharpened knife!”

An eager hand cautiously held over a redoubtable curved blade with a bone hilt, and the Crone cut the bird’s belly open with it in a slash. The entrails went into the bubbling cauldron while she went to work on the skin, which came off far easier than feathers. The cleaned carcass fell onto a ready metal vessel on a bed of sizzling embers, where sharpened sticks held by those sitting nearby prodded and turned it over now and then while Kulgha did what she did best.

From a pouch came pinches of dried-up and ground woodland herbs, spread over the pale roasting flesh with murmurs of appraisal or incantation. A clay jar of honey was brought over at her call, and it was evenly poured over breast, wings, back. Some drops from the pot added a red hint to its colour.

“It’s plain, for sure,” she absently replied to someone’s remark, “but that’s how you try a new thing the first time. Else how you’re going to taste it?”

The smell that rose as the bird was cooked was sharp, not unlike that of a burning snake, but that did not make the Crone any less impatient to get to the promised end of it. It was barely finished when she grabbed it with nary a concern for the heat and bit off a piece, though the whole beast could easily have fit between her jaws.

“Neither fowl nor crawling thing,” she mused as everyone looked on expectantly, “Not as good as the one, not as bad as the other. But what do you think’s the strangest to it?”

“What?” Lujko asked.

“That there’s things coming from out there like which we’ve never seen, ‘course. Any of you catch what side this one’s flown in from?”

“West!” someone said; “South!” another dissented; “Not quite either!” a third added.

“I’d never heard of this kind of beasts past the woods in the south,” Kulgha scratched her nose, “but maybe times’re changing there. We’ll think of what way to look first on the morrow if anyone else’s got a head that can think, and if not, then the one after. Let’s empty our pots first, and then we’ll think of filling them again!”

“Just so!” agreed everyone, “Let’s not leave a good meal go cold while we chase a measly bird!”

And indeed did the feast not end for a long time yet, for it is a poor feast that is over before dawn!
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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Kho
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Ehn Faoihdh ap-ehn Luhaedha Sinn Dhein


The Seer of the Tribes of the Sinn Dhein


The Seer saw this: the darkness of the rolling aeons since divine folk last walked the earth had not been kind upon the Sinn Dhein.

With the gods in ancient time they had fought that monstrous conquering race, the ap-Morig, and cast them into the farthest depths of the World Beyond the Veil; and when the gods faded one by one beyond the veil, why then the conquerors of the earth had set their gaze upon their pastures. Wave after conquering wave broke against Sinn Dhein flesh and bone, against the old oak and against the towering guardian mount where gods once dwelled, that stout and ancient Caer Seihdhar. And as the conquerors came and fell, bit by bit the Sinn Dhein broke; and all about and all around the great dark deluge brought them down.

The wyndyn of those ancient days, the glorious bards who smote with words, the feasts and songs, their warrior way; it all was lost and... fell away. And darkness danced upon their grave and laughed out loud and had its day. And he did weep, that sad old Seer who saw this all; who watched his people toil for years to ignorance and darkness thrall. He did not speak then, if you must know, but locked away his tongue so that all the tribes would laugh and think he had bitten it off and could do nothing now but weep. He did not care for their laughter though, he was busy - listening, listening, hearing, seeing. Feeling too and deeply - deeply! - breathing.

How long was it? Well, if you must know - it was long enough for all who laughed above to laugh again below. It is not an easy or short task at all to listen and see all your people's history - it is not easy to carry that burden upon your two narrow and swiftly aging shoulders. You think the Seer is old? He is! But it was not the passing of the seasons that turned his beard white, oh no: it was simply woe, friend.

But man is a cup and can only hold so much woe, so much visions, so much tales, so much memory; and there comes a time when the cup must overflow and the tongue must awaken and speak once more. And when that old unspeaking Seer spoke at last, all between the great old mount and the world-water listened. The spirits in the leaves, those in the pebbles below, the breeze roiled the skies shivered, and all the tribes of the Sinn Dhein - for long asleep, for long in a daze - seemed at once to stir, seemed at once to shake off slumber and open eyes for aeons closed. And the Seer saw then that they were not lost; he had to exhort and continually remind, for indeed the reminder would benefit those who were long asleep.

In those times, before the lad of prophecy was come, the Seer walked among the Sinn Dhein and spoke and taught for generations. And he witnessed the birth of great mountain lairds and their deaths, the coming into the world of the men who would rule the vales, and their going. And none laughed at him, but plenty were those who laughed with him on occasion and more were those who came before him as they would a reclusive and reluctant god who - again and again - forced himself to tread the earth and speak among them.

And in those generations before the lad who would be crowned was come, he taught them many things and worked to pave the way; and so they knew, if nothing else, that they - despite their feuding and their warring - were the Luhaedha Sinn Dhein, and for all their fighting knew that they were but one great and glorious tribe, children of the ancient saffron swordmother of love and war. This too they knew - and perhaps had never truly forgotten, for they took again to it as sunflowers took to the sun at morn - that great kyne brought great honour. And they knew that the great stones and henges and odd groves that dotted the earth all around were the ancient holy sites of their people, where one day they would learn to worship as once they did. They knew of Caer Seihdhar, the great godmountain, and came to know of many of the other gods too, they were often forgetful and so the Seer had to teach them again and again the tales.

The children remembered far better than their stubborn parents and their eyes shone with wonder when the Seer sat them down and swept them away from the world of flesh on a spiritborne journey into the tale within his voice and song. And that voice inspired bardic imitators - for the poetic heritage of the ancient bards had not been utterly extinguished, and the Sinn Dhein were a people who enjoyed the verse and dance. And they loved the dance of swords too, and rebellion was etched into their veins, and so the outlaws of the ancient days were known to roam alone and in bands. Some offered their services to distant clans or allied themselves with them in whatever wars or feuds or raids they had.

And while they learned these things, and while there were matters they had no need to be taught - for who of the Sinn Dhein would forget the name of his tribe? - yet was there much that he could not yet teach them. The holy days and months of the ancients remained a mystery to his kin, as did the times of joy and revelry and song, and the noble traditions of marriage and fosterage were yet too much for them.

Only the lad of prophecy, the one who would be rhig, could bring about those things once more. And that lad was now a man full-formed and mighty, and he had that Sinn Dhein fire and fury which would serve him well when dealing with his stubborn and martial kin. Aye, the lad was ready and the fruit was ripe; the harvest was come now at last. And the time of the fruit harvest was a time of death as much as it was a time of life. The return of their people was on the horizon, but so too were the forces of death and darkness - thus were they always.

The Seer stepped out from the shade of a tree and, with a great flourish, released the great raptor from his hands and sang for it to go off home. In its beak, mistletoe.
He watched as the raptor disappeared into the darkening heavens, just as in the distance the great red sun sank beneath Caer Seihdhar. The light was fading now, and the dark was here. But it was for the darkness that a Seer was made.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Serpentine88
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Serpentine88 Writer of Overly Long Character Sheets

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Glittering Caverns and Halls Somewhere Beneath The Earth…

The Dragon of Plethwi


Thirteen rubies, perfectly gleaming even in the near total darkness, illuminated only by the faintest of torchlight. Veles had been staring at them now for some hours, transfixed even in a state of half-sleep. They shone while encrusted on an ancient chalice, a massive goblet clearly crafted for the use of primordial beings far greater than any mortal man… or perhaps a very egotistical king Veles thought. Surrounded by the gold, jewels and treasures that over the centuries he had taken as tribute from the mortal kings - he hoped still that this immense cup was in fact an object of the gods, and not the petty need of the mortals to compensate for their lack in grandeur.

This inspection was one of thousands, bejewelled trances he has performed over the centuries, ever since Plethwi cursed him with his form… and the insidious compulsions that grew from it. Once in the distant past, he tried to ignore it, the need to look into the gold and gems, but he could not hold back any longer and succumbed.

The chalice is missing a ruby he thought. It was an absent observation he has made countless times over while staring into the gleaming red. The remnants of the travelling sorcerer’s analytical mind occasionally even pondered the possibilities that by recovering the lost gem, the old powers of the chalice may yet be restored… rather than acting as a glorified tankard he, a dragon, drank from.

Distant memories played forth as a haze over his eyes. A humoured curiosity over whether a dragon could, in fact, become drunk. The dragon actually snorted in brief mirth, remembering the distant experiment.

From far off, sounds of ruffling and anxious footsteps, too far for human ears sounded back following his rather loud snort. Intruders. Veles’ eyes opened, and heat sprang forth across his scales, throat and chest, emanating a dull red glow across the chamber he slumbered in. The chamber now more clearly visible was half cavern and tunnel, earthly volcanic shafts dotted with treasure and ruins, and half ancient temple, long forgotten before Veles and Plethwi discovered it. Veles stood guard at the inbetwixt the temple and volcanic tunnel so that no intruder may pass into the deeper chambers of his lair… or so that one of the more particularly annoying princesses could not attempt yet another escape.

Veles sniffed the air cautiously, now fully alert as a feeling of enraged territorial defensiveness edged forth from wherever these animalistic forces within him derived… a beast-like urge that he had to constantly control else he would slaughter even his own minions, as had regrettably occurred numerous times in the past.

They, two - no, three of them. They were small, human-sized yet smelt foreign, and ghastly, noxious even. Perhaps this was another attempt by Aoibheann, the ever-annoying tribal princess of some Sinn Dein tribe he once demanded tribute from. It would not be the first time she attempted an escape with the help of others… or poison. The latter subject brought a particularly bitter taste in the dragon’s mouth.

He smelt again, in an attempt to further determine who these three were. The rational, humanlike part of his mind reminded himself that there was no conceivable way the tribal princess could reach that far away into the tunnel without passing him… particularly as his enormous form in essence blocked the entire passage. They were not the eunuch guards he used as some of his minions either, for he ensured they all consumed herbal concoctions that gave them certain… scents…

‘Ah. Yesssss…’ Veles verbally spoke, as he came to his realisation. These were outsiders, possibly emissaries or dignitaries that had coated themselves in poisons and toxins to dissuade him from… consuming them. A reminder of sorts of what he was and how the world saw him. In over a century, the people of the world have forgotten that he was even once a man, and so fear that he would eat them.

Another urge… hunger, drew itself into his mind. All-consuming hunger.

Perhaps they were correct to fear.

Veles stood as high as he could within the confining tunnel, coiling form unwrapping and dislodging itself from piles of gold, rugs and carpets. He walked, or perhaps lumbered through the tunnel on all fours. He had long ago learned how to move as such, and had even taught himself how to use his front limbs in arm-like ways, but he was a sedentary creature and so, despite tales of serpents and worms, agility was not one of his strengths.

His slow part-crawl, part-stomping down the tunnel generated deep shudders and booms, something he could hear was causing distress and forcing the possible-emissaries to backstep towards the tunnel entrance. While he liked to consider himself as not being as so terrible as the monster some people sing and tell stories of, there was a degree of glee he felt upon the demonstration of raw power. It was… one of the boons of Plethwi’s curse.

As a testament to the strength of his senses, it took quite some time for him to actually reach where the intruders now motionlessly stood, at the mouth of the tunnel that overlooked the cliff and rocky coast of some northern sea. He blew a burst of smoke and flame from his nostrils as he crawled out from the tunnel into the light of the midday sun. Wings flared, raised neck - it was the triumphant fanfare that he went by.

‘Who dares speak with the great Veles?’ he rumbled. Veles looked over the three trembling men, indeed emissaries clad in bright coloured clothes and jewelry, the regalia of men of the easternmost reaches of the lands he ‘watched over’. Two bowed immediately, and the third, carrying a large plate filled with various offerings of small trinkets and food knelt low, with the plate raised.

'Most majestic and terrible overlord… guardian of all the lands from the Inner Sea to uppermost Pyrna’ The emissary started, speaking with practice even while bowing and looking down at the sand of the rocky beach. ‘I, a mere humble servant to your magnificence and your loyal vassal King Makhawon II ha-s, has come to beseech upon you… aid.’

‘Aid?’ Veles replied with absent curiosity. It was not entirely unknown for his vassals to occasionally ask of him some favour in return for the tributes they provide him - sometimes they are new foolhardy mortal kings who do not understand the nature of their relationship, other times opportunists or desperate men seeking an out. Usually he deemed these desires unworthy of him without suitable payment… but sometimes he provides his aid in whimsy if for nothing else.

‘Y-yes most gracious one. The ever-loyal King Makhawon seeks aid in battle against the Schayan barbarians. We.. we know you have previously refused this request to another king, but King Makhawon believes in your eternal and infinite wisdom and will reconsider…’ The lead emissary continued.

‘And pray tell…. Why would the most loyal King Makhawon believe I would reconsider? This small offering of trinkets and food? Or perhaps that strange bird flying above us carrying... flowers?’ Veles spoke, humouring them as he stared at the strange bird circling above them with flowers of all things. It was a strange gift of a mortal king, and he sensed something deeply odd about the bird.

The emissary, silent for some and even glanced to the bird for some reason, finally responded. ‘No, no, of course not my lord. We would not dare to presume that these lowly offerings would even barely sate you. No, rather, King Makhawon would rather, with great care and certainty, wish to inform you that the fallen city and Schayan barbarians are being aided and led by a terrible foe, a merciless beast in the form of a man… they call him Dyeus, or Dyauphater. A reckoning of thunder and death. He was the one that ordered his barbarian kin to attack’.

‘Dyeussssss…’ Veles hissed, initially in contemplation, and then recognition arose from him and his eyes sharpened in contempt. It was that ingrate barbarian fool, the one who had dared challenge him in his lair some time ago... the one that Plethwi now favoured with her accursed 'trials'. The Emissaries shudded, partly in fear that the dragon would turn on them in its rage, but also partly in triumph, for they knew that the King’s gambit had worked.

More hazy memories. A man, long ago. A young barbarian enamoured with a witch - a witch who was once his mentor, guardian, and perhaps other things. Plethwi, plethwi, plethwi. It had been all too long.

‘Rejoice mortalssss, for your King’s humble request will be granted…’ Veles sneered, more at the elusive and vague image of that barbarian hero long ago than the men he was talking with.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Helios
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Ulfrag Thokkson


Hestavíg


Loose drink and the smell of charred seal oil caked the air. A thick and drunken crowd had formed around the ring of assembled birch trunks. In the center of this pen thrashed three equine bodies, two of them stallions pummeling each other with bladelike hooves. Beside them, a mare in heat squirmed. The rope barding held her taut to the towering stone at the northern edge of the pen. The Hestavig at its best, a good time had by all. Cheers rang out with each blow as the specimens fought in bloodlust for the mare. It is the fate of nature and the stars that the strong should survive and carry on the path of the herd.

This particular celebration was special. The son of Thokk--the gothi, the leader and savior of her people--was turning one score years. Thokk stood over the ceremony in fine furs and silver talismans as blood, hair, and soil erupted in the pen beneath. Thokk was pitted with the scars and pocks of many hard winters and hard decisions. She had led her people to this place after generations of exile escaping the wilds and ways of men. This land had become their home. It was a place feared by all who neared its essence. Yet she had found a way to its heart and the key to her people’s safety amongst the bones of giants.

Were it not for the cheers and shrieking roars cutting the eve’s air, theirs was a quiet place. Dipping valleys of black volcanic rock shrouded in thick birch and maples. Beneath her canopy lay the secrets of old. Giant mounds of stone covered much of the forest floor, collecting moss and lichen and and the things of old life. It was a graveyard. The petrified remains of the Time Before, where Primordials clashed and their fallen became the earth. The tales of southern tribes said it was a haunted place. They were right.

Her son sifted through the onlooking crowd, greetings and well wishes of his tribesmen thrust upon him from every angle. Though many cared for him, Ulfrag was sure they were more pleased by the thrill of show and feast. The amber fire of twilight danced in the drunken gaze of their eyes. He joined the front row of spectators as hooves clashed skulls again and again. The noise was excruciating. The scene sickened him, but how can traditions be broken? This is nature. Without this pen, the mangled horse would have met the same fate.

The once beautiful pony, now caked in black dirt and gore, ceased its struggle. The bejeweled woman stepped into the pen and the crowd fell silent. The horns of black ale briefly parting from their lips as they watched abatedly. Even the stallion seemed to be frozen by her presence before being hurried away by stable boys with its mare in tow. Thokk raised her hand, a crude ax of birchwood and black stone hanging at her side.

“Fate cannot be interrupted by man,” her voice boomed. “Let this be the course of the stars. And may its children obey and avail.”

With a clean strike she plunged the ax into the maimed horse’s neck. The crowd erupted in revelry. Cheers once more. The once still drinks turned now into a frothy shrapnel. Sprigs of mistletoe were thrown at the feet of Thokk as tears began to streak their soot-covered cheeks. Soon the feast of horse would begin, the first fresh meat in months. Amidst the clamor a small, black fowl appeared. It swooped onto Thokk’s outstretched arm and proffered forth a small flower. The grizzled woman looked like blood no longer lived in her veins. Her eyes held only terror.

The horizon’s last breath of sun dipped across the sky. Ulfrag had seen the exchange and leapt into the pen to comfort his mother. A subtle surge in revelry but few noticed his addition. They instead were occupied with the horse being drawn up and affixed by its hind legs to the giant stone, the slow drip of its lifeforce falling below into a ceremonial bowl. She stared blankly to the sky as he rushed to her side.

“What news is this creature!? Why does it cause you such pain?” Ulfrag asked frantically. His mother continued to gaze blankly at the sapphire haze of early night.

“They know.” She muttered under her breath. Without further word she tore a fistful of hair from the slain horse’s palmetto mane. She held it under the crude ax still lodged in its victim’s throat. Black liquid trickled from its hilt. The stream collected on the coarse blond hair in her grasp.

“Come mother, let us talk of this alone while the others fill their gut.” Ulfrag whispered pleadingly. “They have had nothing but deer moss for months. Their teeth are nearly rotten. Let their minds be at peace, such a place I wish you could take mine.”

She continued her blank gaze. She thrusted the dripping horse hair at the winged creature. It took the offering and flew south toward the first glistening star of the night. She turned to Ulfrag. Her eyes were not her own. “I hope the stars wish them peace.”

She struck Ulfrag in the face, his nose clicking to the side with a fiery torrent of pain. “Mother, what in the Fates!?” She struck out again. This time he just managed to dodge her assault, swapping places with her in the parry. He was backed against the giant monolith. The subtle tapping drips of the slain echoed behind him.

“Let me end this!” She screeched into the dusk, her grey hair tossing about her face like a sordid beast. The members of the tribe stood in awe at the scene. Terror and confusion married amongst them. A club was thrown into the pit at the gothi’s feet. “Let Fate.” She hissed at the supplier in return. Another club found its way to Ulfrag. Two shields dashed in amongst the mistletoe and claret of horses. Ulfrag prepared himself in the fashion of his mother. He wanted to tell her to stop this, he wanted to find what had possessed her mind; but the words would not come, for he felt the same, unquestionable pull to blood.

The woman, venerable in years, crashed into his shield like a berserker of Sinn Dhein. Ulfrag felt the laminar wood begin to buckle under her blow. Once. Twice. Three times she struck home with the wooden cudgel. It caved in the thin pine that held him from her inhuman tide of strength. The next blow sent straight into his arm. Ulfrag looked twice to see that it had not been severed off yet it felt so. Dangling loosely at an ominous angle, he had lost his feeling and use of it completely. Feeling except for pain; all encompassing, blinding, it throbbed into his ears as the sound of the world went black.

White light dashed across his face. The side of his cheek roared into a pain more fierce than his mangled arm. His head spun rear. Liquid metals filled his mouth. In his gasp for breath he felt the sputter of small rocks fall from his jaw where teeth had once been. The night had come or else the world had gone dark. When Ulfrag managed his eyes open his vision was singular: the crude ax in the throat of the horse. It was all encompassing, all he could see, it roared to him without sound.

Ulfrag swung round on his foe. The club crunching through the gristle of Thokk’s right knee. He did not hear what cry she made, he only felt her, felt it. His left arm flailed at his side as he took blows to her shield as was done to him. The fresh scent of pine cut through the iron of his nose as splinters were wrought for yards. She was crumbling before him. She would die.

Yet, she did not. A thrust of her warclub found his exposed gut. His lungs collapsed under the weight of his paralyzed diaphragm. Air could not be found. He fell to his back, sputtering in the blood of his face. He wished she would put him out of his misery. Hang him to this stone and feed his people. And this she intended. Thokk, broken herself, dragged what bones she had left above her helpless prey. She sat astride him, the gift of her womb. A stone, a pumiced fossil of giants before time, was held aloft to deliver its blow. Ulfrag grabbed helplessly at the sky to impede its fall.

He felt it strike his hand. Slide into his palm. He felt the blood running down his arm. He could feel it yet there was no pain. It was all encompassing. He opened his eyes and saw the ax. It was in his hand. The blood of the horse still tapping in the cadence of his heart and the throb of the world around him. He looked up at his mother and plunged it into her chest. Silence.

Her gaze softened. Light slowly warmed her eyes. The grey soul-spun wisps of the aurora above kissed the fresh night sky. Ulfrag watched onward as her body relaxed above him and gently turned to stone. The ax was no longer all encompassing. Finally he could see the night filled with stars.
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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by AspenIvan
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AspenIvan

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Chronicle of Pennaeth Nolwenn ach Dinordow, Ranger of the Freeholds.


I first encountered the Ranger in the Second Year of Ioulianos, King of Koloneia Pharosia. I left the Great Academy, which I had entered a freeman, a slave of that King. I was to be sold to some Dobun warlord or another, for Ioulianos’ troubled succession and the rumors of his poor sorcery produced a need to appease his neighbors. Gifts like me, a capable scribe and scholar, were particularly prized in the city courts of Dobunia.

I was not entirely stripped of dignity. I carried only a small mark on he back of my hand, neither the scalding forehead-brands nor the hand-binding rope of the other slaves. I was allowed to keep my family spear, sword, and helm. For such privileges, I was expected to keep watch over the others and assist the mercenaries in protecting our woeful caravan. Gods’ blessings that when the time came, I chose not to.

When the first arrow transfixed the caravan master’s neck, nearly severing his head, by some spell I saw with clarity. The mercenaries may have noticed signs : Our assailant moved too fast and too quietly for one burdened with such arms and armor, sling-lead hit and bounced but did not slow her, and she drew a sword longer than a man’s arm and glowing white as if freshly molded – yet it held its shape through the battle. But I, from the first blood drawn, knew what legend had ambushed us. I threw down my weapons and fell to my knees.


_____

The sounds of the forest on either side of the sandstone road, moments ago drowned in the cries of wounded soldiers and panicked cart-horses, were breaking through again over the receding din of post-battle. The horses now found their composure and snorted instead of screaming, the dying went from shouting to moans and coughs as their life-force faded, and the slaves in their chain of ropes chattered in anticipation instead of crying in fear as they deduced who stood before them. And so the birds and frogs and rodents cautiously returned with their chatter. To Nolwenn, it was a welcome sign. The world settling back into place, a tad more balanced than a minute before. In this little corner of this little wood, there were more slavers, no more guards – Well, one more guard.

So one decided not to fight. It wouldn’t have been the first time. She remembered killing Cadoc. After that arrow entered his eye, that bear of a man fell face-forward onto his stone floor with a crunch. Every court advisor and retainer in sight was on their knees. Whether they feared her or the rumble of the rebel horde behind her, they had the sense not to push the fight. Of course, the mob didn’t spare them. But this was different – it was good to have a survivor carry word home, to spread fear among the slavers. And if she played her cards right, Nolwenn could bleed her enemies’ coffers a little extra with a ransom for the man and his equipment.

“What is your name?”

“Agathon,” wheezed the wide-eyed man, black curly hair and beard already dripping with sweat and body shaking in terror. Slowly, he bowed, resting his hands on the road. “Spare me, Tyrantsbane! I am chattel like the others, chains or not! I have long left the world of propertied citizens of the Polis, and kneel before you a branded man.” He raised his right hand to show her the King’s Mark.

He talks like a poet, but with an accent. Fancy words, too. Doesn’t seem like a bondsman, except for the mark, but... She looked to his weapons laying in the dirt, then to his hand still aloft – a soft hand ...not a soldier either.

“Easy there, Agathon,” Nolwenn reassured the man, bending her knees to bring her gaze level to his. She sheathed her fire-sword to free a blood-stained glove, which she rested on his shoulder. Her eyes looked directly into his - mellow amber into still-twitching brown. She asked calmly, “Polis? Citizen? You’re using words I don’t understand.”

Her tone seemed to calm Agathon, though still cognizant that he was looking into the eyes of a Sorcerer. He took in a deep breath. “I’m from Koloneia Pharosia, on the Southern Coast. I once had lands and a family name and nearly a scholar’s reputation, but the King decided I was better as a bartering chip.”

A Pharosian scribe. Heard of those, the free ones grow wealthy from taxes and the bonded are the sort that pulls rank on other slaves. But this one’s been humbled... Nolwenn smiled. “Almost had a bard’s kyne but got whisked away as an apprentice, eh?” She stood. “Undo the ropes holding the others. Then give your weapons and helm to the them, as galanas for your role in keeping them tied up.” She doubted Agathon was much good in a fight, so the equipment would be better in the hands of more motivated freedfolk. “From there you can follow me back to Dinordow or go your own way.”

Nolwenn turned to the others. “You are all free of your bonds,” she announced as Agathon set to work on the ropes. “Go your own way if you wish, or follow me and find a place in the Freeholds. And, of course, take anything you want from the dead slavers. With or without me, always best to travel with arms and a few valuables.” Well, except for the Scribe, he’ll probably have to follow me.

Suddenly, she caught something in the corner of her eye. A bird...no, a winged lizard! Another sorcerer’s scout. In a flash, her bow was drawn and arrow loose, splitting the creature apart.

“On second thought, all of you should follow me. Some lord or another has eyes here.”

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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Terminal
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Terminal Rancorous Narrative Proxy

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Regalion of the Deathless
In the Lands of Clan Guinn of the Sinn Dhein

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Laird Gealle-Chriosid of Clan Guinn was by no means an old man. His hair, unlike many of his red-haired people, was jet black and not a single white strand was to be spied atop his head or in his beard. And his form was full and muscular, as befit the master of all the green pastures that lay between the vales of Buonlain and Wensau to the far off hills of Sruthgaercil. His cloak on his shoulder, with the blue, green, and red tartan of Clan Guinn sewn into it, a tunic of red and tights of green beneath, he looked every part the great laird of much and increasing kyne that he was. The Guinn, however, were a purebred highland people, and it was highland might that brought the green pastures of Buonlain and Wensau into their power. Only Guinn wandered the vales now, their herds and their flocks; and their children could run and frolic all the way to Sruthgaercil without fear. Where were those prideful and decadent M'Hnaen today?

'Whits th'news fae Acroasta, Feihnuil?' Gealle-Chriosid gave his one-eyed companion a sidelong glance, and Feihnuil grinned.

'We wilnae be seein' muck o' tha' M'Hnaen bas efter tha', ah kin tell ye.' Feihnuil said, rubbing his eye beneath the patch.
 
'Aye? Fled fur th' forests haes 'e?' The young laird asked.

'Hah! Why he likelie wishes th' earth wid swallow him! Bit we'll nae be giein' 'im that sort o' reprieve ferr yit, ye ken? That kyneless wee lowland git.' Gealle-Chriosid chuckled and scratched his crooked nose.

'We'll fall oan Acroasta tae in time. Let thaim gather up thair men 'n' pat thair kyne tae th' blade wance mair. See if thay kin do muck all ither than flee lik' gutless curs.'

'That's good. Don't wantae graw soft oan thae bonny wee hills, eh?'

'Aye. 'n', weel. That M'Hnaen bas - fur a' his dashing guid looks - haes th' boldest lass. Howfur a charioteering warrior lik' her could hae spawned fae a wiry scrote lik' that ah ne'er ken.' At these words, Feihnuil leered at his laird.

'Fauchelt o' ol' Maegda awready? Ye ainlie walkd th' tree afore this hail affair broke oot.'

'Maegda's a darlin', bit whit kin ah say? Th' flesh is a fickle reprobate.' As the two continued jesting with one another, a few figures suddenly appeared over the crest of a distant hill, causing Gealle-Chriosid to nod towards them suspiciously. Feinuil looked towards them, rubbing his blinded eye out of habit. 'M'Hnaen?' The Laird asked.

'Nah, dinnae lek it. Thay dinnae hae big uns lik' thaten thare.' He reached for a dord at his hips and turned towards the great Guinn encampment nestled at the top of a nearby crest and blew sharply twice. Hefting his spear, laird Gealle-Chriosid began walking down the hill at a leisurely gait, and Feihnuil soon followed. As they approached the strangers, a dozen other warriors had already joined them and it had become abundantly clear that not only were these strangers not M'Hnaen, they were not anything Sinn Dhein. They all wore curious armor that gleamed like bright copper in the midday sun, their weapons being made of a similar material. All of them were too tall - and unblemished, seemingly untouched by any mark or stain of injury or the passage of years. Their demeanor at being approached by the assembled warriors of the Guinn was one of vague and relaxed bemusement - despite evidently being warriors themselves they did not seem intent on battle just yet.

Two of their number, near the front of their formation, were more ordinary - dressed in simple cloth and bearing the visage of peoples known to the Sinn Dhein from neighboring lands. They seemed more tense than those they walked with, although as they were between two bands of warriors perhaps that was to be expected. Conversing with one of them, one of the foreigners was holding a great, tall wooden beam - and at its tip, capped with more of the gleaming copper-like material, was a wavering cloth banner of white, depicting a queer symbol.

"The fellowship of Providence bids greeting to you, peoples of the Sinn Dhein." One of the two fellows said - a man in his august years with a fading beard and darker eyes. "They do not speak as we do, but there are common tongues between us. I can speak between all of us." Gealle-Chriosid stared at the stranger who spoke for a few moments, then glanced at the tall unblemished men with an annoyed frown - their lack of scars and other marks earned over the years irked him, more so because they all seemed experienced warriors - before returning his gaze to the one who had spoken.

'Whit urr ye, some easterner? Fae Dinordow or someplace thare?'

"A little ways to the South of there. I'm just a tanner from a smaller village, doesn't even have a name. I speak the fellowship's tongue well enough and had knowledge of this place, so they privileged me with the opportunity to accompany them." The man said. "My fellow here," He gestured briefly at the other plain-clothed man with him - younger and clean-shaven, obviously anxious and somewhat out of his element. "-is much the same." Gealle-Chriosid glanced at the one-eyed Feihnuil, who shrugged. None of them had ever been further east than Dinordow, and they had certainly not ventured south. The man spoke funny, there was no doubt, but no less intelligible than any easterner.

'Aye? 'n' whit brings ye 'n' yer odd fellows sae far north?' The laird questioned.

The man turned to speak with the imposing foreigner with the banner before then turning back to pass on his message to the laird. "My odd fellows are followers of the sorcerer known as Aurochylys, the Lord of Champions and Judge of the Worthy. In exchange for their fealty and by his power, they have attained Immortality. They seek now to travel the lands, spreading word of him and his power, and seeking others worthy of his boons." The Clan Guinn warriors seemed taken aback by these words, and they muttered sceptically to one another.

'A sorceror ye say? We hae heard o' sic hings. Th' Seer haes spoken o' thae malignant beings fae th' bygone age o' th' gods.' Gealle-Chriosid said, 'Whit mak's this sorceror o' yers worthy o' lording ower champions?'

Another exchange of words between the interpretor and the bannerman. "He is a great healer. They say he can treat any injury, heal the blind and deaf, even restore lost limbs - and that he can grant eternal youth and life everlasting to those he favors. All of the men in this fellowship, here, are touched by his power - and so its potency should be evident." The band of warriors and their laird looked at the giants, and once more irritation flashed in Gealle-Chriosid's eyes, though some among his companions - missing limbs or eyes, parts of noses or fingers - looked with curiosity. Who did not want eternal youth and unblemished form, after all? And did not the Seer himself say that only a champion of unblemished form could ever be a true leader of men? And yet Gealle-Chriosid was that sort who liked his scars and broken nose and put them on display for all - lek 'ere, they said, this here's a Bran that's fought 'n' levd 'n' brought many a brave Bran wee.

'Aye? 'n' howfur ur we tae ken we ur champions brave 'n' true if we hae na need tae fear th' years or th' swords 'n' spears o' men?' The Clan Guinn laird asked.

"That is why Aurochylys is known as the Lord of Champions. He only blesses those who have proven themselves worthy of such boons. Only the bravest, most skilled, and most cunning of warriors can make the best use of such gifts - and so the same goes with those he blesses who are not warriors. He seeks great leaders of men, sages, forgemasters to judge." The interlocutor explained.

'Bit surely then th' bravest 'n' maist skilled, th' maist cunning 'n' maist gifted, hae na need fur this sorceror's gifts at a'. He is brave 'n' skilled by whit his kyne haes wrought, nae by some sorceror's guile!' And Gealle-Chriosid stamped his foot and his onyx eyes flashed with sudden anger... which dissipitated almost as soon as it arose. 'Bit let us lea this blether. Come, fur ye hae surely come a lang wey fae yer southlands. We wull feed ye 'n' shelter ye while yer among th' Guinn.'

"The fellowship extends its thanks for the hospitality of the Guinn." The interlocutor replied. The small warrior band of Clan Guinn turned about and Feihnuil led the way towards the nearest encampment. A passing cattle driver waved and shouted, and the warriors shouted in return, causing a number of wolfhounds to bark and run towards them before turning about. Gealle-Chriosid stayed by the foreigners and walked with them, telling them that these here hills soon gave way to the great vales of Buonlain and Wensau, pastures that stretched all the way towards the far away hills of Sruthgaercil.

'Nae lang ago th' prideful clan M'Hnaen drove thair herds 'n' thair flocks 'ere, thair bairns danced 'n' sang in th' vale 'n' thay bathed in th' lochs 'n' swam in th' rivers at ease. Bit thay wur a mean 'n' miserly lot, 'n' sae we descended oan thaim 'n' drove thaim fae th' greenery 'n' ease in whilk thay dwelled. 'n' noo th' flocks 'n' herds o' clan Guinn stravaig th' vale, 'n' it's oor bairns that sing 'n' dance whaur yesterday th' M'Hnaen wur. 'n' oan th' morrow we'll descend oan thaim again, 'n' all o' th' world wull seem tae wee fur that miserly lot then!' The laird gestured proudly here and there, inviting them to take in the beauty and bounty of the pastures that belonged to the Guinn. 'Na laird o' M'Hnaen cuid withstand mah spear, 'n' ah hae taken as many heids as tears thay shed. 'ere we ur th' warriors 'n' masters, 'n' na champion greater than ah treads th' land fae 'ere tae Sruthgaercil. Ah hae na need fur boasts, fur mah many scars a' speak fur me - bit yer foreigners 'n' wid nae ken, sae noo ye dae.'

There was a brief exchange between the interlocutor and one of the foreigners - and the man then relayed the question. "Where now do the M'Hnaen dwell? The fellowship has made little effort to hide their trail and may well have been followed. If by your enemies, they would seek to preserve you against them." The laird sneered at the interlocuter.

'Th' M'Hnaen ur holed up in Acroasta, 'n' thair weakling laird haes fled far intae th' forests 'n' left his daughter tae fend fur her fowk alone. If she comes, then th' warriors o' Clan Guinn wull coupon her, nae ye. If ye wish tae scratch yer itch, then ye kin ainlie trust yer ain nail efter a'. Mibbie ye shuid gang offer thaim a hawnd, if ye wish tae keep a'body against thair enemies.' He paused for a few moments. 'Nae that it wull dae thaim ony guid. They're a kyneless fowk. How come, yin loses kyne by warring wi' thaim!' The laird continued speaking to his guests, telling them of the beauty of his highland home and how the mountains forged true warriors and men while the lowlands sprouted such bonny wee tings.

And the guests were brought into camp and cows and goats were slaughtered and put on spits all over, and the Guinn prepared a great feast to welcome the foreigners who had placed themselves under their protection. Dords were blown and the Guinn from across the vale streamed about until it seemed that no hilltop or hillside was bare of them. Mead and wines were brought forth, as were an assortment of sweet-nuts and fruits. One of the warriors rose at one point and began reciting some poetry in praise of the great conquering laird Gealle-Chriosid, bane of M'Hnaen and taker of the two vales. Eventually the laird sat back, a clay goblet of mead nestled in his hands. 'Bit yer fellows hae nae tellt us thair names, southerner. An' neither hae either o' ye. Or does th' laird Aurochylys nae permit his chosen champions names?'

The interlocuter engaged in an exhaustive person-by-person narrative with each member of the Fellowship - who, through his proxy, went about introducing themselves. All of them - perhaps unnecessarily - appended 'of the Immortals' to their own introduction. The last to introduce themselves was the true giant amongst them - the one who bore a breatbow, curiously curved at its ends, which itseful was nearly the full height of the laird himself.

"...and the master of the Fellowship is pleased to announce himself as Regalion, First Amongst the Deathless and foremost Champion of Worth under the great Aurochylys." The interlocuter finished. As roasts from the spit and drink were passed around, the Fellowship were by large pleased to accept and to praise the quality of the stock and the means by which it had been raised - though when sustenance was offered to Regalion, he declined.

"Regalion, as one of the Deathless, no longer requires any sustenance. He may partake of it for pleasure alone, but would prefer not to be wasteful of what our generous hosts have offered the fellowship." The man explained. Those who heard, including the laird, looked from the interlocuter to Regalion with visible bafflement. Such manner of feasting, after all, could never be intended for sustenance alone - aye they ate and drank and made merry, but it was ultimately a display. Generosity, hospitality, wealth; all these were on display that all present may know that this was a clan of great power and kyne, and their laird likewise. A refusal to partake, for whatever reason, was an affront. It was a wound inflicted against the honour of the clan and laird - I shan't partake of your food and goodwill it said, you are beneath my recognition, it spoke. And when the laird frowned and sat back, others too sat back. And the eating and drinking came to a halt, and the singing too - slowly, slowly now across this hill and now that -, so that all was silent as the laird stared with furrowed brows at the giant who would not eat.

The second of the interlocutors - the younger, clean-shaven man - more familiar with the social mores of the Sinn Dhein and just as perturbed as they were by the display - hurriedly muttered an interjection to the fellowship's bannerman. What was clearly an argument of some sort ensued between the interlocutor, the bannerman, and two more of the supposed Immortals. The first Interlocutor - more nonplussed - translated a portion of the exchange aloud, much to the consternation of the Immortals sitting astride him, who grimaced and glared as he spoke.

"The fellowship are protesting their breach of your custom due to ignorance and by their own." He explained. "It is my opinion that Regalion intends no slight." 

Moments the words left his lips, the Immortals arguing with with the second interlocutor finally turned to Regalion, addressing him in a mixture of inquisitive - and berating - tones.

Regalion then spoke in a lax, conversational tone, his manner unbidden. His voice was the low rumble of distant thunder, and his vision was darkly clouded in a manner that made his intent difficult to gauge. Whatever it was he spoke, both of the translators immediately flinched in apprehension. After they hesitated for a moment too long, one of the Immortals barked, and the elder interlocutor spoke, haltingly.

"Regalion of the Deathless abides without fear, shame, or apology. He has elected not to eat and will heed no imperative to do so." Gealle-Chriosid looked to the giant with cold, black eyes.

'Is that sae then,' the laird said, though it was no question, and he lifted his cup slowly, eyes not wavering from Regalion, and tipped its contents to the earth. It was meaning beyond words. 'If Regalion o' th' Deathless spurns oor goodwill 'n' fails tae be a goodly guest, then oor goodwill is hurled 'n' we shall nae be hosts tae him or his folk at a',' Gealle-Chriosid rose, and a number of his warriors stood too, hands on spears, and he spoke to the interlocutor, 'Ye kin see yerself 'n' yer master awa', ah wouldna pity mah kin wi' yer blood th' nicht. Bit let him ken that he is ma enemy th'day 'n' ever, 'n' mah folk his people's bane.'

The interlocutors relayed the message. The fellowship of immortals seemed to hold their breath as Regalion replied.

"...Regalion of the Deathless inquires if you speak for all of the the peoples of the clan of Guinn, from its warriors and its men, to all of its women and its children. He seems to believe you bear not the years nor the wisdom to be the elder of them all-:"

"Please also note we are merely translators, and are not part of this fellowship ourselves." The younger interlocutor burst out suddenly. "Permit us the opportunity to flee before you and this queer assembly calling itself a fellowship come to blows." Gealle-Chriosid's eyes flashed with a sudden cold fury and he snarled something at the interlocutor, and almost immediately a number of dords were blown and the Guinn encampment and all the hills about came alive again as the warriors and clansfolk who had not so long ago been feasting all rose and took up their spears and arms.

'Ye'll tell yer master this, southerner, there'll be blood betwixt us - o' that's na doubt. Bit ah will nae butcher mah people's kyne by killing him 'n' his folk whin a'd granted thaim safety. Sae git ye gaen 'n' let that be th' lest word - 'cause whin neist we meet, th' spear wull speak.'

The second interlocutor broke and ran then and there, much to the startled amazement of the first and the bemusement of the fellowship of Immortals. Pointing after him, the remaining translator babbled to the fellowship.

Their unexpected response was simply to fill the tension-filled air of the hillside with bellowing laughter. The bannerman exchanged a few words with Regalion before then issuing a new statement to the apoplectic translator - as Regalion rose like an ominous thunderhead from where he sat. As the interlocutor haltingly translated, two of the Immortals attended to the giant and began to assist him with the clasps of his armor, so as to shuck it off.

"Regalion of the Deathless acknowledges your grievance. He will permit you two blows with which to attempt to slay him, from which he will not evade. If you can fell him, his fellowship will acknowledge you as his better. If you fail, they shall all depart the land and pay you no mind forevermore, for you shall not be worth your own skins for them to pity with honorable death." The black-haired laird scowled and spat on the ground, his mind whirring behind his obsidian eyes. No laird worth his kyne could reject such a public challenge outright.

'Ah will accept - oan a condition. That he cast aside whitevur daemonic magicks grip him 'n' tak' mah blows as any Bran. Nae fair, is't, tae tak' mortal wounds whin ye've git some sorcerous daemon's magick oan ye noo is it? Hardly a Bran at a', 'n' ah needn't prove a'm better than something that's hardly a Bran.'

The interlocutor relayed the caveat, and the bannerman's response.

"They say this is the only redress for your grievance that is permitted. They have instructed me to repeat ernestly that you are either to accept their offer or still your whelp tongue and abandon your claim of affront, in light of your eagerness to boast that you should be the better of any blessed man by wit of your skill and prowess alone. You are either stronger without, or weaker and thus forfeit all privilege."

'Twa blows tae slay him ye say?' The dark-eyed laird asked, scratching his crooked nose.

"Two blows which he may not evade, and as you can see, he shall take them without armament." The interlocutor gestured to the now bare-chested Regalion as the giant strode forward, his very steps echoing about like tumbling boulders. His chest and abdomen were well muscled, but also layered with measures of fat - he was clearly not some preening sculptor of the body, though one might have been forgiven for thinking it, as no scars nor marks of any kind crossed his frame. He did not even deign the laird with a look - he simply gazed askance at nothing in particular, his expression bored, not even having the grace to behold his enemy with either contempt or appraisal. The Guinn laird grinned, though the aloof giant did not see, his black eyes flashing with sudden mischief.

'Hold yerself, ye muck oaf. Twa blows it wull be, 'n' ye shan't evade thaim. An' thay shall be delivered at a time o' mah choosing - return in five days, 'n' it wull be dane then.'

The interlocutor relayed the message. Regalion himself replied with a single utterance.

"Regalion hereby accuses you of cowardice." The interlocutor had the dignity to grimace as he spoke.

'Ah accuse ye o' faithlessness - ye gave yer word, 'n' ah accepted. Sae wull ye be held tae it or wull ye nae? Ah wull have the blows delivered whin ah please. Noo begone.'

The bannerman frowned as the translator passed on the words, and barked a harsh and lengthy sequence out in response.

"The fellowship will abide by their word, but believe you have demonstrated callowness and that you will flee come the chosen time. They demand promise or collateral to ensure your faithfulness." The interlocutor passed on warily.

'Yer ignorant o' oor ways, giant, 'n' that haes awready cost you,' the laird said, and spread his arms wide, 'my fowk ur witness, 'n' wull haud me tae accoont - wha, pray tell, wull haud you strangers tae accoont? Ye hae refused mah conditions 'n' noo attempt tae gang back oan yer word. If an'body's in need o' collateral, it's me.'

Paling, the translator faithfully relayed the message, speaking in turn as the laird himself did before then turning to pass on Regalion's response.

"Regalion shall remain where he stands now for five days and five nights without sustenance or sucor as collateral. If he should leave this place it shall be taken as a sign of forfeiture and his own fellowship shall turn upon him. The fellowship have instructed me to append that your calls for delay and delegation are piteous and the act of one born a gelding, and that you are a barking, toothless mongrel best put down rather than perturb the future of his people any further, and is evidence in and of itself that you are incapable of performing." The mischief in the laird's eyes faded and the beginnings of a snarl remained, but he calmed himself.

'Twa blows it shall be, in five days. Though 'tis th' hi'est gree o' cowardice tae bring magicks tae they wi'oot, as ye folk dae, ah shan't complain 'n' shall dae a' that wit 'n' micht gie me tae mak' they twa blows count.' The laird spread his arms and backed away with a small smile on his lips, 'ye bade richt in steid, oaf, 'n' ah will see ye in five days,' and with that he turned away from the foreigners and walked swiftly into the darkness while shouting for his lairdsdord and chariot.

"They are in accord with you, laird of the Guinn!" The interlocutor called back to him. The fellowship of Immortals, their blood now raised but without excuse to excise it of its fire, set about to putting up a makeshift camp about where Regalion stood. A number of the warriors of the Guinn remained nearby, keeping an eye on the giant to ensure he did not move from his place, but the encampment was gone at dawn along with the rest of the clan.

One of the warriors of the Guinn, who was more perceptive than many of his kin, watched the fellowship carefully as he did now - and noted that amongst their number, one who had arrived with them was now absent. Had one of them slipped away during the ruckus? And for what purpose?

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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Zurajai
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Zurajai Unintentional Never-Poster

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𝕲𝖜𝖓𝖉𝖞𝖗𝖎𝖈


The mild breeze that whispered through the dell hung like a blanket over the low valley walls and floor, caressing all within the confines of that long and narrow bowl with its demure embrace. With the sun peaking out from above the mountainside to reveal the deep emerald grasses and mosses that hugged and sprouted on both rock and soil in all directions. Copses of trees stood invitingly, the creatures of the morn stirring in the arboreal abodes made by those guardian regiments of oak and ash and thorn. In the distance the little splotches of white, black, and orange grazed, the tell-tale signs of a cattle herd breaking their fast in those far off glens. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the epitome of a Sinn Dhein morning.

On a solitary stone, his most favoured of perches in this particular scrap of land, sat the bedraggled form of Gwndyric. He was truly a specimen of his people despite the dishevelled nature of his early morning waking. Bright orange-red hair stood in a fiery dance of awkwardly standing fleece while the facial hair at his chin, cheeks, and above his lips seemed poorly maintained and hardly trimmed. Though a little dirt clung to him he was mostly clean and seemed more unkempt more than filthy. A skein of tattoos clung to his skin, bright blue in hue and depicting curling and twisting iconography least of which was the huge solar ring that hung above his heart.

Most notably of all, of course, was that he sat completely and utterly naked.

The youthful carl sat on the smoothen stone, its well sanded down surface magnificent for nude setting. With that bracing morning breeze Gwndyric seemed contented, eyes mostly closed but for slits as the early light glared into his vision. His muscular torso gleamed pale and pink but for the wandering tattooed art across his body, only slightly tanned despite his constant days under the blazing sun. A solemn groan followed by a grunting sigh escaped his lips before the man leaned forward and spat a large glob of phlegm onto to ground before him. The spot was browned from a long history of Gwndyric spitting in that very spot and the newest glob only confirmed further his passion for the little smudge. A single bark from his hound caught his attention, Gwn turning over his shoulder to observe the large dog.

His wolfhound, of course, was a mighty beast indeed, the colossal dog sitting with her forelegs crossed and her head up to face him. He chortled at her as she stared at him, the look she gave one of disinterested pity.

“Ye'r th' ainlie loyal boot in mah lee, aren't ye, ay' Kenna?”

The bitch gave a simple woof back, her tail flopping back and forth twice before she set her head back down on her forelegs and simply closed her eyes. Gwn sighed before looking toward the laid out cloth of his great plaid, roughed up and clearly tumbled in. Already the warmth was leaving the poor and pitiable blanket, Gwn’s pair of breaches flopped in a pile. He turned, looking down into the vale to see a single pale star catching his eye. Ah, the lovely bairn who had been the apple of his eye the eve before. Now he saw her striding away, free as a bird, likely ne’er to look upon him again. Another sigh escaped his lips before he stood, stretching himself out in all directions; the women of the clans never were ones for simply falling for a man and forsaking kith and kin for a new love. Shame.

Gwndyric gathered up his things and pulled them about his person, taking no time to go through them despite the hypothetical chance of her robbing him of one of his possessions. Once or twice before a woman he had tumbled with in the night had made off with a few of his things, though never had it been enough to make much worry over. Clothes could, of course, always be replaced and if the items were truly worth keeping they could be simply regained. Hardly something to worry about, nevertheless. His thoughts were stolen from him with the rumble of his stomach, growling as loud as the hound by his side. Now that was an issue that could not be ignored.

With that thought Gwndyric belted his plaid across his chest and sheathed his sword before snagging up shield and spear, hauling them over shoulder and into hand, and went trodding off down the hillside.


The great stag stood in the middle of the clearing, head down as it grazed on the fresh, dewy grasses that flowed across the ground. In the tall grasses and vine-strewn shrubbery of the underbrush, Gwndyric remained hidden. A gentle whisper continued from his lips, a whistle or hum more than anything, that kept the would-be hunter downwind. With the risk of being scented next to nil, Gwn went about his business with the patience and laxness of a very bored saint. Using his fingernail Gwndyric slowly but surely worked a stone down to a long, thin spike. The flakes and shards came off like peels from an orange as he worked it all away, adding in a throaty warble to his humming that made the earth give way like clay. At long last his dart was complete and the huntsman made effort to inspect his intended weapon. Seemed good enough, Gwndyric considered, before lifting the stone thorn to his lips to lick and cover with spittle. Content with its readiness, Gwn rolled onto his stomach and stared dead down at the stag.

His warbling hum changed then, slowly warping into a high pitched whine. The wind suddenly no longer flowed in his direction, the Howling no longer commanding it to fly toward him. With a pleased grunt he sucked the dart into his mouth, only the point of the deadly object thrusting from his lips. With lips pursed Gwn turned that high pitched whine into a screech, catching the attention of the stag. Just as it began to realize the potential danger, Gwn let loose the dart from his lips and it launched like a lightning bolt, diving towards his quarry. One wet smack and the dart hit the stag square between the eyes, burrowing deep into its brain and dropping it to the floor, stone dead. Gwn let out a pleased little chuckle before rising to his feet and striding over to the slain beast.

The butchering of the stag was simple work, Gwn smashing a stone into a functional cutting tool to do the carving, butchering, and skinning. Leaving as little remains as possible, Gwn wrapped up as much of the meat into two rough satchels made from the hide. The bones, of course, would have to remain there but Gwn was sure the local band could make good use of it. With his well-earned gains held in satchels hung from either side of his spear, Gwn went trotting off towards the encampment he’d sighted during his climb down into the valley.

Though it took a short, brisk walk to reach the copse of trees where the camp had been made, Gwndyric had little difficulty finding his way to it. A dozen huts and then some sat spread about mostly at random in a clearing of the trees where the overgrowth seemed lightest. It was a common spot for this particular band to set up, the low stacked stones and dirt walls that made up the lower half of their huts an indication of repeat use. A large bonfire, now burned out down to coals, sparked and sizzled as the tribe’s folk went about their business.

“Awright, pal Gwndyric; ne'er thought a'd see ye aboot sae earlie th' morns', nor sae thoroughly clothed. Ah trust ye spent yer nicht up oan th' hill weel. Whit's brought ye doon fae yer nest tae oor humble grove?”

Gwndyric turned at the pronouncement of his name, immediately noticing the local chieftain marching towards him. Gwndyric rapidly dropped his spear and shield, raising two fists into a fighting stance immediately. The older man raised his hands, clearly showing that he had no intent to cause a scuffle, and Gwn lowered his hands warily. Though he had little to fear from the old man, of course, he had very little interest in having another repeat situation where, in his drunkenness, he was beaten severely. With the situation seemingly defused, Gwn reached down to grab up his spear and twisted it around to drop the bags of meat before the chieftain.

”Glad ye seem tae hae pat bygones behind us, Laird Griogair. A've brought bridie fur yer spits, ah think, tae mak' up fur oor last troubles. How's yer daughter, anyhoo?”

Laird Griogair seemed to throw a snarling glare towards Gwndyric at his last comment but let the nosey attempt at bothersome rhetoric slide past him. With one pointed finger the highland Chieftain silenced the matter, even Gwn knowing when best to let his tongue stop wagging. Griogair nLaichlwn knelt low and untied the bags of hide, kept tight by sinew-made twine. The offal had been left back amongst the bones, leaving for Griogair and his host of warriors and womenfolk a fine collection of choice cuts from the large buck. A beast of that side could feed the tribe for a week, or a day if feasting was on the mind. Nevertheless, it was a fine gesture and one that salved the wound of Gwndyric’s bedding of until recently virgin daughters at least somewhat.

“Aye, that wull dae laddie; ah hud wee dreems fur treasures beyond a braw meal tae be kept wi`in yer bags. Th' seer, bless him fur his foresight beyond well n’ beyond mortal ken, kens yer value mair than me, that's fur certain. Keep some fur yersel' as a'm sure ye hud planned; ah jalouse ye hadn't expected oor fires oot sae earlie, lest ye hud awready cooked yersel' breakfast.”

Gwndyric scoffed at the man as if the words insulted him to his core but the poorly hidden smirk at the edge of his lips betrayed his true intentions. The younger man broke into a laugh soon shared, at least somewhat heartily, by the Chieftain before leaning down to spear two good sized cuts. With his butchered foe so rightfully impaled, Gwn stood and made for the fire. With little effort he toed several logs into the fire’s grave and leaned down to inspect it. A simple clearing of his throat followed shortly after, quickly accompanied by a keening howl. The final touch of his sorceries, so edified upon him by the diligent tutoring of the Seer himself, came in a very unique Gwn touch.

“Fuckin' light ye glaikit thing.”

With the appropriate application of several fitting curses, the dead flames roared back to life. Gwndyric’s face blazed with light and a pleased snarl revealed surprisingly pure-white teeth as the inferno danced in the reflections of his eyes. Standing and swinging spear to bare, Gwn held aloft the two stuck savory meats above the flame and waited patiently. Cooking, of course, held little interest to the fiery warrior but ne’er would it be said that Gwndyric relied on others. Though it lacked the garnish and fine flavourings of a well-trained woman’s touch, Gwn was pleased more than enough by meat of any kind. Leaving them bloody enough for his taste, the bearded brave pulled his breakfast from the fire and set about partaking with knife and hands. Soon enough the meal was devoured, the one rib bone from the second cut even broken into for the marrow. As his meal ended he saw a number of nLaichlwn men returning with the bones, no doubt having found them where he’d left them on the return from their morning ranges.

“Ach, keek thare! Laird-o’-Mony-Breeks his-se, Gwndyric returns tae us, anither beauty vanquished!”

Gwndyric groaned under his breath as he wiped the juices of his morning meal from his face, wiping his hands clean on his breeches before turning to meet the collected mass of menfolk. They were primarily youths, the braves of the band, and each and every one of them had enjoyed a go at Gwndyric at least once or twice in their time. Where kyne was concerned every man, woman, and child of the Sinn Dhein was a fighter and the chosen student of the Seer himself was a prime target for challenges of many kinds. The small hunting band closed with him, patting him on the shoulder in friendly if aggressive greeting as each had their moment to square off with Gwn. Kenna, whom had previously been enjoying the smells of the temporary village, seemed to close in then to striking distance from his human companion.

”Hail, fare waither friends, ah see ye hae fun mah mornin' efforts 'n' made thaim yer ain. Na fashes, thae; ah hud meant tae pick up th' slack fur ye, anyhow.”

“Screw ye, boaster! We fun th' beast, slew it, 'n' pult aff tis carcass a' oan oor ain. Soonds lik' mair cheap blether o' a druid's student tae me. Neist thing ye ken, he'll be saying he murdurred oor mornin' meal as weel! Laird o' a' hunters, he is noo!”

“Ah suppose that's how come ye dinnae hae ony bridie wi' ye, eh eejit? weel, quit ye'r blether, fur none o' mah wurds ur boast. Ah swear oan mah kyne 'n' mah spear that ah kin throw farther 'n' truer aye than ony o' ye lot, wizard's tricks or naw ta.”

With that the gauntlet was thrown and the band made quick pace towards the edge of the treeline. A number of womenfolk and older fellows plus the stripling children of the tribe merrily joined, bound to take some thrill from a challenge. Though he was not of their particular tribe, Gwndyric was well known as an adopted member of the clan nLaichlwn and his feats, often told from valleys far afield, were still yet known to them. To see him in action themselves was, no doubt, something worth taking time from the day for. With the crowd gathered and the warriors having set out a wicker shield in the distance as the target, a line of scrimmage was formed. Each young warrior hefted their weapons, a spear in their right hand with their shields set aside to help balance. With a call from the crowd the throwing began, each lad tossing their spear as far as their arm could carry it. Though some fell short the vast majority struck their target, landing at the edges of the posted up shield and either penetrating partially or bouncing, having not carried enough force to the end of their flight. One particularly large boy, a truly gargantuan fellow, used the ogre strength no doubt bequeathed upon him by his monstrous parentage to hurl his spear straight into the target and only just off center, penetrating so deep the bronze socket of the spearhead was no longer visible.

“Best that throw, wee laddie.”

Just as Gwn was about to make his toss that final stab at his pride got to him. Teeth ground like a mountainside coming down and he shot a deadly glance the way of the larger brave. With a grunt he hefted his spear, testing its weight in his hands. It was longer than most Sinn Dhein spears by a good half or more, the source of his epithet Langspear, and would have made for a poor throwing weapon in the hands of a different man. Nevertheless, in his mighty paws it was a weapon worthy of heroes. Gwndyric offered a single prayers to the Gods the Seer had told him so much about and loosed his weapon, shield still on his arm giving extra weight to his motion and credence to the quality of his throw; no unskilled thrower could make their mark with such awkward baggage binding their arm, after all.

“Hah! Th' peely-wally missed his throw something pure mental; look, he tossed it clear o' th' shi-”

With tongue swallowed down the throat of his most recent detractor, Gwn raised a hand above his eyes to stop the glare of the sun from interfering with watching the weapon’s travel. It was true, of course, what the brave said; the spear sailed into the distance, well above the target, but did not simply land shortly beyond as if Gwndyric had missed his intended target. Across the glen, nearly two hundred meters in the distance, the spear found its mark. A large oak was speared directly in the knot, the Langspear vibrating violently at the impact. The crowd stared for a moment before bursting into wild cheers, knowing full well that Gwn had never intended to hit the shield in the first place. As final insult to his morning foes, Gwn drew his bronze hacking sword and launched it end-over-end at the shield, the point driving all the way through to the guard. With that he stood, his one free hand on his hip, pride swelling in his breast as silence was all that emanated from the band of young warriors.

“A'richt, eejit, noo gang git yer spear.”

Gwn’s pride deflated in that instant at Laird Griogair’s taunting jibe, realizing full well that he now had to show his backside all the way across the glen to the tree in which his spear was buried. After several seconds of deep frowning Gwndyric smiled and allowed himself a light chuckle. With that he hopped into a low jog, thumping down through the grasses and across the silvery creek that parted the glen and separated him from his spear, his faithful hound Kenna padding behind him.


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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Calign

Calign dug its bare feet into the mud as its steed shoved its big pointed snout further into the heaped-up pile of weeds and hay. The happy munching sounds coming from within the mound surely meant that they would be here for some time, probably a few hours, while the suchus ate and rested. It was the first time Calign would stop so close to a village.

The spirit rubbed one hand up against the other arm, as if cold.

They’d gone through a village before. Some of the plants here had crept over from its forest, mostly old fig trees and some water lilies, but most of it was of the other kind, maples and olives and that kind of thing. At least there were planes. Cypresses. Quite a few that it recognised, actually.

It was easier to look at the trees than make eye contact with the people.

Am I bothering them? The first village hadn’t seemed too happy when the suchus had trampled a path through their big field of grass. The second village was content to bring food for its mount, so long as the mount was in the same spot as the other big snouted animals, though they were more surprised than anything. Their food consisted of the same grass. Grass was everything to these people, apparently. They were thrilled when Cal made the the grass grow, and angry when it was stepped on.

Honestly, Calign was a bit out of its depth.

It stroked the scrabbling lizard in its collar. It hadn’t even shed its invisibility for more than a few seconds at a time yet. What a mess...

In the village proper, Elmer stared at his hands, scrubbed clean as they were, rings gleaming on each finger. The window seat's cushions were cold against his back, even as the morning sun passed through the shutters to wash his robes in slates of yellow light.

The rings were simple bands wrought with white gold, bright against his dark skin, the metal scuffed by years and use. Sunlight warmed Elmer’s right hand, but it was the rings on his right hand that shone slightly. Each one hummed, shining the light of truth upon the words of the villagers. A magi was indeed nearby.

Elmer inhaled deeply, drawing in stale air. The wind that passed through the window hot and sticky, carrying in the smell of the forest and a whiff of smoke from a cooking fire in the square nearby.

It was a fortnight ago when the thing came to a merchant's child. A bird of supernatural inception carrying a blossom they said. Word spread like wildfire and caught the ear of a student of his academia. The rest, naturally, was history. With only his rings and the words of witnesses to go on, he managed to track the rogue wizard to this village.

Curious things, magi were. It was not often that such ones of enormous power and influence left their spheres or hovels. Lugal had been a wonderful exception. A student of fire and ambition... What little he saw of him now. Only news of his exploits too the north reached him now.

What about this magi? What did this one come looking for? There was only one way to find out. Gathering himself up, Elmer left the home a family graciously offered him temporary residence and made for the fields.

By the time Calign stopped frowning closely at the wattle-and-daub wall of one of the houses long enough to flick its ears and notice someone behind him, Elmer had, by luck or keen intuition, come rather close. Cal turned its head around its neck like an owl and felt its heart jolt. A giant…

...but a giant of a different kind. This one was old, bent, and didn’t carry anything that was obviously a weapon. He had a much greyer beard. Still, he was taller than Calign on tiptoe, and after the last one, it had no intention to get tangled up so soon. With one hand still pressing the wall, Calign slowly started to tiptoe away to the far side of the house.

”Ah, does the elephant chase after gazelles?” Elmer chucked after the magi, tucking his glowing rings into the folds of his robe. ”I did not mean to startle you, I forget myself when I am especially fascinated. This one is called Elmer.”

What in Hell’s name is an elephant? Calign’s shroud dissolved, but the spirit was still shy, and didn’t emerge from behind the wall. “...Me too. I should have heard you coming. Ah. Ummm.” Cal put the lizard back down its shirt before it could climb out. “...A black bird came carrying a flower. What kind was it?”

Elmer’s face soured in an attempt to peel back the wall of fog clouding his memory. ”A blossom of some sort. I was told by a student who was told by a friend and so on and so forth. I admit I should have investigated further. I suppose my age is catching up with me.”

Calign stuck its head out from behind the wall, ears rising a little. ”Students?” It cautiously stepped out. ”You… my name is Calign. I’m… looking for answers. You found me. Are you a witch?”

A smile peeled apart the sea of grey on Elmer’s face. ” Witch. Wizard. Magi. God. There are many names for us. I prefer the lesser, or greater. A matter of perspective. Teacher. Grandmaster. Preceptor. I just may have the answers you seek.”

”If you can tell me how all these people are living on grass, we’ll already be half done,” said Calign. ”So you are a wizard. And a giant. Umm. I… don’t know what to say.” It looked around. ”Should we… sit?”

”Grass? Giant?” the wiseman began with a chuckle, gesturing the magi forward as he sat himself down on a rock. ”What you call grass, we call grain. It’s properties grant us creatures of flesh sustenance, a key to our continued survival. And all grass is as nourishing or safe to eat I might add. The kind I’m sure you’ve seen the farmers growing in the fields is good for eats.”

Calign sat on a log, and realised that it had probably been rolled here for the very purpose. ”I know. But there seems to be so much of it. And so many people. And I can’t find it growing anywhere else, this grain… Do they plant it somehow? Is it poisonous, that they cook it in fire and water? Was it here before they put this city here?” Calign gestured a little bit to the tiny frontier village around them, then frowned and shook its head. ”...no! I’m distracted again. I’m sorry. Take me from the beginning, Teacher, if it pleases you. Tell me about… your land.”

Elmer lit up. One who was eager to learn! And so he began from the very beginning, and detailed to him the rise of Aïr and the intricacies of grain. All that Calign sought was made known.

By the end of it, Calign sat on his log with the lizard in its lap, fiddling with a long ear of wheat. A handful of village youths, and even grown parents, had come to listen to the talk and study of the ancients among them.

”...What about you, Master Elmer? You’ve seen all this first-hand. You’ve seen Aïr… in ways I didn’t think things could be seen, even by a magus. What else do you see? Can you see the future, too?”

”Even in my youth I could not see that far! With neither might nor magic.” he guffawed, cracking a palm against his knee. ”But to see is only half the battle. You must understand. Comprehend. And apply what you learn to the world. Then your eyes will be opened to you.”

Calign sat. ”Well, I’ve been doing a lot of seeing,” it said, trying to keep up and look competent. ”Understanding is… a little hard. But I’ll try. My eyes will be opened when I apply what I’ve learned...” It stared at the wheat for a second, then half smiled. ”Hm. How would you apply what you have learned, Master Elmer?”

With great effort, the old mage bent over and took up a handful of dirt. ”I have learned a great many things. And I will learn a great many more things. But what ever accomplishments one boasts of in the world, there is someone better than you.”

With a crack and gust of wind Elmer produced a third eye that shined like a diamond in the sun. And in his hand the earth began to smoke until it flared up into a great ball of white hot fire, burning so brightly that those who looked upon it hand to turn away for fear of losing their sight.

A clap. And the light was gone. The diamond was gone.

”I suppose my age had caught up with me.” he snorted.

Calign lifted its pale green eyes from where they had lain, fixed on that terrible eye, now just another wrinkle in the old giant’s forehead. It sent its gaze down to where the dust and mud had burned its retinas. That solid matter was gone now, gone just like the smoke.

”...”

The spirit stood. ”I… I see. Thank you.” The teacher of Aïr was old. Ancient. Like the gods. And he was alive, and growing, and learning. Not like the gods. ”I have… much to learn.” Calign flickered in and out of vision like the stripes of a grass-shaded tiger, and its ears were pricked just as high. ”I will… see you… elsewhere in your land. Thank you, Teacher.” Already backed up far into the fields of verdant wheat, Calign’s footsteps were nothing but the faintest breeze as it made to flee into the wilds beyond, its lizard clinging to the front of its robe.

”You mean to leave so soon?” the old man intoned in a gust of wind and a dead sprint, and the breeze accelerated. In almost a blink the magi was just a few steps behind it, hardly breaking a sweat. ”In your rush you dropped your weapon!”

Calign reappeared, all in one go, solid and real in the field. It held a low crouch, coiled like a spring, the same way it had crouched the last time a giant had come after it. Then it stood. ”...Yes.” It looked at the bronze knife in the bundle of leaves. ”I forgot. I wanted to ask you about it. ...What is it?”

”Ah!” the old man began, holding the thing up to the sun and squinting his rheumy eyes. ”A knife. A tool of great utility, capable of cutting the flesh. Even a magi should keep such things with them.”

Calign nodded. ”Yes, it is like a claw. Or… a sharpened flint, like my people use. But the material… It’s as sharp as a flint, but stronger. It doesn’t chip or shatter, but it bends. When I strike it, it sings, and it heats like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’ve seen giants… wearing it. And your people use it too.” Calign looked up, a new fire in its eyes. ”...I was frightened of this thing, but now I realise that I already understand it. I couldn’t name it, so I was afraid of it. I still can’t name it, but now I’m not afraid. Is this what it means to comprehend?”

Elmer thumped at his temple with an index finger. ”Having little knowledge is like having your hands tied around your neck like a slave. Each learned moment is a knot undone, Calign.” he intoned, handing the knife back, handle first.

Calign opened its mouth to ask something, and then closed it. And smiled. “Thank you, Elmer,” it said, and meant it this time. It wrapped the knife in a blade of wheat, and disappeared from view. “Fare thee well.”




Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Rtron
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Rtron

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Irawhaki

There! Just the slightest hint of something moving around him. Irawhaki whirled around, water splashing, as he caught another flickering movement in the corner of his eye. She was gone in an instant, leaving nothing for him to see but the emptiness of the tide pool. She was fast. He muttered a curse in frustration, idly rubbing the jewel hanging from his neck. This was taking too long. It had taken her this long to even get desperate enough to risk showing herself, any longer and the sun would begin to rise.

When it did, the tide pool would disappear, and she with it, and he would have to return tomorrow night. She had a connection to the night, a powerful one. The chill was beginning to seep into his bones and exhaustion was pulling at his eyelids. It was tiring, keeping himself ready throughout the night when she wouldn't even give him a reason to be ready.

He needed to get to her quickly, but how? She had been evading him all night and wouldn't answer to any of his calls, be they mundane or magical. He was beginning to be tempted to summon allies from the afterlife and drag her out. So that he could finally deal with he-

The distraction was all that she needed. One moment Irawhaki was distracted by his frustrations. The next, she hit him with all the force of a wave. The sorcerer only barely got his hands up in time, sliding backwards in the pool as his hands clasped around the disturbingly soft flesh of her wrists. Long claws scraped his neck, barely held back.

As she screamed, a vision overtook him.

A young girl giggled as two boys showed off, competing for her affection.

One was the chief's son, destined to rule the tribe. Arrogant, and it showed in his nature.

The other the son of a fisherman, with a warm heart and pretty smile.


Irawhaki gasped as he came back into reality, throwing the spirit back. His neck stung, an unsettling reminder of how quickly he had come to experiencing death once again. She snarled at him, hatred and rage emanating from her bloated body, dripping with sea water and crawling with crustaceans. The strength of her enmity gave him pause. She would not go as willingly as some had. He held out his hands, placating. "Spirit, I am Irawhaki. Speaker of the Dead. I feel the rage in you. Let me hel-" She howled and threw herself at him again as the sound made him instinctively cover his ears.

This time he was not fast enough to stop her attack and he screamed as her claws pierced his shoulders. She slammed him into the ground, the cold water of the tide pool enveloping his head as he was thrown into another vision.

She had made her decision.

The chief's son offered a life of luxury, but not of happiness.

He was not happy when she told him of her choice, but she had expected that.

What she hadn't expected was the flash of rage that gleamed in his eyes, gone so quickly that she wasn't sure if she had imagined it.


Cold water filled Irawhaki's lungs as he instinctively inhaled as the vision faded. The spirits claws were still deep in his shoulders, keeping him under the water. He could just hear her terrible howling as she pushed, trying to make him suffer for the evils of another.

Unfortunately for her, he no longer needed to breathe.

Irawhaki reached up, flailing with his hands until he found her face. Gripping as tightly as he could, screaming again as she sank her rotten teeth into his thumb, he pushed with all the might he possessed. With the grotesque feeling of flesh and bone giving beneath his fingers, he threw the spirit off of him. Blood began to pour from his wounds as the claws were ripped from his shoulders. He climbed to his feet, vomiting up seawater and the dead gods only knew what else.

He looked up at the sound of snapping and wailing. The spirit was putting herself back together, hands clasped to her face, getting ready for another assault. Not this time. Irawhaki summoned his waning strength and charged into the spirit. Another vision overtook him as they crashed into the ground.

She was by herself, far from the village. It was quiet here, and beautiful at night.

She sang softly to herself, preparing for a bath in the warm tide pool.

The splashing of someone approaching caught her attention.

It was the chief's son. She smiled and greeted him as he approached, face cast in shadow.

She began to feel uneasy as he got closer. Something was wrong.

Too late she tried to back up, and he was upon her.

Hands like stone around her throat, grasping squeezing.

He was ranting, raving, she couldn't make out the words.

Stars in her vision as he slammed her head into a nearby rock.

Agonizing pain and hot blood pouring down her head.

She tried scream for help but no one answered.

She had come her for it's isolation.

Warm water filling her lungs as he held her underwater.

Death came.

But not the peace that should have with it.

Rage. Rage and hatred filled her as her soul left her body.

She watched. And her rage grew.

The village moved on.

Believed his lies about her death.

Allowed him to become chief.

He would pay. They would pay. She would ensure it.


Irawhaki returned, still struggling with the spirit. He had to shout to be heard over her unearthly screaming. "I can bring you justice! I can bring him to justice! You know he's still alive! I can do, what you and they could not! I can bring you peace! Rest spirit! Rest and allow me to bring you the justice you seek, and the peace you deserve." With each of his words he began to push his magical might into her. Purifying the corruption in her incorporeal body. Quieting the rage at her core.

As he did, her body began to change and shift. Transforming from a bloated corpse with rotting fangs and claws to a young woman. Beautiful and serene, smiling softly as a soft light infused her.

Carefully, Irawhaki let go. She smiled expectantly at him, eyes darting towards the village. He waved a weary hand, leaning back against a rock. "Yes, yes. A moment. I need to regain my energy. That was...tiring."

She shrugged apologetically.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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By the time the spirit set foot on the barge, it had seen much. By the time the second full moon of the flooding season rose, the men of the raft were becoming unnerved.

Calign didn’t stand on the boat. It stood on a small mass of sphagnum that had sprouted on its wooden surface the day it had come on board. Each day, or sometimes every few days, the sphagnum would move, often when the traveller itself had disappeared from view. It was the only indication the river men had that the visitant wizard was alive. They never learned its story. It seemed more confused than they were when they asked. The men wondered whether they had adopted a ghost, but the beasts it brought with it grounded the wizard firmly in the dirt of threatening reality.

The big crocodile-pig the wizard called Buaya treated them like a particularly contented cow might if it had sea legs. The gut of the beast weighed heavy on their laden raft, but it seemed content to eat no more than a few reeds each day, fed from the wizard’s hand. It was the long leggy lizard that had to be tied down, in the end, with a papyrus cord. It seemed to grow longer and leggier every day, putting on thin flappy skin rather than scales or muscle, and looked… wholly inedible.

The laughter with which the river men normally passed the second cataract (there was no longer a first cataract, not since the building of the great dam Al’ba, from which they had set forth) never materialised, and they found themselves discussing in low voices how readily they could pawn their sea-abalone and salted porpoise here, now, no more than a third of the way up the river. To their relief, it was Calign that put a stop to it.

“Halt!”

The wizard stepped out of a sunset sunbeam with its fist upheld, a gesture far too firm for the taste of these civilised men (rough as they may be). They stared into the orange light that veiled it and found a faceful of panic. ”Halt! Stop! Stop moving your long sticks! Listen.”

The river men listened to a wizard that was no longer facing them, or anything of theirs. Calign leaned over the fore edge of the raft and fell into the mud.

The planks of the barge creaked a little. The men eyed one another.

“...Spirit?”

No, said the mud. Nothing here.

When the river erupted, it did so in a heaving flurry of silt and splash and slashing blades of bone. The fish was as brown as the mud beneath it, and its mighty rostrum longer than a two-edged sword. By the time the water had stilled enough for the men to judge its length by its smooth, broad forehead (at ten or eleven cubits, as long as six men head to toe), the white robes of the wizard had reappeared, shining in the ripples.

”The fish!” They saw Calign’s teeth for the first time, grinning like a skull. ”Gergaji, the fish, the fish! It was living here for a hundred years, and its mother was living more! I trace its line back to Lalinc. Good speed be upon you! I will meet you in the great city!”

Calign mounted the leviathan sawfish with bare hands and bare feet and disappeared deep down and far ahead in the silty river, leaving them with a barge of coastal goods, a crocodile pig, and one leggy, leggy lizard.




The river lazily snaked across to what might have been a hundred distant horizons. Here and there were small villages, date groves, and farms; elsewhere the bulwark of larger cities rose up to either side, and still in other places the river seemed like a wild swampland or jungle, ruled by crocodiles and other great beasts.

The river grew narrow and swift in parts, lazy and fat in others, but always it kept going. There seemed no end, and in truth, after so many days it began to seem like all parts were the same, or close enough. But then there came a part of the river where the banks had something very unusual--there were hundreds of humans, swarming about like little ants, bearing shovels and stones. They had dug out a great ditch through the land, perpendicular to the river, and begun the process of shoring up the trench with a lining of stones. Only a narrow piece of land remained intact to separate this ditch from the great river’s edge.

It was no one’s fault, really. The retaining earth had been reinforced as much as was reasonably necessary, and the spirit was only curious. Neither it nor the company of its distant kin working on the other side had reckoned with the softness of the riverside silt, or the bulk of the elder sawfish.

The sandal-trod earth between the trench and the river gave way in a wet, slow, and heavy slide under Calign’s mount the moment it beached itself on the strip of land, and to its pleasure and the further shock of every workman present, a great gush of river water followed. The trench eagerly served its purpose, guiding the torrent up and up the canal, sweeping fish, wizard, and workman all together in a muddy catastrophe up the length of the stone-lined ditch.

Under the shade of a palm tree in the distance, Ninazu sat upon a stool. There were many a cuneiform tablet strewn by his feet; his reference figures and earlier designs had been cast into clay for safekeeping. He had before him a makeshift table though, and on it he scratched at a papyrus sheet with a piece of charcoal, making sketches and working out more ephemereal ideas...until he heard the panicked screams of his laborers, that was. The diggers and stonemasons, many of them not knowing how to swim, howled wildly as they flailed in the rushing water. Those with presence of mind tried to grasp at the stones along the sides of the channel, hoping to find purchase and climb out before the sudden rush of riverwater and the debris that it carried could drown them.

At once a bead of sweat formed upon Ninazu’s temple. “No, no,” he desperately muttered. “Everything was going right!”

He spun to face one of his attendants and a foreman on break, both of whom just stood there besides him in the shade of the tree. “This is not what we had planned!” he roared. The two flinched from his voice, but he had already broken into a sprint (or at least, as much of a sprint as he could muster in those fancy blue robes) towards the channel.

Panting, heaving, he grew close and saw a thing that defied reason and all expectation; there, amidst the mass of drowning men and churning muddy waters, was some sort of strange being locked in a sunbeam. But Ninazu paid it no mind, of course.

Ninazu was tall and well groomed, with a long black beard that was square and braided, clothes that were worth a small fortune, and a calm disposition. At least that was the picture that most who knew Ninazu conjured in their minds whenever they recalled the man, and that was as he’d been mere minutes past; now he was a disheveled and sweaty mess standing beside the canal, spots of muddy water having already splashed onto his azure clothes. He stooped down onto his knees and offered his hand to a man below. The desperate workers grasped at it and pulled so hard that it nearly brought Ninazu down into the waters too, but the noble steeled himself and heaved, and just barely managed to pull the man up. But he did not suffer the coughing man any respite. “Help the others!” he demanded.

The half-drowned man that he’d just saved could only wheeze in response, and it was only then that Ninazu took in his surroundings and saw the dozens of other people standing around uselessly, gawking at him. With another cry of frustration, he snatched up a shovel that had been lying by the edge of the trench and threw it to the closest foreman. “What am I to do with thi-”

“Save your men, fool!”

The foreman half-scrambled and half was pushed to the edge of the canal, and there he fell to his knees and with outstretched arms held out the shovel for the drowning men to take hold of.

As the trench filled and the rush lost its white edge, water-tossed men crawled, flailed or were hauled onto the bank. Shim was one of the younger foremen, not a strong swimmer, but strong enough to keep a head above water against the surge when a palm branch was held to him. It was on his powerful back that the spirit alighted, soaked to the lips in mud. The magnolias in its horns had folded into buds.

”Where is my fish?”

Shim turned a weary and sickened head to look at the stranger with the absurd question. He could only sigh in response, and Calign didn’t get much of an answer from anybody else either. In the distance, further up the canal, he saw the familiar blue of Bal Ninazu, taking command and issuing orders for the medical treatments that were to be given to the men pulled from the waters. Some were still down there in the muddy mess, limp and having to be dragged out by the others.

The young foreman soon joined their number, thrust out onto the bank by strong, sharp hands from below. The next time the wizard emerged from the water, it was carrying another man by the wrist, its loins girded, kicking against the mud with the strength and swiftness of a frog. This time it crawled out with him, dripping and slick.

”My fish has startled,” it elaborated to two men beating water out of the chest of a third, whom they pulled a little further away. Calign swiftly realised that these men were quite useless, and followed the pretty one like young does follow the aged mother. With some and rising caution, it let its robe fall and approached the shimmering peacock, skipping awkwardly in between the much larger men.

”Sire,” it said (for it had learned much!), ”What is the meaning of all this?”

The Bal straightened his back and regained some of his lordly composure when he was finally approached by the strange thing that he’d witnessed earlier. “Disaster!” he spat. “Weeks of toil has been stymied; it might take days to block the breach and repair the channel again. And who knows when the laborers will recover!”

A deep scowl appeared on his face, only thinly veiled even by his beard. And then he pointed an accusing finger right at Calign. “All of this project was carefully planned, the channels perfectly designed my own hand and the digging done under careful supervision. Are you the cause of this...this…?”

Calign looked out over the settling waters and the extent of the trench. It observed carefully the dropped and scattered tools, the bruised and heaving men, and finally turned its head back to the breach connecting it all back to the river. It rested its chin on one knuckle and thought hard.

”No,” said the wizard. ”I just brought my fish onto the earth separating the waters, that is all.”

“In one breath you deny the crime, yet in the next you freely admit to breaching the gap! Do you not understand the gravity of the destruction and mayhem that this recklessness has caused? And what do you mean ‘your fish’? That beast that was thrashing in the waters? A man who cannot control his animals and property is one worthy of little respect!”

Calign reacted to the scold as it might have reacted to being struck, raising arms, then lowering them again. That was not the way things were done here. ”She is the heir of an ancient line. She belongs to no man! Now she lies in your… pool, and I must calm her. You can,” it waved its wrist, ”address… your problems as you like. I want my fish.”

“And what, pray, are you going to do with the beast once you calm it?” he demanded.

”Begone from this place, to be sure,” said the wizard. ”You are very loud and do not know how to swim.”

“Oh? And what will be done in the way of compensating those whose work you have disrupted and whose bodies you have harmed? I think that you do not know where you stand. This is the civilized realm of Akk-ila, a kingdom of law and order, not some backward swamp where men and fish come and do as they please. And downstream, where I think your accent tells your origin to be, is Aïr, a place of similar customs. You think that the Lugal (who rules with wisdom and strength!) will suffer any crime that the masters of other kingdoms would not?”

”I don’t think he would find any quarrel with me. The Lugal and I --”

“Blasphemer!” a dozen voices called out. Where before they had just been gawking, now the peasants began to encircle the bickering duo and eye Calign more maliciously. It slowed.

”...are very similar. He is a man of lush gardens and many creatures. And I am also a magos...”

“You disrespect the Lugal (crowned with wisdom is he!) with your refusal to give his name the veneration that it is owed, and with the audacity to compare yourself to him and to refer to him as a ‘magos,’ as if he is some practitioner of petty tricks rather than a king invested with the power of the gods! And in disrespecting the Lugal (eternal glory unto him!) you disrespect the entire Akkylonian kingdom, and you insult me too, for I am named Ninazu and I am the fourth of his sons.”

The murmuring silence that followed was not punctuated by a growl. It could have been. Calign’s lips had retracted slightly from its teeth. They were not the kind that bit apples. The unsettling display had many of the murmering workers step back and tighten their fists or their grasps on whatever tools they had.

“I do not owe. The witch’s eyes found Ninazu more fully this time, observing in him the curves and lines of strength it would one day see again at the source. ”When I meet your father I will respect him with peace, as I respect you with calm. Ask nothing more from me.

The righteous indignation began to seep out of the scholarly man; near any Akkylonian would have been inflamed by the stranger’s, the invader’s destruction and its disregard for society and manners, but Ninazu had the rare presence of mind to know when it was best to deescalate. Though he had been blinded at first, the realization that this was indeed a being of power had begun to dawn upon him, and he was well aware that provoking a fight, justified as it would be, would be unwise.

“It is clear that you are not accustomed to our ways,” he began once more, now keeping a much more level tone and composure. “So, for my part, forgiveness can be attained easily enough. You have rendered neither apology for your wanton destruction nor offer of reparation, but those two things are all that I could demand. Should you encounter the blessed Lugal (crowned with wisdom is he!) then I know not how he should react, but I would be wary, for he is more wroth than I, and his might surely surpasses your own as it does that of all others.”

It was the labouring men that his words served to calm, ordering them around his wise request, and it was the change in the breath of those men that Calign followed, gradually, to calmness. “...That is all, then. This is my apology.” The spirit plucked a bud from its muddied antlers and held it. Water spilled from between its fingers, and when the bud was given, leaning forwards in a slight bow, it had bloomed into a clean, pure blossom. ”There will be no such trouble by the time I reach the Lugal… who I am sure is very great.”

The disheveled Bal gingerly accepted the flower in an outstretched hand, taking a few moments to look at it with curiosity. “A good start, then, would be to display your admiration for the Lugal (who is wisdom, arisen!) with your words, for one’s words are a reflection of his thoughts. You have blasphemed many times today, hopefully only out of ignorance, for if you should ever mention my father you must halt there in the middle of your thought to offer him a just praise, lest you would deny him the veneration he is owed by all, and risk offending the men of this country, the beasts, the very hills--all of the things beneath the sky that have ears to listen.”

”...I see,” said Calign, and nothing more. It knuckled its eyes, smearing the mud around and wiping a little off, then walked back to the edge of the nearly full trench, head flicking to catch the eyes that were on it. “I will repair the breach on my way out, if it matters so much. What is this?”

Ninazu and the assembly of men did not seem entirely satisfied with how the enigmatic…barbarian sorcerer received the explanation of his error, but the offer to stem the flow of the water was well received.

“The canal is an irrigation channel,” Ninazu answered to a blank face. “Think of it as a small river! We shall make a whole system of these channels, branching them every way to spread the lifegiving water far and wide. When it has been finished and we are ready to flood it, it will carry water a long ways inland to quench the parched drylands, and many more ploughmen will be able to till their fields and make something more productive from what has been a desolate stretch of land fit for little more than grazing. Farther downriver in Aïr, you may have seen the Al’ba--a mighty dam built under the guidance of the one called Elmer, not simply splitting the river’s flow but stopping it in its tracks altogether so as to create a great reservoir. One day, I shall build one even more glorious and magnificent, but until such time I make content with more humble projects of a modest size and nature.”

Calign’s fingers stirred the pulsing water. ”...desolate.” The broad tip of something vast and serrated stirred just enough to touch its submerged fingertips. ”When I swam in the lake of the Al’ba, I found trees on its bed. So great was the reservoir.” The saw of the great fish emerged from the water and nuzzled against its resisting hands like a dog finding its master. ”You people are quite strange.” It leaned forwards and tumbled into the water.

“Nature is a cruel, uncaring, and petty foe. The men that do not bring her to heel are left to suffer whenever she deigns to make it so. So, we who like to fancy ourselves great must bend nature to our will. To do anything less, be it from sloth or from fear, would make us lesser men.”

Perhaps the spirit didn’t hear him.

The waters of the trench gave a heavy, languid pulse, the sign of some great tail turning in the mud. They saw the water bulge with little fanfare, and the workmen of the river bore memories ever after of the body of the great gergaji, seen for a moment but seen clearly, skirting the shallow water of the breach and departing that place, only the peak of its highest fin breaking the river.

With its passage the water of the breach bloomed green, as green as crushed leaves. Mats of knotted, fibrous green scum bulged up from the waters and locked together, and died, their soggy mulch swiftly consumed by the sturdy roots of tall ferns. In an instant the broken earth was plugged by root and moss and wood, shaded by the fronds of a little grove, where before there was only mud.

A hundred water-lilies bloomed in the trench, and the spirit was seen no more.




Far down-river, where five barge gondoliers were having tremendous trouble sating the appetite of a huge crocodile-pig and had lost their lizard charge to a gnawed rope, the buaya stood and shrugged its horny shoulders, and splashed placidly into the water. With good speed and great gnashing of nails the men came upon the city Akk-Ila. But there they found no mossy spirit, nor any sign of its beasts, nor was any news of such thing heard for many miles around.

Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Cyclone
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“Pah! Keben swallow these things! It’s like walking on snow!”

The steps of three pairs of feet heavily creaked and rustled over the bed of dried needle-like leaves that thickly carpeted the forest ground, with only a rare knot of roots or mound of ferns poking out of the brown sea. The one who had spoken, laden with two large bundles of hide and thus treading more ponderously than the others, staggered from side to side every two feet he pushed ahead, cursing as the sides of his coarse footwear sank in the unfamiliarly soft surface.

Indeed, these three were clearly not natives of the cedar woods, though they walked with the assurance of those who knew where they were going. Their clothing were furs and rough linen, their beards thick, long and unkempt, and, most outlandish of all, the hue of their skin a stony grey, unlike the fleshly tones of those who had come to dwell about the forest from the south. Any who might have by chance crossed them would have known they came from the dark northward woods, and rightly be alarmed, for the arrival of such folk often boded ill. The axes and long knives hanging from their squamous belts spoke clearly of what sort of life they were used to lead, as did the charms and talismans of wood and human bone, tied together so they would not rattle with every movement.

Now, however, their wicked arms hung untouched and their hands were either empty or carrying less menacing things, for they had come with a less rapacious purpose. The one in the lead, who looked slightly younger and darker of skin than the other two, raised two fingers on his right hand to signal for silence.

“Easy there! We’re in their haunts now, it won’t be much longer yet.”

It was all for naught, of course. It was said that the Great Humbaba and his many sons could hear from leagues away even the slightest rustling in their Cedar Forest, and of course all knew that the birds adored and served the Old One as their king. As the sinister trio made their way forward, now in a slower and quieter manner out of respect, they saw a moving cedar.

The tree’s limbs had been sheared off such that the log was stark with only the scars in its bark to show where giant hands had torn free whole branches. The giant piece of timber was casually slung over the shoulder of a great and hairy thing, one of the humbabas, not quite vertical as a man might march with a spear but certainly not horizontal as a lumberjack would balance a beam for comfort and ease of carrying--the log-made-club was halfway brandished in that threatening pose that a warrior might hold a maul. The humbaba padded directly toward them at a reasonable pace, the podzol beneath his massive feet making not so much as a sound, the many birds nestled in the branches above watching in silence.

The travellers recoiled, biting down on exclamations of fright and surprise.

“Pest! It’s him!” the one carrying the bundles almost dropped his charges as he stumbled backwards and struck a root with his foot.

The first to collect himself was the guide. Lifting himself to his full height, insignificant as it appeared in the presence of the giant, he quietly gestured to his companions to be still, then inclined his head in a motion of reverence and spoke in a strange dialect, where mangled words of giant-speech were sprinkled throughout the expansive phrases of the northern tongue.

“O great dweller of the cedar-wood, be not wroth, but take our gifts, for today we come to be your guests.” He subtly waved with an open palm by the hip, and the bundle-bearer came forward. The wrapped hides were laid on the ground and unfurled, revealing their contents - chunks of raw boar meat, still fresh, seasoned with walnuts and other dry fruit that were a rarity outside the thicker forests.

Aside from its hulking stature, skin the color of drying wood visible in patches beneath its fur, and its long tail, the monstrous creature was made even more inhuman by its lionlike visage...and the razor sharp teeth inside its mouth. Still hefting the huge log effortlessly over its shoulder with one arm, it quickly snatched up the offering of meat with the other hand and inhaled a morsel of it--just a pound or two. That rest of the bountiful offering it rewrapped and scooped up. It eyed the trio down some more, the tallest of those little men still not even reaching its shoulders, and finally growled, “Come along then. Humbaba the Great and Terrible may care to hear you. But I, Humbaba the Mighty, do not.” Without further words, it turned about and began padding back through the woods, walking at a pace just fast enough to tire the men as they followed.

One of the elder sojourners turned to the other with a frown. “What’s he mean?” he whispered, “They really called the same?”

“They don’t truly carry any name,” the other replied with a shrug, breathing a little heavier from the longer steps they were forced into to keep sight of their new guide, “I’ve heard it they don’t even know what a real name is. Only way they tell each other apart is with kennings.”

Further ahead, they swore they heard the creature snort at that, but this particular one didn’t seem to care much for men or their talking. For hours it trodded silently forward while they struggled to keep up, never letting it out of sight for they feared that the moment they could no longer see it, it would be gone entirely. Somehow the creature managed to walk through its domain silently and without following any trail or path that they could discern, and frustrating also seeming to not so much as even break or bend the protruding vegetation, spiderwebs, and other petty obstacles. They passed some stumps of trees that had clearly been felled with purpose in mind, but never were there more than two or three stumps next to one another, much less a whole thicket that’d been clearcut. More common than outright stumps were trees that had just had a single branch removed, that they could still live. In the distance they saw some other creatures similar to the one that they followed; those looked at them curiously, or perhaps even aggressively, for a moment before realizing that they were already being escorted, and then they stopped their work or their goings and began to follow too.

Eventually they came to a true river, not one of the many countless small creeks and streams that watered most of the forest, and all of the creatures flung the timber they carried into the water as if it was nothing. The logs drifted downstream to presumably be collected elsewhere, and then the humbabas all turned and began to plod in some other direction for at least an hour. Where they walked, the woods grew only thicker and the occasional sights of stumps vanished altogether. Only then did they finally come to a dwelling dug into the ground with its roof and entrance woven from brambles, vines, and branches. One of the creatures was already waiting expectantly outside of it.

Though they all had thus far looked more or less identical--and there were at least a half dozen of them--this one was different. It was grander, but still the same height for its slouch, and its countenance and hair were both greyed from age and perhaps sorrow.

Humbaba the Mighty, or whatever the first one had introduced itself as, approached his father to offer the boar’s meat. They exchanged a few grunts and growls; the elder finally opened the gift and sniffed at it, then took a single bite or two before pushing it into the dark depths of its dwelling behind.

And then it looked at the trio of strange men expectantly. “The crone sent you?”

“She did, Great and Terrible one,” the younger man’s speech was now even wealthier with words evidently borrowed from the humbabas’ usage, much to his companions’ puzzlement, even at times taking on a rasping guttural tone like an animalistic rumble. “Strange beings have flown from the south up to her domain, who move like birds but are akin to crawling snakes. She would know if you, who are wise to the ways of flying things, can say anything of such unusual things.”

That seemed to spark their attention. There was suddenly a chorus of low grumbling and growls from the assembled humbabas, but of course none of it was intelligible to the men.

“Such creatures were once abundant, but in these days I thought them all long gone,” the eldest humbaba finally mused. ”Perhaps there are yet a few that remain, the last of their kind. I would send my sons to go and find this noble creature and bring it here, that I may see one again for myself. Perhaps with some effort, more could be found and the lands could teem with them once again.”

At those words, the two elder visitors exchanged an alarmed glance, and one quietly elbowed the guide to call his attention. They rapidly conferred in a dialect from further north, as obscure to the humbabas as their own speech had been to the men - though the more perceptive of them might have caught the word “fire” repeated once or twice - and by the end of it the foremost speaker was himself frowning, but he swiftly cleared his brow as he turned back towards the ancient giant.

The humbabas meanwhile watched in what could only be described as an intense stare, the hairs around their noses twitching. One of them - was it Humbaba the Mighty? They could hardly tell - actually began creeping closer to them as they talked...whilst sniffing. The two men in the back, oblivious to his silent motions at first, jerked back as they suddenly caught the looming presence behind them with the corners of their eyes, almost knocking into the speaker’s back. The ogre-like creature stiffened then and remained still while the third man started to talk.

“That strange bird is yet far north, in the Toad Mother’s custody, and we cannot say what she would do with it,” he managed in an altogether natural tone, “We will make sure she hears of this. But no other such beast has been heard of among us. Perhaps the maple-skins from south could know of more, if it has flown from over them first?”

Sniff, sniff. It was definitely Humbaba the Mighty looming beside them, for there were still a few bits of boar that they could see stuck in his teeth as he bared them. “Those words smell wrong,” he growled.

The two in the back held up their hands, as if to show they were not holding - and supposedly hiding - anything. The guide leaned his head to one side, then to another as he looked back, two fingers pensively, or perhaps nervously, tugging on his beard. “For truth, we say it as it is. We have never even seen the beast ourselves, only heard of it from those who did.”

A quick glance from the eldest Humbaba made that one step back a pace away from the humans, to their palpable relief. “Then you may share what I have told you to the crone, and express my desire to have the creature. I know how your kind are greedy and must always take. So tell her that I will not ask just as a favor, and would pay for the creature with some amount of the mystic cedar of my realm, and rare herbs that she might...find use for.”

Humbaba the Mighty did not look pleased at this outcome. He cast a baleful glance at the humans, they loudly growled something. Humbaba the Great answered with a nod, and then his son wordlessly skulked away from the trio of humans and then into the darkened recesses of the nearby den. There was a rustling sound from within, a familiar clacking, and then a short time afterward Humbaba the Mighty reemerged, dragging behind him a makeshift sled of sorts that had been fashioned from interwoven branches. Atop the sled were heaps of bones, perhaps the shattered and jumbled skeletons of three or four humans altogether. “The last few of your kind to venture into this forest,” Humbaba the Mighty explained. “We did not care so much for what they did and said.”

”As a gesture of kindness, you may have their remains.”

The three traded some quizzical looks, and spared some more for the sled and its macabre trove, but soon inclined their heads as they had done upon meeting the Mighty One for the first time.

“No doubt these fools blundered to their own doom without care,” the foremost shook his head, “Thank you for giving us leave of their sorry bones, we will make sure they come to something useful at least now.” As he spoke, the other two stepped forward, with wary glances at the younger Humbaba, and took hold of protruding staves at the front of the sled. They tried a few tugs, grunting and gritting their teeth as the construction barely moved forward when held too low, before finally taking a rather uncomfortable-looking grip that held the branches turned upwards. The sled trailed behind them more readily, but with little more ease.

“If ever we return, it will be with news from the Old Hag about the bird-beast, and if not, do with us like with them. May the crowns of your wood grow tall.” With a final nod, the speaker went to follow his companions and their new load, pushing the sled from behind. As they left that neck of the woods behind and ventured back toward their grim homeland, they occasionally caught glimpses of a distant figure in the trees; that was no doubt one of the humbabas, likely following them to ensure that theirs was a swift departure. Goaded on by such sights, they made sure not to disappoint, and trekked on even when dusk began to fall, pressing on at an arduous pace and not resting for a long while.


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Calign pulled its tongue back into its mouth. For a moment it had stood there, squatting by the edge of the river, the tip of its tongue peeking from its lips an inch away from the side of its scum-covered hand, but there was no lick-mark there. Its nose was sensitive enough.

”Go back,” it murmured. The water shuffled. “You have travelled far enough, gergaji.” A pulse, stronger than the river’s natural flow, and the tip of a blade emerging from the water. “And thank you.” The blade shuffled and disappeared, the tip of the sawfish’s dorsal fin following a slow, restful path back down with the water.

It smelled the scum again.

The horned suchus nuzzled it, and it held its hand out to the beast’s mouth, where it was licked clean. It was just murk, after all. Murk and scum from the bottom of a river. Upriver murk.

Murk, upriver.

What kind of river was dark at its birth, and washed clean at its languid final hour?

Calign let its hand fall. The pine and cedar flexed their bundled fingers above. The world it had left behind, the world of sowing and fishing, praising and building and taming, that was alien. New forces worked on new creatures of the latter gods. Fire, prolific, speech, abundant. The beast called Man wrought the world around it with deliberate power. Akkylonia had nothing of the natural silence of Calign’s wood.

And this place, too, was alien.

Calign sang a high trill from its throat. There was a second of lizardly scrabbling before its companion arrived in a surreal leap, catching the air and gliding like a dart from the canopy on the webbing between its limbs.

“Grow swiftly,” whispered Calign. “We have far to go, and these are no woods for the naive.”




Indeed, the spirit had found signs that this thickening forest was not for unwary feet to tread within the first day. The ashen circle of a dead fire spread its acrid smell amid a sparse little copse overgrown with leathery fungi, though the proudly standing undergrowth and the wide domains of fat, lazy brown spiders stood to show that it had been some time since flames had danced among the looming trees. Yet the mound of charred bones was still there in plain view, untouched by such beasts as walked on four legs, and the skull propped upon a sharpened stick, in menace, ritual or idle jest, clearly had been split open not by tooth, but by stone.

No, it would not have been well for one not hardened to peril to venture ahead as it did; but perhaps it would have been easier upon the mind. By night and by day, whether under the inattentive eye of the sun distantly seeping through the treetops or by the ghostly light of the moon, which made the gnarly firs and ancient oaks come alive with illusory shadows, things more lively stirred and watched all around. One less wise to the ways of the wild might not have noticed them, but to Calign’s senses they came almost deliberately, as if to flaunt how strange their nature was to it. Those winged feathery things up high, with sharp black beaks or great staring eyes, cried and sang in harmonies unusual for something that flew, and the grunting brown shapes that shuffled through brush and dead leaves were much too large for beasts clothed in fur.

And all of them watched, whether quietly staring until it was out of sight or just throwing a dim-eyed glance from afar before disappearing who knew where. The woods knew strangers when they saw them.

It was Buaya that took the greatest advantage of this. Repulsed by nothing and fearing little, the great horny beast tore up thickets, broke roots, ripped into mounds and tussocks to drag up snarling jaw-worms to chew on. Where the creeping things scattered from its feet, it rasped its crocodile hiss to make them scatter faster. Calign came to rest an arm on its horn when some shadow of a shadow of a living thing peered at them, calming its own heart with the dumb boldness of a beast among beasts.

Strangely, those very waters that had seemed most odd to it at first were where life took on more familiar shapes. The rivers of the forest became darker and grimier the further it went, and more and more often they twisted into painful dead ends where they grew rank and choked by weeds. Their denizens were slimy, bony things, snapping pikes and bloated carps and sleepy long-whiskered catfish, not all of which were bad for eating. But a breath of a more familiar world lingered on their muddy banks or among the green scum that carpeted their surface. Squat little creatures that belonged neither to land nor to water puffed their wart-speckled throats when the suchus trod within sight.

They spoke to the spirit. Come on, they croaked in their simple little tongue, come on, and then crawled away, while far ahead more of them picked up the song.

Calign picked up a toad out of habit.

It was the toads that, after days of shuffling through the woods without meeting anything but those outlandish beasts, marked a certain spot along one of those small, dark branching streams. It split in two after a bend, one side losing itself behind Calign’s back, another burying itself in a quiet marsh. That was already strange enough, for the toads did not sing there as they had been wont to every time until then. Instead, they called - come on, come on - from somewhere beyond the approaching bend, hidden behind a wall of coarse grey trunks.

No, not approaching. Beyond the bend, the murky water flowed, thick and sluggish, but flowed still - upstream.

Come on, come on.

Sorcery.

Buaya went to lap from the water and Calign stopped it. They were deep in the realm of foreign powers, dredged from the days of alien gods. The lizard had fallen behind to forage in safer trees. “Tell them,” said the pale witch to the toad in its hands, “that we are coming. Tell them that I suffer no foes.” It threw the toad to the mud and watched it go. Its compatriots stayed there beside it, saying come on, come on.

Silence, croaked Calign deep in the back of its throat, and there was silence.

One after another, the toads slid into the unnaturally flowing river, and let themselves be carried away towards its hidden source. Just as the last of them disappeared, the stream stood still, as if frozen by a winter that had brought all of its chill to bear in a single moment, before stirring again, just as suddenly. Now, however, it ran as it is meet for streams to do, out from the heart of the forest, past the bend and towards the mire.

Something else followed it.

A long shape walked out from behind the arm of tangled trees that obscured the river’s further origin, very tall and very old. A woman, but not such as the spirit had seen before. Her hair was dire and tangled, of the colour of a birch tree felled by wintry winds, and her skin was like the silt at the bottom of a volcanic lake, dark and rugose. Though she was clothed, like the inhabitants of Akkylonia, her brown robe was rougher and coarser than even what the humble labourers of that land had worn. There was a slight limp to her step, but she did not lean on the gnarly staff she carried.

Rustles and cracking steps among the trees. She was not alone.

“Well, well,” the great hag’s wide nostrils swelled, and she spoke in a voice raspy like the call of a big toad, “what do I smell? Spirit of the under-wood, of ferns and moss. Who is here?” She squinted through the rays of dusty sunlight. “Will I cook you and eat you in my pot?”

Calign thought hard about this.

“That’s not very likely.” The little spirit sent its gaze across the stream and sought the eyes that lay beneath that broad and wrinkled brow, and matched them, its ears high, the flowers of its antlers folded, listening. “You know who you’re talking to. You’ve said it aloud. Its name will wait on yours.” Its hand rested on the back of the now-still suchus.

“Heh! Come into my house and ask for things like that?” the crone chuckled, rubbing her jutting chin with her staff and briefly revealing a mouth full of long, yellow teeth. “But if I got yours that easy, it’s only fair I don’t make it hard to get mine. I’m Kulgha, and I’ve been for a long time. You are my guest, here,” she waved a hand at wood and stream, scattering old crumbs and crusts from her sleeve.

From that gesture, she passed smoothly into rummaging in a leather satchel at her side, from which she produced a dead flower. Though wilted and missing several petals, it was of a kind with those that rested on Calign’s antlers.

“And maybe you knew to act like one, after all, if you’re the one who sent that little gift to our feast.”

“Perhaps,” said the foreign spirit. “I am Calign. Magos. Where’s my bird?”

“Your bird?” Kulgha prodded at her upper lip with her jaw, thinking, “I’ve seen a lot of birds, but none as said it was yours, mag. But that gift that came to us, it flew like a bird and smelled like your swamp-ox.” She nodded at Buaya, or maybe pointed that way with her nose. The animal shuffled. “It didn’t taste like a real one. Is that what you call a bird?”

“It had feathers.” It waved the matter away with one hand. “You ate my bird. So be it. You are Kulgha, elder of the twisted thorn and toad. You know… of things that I do not.”

“Maybe I do, though I thought everyone knew what you do with a bird.” The hag shook her head, as if recalling things long gone by. “So you’ve come for that, to ask of me? Many used to, once, but the people here lost the habit when they’d heard all I would tell them, and outsiders…” she flicked her fingers, vexed or maybe disappointed, “I’ll just say you’re the first who’s sought me out in a very long time. But I’m not like any other crone, I don’t forget, hah! If you want to ask and hear, there’s a lot I can tell you, if you’ll break bread and share a drink.”

Calign, who had seen bones, did not doubt her. “I’m sure you will say more if I bring food. Have you a city, like the builders to the south?”

“They have a city now?” Kulgha picked at a hairy wart on her cheek with a pensive look, “It’s really been too long. I’ve never needed one - I said this’s my home, and so it is. People here have their huts, their houses, many together, sometimes. But that’s not a city, is it? No, must be this just isn’t a place for cities.” She glanced over her shoulder. “I do have a fire, though, and a pot - not for you, don’t worry. You’re my guest, so come and sit. I’ll get a dry throat if I talk much more without a sip.”

“You know how to live,” said Calign. “I’ll weary you no longer. Tell the tribe about you that they need not hunt long today.” The spirit turned its body, still facing the crone across the river. “We will sit when the moon is high.”

“My old bones will be like dust by then if I have to wait that long, but we’ll have it your way. When the moon is high,” cackled the witch, and dipped her hand into her pouch again. The wilted flower vanished, and instead of it there came out a thick ball of coiled woolen thread and what looked like dried-out sinew, wound around a polished shard of bone. With an almost nonchalant swipe of the wrist, she tossed it to the spirit over the stream in a leisurely arc. “You’re quick on your feet, so if you’re too far by then this will lead you straight back to me.”

Calign caught the talisman without breaking his gaze, and nodded.




A strange forest it was, where water ran uphill. No stranger that than the way the woods only woke up after dark. Not even the trees seemed to rustle as they did when the sun was out.

Night had brought strength upon the owl, the rat, and the razorback boar. It had brought strength to Calign, also. When its bare feet touched the moss beyond the canopy-hall of the Beast Hag, its hands were clean, but only because it had washed them.

Its footsteps out in the forest beyond were sparse and widely scattered. These woods were weird but they were woods, the stalemate of ancient trees and the home of all things that creepeth upon the earth, not the brickish never-alive machinations of the men of the river, and indeed of the huts. The time it had taken to hunt had taught it much, though it bore no map of the forest, not even in its brain; such things were the tools of men who thought like men and not like wizards. Such men did not study the shape-language of boughs, nor see its delicate fractal patterns of growth and death for anything but chaos.
Calign wondered what would happen if it brought its new knowledge against she who was born fluent.

With some examination, it set Kulgha’s token of bone and thread down on a bed of old leaves, where it began to twitch. Calign watched as the ball of yarn awoke, recalling life and animation to which it no longer had any right, and roll with feverish vigour back through the trees towards its master, leaving a still thread for the spirit to follow.

Buaya had carried little of the burden of hunting and so was enlisted as packhorse. The sticks laden across her enormous shoulders were strung with young sturgeon and fat lizards, and upon her back, tied together by the neck, lay a bounty of partridges and wood-ducks. Missing was much of the more common and perhaps better fare of the woods, the doe and boar and queer standing-hare, and in their stead was a thorn-bush heavy laden with impaled scorpions and crays, and snakes of unusual size.

When the last strand of yarn and sinew was unwound, its now lifeless end pointed to the shore of a river bend that had changed little since the first time Calign had seen it. Even the impossible flow of the dark waters, now silvery and shimmering in the pale moonlight like the flank of one great fish, was once more turned towards its birth where the rocky strand parted it, or had perhaps stayed like that all along. In the liveliness brought by dusk, the crystalline rush of opposite waves was all the more clear. At times, it seemed to take on a new meaning, maybe a voice of fear and warning, maybe a lament for far shores it could not reach.

A familiar call broke through the bound waters’ murmuring. Come on, said the toads, come on.

The magos guided Buaya into the bewitched waters and beyond them. Kulgha was waiting, a huge, shaggy shadow that only stood out from the looming trees because it shifted and moved against the breeze. She smelled differently from before, not of hoary age, dusty pelts and dried blood, but of pungent ash, freshly butchered meat and a myriad of herbs, fruits and berries that even now were difficult to trace. Her eyes, twice-sunken beneath her brow and the drape of night, could not be seen, but their gaze lay heavy on the spirit and its retinue as soon as they came into sight.

A gnarly hand rose against the moon, greeting or beckoning. Her staff was nowhere to be seen.

Calign barked, once, a short harsh advertisement of its presence and its nature. It presented its silhouette against Kulgha’s own, bearing the scent of fresh game and magnolia into the light of the gibbous moon.

The hand waved it over in reply before sinking, and the great shade turned around and started shuffling back around the wooded outcropping, creaking over dry leaves.

“Come on over,” like the first time, the hag’s raucous voice echoed that of her familiars. In the dark, the similarity was even more uncanny, as if the nightly air had given the words a reverb like that of a rubbery throat. “The pot’s on the fire, the meat is crisp and the brew is hot. Wouldn’t want it to burn out.”

“Show me how you dine,” said the spirit, approaching and following with its bloody haul. “I will join you.”

As soon as they turned past the old leaning trunk that hung closest to the water, the shadows were lit up with the fiery glow of stoked embers. Two beds of crackling wood and fizzling cinders, one long and one short, were spread over the sandy banks, loosely ringed with large stones so that the flames would not run rampant through the nearby forest. On the smaller circle there rested a low, round-bellied cauldron, steaming with a thick, aromatic green brew. The larger roasting-fire, wide and stretched enough to resemble a burial mound, was a clutter of skewers, frying-plates and simple warming stones, all smoking and sizzling with woodland game - if indeed it was only that - and shallow-river fish.

The witch dipped a wooden cup into the cauldron as she shuffled past it, without so much as flinching when her fingers briefly touched the heating liquid, and came to crouch by the ashen bed. With a frothing sip, she downed the cup’s contents, then snatched and bit from a shin-bone directly out of the fire and motioned for Calign to sit without interrupting her chewing.

“Phut uph your bitsh an’ have them roasht,” between her full mouth and her jutting teeth, her speech was harder to make out than ever, “E’ll be ready by when we’re done with mine.”

Calign saw to the business of skewering a gutted lizard. As the reptile’s fatty tail began to drip and sizzle onto a copper pan, it busied itself roughly stripping some remaining unplucked birds and adding them, with the fish, to the cauldron. The scorpions it ate raw.

“Strange herbs in your greatpot,” said Calign, the warmth of the fire soaking into it, softening its face into something almost human. “Things that I can’t name. Where are your people?”

The hag swallowed a grotesquely large mouthful before answering. “Out afield. In the woods, under the mountains, over the hills. Up here, everyone’s my people, ‘least when they feel like it. I’d have my hands full if I looked after them all, but I’m not their babka, not really.” She took another loud crunching bite. “You mean the ones you heard last time, they always got something to do when the moon’s an eye. Better! Means more of the table for us, eh?”

Her long, jagged nails flashed like pools of refractive water for a moment as she flicked them through a rising tongue of flame, scattering it into sparks and smoke. When it cleared, a wooden cup akin to hers sat on a flat rock within Calign’s reach - if indeed it had not been there all along.

“Brew’s the best of the season,” the clawlike nails pointed at the fuming cauldron, “Some of it you won’t find outside some places only I can go. Boil and drink, the meat’s dry on its own.”

“...Something to do when the moon’s an eye,” murmured Calign, taking the cup and stroking its wooden surface with its fingertips. Even under Kulgha’s advice, it spent some time picking meat off the lizard before it finally filled its bowl. “You’re the one the brooks fear when they turn their course away. What grows where the rivers run in circles?” It stared down at the meaty, herbal broth. It smelled of small lives stolen for their vigour. Its surface was dark, brown and green, infused with the woods and leaves, like the streams.

Calign met the shaded eyes of its senior and drank.

“There’s things, in the the places where the water goes like a heart that’s breathing, slow and sick,” the ancient’s gaze was hidden in the sunken hollows of her face, wrinkled but not sagging, like an owl staring out from the cavity of an old tree, “Things that are old, older than me, sometimes. Many of them can’t be spoken about because they don’t have names. What do you call the grass that hares cut when the fog comes down? A bird that’s never seen the inside of an egg? Something that can jump taller than the forest? Things like them, you can’t just hear, you have to see. It’s not easy. Nobody else than me knows how to walk there and come back. But sometimes,” she idly picked a half-chewed chunk from between her teeth, “I can bring some of these things out and show them. It’s always a good time when people meet something from the deep places. You’re never sure how they’re going to feel it.”

The light of the embers glinted off the bottom of the sunken eye-hollows. Calign could see now that the look in them was intent, curious. Expectant.

Calign drained its cup and cracked the bones, then filled it again. It took the snakes and lizards and stripped their bubbling white flesh with its teeth, drinking bowl after bowl of Kulgha’s sup. Errant feathers floated in the broth, nudged by the rising of crays and fish that bobbed, dead and yet swimming in the flickering twilight.

And the shadows grew longer.

Kulgha stoked the fires and Calign feasted and its beast slept a sleep that gave no rest. Bones piled around it, some picked, some charred, some still laden with shreds of flesh cooked and raw. Scorpions twitched on their impaling thorns. Scorpions twitched in the fire. Scorpions twitched on the earth.

Magnolias scattered over the dirt like snow. The coals did not shine long enough to obscure the whiteness of the moon in their petals. The feast continued. The fire died. The world became too cold and dark to speak. A mat of filthy hair obscured its face.

A wooden canopy creaked above Calign, rooted in no tree. Buaya grimaced and shuddered in its nightmares. Living wood clashed with dead as cold winds drove the branches of Kulgha’s world against the blades and claws of the imposter that stretched its fingers into the sky.

Bloated was the spirit when it stood, heaving, shuddering under the terrible weight of ten dozen dozen antlers that pierced the woods above, dripping with the shreds of skin and flesh they had torn away with them. There was a crack of knees against earth as it collapsed forwards into the hell of bone and blossoms and the bile that fell from its open mouth.

It seized its clothes, and the sound of tearing fabric could not hide the greater rip of skin.




Father, what cries out in the night?

Its voice is like the bear.

Father, what tree quakes there, in the grove of the hag?

It cries out in pain, Father.

Can’t you see it shaking in the light of the pale moon?

Quiet, son. There are witches about.

I’m scared, Father.

Father, it is walking...





Gentle sunlight warmed Calign’s pale face, casting filtered patterns through its hair, clean and soft as lush moss. It set Buaya’s smooth white skull down upon the ashes and bones of the fire.

A spire of lichen cast a queer shadow across the canopy, barely visible from below, sprouting from a nest of wet growth in the broken boughs of an enormous quillwort, itself rising from the shattered corpse of a clubmoss planted in a fern. A magnolia so crushed as to be almost a shrub was the bed of the broken stack of dying primitives, where the rest of Buaya’s bones lay at rest, the white plates of her armour still nestled in the familiar shape of her squat reptilian body.

It was a chilly morning.

Nearby, long, irregular rasps of nails on metal rang out, like sharp rocks in the flow of the awakening birdsong. Kulgha was scraping the last, caked residue of broth from the bottom of the cauldron. She pulled her long fingers out of the pot, passed them between hoary, arid lips, plunged them in again, another screech. A frown hovered over her brow. Eyes that had watched and waited through the whole night squinted in the cold rays of dawn.

“Dreams are something strange,” she said, still intent on the pot, “They’re like the wind. You can’t touch them, but you can call them and make them come, if you know the way. Many can find them if they want, few can make others dream. No one can make the world dream. Only in some of the old places, it can happen. That’s the way it is.” She did not look up. “You’re not of the living folk, are you? You’re like those places, old and strong.” Her mouth broke into a crooked grin. “Didn’t know they could feast as good as me.”

“Only here.” Calign sifted white ash through its fingers. “Only with you. I am ill with this place, it rots me. If I stay here any longer I will rip it off my skin with my teeth and keep ripping. Two bullfrogs cannot share a hole.” It lifted its hands and the ash fell away, revealing a blossom. Its eyes turned aside and locked with Kulgha’s over the rim of her great cauldron. “But you know that. Which came first: you, or your dens in the dark?”

“That’s the hardest question,” the hag gave a rasping chuckle as she set the now wholly empty pot aside. “Once, they were there, and I wasn’t. They were there when I was young, long ago. Then I became old, as old as them. I took some of what they are into myself, and the count of their winters became mine. That’s why I can make the rivers run to their birth, and my days crawl backwards, so that I won’t ever die. Like them, everything I take, I can make mine. That’s what you must be feeling, the hunger of the woods.” She lifted a charred bone from the crumbled embers, snapped it over her finger like a twig, smelled the inside. “You weren’t born with it, nor are you prey. This is why you must go.” A pensive glance down the undisturbed flow of the stream. “South away, the forest is ancient and sated. Perhaps it speaks in a way you can answer.”

The silence that followed was punctuated by a wet, weak thud as some bough of the alien tree broke under its own weight and fell into the leaves and worms of an older forest. Somewhere a blackbird was croaking.

“I’m missing a beast,” said Calign. “It won’t slow me down much. My footprints will be mud before moonrise.” It stood and then hovered, the force of the gentle motion pushing it a few inches away from the ground. Its eyes were bright and still. “May the roots of our trees never tangle again,” it said, its claws digging into the bark of the oak with which it pulled itself forward. “I can offer no other blessing.”

“May the wind bring your dream to far lands,” the crone croaked, and scattered dust of crushed bone into the rising breeze, “And may the road wear out your feet no more than thrice.”

And then the spirit was gone.




Calign found its lizard hunting at the riverside, its neck having grown so long now as to browse the shallow waters like a stork, the tip of its snout likewise razor-sharp. It shuffled when Calign trilled, yet did not raise its gaze from the mud. Curious, Calign stood beside it.

Oh. Of course.

The lizard startled like a skittish cat and leapt up to glide away on the skin between its toes and lengthening arms, leaving Cal alone to meet eyes with the amphibian. It was fat, black and warty, probably a giant of its kind. The poison in its meat was its only defense before Calign, but the toad showed no sign of startling.

After all, it too was a predator.

Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Grijs
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Grijs

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The Holy, Ever-turning Wheel
The Ouroboros of Steel

North of Anatar, the eastern possession of the Dragon Veles


Another kingdom had fallen.
The Dragon’s tributaries blew their trumpets on their walls, sounding alarm to the distant south.
Their hollow choir resounded far over untamed fields. A score of sound so vast had seldom been heard in this region, and all denizens of these lands knew, and trembled, about a great foe unlike any before had come upon them.

Down from the hyperborean midnight mountain a new people descended for slaughter. They arrived from beyond Anatar, driven by whips and the pounding of thundering wheels.
Their vanguard was a consuming flame, as they came blazing through the green valleys to leave smouldering desolation in their tracks.
Once green and pleasant lands, now its peaceful earth is defiled by the nomad claw -- its radiant settlements rendered smoking ruins.

The landed armies could not stand; as blades of grass the touch of hooves trampled them.
These northern savages -- these hyperborean charioteers were known as the Schayan. And those misfortunate to come into direct contact with them saw them as an ungodly and barbaric race of wicked men. The invasion had been ongoing for less than a week, and already many met a violent end. The local leaders were captured or routed, their wives and children held as hostages and trophies, among them King Makhawon’s family. They took food and cattle, and burned most else. The Schayan savages have no concept knowledge of currency. They cannot be bribed with gold, and they cannot be battled without external support, without the patronage of the gods, without a fell overlord...

They took what they could, burnt the rest, and mysteriously as the Schayan had come -- they disappeared. They had no interest in the Dragon’s domain, for they merely sought to singe his pride before pushing onward to an eastern horizon.
Their true aim lay far, far away. Beyond mountains, valleys, forests, dunes and fire. Their patron Sky-father, Dyauphater his name, had promised the Schayan their own Kingdom by the sea in a fertile river delta, in a great valley flanked by impregnable mountains. A land of immortality, a land of gods. The Schayan were wholly convinced that this strange and far-away land they had never even seen is their birthright. And so they cannot dawdle in some fell serpent’s domain. They answer boldly the call of their great destiny!

The great host was led by a chieftain that the Schayan dubbed ‘the Sky-King’. His name is Appareimos -- the champion who had united the tribes, and thereafter elected by the chieftains to lead their coalition, before setting them on this great journey. They were drunk on visions of glory, adventure and unknown lands. So drunk that few truly grasped the likelihood that they ride only to their doom. But no doom in Anatar can daunt the Schayan, and they ride to meet their fate manfully. Under the Sky-King’s stalwart leadership the Schayans will pass the trials of Anatar and reach the promised kingdom by the sea.

Leaving a trail of smoke and defiled fields scarred from a thousand wheels, the host of Appareimos comes upon the Northern Borderlands of Akkylonia…
It is here, after months of scouring through valley after valley, that the Schayan host sets up their camp, and hold council. King Appareimos summons the elders and chieftains.

‘’We are now at the precipice of the immortal lands of Akkylonia. Tales of their exploits are known the world over. What glory when we show the world that we have surpassed these people in battle! We can become immortal in these lands. ‘’
These were lines used to commence the meeting in the Sky King’s yurt, uttered by Rival Chieftain Regiokartos.
The King’s foremost shield bearers and companion confidantes assembled there with him, as their council determines the path the Schayan should trek.

Appareimos grunts, his mind traversing the realm of doubt.
‘’Akkylonia is not our Kingdom by the Sea. We must not lose sight of the true objective, and commit our hearts and minds to that. We can not dawdle or challenge doom prematurely.’’

‘’Doom?’’ The chieftain snarls in disdain.
‘’This had best not come across as fear to the follower tribes. Your strength is the reason that brought them together. Do not fail them through cowardice.’’
‘’Cowardice? I am well beyond that. Do not lecture me on this, you goblin.
It’s not death that daunts me. Rather the state of the Schayan people’s soul… For the heavens assigned us one great domain as ours in specific -- not just any. We must not deviate from Heaven's Will, doom or no. Whichever path we so choose; doom comes all ways, be sure of that.’’


On this, Regiokartos proclaims with bellowing voice:
‘’So? SO? Then we shall greet it with blade and fire! As we have always done!’’

‘’Yes, we shall… Regiokartos.’’ The High King twiddles with strands of his brownish beard as he looks at the rival chieftain with a coy, petulant gaze, and Regiokartos immediately flinches back with mistrust.
‘’The Schayan people need a doomdriven warlord as yourself to detour into the Kingdom by the Sea through the eastern route, as the bulk of the Host will traverse Akkylonia. Surely the fiercest among the Schayan chieftains can’t be daunted by this.’’

‘’Daunted? Me? Never.
My chariots will race you to the Sea. We shall arrive there long before you, mark my words, Sky King.’’


The Sky King beams with pleasure, before dismissing the council from his yurt. Then he calls for his daughter:
‘’Atyloppih! I need you as envoy to the Akkylonian King...’’
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The Lands of Aurochylys
In the Southwestern Heel of the Western Realm

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The lands of Aurochylys, before, had been barren and desolate. No life could flourish in the place, for it was a great bowl of ashes and dust, arid and without refuge nor break in the Earth.

But now in the center of those flats, where before they had been nothing save the scant, crumbling ruins of a remnant civilization long since past, there now arose a renascent city. The structures were all of recent make, simple in construction and being shaped from bricks of dried and fired clay excavated from the surrounding waste. Scaffolds of wooden planks and canvas rose and surrounded each dwelling, evidence of ongoing craftswork and labor, with the innermost structures rising to three heights and the outermost clearly intended to follow.

Though the city was filled with stockpiles and workyards, all orderly and tidied and brimming with tools and materials of trade, the city evidenced no granaries, nor wells, nor fields of crop, nor bakeries or butchers or even distillers. The city was one of and for the dead - nobody could have dwelt there for long without sustenance, of which there was clearly and evidently none. Yet somehow, the city still found itself populated with many peoples who did toil in the harsh light of the day, building ever on, heightening and lengthening the bounds of the growing settlement, seeming tireless in their efforts.

Come Nightfall, the many people would retreat to whatever dens and dwellings they had made of themselves, and the horror would begin. For as those who had labored during the day, those who had rested and made leisure would extend their arms and with the bite of a dagger, bleed themselves, pouring out their lifeblood as wine from a skein. Measures of flesh would but cut and flayed from the body - the both body and blood would be consumed by those who had toiled. In the next days, the cycle would repeat - on, and on, seemingly without end or beginning, for those who gave of their flesh partook of no sustenance and imbibed no mixtures, yet every night without fail they would surrender flesh and blood as though they had never done so before. Wives and husbands, daughters and sons, all surrendering, laboring, and partaking in turn in a ghastly and unnatural ritual of unending toil and bloodshed.

The city was a quiet one, even at the height of the day as most labored and worked, with quartermasters and headmen bellowing orders and instructions while heavy materials were shifted, lifted, and installed. The cause was evident, for though the city was alive with work, there was no commerce, no the bustle of trade and the many sounds of social gathering and exchange. All the materials in the settlement came from without, with teams and caravans arriving and departing daily from distant lands, carrying goods, which were distributed amongst groups, almost as handouts, rather than bartered and traded for. From there out, beyond the occasional groups of artisans who would gather to ply their custom with whatever was available - weavers and tailors to make clothes anew, or carpenters and smiths to fabricate new tools - there was little exchange between the peoples of that place. Humorless and devoid of mirth and talk, of wine and laughter, of hearth and hospitality were the dens that rose from the Earth in the barren lands.

Spread throughout the growing settlement city at regular intervals were tall pillars - topped with clay statues of a serene stylite, gazing onwards with a single raised hand, holding up an admonishing finger. Surrounding each pillar at their bases, without fail, would be a ring of desiccated corpses. Chained to its foundation and left there in the harsh and arid climate, those who had been left there were attended by small children, who would carry with them baskets of salt, and anoint the corpses as necessary every day. Though their skins were cracked and leathery beyond measure, the bodies there remained, eerily preserved, some still seeming as though they might be revived if attended to immediately.

Occasionally, during the day, a laborer would throw down their tools or drop their burden - and refuse to resume. To beg for respite, or to throw curses at all around them. Some of these, when consoled, would return to their homes to resume work the following 'morn.

Those who did not - those who refused to continue such joyless and hollow labor - were dragged, screaming, to be chained to one of the pillars, where they would struggle and shout in futility, where they would strain against their metal shackles for days on end, snarling and spitting at the children as they came every day and threw handfuls of salt at those who were bound - and then with time, as the sun rose and set again and again, their struggles would slow and cease, and soon after they would be but another desiccated and preserved corpse chained at the base of a stylite's pillar.

In the shadow of Evil did the city grow, mirthlessly and without cheer, all within and all who arrived at the place toiling thanklessly and with only the barest and most inhumane of sustenance to preserve them, and with little comfort save the embrace of their loved ones and family come the eve.

And yet, like a seething tumor, the city did grow, and grow. Soon, it would begin to approximate an actual civilized place, and as the weeks passed, facsimiles of more ordinary structures did begin to appear. Granaries holding naught but dust, fields that were left fallow, vintners that fermented only blood, butchers who dealt only with rancid flesh. Market squares were planned, arranged, and slowly erected - though for the moment, they remained empty. Though what dread and hollow services and exchanges would be established therein, soon, would offend the sensibilities of all civilized people.

And every day, as the City in the Shadow of Evil did grow, more and more people did arrive there, having trekked there across the thankless and dusty barrens - and those who arrived, rarely did they leave again.

There was another striking, eerie quality of the place as well, which although readily overlooked at first would have struck most people after several weeks. There were no cemeteries nor places of burial in all the settlement. No asheries nor crematoriums, nor medicae or herbalists nor healers. None of the people grew ill. None of the people fell and failed to rise again, save those who broke covenant with the master of that place and were condemned to become pillarbound.

The City of Aurochylys was a City of the Damned, populated only by the living dead, and governed through fear of stillness. A pall of menace hung over the whole of the place and all of its people, along with the single stark and certain promise: The city would grow, for the glory of Aurochylys, as certain as the day did dawn, and soon, all of the world would likewise be blessed with his boon, and work his sacred labors for all time - and the Nightmare would Never End.

But far afield, without the dustbowl the city sat in, in greener pastures and more joyful locales, there was nobody who knew of that dread and darkened city. None heard of the terrible fate which the Master of that place intended to inflict upon them. They only heard and saw what his many agents and servants said and did, and wherever they went, they cured injury and malady, bestowed life everlasting, and spoke of a distant paradise where their venerable Master, Aurochylys, did gather the worth to work in glory and raise the wonders the likes of which had never been seen before.

And so the cycle began to turn - as soon, it would turn without end.
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