Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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The Hunting of the Blood-Beast


It had come in the night.

Ostap awoke to the sound of struggle to his right side. Despite the immediate pangs of alarm, it took some moments for his drowsy mind to fully shake off the dust of sleep and find its bearings. The night was warm and clear, the moon’s web in full view. Earlier in the evening, he had decided to lie down to sleep outside, with the smell of fresh grass, while his father had grumbled about the fancies of his moon-struck head.

His father!

The grunts and groaning of torn xo-skin were coming from their tent!

With a shout, Ostap threw off the hide he had covered himself with and grabbed his knife of chipped stone. There were murmurs and calls around him as the rest of the band began to stir, but he paid them no attention as he rushed to the heaving bundle that had been his family’s tent. He heard Taras try to yell in a choking gurgle, saw his fists rise and fall wildly - and there, on top of him, a huge black shape beating him down with its repulsive naked wings.

Ostap shouted again as he fell upon the beast with his knife, whether to drown out his fear or give voice to his rage, he could not say himself. He blindly slashed at a hairy flank, and something shrieked in a way that made his agitated blood run cold. A face rose from the collapsed tent, no, a snout, flat and toothy like a skull crushed by a horse’s kick, and snarled at him. He lunged a second time, but something sharp raked him across the chest with such force that he fell onto his back. The wind knocked out of him, he could only dully stare upwards as a monstrous shadow crossed the sky before his eyes and winged away into the darkness.

Someone helped him to his feet, and he staggered up among figures that he struggled to recognize. He made to stumble towards the ruined tent, but a wrinkly hand held him back, pulling up the hem of his tunic almost to his neck. Ears still ringing with the excitement of fright, he looked down into Yevka the salter’s frowning face. Her mouth moved, but still he could only barely make out a distant mumbling, and he almost did not feel the sting when she rubbed a handful of her tiny white stones over his chest. It was only then he realized that the monster had wounded him. He ran his fingers over his ribcage, and in the moment before Yevka knocked them away with a matronly slap he felt the gouges. They were long, but shallow, luckily. He had gotten off much lighter than-

Taras!

Now firm on his feet, he rushed past his gathered bandmates. They parted before him, but if they said anything, he did not hear them. His eyes, his ears, all his senses were painfully fixed on the chaos of wood and xo-skin ahead.

His father’s body had already been dragged out from the mess. The hearty old man had fought to the last; his clenched fists were clinging with deathly force to tufts of soft grey fur torn from the beast’s hide. But it had taken much more than it had lost: Taras’ throat was almost gone, torn to a ragged hole by vicious fangs. Behind Ostap, someone retched at the sight. It was a fleeting echo to him, and the next moment he had forgotten it.

A dull pain in his hand finally tore his eyes from the scene. He looked down, and saw that he had still not let go of his knife, now stained with foul dark blood. His fingers had slipped over the sharpened side, and the stone bit deeply into his skin.




They gave Taras the death-rites the next morning.

He was laid out on the ground some distance away from the camp, among the white dry-stalk flowers, and Ostap draped three fine hides over him. Old Tovkač circled around the body, muttering the farewell tales that would soften the grief of the dead - and of those they left behind.

"...so Avros passed into the land of the shroud, for as the father of all peoples, he knew he had to lead the way for all his sons. He would be there to meet them when they no longer walked the earth, to show them that there's joy beyond that threshold as well as before." The old wiseman bent down under a coughing fit, a sign that he himself was not long from meeting the forefathers, and righted himself with his walking-staff. "For there they would be with them who they'd long thought lost. Brave Taras sits now with Adan his father, and Donera his father's mother, and everyone strong and wise that came between him and Avros. Don't weep for him! We'll see him again one day, and he'll greet us when we come into the land of the shroud."

"Yes, he'll greet us," Ostap answered absently, as he looked at the mounds beneath the hairy xo-hides. Far from their intent, the storyteller's words had dragged the stark, ugly truth of his situation before his eyes.

His mother, Kasja, had been the first to go. It had happened soon after the birth of his brother Anton. Though the boy had been strong and healthy, Kasja had been struck by a wasting illness some days after delivering him, and little by little it had eaten at her from within until her sun-marks had at last gone out.

No one had blamed Anton for this, but Ostap knew that his brother had quietly shouldered that guilt regardless, and it was that weight that had pushed him, as if in expiation, to always be the best. The most cheerful, always with a joke and a smile ready; the fastest hunter; the sharpest forager; the most thorough skinner. He had even become a friend to their usually surly and taciturn marshal, who had given him one of his horses to ride. And it was that gift that had been his end, when he fell from its back in hot pursuit of a spiral-horn herd and broke his neck.

Only he and Taras had been left. Each of them missed someone that had been his equal, and in that shared loss they had become as much friends and comrades as they were father and son. They had drunk field-brew together, traded jests and playful blows, cursed and laughed as they pulled out the guts from a butchered xo. Now Taras was a cold log of wood under a shroud.

Now, Ostap was the last.

He would have his own children, in time - in time, yes, he thought bitterly as he trudged back to the camp in silence. Who knew when that would be, now that all he had to his name was a broken tent. Seča would not mind, he suspected, but what kind of man would he be to drag her into a life of picking bones? The herd was the marshal's, and he did not trust him anywhere as much as he had Anton. Ostap's line had always been hunters. With two pairs of hands, they could have built up something, but on his own it would be years before he could think of feeding more mouths than his own. The monster had taken it all away together with his father.

Something in the tall grass caught his eye. The sun had dried out the earth out in the plains, and its murky brown graininess had turned to a pale, greyish crust. Everywhere but in one spot among bent yellow stalks, where the soil was instead a dark, dirty red. No, not the soil. Something that had fallen on it and lost its liveliness under the day's warmth.

Blood. The blood of a beast.

Ostap hunched down and parted the grass around the desiccated blotch. Sure enough, there was another close by, and another still. A line.

A trail that led to the east.




“So you’re set on this, eh? No way you’ll clear your head and put that spear down?”

“You know him, Kuben. A moon-struck head never clears on its own.”

Kuben laughed at the joke, but it was a mirthless, forced thing. Ostap was a good friend and a hard worker, and so, when he announced his mad idea, full eight people had come to try and set his thoughts straight. Kuben, Balban and Mezhig the hunters were there, and so was Bovdug, and Dubenia, who had been Anton’s lover, and Glodukha, Demid and Seča. But there might as well have been eighty of them, and still they would have been ramming their heads against a tree for all the good their words did. Ostap had the same hard skull as his old man, and besides he was moon-struck; what could one do when his moods came over him?

“That’s right,” he was wearing his travelling-cloak, and he leaned on the haft of his spear like old Tovkač on his staff. “For everything you take, you give back its worth, that’s the way of the just. That beast’s taken the dearest thing there is, a good life. It’s only right it gives back in kind, even if it’s only got a rotten one itself.”

Balban shook his head. “How do you know you can even kill it with that spear?”

“It’s bled before,” Ostap’s face was carved in stone. “If it bleeds, I can do it.”

There was a moment of silence, then Seča stepped forward, gloomy like the evening with her prematurely dark eyes.

“We’ll go with you, if you want.” She was a woman of few words, but they were weighty. No one dared argue with her now.

“No,” answered Ostap, looking down to the earth, “If I go and don’t come back, I won’t pull you under the shroud with me. There’s no right in that.”

“If we go together, you’ll be more likely to come back, and we too,” Bovdug pointed out.

“The beast looks down from the sky, it’ll spot us easily if there’s many of us.”

Again, no one found any words, until at last Balban spoke up.

“Well, it’s goodbye, then,” he smiled, this time genuinely, “Good hunting.”

“Goodbye.”

Their eyes followed him as he walked out into the grass and crested the nearest hill, becoming a blurred outline in the sun’s glare; then he went down on the other side, and they could see him no more.




The blood trail only lasted Ostap until around noon. The monster must have licked its wound on its way, for after the five hills there were no more dried clots to be found among the grass. He did not let this deter him, and since he knew no better, he went straight ahead. Even if the beast was not there, there must have been someone around the steppe that had seen in, large as it was.

In this, too, he was however disappointed until twilight set in. Only then, weary and dragging his feet in the descending darkness, he saw something on the plain ahead. It was too big to be a spiral-horn, too tall to be a wild xo. Fear shot up as his thoughts ran to the beast, but settled down again when he noticed the shape had not moved. Squinting, he could make out the tip of a pole sticking up from rigid conical flanks. A tent! There was someone out here after all.

As he came closer, he spotted the tent’s owner seated on the ground before the threshold, swaddled in an old, bug-eaten hide cloak. He almost stumbled when he saw her face; she was without a doubt the oldest Eiodolon he had ever seen. Her hoary skin, drooping in wrinkles around her long crooked nose, made old Tovkač look hale and youthful in comparison. It might have just been the evening shade, but her eyes were perfectly grey, as dusty and ashen as her weathered horns and thin hair. He could only imagine what her sun-marks must have been like, if she still had any at all.

“Hum, hum,” the woman croaked when Ostap drew near, the wide conches of her nostrils twitching and widening under her bony beak, “I smell a steppe-man. What are you doing out here with the sun almost gone? Don’t you know that the blood-beasts have been stalking the sky?”

“I’m not afraid of them,” Ostap steadied himself with his spear, swaying on his sore legs, “But you’re out in the steppe all on your own, and the blood-beasts took my father though he wasn’t older than you. Let me be your guest, we’ll be safer the two of us together.”

“Eh! Fine words,” chuckled the crone, “Come in, then, there’s room for us both. I’ve lived here many years, since my band went north,” she kept speaking as she ushered Ostap into the tent, which was wide but almost bare save for a few bundled hides and a weakly smoldering fire-circle in the middle, “But I’ve never seen a blood-beast around before that big one flew by yesterday. That’s the one that came to your band, isn’t it?”

Ostap nodded. “Did you see which way it went?”

“Straight to the sunrise,” the old woman answered as she sat cross-legged on a crumpled spiral-horn hide speckled with ash, “Why, are you hunting it?”

He nodded again, hand on his spear.

“Brave man! I’ve never seen anyone try that and make it, but there’s always a first time. What’s your name, so I will know whose story to tell to the next one who comes here?”

“I’m Ostap, son of Taras. And who are you, so I’ll know who to thank?”

“I’m Yeghna. You wouldn’t know my father or my mother, they died long ago. But let’s leave them to rest! You must be hungry after coming all the way here, and I’m your host.” She went to fish for something under a disorderly heap of furs, but Ostap held up a hand to stop her.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got my own,” he drew out a strip of salted meat from his belt-bag, “It’s already enough I’m taking your tent, I haven’t got anything to give for your food.”

“I said I’m the host, why should you give me anything? It’s up to me to make sure you’re covered and fed,” Yeghna grinned, crooked and toothless, “Are you sure all that salt won’t make you thirsty?”

Ostap opened his mouth to reply, but then he felt his parched mouth with his tongue, and thought to how every drop in his waterskin was precious out on this journey.

“You’re right, a swig wouldn’t hurt,” he assented at last.

“Say no more - you’re my guest!” Yeghna pulled a wooden bowl out of a corner. It was halfway full of some thin, murky liquid that smelled of sour berries and wood-root.

“Thank you.” As she handed it over, Ostap’s hand gave a twitch that could have seemed involuntary, bringing it to brush against the old woman’s wrist. It was an undue precaution, perhaps. What could she have stood to gain if that brew had been poison, if it made him die here, in this lonely tent? Even if, spurred by some madness that had come into her from living alone for so long, she had wanted to kill him and eat him like an animal, he was quite sure that she did not have enough teeth for that. And still, this tent standing alone in the steppe, that strange-smelling bowl instead of a waterskin, there was something in all of this that put him on edge. Even just a touch to sense the shades of her intentions would have been reassuring.

Instead, he felt nothing, though his fingers touched ruvid skin. Instead of Yeghna’s wrist, he had swept them over the hem of her cloak. She did not seem to have noticed, and so, not to appear ungrateful, he took the bowl and drank the sour, but not unpleasant berry-water. It did not give him any pangs in his belly, and he dismissed his caution. The danger was not this frail ancient, but the thing that flapped and skulked out there.

“It’s good for your dreams, chases away the dark ones,” the crone smiled as she took back the bowl and tossed it away to clatter in some unlit corner, “You should lie down now if you want it to be strong. My old head sleeps lightly, I’ll wake you if anything comes.” She picked up a fistful of loose dry soil and tossed it over the embers, plunging the tent into darkness.

Ostap laid down his spear by his side and stretched himself out on the ground, covering himself with his cloak. It was hard, but not unpleasant, and so much had happened on that day that he felt his head grow heavy as soon as it touched the soil. Halfway through an unfinished yawn, he was falling into a deep black well, and heard nothing more.




He awoke to a sharp pain in his chest.

Not just anywhere, he realized, still with a foot in the hazy leaps of thought that happened in dreams. Right where the monster had scratched him the night before.

He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids were heavy like fallen trees, and would not budge. Panic seized him underneath the lancing agony. His hands, his feet, his head would not move. A cold woodenness had seized his limbs, and they did not feel as if they were his - no, he did not feel them at all, but some rotting logs that had been tied to the stumps of his legs and shoulders. He felt cold, then hot, then sick, and wondered if this was what death was like. Tovkač, you lied, you old bastard, there is no happiness in death, only numbness and pain, pain, pain.

With a tremendous effort, Ostap forced his eyes open. He had rolled over on his back in his sleep. Straight ahead, he saw the darkness of the tent’s sloping wall, swelling and wavering in the night breeze. Then he looked down-

There was something on his chest, something huge, grey and horrible. A great bloated, wobbling body, like a sack stuffed full of rotting entrails, pulled up by eight spindly, pointy legs that gouged into his sides with their hooked tips, and on his chest, biting into his wounds with what could only be its jaws, a head out of the worst moon-addled nightmares. He had thought that the blood-beast’s snout was ugly, but now he would rather have seen it a thousand times than facing the thing that gnawed on his ribs. Smooth, eyeless, with sparse bristles like a bald hog, it was little more than a nameless oblong shape ending in two recurve prongs. The head of a spider, or a beetle, or a tick, but stretched out to an impossible size.

He had to be dreaming. This thing could not be real. It should not be real!

“Shh-hum, shh-hum,” the creature hissed, and somewhere in the damp, whispering screech that was its voice, Ostap heard echoes of his host, “Lie still now, steppe-man. I’ll be done soon, and you won’t feel pain ever again, shh-hum, shh-hum!”

Suddenly, the whole tent quaked. Something outside whistled, cutting through the air, and a huge dark bulk forced its way in through the all too narrow entrance, tearing the hides with its clawed wings.

“Well, well,” the blood-beast snarled, its monstrous nostrils twitching, its jagged teeth bared and dripping, “What do you think you’re doing drinking him dry by yourself, old hag? We had a deal, you get half and I get half!”

“Shh-hum, shh-hum,” cackled Yeghna, “There was a deal, and it flew away! He was here for a long time, and my old throat was parched. You can fly far! Go find yourself another.”

“What?!” growled the beast, “I’d rather gnaw you open here and now!”

And it spread out its wings, splaying its claws, and pounced; but the tent was too small for its huge body to lash and lunge so, and it collapsed with a mournful thud, burying the horrors and their victim under foul-smelling xo hides. The blood-beast thrashed and tore loudest of all, until it had scattered the ruins and stood panting and gnashing in a circle of rags.

It peered around with its dull beady eyes, its huge ears twitching as they strained to catch the faintest sound. Yeghna was nowhere to be seen. Not even a rustle of grass gave the vermin-hag away as she crawled off, fat with the fool steppe-man’s vitality, to skulk and spin her tales and find more sots to prey on.

Gritting its fangs in annoyance, the beast shuffled over to the prone Eidolon. He lay still where Yeghna had left him, eyes wide, arms stiff at his sides. Maybe there still was something in him, and the tick’s venom just so nicely held him prisoner in his own body. The blood-beast hunched over him, fanged maw open wide-

And it screeched as Ostap plunged his knife into its exposed throat. It snapped at him, but with the agility of a hunter he drew his hand back and angled it higher. His arm was still numb, but his fingers answered him once more, and he stabbed at the monster’s soulless eye, and pushed deeper, deeper, the warmth of blood flowing over his hand, until the great winged body at last stopped flailing and dropped in a twitching heap.

Then Ostap let his hand drop, and, looking up at the starry sky and the gently glowing moon, he smiled.

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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by DrRtron
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DrRtron Formerly Rtron

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Yesaris Week





Vandak cursed as he watched the flock of sheep out in the cold, tightening his grip around . Just another gift from his cursed luck. He could be with the tribe, eating the mushrooms that Glor had brought in. But no, he had foraged berries that were spoiled and accidentally poisoned the chief. In punishment for yet again costing the tribe some valuable food, he was sent to protect the flock from predators while they ate. This was just like the time he had tripped while carrying his end of the deer, sending it careening into the river and away from them and their hungry bellies. He had spent hours trying to make up for that lost meal, and had lost out on his own fair share of meals for it. Or the time when he had been hit by the spear that Glor threw, meant for the boar they were hunting. It had been his bad luck to stand right when Glor was throwing, trying to make up for giving away their position in the first place by stepping on an unnoticed twig. He was cursed with bad luck, he knew it and so did the rest of the tribe. That’s why he was alone so often, so that he couldn’t hurt others with his curse. And yet, he still found ways. If the tribe could afford it, they would have cast him out long ago. They were too small to afford such a luxury. As it was, they managed his curse as best they were able and kept him around. So long as his contributions to the tribe outweighed his curse, he should be fine.

It was a cold comfort that didn’t stop his stomach from growling.

The minutes turned into hours and Vandak distracted himself by counting how many times the sheep moved in their sleep. The average was three movements before settling down for a while. He didn’t count the ones that woke up fully, as they spent a lot of time moving or getting a late night snack. Like he wished he could.

Finally he heard steps behind him, and breathed a sigh of relief. He could scrounge up some food from the leftovers, perhaps. At the very least he’d be able to get something in his belly for the night. Whomever was relieving him had evidently eaten too much, judging from their groans.

“Took you long enough to get here!” He complained, turning around to face whomever was going to replace him. “I’ve been starving for the past few hours! How long does it take to eat mushrooms any…” He trailed off as the person stumbled forward out of the shadow. Fungus and mushrooms were growing out of his mouth and eyes. Vandak gagged, stumbling backwards, and gripping his staff tighter. “What, who-wha- Stay back!” He swung the staff, cracking the monster across the head. It’s head snapped back and it stumbled backwards, landing on the ground.

It snarled, suddenly rushing at him on all fours. Vandak backpedalled, gasping in fear. He needed to get past this thing, to warn the tribe. As he scrambled backwards, his eyes looked past the monster to see if anyone had heard the conflict. He let out a cry of fear, seeing more of those things rushing from where the tribe had been cooking the mushrooms. On all fours, they rushed towards him. As they got closer, he began to recognize them. Fungus grew from their faces and eyes, their hands and ears, their bodies and limbs, but he could recognize them, much to his horror.

Before he could flee and get away from these horrible monsters that used to be his tribe, his bad luck struck again. He tripped over a sheep that hadn’t fully awoken and the staff, his only weapon, flew from his hands off into the darkness. He scrambled backwards, muttering prayers to anything that would listen as the horde rushed forward, drooling and snarling. He just wanted to live, he just wanted to live, why did he have to be cursed with bad luck, he didn’t deserve this he didn’t deserve this, please something just go right in his godsforsaken life for once, please-

His panicked stream of thoughts were suddenly cut off as a white light enveloped him. The last thing he saw was the fungal monsters descending on the sheep like a ravenous horde. Vandak landed with a soft thud on cold dirt, gasping for breath and willing his heart to slow down as he stared up at the cavern ceiling. He was alive, he thought. His back hurt too much from where he landed for him to have been dead.

With a groan he pulled himself to a sitting position, looking around. He was in a nondescript cavern, with water flowing by. It was quiet and, strangely, comforting. The only thing that stood out to him was a small headstone. Vandak struggled to his feet and walked over to the headstone, quietly reading aloud what it read.

“Luck is gone, but her blessings remain.”


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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Raethel Norvegicus


In the days that followed awakening, much had changed for the Rattus under Raethel's command and Aethel's education. For starters, there were less of them.

While this sounded bad, the truth of the matter was that there simply hadn't been enough resources in the local area to support the entire population of Rattus for an extended period of time and the solution that Raethel and Aethel had come up with was rather simple: While Raethel kept things under control, their creator would search up and down the river to find locations suitable for other settlements of Rattus to go and colonize, spreading their numbers out and putting less pressure on a single given area as far as resources were concerned. As the First of the Rattus, Raethel had taken great care in pushing to teach the required lessons to survive into the population and selecting the bands to be sent out from those who took to those teachings quickly.

So far two bands of settlers had been sent down the river towards the distant mountains, with a third band forming along nicely in order to start heading downriver to start setting up outposts that way. As word had returned of the first two outposts being successfully founded, those who were a bit slower in learning then the first wave had migrated towards them, further easing the numbers that Raethel had needed to manage and provide for, but for any other race it still wouldn't have been enough.

Without Aethel's blessing on their ancestry, Raethel had learned enough in the last few days to understand that there would simply have not been enough food or shelter for his people and those shortages would have lead to... bad things. The faint memory of hunger remained from the days before he discovered he was Raethel and the thought of it on a larger, deeper scale was not a pleasant one. Their new home was also a place of extremes, with the days being capable of great heat while the nights could cut through the fur to the bone with chill. Any other race would have been in trouble, with grave hardship ahead to herald in their first steps on the world.

For the Rattus through, what would have been dire tidings were merely obstructions that required a cunning mind to work around. Shelter was easy enough to create as their natural instincts informed them that the best place to escape from the heat and cold of the surface was underground; They borrowed into the sand a safe distance from the riverbank in order to avoid dampness and flooding, twisting the sand and dirt into a form as solid and trustworthy as stone as they dug in order to secure the barrows they were creating and prevent the tunnels from caving in behind them. Many of these barrows and tunnels were crude things, created with the understanding that those staying within them only intended to do so for a relatively short period of time before they had been deemed suitable to head out towards one of the outposts or be the founders of a new one.

Raethel had noticed some Rattus that seemed to like the birthplace of their kind and, when they somehow found themselves with some spare time during the hectic day, could be found reshaping and reorganizing their personal borrows to be less crude and more pleasant to the senses, as well as comfortable. While he personally was too busy to commit to such a project himself, Raethel honestly had to wonder if he would call this place his primary home at all. While this was where the Rattus came to be, as the First and leader of the Rattus he could already tell that he was going to be moving between the settlements a lot... and that would require him to have a number of smaller barrows in all of them, with a 'primary' home located somewhere more central so he could respond to situations that arose along the river settlements as required... and the fact was that until the period of expansion along the river ended, he didn't know where that important central location was going to be.

Feeding the population was another problem but, thankfully, Rattus brilliance paid off again. While some Rattus favored the taste of meat and dedicated themselves to hunting for beasts of land and air (the latter being hunted by a select few who could bend the winds itself to down their flying targets) and some had taken to fishing for the bounties of the river upon which belonged to their people (and Raethel had to admit, he had proven rather adapt at causing the water to fling fish out of its depths because some of the fish the river provided were rather tasty), it was the plant tenders that proved to be their salvation.

Edible plants and mushrooms located both above and below the ground had been gathered and rather then just consume them, those more attuned to the greener shades of the mana winds had gathered together and concentrated on advancing new growths. What might have taken months or even a year to grow and bare foodstuffs, the plant tenders could make happen within days, if not hours. They were not foolish enough to think this state of affairs could last forever through; The plant tenders' connection with the land had informed them that they could only do create so many harvests in this fashion before the landed needed to rest and recover and to push beyond that would risk causing permanent damage that would prevent further life from growing there.

It was all the more reason for them to focus on claiming the whole of the river rather then growing fat on the efforts of the land and the plant tenders. But being able to control the expansion since it wasn't fueled by desperation and hunger made things a lot more organized.

And on top of all of that, Raethel still had one task to do as proclaimed by their more absent of creators. "Your name shall be... Blangorum." He announced, before turning to the twin sibling of the now named Blangorum and considering for a moment. "...And you shall be Aceh. For showing an understanding of what is required of you, you'll both be joining the next group heading out to set up an outpost down river."





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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The Tired One

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The Monarch of All

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Aethel





Stretching out with a mighty yawn as Aethel left the ocean of dreams behind in order to return to the waking world, the deity reached up to softly rub sleep out of their eyes before they took a moment in order to focus on what they wanted to do now that they had their energy back.

Leaning back and propping themselves up with their hands, Aethel absentmindedly reached out and plucked one of the tops off of the mushrooms in the circle, bringing it to their mouth and taking a comically large bite out of it as they relaxed and looked up at the night sky. The cool, refreshing air felt wonderful against their skin and a brief transformation so the humanoid form they tended to favor when dealing with mortals of all shapes and creeds in favor of their natural divine one as the four legged equine made themselves comfortable and closed their eyes in order to fully enjoy the sensation of the wind against them.

As their senses infused with that of the wind, Aethel’s consciousness followed the breeze as it slowly stalked its way out of the treeline, rising into the air and pressing against a cloud, pushing it along its course. Soon one cloud became many clouds, combining together into a big cloud that was heavy enough to release the water that made up its very being onto the ground below.

As time passed, Aethel found themselves mapping the wind currents across the entire surface of the planet. For a split second, the entire weather system of the planet was something that was completely known to them: Where the water rose up from bodies of water, where the wind was going to take those clouds and where rain and storms were going to form and fall. For one single second, the weather of the world was completely understandable and in order. And then, with a single flap of the wings of a butterfly… that illusion of order and understanding disappeared in an instant.

Aethel’s eyes snapped open as the rays of the noon sun warmed their coat. An idea had come to them… and a grin appeared on their face… only for it to pause.

They had dreamed of other plans that they wished to invest their strength into. While the Ocean of Dreams proved to be a resounding success, the root of the problem was that in order to have more power to make their plans reality, they needed another title… and there was only one being who could grant them one.

Turning their gaze up towards the Divine Palace, Aethel took a deep breath and called out loudly enough for the Monarch of All to hear, “Monarch of All! This servant wishes for an audience!”

Surprisingly, despite how loud the shout had to be in order to be properly heard, the forest around Aethel’s clearing didn’t seem to be disturbed by it in the least. However, the loud sound of a portal, the bridge, opening for Aethel did very much disturb the forest as a blinding light erupted to signify the event, singing scurrying animals and the like in all which direction. Within that portal, there stood a brightly burning Tlanextic with the Monarch of All at his side, the Lord of Reality giving a nod of approval to the once mortal. The Monarch of All’s words could be heard by Aethel, a pleased and prideful voice coming over Him.

”Excellent work, Tlanextic. For this I shall name you ‘Protector of the Vestibule of the Lord’ and the ‘Head of the Palace Guardians’. Now leave us, I shall speak with Aethel.”

Tlanextic gave a nod before walking out of the throne room and leaving the Monarch of All to sit upon His throne with the open portal.

Aethel waited until the Monarch’s… Guest? Servant?... had left the throne room before they stepped through the portal and, having now properly transitioned to the Celestial Palace, offered the Monarch a respectful bow as was tradition when entering the domain of another. “Your majesty, thank you for finding time in your busy schedule to see me so quickly.” They offered earnestly.

”I trust you have been doing well, Aethel. Now tell me, why have you requested an audience?”

Aethel nodded their head. “I have been busy trying to make this world an interesting place. I do hope you’re enjoying some of the stories I’ve helped to create. But as to why I am here…” the smaller divine equine took a quick breath before saying, “I require some additional power. I have so many plans to make this world a more exciting, colorful and entertaining place but I can only do so much at once… and one of the projects I wish to introduce is to help fill the void that has been left by our dearly departed Luck.”

While Aethel had never met the Goddess of Luck, it was kind of clear from the way that they held themselves that the loss of the deity had deeply hurt them. “The world cannot be left to the whims of those who demand that everything occurs as they expect it too. Without luck to alter the outcome, everything falls under the predictions of fate… and I refuse to let such a thing happen uncontested. Since Luck can no longer serve as a foil, Chaos must do so instead.”

The Monarch of All looked over Aethel, contemplating their words and desire for yet more of His power, just as the other gods seemed to have come begging for. If He could have frowned He would, but despite his faceless expression, His mood was cast all around the throne room. A deep impatience brewed in the air, the lights in the room flickering brighter and lower as He scraped his claws along the throne. Yet, His anger did not boil over and He dusted off the pieces of Jade before He spoke in a clear and concise voice.

”While the death of Asheleven is a tragedy, Luck itself has not been erased, much to Yudaiel’s disappointment. Tell me of what you had planned and I might entertain the notion of giving you more power.”

Taking a deep breath, Aethel decided to make their sales pitch. “The idea is simple in design, but in practice would quickly grow into something greater. Across the planet below there would be seeded…special creatures. By their nature they would take the forms of an appropriate species to the region, but I admit to a fondness for butterflies and other winged creatures in this regard. Unlike a standard creature through, they secretly co-exist in the realms of probability: Every time they flap their wings or perform a certain, normal action to their species if they’re not winged, they will send a ripple of disruption through the realms of probability, causing distortions and interference that can cause alterations to luck and chance to give them a true factor of randomness… as well as cause attempts to peer into the future to vary wildly and be unreliable.”

“Now clearly, a single wing flap would start off small and hardly be noticeable at first, but over time the ripple it caused would grow and cause bigger distortions. A headache to be sure, but something that a dedicated being like Yudaiel could likely overcome and possibly hunt down the source of to remove in time… but seeding the world with tens of thousands of these things would ensure that in any given second, an unknown number of new ripples will be sent out. Much like the ripples in actual water, some of these ripples would naturally combine and strengthen into larger ripples or outright cancel each other out… but that would merely add to the chaos and turbulence of those trying to map out the course of the future.”

“It is a small thing, but it will always assure that no matter how certain an outcome or future appears to be, there is always the possibility of something completely random happening to change the course of history.” A grin appeared on Aethel’s face as they decided to add for the Monarch’s benefit “As an all powerful being… doesn’t the possibility of watching as events happen in a manner that even you couldn’t predict sound… Exciting? Entertaining?”

What went unsaid was the fact that by doing this, it would also effectively screw with Yudaiel to a great degree, effectively punishing her further for her actions against Asheleven without the Monarch having to declare an additional punishment to her beyond her home arrest on the moon. A chance for the Monarch to put any doubts of being too lenient to rest without having to lose face or go back on his word.

”You see, Aethel. As I had said before, luck itself is a concept that can not be merely erased from reality. Asheleven merely could control it and bend it to her will. Furthermore, Yudaiel has likely foreseen this very conversation and has planned against such action.”

The Monarch of All looked past Aethel and towards the moon of Yudaiel, looking at what she had done so far with her power as a divine being. He had already barred her from adding her strokes to the Galbar and He knew that she would see this as an open act of hostility should He bless Aethel with the power to do so. The Ruler would not yet risk open rebellion within His kingdom, not when there was already much discourse between Himself and some of the other gods. He spoke once more, decisively dashing the idea of Aethel’s plans.

”While I cannot stop you from doing so, I will not aid you in this creation. I will not risk rebellion from Yudaiel, such a thing would bring forth other gods to her side.”

For their part, Aethel looked disappointed but… understanding. “I see. I admit I’m disappointed but I can respect your logic on the matter. I might put this project into motion in the future but for now I do have other things I kind of want to focus on first. If nothing else, I think you’ll find it all interesting to observe.” It was clear that Aethel wasn’t going to bring up the details of this new plan here and now.

“Before I head back, have you had a chance to experience the Ocean of Dreams I created? It was a spur of the moment creation I admit, but I feel like it came together rather well all the same. Having tested it out myself, I can safely say that it has greatly enhanced the experience of sleep.” They boasted somewhat proudly.

”I do not sleep, as such I have not experienced it. I have no need to experience it when I can periodically watch it, just as I watch over the Galbar. However, it was interesting seeing it created.”

Well of course you don’t have to sleep. I don’t have to sleep after all. I just do it anyway because it’s enjoyable seeing what my mind has to offer me.” Aethel answered earnestly. “At any rate, you should properly think about putting someone in charge of looking after it. I designed it to be pretty good at looking after itself, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time before one of my siblings decide to play around with it for their own goals and amusement.

”I shall keep it in mind, Aethel.”

The Monarch of All words were dismissive at best as He leaned back within the Jade Throne to look past the God of Magic and upon the Galbar once more. It was not a long gaze, however, before He looked back to Aethel, two of His four hands coming together to touch the tips of their long claws together. It was clear that He was within thought, a momentary ponderance as He looked over Aethel and all that they had accomplished.

”I have a project I am working on, one that requires a certain touch. You will have your title, but first I will require something of you. As you have noticed, I am establishing a guard in the palace but they will need great power to contend with rebellious Lords and Ladies and I am no expert in your field of control.. In order to get your title, I will need your strongest divine mana.”

For a moment, Aethel paused in confusion at the request. “What do you mean ‘divine’ mana? There is no such thing.” There was a brief pause before an explanation was offered “While I am sure there will be mortals who believe mana to be divine and that a deity like myself or any of my kin using it would make it seem as such, it should never be infused with divinity in and of itself. If you’ll give me a moment…

Turning from the Monarch of All and turning their gaze towards the Galbar, Aethel’s numerous tendrils waived for a moment as they caused a… small shift in perspective. The world was still there, but suddenly the winds of mana in all their glorious colors were visible to the Monarch of All to see. “I won’t go into the full technical details of what you’re seeing, but as chaotic as the mixtures of coloration appear as it clashes or support each other there is a… balance to it. An order of things deeper than can be seen. A large part of that comes from the fact that for each color that exists… each ideal they represent and embody… There must also be disparity. For there to be growth, there must be decay. For there to be order, there must be chaos…

And for there to be divinity, there must also be unholy.” Aethel finished with complete seriousness. “Even if I was to just create mana that represents the ideal of Divinity to exist solely within your Palace for the use of your guards, it’s counter would come into existence of its own accord no matter what either of us tried to do. So unless you would want something that actively corrupts and poisons the divine existing as an active influence and power source somewhere down on the Galbar, it’s better we leave things as they are.

Taking a moment to catch their breath, Aethel did offer a counter. “However… What I can do is make it so that your Palace Guard will be able to be granted a mastery of mana usage true to their natures that would be on par with that of my kin. It might not be the advantage you seek, but it is what I can offer.

”Such unholiness does already have its roots, but it can be staved off. I suppose, however, if you do not see it best then so be it.”

He gazed away from Aethel once more, watching the Galbar tentatively as He thought of Aethel’s offer for a brief moment. His hands separated and rested on the lower ledges of His throne as His answer came to Aethel, His voice commanding and cold as He spoke as a king would to a begging lord.

”Very well then, give the Palace Guardians mastery of your ‘Mana’, let them use it as tools to better enforce my will.”

Easy enough to do, my liege.” Taking a deep breath, Aethel focused for a moment, calling upon some of their own being as they announced in a rather official manner as their horns started to glow brightly “May those mortals deemed worthy by the Monarch of All to be apart of his personal guard attain an understanding and mastery to rival those of any deity that actually took the time to learn how to channel and use mana.” Blessing given, the glow faded as the equine offered the Monarch of All a simple “There you go. Even set it up so that any mortal you bring into the fold will get the benefit of understanding and mastery rather than just an individual. Saves us both the trouble of having to invite me back every time you select a new guard.

Offering the Monarch of All a respectful bow, the deity turned towards where the portal bridge would likely manifest… before they made a request. “If you might, could you drop me off somewhere in that large desert area on the… Well, let’s just call it the ‘bottom’ part of the planet from where we’re seeing it. I do have something I’ve been meaning to do there and I would be thankful skipping the walk.

Without a word the portal opened in front of Aethel at their desired destination, with the Monarch of All seemingly pleased enough to see them out personally. The Great Lord of Reality nodded His head to Aethel before giving them a promise, His words holding grip over the realm as He would give them their title.

”You will receive your title as promised. Let it be known that you, Shepherd of Dreams, shall watch over your creation and make sure that none may seek to twist it for their own purposes.”

Thank you, my liege.” Aether answered with a deep bow, since the bestowing of a title truly was an event worthy of such diligence and respect. “I will live up to the title and duty you have bestowed upon me. I wish you well until we meet again.




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ROSALIND

RAGING ROSA | THE DANCE-DEMON | FEVERFOOT | LEAPING LINDA


There was a certain childan prayer that was often heard in the earliest days - before the flame, before Lansa, before the great divide. It was remembered by the very old, the very first to be awakened by the Guiding Spirit - and even among them, it was only remembered by those who had, in those first bewildering moments, been alert and listening to the Guiding and Mother Spirits.

Talako the Dreamer had not been of those who listened - not because he was bewildered, mind you, but because he had awakened straight into a daydream. He had often been mocked and jeered at for it, but he had never really quite noticed - the world was full of such wondrous things that he found his mind simply drifting away all the time. He would pause, for instance, by a fallen leaf and stare for endless minutes into the lines that ran across its form, then the smaller lines between those lines, then the colours - so many greens, greens within greens layered on greens perched on greens. Then he got to wondering how long, if he wished to create such a thing, it would take him. Then he got to wondering how he would create such a thing - what knowledge would he need; the purpose of all those lines, for one; the reason for all those greens, for another. And much else that he - for he was nothing but a daydreaming childan! - could never hope to know.

So he had not listened in those first moments and had not learned the prayer. In later times, however, he heard it from the women - for it was the women who remembered it, the women who had listened; not a single one among the men had listened to that prayer. In those later times, however, when their Father had left them those three days (before the knowledge of the flame came to them) Talako sat silently by the women - shivering, for he had never been able to endure the cold like the others - and he listened with wide-eyed wonder to the prayer. And it had been carved in his heart, that prayer, had caused a single tear to fall from his eye, that prayer.

So says the Father Spirit:
I will walk with you in the days that will come
And by my mercy you will come to know of many things.

Love the land, for you thrive in it.
Know this now; know kindness,
Know this now; know fear,
Know this now; know courage;
In your selves know them; strive that you may know.

Your Mother has birthed these mores of honour,
And I teach them now to you that you may know to preserve life;
Learn honour; know honour; strive ever for honour,
This is the highest tenet, the greatest knowledge, the way of living;
In your hearts know it, with your minds know it; know it above all.

Do not roam like mere beasts; do not roam in mindless war,
Do not roam like mere beasts; do not slay the tree, the fawn,
Do not dwell in starvation - feed yourselves and all who hunger,
Do not abide in the shade of violence and death,
Do not tread the path of despair,
Do not go the way of greed;
These things are the stuff of sorrow and bring the Spirits to frown.

Do not launch the gaze of scorn on others; all stand equal before the Spirits,
Protect all life - none stand above others and none stand below,
For all mortals come to the Spirits side by side and row on row.

Do not feed the cycle of cruelty; its one face hatred, the other strife,
By doing so you only fall away from the love and grace of the Spirits;
And by falling in this way, you forget all sacred things and fall prey to carnal sin,
By falling in this way, you forget all hallowed things and fall into dark profanity -
Does such life please you; to be forsaken and forgotten as you forgot and forsook the way?

Do not fall into the ways of sameness - uniformity breeds stagnation.
Do not curse fortune and life's struggle, but search for meaning, purpose;
The tools are given to you by the Spirits; your hands alone can move them.
Never declare that you have created paradise; paradise is not of this life.

Only the fool flings his face on to the pyres of death
So do not slay your self for foolish things;
Sacrifice is noble only when done in pursuit of honour's way;
This is your oath, this is your way, this is the inheritance given to you,
After this, only those who go blindly will ever stray,
While those who see reason will always turn back to the way.

He whispered it now as he wandered through the forests, whispered it gently to the birds. He had not quite understood why most of the women had left all of a sudden and why he had been left with the men. They had never liked him, so much he knew even through the veil of dreams that cushioned him against the world. He had always known, in a distant sort of way, that Wapeka and Enola, and some of the others, had always kept the worst of the other men’s jibes and jeers at bay. But he had awoken one day to find the fire out and the great majority of the women gone, and the men milling about or going their separate ways.

He had waited by the cinders when none but those last women remained, and had shivered alone in the darkness and bitterest cold of night - when neither his dreams could carry him off nor could his clothes keep the cold out. He had never understood how fire worked, never understood how it was made, and so had wandered over to the small group of women and their fire. Their glances had been nervous, sad, and so he had paused a short distance away.

“Dreamer? Why are you still here? Why have you not gone away with the other men?” A striking woman asked him, her hair as black as night.

“I d-” he began, but was swiftly cut off by one of the other women - Alona, for he knew her name.

“He wants us, wants our flame.” She sneered, standing up with anger.

“No, Alona. Now sit down before you embarrass the Mother Spirit. Dreamer has never wanted for anything but his dreams. Isn’t that right?” she gave a small smile, tossing her back.

Talako smiled back in his sheepish way - for he knew that, in one way or another, he was doing something wrong (or, at least, not quite right) - and mumbled an apology. “I- I don’t know where everyone went. W-Wapeka and Enola… uh, aren’t there. And the fire-” he pointed back to where the fire had once been, “it went out. And, well, I- I don’t know about fires.” He rubbed his shivering hands together and stood where he was in the cold, in all ways a pitiful sight. “If- if it wouldn’t be trouble to you, can I sit with you till they come back?”

“Chilali, he jests” Alona sighed, and sat back down, turning away from Talako.

Chilali stood up and beckoned him close. “They will not be coming back. Wapeka and her band headed for the far north, where none have gone yet. Come warm yourself by the fire, Dreamer. Then you must leave, or the other men might try the same.” The young man approached, and his supple form and tender face was lit up by the flames. He sat close by Chilali and brought his lanky legs to his chest, and every now and then he cast his fair brown eyes towards Alona, then back to his feet, then to Chilali.

“Chilali,” he spoke hesitantly, “why is Wapeka not coming back? Where’s everyone gone? Why do I have to leave?”

She stared into the flame. “You do not know, do you?”

“He was too busy dreaming.” Alona muttered.

“Alona… leave him be.” Chilali chastised, feeding another large stick to the flame. “Dreamer, there was a crime… A terrible deed that befell a woman- Lansa was her name. Some of the men…” Her voice caught in her throat. “She died, murdered by our fellow man. So, the women came together and it was decided we would leave the men forevermore. I am sorry Dreamer, but Wapeka is not coming back.”

Talako stared at Chilali for longer than was comfortable, then glanced at everyone else sat around the fire. “But… but that’s not allowed.” He said simply, as though that alone would undo what was said and done. “It’s against the way. Protect all life, that’s the way. Preserve life, that’s honour. That’s us.”

“Our honour was stained the moment we let Lansa die. We can only move on and ensure it never happens again. Look in the flame, Dreamer. What does it tell you?” Chilali never took her eyes off the flames. The pale lad did as she told him, and he was lost - all at once - in the dance of the fire’s licking tongues. He beheld it with wonder, its dark oranges, bright yellows, its flickering white - and the shadows it cast; light casting shadows! The crackling of the wood - why did wood crackle like that? He did not know for how long he looked into the flame, but when he drew himself out of it the night felt deeper and cold greater.

“The flame is beautiful, Chilali - and Lansa was too. But I think the flame is even more beautiful tonight. You know, she was always on her own, Lansa - just like that, her and the flame. Everyone always looked at her, but she only looked at the flame - and you know, when everyone was busy looking at her, I was looking at the flame too. And now you’re all looking at the flame, just like she did. Too late, but Lansa taught us before she went.” He sighed then and got to his feet. “I’ll go now. Thank you for letting me…” he paused and for a few seconds, his brows furrowed and eyes glistening, “and, I, uh, I’m sorry-” he cut himself off and turned into the darkness of night.

“Be well… Talako.” Chilali’s voice faded into the flame.


But all that was in the past now. He did not mind that he had been abandoned by his fellow men - in truth, it was bound to happen eventually; he was so often off in his own mind that it was not going to be long before everyone moved on and simply forgot to prod him awake. He had found the corpse of a great deer and fashioned a blanket from its skin for himself. He had wandered the forest from berry bush to berry bush, eating and wondering and wandering.

One day - to his surprise, for he had thought his wandering had taken him away from where any childan roamed - he walked into a clearing and his eyes fell upon one of his kindred, a woman. He froze where he stood and started to retreat in fear - for he remembered Alona, remembered what Chilali had mentioned of the women going north and the men elsewhere. It was too late, however, for the woman in the clearing had already spotted him.

She dropped her foraging basket and brandished a spear with a wild look in her eye. “You stay away! I-I know how to use this! My sisters are not far!” she threatened. Talako gasped, spluttered in an attempt to defend himself as he stumbled backward, and tripped right over a log. He landed heavily on his back and found his lungs were quite abruptly empty. He attempted to groan, but only let out a long, low, barely audible screech, and then lay still while trying to gather his breath.

There was silence for many moments. “A- Are you alright?” the woman eventually said. Talako mewled an inaudible response, then breathed in deeply and raised his head ever so slightly, peering over the log that had felled him and at the spearwoman.

“I- yes. I’m alright. Just- a little fall. Th- thank you. Uh, are you? Alright, I mean. S- sorry about- well, that.”

“You startled me. I thought… You are alone right? No companions? No tricks?” she asked, still pointing the spear at him. Her eyes glanced nervously around him.

“Yeah, all alone. I mean, I’m hardly a reliably companion for myself, let alone others!” He said self-deprecatingly, and then chuckled. “I... I’ll be getting up now, if it’s okay.” He glanced at her for approval, and she nodded.

“Slow. Show your hands.” She commanded. He raised his hands high, as she bid him, then struggled, rolled this way and that, then finally used his hands to push himself to his feet before swiftly raising them again.

He stood there, arms diligently raised, and took her in. Her clothes were torn and shredded, her dark brown hair unkempt and messy. She had an oval face with wide, doe-like eyes and the grip upon her spear was bone white. “Why have you come here?” She inquired.

Talako cleared his throat and spoke. “I don’t actually- well, I’m not sure where here is. I was just walking and thinking, you know. And it was cold so I found this dead deer and-” he paused, “uh, well, so I made this. It smells bad though so I wouldn’t get too close. But it’s warm, so, you know. Uh. Anyway. So I was just following the berries and eating and wandering, so I didn’t really mean to come here exactly, it just sort of- well, uh, it just happened.” He looked at her with a sheepish grimace. “Uh, sorry.” He paused and glanced around the clearing. “I- uh. I’m Talako, by the way. Everyone calls me Dreamer though. What’s your name?”

Her shoulders relaxed but only slightly. “I’m Dy-”

“Dyani! Where are you?” Another voice shouted out from somewhere behind her.

She looked at him, then behind her. “I-” she began to shout but stopped, turning back to Talako. “Leave. Go, Talako the Dreamer. It is not safe for man within these sister woods.” Her eyes were full of sadness, perhaps regret. With a brief nod and a fearful glance towards the rising voices further off, the pale young man turned and rushed into the undergrowth. As he went, he could hear Dyani shouting behind him, and soon the voices were indistinguishable over the growing distance and wall of trees and wildlife.

When Talako reflected on the course his journey had taken, there was no doubt in his mind that the meeting with Dyani - however brief - and the consequent change in the direction he was taking was a pivotal point. It was some weeks later - or it felt like weeks, he was so often lost in thought that he had lost touch with all sense of time - that he felt a strange movement not at all far from where he wandered. While he was easily awed by the wonders of the world, Talako was not the impetuously or foolishly curious sort - after all, ‘Only the fool flings his face on to the pyres of death / So do not slay your self for foolish things.’ And yet there was something about this motion that drew him, inextricably, closer and closer to its source.

As he crept through the trees, the first thing he noticed was the soil’s wetness. With furrowed brows he bent down and felt it, and he was surprised to find his fingers came away stained with a thick red and gold substance. He had seen water turn brownish red in the soil before, but this was like no water he knew. The frown deepening on his face, and all his instincts telling him to turn tail and run, he continued towards the movement, his feet squelching in the pooling red-gold stuff. And soon he was not merely squelching his way through it, but veritably wading through the stuff. It was easily ankle deep.

When at last the trees broke, he beheld one of the strangest sights of his short existence. There, in the clearing, by the dimming light of day, the strange liquid swirled everywhere in great circles. It circled and circled, swirled and swirled, gyred and gyred; great arcs rose heavenward, then descended, twisted all about the grove, again and again, rising and falling. They moved in endless circles, and those endless circles moved.

As he looked past the great red-gold mist, however, he thought he could see something at the epicentre of the great whirling, though whenever his eyes thought they had caught on to it, it seemed to shift - no, it was the shift - and escape his gaze again. He tried countless times to see it, and countless times he failed until his head began to hurt and so he simply gave up.

He had no sooner surrendered, however, then he found that he could see right past the odd motion, see all the way across the strange red-gold lake, to a small figure huddled against a tree. It was very small, far smaller than any person he had ever seen, but his eyes were strong despite his dreaming and his sight was keen. He could see, for instance, that it was a black-haired woman. He could see, immediately, that she was missing an arm, was mauled across the shoulder, and was seeping that very red-gold substance from her neck - from every wound, in fact! He shivered in disgust and horror, and looked into the blood pooled at his feet and for uncountable feet behind. He knew, then, that he had to run away.

So it was with no small degree of shock that he found himself running across the clearing, through the curving arcs of blood, towards the woman crumpled against the tree. “Protect all life,” he was thinking to himself, “preserve life,” he thought. And as he reached the epicentre of the whirling blood, any power over his limbs was lost and he found that now he was whirling, twisting, arching, gyring, tip-tap-topping across the surface of the blood lake, spinning and swirling, hurling himself with abandon into a dance not of his making. And as he wheeled and flitted and pranced with the circling of the blood arcs, his eyes widened as he came to see the thing - not thing, but yes, thing and not-thing, movement-thing; the dance and movement of everything in that grove, and his very own movement too.

It was the movement of air all around, the rustling of the trees, the flow of the woman’s lifestuff, the exhalation and inhalation of air, the running of his blood and pumping of his heart, the delirious rolling of his eyes as he tried to keep up with it all. And then, quite abruptly, he stopped trying to keep up with it all and surrendered himself into the safety of his waking dreams.

Into that darkness drifted a swirl of red with great flowing twilight hair, black eyes, long dark lashes, skin of sunset and the Spring. She hovered there, in tense stillness - like a spring coiled, pure stored motion. And in that same darkness about her, something moved - another figure, lithe, swift, smooth. The tapping of the other’s feet set her feet a-tapping too - tip-tap-top tip-tap-top tip-tap-top - the clicking of fingers joined the tapping, the breathing of the great red skirt, a shout, a clap, a stomp. She vibrated power, her eyes flashed, and behind her the darkness moved, clapped, shouted unknown words of praise - ‘aye that’s how it’s done, now,’ ‘yes, and there she goes, oh,’ ‘now that’s a dance there,’ ‘see how the tap’s done!’

Then an invisible lute was strummed, a voice rang out - high and full of such pathos as left the Dreamer trembling where he sat and stood. And the woman in the dress of crimson and hair of twilight tapped across the darkness - she the singular light - twirled once, twice, thrice; her skirt opening, flying, fluttering, cutting the crying air as she tapped and turned and twisted and clapped and sent out a bellow, tapped forth, then again- and went tapping- flying across the unseen floor- then stomped- the world quaked - and she stood there glaring, nose flared, features snarling, daring, challenging. Her hands drifted down her electric form for breathless seconds… then she turned away and all was darkness and silence but for the final strumming of the unknown lute and its player hidden in the darkness.

Talako opened his eyes and shivered, felt himself spasming with uncontained emotion - did not know what to do with it, where to put it, what to do - even - with himself. And he realised, then, that he was staring into the ink-black eyes of the mauled woman. There was no discernible pupil, no iris, no sclera; it was utter darkness - though Talako thought he spied inside them a crimson streak and an unheard lute - and he knew that all that he was lay bared and open to her in that very moment.

“When the good-wise sleep, Dreaming Talako, the foul-fools stray and lead astray. Wake, and awaken the conscience of your nation - or else lie doomed to debasement’s station.” The voice was not of any woman Talako had known, but was that of man.

“I- I am not of the wakeful.” He stammered.

“I say wake, Talako, and awaken your nation!” The voice rumbled.

“Have mercy, great Spirit; I am not of the wakeful!”

“I say unto you, Talako, wake and awaken by the dance in your soul; by the beating in your chest; by the fire that consumes; by the fevers that hotten your feet; wake and awaken the soul of your nation!”

And Talako gave no response then except that his feet burst up beneath him and he found himself flying on the lake of blood, tapping, swirling, shaking; and he could not help the impassioned cry that ripped from his mouth. “I am awake! I am awake!” And without stopping he darted from the grove, darted across the ankle-deep blood, darted through the sludge - across the forests he darted - in the darkness darted, without stopping darted until he reached that very spot, that blessed spot even, where Dyani had changed the course of his life and sent him on the journey of awakening.

He collapsed there, in that clearing, in that darkness of the newborn night, and he did not move at all, but only shivered. “Oh wind, oh frost.” He trembled. “It’s cold; oh frost, oh wind.”


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Leotamer

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Geological Expeditions I


It was not long ago that Lyell was a young Kynikos staring at the moon and pondering mysterious. However, his true interest laid below the surface and he was almost resentful of the moon for calling him back to the prime outpost. Some of the others were satiated by staring at dirt and watching biological life slowly grow. He sustained himself by learning of rocks and metals, slamming them together to find out which one was stronger or dropping them to find out which ones were heavier. His childish games becoming more refined with age as with others of his kin.

His true love was the lava river, which semi-regularly ebbed and flowed near the secondary outpost. However he had precious few times to visit it as it would take nearly all of his daylit hours to travel down and back to the surface. The older clothe-based Kynikos preferred to remain far from its heat and the dirt and grim of the caves in general. But he saw the rock-based Kynikos of the secondary outpost work, burying things when the magma was low and seeing what would happen to it after it raised and fell again.

When he was appropriately inspired, Lyell moved to the secondary base to construct his new body. However, instead of stone and mud he had grander designs based upon the research he had diligently listened to and absorbed. He was not content to simply live by its shore, he wanted to explore it properly as those before him explored the corrosive sea. Others worried that could construct his body before his mind began to degrade, however his determination did not yield to his nature.

His form was simple, and yet vastly distinct from both his rock-based and clothe-based kin. His arms, legs and torso was constructed from metals which did not liquify under the intense heat. The only breaks in the metal were for the arm and leg joints. Shards of obsidian were moved by his ghastly spiritual form to act as fingers and toes. He lacked a head, but he felt that feature was not strictly required and he was already straining himself and teetering on the edge of mentally breaking sending as long as he did to construct this simple form.

Confident in his new shell, Lyell approached the lava pool. Its oppressive heat would ward off his kin, but he was resilient to it. It was mildly uncomfortable but he would adjust for the sake of exploration and discovery. He began to walk into magma, his metallic frame and glassy appendages survived the contact. It irritated his skeleton. As the top of his frame submerged, it was difficult to see. He roamed around, feeling around confirming that the rock tunnel continued downward from their location.

His spent his time meandering around and gathering whatever samples he could. Occasionally rising to the surface to the deposit them as his simply made hands could only carry so much. Eventually, his skeleton began to hurt and he rushed towards the maw of the lava river. It was difficult with his crudely made legs, however he succeeded collapsing to the ground near his samples. His rock-based kin braved the hot aura of the magma and dragged him to safety. With another carefully grabbing his work, knowing that had they left it he would have rushed back for it.

His limited success had caught several of the younger rock-based Kynikos attention and together they examined what went wrong. Together, they discovered that while the main components of his skeleton could survive the heat, it had impurities that would melt away after prolonged periods within the heat. Learning this, it was rather simple to repair and allow him to continue his work, knowing that he only needed to limit his time within the magma and spending some amount of time to expel that heat before continuing his expeditions.

Lynell considered this slow and steady approach. The fear of destruction had tempered his youthful haste. He didn't even find anything of great substance as he sat down with his newly found followers to examine his samples. Until one of his assistant dropped one his oddly large and round rocks. Everyone originally looked at him with scornful glares until they looked down at it. It cracked upon and revealed a crystalline interior with small rock pods instead it. They studied the strange rock voraciously, until it began stranger. It began to rot and decay as if it were plant above, leaving just the rock pods and an earthen mush. Its changed only encouraged them to study it further.

Lynell realized that his body was not prefect, and that he could not truly explore the magma properly. And so he would build himself a superior body, one that was capable of venturing into the very depths of the heat. And he was not alone in this endeavor.

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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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The Rattus People


It began two nights after they had set up their outpost home within sight of the endless water that the river ran to. It began with a messenger.

Annandale had been on above ground guard duty that night. While the Rattus seemed more inclined towards favoring operating under moon, the desert tended to be rather cold after the sun went down. As such, they tended to favor remaining in their recently constructed barrow structure, working underground where a few key fires could help keep them comfortable... as well as cook on. In fact, Annandale's partners on guard duty had ducked back down into the barrow in order to see if they could get something hot to eat while they guarded the entry way; Singapore had been trying to woo a rather beautiful looking cook since their party had set out and she seemed to return the affections for they had to go in order to get her to offer the food, while Tunney had gone to make sure Singapore actually came back instead of taking some surprise time off to spend with the cook.

While some argued that setting up inside of the entrance would have been a better idea as far as safety and security went, the main reason they were up there was to tend to the fire they had lit on the surface. The idea had originally come from the first outpost to have set themselves up: While they were setting up their barrow, more than one Rattus had misplaced themselves in regards to knowing where the barrow entrance was. As a simple solution to their problem, they took to lighting a fire at the entrance of the barrow at night so that those operating under moon on the surface could more easily find their way back home. It also served as a beacon for future bands of migrants wishing to join them... or a band passing by to create a new outpost further along to stop by and have friends and shelter for a time before moving on.

Of course, if you were going to have a fire going all night you needed someone to tend to it... and because whomever was tending to the surface fire was also going to be the first one to see trouble coming on the surface, they were also on guard duty. Since a single guard on duty was an excuse for something to go horribly wrong and a duo was likely to become a mono if someone felt the need to go relieve themselves or duck instead to send a message or get something, they were meant to tend the fire in trios. As Annandale glanced around by herself, she couldn't help but feel a bit sarcastic in just how wonderfully the system was working.

It was then, with her back to the fire so she could benefit from its warmth but also gaze out into the night easily, that she saw the singular Rattus approach.

The fact that they were alone was something of note to Annandale. While the great Aethel's teachings had been watered down somewhat by the fact that in order to teach more Rattus at once, students that had taken to the teachings had quickly become teachers in their own rights, a simple lesson was that traveling alone was a bad idea. If something bad happened while you were traveling between outposts and you were on your own, you were in a great deal of trouble. They also seemed to be... moving wrong somehow? As if they weren't used to walking comfortably yet.

For a few minutes Annandale considered the possibility that the Rattus coming towards them had been apart of a group that had underwent some kind of trouble and this one had managed to seek help despite being injured... but that faded the closer to the stranger got. They had no signs of injury on them... at least none that bled through the fur. But the wrongness that she had felt earlier only got worse and it had nothing to do with the manner in which they moved. Their mana was... wrong. Every creature, knowingly or not, able to channel or not, interacted with the winds of mana in their own way and this Rattus coming towards her... was not interacting with them in a manner that a Rattus could or should.

The winds were interacting with them as if they were a completely different creature, despite what they appeared to be.

Annandale tried not to physically respond to the fact that she was nervous by this development. This was an unknown situation and... her ear twitched as she heard movement coming from the left. Turning her head ever so slightly as to allow herself to continue watching the approaching figure while trying to see what had made that noise in the corner of her vision. She...didn't make out exactly what it was because it seemed to have partly buried itself in the sand while pushing a bit in front of itself to hide... This was a bad sign. But despite the shivers that were starting to run along her body and cause her tail to start flicking, she tried to make it seem like everything was fine. Just because she was in a bad situation, the fact that she knew it was a lot better then not.

Hopefully, they didn't know she knew something was up... Whomever or whatever they happened to be.

The final sign of trouble came when the fake Rattus finally entered speaking distance, calling out as they continued to draw closer "Have message for the one in charge. Can you direct me to them?" Any true messenger would have known that their outpost was led by Tunneyi, Tunney's older brother had been entrusted with leadership of their group. Names were important and this outside threat wearing the skin of a Rattus didn't understand that.

Afraid for her life as she doubted that this false Rattus and its hidden companion had her or her kins best interests at heart, Annandale calmly reached a paw back as she turned fear into a weapon and pulled on the flames of the fire she was tending before lashing her paw forward and sending a lance of fire directly into the body of the false Rattus. Her final vindication came from the fact that the figure hadn't squeaked out in shock, alarm or pain, it instead unleashed a horrifying, unrattus like noise that she honestly couldn't begin to describe. The Rattus fur seemed to melt off in the flames as some horrifying insect like creature stumbled backwards, trying to put itself out.

The sound of buzzing and sand exploding outwards to her left caused Annandale to act on complete instinct, her left paw thrusting out towards the movement in the corner of her eye even before she was able to completely turn her head towards it. A sharp, blindingly bright twig of hot light surged from her paw and in the span of one of her hearts panicked thumps it covered the distance and slammed into one of the terrifyingly large, insect like eyes (at least she thought it might be an eye. It was on the head after all) of the creature that was flying at her on a pair of buzzing wings and a spear coming out of its face. Her ears folded against her head as a deafening crack roared from the point of impact as the eye exploded into a spray of super hot gore as its owner was flung backwards, their body twitching so violently as it fell backwards onto the desert sand that Annandale had to look away because she didn't want to see it rip itself apart!

The first of the two insect monsters, the one who had been pretending to be a Rattus, quickly regained her attention as it managed to put out the flames and take to the air with a buzzing of wings, the burns easy to see on its body. However, it didn't seem as brave as to rush directly into combat: This was clearly not how it had expected this situation to go. It's deception and ambush had failed, it was injured and its companion was either dead or dying. If she were in its position, Annandale would be considering cutting her losses and running for it too.

She was putting on a show of strength to make it look like she was prepared to throw more fire or another... burning twig of light at it if it decided to charge again, but it truth it was a bluff; That burning light twig had taken a lot out of her and she didn't think she could safely do it again. It if decided to push the assault, she was in trouble.

The tense stand off lasted a few seconds, but its end was heralded by the sound of scampering feet from the barrow entrance behind her. More Rattus were coming, likely to investigate just what the hell the loud noise she had made was. The numbers had turned in her favor... and the bug like creature knew it. With its deafening, horrible buzzing of wings it turned and sped off into the night at speed. The burns must have hurt badly, but since it would have likely died if it stayed it was likely trying to ignore the pain as best it could for now.

As her fellow guards returned from their trip, the food they had brought having been dropped either in surprise by the noise or in the rush to get back to the entrance to find out what was going on and to support her, followed soon by the scampering paws of other Rattus, Annandale turned to look at the bug monster that had failed to escape. It's head and chest weren't moving, but its hands and legs continued to twitch as if parts of the body were still arguing over if it was actually dead or not. The smell... the smell of burnt insect was putrid.

Even as her fellow Rattus started to ask her questions like what had happened, what in Aethel's name was that thing and if she was alright, Annandale started to shake badly. Her breathing grew heavy even as her heart pounded in her chest. On instinct she started to gnaw on one of her arms to try and find some relief from the stress that weighed on her... and finally she bent over to dry heave painfully as tears started to roll down her face.



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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Zelios




The God of Darkness had returned to the shadow of The Ring. The creation of the Rattus had given him much to think about. Was it right to leave them behind like that? There was surely merit in leaving things to their own devices and giving them a chance to grow, but it didn't sit right with him. It had been clear that neither he nor Aethel fully understood the species which the Rattus had been based on, which was just asking for unexpected complications. He couldn't help but feel as if he had made a mistake.

He would need to return, at some point. See what became of them. Perhaps lend a hand, or steer them back on course, if their situation had deteriorated.

In the meantime, however, there was work to be done.

He flew through the dark sky on his customary black wings. Although his attire often changed, the wings usually remained. He hovered in the air above a peninsula of grassland and forest, which had already been seeded with plantlife. It was so green. But then a thought occurred to him: why green? So much of this world was green. Could it not use a bit more colour?

He looked at himself, and chuckled. He didn't exactly wear a wide range of colours himself, but at least he wore more than one. Black, grey, purple. Okay... that was only three. Perhaps he should work on that. He didn't particularly like bright and gaudy colours, but there were surely darker shades of green, blue, and red he could consider incorporating into his outfit. Then he snorted. Now here he was contemplating fashion! Fashion was important of course, but had he not just decided to finally do some work?

So, work he did.

Closing his eyes, he shifted into his true form - a mass of shadowy arms and legs - and allowed himself to fall to the ground. He plunged black fist into the dirt, and the earth shook slightly as a shockwave boomed across the land. The grass upon which he had landed turned purple, and the colour began to spread across the land. When it reached the forests, the green leaves became a dark blue, while the bark turned to white, or dark grey.

Then, the shadowy mass rolled across the land, studying all the creatures he could find, and altering them to be more suitable for the night. Pretty much all had migrated here from other regions, and although they had already begun adapting to the dark environment, it not all were perfectly-suited just yet. For example, creatures who had been coloured green for camouflage purposes now needed to be made purple or blue, to reflect their new environment.

He also created new species: in the forests, he made apelike creatures who had no eyes, but a strong sense of hearing as well as batlike echo-location and a sense of smell that could rival a rat. In the plains and grasslands, he made four-legged creatures striped black and white which could run at great speeds, and possessed perfect night vision. Other more common creatures were added as well: panthers, wolves, bison, deer, and sheep, just to name a few. The winged creatures were mostly bats, owls, and parrots. These were far from the only creatures in the land.

He took care not to venture beyond the land that was not already covered by the ring, and instead focused on moving west. As he did so, the forests began to grow rarer and thinner, and he began to encounter intelligent lifeforms who were, somewhat understandably, terrified by his presence. Especially when he turned the very ground they were standing on purple. He would have to learn more about this creatures, especially since a fair few of them seemed to be heading further east. He continued on, until the forests almost vanished entirely while intelligent mortals became even more common, and then he proceeded no further.

He was not looking to turn the entire world purple. That would defeat the purpose.





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The Sacred Law





From the dark gloom of the forests underbrush, Tala watched the campsite of her kin as they made merry into the night. They danced and laughed and sang, leaping like pouncing wolves around flickering flames in the centre of the tribal camp. As if anything had changed. As if a single decision could unmake a travesty, suck rot out of a wound. When word of the initial split had reached her tribe, women had abandoned men. Firekeeper Lansa was well-known, even if none Tala knew could claim to ever have done more than glance her from afar. It was a tragedy, and there was justified anger and sadness at the loss. Still, to split away from all men for the crimes of a few - this made no sense to Tala.

Work was now harder, new tasks that men of the small tribe had handled were now due to be relearned. What could and could not be eaten, how best to avoid attention from predators, how to secure shelter. This knowledge had been in the possession of men, men who were now banished for the crimes of others. Still, the other women celebrated. Loud enough to attract every animal, spirit and childan in the area. Burning the fire hot enough to be visible for miles. No concern for safety. Tala knew more than well that just because you could not see it did not mean there was no one watching. She imagined half the forest sat outside the range of their flame's luminant might, watching them with caution and hunger, just as Tala did. She frowned to herself and turned her attention back to the work she did in the dark. A sharp rock, ground many times into a thin edge enough to carve wood and fibre into better shapes. Her newest project was a set of sticks, different lengths, all sturdy enough to bend and swing, and sharpened to a fine point. Something to fend off the predators, be they beast or man.

They'd grow tired eventually. The worship of their colorful fire spirit would dim, their bellies would be empty, and their bodies would call for companionship. There was no reason to celebrate, nor did she imagine any of them cared particularly for Lansa beyond the growing legend of the horrific crime. Now she was being exalted like some kind of martyr, who in her heroism illuminated the vices of men. Tala scoffed to herself. The story being spun alone proved women were as full of dung as almost any man. That wasn't counting the hard words, the constant infighting, the scheming to secure a good and popular man. Before all this anyway. She doubted that would change. Until such a time she was proven right, all she could do was distance herself, live with the caution she knew in her heart was necessary. Maybe if someone had done so before, all this would be different now.

”You sit away from the fire, why?” Came a deep voice beside her.

The voice shocked her to her core, a deep chill rattling it's way through her spine and extremities as her senses battled pure panic and survival instinct. Her eyes shifted wildly to lay eyes on the source of the voice, scrambling backwards to assumed safety. How had she not heard anything before the voice spoke to her?

It was a tall Childan man with piercing blue eyes looking down at her. He wore nothing but a loin cloth, his white hair long and braided. Which in itself was odd. He raised both hands, showing no weapons upon his person but hands were dangerous enough. He bent his knees and settled down beside where she had once sat. He motioned to her to sit back down.

Tala breathed uncertainly, but eventually managed to press out a basic reply as she kept her eyes on this new arrival. "Light. Noise. It draws attention and makes it impossible to see beyond the camp. It dulls the thoughts of all, giving cause to celebrate when there is none. It's heat is a lie - brief comfort for a world of trouble. And it is dangerous."

"Ah. I see." he said after a moment of inscrutable thought. He took up a discarded rock and a piece of wood, beginning to chip away at it. "Fire is dangerous, always will be. There is no shame in being afraid of it." He said next. "No shame at all." He grinned at her.

Tala watched the man pensively for a long time, letting her eyes settle away from the light to study this new arrival further. The flow of his muscles, the braid, the way his hands worked the wood. Eventually she deemed it safe enough to sit back up properly. “You’re not supposed to be here,” she warned with a small frown. “The others won’t take kindly to a man stalking about.”

A few moments passed before Tala realized her own safety could be in jeopardy. A chill ran down her spine, alerting her senses to this primal realization. It went against all that she herself had concluded and reasoned earlier, yet she could not discount that niggling worry. What happened to Lansa could happen to her. Hurriedly she added a threat. “And don’t think about trying nothing either. I’m confident in my skill of driving this up your jaw.” Tala showcased the sharpened wood she herself had been carving on as if that would prove the point. Her eyes flitted to the camp, where women danced and laughed in the firelight still. It’d be a day at least before anyone asked for her. Would they care? Or would they abandon her to the wild as Lansa’s friends had done in plain sight?

He kept on whittling and gave a small shrug. ”Push fear from your heart, I will do you no harm.” He said after a time. ”Though I have no doubt of your aim, I would question your resolve.” icy eyes bore into her. ”Could you kill another? A brother Childan?”

That questions burrowed deep into her core. It was an attack on many fronts -- on her confidence, on her beliefs, on her skills. His assertion that he was harmless felt like vicious mockery. Was it a threat? Tala found her fingers gripping the sharp stick tighter as she watched the bright-eyed man. "...If… If it came to that. Someone has to think of the safety of the pack. To- to make sure it never happens again." She cleared her throat and straightened her back, trying to appear unbothered even though her heart pounced with accusatory cowardice. "Might as well be me."

His gaze was unmoving, like a frozen lake. Then he smirked and his gaze wavered, falling back upon his whittling. "You think of safety. To make sure it never happens again..." An icy eye glanced at her, "Yet here you sit. All alone. Your pack sit over there, do they not? It seems to me you are only looking out for yourself. For your own safety. You would run in the face of a threat." he stated with coldness in his voice.

Tala pondered this with a frown, but soon shook her head in defiance of his words. "I am sitting here because beside the fire one cannot see the danger stalking in the trees. If I must be alone to ensure their safety, then so be it." She nodded to herself, still gripping her stick. Perhaps some part of her would run, she thought, against a truly horrific threat. But someone had to think of safety.

The old man nodded his head. "Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps not. It would not be the first time. It would not be the last. Now," he ceased his whittling and then blew upon the wood. A cloud of shavings and dust, far more than even she had realized was capable from that stick, blew up into the air. It obscured her vision for a split second but when it settled, held out to her was a strange tool. About as long as her forearm and no longer made entirely of wood. It's intricate handle was made of the dark limb, yes, but at the top there shone an icy blue sheen of something sharp. A flat, almost triangular disc. It was angled with a narrow flat end, all of which sat atop the stick. Like a cover of sorts. It looked like a bulging claw.

He said but two words, "Prove yourself." and then from the fire, there came panicked screams.

Tala spun her head back to her people. Silhouetted against the backdrop of the flames was a large bat that was descending with flaps of its leathery torn wings. The beast snarled, thick bloody saliva dripping from its chin. What had looked like some sort of growth upon its underside, dropped onto the ground away from the flames. They looked like bulbous creatures and there were several of them. Next they began to skitter towards her people, pouncing with thick mandibles.

Something primal gripped her heart, a deep and wholly natural fear gripped her as she watched these foreign beings descend on her kin. She did not think. Spurred by his mocking words and the offering, she felt almost prepared. This was what she had bragged her purpose was. Her fingers coiled around the straight-handled, sharp tool. Before she could produce a rational thought, a debate of safety and risk, she was on her feet, running through the thicket to intercept the monstrous but smaller creatures. Their chattering and clicking mandibles produced no real sounds, only unnatural shrieks and rattles that clamped down somewhere deep inside of Tala. Beady eyes, bulbous, almost pulsating bodies of some kind of flesh sacs and bloody chitin - everything about these creatures promised a lifetime of nightmares.

Tala's long legs carried her to the fire and panicking people swifter than she had imagined - without thinking she put herself between one of the chittering bulbs and one of her campmates that had fallen on the ground and limply crawled towards the fire. Dyani deserved many things, but being bitten by one of these things was not one of them. Tala swung her gifted tool clumsily towards the creature, but it saw her coming and easily skittered aside, mandibles clicking and moving in a terrifying mess of darkness and blood. Screams were all around her. This was how she died, her mind said, crippled with fear. Her body wasn't listening - not quite so ready to surrender. The bulbous beast made a lunge for her, and Tala found herself backing over Dyani and toppling to the ground, hair warming up fiercely to the roaring fire behind her. The beast lunged again, and Tala swung her sharp weapon to ward it away. The cold edge dug weakly into one of its many legs, leaving a solid hack, and the creature withdrew with a screech. It was all the time Tala needed. Her free hand rustled beside her to grab a branch from the fire, and ripped it free as she fought to clamber back on her feet. When the creature bared it's black mouth once more, Tala responded with a desperate ursine roar, and drove the burning branch straight into the beast's maw. The creature shriek and shook, terrified and in untold agony. Tala lunged again, swinging her shining weapon from above, smashing and hacking into the bulbous growth that made up a large part of the creature. The fleshy sac gave way under the sharp pressure and exploded with a sudden shower of dark liquids. The monster shrieked and lunged at her, and Tala's panicked, furious hack struck it in what she imagined was it's face. It fell quiet after that, dribbling black and red liquid splayed out on the soil.

Overcome with frustration, fury and desperation, Tala turned to find her next quarry. With all the bulbous creatures dead or dying due to the campsites' makeshift resistance, the giant bat shrieked as it attacked another, Kalani, who held out a burning branch to ward it away from the women with child. It was across the fire from her and moving in close. There was no time. Dripping jaws snapped and shrieked as Kalani did her best to fend off the creature - to no avail. It had set its sights on both her and the others, and their fates were sealed. No amount of flame could keep it from it’s bloodlust. Tala felt powerless, a strange sensation of itching fingers and gut-wrenching frustration building deep in her core. Running to meet it was a fool’s errand, if it could even be intercepted from the ground.

Something snapped in her then, the last rope that bound her fury and frustration. The sharp weapon made itself known in her hand, an instrument of death beckoning her to complete her journey. She did not know if it was desperation, panic, or anger. With a furious roar she threw her arm forward, letting the sharp hacking tool fly free from her hand, slipping from her fingers into the warmed air to sail through the licking flames of the firepit. It careened like a missile, spinning like a furious avalanche towards the unaware beast. It looked like it would miss, that her aim had not been so true. Yet it looked as if her eyes played a trick on her and the beast so subtly was blown into the path. A wet thud, barely audible. A bone-chilling shriek of agony and rage echoed a moment later. Then death as the tool had found its mark- the heart, and it dropped like a rock. It stained the ground with dark blood that looked black in the flamelight.

She had done it. Her tribeswomen were saved. Before they had anytime to even collect themselves, the man appeared. Their were audible gasps and frightened shouts as he stood upon the edge of the clearing. Only the flickering light of the flame could he be seen. He smiled and his form changed. It grew taller and his eyes glowed icy blue.

It was the Spirit Father.

That revelation was too much for Tala. Her muscles expelled the last remnants of her vigor, and her knees buckled under the sudden weight of her exhausted form. She fell to her knees, staring at the smiling Father, an expression of disbelief, relief and pained emotions all at once. It was hard to think - to process what had just happened. What those creatures were, who was hurt - questions she'd ask when the world made sense again. When sanity rushed back in her mind. For now she was content to replace the fear of death with reverence for the Spirit Father.

He held up a hand, and the fire seemed to dim. A cool and gentle breeze rushed over them all and relief came to those that needed it. He strode forth and spoke as her tribe all fell to their knees. ”Rise my daughters, rise. Show reverence to me in other ways, do not kneel. For kneeling is oppression.” he continued his walk before coming to a stop before Tala. He extended his hand to her. ”You have done well, Tala.”

Tala looked up at him in disbelief and awe. She extended her hand to his, taking it firmly after brief hesitation and pulling herself from the ground with the aid of his implacable grip. Doubt and shame struck as her heightened mood reminded her how unfriendly she had been to the Spirit Father. His praise seemed hollow next to the expectant fear that he could admonish her yet and be fully in the right. She could not dare to presume what transpired in such a great being's mind. "Thank you, Father," she eventually squeaked out, managing to disappoint herself with the lack of respect in her tone owing to fatigue and the rush of life all at once. "I-... I did not know…" She hastened to explain.

"Move fear from your heart. Not all is as it seems in this world, never assume what's before your eyes is truth." he said to her in a fatherly tone. He then turned to all of them. "Now I come with a most sacred law. As Tala and Kalani have demonstrated; You must always protect your fellow women. Lansa's death could have been avoided if a voice had stood up for her." at the mention of the firecharmer, many heads looked down in shame. "You must never allow it to happen again. Be kind to another, be strong. You are not alone, you are together. For with this law, it brings a reckoning. You will become stronger than any man but if my law is broken, then you will become weak and frail. Do you understand?" his icy gaze fell back to Tala, as if she was the one who could answer for them all.

Tala felt a fire in her heart grow from smoldering embers of exhaustion to a confident blaze. The words of the Spirit Father were affirmation of her own thoughts, a higher standard with which to face the world. She had been judged and found worthy. That sensation brought elation, and she swore internally never to break away from that divine praise of her convictions. “Always,” she responded with a firm tone, finding her mind steeled against the doubt she had felt at first. “If I do not do my part, I do not deserve the kinship of my peers. I will defend and avenge my people.”

All around her, the tribeswomen began to swear it so. That no women would fall under their gaze, that none would be abandoned in their time of need. Tala was the catalyst of a great change and because of that, her name would become legend. The Spirit Father pressed a thumb into her forehead and from it an icy chill ran through her being, infusing her with power. "Your task is this, find those responsible for the Firecharmer's death. When you have found them, your heart will know what to do." his finger fell away from her. "I tell this to the rest of you, spread this sacred law to the rest of your kind. Already it is infused within you, but they must know why. Now go. Go and be well." A wind gusted between them all and the spirit Father was swept up within it, lost in the night as the fire roared back to life.

Tala exhaled slowly, eyes lifting to scan for the Spirit Father, but eventually coming to examine the gentle cloud of heat expelled from her mouth as it vanished in the once more building heat of the camp. She closed her eyes as others started chattering, debating his words, discussing the attack, examining the beasts. Tala did not listen. She heard only the command levied upon her. A purpose. Lansa could not be returned, but she could be avenged. Was that what he meant? She would know when it mattered, he had said. With that simple guarantee, she pushed the matter aside for now. She did not respond to Kalani, who inquired about her state. Instead she pushed to her feet, and walked over to the felled winged beast. The sharp tool had struck it cleanly, and it now seemed lodged in it's body - a sheet of ice having spread over the wound. She gripped the shaft and ripped it loose with a loud crack, ice crystals and frozen hide coming loose in chunks. The sight and sickening sound sent a shiver through her spine. There could no longer be any doubt what manner of tool this was. She turned to the others, a few following her movements with cautious interest.

"I'm going to need to go on a journey."









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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Mair, Champion of Souls





She flew upon a brisk wind, far and away from her people’s land. Many moons had passed since then, with many new events to mark the passing of time. Some were more difficult to process then others, whilst some had surely gone without notice. Still, she had been doing as her maker asked- exploring, being his eyes and ears in these Giant Lands. She had gone about naming it something else though. A better term for one whose eyes were always watching and learning.

The Land Betwixt.

She felt loneliness often, for she knew another was exploring as well. One just like her. She knew not where he was, only that she carried hope enough he would be alright. Worse, her people were far away too, across the land, further and further from her reach. So much land between, full of vales and mountains, meadows and prairies, with rivers, streams, and creeks. All manner of things, like the herds of horned beasts that turned the land into brown seas. Or the mass of the tusked ones that shook the earth as they walked. Once these things had amazed her but now they were only quick glances. A nod of acknowledgement.

For this is what their God had wanted from them. To explore and gain knowledge. What knowledge could one gain from seeing the same sights over and over again if they never changed? Perhaps she was foolish, or slacking and maybe she would even be punished for such actions but Mair found herself caring little as the days crept on.

She stopped at times to witness new events, like when she had stumbled upon a ghostly mist, which she had thought was a fading soul, taking the form of water to protect a young calf of some animal from a pack of hungry predators that stood as tall as she did. One blast of water from the lingering soul was enough to scatter the would-be attackers. Mair left with a sense of awe and could not wait to tell her twin. But it was that thought which sullied her mood once more and she flew on.

Once she came across a sight that still haunted her, sending shivers down her spine at the mere thought. It had been a dark night when she found a perch in a warm tree, she had learned to be careful as animals could not differentiate her being something more than another prey item. It did help that she was smaller and most left her alone, not wanting to expend too much energy trying to catch her. Her other issue was that she was stark white, even in raven form. Her feathers were not black and her eyes were not dark but a colorful blue, or so she had seen at a small pond once. The still water revealed much to her, both raven and Voiran form. She was disappointed by her appearance. Too dainty and small in a world of giants. Not much physicality with her form either, though she felt perfectly strong. Perhaps it had been what their maker had intended, or not, she just couldn’t question it all that much.

But back in that tree, she felt comfy enough to sleep. Until she heard something terrifying. Like the death throes of a crowned beast but twisted into something dark. There came a mighty crack and the thunderous crashing of footsteps beneath the trees. Down into the abyss below but ever curious, Mair investigated. What she found altered her perception of the Land Betwixt once again.

With quiet flaps she glided down to a lower branch and bore witness to a grisly sight. A creature was feasting upon a slain beast. It did not look like any predator she had ever seen before, for it was far too decayed and smelled like putrefying death. It looked like a crowned beast, with mighty antlers, but that was where the similarity ended. For it stood on two legs, like she did in her other form, and was far too lanky and misshapen. It ate and ate but it never stopped, even when the meat within it overflowed and crashed out onto the ground with sickly plops. It made her gag and that had been the moment of her mistake.

It looked at her within a split second, flaming green eyes like slits within the dark honing into her exact spot.

Mair froze.

A hundred thoughts entered her head at that moment. Could it tell what she was? Would it care? Would it come after her? But though it stared for several seconds, it must have lost interest in her and went back to its meal. After all, she was just a morsel compared to the beast it gorged itself upon.

Right?

She didn’t care to find out and left rather quickly, never looking back.

That had been weeks ago, and it still stuck out to her. Had it been some sort of dream or test by the maker? Had it been her imagination? Perhaps… Perhaps her twin had had a similar experience? Hopefully her people would be alright if that thing came prowling their way.

She could only hope.

Mair continued on, much of what she had seen recurring in different ways or shapes. Forests became plains, plains become forests or hills or mountains and ravines. Animals looked mostly the same as well, some variations, like large birds that she did fear or the ones that flew by her, with inquisitive expressions. Those ones always gave her a surprise but they were friendly enough. It wasn’t until she felt for certain she was thousands upon thousands of wingbeats from home did she finally meet something truly amazing.

Her people were not alone. For she had found another.

They were people, not pale like her but dark skinned and tall. So very tall. They had long black hair and different faces, much narrower with higher cheekbones. And they were all women, who fed sticks and logs to some demon of rage. The demon never attacked, nor did it seem very much alive, but to her eyes it was as if they kept it alive for warmth? She watched them for days, first from a distance but then she flew closer and closer.

Over that time something even more strange happened. Their demon of rage became blue, like her eyes and Mair felt a pull. She had never seen such opaline beauty before. But this proved to be a mistake on her part, for as she flew down upon a stick, so entranced by the pull, she did not see the woman before it was too late.

Two hands grabbed either side of her, massive hands. So large in fact, they surrounded her small body completely. She struggled and squaked, trying in vain to escape that heavy grip and then she tried to bite but she couldn’t move her head. Fear settled in as a crowd gathered and then everything went dark.




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Hidden 7 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by yoshua171
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yoshua171 The Loremaster

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𝒞ath elainea

Cath Melainea was born as the Shard of Temperament, formed deep within the psyche of the Monarch long before she was ever expelled to express herself as an individual essence. So it was that she was borne unto the firmament as a roiling iridescent flame of violet hue, a coiling fractal of experience. Coalescing after many of her siblings, Melainea came to know herself only in those moments that followed, as if every instant before had been spent as a growing babe, coming to understand herself and her place in the world to come. Thus, as she was borne unto the Palace of Creation by her father--where for a brief time she remained--she ruminated her existence.

As she pondered, her Father--indeed, the Father of All--let her be, having greater endeavors than soothing his newborn daughter*. So it was that she came to understand that from which she had been wrought.

Consciousness.

Her essence, having remained within the Monarch of All's embrace for longer than most, had been condensed and tempered into a specific form and within this vessel--this Crucible--it had become another thing completely.

Emotion.

As the goddess of such a potent phenomena, this great tempest of experience, Melainea understood herself for what she was: An agent of change. Through the rising and falling tides of sorrow, joy, and rage she could inspire--nay--invoke in others a shift. With subtle grace, or careless abandon she might tip the scales and insight in others grief, reflection, or even understanding. Her Shard--her Aspect was that of Temperament and so, as she once had been, she decided then to be the Crucible within which Galbar--and indeed its inhabitants--might become ever greater. Through her will she would foster greed in the heart of lords, driving them to steal from and trample others. On her command, love might surge forth in the hearts of many, and inspire an age most golden. Through her touch, the esoteric power of her ethos might be infused unto a stone, its essence that of heartbreak, of sorrow, and woe unyielding. So twisted by such a burden, the stone would warp and twist and shatter, becoming a collection of many rings.

Smiling at the thought, the Goddess rose from the flawless surface of the palace and gazed down onto the world that was their birthright and soon her second home.

“Rings to bind together when worn in pairs; rings to bend and break when fractured by life's affairs.” Her violet eyes shone with glee, and then with malice, then with an almost mournful contemplation.

Temperament, a thing forged in the great tempest of experience, a reflection--an expression perhaps--of consciousness, and in its changing, a thing that might be refined and tempered into an ever greater form. She was a confluence of these ideals. In that instant her perspective expanded, blossoming into yet still a greater form. Violet eyes blazing as she transcended her former self, Melainea laughed, her voice soaring within the cavernous halls of the Palace.

She was emotion, the font from which it flowed, and its purest manifestation. Rage and Bliss; Hate and Love; Contentment, Apathy, and all things between. Through her will, others could find their innermost worlds expressed tangibly upon the firmament. Yet, this ability to twist and warp the fabric of the world was itself another facet of her shard, it was not of Temperament, but of Tempering. So forged in the divine womb of their genderless Father, the Monarch of All, she had been crafted for this purpose and turned into a thing of ascendance. To be infused with, or indeed to bathe within her quintessence was no mundane thing. Where a taste of rage gifted unto a mortal might instill in them a righteous fury, a burning desire that could carry them through life, to bathe in the Crucible's core and know the esoteric source of such a feeling would be to change utterly. A Homuran might thus enter the Crucible of her being, only to emerge entirely renewed, as a caterpiller is remade in its cacoon, emerging a butterfly, so too do those things touched or suffused with her divine ichor.

Raising a hand before her she gazed upon her open palm, and within it was conjured stone. With a gentle caress, the stone crumbled, as heartbreak touched it, guiding it to shatter. Watching the small stones tumble through the air, she flicked her wrist downwards and for a flickering instant there was no hand, but instead a fractal of experience, a rift upon the world playing as if it were as a thing of mortal make. From it spilled flames of indigo and violet too. They fell upon the stones midair and before they'd touched the earth, what they once had been was burned away. What remained were several mournful crystals, shining dully upon the ground. Kneeling, she cupped them in her grasp and imagined what they might do.

“Sorrow's Ore, thy name shall be,” she whispered, her fingertips stroking across the stones as if they were some favored beast. The stones hummed, and their voices were deliciously full of woe, they danced within her mind, conjuring images of mortals collapsing at the sound. Tears pressed at the edges of her eyes and spilled over, yet a smile remained upon her lips. “Ah, but what might your touch incite,” she mused aloud, running a perfect nail over the surface of one smooth stone.

Despair tore at her heart, and then indeed her flesh, splitting her fingertip oh so slightly. Joy surged behind her eyes, burning away the sadness as she sucked in a startled breath. Astounded, astonished, pleased she withdrew her fingers and rose from the cold stone of Creation's Palace. With a flourish of her palm as it fell to her side, the stones vanished through a rift.

Through that tear upon the firmament, she gazed down upon the world, before prying it further open and stepping through.



Night had long since fallen and the young man was only out on account of knowing that the next day would be the Long Rest–one of oh so few days that the men and women both spent time to recuperate from the near-constant work that it took to survive in the wilds at the edges of the great Eidolonian Plains. He'd snuck away from the sleeping bodies of his family, desiring some solitude in the gentle embrace of the night. Brushing his fingertips through the tall grass of the land he'd always known as his home, he stared off into the distance, the stars laid plain upon the heavens above. They were beautiful, those swirling flecks of light painted on a canvas of blue, and black and purple. There was a mystique to them and though his people had stories for what they were, he had never quite believed them.

As he stared into the night, pondering small things, and considering what might lay beyond the far horizon, that young man's mind went mute as he noticed the sudden absence of sound. A shiver ran up his spine, and the hairs at the back of his neck stood on end. The chirping song of the crickets had grown still, as if all at once they had tired of the tune they'd sung for every night from the evening he'd been born, to just a moment prior.

Turning about, his motion slow and deliberate as he bent at the knees, using the tall grass to obscure himself, the young man peered into the moonlit night, a subtle dread growing in his heart. There were stories of the things that sometimes prowled the plains and though they often knew better than to stray too close to the village, there were always exceptions to the rule. Suddenly, his desire to be alone seemed an awfully foolish thing as he found himself crouched within the grasses, peering blindly into the black.

Then he saw it, not aground, but a league or so away, hovering within the air. He had no word to describe the thing, but it reminded him of a day now months past when his tunic had been snared by the thorns of a bush, and turn as he ran an errand for his gran. For it was like that, a tear in the fabric of the sky. It widened and in a flash, something dove through it, falling down towards the ground. The tear slowly closed, its strange light dimming with every moment.

Quietly, Somni crept towards it, careful not to rustle the grasses as he moved with practiced ease through the field of plants. Strangely, he'd heard no thump, no sound of one thing striking the next as the unknown had fallen from the sky-tear and towards Galbar's soil. Eventually, he noticed something strange, the closer he got to the area he'd surmised the object must have fallen, the easier it became to see. Frowning slightly, his brow creasing as he considered this shift in circumstance, Somni considered that perhaps to approach this complete unknown was not a terribly wise course of action. Yet...he felt compelled to find out what could possibly have emerged from such a strange phenomena as a tear in the world.

In that moment, as he considered his actions and debated upon changing course, a sudden shift occurred. The sky was suddenly above him, stark in its swirling display of light. Then the air was driven from his body as he hit the earth, skidding back a pace before a weight settled upon him and a silhouette of pitch blacked out the sky above. Wheezing as he tried to pull air into his lungs, Somni tried to strike the figure above him, only to find his wrists pinned to the ground by slender hands. Then, as he watched--a panic overcoming him--two violet orbs opened in the night, as unseen eyelids slid away. Calmly the regarded him and slowly he regained his breath and again tried to struggle.

“Cease thy struggle child,” a woman's voice chided, cutting at the silence. Gradually, a faint violet light filled the air, illuminating his assailant's visage. Heart in his throat even as it beat a feverish rhythm in his chest, Somni went still as the supple outline of a feminine form made itself known in the low light. Yet, he did not recognize her voice, it was nothing like any of the girls of the village, nor their mothers. Nay, this was a stranger come into their fields, now atop him, preying upon his foolish inattention.

“Wh--,” he began.

“Shhh…” she replied, cutting off his query. Gradually he became aware of an entirely different discomfort. In the low light, he saw her smile and he swallowed hard in response.

“Such a strange thing, thy body,” the woman said with amusement in her tone. Slowly, she released his wrists, tracing fingertips over his chest before pushing off him and to her feet. The light dimmed as she retreated. Somni did not wish to see it go.

“Wait,” he said, finding himself almost breathless, his voice weak. Propping himself up he met the eyes of the woman, who stared back, her violet gaze seeming almost to bore through him.

He shuddered.

“Bold,” she said, her tone carrying only the barest hint of its earlier warmth, he found that he did not know quite how to respond. She glanced away, casting her glowing gaze elsewhere, though she did not leave him. Rising to his feet, Somni covertly tried to brush himself off. He found that they were of a height with one another and yet...beside her felt so small. Why was that?

“Who are you?” He queried, his words filling the empty air. She chuckled, and with that melodic sound, the crickets once more began to sing. Somni glanced around, confused. The woman turned, reaching out to him and he found himself rooted to the spot. Her velvet palm caressed his cheek and then coy words teased his ears in kind, "Mmn, twice you ask the wrong question." Lightly, she patted his cheek, seeming to forgive him. She paused a moment and heard his breath catch within his throat. Again that bewitching smile. Yet, there was something strange in her violet gaze, emotions he could not quite fathom. Her clothes too were elaborate and foreign, now that he took the time to notice. Still, in the faint light, he could ordain very little.

“Cath Melainea,” she said, as if in reply. He blinked and he watched as she rolled her eyes.

"Tis my name."

"Ah. Somni's mine."

The amusement returned, and her eyes burned, flaring with violet flames. He found himself taking one step back.

"I know," she replied. Dumbfounded, Somni felt his mouth go suddenly dry, his breath hitch. Why was it that he hadn't fled? Hadn't asked her why she'd pounced upon him. How had she gotten here, surely she had not entered through the tear he'd seen. No, surely not, for what mortal could do such a thing.

"Ah, what mortal indeed," she purred, and then in a sudden flash of light, she burst aflame. Burning away all semblance of familiarity, those violet fires they engulfed her form entire, rising into the air and setting even the sky alight. The stars danced far above, and so too did the wind join them, kicking into a gale. He stumbled away from her, mouth agape, eyes wide, the only thought in his mind that she hadn't screamed. Then the fire moved, but not as fires do, no it shifted as if it were itself a woman's silhouette, but burning against the black of night, consuming the darkness.

"What is this?!" He demanded, terror in his visage, voice filled with conviction.

The burning figure laughed, and the sound was perfectly resonant. As he heard it, it tickled at his mind, tugging a smile onto his lips as if against his will. It became a grimace.

"Closer have thy questions have become, thus a gift you shall receive. As I said, I am Cath Melainea, the Exalted, a daughter of the Monarch." She gestured with a hand composed of flame, indicating her form, "...and this a form truer to my nature."

Confusion crossed his guise, then filled his mind. Her form glided across the field and the tall grass parted to let her pass. where she touched it, not a single stalk was singed. "What...I. The Monarch? There is no lord in these lands. What do you mean? Are you some fell witch come to prey upon my people?" Though his chest was tight with fear, his loyalty won out, and he raised his fist, as if he were not powerless before her. As if somehow a man could strike at flame.

She paused in her approach, regarding him.

"Admirable," she crooned, sounding almost impressed.

Then she drew herself up and the flames winked out.

Somni's vision flashed, his mind filled beyond its limit with a feeling. Cloying fear, overwhelming terror. Then another joined the fray, deepest joy, adoration, love, and contentment too. Surging, warring within his mind, his psyche seemed not his own. Reeling, he fell to his knees and distantly felt tears slipping down his cheeks. A terrible whine reached his ears and he realized it was his own whimpering, subdued scream. Before him stood a glowing metallic flame, teardrop-shaped and spinning. In it he saw himself reflected, and within himself, he felt the reflection of that thing. Coiling flames reignited, snapping outwards from the floating metal heart. Their amaranthine hue took away all other sights until it was all that he could see. No longer were there stars above, or grass on every side. There was only flame and spinning metal. A burning figure torn into the world, feminine and pure. Behind it, within that rift were fractals endless and true and awful to behold. Like peering into an endless crystal he lost himself. Like bathing within a pyre, he felt himself consumed. Like drowning beneath a boiling lake, he burned and felt his lungs fill with bile. His mind screamed, his voice gone ragged.

Yet he desired nothing more, he deserved nothing less, would not settle for it in fact. The coiling heart, the burning rift-torn figure embraced him then and as if given a final release, all thought fled his psyche.


Oblivion. He had surrendered to the darkness of the sleeping mind. Chuckling, her voice the crackling of fire, the soothing sound of a woman's gentle laugh, the bending, grating, dripping sound of tearing molten metal. A crack of thunder, closing eyes. The Crucible died down to a simmer and she allowed her form to calm, rendering itself once more into a mortal guise. Gently she knelt before the unconscious man who now lay upon the grass and in the dirt.

"So fragile, these mortals are," she mused, brushing hair from the human's cheek. "Tis but a strand of feelings," she said the words gently, soothingly, almost as a mother might to a fearful babe. Yet he did not wake so she took him into her embrace, lifting him from the soil. Lightly and with inhuman ease, she carried him home.

In time she arrived, the stars still twinkling far above, the wind a gentle caress upon her flesh. However, it seemed that they'd been noticed, for within the hearth she spotted a flickering mundane flame. A man and woman rose, seeing the boy she held in her arms; seeing Somni. His mother rushed over then, abandoning propriety and any fear of the stranger who had brought her son back unto the fold. Fussing over her boy, she beckoned her husband come, and he shook his head. After a moment to assess the stranger, he sighed and then obeyed, joining his wife before the figure. So offered, the father took from her his son, carrying him back to the warmth of the flame. Yet, the mother remained, staring up into the eyes of the Violet-eyed woman.

"Thank you," she said, her relief almost a tangible thing between them. Melainea smiled and nodded, placing a comforting hand upon the woman's shoulder. She shuddered, but could not know why. Not yet.

"Think ye not of this. Remember only that he is yours," the woman replied before she turned and walked away.

Somni's mother only frowned, confused, but shrugged it off swiftly and returned them to the fire and her kin. The coming day would reveal the truth of things.

The younger sister looked upon it all with an aloof gaze, taking in the sights and sounds of the truly strange interaction. So it was that as they settled in by the fire, the mother spoke,

"What a strange, yet kind woman," she muttered, stroking the cheek of her sleeping boy.

Her daughter replied, her tone distant and small.

"She had glowing violet eyes…."

Both her parents slowly turned upon her, staring.

"No, 'twas simply the moonlight."

"Nay, it was the stars."

Both parents denied the truth and so the daughter relented. Still, she knew in her heart of hearts that had not been just a woman, nor a mortal either. No, this encounter had been different somehow, something other had touched their family and she knew not what it would soon entail.

Doom or Glory?

This they would know in time.

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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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Phelenia
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Homura

Phelenia could see the faults in her own ways. Of course she could! What kind of a goddess would she be if she wasn’t capable of change? Oh but she had been such a fool for so long. The world was changing. It was so simple anymore.

Her siblings had weapons now. She should’ve known. Of course they had weapons that could harm the divine. She would have to make her own weapon then. One greater and mightier than anything the others could put together! The idea was already forming in her mind as she flew away from the Giant Lands.

First she would have to inspect the other continent though. For too long had she and her influence been absent. With supernatural speed she flew across the skies towards the western continent. The first real forest she found though was already a bad omen. Instead of beautiful shades of green the leaves of the canopy were crimson red. Phelenia quickly made her way down to see what wretched curse had befallen her sentinels.

But as she communed with the trees none seemed to be ill. They talked about a divine influence yet it wasn’t harming them. Despite the color this was a perfectly healthy color. Thus Phelenia saw no point in restoring the leaves to their original hue. Other plants talked in more detail about the divine that seemingly influenced them. Specifically, that she asked about her. They led her to where they claimed she came from. Phelenia followed the trail of her children. Until she stepped out of the forest again to see the most horrifying edifice to artifice she had ever seen.

It stood as tall as a mountain, and shimmered beneath the light of the majestic sun, but it lacked the life of the forest, the song of the sea and earth and sky… it was a macabre monument forged from death and destruction, held upright by the power of the divine. Nearby were three massive metallic creatures that stood along the stoney shore beside the terrible scarlet structure. They loomed over the land, like predators watching their prey, but had yet to strike.

Hidden within the aura of her own lingering presence, another goddess announced herself from behind Phelenia. “Welcome sister, I am Homura.”

Vines twisted form the ground around Homura. Tree branches reared ready to strike. From the distance the bears and the wolves were already coming in, charging. While nearby snakes were slithering up the bark of the trees. Phelenia turned in a flash with eyes that told anyone who could see her that she was ready for a fight. After the humiliation she suffered before, how could she not? “It’s unwise to move unpredictably against any divine.” She said, though she realized that she was once again doing what the giantland guardian had accused her of. With a thought she called off the predators coming to her aid but the plants remained at the ready. “Is this your domain, Homura?”

“I have no intentions of harming you. At ease, there is no reason for us to fight. I assume you are Phelenia then? It is a pleasure to meet you.” The red goddess replied, bowing respectfully. She was shaped similarly to the Zenii in Orsus, but shorter, and lacked both the musculature and pointed ears, however she still held a golden spear that exuded otherworldly power. The weapon seemed to shift, and was pointed away from Phelenia, but there was an evident tension in the air. The true form of the Goddess of Honor could not conceal her concern regarding the sight of the animals and plants that had arisen to attack her, but the unseen fiery aura was only visible through godly senses, and conveyed that it stood poised for battle should any combat occur.

Phelenia didn’t mimic Homura’s bow. “Homura.” She simply repeated as she released the tension in her hand. The plants around returned to their regular shape again. Though Phelenia was far from letting her guard down. Her eyes were on Homura’s spear. Of course, she too wielded a weapon that could no doubt harm a god. “You haven’t answered my question. Is this your domain?” The green goddess asked again as she motioned behind her, at the citadel and the three, titanic, mechanical creatures.

“I forged Keltra, and have commandeered those three colossi, but I do not claim dominion over these lands. I am a servant of the King in Heaven, and it is He whom rules both the Heavens and the Earth.” Homura answered with a voice that resonated with power after invoking one of the titles of the Monarch of All. Then she arose, and offered a sharpened smile, as though she thought the small tug of her lips a greater weapon than what she held in her hand. Her demeanor had slightly changed, less hostile now, and she took a single step closer to Phelenia.

“The land disagrees.” Phelenia noted as she looked at the red leaves. But she quickly threw her sister a smile as her guard dropped further. Though it didn’t drop entirely. After what happened in the Giant Lands she doubted she ever could release the tension she held entirely. Phelenia looked her sister over for a moment, taking her time to examine the figure. “You look… awfully similar to some creatures from the east. Is that a coincidence?”

“Hmm… perhaps. Our sister, Zenia, traveled eastward with the gifts I had given her. If you are referring to humanity, their shapes were based upon my own. I cannot say for certain, as I have not traveled to any lands east of here.” Homura explained, before slowly twirling to further allow Phelenia to see the rest of her body.

“The mother of humanity. How intriguing.” Phelenia said with a small, perhaps somewhat snide smile. The goddess of plants and animals hasn’t forgotten how flawed the zenii were, by design seemingly. The poor girl that ended up eating her fruit was so ill suited for survival in the forest. Now the goddess wondered who had made the mistake: Homura or Zenia. And then Phelenia also realized what her name sounded so familiar and in an instance some tension crept back up into her. “Homura… you are our Father’s Judge. Tell me, what are your plans with this humanity?”

“I intend to give humans to any among the Divine that would accept them. The ones that remain in my possession are still slumbering. They await the will of the Divine, that which would awaken them and give them purpose. Their shapes are malleable and easily defined by our touch, but they are fragile, and require a source of sustenance to preserve their lives. Would you like to receive some, I offer you up to ninety thousands, if that is what you want.” Her tone was cordial, but the Goddess of Honor wore an enigmatic mask, conveying no actual emotion, aside from the shadow of a smile she kept.

Phelenia watched Homura closely as she talked. A hundred thousand thoughts went through her head. There was an opportunity to show her siblings how sapience should be handled from the start. However she wasn’t blind to the emotionless state of her sister. “What do you want in return for this generous gift?” Phelenia asked.

“It is a gift. You do not need to return anything in exchange. However, I do have questions, and would appreciate it if you answered them. I recognize your scent; it is one I discovered in a region I am investigating on behalf of our brother, Chailiss. Do you know anything regarding a being known as the Green Murder?” Homura answered with a question as well, now incredibly still akin to a statue, even more so as though she were untouched by the hand of time, and was simply watching Phelenia.

“I would take you up on the offer then. In exchange for the answers you seek.” Phelenia crossed her arms. Was Homura another of the sinner beast guardians? If she was then she was a fool to search for her in her own domain. Contrary to the goddess before her, Phelenia had no issue with exercising her might over her dominion and if she came to be threatened she would use that might. “Green Murder is the name the sinner beasts gave me after the singular act they can associate with me. I killed a few of them to make sure my message would be heard. It would appear it wasn’t.” She left out the facts that Chailiss had banished her that now she might never set foot in the northern continent ever again.

“Then you know you have chosen poor methods that will only result in further death and despair. Killing them was not the answer, and now life preys upon life, it perverts itself and curses our names. You share the blame with our brother, Jiugui, for heedless action. Our choices have consequences, and affect the entirety of the cosmos. We cannot afford to make mistake after mistake. We must cooperate to protect our creations. Guide them along the Sacred Path. We must lead by example, sister.” The mask she wore cracked, and sorrow seeped into her voice. Homura spoke with conviction; with a clear desire to end the conflict and preserve life. The red goddess stepped closer, and then offered her empty hand to Phelenia.

“Let us clasp hands, and work together towards peace. Our war is not with each other, but those that would harm our children.”

The goddess of life and death did not take Homura’s hand. She just looked at her sister with a cocked eyebrow. She wanted to poke holes through all the grand statements Homura had made. The one that stuck out particularly was the idea that apparently life preying upon life seemingly perverts it. It seemed misguided. Life and death were all just part of the great cycle of the world. One could not exist without the other. Which meant that conflict was something to be accepted and not ended.

“I have no immediate quarrel with you, sister.” Phelenia said. Of course she desired to sunder the place called Keltra. It was a pox-mark upon the region. As for the colossi… she didn’t know for sure. Still, she had bigger problems in the north.

“But I know nothing of your sacred path.” She continued. “Tell me, do you truly believe death is a perversion of life? That we must guide and shelter our creations against the world?”

Homura let her hand fall back to her side before she spoke. “Hmm… would you rather I burn this forest until only ash remains, and slaughter every animal I found? I assumed that would have angered you. Then you would have lashed out at me, and I would have retaliated. The season of violence unending between us, with pain festering in the world like a great wound that can never be healed. Do you feel joy upon hearing this? Will you laugh and smile as mothers lose their children? I could call upon the animals you summoned, and slit the throats of the youths while their parents watch the life bleed out of that which they love most. It seems I was not clear, Death is the enemy and I will end its tyranny on Galbar, whether I fight alone or alongside others.”

The red goddess could feel the flames stirring within her, hot with rage until she forced herself to ventilate it into energy to sustain the land around her. She let out a breath, though she did not need to breath, before she gestured to the life surrounding the two goddesses. “You cannot have beauty, and eat it at the same time. If we do not guide our creations, then who will? Iqelis? Jiugui? We must amend our mistakes, before it is too late. I want to believe you will help me prevent the desecration of that which is sacred.” She said, and awaited Phelenia’s answer.

“Such… zeal.” For a moment Phelenia wanted to rage against it. Yell at her sister that she was wrong. Of course she was wrong! But she did not leave the Giant Lands without a modicum of introspection. Homura’s zeal mirrored her own. If she burned surely there would be war between them and Galbar would suffer because of it.

Suddenly flames erupted across Phelenia’s hand. It blackened her fingers, giving it the look of coal in an instant. The flames weren’t divine in power. They couldn’t cause harm to Homura and Phelania wanted to make sure of that. “I could unleash this now.” She said as she looked enthralled at the flames. “And your example would become a reality. As the fires would spread they would take tree after tree after tree. They would all be turned into ash and charcoal. So many animals would die. If not by the flames or the smoke itself then by the starvation that would follow. And I would stand here and do nothing.” The flames vanished from her hand and it regained its young bark-like look. “Because it would’ve been their time. After the devastation passed the first fire-blooming seeds would sprout. From them new trees would grow and in a few decades a whole new forest would be born. Until, of course, it too was burned or crushed or flooded.” Phelenia spoke slowly and deliberately.

“Such is the cycle of life and death. The cycle of nature. Would you prefer it if the world was static and unchanging?”

“You are the second to ask that question, and I find it bemusing. To allow this insanity to persist is the very act of accepting stagnation and suggests a fear of change. I am proposing to change the world, yet your question indicates that you think nothing would ever change again if we focused upon preventing our annihilation instead of satisfying ourselves. What evidence do you have to support this theory? Our current situation? Your cycle of life and death is an excuse you tell yourself to avoid the task given to us by our Lord. It is unnatural, unless you are blind to your own being. Do you think we should begin killing each other? That our Lord would enjoy watching us consume each other? We have an obligation to remedy —”

“Stop.” Phelenia said. She didn’t shout but she had put all her strength in her voice. “Where is this coming from?” She asked sternly. “From all the gods I have ever met you are the only one who rages so against death. Even my enemy in the north acknowledged to some degree that death had a place in this world. Yet you stand here before the goddess of nature claiming you know what is unnatural. Why?”

Homura tilted her head, surprised at being interrupted. She blinked once, before she replied nonchalantly. “Oh. Chailiss is a coward, I would have thought that obvious when you have said it yourself; he has acknowledged death and its victory over his own land. Truthfully, I find the creatures there disgusting, but I do not hate them. I only pity them because their makers so readily abandoned them. I also claim I know what is unnatural because I am a goddess of nature as well, as I had hoped would be obvious.”

“You haven’t answered my question.” Phelenia said skeptically.

“Perhaps you should reiterate it then, as I have provided an answer already. I explained my reasoning, and offered a solution. I will only repeat myself once more; if we allow ourselves to continue on our current path, we will only annihilate ourselves, and that goes against the command of our Lord. I propose we cooperate for now, fortify ourselves and fight against those that would bring destruction and despair to Galbar. We have created life. Now we must prove ourselves worthy of defending it. We cannot stray from the Sacred Path.” Homura answered, allowing conviction to seep into her voice, while her face remained impassive.

All Phelenia could see was another god that was hell bent on protecting life when instead they should learn to let it go when the time comes. Only a few days ago she would’ve fulfilled Homura’s threat herself. If only to teach the goddess before her a lesson. However right now Phelenia did not have the luxury to wage another war.

The goddess of nature stepped up to one of the trees and gave it a soft tap. A few leaves in the canopy withered. Their dried forms gently drifted down upon the wind. Good, Homura had at least the sense to not turn everything immortal around her just yet. Still, the goddess would have to be watched lest she upset the natural balance.

Then Phelenia turned back towards her sister. “I disagree.” She said plainly as she crossed her arms. She hadn’t forgotten about the spear Homura carried. Divine power was swirling just below Phelenia’s fingertips. She was ready to use it at any moment should the red goddess lash out.

“So be it. You are not the first to disagree, and you will not be the last. I digress, will you be accepting my gifts, or not?” Homura asked, her tone unchanged.

“No.” Phelenia said as she started to walk around Homura, back into the forest. “I will not put myself in the position where I owe you a favor. You are wrong sister. On all counts.” As the goddess passed Homura the very branches of the trees and shrubs began to subtly shift to cloak Phelenia in darkness.

“Hmm… we shall see. Farewell, sister.”



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Yoliyachicoztl Week


Keepers of the Flame





“Hold it steady. Hold. Almost… Just a little longer.”

“My arms are growing tired and my back aches.”

“Shhhsh! It’s good for you, builds strength in those scrawny arms!”

“I don’t need strength when I have the flame. None of us do.”

“Then shall I have someone fetch you an arm rest?”

“I don’t nee-”

“Stop! We are done!”

They hovered around the smoldering pit, with sweat upon their brows and exhaustion coming in deep breaths but they still had smiles on their dirty faces. With a wooden tool they uncovered the kindled logs, now blackened and charred, to reveal clay balls the size of their palms. Carefully they removed the now fired clay and broke them apart to reveal a metallic glint.

Fragments of reddish brown stared back up at them. There were cheers and pats on the back, for their work had been successful! All of the fragments were then carefully collected, as if the Mother Spirit herself had given them, and placed into a large clay pot, for ease of travel. They still needed to be cleaned in the water for any lingering impurities before being further worked upon.

"Take this copper to the Firecharmer after you have cleaned it, Shysie."

Shysie, a newcomer learning their ways, nodded. "It will be done, Keeper Alona." She wandered off with two other acolytes, past the discarded rock piles and the mounds of sticks kept for burning. Then they vanished down the wooded path that led to the river. Alona turned back to her pit and said a prayer to the Great Spirit of Fire, Yoli.

She was joined by the other Keepers and their voices became gospel. "We thank the gift of fire, for its wisdom and strength. We thank the great Goddess of the flame and her kindled daughter. For without them we are nothing. For without them we are those who would let the flame burn out in our apathy. Never again. The flame shall burn eternal, even when we are ash." Once the Keeper's were done with their prayer, they went their separate ways. The metal bringing was over for now until more of the green stone was brought back. The sun still lingered lazily in the sky, for it was still young and not yet tired enough to dip. That meant there was much to do at the Sight of the First Sin still, for their charge and home was always growing.




Two twisting lines of orange fire collided with one another followed by a bright burst and the roar of dying flames. When the air cleared, two Keepers, wearing nothing but a cloth around their waists, stared at one another. One had her auburn hair in two braids, while the other’s black hair hung loose down her back. Their stances were opposed and then the fire came. They dueled one another as a crowd of acolytes and passerbys stopped to watch. Moving and feeling the fire they conjured, whipping and throwing it at their opponent.

To strengthen one’s flame was the highest of goals, to burn the brightest, strongest and longest. Such was the mark of a Firecharmer to be, when she had no more equals or betters. So dueling was encouraged, a mock fight to showcase one's durability in battle. One could only win when the other, either too exhausted or beaten, yielded.

Neither had done so yet, but the signs were beginning.

Keeper Alona, tired from her morning of work, wore her hair up as she watched her sister’s spar. The Sacred Flame’s gifts were on full display. Where one fire leaped forth the opponent would cancel it out with their own. They moved like water but fought like a raging fire. Determined, strong and fierce. When it became evident that neither would yield but both were slowing, Alona stepped forth and ended it in a draw.

“You fought well and were worthy of the spirits but more practice is needed to overcome another. Keep at it and may the Flame protect.” She said in a more regal voice. As an original Keeper, she had more perks then the others and more control of her flame. “The rest of you, get back to training!”

In a flurry, the acolytes grabbed their spears and found partners, while Keepers watched them practice. They had grown large and still were growing as more and more displaced women came back to the flame. It was no large band by any means but it was a tribe.

Shysie, looking quite distraught, came walking by and Alona followed.

“Shysie?” She called her but she gave no answer. “Shysie!” She said again, grabbing the girl’s forearm. Shysie wrenched away and Alona felt a painful tug on her arm before she let go.

“Keeper A-Alona!” she stammered. “Please forgive me, I do not know my own strength.” her expression, once distraught, became mortified.

Despite the pain, Alona shrugged it off and did a circle with her arm to show she was alright. “The Guiding Spirit’s gift is one some need to still get used to, do not worry. Now, where is your mind?”

“Keeper, my mind is here. I was just lost in thought.” She admitted with a frown. Alona nodded and put a hand on her shoulder.

“How does it fair?”

“It… It still sleeps. I am worried it will not wake. The Firecharmer says it will but… I do not wish to offend any spirit or sacred being. I must atone at the Sacred Flame before… Before it wakes.” Shysie confided.

Alona gave her a squeeze and smile. “Do not worry. Mistakes happen, even the Spirit’s know this. Now go speak to the flame and may you be untouched. Besides… If you did do true harm to it, then wouldn’t something bad have already happened?” She smirked.

Shysie’s eyes went wide and she began to turn away but stopped, “Keeper.” She hastily said before running off.

Alona laughed, what a silly girl.




The Firecharmer brandished her long knife. Against the blue flame of the Sacred Fire, the metal danced as if it were alive in the dark. It had not been so long ago that such a tool had been unknown. You could not find it now as it was, in the wild. Couldn't just pluck it from a bush or a stream. No… Only by the fire could it be forged from rock to metal to tool. She gave a quiet prayer to Yoli for the knowledge of such a gift.

"Chilali?" Came the voice of Alona. The woman blinked and looked up. Several pairs of eyes were still on her. She had gotten lost in the flame.

"I…" She straightened herself and put the knife away. "Sorry. The flame took me for a time. Now where were we? Discussing the sky dances again?"

Alona and some of the others nodded. "The topic will not die, Firecharmer. Many moons have passed and the sky, as Wapeka prophesied, has not danced. More and more of our people become disgruntled."

Chilali sighed. "And will they do anything about it? None can know if the sky will ever dance save for the Spirits and as much as we have asked for guidance on the matter, we hear nothing. This is not in our power to make happen. The Childan will have to learn to deal with it until there comes a time where either the sky dances or the women give in."

"Well…" Alona started. "Many of the women are giving in. Not because the men are forcing them but because they want to. I have seen… Small ones, children as they are called. Babies with tiny fingers and little laughs." She seemed to go distant with a smile on her face.

"Alona… You know we can't." Chilali frowned. They had all taken an oath to never lay again with a man. To have no small ones. No children. It was better that way.

"I know." Alona said quietly. "Some try to hide them from us, others are open about it. What is one to do? It is only becoming frowned upon around the lakes and plains. Others are holding out stronger. What are we to do?"

"We are to do nothing. Let it be as it is, if they want to restart the union between man and woman, so be it. Our task will always remain even with division and divides. A vast majority of our people still clutch on to the day of Lansa’s death. It will not be forgotten so easily, or forgiven. Only time will bloom open hearts. Now tell me of our findings." Chilali spoke and as Firecharmer, her words were heard and obeyed. As Yoli commanded it.

“Some nisshiniek were seen down by the bijjiork clan of Lowpine. I talked with a local shaman and he said they were preventing the young bijjiork there from drowning. The funny thing is, they are born natural swimmers and there was no danger at all.” Came a woman’s voice from down the fire. This received warm smiles and small laughs. The Nisshi were good spirits and were playful as they were mischievous. “Trade between the local tribes and the bijjiork is also going well. I have seen fine pebbles, and shells traded for nice sticks and other trinkets.” She then nodded.

"Tala, chosen of the Spirit Father, is rising in name. It is said she carries an axe of ice and is stronger than even our Father's gift was to all the other women. One man told me he saw her wrestle a bear and another said she fended off a wolf attack with only one hand, a babe swaddled in another." Beamed another Keeper.

"I would like to meet her, I think." Chilali smiled.

Than another Keeper spoke. “A spirit Guardian wandered through Tionda’s band, they fancy to call themselves the Tiondara Tribe now, but the Guardian began to teach them how to chisel stone. Perhaps we should send some acolytes to gather this sacred knowledge?”

“An apt suggestion.” Chilali mused. “Let it be done.”

“Yes Firecharmer.” the woman nodded. “ I must also say that the blood takers are on the rise again. We need to be careful, there are rumors that they might even be walking amongst us, wearing our skin.”

“Quite alarming. We shall tell our spearwomen and passing bands to be on the lookout. Perhaps we can come up with a way to prevent this, if the rumors are true? Either way, very disturbing.” Chilali looked around the fire and her eyes fell on Alona, who spoke next.

“The Dwami enclave at the foot of the Fern hills would like to meet you Firecharmer. When we showed them our knives, they seemed full of mirth. I wonder what we can learn from the people that live under the hill?” Alona beamed.

“Much I hope. If they have more copper we could keep forging. In the morning I shall go to them with a few Acolytes and Keeper Alona.” She looked up at the sky. “The moon rises, is there anything else?” she asked, looking back down.

“Firecharmer.” Everyone turned to the speaker, it was Tayen. Her face was lit up by the blue flame and she wore a mask of fear. She had just returned from the far northern tribes and her news was eagerly waited for.

“Speak Tayen.” Chilali gestured to her.

“Wapeka the Brave insists that her band be given exclusive rights to a hotspring she found. She does not wish to share with any other bands or the men’s bands. She said it was her gift from the Spirit Father and that any would have to take it from her. I tried reason but to no avail. She is not as afraid of the fire as others and her defiance turns them away from what we are trying to do. What do we do?” she asked timidly.

“Wapeka oversteps, she claims something that any could have. She must be reminded of our power!”

“No! Wapeka speaks for many, we could risk everything we have been striving for. Think of the flame, think of Lansa! Let her have her spring.”

“We cannot let this spring become an object of fixation. Open it for all or destroy it.”

“We cannot upset the Father Spirit by destroying his land over petty disputes!”

The talk quickly became a shouting match as the Keeper’s debated on what to do. Before anything else could be hastily said, Chilali raised a hand and they quieted down. They looked to her for guidance.

“Alona.” She took out her copper knife and held it to the smaller Keeper. “Take my knife and offer it to the Dwami leader in good faith. I shall go north and settle this dispute before it causes unneeded violence. I shall leave tomorrow with the acolytes ready for their final trial. Is there anything else we should know, Tayen?” Alona took the dagger and clutched it to her chest.

The woman nodded slow, her eyes enraptured by the blue flames. “There were whispers in the quiet of the night. They said it could smell the coming death, that it was hungry. That a wehniek had come. You must be careful Firecharmer. Women have been going missing, they say those without the strength are most likely to vanish. Something wicked is afoot.”

Chilali nodded. There was no worse enemy than the dread wehniek. Not even the likes of the men-who-stole-women could compare to such a creature. They had fought one before and it took nearly four Keepers to bring it down. Fire was it’s weakness but they were still dangerous.

“Go rest now Tayen, you have done well. Let us not speak of anything else this night. Let us be thankful to Yoli and our flame, that Tayen has returned unharmed and well. Let us rejoice for another day passed and a new dawn tomorrow. Our flame is eternal, sisters, always remember that.” Chilali stood and bid them all farewell. She lit a small flame in her hand as she walked in the dark to her fur tent.




Out of all the places to learn how to hunt, the most unlikely had been from the bijjiork shamans. They learned much from them and put their teachings to good work. Bone could be used on their spears, leather could be made from the skin and fur of animals and meat provided more food to fill their hungry bellies. Some women had even left their own bands to become one with the wilds and the Masked Spirit. And because the bijjiork built their own homes, the Childan had began to emulate what they saw. Perhaps some weren't the best but they provided shelter and all was good. As always, the bijjiork were a gift from the Great Spirits.

Chilali's tent was made from the hides of the wandering buffalo, stag, and furred ox. It was a simple thing but it was home, easily moveable and warm. Held up by long straight sticks and other woven branches. She passed a smoker on her way and grabbed a bit of drying meat before finally arriving at her hovel. Opening the flap, she spoke, “I hope you are hungry little one."

There in the darkness two blue eyes stared back at her. She lifted her flame higher to find something she had not been expecting.

Earlier that day an acolyte, Shysie, had managed to grab hold of a small bird. Unlike others of its kind, this one had white feathers and blue eyes. Eyes the same color as their Eternal Flame. Was it Lansa come to inspect them? A guide from the Spirit Father? Or something else entirely? It was brought to the Firecharmer when it was found out that the Acolyte had squeezed just a bit too hard. The poor bird had been knocked out cold and so, to prevent making any spirits unhappy, Chilali had decided it was best to care for the creature and ensure it would make it.

She had homed it in her tent ever since. Throughout the day she had made it comfortable but it had not awoken. Night had approached and the Keeper's gathered to discuss the newest sightings of the land.

Now there was a small pale child staring back at her. The girl clutched her right arm as she pressed herself into a corner besides Chilali’s furs. Her face was a mix of fear and anger and the poor thing wore nothing at all.

“Oh…” She managed. “By the flame…”









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Ekotone


Cabel and Tarowwe stood outside the largest tent the Bolog had to offer. It was perhaps six times bigger than any of the other tents and thick with leather and wooden framework. It was such an impressive structure that the bands of the Ekotone had decided to use it for their meeting — a suggestion that Cabel’s mother took easily, seeing it as another way to show Bolog superiority among the other bands.

Inside the chieftains of the Ekotone were discussing the future of their clade and the possibility of forming an alliance, but outside Cabel and Tarowwe stood guard, tasked with ensuring that nothing disrupts the meeting. As such, their usual woolen shirts were augmented with fur capes and their hands were given spears.

It wasn’t a bad job, as the sun was out and the sky was a deep blue with barely any clouds. The air was mild, making the rays of the sun more comfortable than oppressive. Other members of the Bolog were walking around about their day, with a few staring at the tent, as if their eyes could bore through it to collect the secrets being discussed, but none were close enough for Cabel or Tarowwe to pay any mind.

“Kinda funny how they commended you for Farro,” Tarowee broke the silence.

Cabel twisted his face. “On about that again are you?”

“I was there too,” Tarowwe said.

“I know.” Cabel looked at his friend. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Tarowwe huffed. “Well tell that to everyone else.”

“I will.” Cabel made a face. “You know I appreciate your help.”

With a sigh Tarowwe nodded his head. “It’s just that pacifying Farro wasn’t easy for me either, and it feels like I’m not even getting any credit for all my work.”

Putting his spear in the crook of his arm, Cabel turned to Tarowwe. “Listen, forget what everyone else is saying. I was there, you were there; we did the job together and we are heroes together.” He paused. “Okay?”

Tarowwe gave Cabel a half smile. “Okay.”

With a great gust of wind, the flaps of the tent behind them were slapped open, a rush of important Eidolon’s exiting, still murmuring loudly about the meeting they just had. Without paying the boys any mind, most of the decorated chieftains simply walked by, all but an old grey haired woman with steely eyes.

“The motion passed,” She said to Cabel first before looking at Tarowwe.

“So..?” Tarowwe let his word hang.

“I am now the elected leader of the Ekotone… Alliance,” Bolog’s chieftain, Jarra, answered. “And it is our combined hope that we find greener pastures than the ones we left behind. In fact, the Horu band discovered a gentle land directly to the north past a river.”

“They did!?” Cabel took a step forward, his bare feet kicking dust from the dry plain below. “A steady source of water and fields?”

“Apparently greener than anything we have ever seen.” Jarra’s eyes were sparkling, something those around her would consider a rare sight. In fact, her excitement, even at this mild level, was enough to cause great commotion in the two boys as they pieced together the implications of the discovery.

“As a sign of faith in the alliance, I have already volunteered you to explore this new land.” She looked over at Cabel.

Tarowwe stepped forward now. “Can I go as well?”

Jarra blinked at Tarowwe, a veil of seriousness falling over her face. “You may.”

Giving his friend a happy look, Tarowwe grinned. Cabel gave him a worried grin back before looking back at his mom. “Thank you, Chieftain.”

Jarra simply tipped her head before walking off, treating Cabel with no more mind than she did anyone else.

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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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Courage & Sala


A curious thing about the ocean is that, once you get far enough into it, you can’t even tell what’s happening on the surface. At least, not without senses beyond mortality. Go deep enough, and you can’t tell anything at all. As Courage sunk the storm faded from her senses, and soon the light began to grow dim. Faster than she could suffocate the Herald of Honor found herself alone in the dark; what few sounds she could still hear rendered alien and strange by the vastness of the seas and the distance of their travel. Even those grew fainter as what energy she had left faded and the pressure of the water inexplicably began to confine her more than her crystallization already had.

She could not close her eyes, but she could not see anything either. Her mind was filled with visions of her sister reaching out towards her as they sunk deeper and deeper, until her hand came too close. Courage watched as Fear’s hand became red and crystalline like that which encased her now, and she watched as her sister’s hand snapped off and was pulled along in the violent currents of the sea. Then Fear was pulled away from her as well… and she was alone.

Damn it! Why!?! Courage could only curse her foolishness, her reckless abandon that had doomed her and her sister. They had done nothing wrong, and even sought to save those that were stolen, yet they had failed and found themselves punished for their good intentions. DAMN IT!!!

She was trapped, and could feel her strength waning. When Homura had left, she could feel her strength begin to fade. The champion knew that the goddess of honor had imbued them with her power, and sustained them in her presence, but without her, their vigor and might became diminished.

Courage wanted to become stronger, and prove that the goddess had chosen her to be a herald of honor for a reason. While Fear and Kindness were content to serve and accept what they had been given, the brash champion wanted to be recognized for her own greatness. Greatness that seemed to end with drowning in the sea after an idiotic attempt to be a hero had proven too much for her. She didn’t want to accept this fate though...

There was a glimmer in the distance. A tiny beacon in the darkness growing larger with every moment. A fish swam towards her, a narrow, quick, and glowing animal. It probed at her as Courage died, its gnawing little teeth breaking down the magic crystal that was the only thing keeping her from a gruesome end. For now. She could only watch in helpless anger and despair as the animal, a simple scavenger alone and seeking out what sustenance it could, set about the murder of one of creations first thinking minds.

Or at least, until she heard the voice. Where before there had only been silence and the occasional groan of the shifting world Courage heard a voice speaking urgently, “It has what you need to survive. Take it- Take it now!

At the prompting Courage felt an inexplicable rush of energy, the provision of a chance. But only a chance. Her crystal cocoon shattered, and she rushed the creature that had attempted to consume the last of her protection. Her hands grasped the fish, squeezing it with intense strength, fingers piercing its scales, and tearing through its innards. Her vision was red with rage, and the blood that poured forth from the vicious wounds she had inflicted upon the fish she held.

“Give it back!” She screamed underwater, and could feel the cold liquid filling her throat once more. Damn it! She panicked, and flailed with the now dead fish still in her hand, her mind racing to find a way to prevent the water from extinguishing the fire within her. She suddenly shoved the fish into her face, bits of viscera sealing her mouth and gore pulled towards her nostrils. She accidently consumed chunks of its body, and immediately spit out the wrecked corpse.

“Bleh! Bleh! Bleh!” She coughed and spat, with a disgusted expression as she floated aimlessly. She stopped and stared at her hands, then looked to what remained of the fish had half eaten and half destroyed.

“What? Wha- I-I I didn’t mean to!” She reached out and held the dead fish in her hands delicately. “No, no. Come on, you’re fine! Wake up! No! Get up!” But the dead do not rise no matter how much you pray, and Courage found herself weeping in the deep depths, her tears mingling with the dark water.

A presence, set to depart, lingered as she did so. The ghostly figure watched, just distant enough to be invisible to the faint glow of Godfish viscera around Courage, yet nearing with every sob. A lapse in attention from the Herald was all it took, and before Courage could even notice a pale hand wiped at a tear as it formed from the corner of her eye. The figure before her, a haze of salt precipitating out of and dissolving into the water, regarded the hand they’d touched Courage’s tears with curiously. It spoke with a familiar feminine voice as its blurry gaze remained fixed on the finger, “You’re not her. But you are familiar. Like the lost ones. They were her creations? There wasn’t a way to save them, at least- then.”

The figure shifted its gaze to courage and swam about her, leaving faint trails of dissolving salt in the sea, “I’ve never seen one of you like this. Moving, alive, body mostly intact. How... Odd. Did she make all of your people like you?”

Courage’s eyes widened when she realized she was not alone, another being had somehow approached her without her even realizing it. She gasped in surprise, only to then realize that she was no longer drowning. She could breathe, or something akin to it at least.

“Are you a goddess?” The reckless champion asked, feeling a familiar sense of awe fill her as she watched the shape within the salt shift and swim around. Honor compelled her to introduce herself then, and Courage attempted to bow while sinking. “I’m Courage, a servant of the King in Heaven, and a Champion of Honor. Thank you for your aid.” She said politely, mustering all of the etiquette she knew.

“Yes,” The figure stopped circling her and met Courage’s eyes as it answered her, “And you aren’t, Courage. You’re Mortal. I’ve not spoken to one of you before. Hm. Well, you’re welcome. Tell me, though, why would someone like you race through a divine storm and plunge themselves into the ocean? My presence here was no certainty, you couldn’t have been sent to meet with me.”

“I-uh… I didn’t intend to take a dive into the deep. I… made a mistake. But, may I ask a favor, your grace. I lost my sister somewhere, and I need to find her. Please, would you help me?” Courage had encountered other deities, and all of them had been kind. She hoped that the goddess before was as kind, otherwise she may have made another mistake.

”My grace?” The figure seemed to draw itself together at that, and Courage could even make out a smiling face even if for a moment. The Goddess preened, “Oh I can guess why she made you. I must find- Ehm, a sister you say? If you lost her at sea I can tell you she is not near, there is nothing like you for some distance. Beyond that... The world remains in chaos. Your sister is one creature in all creation, Courage. I will help you find her if she yet lives, but this is not a world of peace.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much! Fear might always be scared, but she isn’t weak. She’s still alive. She looks like me, so she shouldn’t be too hard to find.” Courage exclaimed, and glanced around the darkness. The light of day did not reach so far below the surface, and aside from the glittering presence of the goddess, there was nothing else she could really discern. She wasn’t even certain which way was up after spinning so many times during her descent.

“I’m not sure which is the right way though. She was so close, and then she wasn’t. Pulled away from me, and I couldn’t do anything!” Courage shook her head with anger, and wanted to find her lost sister and stolen kin, but she was helpless. Not anymore.

“We’ll find her. My Maker said we must have faith in the Divine. I believe in you, your grace.”

The pale figure reached out and as its hand swept over Courage’s she began to rise inexorably towards the surface. The Goddess matched her pace and introduced herself seriously, “I am Sala, the Goddess of Salt, and I promise you nothing Courage. I will help, because you interest me, and because enough has been lost in this world already, but do not mistake my aid for a guarantee. Far greater and nobler beings than your sister have perished.”

“It is an honor, Sala. I hope you’re able to meet my Maker, the Goddess of Honor. She is seeking the other Divine, giving them gifts. The last thing she said was that she was going to the pale orb in the night sky to investigate something, but she must’ve returned by now. If we find her, she’ll know where Fear is, and she’ll give you her gifts. More humans, like myself.” Courage explained as they ascended, seeing the light beyond.

“She spoke of a coming war, and wanted to work with the other Divine to protect Galbar. She’s spoken with Voligan, Zenia, and Chailiss, as well as another god named Voi. All of them are going to fight together. I’m going to fight beside them, will you join us?” Courage asked.

”Coming? The war is here, Courage, and we Gods are the ones waging it against the world.” Sala spoke bitterly as her body began to solidify, and then change. Salt turned to pale flesh, though the Goddess made no effort to imitate Courage. By the time the light of the Monarch’s Palace began to shine through the water above them she was a tall woman with sharp angular features, bone white skin, and wide dark eyes.

Sala glanced at Courage evidently concerned regarding this revelation and elaborated more forgivingly, “We create and your kind, those like you and others besides, are ground into the dirt or smashed on the rocks for being too weak to survive it. I’ve no doubt your maker is well intentioned. I know Voligan would not align himself with an enemy of the world, but even he has done damage simply by being. As have I.”

“We’ll find your maker, and your sister, but when I do accept creatures like you under my care the very last place I’ll put them is in the way of war. They would not survive it. Not yet.” The pair broke through the surface at last, and Sala watched as Courage began coughing up water, the air able to push out what was within her. The champion found that she did not stand atop the water, but sort of stood upon something unseen beneath the surface, held by the will of the divine, it seemed.

“Most,” gasp, “of humanity rests within Keltra,” gasp, “and those that are given away are under the protection of the Divine, ya. I want to fight… but if you say we’re not ready, then I’ll wait.” Courage replied after recovering from her ascent, and taking another deep breath.

She looked around, and saw that the ocean had calmed now, the storm had passed, and now the song of the sea had returned to its otherworldly melody. There was no sight of the three colossi, or any lands nearby, but the senses of a mortal were so much more limited compared to the senses of a goddess.

“Which way, your grace? I was hoping we would be able to see something when we reached the surface, but there’s only the sky and the sea.” Courage sought the resolve within her, and found her strength slowly returning.

“That way,” Sala pointed southwest absentmindedly. The Goddess started walking as she spoke, her steps unwavering despite being ankle deep in the ocean. She went on, “And don’t mistake me, the day will come when the world is strong enough to survive the abuse of its creators. My Godfish are a beginning. You’d have died without them, and their gift is more than that alone.”

“I… the Godfish… was I supposed to kill it?” Courage asked, the memory of its blood staining her hands, the taste of its death in her mouth; it sickened her, and she tried to forget it.

“Of course? The Goddess said bemusedly, “I created them to concentrate power, to consume the fallout of our Lord’s court’s reckless creation and distill it. How else would you take their power? Strength, resilience, the capacity to breathe water like air, there's no way to wrest the power from the animal without killing it. The world grows stronger with every Godfish that falls prey, every tiny morsel of divinity absorbed into mortality. It is why they exist.”

Courage nodded, and ignored the small feeling of illness that had arisen within her. She could not question the goddess, everything the deity had said seemed certainly true. She had not drowned after she had broken the creature in her hands and mouth, and she found herself reinvigorated as well, despite her stomach continual complaints. The reckless champion wondered whether she should seek out more of these God-fish, and consume them, so that she might have the strength to protect her loved ones and rid herself of her aversion to the sea.

“You’re very wise, your grace. I’m happy knowing my kin will be safe with you.” Courage said with a pleased grin. “I can’t let my sisters see me being all sad when we get back, ya.”

“As they ever could be,” Sala cooed in an immensely satisfied tone as she glanced back at Courage, “And I can only hope they share your... Demeanour, as it were.”

“You’ll like Kindness! She’s quiet, but considerate of others. She’s not very good at dancing though. Then there’s Fear… she’s reluctant to do anything she doesn’t have to, but she can be fun when you poke her out of her shell. There’s also Curiosity and Wanderer, and they’re as different as night and day. You’ll meet them along with our Maker, and they’ll thank you for saving me!” Courage said, while they walked across the sea.

“Have you created life like us? Those that serve the Divine with devotion.” Courage asked.

The goddess halted and stumbled at the question, but started moving again just as quickly. She coughed unconvincingly and deflected, “I look forward to meeting all of them. Especially your maker. A friend of Voligan you say?”

“Ya, Voligan and Zenia visited, and our Maker gifted them with my sleeping kin. Voligan promised to fight beside our Maker, same with Zenia. There’s also Chailiss, from the North.” The brash champion explained.

“Have you met with the other gods and goddesses?” Courage continued, crossing her hands behind her head, and wearing a cheeky grin.

“I have felt all of their influences upon the world. Each ripple they left in the ocean. I know them all Courage, even if I haven’t met more than a handful in-” The flustered Goddess suddenly smirked, and then failed to hide it as she pivoted, “I have met with the Lord of Reality. We are all, in the end, parts of him.”

“You’ve met the King in Heaven!?! What’s He like? Homura said that mortal eyes couldn’t perceive His shape without being lost in His majesty… I mean, my Maker said that.” Courage quickly amended, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, after asking her question.

“She did?” Sala blinked and strained to see her own mortal inspired eye, to no avail. She glanced at Courage and went on like she’d never tried, “Well, eyes are fragile. That is something I’ll have to fix but, hm, our Lord has them. Eyes, that is. And four arms.”

The Goddess' expression grew taut to wither as she moved beyond the Monarch's form, “And he’s kinder than you might think, but no less terrifying than you’re afraid of. He has the power to unmake everything. Be glad you’re beneath his notice.”

“Hmm… I hope to earn His attention as His faithful servant. I’ll make Him proud, just watch. When that day comes, I’ll remind everyone that it was you that saved me.” Courage replied, after imagining herself with four arms upon hearing Sala’s description of the Monarch of All. She looked at the goddess, and offered her another smile.

”Careful your enthusiasm doesn’t get anyone you care for killed.” Sala said frigidly. A mote of anguish in her eyes was extinguished as she looked away and bulldozed any possible reply from her companion, “Your human legs are too short. This will take weeks at your pace.”

The Goddess of Salt stepped up to Courage in the blink of an eye and wrapped her arms around the Herald’s waist. Courage only stared in confusion, and began stammering nonsensical words out at the contact. “We’ll be there today at mine.” Sala said before the world began to blur. She’d grabbed hold of Courage instants before a geyser blasted the pair so far into the sky that land was visible in the distance.

The wind buffeted them, but never so harshly that Courage was in danger. Again and again they descended only to be caught by a new geyser, and each time they seemed to be moving more quickly.

They found otherworldly signs of the Goddess of Honor, the sea held lingering remnants of her power and shimmered like red rubies beneath the shining sun. The land itself could be seen close by, not expecting the sudden arrival of Sala and the startled Courage who was trying and failing to catch her breath as they swiftly traveled so far. All the champion could do was silently scream and cling onto the goddess.

The shore was a mix of stone and vibrant flora consisting of a myriad of shapes and colors. However the primary pigment was a deep and rich scarlet painted across and suffused in the leaves and flowers that sang and danced with the wind.

All of which was indelicately brushed aside by the huge geyser of falling salt water which crashed down on it. At the vanguard of the destruction, far beyond the shore, Sala pried Courage off of her and placed her on the firm ground before announcing with only the smallest hint of uncertainty, “Keltra! We’ve arrived, Courage. If you'd, ahm, point us to your home?”

“I’m alive!” Were the first words the champion spoke from where she fell on the ground, before she pushed herself back up, and took in her surroundings. She staggered forward, and began laughing. “That way! That way! Your grace!” Courage shouted as she pointed westward along the shore. “Keltra waits along the shore!” She sang, before dancing around Sala. “Let’s do that again!”

“If that’s what you’d like.” Sala gave Courage a mischievous smile before throwing the champion in the direction she indicated. Homura’s champion sailed through the air in a long arc only to be caught by the very person who’d tossed her, and before she could get a word in she was thrown again.

This happened time and time again until Sala caught Courage and set her down while asking impatiently, “You pointed the right way, didn’t you? Did you see anything from up there?”

Courage felt her head wobble, and let out childish and confused laughter in response to the question of the goddess. “Eh? Hehe, what?” She managed to ask, still swaying back and forth. Then something else answered Sala’s question.

A red light framed with prismatic patterns and filled with divine power approached from the west. The presence of another goddess, as Homura walked towards Sala and Courage.

“Welcome sister. I am Homura, and I mean you no harm.” Homura’s voice reached them from afar, and Sala could easily see the golden spear the smaller goddess held in her hand shrink and disappear in her palm.

The Salt Goddess shook Courage’s shoulder and the Human felt a rush of clarity. Sala exhorted, “Wake up Courage, now isn't the opportune time for hypoxia. Your creator has arrived.”

Sala stepped forwards and answered Homura warmly, though her eyes never left the other divine’s hand. The one the weapon had vanished into. “Lady of Honor. Your subject here has been telling me about you and her sisters. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise. You have my gratitude, sister. I had thought that I lost this one.” Homura replied, and gestured to the astonished Courage, who looked between the two deities with the sudden realization of where she was. She quickly bowed before Homura. “Forgive me for my foolishness, everything that happened was my fault!” She said, refusing to rise after apologizing.
The red goddess shook her head, and spoke softly. “It is I who should seek forgiveness. I let harm befall you and your sister, when I could have prevented it. Rise, Courage, and face me. I do not want you to surrender to shame now.”

Then she turned to the other goddess. “If my champion has explained properly, then I assume you are aware of my intentions.”

“You seek allies for a coming conflict. Yes, Courage told me that.” Sala answered mirthlessly, “I’m afraid you’ll find no comrade in arms here, Homura, but no enemy either. Violence and carelessness have already taken enough of us, and the world has borne the cost of the struggle.”

Homura allowed herself to smile, a small and forlorn smile hiding the shadows of grief. “I agree, and as long as you do not advocate death nor despair, then we have no reason to quarrel. If there is anything I can do to help you, then feel free to call upon me.” The red goddess reached out with her hand that had not held the celestial weapon. She moved carefully and gracefully, with sincerity shining in her red eyes.

“Let us clasp hands, for the sake of peace.”

Sala’s hand wavered at her side for a passing moment before she mirrored Homura’s actions and clasped the other Goddess’s hand. Even so, the Goddess of Salt met Homura’s grip.

Sala met Homura’s gaze as she spoke, “May it endure forever, Lady of Honor. On that point your subject Courage informed me you’ve already set about entrusting her people to the rest of our Lord’s court. I must ask: Is there a way I could obtain a number of these humans?”

The Goddess of Salt looked at Courage, the human still looking rather windblown, before going on with some mirth in her voice, “They’re delicate but, mostly, quite pleasant company. And, hm, their fragility can be corrected.”

“I am afraid my means of transportation recently wandered far away, but if you are able to transport them yourself, then there is no issue. Come with me, and I shall show you Keltra proper.” And the red goddess stepped back before gesturing for Sala to follow. Homura looked to Courage, standing awkwardly nearby. “Your sister awaits, Courage.”

Emerging from her palm, Daybringer stretched forth and shimmered in the hand of the goddess. She pointed its tip skyward, and the weapon released a column of celestial light that reached the heavens. The light was answered by a far away titanic bellow.

“Shall we?” The Goddess of Honor asked, looking at Sala once more.

“I'll await you there.” Sala said as she eyed Homura and Courage. The Goddess’s body began to change from flesh to white crystal as she spoke, crumbling and cracking and benign carried away as dust in a sudden wind. Just as Sala’s face was breaking apart she added with amusement, “I’m afraid you’ll have to rely on the speed of your maker this time, Courage. I’ve no doubt she can indulge your travel preferences as well as I.”

Flakes of salt like snow carried themselves away on the wind, flying in a sinuous stream towards that distant bellow. The Goddess of Honor and her champion stood there, watching as the salt soared through the sky towards Keltra. The goddess spoke first.

“We will have words later, Courage. What you did was foolish, and has hurt the ones that love you. You should have waited for me.” She said, and though she spoke quietly, her voice was as sharp as the spear she held. It pierced the reckless champion, and shook her like the raging sea with its mighty waves.

“I couldn’t let them - ”

“Enough! I will speak with you further when you return to Keltra.” The red goddess interjected with fierce eyes akin to burning rubies, and a stern tone that did not invite any dispute. Courage simply accepted the words of her Maker, and allowed herself to hold her own words back for now. She watched as Homura said nothing more before Homura began leaping back to the citadel, following the stream of salt in the sky.

Courage let out a sigh, knowing there was little else she could, except to wait for the colossus to reach her. “Guess that’s my fault, ya.” She muttered to herself.

- - - - - - - - -


The towering walls shimmered in the light of the imperious sun; the stone more similar to the rubies and garnets of the world than any of the more mundane materials more often used for the construction of buildings. However, the citadel exuded a haunting aura, akin to the song of the sea, harrowing and silently sorrowful, touched by death. The essence of the Goddess of Honor held it together, but it was like a corpse strung up and pretending to be alive.

All of which was rather lost on Sala. The Salt Goddess skipped the nuance and found herself admiring the glimmering citadel as she swirled about it as a fine dust of salt caught in a living breeze. It wasn’t so much that she was ignorant of the aura, but rather that its effect wasn’t so different from the Goddess’s own disposition as of late. If Sala noticed it at all, it was in a private lamentation that she couldn't even bring herself to enjoy the beauty.

As she beheld Homura’s fortress Sala reflected on the fact that the only time she’d felt alive since her promise to Ao-Yurin had been when she’d accompanied the mortal, Courage. She wondered if that was the real reason the Lady of Honor had created them. The flattery and deference were intoxicating, but more than that? They were a distraction. The world might be crumbling under the weight of its creators, one tiny crack at a time, but obsession was a pit. Sala didn’t need to delve too deep into it to know that. Diversion might not be a cure for the ailment, but it was close enough.

In the spirit of the sentiment she focused her attention on the land around her, taking in the ashen and desolate fields, devoid of any flora and fauna, and inaccessible because of the lack of any gates along the red wall of the fortress. In its center, atop a hill, sat the keep itself. Standing before one of the many entrances into the structure was another simulacrum of the Goddess of Honor, akin to Courage. She stood there alone, and looked forlornly towards the sky.

Sala pulled herself together before them, grains of salt shifting and melting into the form of a woman. Once more she wove herself a body of flesh, but this time one less alien. At least, to this place. She stood before Homura’s effigy looking distinctly Human. Familiar, yet pale, beige skin, sharp but natural features, the appearance she’d chosen was in ways a reflection of Courage, Homura, and this mortal’s. In other ways, it differed. Sala stood half again the mortal’s height, wore a long cascade of dark purple ‘hair’ that smoked and cracked in the open air, and sported irises that seemed to contain the seas themselves.

It was, to her, the least she could do to meet Homura. Modesty and deference were not the preserve of Goddesses who erected giant statues of themselves and made their servants into reflections. Not that Sala would ever say that.

“Unless they all look like her.” The Goddess muttered to herself as she regarded the Lady of Honor’s likeness.

The second Herald of Honor spoke softly, a stark contrast from the way Courage spoke. “Welcome to Keltra, your grace. My name is Kindness.” Kindness said, introducing herself before she bowed before the goddess. Her entire demeanor was different, more akin to Homura herself, but lacking the more acute manner of articulating her words and those fierce fires that burned in the eyes of the Goddess of Honor. Then there was the lack of true divinity, of course. The presence of something that can only be described as sacred.

From behind the mortal, emerging out of the numerous doorways leading into the keep, came an otherworldly light that seeped into the stone, and into the creature that stood in front of Sala. The light was suffused with the essence of Homura, much like the stone, but it served another purpose. It stirred the stone, it invigorated the champion, it sustained them with what divine power it possessed, akin to the Godfish of the sea. Strange sounds originated from within the keep, like whispers on the wind, and then the cackle of a great fire.

“I sense a theme.” Sala commented thoughtlessly as she paced towards Kindness, gazing around intently at the light. The Goddess stopped just short of the Human to look down at her and ask, “The Lady of Honor has built quite a fortress. To protect this?”

Sala gestured around her, to the light and the sound and the manifestation of Keltra’s power. The simulacrum arose, and then nodded. “This fortress was erected as a bastion for the faithful. A shelter from the coming storm. That is what my Maker told me. There is little inside, aside from the rest of my kin currently sleeping. Have you come to collect some, your grace?” Kindness asked, and the goddess could hear the faint hint of resentment in the champion’s voice.

“Just a shelter? What a waste.” Sala’s brow creased in disapproval. She eyed Kindness wearily, “But our Lord's court are welcome to their indulgences. And I have, Kindness, but not without at least returning one. Albeit, one who has a low opinion of your skill at dance.”

Kindness became evidently confused upon hearing her words, before she regained her composure and the impassive mask returned. “What do you mean? Have… have you spoken with Courage?” The champion inquired with a slight tremble she attempted to hide.

For all Kindness’s tremble was obvious to the Goddess, there could be little doubt that the mortal caught Sala’s knowing smirk, “I spoke to a Courage. I’m not sure I’m prepared to guess at how many Humans who look just like you named Courage Homura created, at least not quite yet.”

Kindness closed her eyes, wincing from internal pain, before she looked at the goddess, eyes shining with nascent tears and desperation. “Please, where is she? Give her back. It was my fault. I was the one that let her go. I just want to see her again.” Kindness pleaded with the goddess, falling to her knees, and reaching out for an answer, for the words that would bring her hope or despair.

Almost immediately Sala regretted teasing the mortal. Courage had given her the idea that- But no. Was that how she’d looked? The Goddess winced and backed away from Kindness as she all but stammered out, “Your maker, the Lady of Honor- Homura has taken custody of your sister already. I came ahead of them. She’ll be here soon, I’m sure!”

“Please, I need to see her. I have lost one sister, I cannot lose another.” Kindness would not rise, her legs would not move. Only her hands had kept her from falling to the ground, as she placed them before herself. Her words were accompanied by the familiar light of the golden spear that Homura held.

Returning to the keep with a powerful leap over the walls, the Goddess of Honor descended near where Sala and Kindness were. She approached, and betrayed the tiniest hint of surprise to find her champion on her knees, and her sister standing there. “Hmm… What happened? Has my herald offended you, sister?” Homura asked.

“Offended?” Sala glanced bemusedly from Homura to Kindness and back before a look of realization dawned on her face and she winced even harder, “Lady of Honor I assure you I’ve not touched her. Your herald was merely inquiring as to the, ahem, condition of her sister.”

“I see… Kindness, you need not fret. Courage will be here soon. She is on her way now. You may go and meet her on her path, if you wish.” Homura replied, speaking to her champion before nodding to Sala. “I apologize, I did not intend to impose upon you with my mistakes. Your gifts are inside.” Homura’s words were accompanied by the struggle of Kindness, rising to her feet, before she bowed to both deities.

“Please… excuse me.” The champion said, then took a step in the direction Homura had come from. She seemed to hesitate, as though she thought she may stumble, but then she leapt, and soared through the sky, multiple jumps until she disappeared over the precipice of the red walls

Homura herself gestured towards the immense doorway of the keep, further along the uphill path. [b]“Humanity awaits, sister.”[/b[

“Ah- Yes. Of course. Lead the way. Sala spoke haltingly as she hurriedly stepped forwards, keeping just ahead of Homura as to hide her flushed cheeks and pained expression. She felt ashamed and humiliated all at once. The Goddess pitied Kindness, related to her, and couldn't help but be aggravated by the misunderstanding the Human had caused.

As Sala fretted, the press of the wind, and the presence of the light, had changed. She had stepped inside keep, followed by Homura, and found herself swallowed in a strange and forlorn aura, as the touch of the imperious sun had receded, and was replaced by the calm caress of the great monument that blazed before her.

The interior was almost as empty as the fields outside… There was little motion aside from the bright bonfire that illuminated the massive hall, but Sala could see the thousands upon thousands of prone pallid forms that were intricately arranged around the edges of the light, on the borders between the dancing shadows that obscured the rest of the vast hall, and the warm radiance of the bonfire. There was divine power coming from the flames, its warmth and light offered strength to the mortals all around; it was sustaining them, suffusing them with vigor.

It was quiet, but the Goddess could hear the humans softly breathing as they all slept peacefully. Their stillness seemed to beckon her to come to them, they were like a virgin canvas, and she was a painter with all the tools she needed in her hands. None were like Courage, or Kindness, but they all possessed potential.

“Hmm… I must mention my appreciation of your Aspect. I have discovered Salt to be beautiful in its simplicity, yet much like Earth and Water, it is wonderfully woven into the tapestry of creation. I incorporated some of it into the composition of humanity, but my understanding of it is lacking. I hope this has not offended you.” Homura said, as she suddenly walked beside Sala, and tilted her head downwards, in an act of respective recognition.

Sala’s embarrassed blush turned to a flattered one in an instant. She preened, “It is, isn’t it? And I did notice my aspect in the veins of your creations, Lady of Honor. Far from lacking, it is a brilliant application. In order to live they carry me and my aspect to every corner of the Galbar. It's just as I’d have done.”

Sala paused and her expression darkened for the briefest of moments. She fixed her gaze on the humans at the periphery of the hall and spoke less confidently, “I only wish it hadn’t meant- Well, nothing. Nevermind. You’ve done me a kindness already, Lady of Honor, and you do me a greater one now. How many of them do you have?”

The eyes of the red goddess roamed over those that slept in the hall, and recalled the number of those loaded onto the three colossi, as she quickly calculated the answer to Sala’s question. “I am in possession of three hundred and twenty one thousand, nine hundred and eighty-five humans. The majority is within this keep.” Homura replied, looking back at the Goddess of Salt. “You have saved Courage, and for that I would offer you more than that which I have offered our other siblings. You may have as many as two hundred thousand, if you so desire.”

The Goddess of Salt began to pace in the light of the bonfire, violet hair shimmering as it steamed and fumed a trail of thin smoke behind her. Her thoughts raced and her wide blue eyes skipped from the many sleeping Humans to Homura and back again as she considered the other Goddess’s offer. Two hundred thousand was more than Sala had imagined Homura had.

It was a reminder that others had been busy while she moped in the oceans and lazed about their waves. And that itself was a reminder of what Sala had lost. She eventually brought herself to a stop, spinning on her heel and raising her voice to speak as much to Homura as to herself, “One hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven. I will take that many, Lady of Honor, and I will give them all an equal and opposite born from my own power. And I will build them a... City. A living city that will shield them from anyone or anything that tries to break them apart. A power and protection to grow alongside them.”

“So be it. Do you wish to awaken them here, or shall you transport them while they remain dormant?” A subtle and sincere joy flickered in Homura’s eyes upon hearing Sala’s vision, and seeing the similarities in it and her own proclaimed purpose for Keltra made her realize that perhaps there were others among the Divine that would be capable of compassion, and willing to protect life, as opposed to just amusing themselves with it. It was a hopeful thought that was reflected in her red eyes for an ephemeral moment.

“Awaken them. I’ll take them to the sea and then across it. I have a place in mind for them, for now.” Sala replied absently before beginning to muse aloud, “And when I’ve poured enough into them, made them strong enough, then the whole of the world will be their stronghold.”

“Indeed, sister. We will not let them suffer. We will not let them die.” Homura quietly agreed, and pointed her spear towards the doorway that had entered through. The rumble of the land announced a great change, but the keep remained still, and nothing visible seemed to have occurred. “The way is clear. Guide them towards their new home, and I hope we can meet again when you have created the world you have envisioned.”

“When these creations of yours can make even us tremble, we will have arrived there.” Sala said, thoughts of a greater world dominating her attention even as she built its foundations. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before exhaling a mist of salt that snaked and swirled its way towards the Humans, awakening all that Sala deemed to be hers. Which, coincidentally, were those nearest to the exits.

Human legs were short and they took ages to get anywhere. As Sala forced her power into the Human vessels and gave them form she, rather unintentionally, let that bias sink in. Her people grew taller, the average man and woman both standing at some six and a half feet, but that was only the beginning. Sala blessed them with endurance, strength, wisdom, and a toughness that would shame their kin. Resistance to poison, curse, and predation of the spirit. With each boon the Goddess poured her aspect into the awakening throng, and neither Sala nor the power she was a manifestation of were unwilling to exact a price for power.

For every strength she endowed her people with, Sala bound them more tightly to her. They would drink nothing but water as saline as the sea, and they would hunger for the strange and rare salts Sala had begun to grace reality with. To them her desert, to some of her peers a sore that wounded the world, would be alluring and intoxicating.

As the people of Salt awoke, they witnessed the birth of their appointed opposites. From every one of them Sala took a token of flesh, a single earlobe, and used it to grow another living soul. A soul inextricably linked to the one whose flesh had birthed it. Wisps of salt whipped back and forth as the Goddess created from every man a woman, and from every woman a man. One hundred eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven, of each.

As they awoke they knew only that they had another they could rely on absolutely, and that their Goddess bid them to follow her. They did not see the small red goddess among them, bidding them farewell.

“Lady of Honor,” Sala addressed Homura warmly as she stepped forwards to lead the crowds, “You have my thanks.”

“Shining sister of mine, know that you have my gratitude as well. It has been a pleasure speaking with you. May you find only good fortune on your journey, and please, feel free to come back here whenever you desire.”

The wall of Keltra had opened, a large pass through the southern section that led towards the red sea. Homura followed the humans that were led by Sala, invisibly escorting them outside of the keep. Rather than spread out they formed a long column, some few dozen following Sala, and some few dozen following them, until the ribbon of undulating humanity stretched out for countless miles to the sea. From above Kelta looked less a keep and more a hive disgorging workers into the custody of a departing queen.

And perhaps that was what she was. Sala led her people, saw their expressions of awe and trust, and began to think. The Lord of Reality had his court. Homura her servants. If Sala’s people were to one day remake the world such that it could withstand the carelessness and callousness of its creators, why should she not lead them there herself?

As she walked the Goddess spotted a stand of trees and pulled at them, forcing them to cannibalize themselves and grow to follow her as great networks of moving roots tunneling through the earth. Any vegetation that dared poke out above the omnipresent grasses fell under Sala’s sway and soon the ground flanking the Human procession was churning with living roots following the deity as surely as her people did.

Keltra was not overfar from the sea, yet it was nonetheless astonishing that by the time the Goddess reached the shore the last of her people had only just departed the citadel. As Sala approached the salty ocean she forced the roots, against their very nature, to plunge themselves into the water.

A waterfall of living wood erupted from the coast, each tendril of wood bending to Sala’s will in totality the moment it touched the waves and transforming itself into a mere component of a greater whole. The roots wove themselves into great rafts that curled and shaped into colossal ships. Four enormous arks, each one made from living wood now adapted to drink the salt seas themselves, floated off the coast of Keltra mere hours after their creator had conceived of them.

Sala simply stepped up, and in a single leap she stood at the bow of the nearest ship. With a voice that stirred the hearts of all those she had shaped the Goddess spoke, My people, your future awaits. And I have made you strong, but not strong enough. You will have to be more. You must prove you can be more. Come, and show me.”

There was hesitation from some, but those that had strode just behind their Goddess? Who had seen her bend and twist nature as if it were string? They dove into the waters without the need to question or doubt. Others followed, and soon the sea churned with Humanity. Tens of thousands of hands grasped at and climbed upon the arcs even as they began to depart. The few stragglers swam harder to catch up, and catch up they did.

The people of Salt had been born, and they were unwavering in faith.



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DrRtron Formerly Rtron

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Voligan


The Great Bearer of Lands, The Earthheart, Champion of the Monarch

Aspects: Earth, Crafting

Vigor: 13




Voligan descended from the Palace, moving his limbs as he still felt the tingling from the new shard he had acquired. It was strange. Not bad, certainly, but strange. He could still feel the remnants of the Monarch’s powers sparking through his limbs, finishing the absorption of the crystal. Voligan stopped above the Crown of Galbar, looking down upon his work. He would put the finishing touches on it and let the rest of his family know what he had made. Then, hopefully, they could stop murdering each other and settle their differences amongst a group of peers rather than by whomever got the jump on their opponent, or whomever happened to be the strongest.

Looking around the Crown he noticed something off about the wall of water surrounding the divine meeting place. Parts of it were shimmering and then collapsing down into the normal sea. Strange. Perhaps Ruina’s magic was failing at last, and he would have to reinforce it. Voligan descended towards the water level and finally saw what was causing the long upheld waters to start falling.

Glowing fish were swimming in and around the walls, whipping back and forth in a feeding frenzy. They were evidently feasting on the magic that held the walls up. He could sense the magic of his sister, Sala, in them. Perhaps they were an attempt to fix the damage Ruina had caused to the ocean. Perhaps she simply desired to make them. Regardless of the reason, he needed them to stop lest they drown the Crown back in the ocean Ruina had cleared. Moving quickly, faster than a mortal eye could comprehend, Voligan raced around the water walls of the Crown and gathered the Godfishes that were feeding on its magical energy and placed them miles away from the Crown. He didn’t want to hurt them, for surely Sala had made them for a reason, but he did need them to stop eating the water walls.

Landing back in the middle of the Crown Voligan placed his hand on the ground, focusing his energy. He would have to make something to keep the Godfish out and he needed to make a way to summon all the gods for meetings or disputes. He could combine both of them into one creation.

For a moment, nothing happened. And then the ground rumbled, and the ocean trembled.

In a wide circle around the Crown a strip of land rose a couple miles into the air, pushing through the sea and creating sheer cliffs that prevented the Godfish from reaching the Crown. Evenly spaced around this strip of land were massive holes made of marble that tapered down as they descended into the earth. In front of Voligan rose a conical tube, also made of marble. Pausing for a moment to make sure that his creation was solid, and there were no detectable flaws in it, Voligan nodded to himself. It would work.

He placed his hands on the tube and spoke into it. As he did so, his voice travelled through the tube, down through the tunnels and out of the massive holes on the cliffs. The marble began to glow with divine energy and his voice carried to every divine being on Galbar.

“Brothers and Sisters. I, Voligan the god of Earth, have been named the Champion of The Monarch. I speak with his authority, and I act on his behalf. As I am sure you have all noticed, two of our family have been murdered by their own kin. This stops now. We are better than that. We will be better than that. I have established a meeting ground in the center of Galbar. If you have a dispute or a problem with anyone of divine blood, take it there at the Crown of Galbar. Use this summons to get neutral gods to help settle your disputes without resorting to murder. If you do not do this and attempt to get your justice, revenge, cruel enjoyment, whatever motivates you to act against your fellow gods, I will bring the Monarch’s justice upon you. I trust that none of you will force my hand in such a manner.”

Voligan stopped and the glow faded away from the Summons. All of his family had heard his message, of that he was sure. If any of his family heed his warnings and utilize the Crown was a different discussion. The only thing he could do now is wait. His message delivered, he rose into the sky once more and headed west. He had a promise to the Monarch to fulfill.

Once he was many miles away from the western coast of Termina, Voligan revealed his true form and landed with a crash in the ocean. He looked around, making sure that none of his siblings' creations were near. He didn’t want to interfere with their works, or worse have them interfere with this. Satisfied that there wasn’t anything out in the ocean with him, Voligan gathered his divine energy in his hands. He knelt and placed the power into the seafloor, giving rise to yet another continent.

The sea bubbled and roiled as a glowing mass of metal ripped free of the sea floor and rose to the surface. Steam rose to the sky for miles around the glowing metal, blocking it from sight. As the steam cleared and the metal cooled, Voligan’s great work finally became clear. It was miles and miles of stations and tools for collecting and refining resources, and then forging, crafting, and shaping them into arms and armor. Various openings to the Labyrinth dotted the landscape, surrounded by collection and distribution centers. The edges all had watchtowers with various siege weapons on them, to prevent any mortals from going where they should not. In the center was a gigantic forge and anvil, designed so that Voligan could use it himself in his true form. The entire continent radiated magical energy and Voligan rumbled, pleased with his work. Now all it needed was workers to man it.

He considered the golems for a moment, but no. They would be too independent and intelligent for the endless, monotonous work that this would require. He needed simple creatures that would obey his every command and never grow tired of it. Never even have the chance to grow tired of it. Their only thoughts would be to follow his orders. No sentient race could be used for that.

So Voligan gathered his power and drew metal from the various portals of the Labryinth. In his hands, he created his servants. They were made of metal, and while they were reminiscent of golems, they possessed no souls. No personalities. No will of their own. They did, however, possess a drive to obey and create. They would create the arms and armor that the Monarch required for his personal guard, and defend his forge from invaders. With that done, Voligan immediately set them to work. They would need to start immediately to be ready for the Monarch’s demands. And he would be ready for the Monarch’s demands. He hadn’t been given the shard of Crafting for nothing, and he wasn’t going to fail.

Setting his creations on the ground, dubbing them Automatons, he shifted and felt a jangle along his wrist. Looking down, he rumbled in pleased surprise. The gift from Rosa, so long ago, was still with him. He needed to visit her once more, and see how she was doing. He hadn’t been able to track her since she found her boat and went across the sea once again. It had been too long.




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Journeys III





Their flight was both short and long. Long in the sense that only the sun dipping into the horizon and the great moon rising could only convey. Short in the sense that Viho did not wish it to end. He was built to wander, to explore and learn. That would often be a lonely task, one not suited for any who could not fly, or in the case, ride. He enjoyed the young woman’s companionship, even if they hardly knew each other and even if it was ultimately her decision on where she wanted to go. Viho felt as if she were a fledgling that needed protection. A small girl, modeled after a Goddess, who needed protecting? It was a funny thought. He had saved her, yes, and maybe she needed to get a better footing on her limits, but Viho had the feeling that she didn’t actually need any protection. She had untapped potential, stifled by only a name. Why had her maker named her Fear? Why? When she showed as much courage as the one she idealized.

Was it fear that had compelled her to chase after her kin? Was it pressure? Was it Courage or courage? These questions had answers but none he could perceive.

He had come to terms that such events happen for a reason. He was meant to happen upon her when he did and save her. Viho was struggling with the idea of a goodbye and it hadn’t even happened yet. As the two chatted and talked as he flew, a bond began to form. At least to him. Fear was a kind soul, after all. He hoped the trauma of the sea would not leave any lasting blights upon her soul. For she did not deserve it. Eventually, as they crested red forests and blushed mountains, it dawned upon him. A life met, needed not end in goodbyes when the time came to depart but with a promise to meet again. Therefore, a goodbye was not needed because it wasn’t truly a goodbye. Still, doubt crept in as they neared Keltra. Viho thought it odd to feel such things. Yet he knew it was just something else to learn.

So they flew over lake and stream, red plain and white tree until at least the beacon that was Keltra came into his view. Red walls that reflected the sun rose with a splendor he had not yet seen in that world. It was magnificent, as it was haunting. Like a lone perch sat atop a mountain. Still, he could only find himself in awe at the sheer size of it.

“You did not tell me your home was such a jewel, Fear.” He said to the small passenger upon his back. She seemed to consider his words for a while, but in truth it was only a brief moment.

“All homes are such beautiful jewels for those that have a home to return to. I’m… glad you like it.” She climbed further up her companion’s back to gain a better view of the immense citadel, and saw something she found amiss. “There should be two more colossi.” She warned Viho, pointing to the massive metallic being standing in the red sea nearby.

Though he could not see her pointing, Viho spotted what she was talking about. So caught up in the keep, he had failed to notice the titanic creature that stood within the sea. “There’s… There’s two more of those titans?” He said with awe in his voice. “I did not know anything could grow so big.”

“The colossi have always been with us… since the day I was born… Were the other two left behind because Courage and I… weren’t there to direct them?” Fear hesitantly asked herself, feeling guilty upon realizing that Kindness would obviously have not been able to efficiently control all three colossi by herself.

The lone colossus was an ill omen that elicited a painful lurch in her heart, and the anxious champion found herself dreading to face what she may find in the great fortress. It was a fiery jewel, shining brilliantly, and she was a failure that had wandered astray and would probably be unwanted in the end. The otherworldly light of Daybringer that poured forth from the keep itself indicated that the Goddess of Honor must be there, Fear observed as well, wondering what her Maker would say upon seeing her.

“It should be safe to land anywhere within the walls.” She said, clinging desperately to the small hope that she was wrong, and the other colossi were simply elsewhere. She wanted to have faith that Courage had survived, and the ones that had been stolen were now recovered. It was a faint hope she held, but it was all she had.

“Worry not Fear, I am sure there is an explanation. Come now, let us meet your maker.” Viho said on the final approach. There was a warmth here, one he was not all that fond of, but he kept his tongue in his beak for that one. Eventually he landed within an open courtyard, extending his wing down so that Fear could descend.

Standing at one of the many entrances into the keep were three more beings identical in appearance to Fear, and as the anxious champion climbed down, upon the sight of those waiting for the duo, she suddenly stood still.

With a burst of speed, two of the clones charged Viho and Fear, with joyous expressions on their faces. Neither had weapons, and the owl champion could see both had the blue amulets gifted by Chailiss that Fear also wore.

They crashed into the frozen Fear, together toppling her, and the relief all three of them exuded as they embraced each other filled the air like liquid laughter. One of them spoke, with a voice similar to Fear’s, but more lively and wild. “You’re back! You’re alive, and you’re here. I didn’t mean for you to get lost!” She said, while hugging the overwhelmed girl.

“Fear, are you alright? What happened to you?” The other one asked, her voice soft and quiet, but still clear among the louder one, and the fumbling for words that came from Fear.

The owl champion could see the third doppelganger approach him, but she moved with an otherworldly grace that denoted her as one of the Divine. The Goddess of Honor. She stood before him, wielding a golden spear, and with a cryptic expression. “Welcome to Keltra. I am Homura. You have returned someone dear to me, and for this I am very grateful. What is your name, child of Chailiss?” She asked.

Viho dipped his head low at the divine. “Lady Homura, it is a privilege. I am Viho, the wandering owl and I bring a message from my Lord.” He cleared his throat still bowing. “Chailiss has heard the whims of the Monarch and will aid you despite any past differences, if the Lady wishes.”

“You may arise, Viho. It is a pleasure to speak with you, the savior of one of my heralds. I have heard the edict of our Lord, and I am glad my brother has paid heed to his call. You have done more than I could ever ask.” Homura replied, her voice becoming more gentle as she spoke.

Fear had been brought back to her feet, answering her sister’s questions, and describing her journey from the small rock out at sea, to soaring through the sky with Viho. She gestured to the owl champion and introduced her sisters. “Viho, this is Courage and Kindness, the ones I told you about. Curiosity and Wanderer should be somewhere around as well.”

Viho rose, giving a nod to Homura before peering down upon the three heralds. A wave of relief came over him at the sight of the one he thought truly lost; Courage. To know she had survived and three were united again did him well. Fear would be alright now. In time she would heal well.

They all looked so alike, basically copies of their Maker, what he could only assume were different personalities. Perhaps of the Goddess herself? He gave a bow to Courage and Kindness. There was just the subtle difference of their expressions and the way they carried themselves that made it somewhat easier to identify which one was which.

"Well met Courage, Kindness. It is good to see you all reunited." He looked to Courage. "It does my soul good to see you standing here. Had I known there was another in the sea… I would have tried..." He shook his head, "It matters not anymore. But pray tell, how did you come to be here before us? I am most curious."

“Well, I was saved by another goddess, ya. She brought me here, and spoke with our Maker, then took some humans and left. I was going to come back for ya actually. I had a plan and everything.” Courage explained, flushed with embarrassment and joy. “You have my thanks, Viho!” She added before swiftly bowing respectfully.

“I cannot think of a way for us to return the feelings of gratitude you have given us, please forgive me.” Kindness said, bowing beside her sister. Her voice was soothing, but too quiet, like an unheard whisper uttered within a storm. Yet it was heard nonetheless.

When both had arisen, Fear had awkwardly patted them on their shoulders, and nervously laughed while looking at the owl champion. “This is my family. Um… I hope you don’t think we’re too strange.” She said with a smile, feeling stronger and braver beside her two sisters now.

“Viho, Champion of Chailiss, how can I properly reward you for your acts of heroism? You may ask for whatever you desire, and if it is within my power, I shall make it happen.” The Goddess of Honor proclaimed, and the golden spear she held began radiating celestial light across the field, though the effect was quite subtle. It caused the stone all around to faintly shimmer and brighten, like the sea as it catches the light of the great sun.

It took him by surprise, the offer of the Goddess. He did not know nor could he think of anything that he wanted or needed. But would it be inappropriate to deny the Goddess? He racked his thoughts for a time coming to his conclusion. He looked upon the small Goddess, with such fearsome strength and beauty and he spoke.

"My Lady, I am honored by this. But I was not the only one who helped Fear in her time of need. I prayed to my Lord and he answered by ensuring the young maiden would survive. Besides, what I did, any could do in the given circumstances. It does not feel right to ask for anything in return for my act. Knowing well enough that both your heralds survived is a gift all on its own." He said, dipping his head once more.

“Hmm… so be it. I will remember your words, Viho, and never forget what you have done here. Whether or not it was your intention, you have achieved symbolic immortality, as the first of heroes to rise among our creations. Would you like to rest, or are you ready to answer the call to service once more?” She spoke with the authority of the Divine, her speech imbued with sacred truth and great power. Visions of what she meant were woven into her words, the weight of being worshiped, the burden of defying both death and despair. Homura did not mention the terrible irony of a noble hero preserving the one called Fear, as such would be cruel.

Viho blinked in surprise. What did the Goddess need of him? Well, there was only one way to find out. He stood a little straighter and fluffed his wings. "I am always at the service of Goddesses, Gods and maidens. What would the Lady ask of me?"

“I must speak with my brother. Seek out your Lord, and carry these words to him: I have found a way to uncover the identity of the Green Murder, and shall share this gift with him. If he has already found the answer he seeks, then I will come and assist him with handling the situation. Secondly, I would ask that he come and visit Keltra, as there is something we must convene on, however I may not be present. Pride can properly explain on my behalf. Lastly, inform him that Iqelis is our enemy. He has slain a fellow deity, and seeks annihilation of all life. Be weary of the eye that weeps the tears of time, with sinful claws stained by god-blood. Carry these words, Viho, and may fortune favor the bold. If there is anything I can offer that will assist you with this task, then let me know.”

Homura allowed herself to smile at the sight of the owl champion, towering tall with valor and virtue, an apt example of an honorable servant. Her champions had stepped back, and moved to stand behind her. It was strange and otherworldly, seeing four identical figures, standing before him. The three mortals behind the goddess looked at him with wonder and awe in their eyes.

He felt a sense of pride as they all looked to him and then a weight upon his wings. He could easily accomplish this task but the news itself was unsettling. Still, it was also vital. He gave a nod and then said, "I shall do as you ask my Lady. Where once I prayed to my lord I can do so again." And so he shut his eyes and prayed to his lord, asking for an audience but Chailiss did not answer. Again he asked with urgency but nothing happened. There was no presence in his mind. Nothing.

He opened an eye and squinted at them with an embarrassed chuckle. "Perhaps it will not be so easy as last time." He opened his other eye and relaxed. "I shall fly post haste to deliver this message, my Lady. If I am successful, you shall know."

Fear ran forward and leapt onto his feathery chest. “I’m going to miss you. We’ll meet again, I hope... This isn’t goodbye forever.” She said, her voice muffled by his plumage, and the tears in her eye contrasted by the happy smile she wore. She did not want to let go, but could not prevent him from leaving either.

Homura simply nodded, but remained still and silent, her presence akin to a steadfast statue standing vigilant over the world and its people. Her earlier words faintly echoed in the air, and ushered her heralds towards a respectful farewell for Viho. Courage and Kindness bowed once more, and offered silent prayers for the champion of Chailiss.

His earlier thoughts came back to him. They had reached that moment he had come to dread. Suddenly Homura's offers seemed enticing. Why not ask for Fear to accompany him? But the thought was born of selfishness. She was happy here with her sisters and so she would remain so. He covered the small champion with a wing and looked down to her. "Do not say goodbye, Fear. Goodbyes are forever." He cooed. "We shall meet again and soar across the land." He looked to the other two champions. "Courage, Kindness. Take care of each other and no swimming." His eyes crinkled in a smile as he unfurled his wings from Fear and the girl returned to her sisters.

Then Viho looked to Homura and dipped his head once more in a bow. "My Lady…" He said as a goodbye before looking up at the sky and taking off. The journey home had not been one he thought he would undertake so soon but it was necessary.

So to the north he went.



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Homura

Heralds of Honor


They stood within the quiet keep, beside the warmth and light of the Eternal Fire. The hall had become so much more empty after hundreds of thousands of its denizens had found a new home, every step and breath felt more heard, more impactful. The remaining humans that slept were arranged on the smooth floor, all far from the bonfire, but still illuminated by its presence. Their pale forms were devoid of distinguishing features, while they waited for the ones that would awaken them one day.

Homura remained silent, as her champions shared their stories with each other - there was much laughter, and an abundance of tears and apologies, but primarily it was relief they all felt. Relief that they had been reunited after all, and were able to enjoy a conversation like the one they were having:

“What happened to each of you? Your hand is made of ice, Fear, and you had to be cleansed by our Maker, Courage. Both of you could have been lost forever… such terrible thoughts afflicted me. Why? Why did you not wait?” Kindness asked, keeping her sorrow repressed behind her controlled tone, and impassive mask, but she had begun to silently cry after questioning them.

“I lost it when I tried reaching out to Courage…”

“I had to eat something in order to survive, else I’d have drowned…”

Both Courage and Fear could only find a few more words to describe their experiences before they concluded with how they had arrived back at Keltra. They had not returned on their own, and both would have perished had nothing come to save them. Kindness wondered why the world worked in such strange ways, cruel and compassionate, taking and giving, without warning, without a care for its inhabitants, it seemed that way to the quiet champion.

“We cannot stand on our own yet. Please, do not heedlessly put yourselves at risk like that again. I cannot endure the thought of losing the two of you again. We stand together. No more foolish divisions between us. Understood?” The crying champion said when neither of her sisters seemed able to continue, and an awkward silence had lingered for too long. Both were hesitant to speak, as shame strangled their tongues, but they persevered and answered their sister with resolve once they realized they knew what was important to them.

“I promise… not to do something like that again.”

“Ya, I’ve learned my lesson. But… we’ve got to go help those that were taken. What if they’re in danger? We’re supposed to protect them!”

Courage felt the fire within her simmering with anger, aware that she had let the thieves get away, and then almost caused the loss of both herself and her sister. The fire demanded that she take action, and help those that she felt she could save.

“Our Maker has said that we are to let it go for now.” Kindness interjected, considering what to say to her reckless sister before continuing. “We will wait; were her words. Perhaps we can persuade her later, when the others return.” She suggested, hoping that the mention of a plan for the future would calm Courage.

“Fine! Fine. It’s our time to listen to you, right?” With a sigh, Courage let the flames of frustration diminish, until she gave Kindness one of her wild grins.

“Thank you, Courage. Your words mean a lot to me.” Kindness said, answering the liveliness of her sister with a small smile.

“Gah, don’t say it like that. I’m just wanting to fix my mistakes, and make up for them now. Anyways, where are the others? I can’t believe they just took our colossi.” Courage could feel her cheeks heat up with embarrassment, and chose to hide her visible reaction by looking away. Neither of her sisters felt the need to mention that subtlety was not something the Courage ever utilized, or perhaps even understood.

“Our colossi?” Fear asked, with a chuckle that teased her brash sister.

“You know what I meant.” Courage replied, regaining her composure with a mock glare before playfully shoving Fear away. The anxious champion realized her mistake after pushing back, and began running around Kindness in an attempt to avoid Courage’s mighty retaliation.

“They should return soon. They must hurry if we are to deliver our kin to Apostate by tomorrow.” Kindness explained, ignoring her sister’s antics. She thought it was fortunate that there were no other deities around, and that their Maker chose not to complain about their childish antics.

She did not want to ask what the red goddess was pondering at that moment, for the quiet champion had still not forgiven her, especially when she had expected an apology at least. Instead, the goddess continued as she had before, and seemed to pretend that the potential loss of her heralds never happened. Kindness did not consider herself to be more compassionate than anyone else she had encountered in her travels, but for her Maker to demonstrate such an evident lack of any compassion had proven infuriating for her.

“There’s still so much we missed. Come on, Kindness, what’s happened while we’ve been gone?” Courage asked, prodding her now after she had successfully enacted her retribution upon Fear.

Kindness did not know why her smiles remained deep within her where others could not see them, but she would still feel them. “You have yet to meet Pride…”



There was a loud crash in the distance, the roar of the sea as something massive stumbled in its waters. Kindness recognized the sounds of the colossi, and knew that their brief time of respite was over for now. She knew it by the look in the eyes of her Maker when she turned towards the trio.

“Your sisters have returned.” Homura announced, then stepped outside the keep to watch as her remaining champions came back from their journey through the realm of shadows to the lands of Orsus.

Courage became excited, while Fear showed her apprehension by repeatedly averting her gaze from both of her sisters. Kindness took hold of her hand, while Courage led the way to the exit, exclaiming her desire to reunite with Curiosity and Wanderer, and introduce herself to the newest addition to their family.

They could see the other Heralds of Honor leaping towards them with haste, one of the twins carrying the small shape of Pride in her arms. Kindness felt concern well up within her at the sight, and silently prayed nothing had happened during their trip.

“We’re back!” Curiosity called, holding an exhausted Pride in her arms. All three of the newcomers seemed weary, diminished in some way, as though they were not touched by the light around them, or that the color of their shapes had been suppressed somehow. Wanderer held onto a wooden staff, while Pride clung to a knife in her hands.

“We almost didn’t make it. The colossi were being difficult, and Pride felt more and more tired as we walked.” Curiosity explained, as she and Wanderer alighted before Homura and the trio beside her. The inquisitive champion appeared to be the least affected by fatigue, and looked to the Goddess of Honor for guidance.

“Hmm… come inside. You all deserve rest.” Homura said, gesturing with a tilt of her head towards the closest doorway. Like a shepherd, she followed all of her champions as they entered the keep.

They gathered around the fire, but there was nowhere to sit, nowhere to really rest. Without any alternative, Curiosity laid her exhausted sister upon the floor beside the Eternal Fire, and seated herself next to the small champion. The others seated themselves nearby, and allowed the serene melody of the flames soothe them for a moment. Curiosity and Wanderer could already feel their strength returning.

“You were gone longer than expected. I was mistaken regarding the intentions of my brother. I underestimated how long you would be away, and for that, you have suffered. This was not my first mistake, and I doubt it will be my last, but I hope each of you will accept my apologies.” Homura began, her voice resonating with the dancing light in the vast hall. Whether it was intentional or not, the words of the Divine were incredibly difficult to ignore.

“Now that we are all together, there is much I must explain regarding the way of the world, and how we will continue to tread farther along the Sacred Path.” Homura continued, waving her hand through the air, conjuring red runes that encircled her fingers, then her hand, and then along her arm.

“If we cannot protect each other, how can we protect the lives beyond these walls?" The red goddess questioned both herself and her champions, as Daybringer shortened to the length of half her arm, and she waved it around to emphasize her speech. “Even I cannot, with all the power of divinity flowing through me, prevent calamity from suddenly striking. I cannot prevent the suffering of the innocent, and the spreading of death and despair.” She continued, letting the weight of her words settle upon those that heard them.

“I have been a fool, and I have let harm befall those I wished to keep safe and happy. I ask that you forgive me for the common crime of incompetence. I promise to protect each of you from the cruelty of the world, so I have decided that all of you will remain here until I have removed all of the threats and dangers.” Homura proclaimed.

“What!?!” Courage shouted, rising to her feet. Kindness and Fear arose as well, seeking to quell the outcries of their sister, while Curiosity stared at the goddess with confusion. “What do you mean?” The inquisitive champion hesitantly asked, alarmed by the sudden tension and turmoil.

“In order to prevent further pain and suffering, I shall keep all of you here in Keltra. You will have comforts provided to you, and will want for nothing. You will be safe. Please, you must understand that this is for your own good.” The red goddess answered, remaining seated, as Courage was pulled back by her two sisters, and brought back to the floor.

“That’s not why you made us! We’re supposed to help ya! We can’t do that trapped here!” Courage exclaimed, striking the stone floor with her fists. “Ow!” She cried, finding that the stone was more resilient than she thought.

“You’re just going to leave us?” Fear felt dread, wondering if this was her fault… if their Maker was leaving because she was a burden… a nuisance. She had to find a way to prove herself, quickly, before it was too late.

“I will return often. There is no need to be afraid.” Homura answered, before she stood up. She wore a small smile that seemed more like a shadow, it lacked the joy of a proper smile, and did not reach her eyes which were filled with regret.

“You anointed me Keeper of Keltra, so I can just say that everyone is allowed to leave.” Pride countered, the conviction and intimidating intent she wanted in her words was lessened by the arms of Wanderer wrapped around her head. “Sister, now’s not the time.” The small champion complained.

“You still serve me, Pride. If you prove to be a poor servant, I will choose another to be Keeper.” The red goddess warned with a calm tone that greatly perturbed Pride. None of the champions were changing the decision Homura had made, but they could not surrender.

“She’ll only be persuaded by strength! We must unite against her!” Pride proclaimed, as she pointed the sheathed knife she held at her Maker.

There was silence as all remained still after the small champion announced her challenge. Homura shook her head in disappointment.

“I grow tired of the act of defiance. There is no point in this -”

“Whoever fights beside me shall get free hugs for a day!”

Pride interrupted the Goddess of Honor, and her words stirred Curiosity and Wanderer into action. Both champions lunged towards their Maker with hands stretched out to tackle her. Homura repeatedly stepped back to avoid being grappled by the two, dodging swiftly, and warding them away with Daybringer.

Kindness let go of Courage, and charged as well. Leaping over her two sisters and her Maker, then alighting on the other side, before attacking Homura from behind. Fear could not keep Courage back by herself, and the brash champion freed herself from Fear’s grip, before she also joined Curiosity and Wanderer in their assault.

Their fists and feet became streaks of red light as they punched and kicked with all of the strength they could muster, the air hissing as it became heated by their incredibly fast movements. However, Homura was faster, and not a single attack landed upon her. From every side she was being assailed by her champions encircling her, and she found herself trapped, and with reluctance, she began to retaliate.

The blunt end of Daybringer struck Curiosity in the stomach, sending her flying deeper into the vast hall, then with a swirl Homura hit Kindness with the shaft of her spear, and kicked Courage in the face. Both champions were tossed aside from the force of the blows, and only Wanderer stood facing the goddess.

The silent champion attempted to punch Homura, but her fist was caught in her Maker’s hand, and Wanderer could do nothing as she was swung and thrown back. “You cannot defeat me, enough with this nonsense.” The Goddess of Honor stated, feeling frustrated that it had come to this.

“Doesn’t mean we’re going to give up.” Courage answered, rising to her feet, and ready to fight once more. Her sisters that had been flung similarly stood again, refusing to lay down in defeat.

“Going to have to hit a lot harder than that, ya know.” Courage taunted, with a wild grin.

The brash champion ran to Curiosity, and the two shared a look, quickly formulating a plan. A simple plan: Throw the other at the goddess with as much strength as possible. Curiosity leapt into the air, and Courage positioned herself beneath her, so when the weight of the world pulled the inquisitive champion back down, her feet gently alighted upon her sister’s palm. Then Courage leaned back before hurling her sister towards Homura at mach-speeds.

Meanwhile, Kindness and Wanderer worked together to distract the goddess, focusing on striking her from opposite sides. Homura did not step back, or shift her footwork at all, only a single hand to fend off their attacks. When Curiosity came soaring towards them faster than their eyes could perceive, accompanied by a thunderous boom that echoed throughout the vast hall, it seemed as though they may finally land a hit on Homura.

The goddess deftly caught Curiosity, before she proceeded to use the now disoriented champion as a weapon to smack away Kindness and Wanderer, followed by Courage as well. Then Homura smashed Curiosity into the floor.

Fear could only watch as her sisters were all easily defeated, and found herself struggling to find a solution to this terrible situation. Her thoughts were interrupted by Pride calling out to her.

“Fear, throw this at her!” The small champion commanded while she was preoccupied with protecting an egg, directing Fear’s attention to a dark orb.

The five fighters facing the goddess regained their strength, and continued to their battle, swarming her relentlessly, then desperately. They coordinated their attacks, and fought together like one cohesive force, dancing the rhythms of combat. Fear sought to aid them, and aimed the orb directly at her Maker.

She threw it, and it soared towards its target, creating an ear-piercing whistle as it flew. Unfortunately the orb had struck Courage in the back of the head, causing her to fall on the ground and trip Curiosity. The orb fell onto Wanderer’s foot, and the silent champion became still. Kindness was the only one to remain engaged with the Goddess of Honor, but she posed no threat by herself. Fear watched, mouth agape as her contributions had only harmed her sisters.

“Enough with this nonsensical farce. Your futile resistance will not change my mind.” Homura declared, as she hit the floor with the bottom of Daybringer. The strike unleashed a great boom that pushed the five champions away.

“You can’t make us stay here.” Pride argued, as Courage stood up and added, “We can… do this all day.” Her defiant words ushered her sisters back to their feet, and they prepared themselves to fight once more.

“We shall see how long this foolish opposition lasts then.” Homura remarked, as her Heralds of Honor rallied against her.



Though she would never say it aloud, the Goddess of Honor really regretted saying those words. The sun had descended long ago, and the darkness of night blanketed the land beyond Keltra. They had been fighting for too long, and Homura knew that she was late now. The fourth day had passed, and it would take another day just to reach the specified location Apostate had described.

Unfortunately, she could not see a way to resolve her current predicament either: Courage, Kindness, Fear, Curiosity, Wanderer, and even Pride had fully committed themselves to fighting her, but were unable to harm her, however, she seemed unable to overcome them as well.

Every time she beat them and tossed them aside, they would rise again and repeat the process of being beaten once more, again and again. Homura had immediately realized that they were sustaining themselves through the power provided by the Eternal Fire, but she was surprised to discover that they were also tapping into her own power. Unless she destroyed them, they would simply regain their strength and continue to fight her.

“Enough!” She called out, and the attacks finally came to a halt.

Pride had climbed atop her shoulders, and was trying to stab her with that knife Tuku had given her. Fear and Courage had wrapped themselves around her legs, which was annoying, while Kindness and Curiosity had taken hold of her arms so that Wanderer could whack her with that stupid staff. They had become a heap of entangled limbs, and Homura wanted to be free of this idiocy.

“Do you surrender?” Pride asked, threatening to try to stab her again if she gave the wrong answer. The Goddess of Honor did not know how to prevent her creations from simply leaving once she departed to go deliver the sleeping humans to Apostate. She needed her champions to promise that they would remain here.

“I cannot surrender. Listen to me. Your actions will only bring greater suffering, so please do as I say to prevent needless pain.” Homura said while Pride seemed to consider which eye to stab with her knife.

“No… I think not. I propose an alternative: Why don’t we negotiate?” The small champion suggested.

“Hmm?”

So an armistice was held, and Homura stood before her six heralds to hear their demands. Despite the fact that they had fought for the entire day, there was no damage to the keep itself, and the heralds seemed completely fine. Pride expressed her thanks when the only thing that had been in danger, the egg Tuku had given her, was protected from their battle by a barrier Homura had created.

“We’re not your prisoners. You can’t keep us locked away here. We want to help you too, and protect the world from evil.” Pride started, her sisters nodding in agreement. The small champion was currently held by Fear, the bigger champions proposing they each take turns for the day of free hugs they had been promised.

“You do not understand the dangers out there. When the world is ready for you, I will allow you to explore it. To help it grow.” Homura said, rejecting what Pride had said, with words that insisted there was no room for argument.

“But nobody can change that alone. Didn’t ya say that before!” Courage countered, her tone suggesting that she would be ready to fight again.

“If I must sacrifice myself, then I will. None of you… should face death, or know despair. It would be too much.” The red goddess answered, though it seemed she spoke to herself as much as she spoke to her champions.

“We’re not afraid!” Fear cried out, as though the words of Homura stabbed into her chest and exposed her weak heart. The anxious champion could hear herself whispering in her mind; the goddess was referring to her, the cowardice she continually expressed, and her constant failure to live up to the expectations of her Maker.

“You will be. I will let you taste an iota of the suffering you could endure in the outside world then.” With that statement, the light of the Eternal fire seemed to fade, and shadows that had claimed the edges of the vast hall crept closer and closer, until their looming presence was akin to a sea of darkness all around.

“You would be broken...” Homura said, and Curiosity screamed in agony as her limbs burst in a sudden shower of gore and viscera that sprayed Wanderer and Kindness who had stood close to their inquisitive sister. Curiosity fell to the ground, soaked in her own blood, and a puddle of what was once her arms and legs. Her screams swiftly came to halt as her ribs ripped out of her chest, and more of her innards erupted outwards.

“You would be burned, or perhaps boiled…” All of the champions were still too stunned to react, and could do nothing when Wanderer began to scream like her sister had. The blood that stained her began to steam, and she fell to the floor as well, spasming and squirming helplessly. Kindness dropped to her knees, trying to comprehend what her senses were telling her… Curiosity and Wanderer were dying.

“You would be defiled.” The stone beneath Kindness sprouted hands that grasped her, groped her, and strangled her. Their fingers sank into her skin, and tore apart her clothes. She could not break free, and only struggled in vain as the hands continued to scar and choke her. Their fingers and palms cracked, and released a grotesque sweat that seeped into the wounds where they held her.

“AHHH!!!” Courage charged towards where Kindness was restrained, and began tearing away at the hands that assailed her sister. No matter how many she tore off, another would replace it, and Courage could not find the strength within her to overcome the army of stone appendages. Neither the Eternal Fire or the Goddess of Honor was supporting her, and her Spirit seemed so far away. She had nothing that could save her sister.

“You’re wrong!” Pride bawled, shaking with terror and grief. She had stumbled after attempting to take a step forward, and fell onto the floor. She managed to feebly push herself up, before pointing a trembling finger at Homura. “Why?” She asked while she wept, the large tears trailing down her face.

“You would be devoured.” The red goddess continued, and the floor around the small champion shifted as well. It split beneath her, turning into a many sharp toothed maw that trapped Pride between its teeth. It crunched her legs, and Pride joined the cacophony of screams that echoed in the darkness, as she desperately tried to pull herself free with her little arms. Crunch. She was pulled in deeper. Crunch. Deeper.

“Pride!” Courage yelled, calling out to her sister, reaching outwards with one hand that was too far to offer salvation to Pride. Pride tried to reach out to her sister, wanting to be touched, wanting to be saved, she didn’t want to die here. Courage could do nothing as she watched the floor consume the Keeper of Keltra, with another crunch, and all that remained was Pride’s hand before that too was eaten.

“You would be betrayed.” Homura stood behind Fear, caressing the one champion that had remained completely still throughout the ordeal. Her hands stroked Fear’s arms, soothing them, and invigorating them. A serpentine blade appeared in the hand of the anxious champion, and the red goddess whispered into her ear.

“Fear! Fear! Help me!” Courage called out to her sister, as Homura stepped back, and watched. The champion with a dagger approached her sister, then leapt upon her like a ferocious animal, stabbing and stabbing, over and over again, until Courage was dead. Fear fell back, dropping the blood stained blade onto the floor.

“Please don’t kill me! Kill me! I did it, like you asked. Courage… please no… I’ll do anything you ask, just don’t hurt me! Why!?! Why…” Fear swayed back and forth, she stumbled and warred with herself. She was overwhelmed by the chaos and death all around her.

“You would drown in despair.” Homura said, staring at the carnage, at the horrifying scene she had described. Everything that she was afraid would happen. That she could not prevent. Her heart ached, and she only wanted to end this. To be free of that which frightened her terribly so. She performed a simple gesture; a lackadaisical wave of the hand.

The shared ideabstractions of the champions all dying faded away, and all six of them were standing where they stood before each of their torturous demise. Though their wounds had vanished, their minds recoiled from the pain they had suffered. The Heralds of Honor had found their resolve shaken.

This was not what Homura had wanted to achieve, and she hated seeing the hurt in their eyes. She wished that there were other ways to make them understand, but she could find none. “I did not want this… I only wanted you to comprehend what a terrible fate awaits you outside… Now you understand.”

There was no rest for the wicked, and she was a devil that had too much work to do. An infinite amount of work. Would they forgive her when all was done, and they lived in a world where they would not be subject to the suffering they had just endured.

“No… That’s just wrong, ya know.” Courage managed to speak, straining with every breath, as she placed a hand over her chest, remembering the piercing pain of the dagger Fear had used to stab her, but that was not real, and there were no wounds. She looked to her anxious sister, who stared at her own hands like she did not recognize them. Fear could see her own distorted reflection in the shimmering ice of her frozen hand, and it stared back at her with horror.

“The war is coming, it has already begun, and-”

“It doesn’t matter! You’re wrong!” Courage shouted. “We would still stand with you! We would still fight! We are all you after all, idiot!” Her interruption caused Homura to become silent, and it encouraged another to speak up.

“If you left, we’d be missing one member of our family.” Pride stated, gesturing to her sisters, before continuing. “We’re supposed to stay together. Rely on each other. If you left now… we’d always be sad. I’d rather face the unknown, even the horrible fates you’ve described, if the time we have now… is filled with love.” The small champion said, hoping her words reached her Maker.

“I will not allow you to die-”

“You are alienating us. Can you not see the hypocrisy of your actions? You wanted to unite the world, not divide it, yet you are distancing yourself from us. Keeping us away and locked in a would-be prison. We will not accept your selfish desire to save us.” Kindness interjected, silencing Homura again. She stared stoically at her Maker, before turning to Fear, and whispering words of comfort along with putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I just want all of you to be happy.”

“Do you love us?” Curiosity asked, approaching the goddess, and looking at her with wide and inquisitive eyes, seeking a meaningful answer. She would only accept the truth, and nothing else from her Maker.

Homura had withstood their hours of assault, then she had briefly retaliated with the terrible crimes the evil in the world would commit against them, and yet they still refused to accept her offered sanctuary. She was outnumbered, not matched in strength, but unable to overcome their resistance to her wants. She was fighting against herself, six simulacrums of herself to be exact.

Much like before, they were using her own power against her, tapping into her presence and the presence of the Eternal Fire. Their words were infused with the essence of divinity, and their sorrow was suppressed by an aura of perseverance. Homura could see Courage weaving resilience and hope on unseen threads through her sisters and herself. She had to admit she was impressed by her reckless champion.

“I… do. You know that.”

“Then be more gentle. Show us compassion, not cruelty. Be our mother, not our Maker, please.” Pride pleaded, approaching the goddess, and accompanied by all of her sisters. Homura could see that all of them were confused and uncertain about their relationship towards her. They wanted her affection and approval, but she had been an aloof deity that refrained from showing her more mortal characteristics.

Another mistake she had made then… Homura realized.

“You’re too far from us. We want you to feel the fire within us. Talk to us, and hold us when you’re sad.” Curiosity said, fiddling with her hands, wanting to peel away what felt like an unseen barrier between them and their Maker.

Wanderer simply threw Pride at Homura, letting the goddess easily catch the small champion who had let out a quick gasp upon being tossed. The stern scarlet eyes locked onto Wanderer before turning to Pride. Without warning, Homura found herself being hugged, as all of her champions surged towards her, embracing her with their arms.

“So be it…” The red goddess relented when she found that she could not refuse their requests any longer. She would just have to become stronger to protect them from the danger of death and despair. She has to succeed.

“You did mention something about providing comforts.” Pride murmured, enjoying the fact that she was probably in the most comfortable position of their group hug.

“The power of the pipsqueak has become too strong.” Courage teased, and internally celebrated their victory over the Goddess of Honor.



“There is little time, but I will eventually teach you this spell. The Incantation of Making. It is one of the most difficult spells in Gnostic Sorcery, but it is also one of the most powerful.”

Homura spoke and slowly danced as streams of light swirled around her. Shimmering runes appeared on the floor near them, and the light soared towards those otherworldly symbols. Manifesting from seemingly nothing, a soft red carpet covered the floor, then numerous pillows to lay upon.

The champions leapt onto their new decorum, and relaxed in a hastily gathered together pile of pillows. All except for Fear, who asked the goddess a question.

“Hmm… of course.” Homura answered, and a large plushie of Viho suddenly appeared. The other champions took notice of their sister’s request, and asked for more to appear until each of them had their own white owl to rest against. Pride was also given a table to keep all of her accumulated artifacts upon.

“Rest now, all of you. You are exhausted, and require a respite. I shall watch over you.” The red goddess proclaimed, letting her words lull them into slumbering state with a simple enchantment, though it seemed some stayed wakeful for a moment longer.

“Good night, mother.” Pride, Curiosity, and Fear said.

“Ya, what they said.” Courage added.

“Hmm… good night.” Homura replied, finding that she still struggled to say the words, even though it was what she wanted.

This is something she would have to practice, she realized. That… and she was definitely late and she expected Apostate would disapprove.



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Apostate

...has been stood up...


Setting: The Garden of Hevel

“Hm.”

Apostate hummed with annoyance. He was sitting on a wooden chair in the middle of his garden with Lorelei next to him sitting on a miniature chair. The day was mild, with spring-like winds bringing in cooler air from the north to swirl against the warmer stagnant air of the garden. Alongside the gentle whooshing of the grass in the wind, the hum of insects enjoying a toasty sunray also filled the garden with a docile harmony. In total, everything should be perfect, but Apostate would disagree.

“Hm!” He hummed again, this time much louder, spooking a cotton-tailed rabbit that was nibbling near Apostate’s favorite flower.

“Y-Your friend d-died. Sorry.” Lorelei said suddenly, reaching over to pat Apostate’s leg.

“She better have,” Apostate growled, “It’s been six days.” He stuck up six fingers to show Lorelei. “That’s two more than four, which is what she quoted me at.”

“W-When Homurans are l-late, it means t-they got c-caught. N-No more waiting. Sorry.” Lorelei explained with a small frown, taking off her hoodie to scratch her ears.

“Well, you’re right about something at least.” Apostate crossed his arms. “There is no use in waiting, we’ll just have to go straight to the absentee herself.”

“Why? D-Don’t look for the body, it’s gonna b-be ugly.”

“HA!” Apostate rumbled a laugh, “alive or dead, I’m afraid that might be the case.”

He stood up from his lonely chair and shrugged his cloak back over his shoulders, encasing him in the woolen cloth. A hand poked out from his clothes to grip the end of the sword that hung on his hip, the tip dragging in the grass below.

“Remember, I already destroyed all of Astus’ army, and over here, there is nothing nearly as scary.” The god felt the need to pat himself on the back, still sore over his defeat. “Besides, I owe it to the short lady, make sure she’s ok. She lives where the Homurans are made, did you want to come?”

Lorelei perked up, making a little jump in her chair and immediately turning towards Apostate with stars in her eyes. “Yeah! I-I wanna see h-happy people. W s-said everyone was h-happy in Homura.”

“Well first thing’s first.” Apostate held out a finger, as if pausing the conversation. “The place we are going to is called Keltra not Homura, since Homura is actually the woman we are going to see. You see, Homura was the one who created the Homurans and she is quite the type to name things after herself.”

“Oh! Like A-A… A-As-” She stopped herself and pursed her lips.

Apostate interjected, “asshole.”

Lorelei cracked a smile and nodded, “A-And the Astalonians. Homura k-kills Homurans?”

“No, not really,” Apostate replied, “she enjoys her creations, but I admit she is stuck-up and prudish. Though, I doubt she would ever harm any of them… either way, if she did, you know who would show up to teach her a little lesson.” The god shook the hilt of his blade, eliciting a nod from Lorelei, and turned to the north west.

“Any more questions?”

“Nop.”

“Wanna get there really fast?” Apostate turned to look at Lorelei, one brow arched. “I mean, really, really fast.”

“Yep!” She nodded energetically, then gasped and shook her head, “No b-bruises please!”

Apostate let the forming egg fall apart before giving his adoptee a meekish grin. “Right. Well, um, can you hold your breath real good like?”

A smug smile came to Lorelei as she jumped onto her feet and placed her hands on her hips, “B-Better than W!”

“Alright then, hold it!” Apostate shot out his hand just as the small child sucked in a big breath. A plume of dark smoke enveloped Lorelei, the vapor linked to the god’s hand as he lifted her off the ground. He bent his legs and with an explosive release of energy, he pounded off the ground and cut into the atmosphere.

-0-


Clouds sliced by as Apostate rocketed through the sky, a dense flame forming around him and Lorelei as if they were a double comet. The land below was moving by so quickly, it was simply pinstripes, until the pair slowed down — the jump arcing back to the Galbar below.

They whistled through the azure sky above Keltra, passing over the crimson forests and glades. Targeting a spot, Apostate guided his speeding form towards the massive fortress. His feet landed on the ground right before the wall, letting loose a powerful shockwave and toppling some nearby trees. A small ring of fire burned the ground where they landed, quickly lapping into smoke and then nothing.

Apostate loosed his smoky hold on Lorelei, letting her back to the ground gently. A smirk played on Apostate’s face as he guaged her reaction. She wobbled on her feet and had to hold onto Apostate’s robes in order to steady herself. After a moment, she exhaled and gasped for air.

“W… Waow…” She said quietly.

The towering wall before them began to ripple and shift, as though it were shaped from water, and emerging from this strange sight was Homura. She stepped through the wall and walked towards the two that stood outside. Lorelei, who was standing with half her body behind Apostate, looked at Homura with wide eyes.

“Welcome to Keltra. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Homura. What is your name, little one?” The red goddess asked with a welcoming smile, approaching the child, and pointedly ignoring the god beside her. The golden spear she held became smaller and smaller, until it seemed to disappear within her palm. Lorelei opened her mouth to speak.

“Hey!” Apostate stood in between the two. “Don't act so friendly before you explain yourself!”

Homura closed her eyes, visibly frustrated now. “Would you rather I was hostile? There is no need to be so volatile, I only wish to welcome her.” Her impassive visage returned when she opened her eyes, and she stared at the God of Defiance with her own stoic defiance, or perhaps she was simply unfazed by his words.

“You had us waiting for days,” Apostate pressed, his voice different from the last time Homura heard it.

“I said it would be four days, and it has been five. I apologize for the delay, but I cannot control all that happens in the world. Even my estimates are still only estimations. We are almost finished carrying your humans onto the colossi. In one more day, we can reach the location you specified.” Homura explained, still the same, either unaware of the change in Apostate, or choosing not to react to it.

“Lorelei,” Apostate said, “how many days has it actually been?”

“Umm… S-Six?” The girl said in a small voice.

“Six!” Apostate reiterated. “Did you die!?”

“Six days then, fine. Please refrain from shouting, as it is unnecessary. I did not die, but I have been very preoccupied. You are another of my mistakes, come to haunt me during these last few days.” Homura shook her head, and looked at Apostate once more with a hint of annoyance. She took a step forward, as though to walk around him to approach Lorelei.

“Mistakes?” Apostate caught her.

“Of which I have made many. What do you want, Apostate? You have earned my ire, and will only frighten the child if you continue this brutish behavior. She does not deserve that, so let go.” Homura answered calmly, as she refrained from looking at the God of Defiance.

Apostate bit his cheek, the words ”you know nothing about her” played in his mind, but he stepped to the side. “This is Lorelei.”

“W s-said our home is Homuran… Ummm, K-Keltra, sorry. I-I wanted to see. It’s cold.”

Homura kneeled beside the girl, and smiled once more. “There is no need to apologize. You were forged here, and Keltra shall always remain a home for you.” The red goddess said as gently gathered Lorelei’s hands in her own, and the warmth of the divine seeped into the child’s skin, like being bathed in the light of the sun when summer had arrived.

“Do you wish to come inside?” Homura asked.

Lorelei shifted her weight from one foot to the other, looked anywhere but at Homura’s eyes, and then sniffled and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. Pulling her hoodie down as far as it would go, she nodded.

“Then follow me. There is no need to be afraid.” Homura stepped back, and turned to face the wall. She held up her hand, palm facing the fortification, and there was a pulse of otherworldly power.

Like a stone being tossed into a still lake, the wall rippled once more and then an opening was created. A dim passage, filled with a soft shimmering red radiance, like an underground tunnel illuminated by the riches of the earth; rubies, garnets, and carnelians. A faint ethereal music echoed in the air around them, beckoning them onward.

“Am I invited too, or shall I wait outside like the worthless dog you seem to think I am?” Apostate quipped from behind.

“If the worthless dog barks far worse than he bites, he may step inside.” Homura answered, gesturing for the girl and god to follow her once more. Lorelei looked back at Apostate and then meekly followed Homura.

“H-He saved me from the P-Primes. He is w-worth a lot. Four c-cans of tuna, maybe m-more.” She said with a subtle nod to herself.

“I know. I know. He has my gratitude, but he can also be insufferable, so I cannot tell him that I truly have no words that could express my understanding of how much he has done for me, and I am unable to thank him properly.” Homura whispered to the girl, making sure to walk beside her, and keeping close.

“You can start by getting me four cans of tuna.” Apostate walked close behind, a small smile playing on his face. “Four is a good number.”

“Yep. F-Four is how many f-friends W had. They got c-caught by the H-Homura Guys.”

“I do not have four cans of… tuna, but I have ninety thousand humans that wish for a home. I would hope potentially ninety thousand new friends would be worth four cans of tuna.” Homura replied, uncertain what tuna was.

“Lorelei?” Apostate asked as he pinched his chin in thought. Lorelei merely tilted her head.

“N-Ninety thousand is a l-lot. M-Might last umm… A really long t-time. I-I’m seven, and we l-lasted longer than t-that.”

“Then start small. You said four is a good number. I would like you to meet my heralds, they would be glad to be considered your friends.” Homura said, pointing towards the end of the tunnel where the light of day could be seen.

“Okay. I will p-protect them. Like W.”

“You will.”

Then the three stepped out from the passage, and into the vast fields surrounding the massive keep atop the hill. They could see from afar, five small shapes pushing two large stone slabs back and forth from the keep itself to another opening in the wall along the south section. A much larger opening, like a rift that had been cleanly cut into the fortification.

“They have been preparing the colossi for some time now. They will be ready soon, brother.” Homura mentions while she continues walking towards the keep at a leisurely pace. “It is still a very empty place, little Lorelei. I apologize for not being able to show the wonders yet to be forged here.” She continued, looking towards the girl with a hint of shame in her eyes.

“I-It’s ok. Empty is g-good. No hiding spot for d-drones. No need for Astawhacker.” She said with a shudder.

“You can leave drones to me, anyway,” Apostate grunted, and Lorelei nodded.

“Hmm… it is quite far from here to the keep. Would you like me to carry you?” Homura asked Lorelei, averting her gaze from the little girl, who shook her head.

“W s-said that walking is good. Training. For t-travelling.”

It was Apostate’s turn to nod. “It’s true.”

“So be it.” Homura found herself looking skyward, wondering if she had said something wrong, but kept her thoughts to herself. And the three continued onward for some time while their trek was watched by those that pushed the stone slabs.

-0-


The champions of Homura waited for them to arrive, standing at one of the numerous entrances into the keep. Five simulacrums of Homura herself, and a small, younger iteration of the red goddess as well. All six of them bowed when the trio approached.

“It is an honor to see you again, your grace.” Pride announced, the first to arise and address the God of Defiance. Her attention then turned to Lorelei, who’d perked up upon seeing the first person in months that was close to her size. “Welcome to Keltra, child. My name is Pride, and I am the Keeper of this citadel.”

Then the remaining champion stood straight in order from left to right, introducing themselves:

“I’m Courage! Nice to meet ya!” Said the one among them with a blue amulet around her neck.

“I am Kindness. A pleasure.” Said the second among them with a blue amulet around her neck.

“Hello, I’m Fear. Nice to meet you.” Said the third and last among them with a blue amulet around her neck. Her right hand had also been sculpted from ice.

“You’re so cute! Oh, and I’m Curiosity!”

“Wanderer…”

After all of them had spoken, they looked to Homura, who gave them a simple nod. “These are my Champions, and they will treat you as honored guests. Please forgive them if they fumble, this would be only the second time they have had a mortal visit.”

Lorelei didn’t know where to settle her gaze. It travelled from Homura to her champions, then to Homura again, and finally she settled for looking down at the ground. With her hands clasped in front of her and her hoodie blocking most of her face from view, she bowed her head a little.

“Uh, umm… I-I’m Lorelei. Lore. We’re f-friends. I will p-protect you. I can make s-suits and tools. Um, w-why are you all so pretty? You look different t-than me or W… Or everyone e-else…”

“Pff.” Apostate grumbled in the background.

Kindness was the first to recover from being stunned by Lorelei’s words, and smiled softly. “Thank you. Would you like to come and sit by the bonfire with us?” The gentle champion suggested while one of her sisters almost leapt with excitement.

“You can tell us about yourself, and we can tell you about our trip to Orsus!” Curiosity exclaimed.

“Calm down, Curi, she just got here.” Courage said, stepping swiftly behind her inquisitive sister and smacking her head playfully.

“Mother has made us seats, and it’s very comfortable. Please ignore the fools among us.” Pride added, embarrassed by her sister’s antics.

“I-I wanna talk and s-sit. Yeah. Let’s go.” Lorelei looked back at Apostate for a moment before hopping over to Pride’s side. “H-Hi.” She said quietly.

“We’re taking this one for now!” Courage proclaimed, as Pride suddenly embraced Lorelei, enfolding the girl in her big sleeves and tufts of scarlet hair and eliciting a small giggle from the otherwise sullen girl. A big bandaged hand came down to rest on the very top of Pride’s head, cut fingers gripping it gently.

“Oh, a hypocrite?” Apostate’s voice teased whilst somehow also being unamused.

“I have been tasked by the Master of the Hunt to share my hugs with others.” The small champion explained to both Lorelei and Apostate.

A groan rumbled out of Apostate and he took his hand away. “Lorelei?”

Lorelei looked up at Apostate from amongst the seemingly never ending locks of red hair and nodded, returning Pride’s hug albeit a bit awkwardly. “I-I like them. My friends.”

“Then I’ll leave you with them for now.” Apostate rested his hand on the hilt of his blade. “I gotta go see Homura about some tuna.” He looked at the goddess of honor — for the first time — using a human eye to look at her own.

Homura nodded back, while Lorelei was led into the interior of the keep by the six champions, speaking excitedly and eager to share stories.

“It seems we have much to discuss as well, brother.” The red goddess said when they stood alone outside the keep.

“I think so,” Apostate agreed. He stood in silence for a while, a seriousness darkening what pieces of his visage that weren’t covered by bandage. “Homura, I know you don’t owe me any favors, but can I ask one of you?”

“You seem mistaken. You have protected that child, have you not? For that, I am in your debt.” Homura answered, allowing herself to let out a sigh laden with fatigue. Her demeanor changed, and the stoic mask she wore seemed cracked, ready to shatter with a touch.

Apostate looked away and cleared his throat. “Well, it’s just — my life is a dangerous one. I’m not going to be making many friends, certainly not ninety thousand.” He let himself smile a little. “What I want to ask you, is if something were to happen to me and Lorelei was still on this Galbar… could you look after her in my place?”

“I would protect her, even if it cost me my life. Tell me what happened?” The Goddess of Honor promised before she asked, hesitantly stepping closer to Apostate with concern in her eyes.

“I think you might have enough worry on your mind.” The God of Defiance turned to Homura. “What happened is over, for now, and even if it wasn’t, I’d take care of it.”

“You do not need to fight alone. I may not brashly charge into battle, but I seek to protect that which is precious. We will not survive if we do not stand together.” Her hand reached out towards his bandaged eye, stained red with dried blood.

“A tree cannot survive the storm if it stands alone. The forest fights together to preserve that which is sacred.” She continued, reflections of a terrible conflict that has yet to come in her red eyes.

Apostate flinched and swatted away her hand, confusion clear in his left eye.

“Your words changed quickly,” he said to himself more than to her.

“Change is inevitable... I have had much to think upon these days, and perhaps I have realized what I truly am. Nothing more than a devil seeking to atone for her sins.” Homura said, holding her discarded hand.

“Do you really want to share the burden?” Apostate asked quietly, a deep seriousness laced through his voice.

“I do. It is why I have sought to make alliances with our kin. I do not know if they are all aware of what awaits us. There are those among us that have foolishly sided with the enemy, and those that have given up, but I cannot surrender yet.”

Apostate looked down, thinking hard on what he should say next. Before he could finish his thoughts, he started speaking. “I went to war against Astus, but I failed. Lorelei was all I could save — I was too late to save anyone else. The only Astalonians that remain are holed up in the god’s bunker, awaiting whatever he desires for them next.”

Shame wetted Apostate’s eye. “I was too weak. I let him keep them, I was afraid.”

“Then it was Astus that had taken from me without asking. His creations that had threatened mine. I can only assume he has taken umbrage with the fact that I have commandeered his colossi. I had foolishly hoped he would approach me himself rather than resort to such cruelty. Another mistake I have made that has cost many lives. It seems we are both devils then, at war with the demons that bring death and destruction.” Homura proclaimed, as Daybringer reappeared in her hand. She then offered the celestial weapon to the God of Defiance.

At first quizzically, Apostate gripped Homura’s spear, his fingers tightening with confidence. He looked up at her face and shared her vision — his eyes steeling.

“This weapon can only be carried by the honorable. You do not need to seek forgiveness, brother. You need only to continue to defy the enemy.” Homura stated, her voice simmering with conviction. She nodded to him, and felt herself smile slightly. “I only wish you would be less reckless when it comes to your landings. I do not think the trees and flowers enjoy being uprooted whenever you visit.”

Apostate shared her grin and pulled Daybringer closer to himself. “You know, you straddle the line between caring and chastising very well.”

“My champions have told me to try and seem more compassionate. Loving. For their sake, and my own, I suppose, I will try. Thank you for your kind words. You precariously balance yourself on the line between heroic and chaotic quite well. I think Astus will regret his actions when he finds that he has acquired the anger of both Honor and Defiance.”

“I’m sure he will,” Apostate agreed before standing up straight. “You know Homura. I’m starting to think you may be worth four cans of tuna as well. Thank you.”

“I am still uncertain what tuna is, but I will take that as a compliment.” Homura replied, confused, but feeling a glimmer of content.



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By the Bonfire


Within the keep there was a balmy presence, it illuminated the vast hall, as it gently crackled and flickered. The Eternal Fire greeted the six champions escorting the little Homuran towards six strange seats arranged around the bright monument.

The seats were large soft plushies, shaped like white wintery owls, their wings spread out or draped across their chests like feathery blankets. The plushies were surrounded by red pillows, strewn carelessly like toys that had been long forgotten. Beside one plushie was a small table laden with two bowls that held a large egg and a dark orb. There was also a wooden staff, and a sheathed dagger.

As they stepped closer, the hard stone floor was replaced with the silken touch of a red and white carpet, intricate patterns depicting the scenery found in Kel-Phelena woven into the floor cloth beneath their feet.

“You can sit here!” Curiosity said, as she and Wanderer guided Lorelei towards the plushie beside the table. The other champions simply gathered pillows and built an improvised couch for them to use.

“Try not to overwhelm her…” Kindness quietly scolded her inquisitive sister.

After having sat down on the owl plushie and moved the wings out of the way a little bit, she looked at the others in the room, immediately looking away from each as they made eye contact with her. This went on for a little while, until she finally spoke. “W-We’re celebrating, right! Because we became f-friends. So we g-gotta say our thanks.” Lorelei smiled nervously before closing her eyes and clasping her hands.

“Thanks for n-new friends. Thanks for old friends. White, Gray, B-Black, Yellow, Red, Rober, A-Alia…” She scrunched up her face, “Night Terror, Olla, D… That’s it.” She nodded and opened her eyes and smiled. “Who d-do you carry with y-you, guys?”

The six champions had imitated her actions, and had yet to open their eyes. “Thank you, O King in Heaven, for new friends and old friends.” They said together. Then they too, opened their eyes and smiled.

“You’re the first friend we’ve made. Mother gave Viho a mission, and he had to leave before we could really talk. Fear is the only one that has spoken with him for some time.” Curiosity replied.

“Those names. Those are colors, are they not? And the others… would you tell us about them? Kindness asked, attempting to keep the pillows together lest the couch she and her sisters sat upon collapsed. Fear stood up and sat in one of the vacant plushies, simply pulling it closer.

Lorelei perked up and grinned “Y-Yep! They are c-colours. White, my b-brother, told me they chose them b-because their old names were c-cursed. Something about their p-parents leaving them b-behind. So…” The girl pursed her lips, then continued. “Gray w-was my brother’s g-girlfriend, she was really nice and w-would cook breakfast e-every day. She was c-caught by the Homura Guys. Black was his b-best friend, he liked to h-hit things and one t-time he stole a can of t-tuna, but when I f-found him eating it, he shared it w-with me. He was caught b-by the Homura Guys. Yellow and R-Red were brothers… Like you six! They l-looked the same. They had b-blonde hair, though. T-They told me they used to have a s-sister, to explain how they k-knew how to play girl g-games with me… I-I didn’t know her. They got caught by the Homura Guys too.”

“R-Rober and Alia… Old couple. W-White rescued them from drones. They stayed with u-us for a while, then l-left to look for their grandkids. I-I never met Night Terror, but White told me he brought us f-food sometimes, he was a f-friend.” Satisfied, Lorelei dared to look at the champion’s eyes to gauge their reactions.

“What do you mean by the Homura Guys?” Fear asked with a puzzled expression while her sisters seemed to still contemplate Lorelei’s words.

“The Homura Guys, t-took people and did b-bad things to them.” Lorelei shuddered. “C-Came to our house o-one time. White and everyone k-kicked them out. Then t-they attacked them when they w-went out for food. Took e-everyone but W-White. Things h-happened and they were found by H-Hunters. All dead… Even my f-friends. My old friends.”

“Why were these scum created? How did this happen? Our Maker wouldn’t let this happen, right?” Courage shouted at her sisters, after they had remained silent upon hearing the little girl’s answer.

“Is this what happened to the ones that were taken? Or the ones we left with the other gods and goddesses?” Fear questioned aloud, and felt the pain of sorrow choke her as she spoke.

“I-It’s okay. Old b-books made by Primes s-say that we were g-given to the B-Boss. N-Not your fault he ended up b-being an asshole.” Lorelei said sweetly.

“Who is this Biboss?” Courage asked, her features darkened with rage, while Kindness placed a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s too late. Didn’t you hear her, Courage. Her friends are already dead.” Fear spoke from her seat, head in her hands as she tried to cope with the fact that she couldn’t protect her kin from being abused and killed by some far away evil.

“It’s our time to protect you, Lorelei. Mother will find this monster, and punish him accordingly. It may not heal the pain, but I promise you that you will reunite with your friends.” Pride said, taking advantage of her small size to share the seat with Lorelei, who immediately took the opportunity to hug her.

“What’s an asshole?” Curiosity asked nobody in particular.

“A-Apostate’s nickname for the Boss. Also I-I don’t wanna meet my old f-friends. They’re dead.” Lorelei shook her head, which also served to bury her face further in Pride’s hair. “Your hair is soft, I l-like it. D-Do you wanna eat?”

“It’s my essence, I think. Fire-touched, if that makes sense. What do you mean by eat?” Pride tilted her head in confusion, the word feeling strange on her tongue. She understood its meaning, but didn’t have any context to visualize it in her mind.

“WHAT!” Lorelei jumped up, standing on the plushie. As quickly as she could, she dug through her suit’s pockets and pulled out a somewhat misshapen cube that had been wrapped in paper. Carefully, she handed it to Pride. “W-White’s special. Lasts for m-months and tastes bland. V-Very good. Has meat and potato and corn powder. You c-can share it with everyone!”

Pride peered at the contents within the container after opening it with ease. She leaned back upon understanding what she looked at. “Lorelei, this is terrible. You shouldn’t eat this.” She said, with a look of concern for her friend, and attempting to find a way to properly dispose of the food she held.

“She said you could share it with everyone, I want to see what it is!” Curiosity interjected, while Courage went pale upon the mention of meat as a component. The other champions refrained from commenting.

“B-But… You’re not h-hungry? None of you?” Lorelei asked, sitting back down dejectedly.

“We never feel hunger.” Kindness answered. “Hmm… not in that way, at least. How to explain it… well, we only need to sustain the fire within us. Our Maker and the Eternal Fire offer such sustenance.” The quiet champion explained, gesturing to the blazing bonfire behind them.

“How did you survive for so long eating this?” Curiosity asked as she examined White’s Special with Wanderer looking over her shoulder to see as well.

“We ate that and a-anything else we could find. R-Rats, insects, one time I ate a b-bad plant and White yelled at me. Also cans. I w-wish I could eat heat like you. I wouldn’t be s-so small.” Lorelei said, looking at Pride out of the corner of her eye.

“You should have eaten your fig,” Apostate’s voice came from the threshold, one hand resting on the hilt of his blade, while the other held the spear of Homura upright.

The champions were startled into silence by the god’s sudden arrival, and all of them turned to look his way with mixed expressions. Courage seemed annoyed, while Kindness and Fear had questions in their eyes as they looked at the bloodied god and the golden spear he had.

Curiosity took startlement to the extreme, and did a double-take before laughing nervously, as Wanderer nodded in greetings. Pride remained seated, while holding onto Lorelei.

“Did you discuss what you wanted with Mother?” The small champion asked.

“I did,” the god answered before venturing further into the room. Without another word he approached one of the plush owl seats and sat in it, the soft material squishing under the weight of the tall man. Apostate’s eye fell on the orb set at the center of the table and then at Pride.

“You’ve been doing well then?” He asked, only to look over his shoulder at the threshold expectantly.

“We’ve been fortunate, being able to reunite and be together like this. A lot has happened since you left, it seems. For us, and for others.” Pride answered, and her sisters all relaxed nearby.

“What did you and Mother talk about?” Curiosity asked after passing the can of food to Fear and Kindness so that they could look at it. The inquisitive also pointed to Daybringer, wordlessly questioning why it was in the God of Defiance’s grasp.

Apostate leaned back, letting the spear rest in the crook of his shoulder. He frowned in thought for a moment. “Ask your mother, if she feels you should know, she’ll tell you.”

“The Divine and their secrets, am I right?” Courage chuckled, and simply shrugged at Curiosity who’s curiosity would not be sated.

“I’m uncertain whether this form is more preferable than your previous form.” Pride commented, before shaking her head upon recalling the perturbing memory of a Homura without any eyes. “No, this one is better than the last.” She said.

“Is Lorelei your champion?” Kindness inquired, as she passed the can of food to Courage, then looked at Apostate with an almost perfect replication of the impassive visage of Homura herself.

Studying Kindness’ features with a tired eye, Apostate shook his head. “No, Lorelei is not my champion.”

He looked over to the small girl and gave her a confident grin, which Lorelei responded to with a small smile of her own, before perking up.

“Champion? W-What’s that? Heard it a l-lot today.”

“We were created by our Maker to be her hands that reach across the world. We act in her stead when she is far, and follow her commands with complete obedience. That is what it means to be a Champion of Honor.” Kindness answered, her voice was monotonous, but emotion flickered like a cold fire burning in her eyes while Lorelei stared with her mouth slightly agape.

“Waaow…”

“That’s just the Kindness way of saying that we help Mother out.” Curiosity added with a grin. “We’re also granted strength and knowledge as well!”

“You-re so c-cool! What knowledge?”

“Memories, and feelings. We were born knowing three different languages, and our bodies would just move on their own. Then there are our names. Each of them showed us something deep within. Like looking at something far away, but familiar to you, if that makes sense.” Pride answered, while Kindness and Fear looked between each other, having another silent conversation between themselves.

“They also mastered the dead-pan.” Apostate glanced at Curiosity. “Well, most of them.”

“Most of us were granted strength. Little Pride has trouble lifting only one of us.” Courage quipped, teasing the small champion with a playful grin.

“H-Hey! Pride is gonna g-grow! And she will be s-stronger than even me.” Lorelei nodded to herself, then nodded at Pride. “Right?”

“Yes, I will. I’ll also drop my…” The small champion did not finish her sentence going suddenly still, until she gestured to Courage with her hands moving quickly in little angry motions.

“Ya, ya. What’s with that thing anyway?” Courage pointed to the orb that rested upon the table. She looked to Apostate for an answer.

“Hm?” Apostate perked a brow and looked over at the smoky glass ball. He held out a hand and the ball began to rattle in its bowl. A second longer and it suddenly snapped from its place and zipped right into the gods grasp. He looked it over. “You want to know the secret of the glass ball?”

“YEAH!” Lorelei suddenly shouted then shrunk back down, a blush covering her bronzed skin. “Sorry. Loud.”

Apostate cracked a small smile and then tossed it at Courage. With the enhanced agility of a champion, her arms were a blur as she caught the heavy orb sailing through the air towards her. She almost stumbled backwards, but regained her balance quickly.

“Why is this thing always being used as a weapon?” The brash champion complained.

“Maybe that’s what it is,” Apostate answered cryptically before shaking his head. “There are two more of them, you know. One to the Northwest and one to the Southwest. Combined with this one, you get a nice little triangle…”

He trailed off and then leaned in, motioning for everyone else to mimic him as he arced over the table, a conspirator’s look in his eye.

The six champions seemed bewildered by his actions, and remained where they were. “Are you alright, your grace?” Kindness asked with a hint of concern. Wanderer was the first to realize what was happening, and joined him. She began her rubbing hands together in preparation for some nefarious plot, making Lorelei giggle before joining in.

“What is happening?” Courage asked, still confused.

“The secret of the b-balls is about to be shared!” Whispered Lorelei loudly.

Courage looked at the orb in her hands, then shook her head with mirth. “Fine. I’m in.” Then the brash champion joined them as well.

“And you can’t tell anyone, ever?” Apostate pointed a finger. “Do you understand? This is a secret between us.”

Both Courage and Wanderer nodded. The other champions were more reluctant, but agreed as well. All, aside from Pride.

“If this secret poses a threat to Keltra or its people, then I will reveal it.” The small champion announced, staring with defiance at Apostate. Apostate stared back, a smile on his face. Not wanting to be left behind after looking at both Pride and Apostate, Lorelei nodded vigorously.

Apostate crossed his arms. “I don’t know, you sound a little too easy to peel apart and reveal the secret. Perhaps it would be safer if you didn’t know, in case someone were to attempt to blackmail it out of you… hmm…”

“Hmph, Heralds of Honor, should this secret be considered a threat to Keltra, then you are ordered to share it with your Maker and I.” Pride said again, and her five sisters looked conflicted upon hearing those words.

Apostate swiped a hand in the air, as if closing the case. “It won’t come to that, let me make it all make sense. Are you all prepared for the secret?”

“Go, go!” Lorelei repeated, bouncing a little on her plushie seat and leaning forward on her hands.

Apostate’s eye flashed a stormy grey, and as it did, the eyes of his conspirators pulsed the same, and for a brief moment, so did the ball. The god cracked a smirk and leaned back, clearly proud of himself.

“Now don’t tell anyone, and never say it outloud.”

Lorelei sat back, letting herself sink back into the plushie. “Ok. T-That felt weird.”

“Necessary precaution.” Apostate held up his hand. A thought clearly crossed Apostate, his face becoming thoughtful and serious. Slowly he stood up, hefting Daybreaker upright once again.

“I think I’ll go check in on Homura,” he mentioned simply, but didn’t quite leave just yet..

The champions contemplated what they had learned, and Courage was the first to voice aloud her thoughts. “That’s not dangerous, ya?”

“Did you hit your head with that thing? It’ll be dangerous in the future. I don’t like being involved in the petty games the Divine play between themselves. We should tell Mother.” Pride countered, letting out a small sigh of frustration as she did so often when Courage was involved.

“That was awfully quick,” Apostate commented. “Don’t do anything rash, now.” He looked over at the threshold. “I’m trusting you with this.”

He began his walk out, his boots matching the soft tap of the spear as he walked out.

“Come on, it will be fun!” Courage continued, “Besides, we were also told to do whatever the other gods and goddesses say, so let’s not do anything rash, ya.”

“Fine! It shall remain here, and its purpose kept a secret for now.” Pride said, after relenting to her brash sister’s goading words. “How annoying…” The small champion mumbled to herself.

“Are you alright?” Kindness asked Lorelei, noticing the girl had retreated into the plushie after the experience of having a god insert knowledge directly in their minds.

“Yep!” Lorelei responded and yawned, the light of the flames in the center of the hall reflecting off her eyes. “T-Tired. Small. I w-wanna be big like you. Maybe then I would understand more. Also I-I’m icky. Sorry.” She blushed. “Y-You’re all so much more c-cleaner than me. I-I’m just a Homuran. I shouldn’t be t-treated this well. Sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize. You’re more than just a Homuran, you’re our guest. You’ve been treated poorly by one who should’ve known better, and that’s tainted your view of yourself. Do not be ashamed, we think you’re wonderful the way you are. If you’re tired, would you like to rest?” Pride said, her voice returning to its more gentle dulcet tone.

Lorelei was silent for a while, “I-I think you’re all really nice too.” After another moment, she continued, “Is there a river here? I-I gotta clean my body and suit and visor.”

“There’s the sea… but I think it’d be better if we asked our Mother to help us.” Curiosity suggested, gesturing to the exit.

“I’ll go ask her!” Courage volunteered, and dashed out the doorway before any of her sisters could intervene.

“Nng, nyo!! I d-don’t want Homura to know I get dirty…” Lorelei groaned, pulling her hoodie down over her burning face.

“You don’t have to worry about that. Mother is much more likely to get mad at us if we don't do anything. She wants to help us, but I think she is too focused on nonsensical things to just say what she wants to say. You’ll find that the Divine can be just as childish as any mortal.” Pride explained, and attempted to soothe the anxious girl by massaging her shoulders.

Lorelei yelped as Pride immediately found a knot in her shoulders, “Ow! Don’t stop!”

“It is too late anyway. Courage cannot be stopped once she has a plan, and our Maker has been listening in on our conversation this entire time, I imagine.” Kindness added, emotion still exempt from her voice.

“What? So she- S-She knows…” Lorelei sighed, “Kindness why a-are you talking like that? Are you okay?”

Kindness tilted her head at the question. “I am fine. This is how I have spoken since I was born. Is there an issue?” But before Lorelei could reply, Fear interjected. “You could smile more often.” Then Curiosity chimed in as well. “And you had such a beautiful laugh!” She said while Wanderer nodded in agreement.

“I understand. L-Life is tough. White told me that the c-cure for sadness is a big meal. I will p-prepare a big meal for you Kindness. N-No meat, right?” Lorelei asked, hopping off the plushie and walking up to Kindness.

“We do not eat… You do not need to make something for me. Your smile is the only cure I need for my sadness.” Kindness said, leaning close to the girl, and offering a small smile. It seemed only a facsimile of an actual smile, but the reticent champion’s words were tinged with truth and echoed with faint power.

Lorelei in turn pursed her lips, “Humm… Okay. Okay.”

“You will find that there is no need to consume the beauty all around you, child. The Eternal Fire sustains life, much like the presence of the Divine, and wards the faithful from the vile touch of hunger.” Homura’s voice echoed with far more power in the vast halls, resonating with both the light and darkness.

She stepped into the hall followed by Courage and Apostate, approaching them with otherworldly grace, and shimmering with heavenly radiance.

“Oh! Uh, umm… Hi! I-It’s not making me feel full… The Fire. How d-do I feed off of it?” Lorelei asked, turning towards Homura but not daring to look at her, instead she looked at the ground as usual and twiddled her thumbs as she waited for a reply.

“You must cleanse yourself of death. All of the life you have consumed has become lost, and has forgotten its purpose. I will teach you a ritual to purify yourself, child, and then you will know how to sustain yourself.” Homura answered, until Kindness stepped between the goddess and Lorelei.

“Let her make the choice for herself. She is not your servant, nor is she bound to Keltra like we are. What if she should want to leave?”

Apostate raised a brow and Homura came to a halt before Kindness, and spoke softly. “She will not be hurt, and is welcome to leave whenever she wishes. Besides, while the fire is small now, perhaps it will one day spread its warmth across the world. I presume this is the influence of Apostate compelling you to stand against me.”

“No, this is me. I would rather you stop pretending that you have all of the answers. We were fortunate that Courage and Fear were able to return. If you make a mistake, and harm her, know that I will not follow you any longer.” Both the goddess and her champion stood still and stared at each other. Of her six champions, Kindness was too much like her, that when they stood beside each other, it was nigh impossible to differentiate them. Only divinity and mortality separated them.

Apostate spoke up, “Homura wouldn’t hurt Lorelei,” he looked at the Goddess intently, “wouldn’t you? You’d let her live as she wanted, and be there for when she needs someone, yeah?”

Lorelei meekly pulled on Kindness’ clothes, “I-It’s okay. L-Life is tough. Bosses have it tough. I-I remember my brother c-crying himself to sleep at night every night after w-we lost the others… The morning after, h-he would always pretend everything was o-okay even when it wasn’t. He d-did it for me. And now he’s dead. And I w-wish I had talked to him more. I-It’s okay, Kindness.”

Wordlessly, Kindness stepped aside, her gaze wandering between Lorelei and Kindness. Courage came forward, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s fine. It doesn’t even hurt, ya.”

Homura knelt beside the little girl, and smiled. “You will awaken feeling reborn, but your past will remain with you forever. I will not stop you if you seek to return to your old ways. Now sleep.” And the hand of the goddess gently touched the head of the child, sending her into the world of dreams.

“Hmm… I wonder why our siblings choose such an inefficient method of sustaining the fire of life within their creations? I can only presume it was hubris, or cowardice. Brother, our aspects are very similar. Do you know the truth that is the ultimate act of both Honor and Defiance?” The red goddess asked.

“I have a strange feeling in my heart, that even if I did, you’d correct me with a different answer.” Apostate pinched his chin in thought.
“Perhaps. Hmm… feel free to correct me if you think I am wrong then. I believe the answer is being alive. The King in Heaven bid us create life, but why? My understanding of Honor tells me that this world gave us only two choices. Accept that we have been imprisoned, or accept death and fade into nothingness. I cannot accept either of those choices, so I defy them. Honor is the means with which I defy both nihilism and annihilation. That is what I believe.” Homura said.

A deep rumble came from Apostate before he closed his eye in silence. “All life is a rebellion against entropy.”

The goddess smiled while her hand began to shimmer and she removed Lorelei’s stained outfit, setting free her short, disheveled dark brown hair as well as the pair of small triangular ears on top of her head, both of which were laying completely flat at the moment. Without the hoodie covering her face, it was also clear that there were several natural markings of a darker skin tone along her face which extended down her neck and onto her shoulders, and a (relatively) long cat-like tail sprouted from the bottom of her spine and was currently wrapped around her waist. Everything about her body was natural, with the exception of the near-invisible strings of characters that had been inscribed into her skin over her wrists and above the base of her tail.

“Hmm... Astus has a sense of humor, it seems. Rebellion… Rebellion. Every devil needs a proper name. I think mine shall be The Red Angel of Rebellion. What do you think, brother?” The light from Homura’s hand washed over Lorelei, seeping into her skin and illuminating her veins.

Apostate gave Homura an amused look before letting loose a chorus of chuckles. He squinted at her, still bemused, and shook his head. “You’re quite the rebel now, are you?”

“I am what I am. I will fight against death and despair until I have achieved victory. That is my purpose. That is my first law that I uphold, and only the King in Heaven supersedes it.” Homura answered, and her champions gathered around to watch as she performed the ritual to cleanse Lorelei of the death that was within her.

“Well, I’ll have to remember that the next time you decide to throw a rule book at me.” Apostate crossed his arms and muttered, “rebel by law...”

He cocked his head, still clearly talking to himself and gave nothing in particular a satisfied shrug. “Well it’s a start.”

Time passed while Homura continued the spell, and her champions remained silent. When the ritual was complete, the goddess altered the nearby pillows into blankets and covered the sleeping girl.

“I shall cleanse her attire, and rid myself of pollution outside. You six watch over her for now. I will return, and when she awakens, we shall deliver our gifts to Apostate, as promised.” Homura proclaimed, and then set out from the keep into the darkness of night.
The six champions looked between themselves and then at Lorelei. In their eyes burned the fierce fires of devotion, a desire to protect and comfort that which they saw.

“You won’t suffer again. Not as long as we can do anything about it.” Pride promised, and her sisters nodded in agreement.

“We should make her something, like a gift.” Fear suggested, and once again, all of the champions nodded in agreement. “I have an idea.” The anxious champion added, and explained the thought to her sisters. All of them ascertained that the idea was good, and began to work on it immediately.

“Ah, she’s so cute!” Curiosity chimed while she worked, watching as Wanderer stroked the soft furry ears of the sleeping girl.

Apostate shook his head. “I’ll leave you to your…” He couldn’t think of the right word and groaned in silence for a moment. Instead of figuring it out, the god slowly left the room.



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