Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Leotamer
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Leotamer

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Nascha rushed through the rain-drenched forest, desperately clinging to whatever food she could quickly scavenge. Even her womanly strength began to fail her due to malnutrition, and even the leaves and twigs beneath her giant feet challenged her progress. Even the sky conspired against her, washing away her tracks and obscuring her sight.

She was able to search elsewhere, when she felt her eyes drawn towards a strange mound of mud and moss, significantly larger than the small helper bijjiorks. It guided her back to her precious Niyol, who was more strongly influenced by the pains of hunger, laid near deed against the back of a tree. He meekly said, “Nascha” he said, pausing to see the food she was offering him, “You should eat. You could return to your tribe, convince them that you were taken by momentary madness.”

Nascha rested herself against a tree adjacent to him, placing the food between them. “No, you should eat. If it was for you, I could wait many sun-rises to eat again. As many as it would take.”

Giving a weak smile, “You are an unreasonable woman. We should at least share the food together.” he replied.

“You are an unreasonable man. We both know that this would hardly be enough for either of us as it is.” she retorted.

There was a pause between them, as Nascha allowed herself to slide down to the ground and lay down. Drowsiness began to overtake both of their stubbornness. Niyol stated, “I am going to rest. Please if you can not eat while I watch, then eat while I sleep and leave. I will be happy with your thoughtfulness alone.”

Nascha stared at the food, but eventually surrendered herself to the need of sleep. The constant drip of water through the leaves was making it more difficult. When she stirred, the water no longer reached her and yet she could still hear its rhythmic striking against the ground. Her eyes shot skyward, and suddenly she was sleeping beneath a great canopy. Looking around, the two trees that the pair were sleeping against had grown massive. The branches between the two trees had woven themselves together as if designed to protect them against the storm, and the roots had entwined in a ring around them.

She then noticed the strange mud mound had moved closer. She kicked Niyol to wake him, while she brushed the sleep from her eyes. On closer inspection, he looked vaguely like a tiny childan wrapped and covered in mud, almost like a youngling but not quite. Niyol startled up, quickly meeting her gaze and following it to the stranger, he panickedly asked, “Who are you.”

He responded, “I wish that you would eat first.” he said, gesturing toward their pile of food. He didn’t sound like a youngling. Nascha replied, “I won’t eat until there is enough for Niyol first.”, however Niyol didn’t reply. She looked at him, and he had a shocked expression.

She looked at the food supply herself, and suddenly it was a large pile of fruit. It appeared as though there was more than enough for the both of them. She hesitantly picked one up and handed it to Niyol, before grabbing one for herself. “How do we know they won’t make us sick and weak.” she said, a moment of silence met her as she realized that was already there current state.

The two ate together, and only after their stomachs no longer were in pain did Nascha ask, “But why did you help us? We broke the rule.”

The muddy entity answered, “It saddens me to see that you are bound to such entropic law. I helped because you have my gratitude.”

Niyol asked, “But what will become of us now?”

“The fruits of this tree are rightfully yours. If you stay here, food will be plentiful. I shall not dictate how you should live, except that you met the obligation that you share.” the entity replied.

Nascha repeated, “The obligation that we share?”

“I apologize. I did not realize that you were unaware.” he said, pointing to her stomach, “It is a burdensome, but joyous obligation.”

Nascha and Niyol exchanged glances. When they went to question the spirit further, it had already vanished.



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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Raethel Norvegicus and the Rattus People


As the days passed by, time continued its march forward and things continued to progress. The original incident with the water monsters was a tragic affair, with what pieces of the victims that could be gathered brought together through what belonged to who was simply impossible to tell. To leave their remains on the surface was unthinkable, but the question of what exactly to do with them was evasive. In the end a special crypt was dug out deep down into the earth and the remains sealed inside of it, the names of those Rattus who they likely belonged to (or at least who had been on the water craft when it was attacked and weren't recovered) engraved upon the stone that sealed their final chamber for those to come and see if they so wished.

There had actually been two lines of thought that had contributed to this idea. The first had been as an acknowledgement of their little seen co-creator, the deity Zelios. While only Raethel Norvegicus, the first Rattus to awaken had ever had the pleasure to encountering Zelios, albeit rather briefly, the deity of darkness had made a positive impression all the same. It felt... right, the idea that when a Rattus died that their remains would be entombed in the darkness of the earth in order to be in the realm of one of their makers.

This also sparked something of a debate in the construction of the crypt itself. While the god of darkness had not deemed it fit to come and visit them for some time, some Rattus argued that in the realm of permanent darkness that the crypt would represent, the possibility of Zelios popping in to pay a visit and show respects to his departed children were likely higher then him walking up to one of the outposts in the middle of the sky's cycle of heat and light. So logically, the crypt needed to be big enough that Zelios could move around comfortably without disturbing the bodies... or pieces there of, as the case might be. This was deemed easy enough to do with Rattus construction methods (IE, bending the earth into whatever shape they needed it to be) and space wasn't an issue down where they were making the crypt so it was approved.

This led to a second discussion. Namely, about the possibility that Zelios, who had been absent for their lives, might not actually know the Rattus he was coming to visit and pay respects to. After some back and forth, a decision was reached; The family and friends of the deceased would, once the crypt was dug out but before the bodies were placed within, enter the crypt and engrave the names of their departed loved ones, alongside their achievements in life and just general stories about them so that Zelios might read and know those who he was coming to visit better. This seemed perfectly reasonable, but it did require some planning so that each of the departed (including those who sadly did not have any body to recover) would have a section of their shared resting place dedicated to them so there wouldn't be any overlap of engravings.

The second reason for the crypts was so that the departed might also be allowed to come closer to Aethel and the First Father by decomposing. Death and decay, by their very nature, was a source of the wind of death... the very wind that Aethel sacrificed the First Father in order to create and bring to the world. The promise that one's body would, once the end had come, become a new source of mana that was spiritually connected with Rattus and rat kind was comforting in a way... and the chance to do such in the safety of a sealed crypt where it come decompose in peace without being ravaged by scavengers seemed like a respectful thing to do.

There was some debate due to the...patchwork nature of the recovered. That it might be seen as disrespectful to only bury parts of the person rather then the whole body... or completely lack a body at all. The matter became so heated at the height of it that they agreed to go and ask Aethel for their advise on the matter. Briefly waking their deity from an afternoon nap, Aethel listened to the question before answering "As far as death is concerned, the spirit leaves the body at the moment of death. While it is true that there is a connection between the spirit and body even after they have parted, the spirit isn't impacted if the body it left behind is buried safely in a tomb or left to rot in the lairs of several animals that took chunks back to their children as a meal. The fact that you tired to recover their body so that they could be within the place where you wish to honor and respect their memory is almost certainly appreciated all the same. But don't feel like your failing them because they got killed in such a manner where you can't recover anything without risking joining them in the process."

With the matter largely settled, the first crypt was prepared and the first of the Rattus to die were entombed within it. They would not be the last. While messages were quickly spread across the outposts about the unexpected dangers that the water monsters presented, some messages didn't make it in time for the warning to save lives as water craft and Rattus alike found themselves attacked by the grey monsters: One messenger boat, despite knowing the danger of the rotund beasts, ended up ambushed by one and never reaching their destination. All paws on board lost.




Despite the sorrow and rage that was lingering in the air due to the outrages of the water monsters and the leaves that had been lost to them, there was also an air of excitement as Raethel sat across from a very special Rattus. There was a twitch of his tail, a deep breath and... "Congratulations... Rzelios. I believe you're ready to join any band that is heading out to explore and secure a home for yourself and our people." The words were practiced and refined by having helped oversee the basic education that each and every Rattus that Aethel and Zelios had brought into existence, but what made this moment special was the name.

It was the last one that needed to be given. All Rattus, living and dead, had been giving a name, either by themselves and their families or by him personally. The decree of Zelios had been fulfilled at last... and personally he hoped the deity would find the choice for the final name of the current generation to his liking.





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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Enzayne
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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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Zenia


&

Andromeda





The cloth – rags, really – had finally been bleached white by the sun’s warm embrace. Andromeda smiled, untying the strips from the tree branch where she’d hung them. Deft and nimble fingers guided a needle and wove; cloth was joined with plant fiber and even bark, and streaks of pigment from crushed flowers brought vibrant hues out from the lifeless white.

In the river, spring snails clung to slimy rocks. The moon had been especially bright the night before, and so Andromeda had looked up to meet its eye, and she’d found her mind wandering to these creatures. When she’d at last lulled herself into sleep, in a dream she’d been a snail, a heavy shell upon her back and the river for a home instead of this valley filled with black stones. The whole morning, she’d wondered if those little creatures ever yearned to abandon the safety of their burdensome shells, or perhaps even leave the river. On the muddy banks, there were some forgotten shells, the husks of snails that had lived and died their whole lives on those slimy rocks.

The snails weren’t beautiful, but some of their shells were. She gathered up those with the most beautiful pattern, and slowly embroidered them into the clothes she’d been weaving. Of all the yareners among the zenii, only she had ever cared to use snail shells as a decoration. Such innovation risked making an outcast of her. Though they had not known the valley for that long, wisdom and group-thought had taken root amongst the close-knit, bundling zenii. New ideas were risky and open to derision until they were sufficiently popular or provably effective. But it was also how all ideas started - many zenii were simply content with never risking ridicule. They were content to be fed, and idle by the blackstones repeating what they learned.

Today though, even the laziest among the zenii seemed to rise up in arms. A distant shout caught Andromeda’s ears first, then a jubilant exaltation rippled through the people like an awakening roar. The bustle of activity shot through the blackstones to her right, and spread like fire closer and closer. Even a deaf snail would have picked up such ruckus. A quick glance directed further attention upwards, where a golden comet burned through the sky. It whipped and zipped erratically, following no motion ever seen in a falling star before. Eventually it drove closer, cutting straight through a cloud and leaving behind a glittering trail of golden light. The comet threatened to strike the valley itself, but halted in the sky. It was a diminutive silhouette lounging on a canvas of blue and grey, but cursory inspection still led Andromeda to a simple conclusion. The Lady had returned. Cries and shouts reaffirmed this conclusion, as other zenii began to identify the shape in the sky.

The silhouette hovered for a time before descending amidst the blackstones in the middle of the valley, disappearing out of view behind one of the obsidian pillars. Soon however, her comforting voice sounded throughout the valley. "I have been gone for, like, too long. Fear not, I will heal your worries with, like, mirth. First, I wish to see Andromeda. Come, you know, to me. A new destiny awaits."

Deafening whispers rippled through the crowds like waves. Andromeda wasn’t especially talkative or famous by any stretch of the imagination, so only a few knew her name. Still, some of those were at hand, and they pointed at her. Then others traced their fingers and pointed also, and soon it felt like there were more eyes on Andromeda than there were ever stars in the night sky. For a moment she withered, shoulders slumped and head down, as she tried to hide from the crushing embrace of so many eyes… Why did the Lady summon her of all zenii?!

But then she gulped, realizing that such shyness would only embarrass her if the Lady saw, and made her way towards the middle of the valley where she’d seen Zenia descend. The grounds parted for her, murmuring endlessly and calling out all manner of question and accusation; Andromeda heard none of them as she slowly inched ever closer to the heart of the assembly.

The journey soon grew long and arduous despite the relatively short trek it would normally take. The initial wary respect shown to her ended when she came close to the center; where zenii grew less concerned with who this one additional arrival may be and more intrigued with getting a glimpse of the Lady, discussing all the potentials of her words and absence, as well as clamoring for an uninvited personal meeting of their own. There was no two ways about it - Andromeda had to elbow her way forward, battling willful zenii who competed for. She pressed forward, leaning into the back of some tall zene. “Get off!” he snarled, jabbing backward with an elbow that struck her in the gut and left her gasping. She almost fell down to a knee, but to go prone on the ground in a crowd so thick was to risk trampling, or suffocation. She found the strength to remain upright.

She could call attention to herself, with risk that it got lost in the mass of moving zenii, or provoke the same wary silence as around those who knew her name and face by heart. But perhaps an audience with the Lady commanded such a stint of authority? It was not difficult to see the end of her journey at least - all bodies were directed to a point about twenty paces from a nearby blackstone, like a massive circle swallowing up a single point in the world. Well, she could only hope that the Lady had good hearing.

“It’s me,” Andromeda called out, “I’m here!”

It seemed to be to no avail. Her voice vanished in the masses of clamoring zenii, and for just a moment she thought she heard another zena loudly exclaim that she was Andromeda as well. That wasn't true of course, it was highly frowned upon to take the name of another, and of the two zenii who she knew to have tried, neither had managed to keep their changed names. Then something shifted in the crowd. A certain stillness and wails and gasps. The centre stood still, and only those doomed to wrestle at the edges of the gathering remained moving, now confused and eager to know what was happening. The confusion spread outward from the middle like an inevitable wave, and people starting growing both still and uneasy. Something around the Lady had changed.

Something tugged firmly, inquisitively, at the hem of Andromeda’s yarene, threatening to undo a mended part of the weave entirely. A scent filled her nostrils, like warm honeydew and soft morning grass. A mild sensation of elation and adrenaline rocketed up her spine by the sheer proximity. Despite this, the approach had been soundless, evading her best and sharpest sense. "Wow! the excitable voice of the Lady rang through her ears just beside her, having appeared as if out of thin air. Warm and inviting, but echoing with an intensity that only further attempted to deceive the senses into simple joy. "I'm really, like, loving this design. It's so creative! Who, you know, made this for you? It's, like, so good compared to my own."

All Andromeda needed to do was turn her head, and there she was in all her glory. The Lady, wearing the appearance of a zenii but her hair a golden sheen and taller than near any she knew. Her face invited playful comfort, like a puppy coaxing an onlooker to join in its scheme. Her clothes were as she had previously been seen - white and dirty rags that were a simple mockery of the original idea for a yarene.

She blushed, gasped, stammered, “I…I…”

Hold yourself together!

She breathed in. Maybe it was the air, maybe the Lady’s intoxicating aroma, or maybe just the warmth of those eyes – something lent shy Andromeda courage. “I’m a yarener,” she managed to say. But what had the question even been? Had she answered it?

There was a brief pause. Brief in that it can't have been more than a few seconds of the goddess staring blankly and perhaps expectantly at her, but it still managed to feel like the longest moment of her life. It was enough for her to realize not only was she quiet, but everyone around them too. The crowd was watching, transfixed and hanging on every word spoken. Then, as if nothing had ever transpired, this serene spell broke and the Lady expelled a high-pitched squeal. "I love it, I love it, I love it!" she exalted in open praise. "So I had, like, a reason to meet you before, but now. Whew. Can you make, you know, one for me? As a favor? NO! I've got it! Like an, uhm, a quest! Yes." The Lady stood back from Andromeda and met her demure gaze with a piercing smile, both hands settled to rest on Andromeda’s waist. When she spoke, it was with purpose and weight, almost as if she was imitating another, shorter, more serious person that Andromeda had never met. "I ask this of you, Andromeda. Prove to, you know, me, your worth and I shall bestow upon you your destiny. Make me a yarene fit for divinity."

Oh, what a crushing weight! A thousand thoughts raced through the weaver’s mind faster than the wind. How would she find the cloth? Could she just take what she needed from the others, because she was on a quest from the Lady? What if she couldn’t find more pretty shells or enough shells in the river – instead of being avant-garde to the point that the idea bordered taboo, every yarener would soon be running over to the river to snatch up shells and sew them into their clothes now, she realized with a start, since the Lady had approved – and what if she couldn’t make a design pretty enough for the Lady? What did the Lady really even like? It was overwhelming! Andromeda’s eyes were discs the size of the moon.

“Uh, haha, I have an idea! M’lady!” she stammered, her tongue almost tripping as it raced so fast that her mind couldn’t keep up. But what was her idea? Everyone was looking at her expectantly now. Why had she said that?! “We can trade! Uh, like right now! It would be, uh, an honor to wear your dress, and uh, if you like this one so much, you can like, just have it!”

There it was again, that stunned silence rippling through the crowd. Hundreds of expectant eyes watching the exchange with bated breath. Their expressions were coated with disdain and incredulity. How could she have presumed to make such an offering to the goddess? To twist the goddess’ words in such a fashion? She could see it on them. The expectation of a put-down.

It never came. Instead Andromeda felt the weight of the Lady’s divine hands slam down on her shoulders, intense golden eyes staring into her soul. No words were spoken, the full brunt of silent judgement upon her as the divine being simply stared at her, and then released her just as swiftly, taking a step back. Then the Lady grasped her own torn rags, and simply pulled. There never came a rip, nor did it go over her head, but still the garment came loose, held out in simple offering to Andromeda. The Lady's smile burned bright and challenging, and rippling gasps and exaltations in the crowd threatened Andromeda through context to keep her gaze above the shoulder. Others who looked seemed transfixed, some claiming they were blinded or in pain. The goddess was not meant to be viewed in such a way, nor were the shimmering rags meant to be worn. Such was becoming increasingly clear, when it was too late to back out. "You're so kind, I am, like, totally in awe here." the Lady uttered with warm and inviting breath.

Andromeda squeezed her eyes shut, in equal parts to give the Lady the reverence she was owed and to spare her own sight from being scorched away by the brilliance of Zenia’s radiant skin. Eyelids alone were not quite enough of a shield, and it felt as though the warmth and brightness of the sun struck her face, and golden-orange light still bled through to fill the black void of nothingness that shut eyes were wont to see. Even while rendered sightless, Andromeda managed to slip out of her own yaren and gingerly hold it forward in an outstretched. The two traded, and while Zenia giggled, the zena just turned around to face away and changed as quickly as she could. The Lady’s rags could barely be called a yarene, nor were they made to fit Andromeda - the edges were ragged, there were tears in the silky cloth, and the bottom hem was jagged and uneven, and very, very short. Donning it was easy - what came next was tougher. A tense jolt rippled through her skin, electric tension melting into her form and infusing her with an otherworldly sense of power unlike anything a zenii had experienced before. It was frustrating, itching, exciting, and comfortable all at once. The fabric itself had a life of its own, and each little motion was an incitement to live life and enjoy every sensation. It bristled against her skin, sending impulses straight into her system. It was invigorating, like someone had given her a boost of endless energy. The day’s work and the stresses of life seemed more manageable, if a little dull.

”Wow! This looks great!” the Lady erupted behind her, suggesting it was now safe to look. ”Consider your quest, like, finished. This is better than I imagined, actually. It feels really coarse on my skin, I love it.” she continued, and a murmur of acknowledgement ran through the crowd. Andromeda beamed at the praise, and did not even need to open her eyes to know they would appreciate her work more now, if not publicly then certainly in attempts to replicate her work, just as she’d predicted. A word from the source was all it took to alter perceptions. What did that make her, now?

There was barely enough time for Andromeda to gather her senses before the goddess continued speaking, thoroughly convinced that all attention was ever revolving around her. In a way, she was right at this moment. ”Oh, yes. I remember, now. I had, like, a reason for meeting with you. You are, you know, chosen, Andromeda. Not only by me, but by, like, She who Watches from the Moon. It’s your destiny, I guess.”

A collective murmur of confusion rippled through the throngs – Masol had told them all about Father Moon - Father of the North, as Zenia had once spoken of him in her tales to those few in the know - and how the Lady had departed to court him. What was this about a ‘She’? Andromeda’s face betrayed her puzzlement, but she didn’t need to voice any of the questions; a hundred confused shouts came out from the crowd. Almost buried beneath the ruckus, Andromeda only echoed, “Me? Chosen?”

”Yep!” the Lady answered above the din, almost as though the words were implacable in their journey to her ears. She did not seem to have time or interest in answering any questions about the established knowledge of the assembled zenii. There was a tinge of frustration building in the masses - they did not dare challenge the authority of the Lady nor truly command her attention with more than shouting and outstretched arms nipping at her shoulders, but those who had the blood for hot debates and physical dueling were getting ready to riot. It didn’t take much for word to spread, ripple out into the crowd, and then return to incense them further from someone else’s mouth. None of this seemed to stir concern in the Lady, who put both hands to her hips and glanced around. To her, it seemed Andromeda was the only one worthy of conversation for the time being. ”Yes, you are, like, chosen. I have a gif-.. It's a bit, like, loud around here, isn’t it? Maybe we should, you know, go somewhere a little more rela -- hey!” A shoved zene tumbled into the goddess, disrupting her train of thought. The zene, in his misfortune, bounced harmlessly off of the Lady as though she were a blackstone, made of immovable material. Only now did she appear to watch the group with actual care for the way they acted, and it made her previous smile - that warm glow of welcoming joy - fade into a tight-lipped frown.
Instead of exercising any manner of authority over them as one might expect of a deity, she whipped her hands forwards to grab Andromeda by the waist. In the same motion, Andromeda felt the earth leave beneath her feet, and the shifting mass of faces and voices receded below her as surprised gasps and calls for mercy - and not so pleasant things - erupted below. They sailed to the tip of the blackstones, until her eyes could see past the dark monoliths and view the forest and valley from above. The Lady let go of her waist, but Andromeda did not fall. She felt the earth tug her down in hunger, but the air refused to let her back down. It was like swimming in the sky. Zenia did not even look like she was floating, standing in the air as though she was still on the ground. ”So,” the Lady professed with simple calm, tucking a strand of golden hair behind her ear. ”Where were we?

As enthralling as the Lady’s gaze was, this all felt so unnatural and it was impossible for Andromeda to not look down. Down there, on the ground, where they’d been.

But even as she failed to offer any semblance of eye contact, Andromeda reminded her. “The moon, you said that somebody from there – from him, had chosen me. But what am I supposed to do?”

The Lady tapped at her lower lip with a thoughtful finger, as if the deity had met her toughest question yet. Eventually she smiled and reached back to stroke her own hair gently. When her hands came away from her golden strands, they did so holding an item - a smooth and lustrous vessel with handles on either side. Not unlike a pot, if such a delicate and elegant thing was crafted by the gods and for inscrutable purpose. Perhaps it would see better use holding water than herbs. The Lady extended this divine object towards Andromeda, never taking her eyes off of the zena in question. The shouts and reverent calls from below didn't even seem to register.

"A gift from the Watcher," she began to explain, and Andromeda’s eyes narrowed in confusion. "A bargain has been, like, struck. You have been, you know, chosen. In return for you and hundreds of your chosen kin, like, walking this path, the zenii shall forever be safe from her, uhm, anger. Yeah. You'll, like, lead them in communion with her, I guess. You know?"

Those narrowed eyes had opened wide at the mention of anger.

The Lady was still holding out that strange object that had previously been hiding somewhere in those golden curls of hair. After what felt like a few moments too long, Andromeda finally realized that she was supposed to take it, and so she gingerly touched it. Its silky polish took her by surprise; it was so impossibly smooth that her grip might have failed had she tried to take it by the base, but fortunately it had two handles. It was so glossy that it made the softest skin feel like the bark of a tree, or soft currents of the river like coarse sand. Nothing compared.

But what did it do?

It seemed like a vessel that could hold things, but was that it? Finally, Andromeda asked, “So, the moon is called the Watcher? I, no, a bunch of us have to commune with the Watcher? And he – wait, she gets like, angry?”

Above the din of calling zenii from below, Andromeda detected a brief lull in the Lady’s smile and unflappable demeanor - a sigh, innocent but telling. Before she could register motion properly the Lady’s hand settled on her shoulder, the intense warmth of her arm pressed over her back, and the golden tresses fell to impede vision on her right side. The Lady was hugging and leaning on her with one arm, having moved faster than mundane beings were equipped to handle. "Look, Andie," she began with a soft and calm tone of voice, exactly as one would expect when hearing bad news. "I'm not going to, like, lie to you, you know? That'd be, like, a major, uhm, breach of trust between us and, like, kind of a bummer move from me. It's true that she, uhm, like, gets a little moody, I think. She can be a little hard to talk to, and, like, a bit of a perfectionist I think. But she's doing, like, important work, watching like, all that happens and will happen and making sure it, you know, doesn't get bugs stuck in its hair." the Lady explained with almost conspiratorial and sedate tone. Her free hand flitted in front of Andromeda’s face to accentuate her wild claims, as if drawing up a dreamscape for viewing. It was of course, just a hand moving around. "She and I, like, struck a deal. A future in which you are not only her, you know, chosen, but a guarantee that all your kin shall be safe. Something like that. You are, like, destined for greatness. You'll pour water all over with your new tool, and commune with deities, and, like, lead a team of crack zenii operatives, maybe? It'll be great! And--"

The Lady was cut short as she glanced skywards, her attention briefly stolen by something imperceptible to zenii senses. "Whew. I am being, like, called away to something I don't think I can ignore. I guess the Watcher will, you know, fill you in on the rest!" she continued after a while, cutting her explanation woefully short. Her arm lifted away from Andromeda, relinquishing her from the embrace. Andromeda felt air take in her torn clothes as she slowly began to descend away from the goddess. There was still time, but the Lady seemed to think it was all over, and Andromeda didn’t dare to argue. Instead, her mind just spun as she slowly drifted back to the ground. It wasn’t until her feet almost would have brushed the head of the zene directly below her that the throng retreated – just a little bit – to give her room to land, and then they pressed back in and all eyes were on her.

No, they weren’t even looking at her; they had eyes only for that bone-white ewer in her hands! She clutched its handles just a bit more tightly, just instinctively knowing that it would be bad if anybody took it from her. The tatters of the Lady’s dress (she still couldn’t think of it as her own) seemed to wrap protectively over the ewer’s lips as if to obscure and protect it from the hungering eyes of the crowd, but it wasn’t enough. Only her words would keep them away!

“What’s that?” “Can I feel it?” “The Lady gave you a gift!”

The multitudes of voices all rang out in an indiscernible discord, until at last the pressure became too much and timid Andromeda finally shouted to make them stop,

“It’s from the Watcher! A goddess that lives on the moon! I was chosen to hold it for her! I have to, uh…” she began, strongly at first, “fill it with water, or something! And pour it on things!”

That simple explanation held back the tide - but only for a moment. Her words instilled deep confusion, excitement and jealousy in her kin, and soon the questions came louder and faster than before. It was an endless cacophony of clamoring, made all the worse when the Lady lifted up into the sky to once more disappear entirely. Those initial questions soon became debates and arguments, as the word spread about the mass of zenii and each of them did their best to interpret her words in whatever way they could. Someone tried to grab the ewer and rip it from her, but its smoothness played to her advantage as her kin failed to gain any purchase on the eldritch gift. It would be a long and arduous effort to navigate out of such a crowd, many eager to learn all that had been said in the sky.




The river was no good anymore. Now, three days after the Lady's sudden return and subsequent departure, Andromeda found each stretch of the riverbank populated by all manner of zenii scrounging for snails, pretty stones, and various baubles coming down the river. Trading these luxury items for favors or food had rapidly become a favorite pastime of those who refused to learn the crafts in favor of easier opportunities. As a result, the river was full of people fighting for their own spot. The only places Andromeda could find that weren't far out of the way had already been picked clean by the swarm. Everyone wanted to adorn their tools and yarenes with this new, divine fashion, though few dared approach Andromeda directly other than to ask an endless barrage of questions.

She wasn't alone, of course. The recent meeting with the Lady had skyrocketed her to new popularity and with that acclaim came a gaggle of extremely social and festive zenii that hung on her every word. From them she'd learned that Masol, the more or less appointed ruler of the valley was losing supporters as the news of the Lady’s words spread farther and was debated in full. The revelation created splinter groups in the previously monolithic ruler's camp, with some allegedly outright denouncing the zene and declaring themselves as independent once more. As one of the few who had ever directly spoken to the Lady, Andromeda attracted these malcontents like a warm blackstone on a cold evening, even if most of them were content to socialize on the periphery and leave her alone. Still, there was now a minor throng of people that regarded her word as law, so long as they liked what she said. They offered company, heat and food without any expectation beyond her popularity grazing them. Was this what Masol felt like? They warded off most newcomers asking about the ewer or the Lady, if they saw her being bothered.

Stood there on the riverbank close to the blackstone she stayed by, surveying her old hunting ground, Andromeda heard the soft crush of grass behind her - the rustle of fabric and the click of shells and stones touching during movement. Someone was coming up real close behind her. "Well, well, we finally found you," a zena's voice declared from behind her. "You're easy to lose in a crowd."

Andromeda hadn’t recognized the voice, so she cast a glance over her shoulder to see just who this was that had slipped past her usual flock of adulators. Behind her stood two zenii, a zena and zene wearing longer cut yarenes than the regular ones - she'd heard that was becoming popular, but it meant someone giving up that material. The zena picked at her teeth with a sharp piece of bark, meeting Andromeda’s gaze in the short moment she looked over her shoulder. The zene, was most remarkable in his face full of bruises and nervous expression.

“But I can’t lose the crowd,” she quipped back, eyes returning to her ewer. It was full, and yet she’d never tarnished it by dipping it into the muck of the river… she felt that it was too white for that, too clean.

"That's a good one," the zena murmured with a casual tone. The shuffle of grass and feet proceeded, and soon enough a hand slapped down on Andromeda’s shoulder, clasping her skin with a friendly but controlling grab. The zena shoved her form into her back, leaning her chin over Andromeda’s shoulder. "I bet you're real popular, now. Must be nice. We're not here to get in on that - but I'm hoping we can help each other. You know?"

"Masol wants to see you." The zene erupted as if to clarify, as nervous in voice as he was in facial expression. "To talk, and, and such."

His interruption was enough for the zena to break her face away from bothering Andromeda, though she didn't physically retreat. "Really, Gaher? You see we're having a talk over here. Why do you have to spoil the meal?" There was only shamed silence in return.

Andromeda’s lip stiffened at the mention of Masol, and she finally turned around to face these two of Masol’s lackeys. “If he wants to talk, I don’t see why he didn’t come here himself. Did he lie about all those stories? The ones about, you know, the moon courting the Lady?”

The zena, who remained uncomfortably close after Andromeda turned to face the two of them, offered a wide smile that looked more condescending than friendly. She extended her hand a short distance to brush a lock of hair out of Andromeda’s face, taking a step up as if she’d decided to be her warmth for the day. “Stories are stories, right? Why don't we focus on what's in front of us? Let's not get off on the wrong foot here, arguing about who said what. If you tag along, you can get your answers right from the source. You might find there is much reason in being our friend, you know?” she muttered quietly, her tone conspiratorial and inviting. Behind her, the one called Gaher shifted restlessly on his feet. The zena's gaze dropped down to the ewer in Andromeda’s care, and spindly fingers stretched out once more to caress the divine gift without permission. "Ohh, is this it? The Lady's basket? It's beautiful."

The ewer’s depths housed a small puddle of some surreal fluid that glowed, that sang, that was clearer than water. It had condensed out of nothingness and dripped down into the jug throughout the night, little beads and droplets rolling down into the bottom like beads of sweat. Were it not so impossibly smooth, some might have clung closer to the top, and the zena’s fingers near the ewer’s lips might have touched it.

Nobody had touched the liquid as it had accumulated down there bit by bit; in truth, Andromeda was a bit afraid to, for not even she knew what pouring this ‘water’ on something might do. But in that moment, a thought inexplicably pushed itself into the forefront of her mind: the fluid could kill. She looked at the smug grin on that sly zena, and for a moment saw only a grimacing skull in place of a face; beads of the fluid ran down the skull and to the neck, cutting through flesh as if it were as ephemeral as fog.

The grisly image made Andromeda recoil with a look of palpable horror in her eyes, but of course the zena wouldn’t understand. She wanted to push away those brushing fingers, to bring it away from the ewer, but then she saw a flash of the future where that zena tugged back and then the jar splashed its contents onto her face and then that face became a grinning skull locked into mirthful laughter as it fell to the ground–

“The Watcher made it, and the Lady made it sound like she’s, uh, a very dangerous goddess. Maybe worse than that Beast Queen, even. So you shouldn’t touch this thing,” she warned. She let a long moment pass, half to let that set in and half to think for herself. “Actually, I think it’s so dangerous that nobody else should, and that I should stay right here in the river and keep it safe. The crowds are too thick by Masol’s blackstone and people would try to grab it. Tell Masol that he has to come over here if he wants to talk.”

A bitter smile spread over the zena's features, poisoning any suggestion of goodwill she had previously tried to imply. Her hands roamed the eldritch artifact, fingertips searching for purchase and her mind for understanding. Andromeda could see her undergo the mental struggle of whether or not to try and take it from her. Her fingers slid to the handles, brushing Andromeda’s own as they clutched the vessel. "Listen, little zena," she began with a venomous, guarded tone. "We tried to be n--"

"Is everything okay here, Blessed Andromeda?" A firm voice cut in, disrupting whatever veiled threat the zena was building towards. To her right side, the well-built Yrate had left his scavenging spot in the river to muscle in on the conversation. He had been a little too eager to please these last few days, working hard to impress her, showering her with compliments, and offering warmth. Like most of the others, he only saw her now that she was a name to know. But here he stood, ready to protect. And he brought a few interested zenii who seemed equally perturbed by the duo's continued presence. "Are these two bothering you?

"...Jem," the quiet zene called Gaher urged with a rise in desperation. "Maybe--"

"No problem here, friend," the zena erupted glancing sideways as Andromeda felt the searching hands escape from any immediate attempt to further grip the ewer. "Just talking between old friends."

“You tried being nice?” the yarener echoed back, Andromeda sparing a moment to give Yrate a grateful glance. “Old friend?” she went on, venom dripping from her once demure words.

The glow from within the white ewer suddenly became brighter, and whimsical thought became overwhelming compulsion. Andromeda lifted the ewer high above her head and overturned it above that zena, and a shower of moonlight cascaded down onto the head and face of ‘Jem’. It didn’t melt her face, though. Instead the watery substance rippled in unnatural ways as it clung to her flesh, forming a hand that solidified around her throat in an icy death grip. She wheezed, fell to the ground, and choked. Her eyes were red and bulging like berries from the wood. When her struggling began to wane, the hand slid up her chin, pried open her mouth, and crawled inside. There was a horrific bloodcurdling shriek, and then a shard of crystallized fluid burst out from Jem’s left eye. Another erupted from her right, striking her blind in a gruesome mess. A third bored through her forehead, right about the bridge of her nose, and yet she was still down there writhing and shrieking.

Then Andromeda blinked, and that nasty zena was still there. Still standing, still simmering, still only backing away thanks to Yrate. It had all been a reverie, but it felt somehow realer than some mere dream.

She gazed down into the ewer and shrieked, “What do you want me to do?!”

Her words echoed back from within the hollow vessel, oddly distorted, and she Saw a ghostly image of the jug emptied… no, of the jug being overturned, of that water pouring freely. But not on another person!

As if stricken by madness, the yarener-turned-prodigy suddenly flailed her arms wildly. Liquid splashed out from the ewer, and where it fell upon an empty patch of the ground green grass was incinerated and reshaped into scintillating diamonds within the blink of an eye. She gasped, prodding one of these strange jewels with her toe. When turned the other way the prismatic gem was suddenly aglow with a different color, but it was also wickedly sharp and she felt its serrated edge just barely cut into her skin. Jem had skipped backwards in fright, stunned by the display and speechless for once.

“I’m sure that the Watcher wanted me to dump this on your head and kill you,” she warned the nasty zena, clutching at the calming smoothness of her robe. Even frayed, the threads were soft and smooth, but where that smooth ewer was cold these were warm and reminded her of the jubilant and dauntless Lady. “The Watcher showed me what I could have done, but… I, I didn’t want…”

The words weren’t coming to Andromeda, but anger overcame her stammering and she finally burst out to the shocked zena, “Go! You aren’t safe here, and you’ve angered a goddess.”

Jem came out of her initial shock with a furious scowl, working up her arm as her gaze shifted from the crystalline jewels to Andromeda. Had she even heard her, or was she contained in her own prideful fury? Fortunately, her companion, overcome with some measure of panic and respect, had finally seen enough, and moved forwards to grip her with both arms. Yrate and his friends did not seem particularly eager to move forwards after the display of divine power, but remained cautiously ready to cut in if their movements were any indication. Gaher murmured something into Jem’s ear, and pulled her away from any foolish and careless followup. Reluctantly, the two zenii receded from the scene, skittering away as quickly and without fanfare as they had arrived. Jem never stopped staring at Andromeda. A few nearby zenii were staring as well, the commotion enough to garner more interest from the river. No doubt this new wrathful deity would soon be the talk of many blackstones.


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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Prelude to the Trials


The path by Time's riverside had passed in a blur of grimy iron embankments lapped by obsidian waters, and when it ended they were left on its idyllic autumnal antithesis. Rows of trees clothed in ruddy bark and fresh bright-red leaves pointed the way ahead in uneven rows, as if they had risen with the intent of guiding travellers through the maze of the wilderness. Sanguine grass rustled underfoot, and a few crumpled leaves fell as a splash from the receding Flow touched the closest branches. Above the forest's whispering heads loomed a ring of blind crimson walls.

“Your mother arbitrates in His name now,” Iqelis looked up at the citadel as he strode to the edge of the woods, “I have not seen her since that time.” Ea Nebel flicked away a stray wisp of hair and nodded in silence.

Standing atop the immense wall, the Goddess of Honor watched from afar as they approached, the golden spear she held in her hands shining like a bright beacon in the cold night. She leapt from where she stood, swiftly soaring through the air until she alighted in a clearing close enough to properly greet the two visitors.

Ea Nebel watched the silhouette of her original sculptor resolve itself from Daybringer’s blazing light. Her hands tightened in the pockets of her long coat, and she did not breathe. Some long-tightened heartstring of hope or fear had finally been struck. With the three beings now standing together, any mortal onlooker could have guessed why. Her stick-figure stature could not hide the resemblance, nor her deformity, nor the deeper drop of weird that coloured her flesh and fizzed in her voice.

Homura stared at them with neither contempt or pleasure, an unreadable expression as she spoke. “Iqelis, Ea Nebel. Why have the two of you come here?” She asked, bowing her head slightly as she addressed both of them.

Ea Nebel curtsied low in her boots. “...Divine Homura,” she said, not rising, “you have been named the Solar Monarch’s highest judge. We’ve come to ask you to witness our penance.”

A claw lightly came to rest on her shoulder, and several flies alighted in turn upon its fingers. “The Elder One demanded that I share His vengeance for a wayward shard's slaying with our daughter,” Iqelis impiteously snapped off every word like an icicle.

“You have brought this upon yourself, brother. This is neither vengeance, nor penitence, as you are now being judged for your irrefutable crimes against life and our Lord. How will you seek to atone?” Homura inquired, her tone remaining neutral.

Ea Nebel broke her curtsy without looking up and let her hand fly to grab the doom-god’s wrist, lest he clench his fist in anger.

“We shall do as He bids, for His accursed sun has yet to set,” the fingers on the One-Eye’s many other hands grew crooked, but his gaze remained even and unkindled, “Four trials of her virtues He has decreed, and four He shall have. I trust you are wise enough in such matters to uphold their worth.” A concession, dry and chilly as it was.

“Hmm… then I shall bear witness. Where and when shall these trials take place?” Homura asked.

“To the west, our brother of the earth has built a grave for the one who fell,” an arm rose to point far over the red horizon, “There it will be done, and his remains will be exhumed as the First of Lords wishes. Unless something keeps you, we shall begin today, when I have brought the second arbiter.”

“So be it.” The Goddess of Honor replied, before turning to Ea Nebel. “Are you prepared?” She asked. The demigoddess nodded.

“I have been given all I could ask for,” she said, looking down into Homura’s deep bright eyes, feeling much smaller than she was. “But… there is one thing I will ask you to give, all the same, for strength. A token. If I may,” she glanced away, up to Iqelis, then back, “Mother.”

“Why do you refer to me as such?” Homura tilted her head, a hint of confusion in her voice.

Ea Nebel broke an unwilling smile and looked away, trying to bite it down as she tugged on her coat. “You can’t…? Nevermind.” She adjusted her feet and her words quickened slightly. “You were the first to draw me out of the ground. My body, my skin, my earth and air and fire all start with you… As have many others. I thought you might want to… Give me a name.”

“I cannot. You may call me mother, but your birth was never my intention. You are not my child.” The curiosity of the red goddess vanished, and she stared at Ea Nebel with cold fire burning in her eyes. “You are a sword, sharp and double-edged. I will never wield you, though others will certainly try. I am the Goddess of Honor.” Homura said as she pointed at herself. “He is the God of Doom. We are enemies.” She continued, pointing at Iqelis, before letting her hand languidly drop to her side.

“Your Aspect… Your choice. I will not decide for you.”

The smile was gone now. Ea Nebel nodded, her hands in her coat pockets, and did not raise her head. “...It- doesn’t matter. Thank you.”

“Lastly, Ea Nebel, you are forbidden from entering Keltra.” Homura proclaimed as her impassive mask returned. Her words echoed with power, seeping into the land and sky, as the world all around was witness to her declaration. The demigoddess’s head jerked back as her teeth clamped down on the tongue she’d been biting, and she slapped the back of her hand to her mouth, eyes bulging.

“Then there will be no regrets when it is razed to the ground.”

The words, heavy and venomous, had not come from the godling's side, where Iqelis had stood, but from somewhere behind and above her. The silent echoes of Homura's bidding did not have time to fade before a vast shadow smothered them along with all light in the glade, save for Daybringer's lonely glow.

In the few moments where every eye had been turned away from him, hopeless as such a notion of reckoning was to capture the doings of Him Who Turns the Flow, a fearsome metamorphosis had come over the cyclopic god. At the edge of the glade there now stood an immense tree of black glass, so imposing that the forest around it seemed but a patch of brush. In its trunk was a cavity that burned with a baleful white flame, and every one of its myriad branches ended in a clawed hand.

They turned, and the currents parted.

Time tore and buckled as the two figures before the obsidian terror were swept over by a haze of sluggishness, and all about them trees collapsed into a putrid black mush acrawl with maggots. Every living thing within a great span crumbled in an instant under the blow of centuries, and the earth itself dissolved into rancid muck as thousands of carcasses choked it.

“For her sake, worm, I would have forborn from casting you into the same lot as the fallen and the condemned,” the One God raged in the voice of dying mountains, his eye vomiting storms of cadaverous light onto the crimson goddess, “But now I will have leave to pull you apart bone by bone! There will be no overlord to cry vengeance for you, for I will have torn his tongue out with your own fingernails!”

“You should leave, brother. You have let your anger overwhelm you, and it is unbefitting for any servant of our Lord to act with such disgrace.” Homura replied, and her visage remained calm and steadfast, despite the devastation all around her. Her gaze then turned to Ea Nebel once more. “Your trials await.”

Red eyes met grey, and locked there for a while. Ea Nebel’s pale figure was alone before the gods now, and cast two shadows in their unearthly light: one for Daybringer’s blade, another for the One Eye.

She lowered her hand gingerly from her mouth. A stain of black blood steamed over the back of her wrist and trickled down her chin. The wisp of vapour hung in the oppressive humidity of rot, trailing away with those at the corner of her eyes. You should do your job,” she mumbled. “Let’s go.” Then she was gone. For once, a harsh snap of electricity announced her departure, and the sound of a porcine grunt a second later.

The trunk of the terrible tree bulged, raising the lidless Eye on a wave of molten crystal. As it stretched further, the bulk of the divine growth followed into it, and in a pull of elongating distortion it was transfigured into the looming segmented body of a gargantuan centipede cast in living nephrite. It turned its head, featureless save for the blazing fissure, to glance in the demigoddess' wake, before lowering it to face Homura with its now tauntingly bestial countenance.

“Remember, wretch, that I am no servant. Iqelis' hiss was hollowed, animal. He pointed westward once more with the colossal spear of a leg. “Go, please your master. I will follow.”

The god-beast whipped around its barbed tail, flattening what still protruded from the rotten soil, and the ebb of the umbral Flow carried it away.

“How uncivilised.” Homura muttered to herself as she returned to the keep in preparation for her journey westward.



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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Raethel Norvegicus and the Rattus People


While there were many different truths in the world that could be argued about, there was one that the Rattus as a whole were able to agree on as a fact: The water monsters on the other side of the river were a major threat that needed to be dealt with if their people were ever going to be safe to claim the river as their birthright and home. Too many Rattus had already died due to the creatures naked, mindless aggression, with what few survivors that manage to escape baring scars on both body and mind due to the brutality of the attacks.

Raethel had foreseen that rushing blindly into battle, even if fueled by righteous fury, would be a disaster. The water monsters as individuals possessed enough raw power to easily kill and maim Rattus or water craft that they could close the distance and if they were ever going to deal with the beasts once and for all in a timely manner they would need to attack groups of the creatures... as well as force them out of the water and onto land where they would be somewhat easier to deal with; A grim and difficult prospect rather than outright mass suicide.

And so preparations began. Water craft were produced in great numbers with the assistance of the Rattus with an affinity for the wind of nature and life, channeling the green wind into speeding up the growth cycle of the river reeds so that a new plant could be planted and grown big and strong enough to be harvested for resources within a matter of days. However, much like during the original food crisis that they had offered relief to at the dawn of their kind, these students of the green wind insisted on limiting the degree of which they meddled with the affairs of the land; They did not wish for the ground to be pushed so hard as to damage it and there would be a period after this matter was dealt with where the river banks would be allowed to rest and recover.

Even while scouts went out to mark just where along the river the water monsters favored to live and call their own, the followers of the green wind found themselves being divided in such a manner that it called the whole operation into question. While all were in tune with the wind of nature and life, when it to the upcoming battles and extermination of the water monsters there was differences of opinion on what they should be doing and why, with three factions forming.

The first group held the viewpoint that nature respected strength and an ability to adapt. To them, if the water monsters were exterminated by the Rattus in their entirety, the matter was simply that of a more successful, willing to adapt to the circumstances species wiping out a species that was both less successful and unwilling to change, with the victor being rewarded with more territory and resources to grow and expanded as nature intended. To them, the situation was no different then if two different species of animal had made homes on opposite sides of the river and, due to both requiring the resources of the river itself, neither species could truly thrive and they would naturally compete with each other until a victor emerged from the battle of survival.

The second group were a bit more... reluctant to just wipe out the water monsters outright. To them, nature was interconnected and removing a part of it just because it was inconvenient risked major consequences to the stability and health of the region. The water monsters, while clearly hostile to the Rattus, still played a role in nature and their removal from the environment completely would have repercussions. However, they were working on an alternative solution to the problem; Having reached out and discussed with some followers of the wind of knowledge, they had discussed and began working on a ritual to...alter the water monsters in a manner that would change them on an instinctive level so that they would lack all hostility towards the Rattus as a people... if not sow the seeds for a more beneficial relationship.

While altering the core values and instincts of the water monsters via magical means was arguably against the natural order of things, the alternative solutions were deemed so terrible by comparison that any doubts of wrong doing were safely dismissed. It also had the benefit, as the champions of this faction put it, that both sides would prosper because of it in the end.

The third and final group took a similar stance to group two in that the water monsters filled some yet unknown role in the grand scheme of the natural order and thus removing them completely was a terrible idea. The difference was that they believed that the current situation was perfectly natural and that they should honestly do nothing to change it. Sure occasionally a boat of Rattus would get unlucky or a water monster would need to be killed, but this was what nature intended.

The arguments were somewhat short lived. While Rattus outside of the followers of the green wind were more then happy to discuss the matters they brought up, Raethel stepped into the middle of one of the debates... and presented the third group with the family and friends of the victims of the first water monster attack... as well as the still somewhat broken Lutreolus and gave the speaker of the third group a challenge. "Look them in the eyes and tell them why you believed their friends and loved ones needed to die."

The third group had always been the smaller of the trio; Big enough to prevent a majority being formed and resulting in a three way gridlock, but nowhere near big enough to form a majority themselves. Raethel's challenge caused many of them to rethink their stance on the matter... and all but one member of the third group abandoned it to join the second to give it a majority. The final member of group three was a Rattus by the name of Bush... but while he remained true to his convictions and stayed true to his beliefs... he didn't look the families and friends on the victims of water monster attacks in the eyes... or try and justify himself and his cause. He silently turned and took a seat, closing his eyes and letting the debate continue without his further input.

With a majority among the followers of the green wind having been reached, Raethel officially threw his support behind the planned ritual. This more or less settled the matter as the path that would be taken going forwards, through in victory most members of the ritual faction were respectful enough not to gloat over it... and generally showed enough respect to listen to the concerns of their peers.




It took time to organize the ritual... both due to having to organize and gather the actual components of it, but also due to the collaboration efforts to actually create it in order to do exactly what they wanted to do. Raethel found himself being a key overseer of the whole thing; While his personal contributions to figuring out the ritual itself were limited as minds more intertwined with nature and the inner workings of the mind proved more valuable, his experience as a leader and manager of their people proved him vital in the logistics side of things, as well as the management of labor. He also proved a wonderful peace maker when tempers flared and egos started to clash.

In the end through, they had managed to bring it all together. All things considered, the end result was surprising simple in design... through the process of making that happen was rather complicated. One hundred and fifty followers of the Green Wind, one hundred and fifty followers of the blue wind, working in concert around six circles dug into the ground with the five outer circles filled with river water... and at the center of the smallest final circle was the head of one of the water monsters, the final circle filled with its blood. With Raethel right beside it to be the final focus of it all.

Two Rattus had died in the effort to kill the water monster in question, but their sacrifice had not been in vain... through actually killing the thing without losing too much blood or damaging the head had proven complicated... let alone transporting the corpse back to the ritual site in a timely manner. But they got it done in the end!

The signal was given as the moon started to rise... and the ritual began in earnest.

It was a quiet thing. No chanting or noise was uttered by the supporting Rattus. Instead they simply started to channel more and more of their respective wind into the ritual circles. It was a beautiful sight, watching as the water of the outer most circle started to glow blue in some places and green in others... until at last the two combined into a brilliant cyan. Once the outermost circle glowed cyan, the process started on the second... then the third. Between each circle being smaller then the last and the general practice the channelers were having, the process grew quicker and more refined until at last they reached the final, blood circle.

While the other five circles glowed cyan, the innermost circle started to glow... Raethel didn't really know. As the green and blue winds mixed with the blood, rather then glowing cyan the three had mixed to create a color that honestly hurt to look at. He didn't know how to even begin describing it. It was as if he was witnessing a previously unknown wind of mana that he had never seen before come into existence, but his senses weren't designed to truly comprehend it. In the end he needed to close his eyes shut in order to partially shield them from the pain as he reached out and grasped the head with both paws and turned it into the final focus for all of the mana that had been poured into the ritual.

Within the span of a second all six glowing circles poured their light into the head of the deceased water monster... and for a moment the world seemed to hold its breath as it glowed brighter then the lights in the sky.

The explosion of mana happened in complete silence as it surged out in a massive, ghostly colored wave that, for a few important seconds as it passed, turned the desert lands for dozens of kilometers around into a pale, beautiful but spooky imitation of the sky when it was lit by its fire. For most creatures, it would simply passed without incident... through it would almost certainly cause confusion and panic, it would otherwise be completely harmless in and of itself. A strange thing to be forgotten as they drifted back to sleep or turned their minds towards the next meal.

When it encountered a water monster though, the ghostly color would infuse itself with them for a couple of seconds. They too would be unharmed, but they would be forever changed as some instinct inside of them, one that viewed all who trespassed on their territory as a threat that needed to be chased off or destroyed without hesitation, changed in a very small but important way. An exception was to be made; From now on, the Rattus would not trigger that instinct. In fact, they were to considered kin to be protected from harm.

As the light started to fade, Raethel blinked dumbly at the ashen cinders of the head he had been holding... before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell into a deep slumber as exhaustion claimed him.





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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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The Warden Seeress

Before the trials of Ea Nebel

“Sycrae!”

This time the dryad sentinel just groaned. “What is it?” She grumbled, hoping it wasn’t another squirrel, fox, badger, rabbit, fawn, or bird that was dying and Withoa just had to save. The first time it happened it was endearing to Sycrae. The seventh time she felt like her patience was seeping away. Whitoa, the young dryad, had to learn sooner or later that death was just a natural part of life right?

“You really have to see this! It’s super important!” Whitoa said as she started pulling on Sycrae’s arm to get her up. “Really it’s very important!” She kept insisting. There was a strange kind of urgency in her voice but then again, she had been urgent about the dying rabbit as well.

Sycrae just groaned and kept laying down. The sun felt too warm on her skin right now. “What animal did you find this time and how hurt is it?” She asked, rolling her eyes behind her eyelids. Why couldn’t she just get a few days to bask in His radiance? She was quickly regretting taking the role of leader.

“It’s not an animal… I think. It’s… warm.” Whitoa said as she kept tugging. “Like painfully warm.”

It was just intriguing enough for Sycrae to open up an eye. As she did, she did smell something faint in the air. “What is that I'm smelling?” She asked. Quickly she got up to look around. There was an orange glow far off in the distance. “What is that!?” She then exclaimed. Sycrae turned to look at Whitoa, who just looked confused at the sentinel. She didn’t know what it was either. The two dryads started running up the incline of the mountain. Other dryads began to stir across the forest as well. Sycrae heard their calls upon the wind. “What happened?” Sycrae asked Whitoa as they both kept going up.

“I’m not sure!” Whitoa almost yelled out of growing panic. “One moment I was playing around with some rabbits and then I heard this big loud bang from the sky. The next thing I know there’s like a line of black clouds growing in the sky and something orange came falling down. It fell down really close to me and suddenly all the trees started burning!”

Sycrae reached a higher plateau. Parts of the forest were on fire. The flames were spreading. Luckily they weren’t spreading too fast, but still at this rate quite a bit of what the dryads called home would go up in flames. The growing number of nymphs that were flocking to Sycrae were looking at her with pleading eyes. Either the critters living in the forest here were their friends or the burning trees were. Either way, they started to realize that their close ones were suffering.

But this was exactly the kind of thing the Sages warned her about. This too was part of nature. The wanton destruction was meant to make place for new life. It was easy to hear it but a lot harder to see it happen in reality. Her eyes turned towards the expectant nymphs, then she locked eyes with some of the sentinels that were gathering as well. “Get all the dryads to safety.”

“What about the forest!?” Some of the nymphs exclaimed.

Sycrae swallowed deeply to gather her courage. “This too is part of the cycle. We have to go, this doesn’t have to be our time yet!” Saying that today was a lot harder than just believing it yesterday.
~

A raincloud saved most of the forest in the end. Sycrae called it fate but only to placate the distraught nymphs who cried over their lost friends. The sentinels walked through the blackened woods with grim faces. There was a lot of pain here. Unlike the nymphs though, they were here on a mission. Something had fallen from the heavens: the domain of the Monarch. They had to find out what it was.

Eventually, they found the crater. It was big, bigger than Sycrae’s grove. It was perfectly circular as well which felt very strange and almost unnatural to the sentinel. She and her entourage descended along the slope towards its heart. There a boulder lay half-covered by ash and burned dirt. The sentinels gathered around it. Carefully they brushed some of the dirt off, revealing the pale stone beneath. “I’ve never seen such stone.” Said one of the sentinels. One who preferred to stick closer to sparse woods higher up in the mountains.

“Be careful with it, it might be a gift from the Monarch.” Said Sycrae who gently removed her hand. A finger accidentally brushed up against it. Sycrae’s vision flashed for a second but it was too short to see anything. She stopped. The other dryads turned to look at her.

“Are you okay?” Asked one?

“Yes.. Yes, I think. Something is happening.” The dirt on her side was mostly removed and she could see the white stone beneath. Her hand inched closer and closer to it. Almost as if it called her. For a moment Sycrae wanted to pull her hand back but she banished that thought. She was never one to ignore the call of destiny. So instead she put her whole hand on the white rock. The moment she touched it Sycrae felt her body being sucked into the stone. One moment she saw the white stone, the dirt and the burned wood around it.

The next she felt as if she was bathing in the great void. She turned around, only to face the moon before her. It looked far larger than the moon looked in the sky back home. Here and now she could see the many scars and craters upon its surface. She blinked and the vision shifted again.

She saw a lush cradle of green, nestled in the safe bosom of rising stone and covering wood, vibrant with life and the bustle of flowing water, both from whipping rain and a wild river. Each day and night lasted only for a moment. A square pattern of endless pillars dominates the cradle, black as the night sky and alien to the otherwise serene valley it was standing in - towering above all reason. Indifferent to seasons and elements, impenetrable and unyielding. Yet the pattern was distorted. Where the center should be is rubble and a cracked black stone base. Where pillar would be was something else. A metallic and unnaturally straight. It was tall and weathered after years in the rain. Black as the stone it was born of. Feeble hands grapple at its handle, weak shadows clamoring for the immobile prize. None could muster the strength, the shape, to grasp the hilt and pull it loose.

The blade called, whispers a mocking challenge as it watched. A promise of power, always in sight. Never given. Then the rain relents - the brightness of the flame and sun dispelling it as it blinded the world. The light took the shape of a sharp-eared man with hair like daffodils and eyes like the sun. His presence warped all he graced, and black pillars rose into the sky until they touch each other, all connected like a dome-like cage. The man ascended the black stone to face the blade. Man and blade contested each other, neither relenting. Each as tall, each as stubborn. A rustle of stone, then all the world was consumed by light.

When the light receded Sycrae found her again floating in the void but this time the moon was further away and moving further still. "No!" She shouted, reaching out with her hand. The vision looked so real! There was no part of Sycrae that doubted its veracity but it was not what she wanted to see. She was sent here with a duty and for weeks now she had been agonizing on how to do fulfill it. This stone, the moon, the visions, this was her answer! So she reached out with more than just her hand. From inside her chest she felt a power welling up. She blinked, and her vision shifted again.

For only a split second she saw Keltra. Not from a distance as she had seen it before. She saw it from above. The vision moved as if she was flying. It raced straight for the fortress and then inside. Like the wind it raged through its halls until it suddenly stopped, showing Sycrae a bright flame.

Then the vision was gone. At first, she saw nothing but darkness but then she opened her eyes. The sky was a bit cloudy but otherwise normal. A smokey stench still hung in the air. Nymphs were gathered around her. Why was she laying on the ground?

"We pulled you back, you were shaking!" Whitoa said as she rushed to Sycrae's side. "Is everything okay? Are you ill?"

"No." Sycrae said as she slowly got up. "I just saw... a lot."



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Hidden 8 mos ago 8 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Frettzo Summary Lover

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Cats Like to Climb


I


Lorelei gasped for air. Her small, calloused hand finally reached the first of the ledges along the C-strides long Keltran walls. She grunted and tried to pull herself up, her muscles burning and screaming at her to rest.

“Lil… Bit more…!” She said to herself, her voice turning to a squeak at the end as she felt an insect crawling onto her hand. Still, she steeled herself. The fresh Keltran air, the godlight, the music of true wildlife off in the distance, it all gave her energy.

She tried to pull herself up onto the ledge, grunting. The packed dirt under her hand on the ledge came apart and her hand nearly slid off, but she managed to hold onto a sharp rock. She winced and wiggled her nose to try and knock the small pile of dirt off her face. Her ears twitched and turned from here to there, and her tail stiffened at an angle that made her feel more stable. She tried again.

This time, she pulled herself up and over onto the ledge, panting. She lied down there for a while, letting her exhausted muscles rest until she was good enough to sit up and do what she had come to do – She pulled out a long rope from her pack and staked it safely into one of the cracks along the wall, then dropped the rope down so that it reached the ground below, maybe about ten A-strides down.

Having done that she let out a sigh of relief and sat on the ledge. She let her legs dangle off the ledge as she took in the view of the City of the Asleep with a placid smile on her sweaty, dirty, and tired face. Quietly, she began to sing. “Climb once for your life, climb twice for your wife, climb thrice for a pie ♪”

II


Lorelei awoke with a start as usual, though this time things were different – Actual sounds reached her ears, echoing off the immense Keltran walls. Footsteps, muffled by the grass on one of the ledges above her.

“Why do you climb, Lore?”

It was the slight quiver behind the voice that helped Lorelei figure out who it was that was speaking to her out of her six adoptive sisters. Fear. The one with the ice arm.

Lore had been looking up towards the sky since she awoke, so she immediately saw when Fear peeked out over the ledge to look down at her. “I like being h-high up. It feels good, so I do it!” She said, feeling a grin seep onto her face. A small stinging sensation came from her hand then and she got to licking her earlier wound.

Fear nodded. “Me too! It’s beautiful! I’ll, uh, wait for you at the top!” Fear said, then leapt from her ledge down to the ground below, before she suddenly soared past the girl with another mighty jump up to the top of the wall. Lorelei merely looked at the trail of grass leaves and dirt that Fear left with her leap, then up towards the top of the wall, which was almost too high to even see. There was no way she’d catch up to her, just like…

“Huh.” She blinked. After a moment, she chuckled and sat up. Her muscles were a bit tense, so she stretched. Many of her joints popped.

A whisper rang out from below, faint. The only one who used that tone was Wanderer. “Would you like me to lift you up?” The reticent champion asked. Her voice was unnaturally quiet, so much so that Lorelei herself had no idea how it was even reaching her ears all those strides up the wall.

Lorelei scratched her ears, then looked down at Wanderer and nodded, a chuckle escaping her lips. “Y-yep!”

Before she even knew what was happening, Lorelei found herself in Wanderer’s arms as they ascended at incredible speeds. Wanderer’s body felt warm and soft, yet it also felt more resilient than stone and stronger than metal. One of the champion’s arms shielded Lorelei from the breakneck winds, and the other held her close to her chest. She felt good like that, she felt safe… Involuntarily, her chest began to vibrate.

Time slowed as swirling leaves and dust danced at an entrancingly languid pace. The wind no longer howled but gently hummed and the godlight fell from the sky like golden flecks of ash. Wanderer’s long scarlet hair slowly swayed behind her as if it was a tail with a mind of its own… It felt like an eternity but then they reached the top and stood overlooking the lands of Keltra.

Fear stood beside them and smiled slightly. “I should’ve offered to carry you, I think.” She said with chagrin as Wanderer let Lorelei down and time resumed its normal pace. The strange stone they stood on top of shimmered with the radiance of the godlight and sparkling reflections of the trio stared up at them… Except the imitations did not move with them, nor follow their steps. It was as though ethereal duplicates had accompanied them, and now laid down upon the surface of the wall, content to merely observe them. Lorelei didn’t like it, and instead took in the incredible view.

“Waow! Y-You look at this every day?” She asked, coming dangerously close to the edges on more than one occasion, but always keeping her balance. The hues of red, yellow and orange were something she’d never seen before… Not to mention all the life, all the wind! The forest stretched on and on, farther than the eye could see, seeming endless in its vast beauty. She never thought she’d get to see something like that. Much less without the ones she loved.

“We could go on walks through the forest.” Wanderer quietly suggested to Fear and Lorelei, as she also gazed upon the woodland realm spread out before her.

“Really?!” Lorelei turned around and ran up to Wanderer, pressing up against her and tugging on her clothes while looking up at her with wide shiny eyes. “When? Can we go now? I wanna go!” She begged, eager to see what actual wilderness looked like.

Wanderer tilted her head. “Perhaps… one hundred and fifty five thousand days from now?” She replied and Fear looked at her with shock. Lorelei on the other hand almost immediately deflated with her ears flat against her head and her tail limp and resorted to pouting up at Wanderer while she gently rubbed her head against the champion’s hip..

“Is that too long?” Wanderer’s head tilted the other way, as though her mind needed to transition to another location in order to think of another answer. “Perhaps… nine hundred and eighty five thousand, two hundred and three days from now.” She said, very subtly smiling after her answer, while Fear freaked out more.

“That’s even longer!” Fear cried out and Lorelei whimpered.

“Hmm… we could go now, I suppose.” Wanderer added, glancing at Lorelei for confirmation while Fear merely sighed. Lorelei felt her heart jump in her chest. It took a second, but eventually she grinned and hugged Wanderer, bouncing on the spot.

“Yay! We go now! Let’s go! I wanna see the trees! I wanna chew the twigs! Oh oh, I want a pet… A pet mouse! Like the one in the trashed posters back home! A brown one! Let’s go let’s go!” Lorelei squealed, a myriad of memories of drawings of blue cats and brown mice flashing across her mind’s eye.

“I don’t know what a pet mouse is, but I think we can explore the woods for a while. Remember not to eat anything though, the body needs to stay empty for the Eternal Fire to fill it. Wanderer can watch over you, I need to stay back and watch over the others still sleeping. You have fun, and come back before it gets dark.” Fear said, looking at Lorelei with what could barely be described as stern eyes. “Don’t do anything that would get you in trouble, okay?”

Lorelei smiled sheepishly, pressed herself up against Wanderer once more and moved one of her hands to the top of her head between her ears, hoping that Wanderer would pet her, which she did. “Okay, I promise! I won’t eat anything, I just like to chew stuff!”

Fear smiled, until Wanderer moved to stand behind the little girl. The last thing Lorelei saw was Fear’s horrified expression as the world seemed to fall away, and Lorelei felt weightless. Once more she was cradled in Wanderer’s arms and together they fell backwards from the top of the wall.

Lorelei could not see Wanderer’s face, but she did see the way that unknown symbols made of black, ethereal ink danced across Wanderer’s skin, as if her very skin was one big, curved sheet of paper. The champion did not brace for impact with the ground, nor did she enact any maneuver to properly land, no… They simply fell until they were not. It was a strange, surreal experience for someone who’d spent her entire life either underground or in cramped moldy spaces.

The call of the wilderness was all around, the song of the sea and sky returning in full volume, the not too far forest beckoning them towards it. The otherworldly melody washed along them like waves washing along the nearby stoney shore. The world was still caught in some spell, or perhaps it was Lorelei and Wanderer that were captured, as runes still covered their bodies. It did not matter as their every sense was welcomed with new sensations; the caress of the warm wind, the aroma of the vibrant flowers, and the sight of something new and pure waiting for them to uncover its secrets, to transcend the barriers between the self and the world. It was almost overwhelming.

Wanderer let go of Lorelei and helped her fix her dress, and the two were then ready to begin their venture into the forest.




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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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ZIMA the ZIMMER

&
Mish-Cheechel the Avenger






Death’s Road is Wide


The heavens did not darken and the earth did not tremble when Zima the Zimmer and Mish-Cheechel the Avenger both let up the spirit and died. Sure enough a god descended from the whitened head of Galbar to war with the Green Murder, but such things hardly happen due to the death of any one mortal - mortals die all the time, after all, and gods choose to fight or not as they will and please. Just as the moon did not eclipse for the death or misery of mortalkind, the gods - like eclipses - did not fight or rage for such. Over these things mortals, alone, fought and raged- fought, raged, and died.

The two of them stood in the treetops, dazed and confused. Mish-Cheechel looked at Zima and spoke. “Where are we? What happened? Why are we so high?” He glanced down, trying to see through the thick tree canopy. “Where’s the Green Murder?”

“Over there.” Zima whispered from where she floated. Her form had lost its gleam and mist and had become static and dull. She wore no change to it and all that came from her was a disembodied voice, which wasn’t all that different. So it was quite hard to figure out where ‘over there’ was since she did not point, or have eyes to make it any easier. “I feel… distant. Like, no longer belong. I do not feel the wind or the air. I think… papa?”

Mish-Cheechel glanced at her with furrowed brows, as though remembering something. “Didn’t I tell you to stay put? Didn’t I tell you to go home if I didn’t come back to you?” But Zima wasn’t listening.

A giant orb had descended a long way off, and to a keen eye there was something green too. Zima began to fly. “Papa! It’s me! Zima!” She yelled excitedly. But she had no sooner sprung from her place before a flying squirrel of gigantic proportions landed atop her and gripped her in one of its paws. It turned on the surprised Mish-Cheechel and likewise grabbed him. Before either the manbjork or the nisshi could protest or resist, the great thing launched itself from the tree and went soaring across the sky. It flew higher and higher in no way a flying squirrel should have, and both Zima and Mish-Cheechel beheld the unrolling forest and riverlands beneath them with some awe. Mish-Cheechel, at the least, had never been so high - had never thought it possible a bjork could soar thus.

“Where going? Where papa? Where?” Zima asked, her voice growing more and more frantic. “Papa! PAPA! IT’S ME! YOUR NISSHI!” she screamed to no avail. The squirrel did not seem to care much for her screaming or either of their struggles. Its grip was as rock or the hardest wood and nothing they did could garner them freedom.

When the creature landed and released them at last, they found themselves on the bank of a great lake in the midst of the forestlands. It was not a lake known to Zima or Mish-Cheechel. But known or otherwise, it was immediately noticeable that it was no normal lake. There was a gate of enormous size at its epicentre, simply floating there in the air.

“You have arrived at the Gate of Nebel,” a cloaked figure said, rising from the waters. “Only the worthy dead may pass.”

“W-We died?” Zima said aloud. “No… No no no! I have to go back! Take me back! I need papa!” she cried out, becoming very small. She looked around, trying to find a means of escape but it was fruitless. Instead, she drifted down onto the bank and there she grew still, soft weeping the only sound coming from her. Mish-Cheechel glanced down at her impassively, then approached, bent low, and picked her up. He patted her comfortingly but Zima did not have it. She squirmed out of his arms for the first time in her life and huffed. "No! I have to go back!"

“It’s only death, Zima. We’ve been through worse, haven’t we.” He turned to the cloaked figure. “Well, we’re dead. What’s this about being worthy now? We not good enough as we are, eh?”

“If the soul is to pass,” the hooded figure spoke coldly, “the body must be suitably… disposed of.” Turning away and sinking back into the lake, it spoke a few last words. “The nisshi may pass - but you now, you are not dead. You will be dragged out, so do not pass.”

Ignoring the words of warning, Mish-Cheechel stepped out onto the lake with Zima waiting on the shore and found that he did not sink, but passed along as though the lake was frozen solid.

“He…” Zima muttered, “The curse. You will return Mish! The Keeper said so. And Zima… I'll be alone?” Her last words were full of panic. The manbjork turned around with a raised eyebrow, then chuckled.

“They’ve not been born who’ll part you and me, kit. You’ll never walk alone. Now come, we’ve got places to be, things to do.” He turned back towards the gate towering ahead and continued walking with purpose. “We’ve fought gods, Zim, what’s death?”

Zima looked to the sinking cloaked figure, to the gate, then behind her towards the distant trees. Then the nisshi looked to Mish-Cheechel who walked ahead. She seemed to deflate, if her form could even do that and like a kit she followed after her parent with nothing else to say.

They walked in silence until the gate hung above them, and Mish-Cheechel paused to inspect it as Zima caught up. Beneath the gate was only swirling darkness and the cold whispers of those who had passed before. Even as the two stood there, silent ghosts passed them by and disappeared into the tenebrous blackness of the beyond-world. Mish-Cheechel looked at Zima, his eyes steeled, and extended his hand to her. “Well, are you ready?”

She took a deep breath, and then from her wispy form grew a small kit’s hand that clasped his. “Yes.” She finally squeaked out. The manbjork smiled approvingly.

“Attagirl.” And without taking his eyes off her, he stepped into the swirling darkness. The both of them disappeared into the black miasma and passed on into the echoes of those who had passed and those who with certainty would. It was not a hostile darkness at all. As they walked - their steps echoing amongst the echoing whispers - a strange, deep-seated feeling of homecoming overcame them both, and they did not quite register when the darkness evaporated and wafted away to reveal a great wide path before them. It was so wide that twenty bjorks - nay, fifty bjorks - could walk abreast and still find ample space.

There were many ambling up the path, many drifting past them. Mish-Cheechel glanced around, his hand still around Zima’s, and after a brief moment they set out on the smooth white road. There were calls, strange lights and what seemed like waving and welcoming hands when one let their gaze drift off the road; they were seductive, alluring, and the manbjork was very nearly drawn in. But it was a moment of brief weakness, chased off by the cold frown that set upon his eyes as he turned his gaze to the road and their ultimate destination.

All the while Zima floated quietly alongside him. If at all she was enchanted by what they saw she made no attempts to have a closer look or chatter. Her hold on Mish-Cheechel just tightened and she went on with him.

They walked at a steady pace, neither hurrying nor idling about, and in time another gate rose up before them. As they approached, one of those strange cloaked shades met them. “They who venture through the Gate of Chailiss must walk alone.” It commanded dispassionately.

“Chailiss…” Zima whispered to herself.

“We walk together.” Mish-Cheechel responded.

“Then you shan’t walk at all.” The shade spoke simply. “You are born alone, life presses down on you alone, and you die alone. Alone, too, will you pass the gate or fail.”

“That’s stupid. You’re stupid. And we’re going together.” Mish-Cheechel grunted.

The shade did not respond immediately, but after a few moments it started chanting:

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and all will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no one can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one you must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.”*


The shade fell silent, and then turned its lightless, hooded face towards them and enunciated with finality: “Alone.” Mish-Cheechel glanced down at Zima, and then with surprising speed lurched at the shade, his fist tearing its head right off. There was a sigh as the thing dissipated. “Alone, poor fools, alone.”

“What is gate? What waits on other side?” Zima asked in her quietest voice. “It was a pretty song…”

The shade slowly reformed and, ignoring glaring Mish-Cheechel, answered Zima. “It is a doorway along the path to the afterworld. There may be more doorways beyond it; there may be none. To step through to the other side you must pass the trial; you must face it alone. Steel your heart and step forth.”

“What is trial?” She next asked, stepping a bit closer to the apparition.

“It is a test, a challenge,” the shade responded monotonously, “only those who pass the test can walk through the gate.”

Zima said nothing after that but stared at the gate before them. She then looked down at Mish-Cheechel. “We are here now. Alone or not, what is trial to those that fought a god? Zima will be okay.”

The manbjork looked up at her, his eyes thoughtful. Then he smiled and approval lit up his face. “It is like drinking water,” the revenger chuckled. “Be well, Zima. I will be waiting for you on the other side.”

“Promise me.” Zima said, before she stepped through the gate. The manbjork said nothing, but set his eyes on the gate and, after a few moments had passed, stepped in too.



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Hidden 8 mos ago 8 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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ZIMA the ZIMMER







“Didn’t I tell you to go home?” Mish-Cheechel asked. He was standing above her shattered and frozen form, the Green Murder’s own body some feet away. The trees loomed all around and his coal-black eyes were hard. “Didn’t I tell you not to follow me?”

“W-What?” Confusion rippled with Zima’s voice. “Mish? But you were…” What was going on? “I… I had to follow you. You are my friend and I promised I wouldn’t let you go alone.”

“Yes. But I told you to stay where you were; I told you to go home. Friends listen. You didn’t, and now… look at you.” He gestured to her shattered form, sorrow and fury etched on his face. “Didn’t you pause to think before rushing in?”

“I… I didn’t.” Her voice grew soft. “I saw you in danger… Gesturing for me… So I did and I died.”

The manbjork bent low and leaned over, gazing into the fractured remains of her eyes, stroking what passed for a kit’s lips. “And if you had stayed away, like I said, like I insisted, like I ordered you when I was lucid, would you have been there to see the gesturing of a madbjork?” His eyes shimmered and there was almost a single tear in one of his eyes, but he looked to the side and blinked it away. “You… you acted selfishly, Zim. If you had any regard for me you would have listened.”

“I acted selfishly?” She asked him, voice growing with anger. “Don’t push your guilt onto me! Don’t blame me for what I did! I am not some thing to be ordered around, Mish-Cheechel. It was my choice to follow after you and my choice to jump into that burning spear. I HAD TO! For- For BEAR! Or did you forget him when you tried to kill that stupid god?” When her tirade finished, Zima was appalled. Where did those words come from?

The manbjork’s jaw hardened at her words and he scowled down at her, though the hurt could hardly be masked from his eyes. “Here is a simple truth: Bear was a wild creature. Without that saddle, he would have mauled us. Did I care for him? A bit. Did I care for him as much as I care for you? No. But that bear taught me something. It taught me that you can die. It taught me that you are not built for the warpath. And it taught me that I would offer you up in sacrifice for the sake of vengeance.” His face contorted with guilt and anger. “And I told you to stay away. I told you Zima. And here you are! Dead; shattered; broken! You should have listened to me. Better yet, you should have felt for me. But you were so holed up in your own head that you just couldn’t could you?” He rose swiftly and kicked a block of ice into the dark depths of the forest, fists clenched and shoulders trembling.

“I… You… Sacrifice?” She stumbled over the words, wrapping his words around her mind. His words cut something deep inside of her that threatened to overwhelm her in the same sadness she felt, she still felt, for Bear’s death. Her voice filled with emotion. “I have felt… Every bit of your pain. Every brush with death, from the moment we met and fought over Zabitsyn.” Though she could not feel it, she knew somehow, she was crying. “Hidden behind that mask of hate and fire, behind those brooding eyes; it’s just pain and the fear of feeling nothing. I thought that perhaps you would learn to smile and laugh again with me at your side. You cared for me and for that I am thankful. Did I make mistakes along the way? Yes… And I’m sorry for making you feel this way over my decision. We were two souls who only thought in the moment. But please, do not believe for one moment that I never felt for you. I have and always will.”

The manbjork did not turn, but his fists unclenched and shoulders relaxed. “So if you understood… if you felt for me, as you say… why did you not stay away?” He turned back to her. “Why did you help pull this monster growing in me from the womb? Why did you let me kill you?”

“Mish… My mind at the time was not thinking straight. I was so sad, perhaps I still am, where nothing at all felt the same. Like a dark hungry void saps all the joy away. Your words… I did not hear them as I should have. So when I came upon you in this clearing, my mind went to but one thing- Protect. That was what pap- father made us Nisshi for, after all.” She took a deep breath. “I died… Mish… Because I love you. Because even when all seemed lost, I could at least try to keep you from harm. I realize now that I failed you. But this isn’t you… Not really.” She sighed. “The apparition said… only one. But if this is how he feels… I’m so sorry.”

The manbjork bent down and started gathering up her shattered pieces. Slowly her face - now kit-like, now otterlike, now not so unlike Homura - took shape, then the rest of her. As he brought her back together, the ice melted back into one and before long the nisshi lay whole before him. Quietly, Mish-Cheechel looked at her. He did not smile, but there was sombre thoughtfulness there. At last, though, he sighed and placed a hand on Zima’s head and spoke. “You’re good, kit, you’re good.”

And he faded; the forest faded; the Green Murder’s form faded. All faded but Zima.

She blinked and when her eyes opened she was somewhere else entirely. There was a stony path with a faint white glow coming from somewhere down it. Lining the path were trees and above them were an uncountable number of stars in the dark. She gasped loudly and was met with a laugh.

Startled, she looked towards the source and found herself looking up at a very tall being. Her skin was tan, darker in the night sky, while her long hair was auburn with a glint of fire. She had a kind face to her, so unlike anything Zima had seen before.

“I was just like you, when I saw the heavens. It was so beautiful.” Her smile was warm and Zima felt at ease in her presence.

“Is this… Another trial?” Zima squeaked out.

The woman shook her head. “No, this is a place for rest after the trial is done. My name is Lansa and I was the first to come here. You are the second.”

“Lansa?” Zima said aloud, “I am Zima… the Zimmer. Why are you so tall?”

The woman chuckled. “Hello Zima, it is nice to meet you. As for your question, I am tall because the Spirit Father made us this way.”

“The Spirit Father?” She asked, floating around Lansa and taking her in. She wore a funny thing, like a skin over her skin. Was it fur?

“Yes, the Spirit Father. The Guiding Spirit? Lord of Winter?”

“You mean papa?” Zima asked with sudden excitement as she zipped in front of her face.

“Papa…? Are you… one of his daughters, Zima?” Lansa asked.

“Yes! Pa- Father made me, a Nisshi, with a lot of others. He made me aware and I have been living ever since. Well, not anymore I suppose. I died.”

“I died too.” Lansa confided. “How did you meet your end, Zima?”

“I… tried to protect my friend. We both paid the price though. He said he would wait for me on the other side of the gate. Whenever and wherever it leads. How did you meet your end, Lansa?”

The woman’s eyes grew sad. “Death came to me in the guise of jealousy. I’ll spare you the details but here I am.”

“I’m sorry, Lansa.” Zima said with a pang of sadness. She knew what it felt like to die. There was no need to pry for answers. Still, she did need to know one thing. “Why don’t you move on to the next gate, Lansa?”

The taller woman looked down the path and smirked. “The first trial was hard enough. I might stay here for a time, see if I meet any others. I had some regrets in life, I need to know if I might ever get them resolved. Just to see. Don’t let me stop you though. I’ll be alright. There are plenty of stars to look at.”

A simple idea came to Zima’s mind.

“I’ll stay with you for a while. Mish can wait.

So she did.






The sounds of birds chirping and running water came first to her ears and as she opened her eyes she was welcomed to the sight of a glade. Flowers of purple, yellow and red dotted the ground, with a few bushes of berries. The buzzing of bees was what she noticed next, large and bulbous without a care in the world. Zima smiled at that. There was a pond with lily pads and cattails too, fed by a meandering brook that cut the glade in half. The smells here were fragrant and floral, of honey and fresh air. It was beautiful.

Still, she looked past what was before her and found that she was surrounded by pine trees as tall as her eyes could see. They were so dense and packed she could see nothing beyond them except for the brook that lazily winded down and cut into the forest right next to the…

Gate.

She had almost forgotten the apparition’s words. There could be many or none. It seemed her trial was not yet over. She began to walk through the tickling grass, past the small pond, by the brook and flowers. A reflection in the still waters caught her attention and she looked with a gasp. Staring back was not who she expected to be staring back up at her. It was her… but different. She touched her pale, almost translucent skin upon her new face. She pinched her cheeks and felt them. All the while, icy blue eyes watched what was going on in a mix of awe and fear. Why did she look like.. or sort of like Lansa? Her hair, a translucent silver, was long and curly. Her arms were skinny, and she wore fur- no, clothes (as Lansa had called them). It was a silly thing that covered her small chest and ran down past her knees. Very lightweight, she lifted it up to see an undergarment of a simple white cloth before letting the cloth go. It was very airy, not at all tight like fur, she imagined at least.

Well, odd as it was, she found herself admiring her new form with her small button nose and round eyes. She flashed a smile and saw pearly whites. She giggled. But this new form in no way impeded her journey towards the gate, so as fun as it was to stop and stare, she continued on. Or at least she started until… She felt a tug on her new clothes.

She looked down behind her and gasped.

It was a bjork kit. The bjork kit. Zabitsyn son of Mish-Cheechel!

He laughed, “Nisshi! Want to play a game?”

She blinked. “Z-Zabitsyn?”

“That’s me!” He proclaimed with a beaming smile.

“Oh Zabitsyn!” Zima cried, falling to her knees and hugging the small kit. He returned the hug, burying his face into her chest. She coddled and wept as she held the kit. It had been so long and his life had ended so tragically. Yet he was here now and Zima found herself happy. She hadn’t felt happy since… Bear. But the question still nibbled at her mind.

“I wanted so much to hug you and the others. But then you n-never came and I…” She cut herself off and wiped her tears away before, briefly pulling away, and rubbing her hands across his cheeks. “How are you here now? Where is this place?” She asked him.

The bjork kit giggled. “I don’t know! But it’s nice! Just like when we played at the creek!”

“Those were happy days, weren’t they?” She said with a lax smile. She looked around again, holding the kit tight to her. Her gaze fell upon the gate and her jumbled thoughts pointed her in that direction.

But…

“Why don’t we play a game Zima?” he asked in a small, excitable voice. Zima looked back down at him and smiled.

“I would love nothing else.” She replied. What was one game before moving on?

Zabitsyn squirmed his way out of her arms, and began to run back up towards the pond. “Bet you can’t catch me!”

Zima smiled and then laughed, “Oh I bet I can!”

So the two friends, once apart, played games in the sun of the glade. They chased each other in games of tag, they would see who could jump the farthest into the pond, who could hold their breath longest under the water, who could swim fastest and who could make the largest splash. All the while they laughed and Zima felt content and happy. She hadn’t realized just how much she had missed the interactions with the kits. It was a simple time and the memories were only of mirth.

The young kit was a master of figuring out games to play, he could always come up with a new one after he or Zima won the previous one. There was never a dull moment and on the rare occasion they took a break, Zima would hug and hold him. They would talk of those days past and what it meant to them but… That was about it. There was never any talk of the future or the present besides, ‘do you want to play another game?’ and Zima began to wonder when the trial would start. Surely it would be soon? But the gate… her eyes were beginning to wander to it more and more.

It was still open.

“Zabitsyn?” She asked once. “I think I need to go soon. The gate…”

“No!” The bjork kit shuffled onto his tiny feet and looked up at her. “Please don’t go, Zima.” He grabbed her hand with his two small paws and a pang of guilt wrenched at her heart. “Please stay for another game.” Tears welled in his eyes.

How could she refuse?

Zima was beginning to lose track of time. How long had she been here? How many games had they played? How many times had they talked of the past? It all blurred into one, like she was in a never ending loop of fun and happiness. She loved it of course, but she had a nagging feeling. Her purpose was to complete the trials and meet Mish-Cheechel on the other side, right?
Then why was it so hard to do that?

She knew she had to go but each and every time she said goodbye, Zabitsyn would disagree. He would become sad and distraught at the sight of his friend wanting to leave. It broke her heart each and every time, how he guilted her into staying for just one more game.

As time passed and the cycle continued, Zima began to realize- or perhaps she always knew- what the trial actually was. She had to leave. No matter what. Despite the pain it would bring.

Upon their final game, seeing who could collect the most blades of grass, Zima let Zabitsyn win. As the small kit whooped and hollered, Zima slowed down and looked to the gate, dropping all her blades.

It was time.

She walked before him and knelt down, wrapping him in a hug. “Zabitsyn. I… Had a lot of fun here.” She smiled, “But I have to go now. Your father is waiting for me, I can’t keep him waiting forever. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you died. I wish I could have protected you.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead and pulled away.

The bjork kit began to cry. “P-Please don’t go Zima! Please! I’ll be all alone again! Just one more game, please? One more?” He cried, pulling on her hand.

Zima looked past him and to the gate. Her own face felt wet and she took a deep, ragged breath. She wiped his tears away and with a smile, nodded. “Let’s race to the trees, alright? First one there wins.” She pointed him in the opposite direction of the gate.

Zabitsyn grew excited, his tears turning to laughs and giggles. “Okay! I’ll win for sure!”

“I bet you will.” Zima lied, lining herself up with him. “Are you ready? Okay… Go!”

Zima watched Zabitsyn begin to run. She took off in the opposite direction, towards the gate. With tears streaming down her face, she began to cry.

“Hey! Wait!” Zabitsyn called after her. “W-Wait! Zima! Don’t leave! Don’t leave me like my papa did!” He screamed after her. She felt her heart break with each step until she was at the gate.

She didn’t look back, despite the pain, as she hurtled through.






Zima found herself running through dark trees, the bright moon providing the only light that filtered through the treetops. She slowed down, trying to catch her breath. This place had a completely different feel than the trial with Zabitsyn. It was dark, almost suffocating and so quiet. There was not a sound to be heard, just her own breath and the beating of her soul.

Every direction she looked was the same. Or it at least looked that way. There were trees, bushes and the earthy smell of decay. But no landmarks to identify, no direction that felt like the right way. She was just alone in the woods. It was dark but at least it wasn’t cold. What was this trial? What was she meant to do?

Zima grit her teeth and steeled herself. Then she took a step ahead, not knowing where it would take her. But at least it was a direction.

Except, she fell. For her direction had been a cliff. An eerily similar cliff, one etched into her memory, one that she could not escape from. She only began to scream when the rock below came to meet her.

She expected doom but her eyes had been closed and no pain wiped her away. So she opened them and that was when the nightmare began.

She was back in her old form, wispy and shaking as she looked up at the demon bearing down upon her. Its flesh oozed black and it laughed - a terrible noise to her ears. She panicked, fell backwards and began to back up as it approached with raking claws and broken bones.

“N-no no no n-no!” She stammered, eyes wide with horror. It crawled towards her, crushing the bones and bodies of all the dead bjork kits from the massacre. The ground became a pool of wet, sickly blood, iron-tinged and smelling of death. She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came. She froze when her form touched wet, matted fur. She shook with so much terror in her heart but looked anyway.

It was Mish-Cheechel. His throat had been cut and he looked at her with cold, lifeless eyes. His spear was in his hand.

“M-M-Mish!” She cried out. “Wake up!” She pushed him as the demon’s laugh came closer and closer. “S-Save me! Please!” She wailed but it was pointless. Mish was dead and the terror was almost upon her. She turned back to the creature and froze.

It was Bear.

For a split second at least. Before his flesh and fur were ripped apart as the demon took root. His bones broke with sickening cracks, his head twisted and shook with such violence that she thought it might explode. His glassy dark orbs became fueled by a green flame of malice. Horns sprouted from his head in a vicious mockery of a crown. Limbs elongated and claws grew long and sharp. His mouth opened far too wide, wide enough to devour her whole as it laughed.

Zima grabbed her head and closed her eyes as tight as she could. This was too much for her. It was too much. She could not move, she was frozen with fear. Bear was her friend. She could not harm Bear. Even as the raking and the clawing got closer with each bloody stomp. Mish had saved her before, Mish would do so again.

Right?

He had to!

She couldn’t do this by herself, she couldn’t- she couldn’t! Bear had died because of her. Because she was too weak. She hadn’t been able to save Zabitsyn or the other kits. She hadn’t been able to save any of the bjorks. She failed. She was a failure and she was going to die all over again.

It was only right.

Except, deep down inside her, something screamed to stand. To fight back. It was drowning in a sea of dread but it was there. She just had to reach out for it, pull it to shore. Save herself from a certain defeat. Could she do it? Was death not her punishment for failing them all so horrifically? The feeling grew. She opened her eyes, and everything seemed to slow down. The demon with its corruption was nearly upon her. Bear was gone, she told herself. So was Mish.

No one was coming to save her.

No one… but herself. And even as she thought it, a feminine voice echoed all around and in the depths of her mind. It whispered softly to her, with such calm as brought serenity wheresoever the voice radiated. “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the way.

It welled up inside her now, banishing the dread just enough for her to take a stand. So she did with a ferocious, primal shout. Zima grabbed Mish-Cheechel’s spear, stood up in swift - serene! - motion, and drove it deep into the demon’s skull.

A white light erupted forth and suddenly Zima found herself standing before a great swirling gate that seemed to gyre endlessly and endlessly motion. It was over…

So she walked through.




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Kho

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LORD of the DEATH-ROAD | WATCHER | DEATHDART | SHEPHERD of SOULS | MASTER of the SCALES of JUSTICE
SOVEREIGN of the AFTERWORLD | LORD of SOULS


with

ZIMA the ZIMMER

&
Mish-Cheechel the Avenger






The Warpath of Vengeance on the Field of Champions


She stepped out and found herself behind Mish-Cheechel, a great expanse of brown earth - dotted here and there with grass or little knolls - spreading out in every direction before them. He turned back towards her, his eyes sunken and face haggard. After a brief moment, he chuckled. “Well, at least one of us is looking good. You look like a furless otter or som’ing. By all things bjork, if I could be born anything I’d want to be born an otter. Have I ever told you that before? I think I have.”

Zima looked at Mish-Cheechel with anxious eyes and then down at herself. It seemed she still wore the form modeled after Lansa. She hadn’t even noticed in the last trial. A small sigh escaped her lips but she was apprehensive. “Is it really you? Not another trial?” She asked with a shaky voice.

“Could ask you the same thing.” The manbjork sighed, throwing her a wary glance. Then a certain pensiveness took him and he approached and placed a paw on the top of her head. “I’m sorry kit.” Perhaps if he had been a softer bjork - the bjork he had been before he was Mish-Cheechel - his eyes would have watered or glistened or perhaps he would have elucidated or said more, but he was not and so he looked her in the eye and was in all ways sombre.

Zima said nothing, just looked at him for a time. Her eyes began to glisten with wispy tears and then she hugged the manbjork, grabbing him tight around his chest. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I didn’t listen. I didn’t know…” She sobbed, “I didn’t know that’s how you felt. I’m sorry.” He wrapped his two great arms about her and her sobs disappeared into his expansive furred chest.

“I dragged you in here Zim, the fault is mine. Things get… weird in the moment, y’know? Like…” he paused, trying to enunciate his thoughts, “like the world gravitates around our cause. And…” he looked down at her, “it is our cause, isn’t it Zim? You do want to see this through, don’t you?”

She rubbed her face into his fur and sighed softly. After a few moments she looked up at him and spoke, “I… It feels like I’ve been gone for a very long time. Like every trial was a life-age to endure. I questioned everything, met old friends and new faces and fought through fear with courage. I am changed, for better or worse. Perhaps I lost sight of the path that we ar- were on, but where do we go from here? Mish… your curse means you will return but I… I’m not so sure.”

The manbjork looked down at her intently, his coal-black eyes thoughtful. “I would have returned curse or no curse Zim. I will return as many times as it takes for justice to be done.” He looked across the eternal field that spread out all around them. “Who will do it if not me? If not us.” He unwrapped his arms and stepped back, holding her at arms length and smiling faintly. “If you want to return, if you will be a revenger with me, then I will raise heaven and earth for you Zim. You just say the word.”

Hesitation crossed her face and she asked him a simple question, “What does it mean to be a revenger?” The manbjork cocked his head and furrowed his brows. He appeared on the verge of an answer when the world seemed to shift and swirl about them - as though they were moving at great speed over unknown expanses - until they found themselves stood beneath a single tree of tremendous size with an equally tremendous tree hollow gorged into it. In that hollow sat a hooded and robed figure. But for two blue pinpricks, all beneath the blue-white hood was tenebrous darkness.

What, indeed, does it mean to be a revenger?” The stranger spoke. “Do you, Mish-Cheechel, who are the first of mortalkind to tread the revenger’s warpath, know?”

The manbjork, for his part, placed himself between Zima and the stranger. “Who are you? Another fucking god?”

The once young, now old, spirit looked upon the stranger and his tree with a sense of awe. “Be gentle Mish…” Zima murmured. She placed a hand on his shoulder. The manbjork glanced back at her and pursed his lips behind his prominent buck teeth, but ultimately acquiesced and relaxed.

“We have met before, Mish-Cheechel.” The hooded figure said, crossing his legs and tucking his feet beneath him before leaning back into the hollow. “I told you, then, to beware of regret and to beware of harming your friends. And here you are. Those who blindly walk the warpath are like kits minding a fire; sooner or later they will be burned and will burn others. That’s how it is, Mish-Cheechel. So it is a good question that your friend poses.”

The manbjork frowned and brought his tail between his legs and sat back. “Well, I don’t remember you. But then, you gods are the sneaky sort-” he paused and glanced at Zima, “uh, with all due respect, of course. So I guess you could’ve been any bjork.”

“It is no matter; it suffices that I remember. That’s how it is. Now, again Mish-Cheechel, if I were to ask you, ‘What is the true meaning of the Warpath of Vengeance?’ what would you answer?” The blue pinpricks bored into the manbjork, who flared his nostrils.

“Well-uh.” He scratched his head and gave Zima a sidelong glance. “Feels like another trial, don’t it?”

“It does…” She began, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “But if I remember one thing from that singing apparition… Trials are meant to be alone. So that begs the question: if this is a trial, whose is it? Yours… or mine?” She giggled. “I don’t think this is that though. This feels different.”

The manbjork chuckled and looked across to the god. “Wouldja look at that, we got ourselves a clever one here. She’s using all these big words now - y’know, when I first met ‘er she could barely put two words together! How quick they grow, right? Well go on then, why don’tcha tell our fella what vengeance is all about. And, uh, I’ll think of something smart too.” He clamped his teeth against each other and mumbled something about, “fuckin trials. Who thought that was a good idea anyway?”

“Hmm, there is no need for us to talk right now. I’ve a feeling all our questions, ones we have and ones we know nothing about, will be answered if we let the stranger before us speak. So please, speak and we will listen.” She said, looking at the blue pinpricks of the hooded god. Those blue pinpricks seemed to twinkle and a wave of approval washed over the two.

“That is good.” The hooded being mused. “The essentials of speaking are in not speaking at all. That’s how it is. If you think that you can do something without speaking, do so without saying a single word. But if there is something that cannot be done without speaking, then speak with few words and in a way that accords with reason.” He paused and leaned forward. “Now I will say much to you, but not more than is necessary for you to understand the Warpath of Vengeance. As an act of charity from me, you will remember it all. That’s how it will be.”

“Alright, if you just want us to listen - and if you’re gonna be brief, like you say - then I can spare you some time. But for crying out loud, what’s your name? Who even are you?” Mish-Cheechel grumbled.

“Names are important, Mish-Cheechel, and they will change as you change. You know this best, do you not? That’s how it is.” The blue pinpricks surveyed him, and the manbjork grunted in agreement. “Then at this moment you are students, and I the Way Teacher. That is my name.”

“Helps when you can put a name to the face y’know?” Mish-Cheechel said with a satisfied smile, then looked into the tenebrous darkness under the hood. “Or, uh, in your case, to the unique lack of face.” The blue pinpricks glowed threateningly and the manbjork grimaced. “Uh, I mean, that’s how it is right?” He chuckled, but there was only silence from the others. “I’ll, uh, keep those essentials of speaking in mind.”

Ignoring him, the Way Teacher then continued. “The person who can provide a prompt answer to the question, ‘What is the true meaning of the Warpath of Vengeance?’ is rare. That’s how it is. This is because it has not already been anchored in one’s mind.” The blue pinpricks hovered on Mish-Cheechel, then shifted to Zima. “From this, one’s disregard for the Warpath of Vengeance can be determined. Such negligence, especially for those who call themselves revengers, is an extreme thing.”

Mish-Cheechel pursed his lips and looked down awkwardly, but restrained himself from saying anything. The Way Teacher continued. “The Warpath of Vengeance is to be found in death. That’s how it is. When you are presented with the choice - either this or that - there is only the quick choice of death. It is that simple. Be determined; advance. When faced with the choice between life and death, it is not necessary to achieve your goal. It is of course a source of great agony to die without achieving your goal, but to be satisfied to live while your goal is unaccomplished is the height of cowardice and shame. This is the entirety of the Warpath of Vengeance; set your heart on it by morn and eve and so live as though you are already dead. Then you will not be at fault in any way and you will succeed.”

Mish-Cheechel brought a finger to his teeth and considered the Way Teacher intently. The words he was speaking were clearly far from what the manbjork had expected, but his coal-black eyes seemed alight with the concise and simple revelations. The Way Teacher did not pause, but continued.

“No matter what, as a revenger you are brought to shame if you do not take revenge. That’s how it is. By waiting to get the agreement of others, a matter like taking revenge will never be brought to a conclusion. One should have the resolution to go alone and even to be cut down. A person who speaks vehemently about taking revenge but does nothing about it is a hypocrite. Cowards, by mouthing off like this, are simply trying to save face. That’s how it is. But a real stalwart is one who will go out secretly - saying nothing - and die. It is not necessary to achieve one’s aim; one is a stalwart in being cut down, for the Warpath of Vengeance lies in simply forcing one’s way towards one’s enemies and being cut down if need be. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must ‘complete the job’ you will run out of time. By considering things like how many enemies there are, time piles up and in the end you will give up. That’s how it is. No matter how powerful or numerous the enemy, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down one by one. When you have made a decision to kill someone, even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight ahead, it is futile to try going at it in a long and roundabout way. One’s heart may slacken or one may miss the chance; there will be no success. That’s how it is. So the Warpath of Vengeance is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong. Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate; a real revenger does not think of victory or defeat but plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. Thus the Warpath of Vengeance is in desperateness; neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. Ten enemies or more cannot kill such a revenger. Common sense will not accomplish vengeance, so simply become insane and desperate. Such a revenger will most likely achieve his purpose. That’s how it is.

“This may appear to others as fanaticism, but it is in fact martial valour. Merit when it comes to martial valour lies more in dying for one’s vengeance than in striking down the enemy. Thus martial valour is a matter of becoming a fanatic. That’s how it is. With such fanatical strength of spirit, even if one’s head were to be suddenly cut off, he should be able to do one more action with certainty, and even if a revenger be sick to death he should be able to bear up for many days. But if your spirit is weak you will fall the moment you head is severed or sickness strikes you. With martial valour, if one becomes like a revengeful ghost and shows fanatical determination, though his head is cut off he will not die. That’s how it is.

“No matter what it is, there is nothing that cannot be done. If one manifests fanatical determination, one can move heaven and earth as he pleases. But a pluckless revenger cannot set his mind to his goals. This is why a revenger’s obstinacy should be excessive. A thing done with moderation may later be considered insufficient. When you think you have gone too far, you will not have erred. That’s how it is.

“Now a revenger should still be careful. Why? If one thoughtlessly crosses a river of unknown depths and shallows, he may die in its currents without ever reaching the other side or properly seeing to his purpose. That’s how it is. One should consider first stepping back and getting some understanding of the depths and shallows and then getting to work.

“So a revenger should be careful. Above all, if he is not careful in his choice of words he may say things like, ‘I'm a coward,’ or ‘If that happened I'd probably run,’ or ‘How scary,’ or ‘How painful.’ These are words that should not be said even as a joke or on a whim, and not even when talking in one’s sleep. If anyone with understanding hears these things then he will see to the bottom of the speaker’s heart - this is why the essentials of speaking are in not speaking at all. For a revenger, a simple word is important because by one single word martial valour can be made apparent. That’s how it is. Words show one’s bravery, and by them one’s strength or cowardice can be known. This single word is the flower of one’s heart - it is sculpted by the heart and sculpts it also. It is not something said simply with one’s tongue; even in matters as trifling as this the depths of one’s heart can be seen. That’s how it is.

“Even a poor revenger will go a long way along the Warpath of Vengeance if he is careful, studies by imitating a good model, and puts forth effort. That’s how it is. If there are no models of good revengers, it would be good to make a model and to learn from that. To do this, one should look at many people and choose from each person his best point only. For example, one person for politeness,” the Way Teacher paused and looked at Mish-Cheechel for a few silent seconds, and the manbjork grunted in irritation and looked away. The god continued, “one for bravery, one for the proper way of speaking, one for correct conduct, one for steadiness of mind, and so on. Thus will the model be made. If one carefully observes any person’s good points, one will have a model teacher for anything. That’s how it is.

“I will save you observing a model for cleanliness, as it is one of the basics. Every morning, bathe, put lotion in your hair and fur and in all ways pay attention to your personal appearance and the condition of your equipment - a saddle, a spear, or anything else. Although it seems that taking special care of one’s appearance is nothing but vanity, that is not the case. Even if you are aware that you may be struck down today and are firmly resolved to an inevitable death, if you are slain with an unclean and unseemly appearance you will show your lack of previous resolve and will be despised by your enemy. That’s how it is. For this reason every revenger should take care of his appearance.” The Way Teacher looked at Zima. “Even if you are a spirit, the physical form you inhabit should be kept ever clean and ready for death. In cleanliness, prepare for death as you would prepare for the person most loved and dear to you.

“If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a revenger is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one’s body and soul to one’s vengeance. And if one is asked what to do beyond this, it would be to fit oneself inwardly with these three virtues: Intelligence, Compassion, Courage. These three virtues may seem unattainable together, but it is in fact easy.

“Intelligence is nothing more than discussing things with others. Limitless wisdom comes from this. That’s how it is.

“Compassion is to do for the sake of others. Simply compare yourself to others and put them in the fore. In this way, whatever you do should be done for the sake of your vengeance, kin, the people in general, and for posterity. This is great compassion. When one punishes or strives with the heart of compassion, what he does will be limitless in strength and correctness. Doing something for one’s own sake is shallow and mean and turns into evil. That’s how it is.

“Courage is gritting one’s teeth; it is simply doing that and pushing ahead, paying no attention to the circumstances. While marching on the Warpath of Vengeance, if one wills himself to outstrip revengers of accomplishment, and day and night hopes to strike down a powerful enemy, he will grow indefatigable and fierce of heart and will manifest courage. One should use this principle in daily affairs too. All revengers should discipline themselves rigorously in intention and courage. This will be accomplished if only courage is fixed in one’s heart. If one’s spear is broken, he will strike with his hands. If his hands are cut off, he will press the enemy down with his shoulders. If his shoulders are cut away, he will bite through ten or fifteen enemy necks with his teeth. Courage is such a thing. That’s how it is.

“Anything that seems above these three virtues is not necessary to be known. Alongside this, covetousness, anger and foolishness are three vices to sort out well. When bad things happen in the world - if you look at them carefully - they are not unrelated to these three vices. That’s how it is. Meanwhile, you will find that all good things that happen are linked in some way to intelligence, compassion and courage.

“Now, to give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and is of great importance amongst those in pursuit of a singular vengeance. But the way of doing it is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is also easy. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying the things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This sort of thinking is worthless. In this way one has only shamed and humiliated the other person and done no good. That’s how it is.

“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak so that you are well understood. Judge the occasion and manner - a gathering of friends, an official occasion, a private talk; know which is best. Praise his good points and use every device to subtly encourage him to rectify himself, perhaps by talking about your own faults without touching on his, but doing so in such a way that his fault will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way a parched person would drink water, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults. That’s how it is.

“I will not deny that this is difficult. If a person’s fault is an entrenched habit, by and large it won’t be remedied. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting one another’s faults and being of one mind to gain vengeance is the great compassion of a revenger. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him better? In all this, as one calls to goodness, one must not forget to do good also. If one were to say what it is to do good in a single word, it would be to endure suffering. Not enduring is bad without exception. That’s how it is. But that is by the by.

“For one who treads the Warpath of Vengeance, matters of great concern should be treated lightly. Meanwhile, matters of small concern should be treated seriously. If these matters of great concern are deliberated upon before they arise, they can be understood. For instance, deliberating on how you will act once the enemy is stood before you, or if you should happen upon the enemy asleep, or drunk, or in a crowded area. Thinking about things previously and then handling them lightly when the time comes is what this is all about. To face an event and solve it lightly is difficult if you are not resolved beforehand, and there will always be uncertainty in hitting your mark. However, if the foundation is laid previously, you can consider, ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly,’ as your basis for action. For such a person, it is insufficient when meeting calamities or difficult situations to simply say that one is not at all flustered. When meeting such difficult situations, one should dash forward bravely and with joy.” The Way Teacher, leaning forward throughout, finally leaned back. Calm washed over Zima and Mish-Cheechel, and then the teacher’s words came with finality. “If one has no earnest daily intention regarding his vengeance, does not consider what it is to be a revenger even in his dreams, and lives through the day idly, such a negligent revenger can be said to be worthy of punishment. That’s how it is.”

Mish-Cheechel sat in silent thought once the Way Teacher quietened. Then, like one drawn from a reverie, he glanced at Zima. “Well. I guess we’ve got our answer then.”

“Yes. See, I told you.” She said, “Now maybe you’ll speak less and won’t get yourself into trouble.” The manbjork scratched his head sheepishly and looked away from her and the tree, across the vast fields that spread out into eternity all around. Zima stepped forward and gave the Way Teacher a polite bow. “What now? Where does the path lead on from here?” She asked him.

“You, Zima, are dead. That’s how it is.” The Way Teacher said. “Your path leads undeviatingly to the Chamber of Weighing and Judgement. As for you, Mish-Cheechel, you can go no further for death evades you.”

The manbjork rose at this, a frown on his face. “We came this far together, and we’re leaving together.” He looked at Zima. “Our vengeance is incomplete, Zim, we nee-”

“Zima perished with courage on the warpath. Whether her foe lies dead or not is of no consequence.” The teacher interrupted. His blue gaze shifted to the girl. “You did your duty, Zima. None who speak your name in the vales of the living or the halls of the dead can speak anything but good; that’s how it is. The suffering you endured in the world of the living is at an end, you have blissful eternity before you now.” He rose in the tree hollow and stepped out, revealing a doorway there. “This here is the way now Zima, that’s how it is.” The hooded teacher gestured to the hollow with his gloved hand. “Let nothing hold you back.”

Mish-Cheechel grit his teeth against one another and put himself between the teacher and Zima, then turned to her. He opened his mouth to speak, but his tongue faltered when his coal eyes fell on hers of icy blue. “Zim,” he managed, then shook his head, shot the teacher an irritated glare, and let her go. Without a word, he walked off and gazed across the fields.

“Mish…” Zima called after him, before turning to the Way Teacher again. “I… I cannot deny my heart wishes for a blissful peace. Your trials were heavy on my soul and the land of the living is full of uncertainty.” She tilted her head and smiled, “but a part of me cannot deny that there was so much left to do and now he will be alone without my protection. I promised to always do so, after all. I will not go against the judgment awaiting me, I just thought you should know.” Zima then bowed once more before taking her leave to go after Mish-Cheechel.

She caught up quickly, for her legs were longer now. “Mish…” she said again, “will you be okay?” She asked in a soft voice. He glanced at her impassively, then scratched his nose with a finger.

“That’s a dumb question, Zim. I’ll always be okay. Can’t say that’ll be true for the eagle god though, I can promise you that. Can’t say it’ll hold true for that Keeper fella either. But me? Sure, I’ll be just fine.” He looked away, towards the far horizon. “You heard the Way Teacher; vengeance is death. I died the day I took my oath. What’s it matter if I’m in here or out there, eh? It’s all one to me. And, y’know what, I think I prefer the warpath to an eternity of bliss. But, well, that’s just me - not saying you should too. I’m sure everyone wants to rest after a long journey and all that, but I’m lucky I guess: I don’t need rest.” He turned to her and placed both paws on her shoulders. “If you want to go, then go. Don’t stay if you’re worried about me. But Zim… like I said before: if you want to return, if you will be a revenger with me, then I will raise heaven and earth for you Zim. Nothing will keep you here, not even…” he glanced towards the Way Teacher. “You just say the word.” His coal-black eyes were unsmiling, his seriousness unquestionable.

She met his eyes with a steely gaze of her own before those blue eyes of hers faltered for the briefest of moments. She placed a hand on his cheek and rubbed her thumb under his eye. “Mish… I don’t think there is anything you could do. We are in a place so out of our depth, so unknowable, there is no way to tell if the dead can even return.”

He glanced at her hand and smiled at the odd sensation of the furless appendage against his face. “Sure, we’re out of our depth. But we were always out of our depth, Zim - it didn’t stop us. You speared the chest of a fucking god - all while out of your depth. Hell, we were fanatical before this Way Teacher came thinking to teach us about vengeance, and we were this close,” he brought his hand up, his fingers a hair’s width apart, “to finishing it. If you want to return with me, Zim, not even impossibility will get in our way.” He sighed and squeezed her shoulders with both hands. “Tell me: what do you want?”

She faltered at the question. “I… I… Judgment awaits. The Way Teacher… I told him I would not go against my judgment. Peace awaits me.” Her eyebrows quivered and her eyes went wide. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came. She breathed through her nose and squeezed her eyes tight. Then she sighed and relaxed her features with a breath. She opened her eyes and looked at Mish-Cheechel. “I want to be happy.” She dropped her hand from his cheek.

The manbjork was clearly taken aback by her words, and he leaned back with furrowed brows. “Happy?” He murmured, looking at the ground.

Her hand brought his chin back up to look at her and she smiled. “With you, or without. If you want, we can try to see if there is a way but if not… You have to promise me you’ll really be okay. Understand?”

The manbjork slowly tore his eyes from hers and looked across to the Way Teacher, whose blue pinpricks were upon them. “You would be telling a great lie, Mish-Cheechel, if you said that happiness is your pursuit. The Warpath of Vengeance is not for the happy, that’s how it is. You cannot give yourself happiness let alone give it to another.”

The manbjork grit his teeth and scowled, but held back any contemptuous words. “We are leaving this place, Teacher, together as we came.” He released Zima and turned fully to the god. “We’ve shattered the chest of one god before, and I won’t shy from scarring up your pretty none-face if you stand in our way.”

The god sighed. “You speak like a revenger when it counts, Mish-Cheechel. Very well, I won’t stand in your way - but know that the path you tread will lead to more pain than any should be made to bear. I have washed my hands of the blame for it, it is on your shoulders now. That’s how it is, Mish-Cheechel, that’s how it is.”

“You talk a lot for someone who tells others not to.” Mish-Cheechel jibed. The Way Teacher’s blue pinpricks seemed to roll where they shone.

“I’ve said my part.” The Way Teacher breathed. “Remember, though, you must leave together as you came. You have bound yourselves to this, and suffering awaits those who break their oaths. That’s how it is.”

“I’ve yet to break any oaths, and I won’t be starting now.” The manbjork sneered. “Now show us the path out.”

Zima blinked and gave a small gasp as a smile crossed her lips. Not wanting to forget herself however, she bowed to the Way Teacher and said, “I thank you for this opportunity, Way Teacher. Whatever happens is on us.” She then whispered to Mish-Cheechel. “That was too easy.”

The manbjork smiled. “Gotta grab life by the balls - and do it like you mean it. Or something like that. Now where was that sage saying in that vengeance lecture? Sounds pretty important to m-” but the manbjork did not finish his words, for the Way Teacher snapped his fingers and they found that the world shifted about them and sped by beneath. The tree disappeared from view, as did the skies and spreading horizons, and darkness entombed them.




Narrow is the Road back to Life


When the world stopped moving, and their motion ceased also, they found themselves engulfed in darkness. There was barely any space, with rocky walls choking them from both sides. The ceiling was just high enough for them to walk at a crouch. In the distance, however, they could both see a faint light, and so made for it. Mish-Cheechel grumbled all the way. “That guy did this on purpose. Well, the joke’s on him. This just proves he’s a tight-arse. I don’t know what sort of bliss he’s got in store for all the poor souls that make it, but I’m telling you Zim, you dodged a spearpoint by getting away from that weirdo.”

Zima laughed as she crawled. “I don’t know but maybe one day we’ll both find out. Not today of course. Now come on, we got to get to that light before something happens. I don’t like this Mish, it seems too easy.”

The manbjork glanced back at her as he forged on ahead. “Well, you’ve always had a better nose for danger than me, so I’ll trust you on that. Let’s get out of here. Stay close now, don’t let go of my tail.”

She did as instructed and grabbed on, not tight enough to pull but firm enough to not let go. The bjork chuckled at the sensation. “See, what would you do without me? Walk headlong into all sorts of danger again? Oh Mish, I can’t wait to see the sun again and feel its warmth. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“Well, that’s quite something from someone who burned themselves to death.” Mish-Cheechel chortled. “You always struck me as the frosty sort, lazing with the falling snowflakes and all that. But y’know what, I’m looking forward to seeing the sun too.”

“Hey, just because fire killed me, doesn’t mean I need to be afraid of the sun. The sun never harmed me.” Zima giggled.

He was quiet after that, scrambling through the tight cave, closer and closer to the light. “Gods, this is like being in a very badly built dam. But worse. At least that’s wood, y’know? You can gnaw your way out if needs be. This rock is horrid.”

Zima huffed. “Does it feel like the walls are getting tighter? Are we getting any closer? I can’t see behind all this fur you know?”

“I don’t know about tighter but,” the manbjork groaned, “I’m feeling heavier. Almost… tired.” He sounded like he was restraining a yawn. “Not far now, it’s close.” He stumbled on, though he was clearly getting slower with each faltering step.

“That’s good.” Zima began, noticing that something was amiss as her own pace slowed. “Uh, Mish? Why are you slowing down?”

“Just…” he grunted, “heavy. I’ll be fine.” He took another step, a rock slipped beneath him, and he fell heavily and was still.

“Mish? What’s going on? Mish? Mish!” Zima scrambled forward, trying in vain to get a better look at her fallen friend. But his tail was too long and his bulk too large for her to be able to get to his side. “Mish! Wake up Mish! I can see the light, we’re so close!” Zima shouted in a panicked voice. Her fears were coming true.

The manbjork did not respond. Instead, his form started disintegrating where he lay. First his tail, where she had held onto him, began to froth and vaporise, and then the rest of him bubbled and sizzled and rose in a strange ethereal haze. “Fuck.” Said the mist with Mish-Cheechel’s voice. Then the ghostly cloud he had become was sucked up out of the tunnel at impossible speed, and disappeared into the light shouting and screaming all sorts of profanities at the Way Teacher.

Zima, eyes wide with horror, looked upon the mist as he went. “Oh no.” Was all she could say before she frantically clawed her way on all fours after him. Then something strange happened. The tunnel began to grow wider and wider. First she could start to shuffle on her legs and hands, then she was able to press her back to the top of the tunnel with haste. Then it grew wide enough that she could sprint full-on, and out in the light she went shouting, “MISH!” But even as she ran she could neither see him in the blinding light nor hear him. The light grew brighter and brighter until she could bear it no more and was forced to raise a hand to her eyes, closed them momentarily, and found herself quite abruptly standing alone by the lake.

She looked around for any sign of him but stopped when something caught her eye. Her hand… its blue glow was fading, the tips of her fingers were turning grey and cold. Like color itself was being drawn from her. She tried to wipe it off in a panic but she only found the same happening to her other hand. A strange sensation washed over her then. Her chest tightened, her breath became frantic, and she was going numb. Her arms’ wispiness, that had been so familiar to her, now gave way to smokey lines. Her skin had become ashen grey, almost see through.

Zima went into shock, crumpling down next to the still lake to see the affliction spread across her clutched chest. Her wispy clothes puffed away into the air as she felt her legs go cold. It crept up her neck and Zima pawed at it further, but it kept going in silent agony. She wanted to scream. She wanted to do anything to make it stop. Then the tips of her silver hair began to turn grey. Her lips faded, followed by her cheeks. Her voice was powerless. “M-Mish…” she cried out like a lost kit. Next went her button nose. She felt a numbness expanding inside. It reached her blue eyes, whose color so reminded her of her father. Now they turned to darkness as her body succumbed to the grey.

Then the whole world faded away.

But she could still feel herself, growing weaker as the grey turned inward. She could feel her soul, her very spirit, fight with the monster that ate at her - but it was too late. Her soul broke, shattered into thousands of pieces that made her gasp in pain. Next came her heart… and as it grew blackened, Zima clutched at it, before a sharp pain came and then…

Nothing.

A red glint caught her eye in the water. Her head began to spin as she felt the creeping darkness infiltrate her mind. But her eyes focused just enough to look upon the source of the only color she could see. It stared back up at her, after all, like some demented reflection.

Two eyes of glowing crimson.

Zima began to shake her head, gripping it as the darkness encroached. “No.” She said, blinking, trying to wake up from the nightmare. “No. No! NO NO NO!” She screamed as the abyss spun around her in a flurry of black smoke. The last thing she held onto was of Mish-Cheechel laughing and her promise, before that endless smoke swallowed her up completely.

And she was alone in that darkness, completely alone. Just as Mish-Cheechel, that avenger, was also alone in the dark depths of the ground, his cries muffled by the earth that pressed down on his newly-awakened form. Yes, that’s how it was.



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LORD of the DEATH-ROAD | WATCHER | DEATHDART | SHEPHERD of SOULS | MASTER of the SCALES of JUSTICE
SOVEREIGN of the AFTERWORLD | LORD of SOULS


&

Chailiss





Blinding Love


On the Eternal Field of Champions, beneath the Tree of Knowledge, in the tree-hollow leading to the Chamber of Weighing and Judgement, sat the creator and sustainer of all souls, the Lord of the Death-Road, and the Master of the Scales of Justice. Voi the Deathdart, face of darkness hidden beneath his hood and eyes of blue light gazing into distances beyond mere sight, neither sighed nor wept for Mish-Cheechel the Avenger or Zima the Zimmer. Though the likes of Mish-Cheechel were blinded by the likes of Phelenia to the true source of all mortal suffering, Voi was in no way blind. “This, too, will pass. That’s how it is.” The god murmured, looking away and rubbing a gloved hand across the inside of the hollow. When he next lifted his gaze, it was to find his long-awaited visitor approaching.

“You are not easy to find, Voi.” Chailiss spoke, as he flew across the expanse that separated them.

Voi stood as the other god approached. “And yet you have found me, brother.”

Chailiss wore the guise of his true form, but much smaller, before that too changed as he landed by the Tree of Knowledge. He took on the form of a man, cloaked in white with icy eyes. He approached Voi and stopped at a respectable distance, before bowing. “I apologize for coming unannounced, but I have need of you in this my troubling time.”

The Sovereign of the Afterworld approached the Warden of Winter and the world shifted momentarily. When it returned to normalcy, two cushioned curule chairs had appeared and Voi gestured for the other god to make himself comfortable. “Be seated, brother, and steel your kind young heart. Sorrows never come by their lonesome, but march in endless legions to strike the grieved heart low. That’s how it is. But whatever it is that troubles you, I will aid you in what way I can.” And so saying, Voi sat down and leaned forward, his blue pinpricks staring attentively at the winter god.

The winter god looked around after finding the world about them so subtly changed. His attention soon after fell back upon Voi and he sat down, leaning forward as well. He crossed his fingers together and laid his chin upon them as he spoke. “You are kind to a strange kinsgod of yours. It does me good to see that and I thank you for it. First I must ask you, what is this place we are in? Long did I travel in this underworld of yours, seeing and hearing many things but none of those places were quite like this.”

Voi looked around and then nodded. “It is true, this place is different. It is not a place of trial, like those that come before it, and it is not a place of judgement, like that which comes after it. This is the Field of Champions, where the weapons of the worthy are laid down after a long journey, and where preparations for judgement are made. Mortalkind has yet to learn, however, and so none have yet passed through here on their way - save two, but that is quite another matter.” He turned his gaze on the enormous tree. “And this is the Tree of Knowledge. Questions come here for an answer.” The god turned his face back to Chailiss. “I never thought that even divine questions would be answered here, but here we are.”

Chailiss raised an eyebrow. “Then I am the first of our kind to be here?”

“That you are,” Voi affirmed, “although there was one divine interloper some time back. He came by a rather unconventional back route of sorts, which I have not been able to replicate. You are the first here though, yes. You honour me.”

“Honor…” Chailiss frowned slightly at the word before moving on. “And I am honored to be had. Though, I suppose what you say isn’t too surprising. Only few care for what happens when the living die. Others do not, or are obsessed with stopping it completely. Others… they would seek the doom of everything. Do you know who the interloper was?”

Voi was quiet for a thoughtful moment. “I… do know, yes. He is the one known to bjorkkind as the Singing Maker; our drunken brother, Jiugui. Why do you ask?”

“Simple curiosity I suppose.” Chailiss gave a small smile.

Voi chuckled. “I can appreciate that. I too am rather the curious sort. Our brother Jiugui is… quite entertaining.”

“I know nothing of him besides his name and the impression he left upon the bjork. A drunken god… who would have thought?” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “You did say two others, mortals, had visited this place? Who were they, might I ask?”

“There is no need to hide it, I suppose.” Voi enunciated slowly. “They came together, and tried to leave together too, but…” he did not quite sigh, but rather simply paused. “It was Mish-Cheechel, the manbjork whose people you buried sometime back,” the god did not bother to explain how he knew this, but continued, “alongside one of yours, going by the name of Zima.”

The other god’s eyes lit up and he sat straight. “Zima? Zima is the name she chose for herself? Zima…” he smiled. “It is a good name, I am glad to hear it.” But his smile faltered and with a sigh he looked to Voi once more, “What happened, Voi? Where is she?”

“Mish-Cheechel happened, brother. She stood right here,” he gestured to a spot right before the tree hollow, “one step away from the promise of eternal bliss.” He leaned forward. “She could have been happy. That’s what she wanted, she said as much. But…” he sat back, “she thought to go try find happiness with Mish-Cheechel - and Mish-Cheechel is many things, but happy he will never be and happiness he’ll never bring.” He looked down. “I guess love blinds us to what stands in plain sight. That’s how it is.” The blue pinpricks beneath his hood flickered momentarily, but then returned. “So they took the path back to life together - and I told them that way lies pain, but they did not heed me. I told them that they had chosen to go together and had best keep to that, else their pain would blossom into true suffering. That’s how it happened. They did not keep together brother, what am I to do? Go look at them now.”

Chailiss stood, fists balled. A cold mask spread out over his face. “What has befallen my daughter, Voi? What has this Mish-Cheechel brought upon her? Why would she listen to him? Why?” He sighed, utterly defeated, and sank back into his chair. “No. You are right. Love does blind us all. It would blind me to rage but my heart cannot take more violence against any for a long time, if ever.” He leaned forward, grief splayed out on his face now. “Please Voi, please tell me. What has become of my daughter? What have you done to her? Please.”

“Not I, Chailiss, not I. They did this to themselves. Don’t seek her out, it will only mount pain on your pain. If in time she can overcome her suffering, she will find you. Of that I have no doubt.” He slid from the chair and bent on one knee before the other god. “Don’t ask me again, because I will not withhold it from you. Just know that if you do, the answer will do nothing but inflame your pain. There is no need, trust me on this.”

The other god’s eyes became downcast as he gave Voi a small nod. “Apologies for assuming… I do trust you, Voi. But I do not have the luxury of being oblivious to the plight and pain of one so dear to me. As her cre- Father. Love, after all…” he gave a weary smile, “so tell me, please.”

The Lord of Souls rose and returned to his seat, head bent pensively. “Your daughter has become something neither completely living nor entirely dead, cast from the underworld to wander the material plane. I can’t say if she knows who or what she is anymore, or whether she can even feel. Where she goes, no good feelings remain and all is suffering and discord. She is suffering and discord. That’s how it is, brother - I told them, ‘do not go there, do not walk there, there is only pain there,’ but they did not heed me. That’s how it is; that’s how it will be until she awakens to the truth of suffering. None can save her but herself, no one can and no one may; she herself must walk the way.”

The god brought a hand to his face and said nothing for several minutes… until at last he rose from his feet. His eyes were raw. He had never looked so haggard as he was now, and sorrow was his expression. “Thank you for telling me. Even if she can’t be helped by another, it is my duty to at least ensure she cannot harm others. I must go now, before it is too late. Your hospitality, despite the heavy news, was a pleasure, Voi.” He began to leave but stopped. “Homura will seek you out soon. She wanted Zima as a witness to stand trial for attempted murder, to be reprimanded. I don't think she’ll get that wish but I thought you should know to expect another.”

Voi did not say anything for a few moments, but then nodded slightly to Chailiss. “I will expect her.” As Chailiss began to walk away, Voi spoke up again. “Though, brother, there are surely many witnesses. What crime is this?”

He turned to Voi. “Phelenia will be called to answer for her needless murder against the bjork. I’m sure you will be of most help to Homura when she comes asking for witnesses.”

Voi’s blue eyes flickered. “Hmm, odd indeed. What need is there for witnesses when the perpetrator has not denied the deed? Because that’s how it is. Perhaps..,” he glanced up at Chailiss, “well, it would be cynical to say it, but maybe there is another matter she seeks me for, which she has withheld from you. I will expect her in any case.”

“I am sure Homura can fill you in on all she needs. Her mind is alien to me.” Chailiss continued on his walk and Voi walked after him.

“I’ll walk with you a while. You seemed rather a little… off when I mentioned honour earlier. Is there something you hold against Homura?” He glanced at Chailiss with twinkling eyes, “other than what is known, of course.”

“That goddess thinks that everything is a perversion of what it should be. That nature is an abomination that cannibalized upon itself, that death has no place in the cycle. That all of the mortals should be kept upon her sacred path. I can make no sense of it no matter how many times I listen. She has offered me the chance to kill her upon every occasion we have met if I thought she would fall down a darker path. The most frightening thing about it is that she is serious.”

Voi glanced at his brother as they walked. “If Homura is anything, she is passionate. When first we met she created her spear - Daybreaker she called it - and pointed it at me, pressed it right here,” he tapped his chest, “things could have gone rather awry if I were the angry sort.” He paused thoughtfully. “She spoke to me of war then, asked me what I would do when war came. I guess that says something about her - always looking ahead, always preparing for the worst. Always seeing the worst. You need gods like that, they’re the ones who come through when everything goes wrong. That’s how it is. It might mean she misspeaks sometimes - what, with her eyes so fixed on distant disasters - but it should not be held against her. She just cares very deeply. That’s how it is, brother.” The god looked heavenward. “I doubt she meant what you think she did about death. She knows the importance of balance to me, the importance of life and death to me - to all things. She is passionate, that’s all.” After a few seconds, he looked at the other god with twinkling eyes. “Did you see how she dances? It is beyond beautiful.”

“You speak highly of her. I cannot say I have seen her dance. Perhaps you could ask to dance with her when she comes? Might do her good to take her mind off things for a time.” Chailiss mused, causing Voi to chuckle awkwardly. “But regardless, I am sure you will find out exactly what she means and what she doesn’t mean when she seeks you out. Passionate or not, maybe if it comes to it, you can reason with her where others have failed.” Chailiss looked straight ahead as he spoke, arms at his side in a slow pace.

“W-well.” The Lord of Souls mumbled. “I’ll do what I can. She’s not bad. And you’re not either.” He fiddled with his grey gloves. “Do you think-” he stopped himself. “Ah, no, that’s stupid.” He cleared his throat. “But speaking of dancing, it appears that a certain other dancer has managed to find her way north, and is not in a good way at all. Our sister Rosalind even now bleeds her life out in your domains. You should see to her.”

Chailiss stopped in his tracks and peered down at Voi out of the corner of his eye. “Why is it that such sorrow strikes my heartland?” He then fully turned to Voi. “How are you certain of this?”

Voi glanced at Chailiss then shrugged slightly. “There were witnesses, and word reached me. Now I don’t know if a god can bleed to death, but she will be finding out if something is not done soon. That’s how it is.”

“A few of our kin have already passed… But Zima…” His eyes became downcast as he wrestled with the decision. “You said Zima would wander… Then I hope I will be able to find her before she does something terrible. Now,” he placed a hand on Voi’s shoulder, “where is Rosalind?”

Voi raised his gloved hand and snapped his fingers, causing a gyrating wisp to form up before them, which slowly took on the shape of a small bird of swirling blue flame. “My little friend here will show you to her.” The blue bird hovered in the air before them, then beat its ethereal wings of flame and shot off. “Godspeed, Chailiss.”

He looked to the bird, then to Voi. “Thank you, may we meet again on happier tides.” He let go of the god and began to shift into his divine form, becoming snow, but his voice echoed ever on to his fellow god, “you know more than most that life is fleeting. Ask her to a dance,” before the snowflakes became a distant orb and the god of cold was gone.

The Lord of Souls watched his brother leave with eyes of widened blue, then chuckled and shook his head. “Clever snowman.”





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Chris488

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Aethel & Homura



While it was true that Aethel would have been interested in witnessing the first ever magical ritual performed by mortals on a larger scale, the simple fact was that his attention had been… elsewhere for sometime now. Something that they had lost a long time ago and hadn’t been able to locate had… revealed itself somewhat.

It was no longer within Tuku’s possession and thus the measures in which the lord of the hunt had hidden the stolen branch of the Tree of Harmony seemed to have faded with his absence… but while Aethel may have understood themselves a fickle beast, but once they started on a task they liked to see it through to the end.

Now that the Rattus were largely equipped to handle mortal affairs and survive on their own to an extent that Aethel was happy, they had opted to go for a walk and track down what was rightfully theirs. Lands, animals and oceans just flew past him, but in the end they reached the land where the missing branch had been seemingly abandoned… inside of what appeared to be a rather interesting looking fortress.

The circular red wall surrounded a lone keep atop a hill, where the land was barren, and the presence of another deity was so profuse that it had seeped into the forest that grew around the fortress, and flooded the nearby sea. A myriad of red hues, from the flowers, to the branches, to the water, and the stone. Close to the fortress were three massive machines, and a vast section of the land that had become putrid and stained with ebon oil that choked any life that attempted to regrow there. The presence of another deity lurked in its aura of decay.

Standing on the wall, watching Aethel, was a lone figure wielding a golden spear that shone with celestial light. Her aspect revealed itself, and the Goddess of Honor called outward, her voice clear and easily heard despite the distance between them. “I am Homura, I have no intentions of harming you.”

Looking back up at the now named Homura, Aethel couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow of their small, bipedal form as their arms crossed their chest. “I am Aethel. Normally when one intends no harm, their first instinct isn’t to openly be wielding a spear. I know you’re trying to be polite, but I feel like it should be mentioned that you’re sending something of a mixed message.

“Allow me to amend my statement then. I have no intentions of harming you, unless you are my enemy.” She replied, and her voice was neither hostile or friendly, nearly emotionless when she spoke.

With the matter being cleared up, Aethel seemed to relax slightly as their crossed arms dropped away. “Okay then. Glad we were able to clear that up. Misunderstandings are troublesome after all. As to why I am visiting you, Tuku seems to have left something here that he originally stole from me and I would like it back if you don’t mind sister.

“Hmm… I assume you are referring to the wooden staff he carried. It is imbued with your power, but I require more evidence to prove that you are not attempting to deceive me. Our brother has entrusted it in the care of my champion, and therefore entrusted it in my care. If you can provide more evidence, then I will return it to you.” Homura answered.

There was a moment where Aethel just… blinked up at Homura before a frustrated groan escaped him. “That’s not fair! The only four witnesses of Tuku’s stealing of one of the branches of my tree are myself, Tuku, the mother of rats and one of the early hawks, the latter two both long gone and the hawk being Tuku’s toady anyway. I mean seriously, who promotes someone to be their symbol because all they did was spy on the rat that you told to steal for you in exchange for the ability to have children without her dead husband? It’s not exactly a test of loyalty or skill.

All I can offer to you is the truth, just as any claim that Tuku offered that isn’t arranging the theft of that branch is a lie. Why should my word by valued less than his?

“You have accused our brother of a crime. He will now stand trial, and if you are speaking the truth, he will be punished, and you will be given that which belongs to you. I will speak with him, as well as the other two you have mentioned. Until then, it would be foolish of me to simply believe the words of one I do not know. I promise you, Aethel, that if you have been wronged, you will receive proper justice, I speak as the Highest Judge of the Monarch, and His Emissary.” Homura said, while her voice and expression remained neutral.

For a moment, Aethel looked frustrated and angry… but then something she said seemed to calm them a little. They were still clearly tense, but there was an assurance in the way that they stood now as they gazed up at Homura. “I do not care that you are the highest judge of the Monarch, or his Emissary. But you have given your personal word to see justice done and I will hold you accountable to that.

With the matter settled for now, Aethel seemed to relax a lot more as they openly started to look around. “I like what you’ve done with the place by the way. I don’t care what anyone says, there is nothing wrong with knowing what you like and decorating your home how you want it.

Homura stepped back, out of sight, but still easily heard. “You are welcome to come inside, if you wish. I am afraid I must leave soon, but we can arrange for you to visit another time. I will require your attendance during our brother’s trial, but there are other matters to discuss. Your beautiful work on Galbar first and foremost.” She said, moving farther and farther away.

Thank you for the invitation. I would love to join you, even if only briefly.” Aethel answered completely honestly, walking forward before leaping up to the balcony that Homura had been standing at before intending to follow and join her. “For what it is worth, I am sorry for arriving like this. I was merely following my lost branch and I didn’t know where exactly it was going to be when I caught up with it.

The wall was as wide as the colossi that stood outside it, and Homura walked from its outer edge to the inner edge. Despite her mention of a hasty departure, she leisurely strolled towards her destination. “There is no need to apologize. I understand your frustration, and hope I can alleviate it soon. I would like to use this time as an opportunity to verify that we have been discussing the same artifact, so I appreciate your patience. I apologize for my own behavior, my creations and I have been recently threatened by our brother, Iqelis, and I do not take kindly to such.”

They reached the inner edge of the wall, standing upon the red precipice and facing the lone keep atop the hill in the center of the barren fields. “I digress, it is proper for me to express my appreciation of what you yourself have created. Defining the realm of dreams, and another source of ambient energy that mingles with the rest of creation. Such is work worthy of praise.” Homura said, turning to face Aethel with an authentic look of respect.

For their part, Aethel appreciated the flattery. “Why thank you sister! It is nice to have one’s work be appreciated. Though I must confess that aside from your beautiful fortress and your giant colossi, I am not that familiar with your own works upon Galbar. Then again, I am somewhat easily distracted and prone to letting my mind wander so I may have just missed it.

In relation to Iqelis, the smaller deity answered “I have yet to meet them myself, though I do remember Ruina’s warning of them from such a long time ago. At any rate, I am sure that the display that resulted in the altercation between the two of you was entertaining for the Monarch of All to witness if nothing else, so do take comfort in that.

Homura turned her gaze towards the heavens, and pondered the words of Aethel for an ephemeral moment before she spoke again. “I am afraid that I have yet to begin my work. I did not create the colossi, and this keep was forged from a calamity caused by our siblings and their petty conflict. I have created the gift of humanity for all among the pantheon, which I will show you when we step inside. I have created my six champions, but their beauty is their own. I have created only one monument that I consider to be the result of my work. I will show it to you as well.” With those words, the red goddess leapt from the wall towards the keep itself.

The bipedal equine god quickly followed, landing beside her as they continued the conversation as if they hadn’t just leaped “It’s okay. There is nothing wrong with taking your time and planning out what you’re going to do. I’ve been known to do it from time to time after all. Though I am curious why you’re keeping your… humans you said? I am curious why you’ve got them locked up in your fortress rather than letting them loose in the world to figure out their place in it. At the moment, my Rattus are currently dealing with an unexpected issue of what was clearly a herbivore that lived on the opposite riverbank from them violently responding to their efforts to use the river to transport themselves and supplies. I’m curious to see how they handle it in the end.

Homura walked through one of the many doorways, entering the scarlet structure. Ahead was an otherworldly light, akin to the orange glow of flames, but imbued with the essence of the divine. It spread its warmth which was absorbed by the stone and the wind, invigorating all it touched. Homura spoke and her voice echoed in the tunnel they traversed. “Humanity still sleeps, awaiting the will of the Divine to awaken them. They are kept here where they are safe until I can properly deliver them to the rest of our kin. They will be an instrument of our desires, shaped by our preferences, and guided by our decree. However, they are also fragile, and require a source to sustain their inner fire.”

Sister, a watercraft resting on the shore might be safe from what the Rattus call the water monsters, but being on land is not what a watercraft is for. Leave it there long enough and the reeds that make it up will rot and decay to the point where even if you did push it into the water, it would just sink.” Aethel countered softly.

The two deities stepped out of the passage and into the vast hall where the Eternal Fire blazed brightly, illuminating the thousands upon thousands of sleeping humans, along with a small area occupied by pillows and large white owl plushies. Placed upon a nearby table is an egg and an orb held in chalices, a sheathed dagger, and the carved branch of the Tree of Harmony. There was little else in terms of activity, aside from a small, childlike effigy of Homura approaching them.

“Welcome to Keltra, your grace. My name is Pride.” The small champion said, as she respectfully bowed to Aethel.

A bow that was quickly and respectfully returned. “My name is Aethel. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Pride. Even if my visitation will be brief.” Aethel responded… before their gaze turned towards the branch that had been carved into a staff. “That’s the branch Tuku stole for sure. I would recognize it anywhere… even if he has altered it.

“Pride, the staff Tuku entrusted to you is not to be removed from this hall, even should he come back and demand it. Inform him that it is confiscated until the matter of its ownership is resolved, and he may speak with me if he takes umbrage with that. That is all.” Homura ordered as she approached her champion and then dismissed her. Pride merely bowed once more, looking between the two deities once before walking towards the area where the pillows and table were.

“Those that sleep are dormant vessels. There remain two hundred and ten thousand, eight hundred and seventy-four in my possession. I offer you up to ninety thousand, if you wish to claim some. I will also deliver them to wherever you like, but that may take some time considering my other obligations at the moment.” Homura said, as she knelt beside one of the sleeping humans. Its pale form lacked any facial features, aside from narrow slits for breathing.

A generous offer Homaru, but one I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline.” was Aethel’s surprising answer. “As I said, I’ve already made a people in the form of the Rattus, while also having some ideas for some caretakers for the ocean of dreams… an environment that I’m afraid that humanity is ill suited to be the template for, if only because they were originally of the material world. They would simply not have the inherent adaptability required in order to properly maintain and move around within a mental realm. But that all being said.. Why don’t you take those nine thousand humans for yourself? After all, why should the other deities get to decide what shape all of your creations take?

“Humanity is my gift. Not something I intended to bestow upon myself lest all of our kin ultimately refused to claim them. I have proven I am not worthy of being considered divine, and so I will only offer my guidance and aid to mortals. Keltra and the Eternal Fire is a shelter for them, not a home. Perhaps that will change in the future, but my current intentions are to set humanity free upon Galbar, to serve our Lord, as we do.” Homura answered, turning her attention back towards Aethel.

Aethel for their part had lifted a fist to their mouth and bit down on some of his fingers in order to stop himself from laughing. They couldn’t help it; Homura had just told them the funniest thing they had ever heard in their existence but they didn’t want to disrespect her when it was clear that she was trying to be serious… even though it just made the situation funnier. Closing their eyes for a moment as they breathed deep to collect themselves enough to talk properly, Aethel opened them again as they removed the fist.

Very well sister. In light of what you just said, I believe I will accept your offering of nine thousand humans so that I can give them a good home with someone who will look after them. A concern I’m sure you’ve had with some of our siblings who have accepted your gift before.” Aethel offered in a calm and respectful tone… before they turned away from Homura towards her tiny champion who was lurking nearby the fire. “Pride my dear, would you come over here for a second?

Pride nodded her head as she spoke. “Yes, your grace.” Then she trekked to where Aethel stood, tossing a single glance towards where Homura stood in silence, before looking up at the God of Magic.

Clearing their throat, Aethel smiled as they offered “It seems to me that it has become a custom for visiting deities to offer you and your sisters a gift… and to fail to live up to that custom would be rude of me. I have recently come into the ownership of nine thousand humans that I don’t have any plans for… so rather then just letting them linger here or twisting them into some brutish form designed to help them impose their will upon other species, I am instead going to offer them to you and your sisters to do with as you wish. Granted, I suspect you would need to ask your mother or some other deity you’re on good terms with in order to alter them in a manner you all desire, but they are yours all the same.

“Hmm… that’s a generous offer, your grace. Permit me a moment to ponder it before accepting, please.” Pride replied, turning to Homura. “Mother, would the Eternal Fire sustain nine thousand humans?” She asked.

The Goddess of Honor began walking towards the burning monument, her back to Aethel and Pride when she answered. “The Eternal Fire can sustain more than a million humans within Keltra, but its range is limited to within the walls. You have also misheard me, I offered ninety thousand humans, brother, but if nine thousand is all you wish to claim, then so be it.”

Aethel blinked slightly… before pausing as they actually thought about the earlier conversation. “Oh, so you’re right. I guess I did mishear. Pride, my gift has been increased to ninety thousand. Might as well ensure that whatever species you and your sisters create has the numbers to withstand the odd misfortune.

“Thank you, your grace. I happily accept your gift. I’ll tell my sisters as well when they return.” The small champion replied, bowing once more. She arose, and smiled at Aethel, exuding innocent joy as her mind seemed to race with all the new possibilities.

“If you wish to awaken them, Pride, you must travel farther on the Sacred Path. I will not awaken them for you.” Homura said, moving to stand behind Pride, and placing her hand on the small champion’s shoulder, but this did not cause the loss of any excitement. “Yes, Mother.” Pride chimed, still smiling.

Nodding their head slightly, the poofy mane swayed from the motion as they answered “Well either way, I look forward to seeing what you and your sisters create. But I believe I should take my leave… your mother did say that her time was short and she had other affairs to take care of and I don’t wish to overstay my welcome.

“I will inform you of when Tuku will stand trial, but you are free to come back and visit again, brother. I hope to one day visit your people, and see what wonders they have created. Until then, farewell.” Homura said, absently stroking Pride’s hair while she spoke.

And I would welcome you and your daughter's dear sister. I’ll try and give you more of a heads up if I intend to visit you in the future.” Aethel offered, combining it with a small bow as they turned to walk towards the exit and depart… before they suddenly stopped and snapped their fingers, as if remembering something. “Oh, I almost forgot! There was one thing I was going to ask you, Homura.

Turning back to look at their sister, Aethel was interested as they asked “Have you encountered your counterpart yet?

“I have. He awaits outside. Have you encountered yours?” Homura inquired after answering.

There was a small blink… before Aethel shook their head. “Sorry, let me explain that better. Have you encountered the deity whose core shard is that of dishonor? After all, the concept of honor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In order for there to be an honorable course of action, there must also be a dishonorable one. Was just curious if the Monarch of All had given that shard form or if it was still directly a part of his being.

“Allow me to repeat myself. Dishonor waits outside.” Homura said, letting go of Pride who looked between the two deities with growing discontent. The small champion silently excused herself, returning to her feathery seat, while Homura simply stood facing Aethel.

For a moment there was silence… before Aethel smiled and answered “Thank you for answering my question. I’ll see myself out and I hope to see you again soon.

“Indeed.”



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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Jiugui

&
[mamang]Mamang.[/mamang]

present

O, to drink like a fish!





XXI


The passage of the great walkers had become familiar, now, to the ancient whale. He greeted them with his song, as he greeted any other old traveller in those cool northern seas, though of course they did not hear. Perhaps, like the circling shorebirds, they could sense the ring that now adorned Mamang’s tail, and laughed with its passage, but the whale heard nothing in their sorcerous song, saw nothing under the sheet of red on which they walked.

There was another sound with which the whale had now become familiar: the groan of rising mountains. It was a sound as soft as a whisper, lower than the deepest voice of the earth. To a whale like Mamang, it was clear as could be, no matter where he wandered. This, now, was the closest he had ever heard it, and he raised his eye cautiously to watch the shore. Was there some shape on the horizon now, where none had ever been? Perhaps. Memories of land were always dim and distant memories. Only the shorelines were fixed in his heart, and the shorelines never changed.

He exhaled and rammed a freshly-created shoal of squid down his gullet.

It was then that a buoy of flesh slapped into the water from above, tossing up a fog of bubbles. A spherical object rolled around sloppily like a half-eaten jellyfish, at the mercy of currents and waves alike. Around it ushered forth an invisible cloud of something woefully smelly.

Filth! Sorcery!

By this time, Mamang was well acquainted with the noxious powers of the ancient ones. Diving quickly into the safe dark waters, he eyeballed the limp-legged thing. Surely a corpse! He had seen many thousands of such limp shapes bobbing in the Sea of Keltra on that fateful night. Some numinous terror had slain this poor land-creature, and all that was left was to warn other whales.

Mamang surfaced just about enough to get the cadaver on his tail, and raised it, briefly lifting the body before it rolled off into the waters once more. Then it sent the warning-signal common to whales and Bjorks alike: a firm, loud tail-slap, crashing down on the surface of the waters, slamming the stinking body deep under the waves.

But the cadaver was far from dead! In fact, once the sonic slap washed it in even more salt, sea and sound, the body stirred to life, rambling something mighty slurred like the voice of a lapping wave. Not even dolphin speech was this incomprehensible - a clam would have made more sense. The ball clapped at the water surface in some crude attempt to swim, but only ended up circling around like a one-finned fish. Around it spilled more of the toxic tea, soiling the seas with sickening smells.

The land-calf was clearly not yet free of its lethal curse. Even a whale could see that it was in need of another cold, sobering wash, or perhaps the sweet, merciful embrace of a swift death. The gigantic tail was not enough.

There was only one thing to be done.

As the floundering goblin gasped for breath, the shadow of the gargantuan whale disappeared into the dark with worrying alacrity. Then, after a moment of quiet, the ocean exploded in a mighty column of spray, and a mountain of whale-meat covered the sun. The last thing Jiugui saw was Mamang’s pleated belly covering the whole of the sky.

C R A S H

Anything unfortunate enough to suffer this sort of cetacean send-off would surely find themself in the Afterlife not too long after. However, the goblin still squirmed, flopping around like a swimming sea anemone. It looked at least, uh, somewhat revitalised, for his movements seemed to indicate the basest of survival instincts - retreat.

The whale stared at the tiny spluttering thing with sense of dumb shock as it recovered. This was witchcraft.

Meanwhile, the little ball unleashed small squeals and groans which travelled through the water with a sort of supernatural dexterity and clarity that only holy creatures could manifest. Like a blown-up, but finless pufferfish, the creature clumsily propelled itself away from Mamang, spitting profanities like a drowning sailor.

Something was clearly not quite right here. Mamang was, of course, too stupid to discern whether it was the body, its pernicious longevity, its stench, or in the whale itself, but something had clearly been fumbled for the worse somewhere in this odorous affair. It circled the body, there in the watery blueness safe from the chill and chop of rough waves above, and let its man-sized eye drift right up to the submerged goblin. And he said:

Mhäm mähm?

The ball stopped and squinted fiendishly at the whale. “You shtohp dat name-callin’! I ain’d no caff!” The goblin snorted out a web of salty snot and washed its mouth with some more of that witchly concoction that oozed around it. “I’mma Jiugui ‘n I wash havin’ a lil’ nap until you decided ta wake me! Who doez dat?”

A what now?

“Jiugui,” repeated the little man. “You zbell id… Achtually, dozzen seem like you can neizher read or wride, on accound of your small eyez ‘n finny limbs.” He nodded sagely while the great wrinkled eye squinted pointedly at him. “Forgib me, pleaze… I’fe been so mush wiff this one group’a ghosts up in the moundains dat I fo’got ozzer creashurs egsisted.” He lifted his cup, which now was full of sea water, and toasted the whale. “Buzz bray dell, wass your name, big sir?”

Mähm-mmäng, sang the whale, a process which took the better part of a minute. It was by no means finished: Mmä-mäam mhäm mähm mähm mahm mmang mämm, mä mmähm-mähm määäm mäng mähm mäm mmahng.

Jiugui nodded understandingly. “A beauziful name, sir. A pleashure. Quite a shtory too, huh - from caff off in the Norf to travelz all aroun’ and explosions ‘n singin’ to endin’ up ‘ere, a sagely ole vederan of the sea…” He shed a tear which floated to the surface before burning off in a puff of alcohol. “Boodiful… Oh, I muss hear more ovvit! Shay, Mammy - you ain’d busy now, righ’? I know dish place a few thousand nautical milesh to the souf - great atmosphere, warm waters. You thirsdy?”

The whale was suddenly struck with the knowledge that, though he was over a century old, he had never had so much of a sip of anything in his life. What’s more, he was surrounded every day of those long years by salt. He was positively swimming in it.

There wasn’t a second to lose. He was thirsty. By God he was thirsty.

Mäm, he explained swiftly as he turned his body away and around. Once again, great haste had become a necessity. Something told him this wayward landling wouldn’t fit down his blowhole with nearly the elegance of the last one, and it would probably be hazardous to try. Within a few short seconds, Mamang was facing Jiugui head on once more, and this time his lips parted to bring the impossibly vast cavern of his dark maw to bear on the squirming god. The god had barely time to react before the whale swallowed him up.

Inside, though, Jiugui made himself comfortable sitting on Mamang’s enormous tongue. He shrugged and said, “I understan’. If you thing dis is de best way of travel, I gan tag along ‘ere.” The water in the whale’s mouth drained by some convenient miracle, and He poured himself a drink in the now-dry baleen hall and took a sip. “Sho is straight souf from ‘ere, I think. Then– WOAH!”

As Mamang dove down, Jiugui spilled some of his wine all over his tongue. Mamang recoiled from the burn of the liquor, and the floor, as it were, rolled like a wave, such that the top of Jiugui’s greasy unwashed hair just about brushed the whale’s palate.The orb of a god tossed screamingly around the massive maw, more wine was spilled, more awkward tongue-rolling was had, and by the time Mamang was familiar enough with the sting to settle his mouth a steady trickle of it was making its way to the whale’s distant throat.

The journey got interesting after that. Sure, Mamang may have made a few illegal migrations and awkward turns, but there was no one under the light of Heaven who would possibly indict the whale for diving under the influence. It’s just so easy to get lost at sea, see, where everything’s better down where it’s wetter, and all the same colour to boot.

They looped around the dancing isles, speeding along merrily at the last minute as the glowing laektears turned from yellow to red and the stone began to rise, then sailed past the convocation grounds of divinity, where Mamang skimmed his fin through the wall of the last-remaining surface of vertical ocean between two mountains. They stopped somewhere in the far west when Mamang realised he was skirting the wrong continent entirely, and wheeled merrily around for a while before turning back, flaunting his bangle to a bewildered Zhongcheng somewhere in the glittering bays of the Ring of Shadows. Their route may as well have been drawn in chalk on a convenient wall by a giggling toddler, and no less entertainment was had. No laws were broken that night, but more than a few were written the next day by an assembly of whales, laektears and godfish, their quarrels momentarily set aside to establish some basic rules of propriety for travelling the high seas.

Then, finally, guided by ingrained navigational memory and a smattering of miracles, they arrived.

XXII


Before them laid exactly nothing - on the surface, that was. It was just about winter time here, so whatever traces of the island paradise Jiugui had talked about laid resting at the bottom of the sea. It wasn’t hard to find, sure - eventually their sloshing search brought them to coordinates roughly fifty metres beneath the surface of where they had initially arrived, whereupon they were greeted by a forest of coral and salt-crusted surface flora. Crustaceans and slugs, bacteria and algae all grew thick on the surface flora, eating what they could before the island’s eventual rise back to the surface. The whale, by now in sore need of a little lay down, settled his great belly in the middle of the island and crushed a good deal of it. Mähm.

Jiugui pushed his way out of Mamang’s mouth and scratched his head ponderously. “Gosh, coulda sworn thish was above the wader when I lash shaw id. Mussa been some bender, huh,” he chuckled to himself and nudged Mamang amicably on the nasal nob. “Le’s see if my secret stores are still ‘ere…” The orb flapped his way into the coral forest, frightening crabs and gulpers alike.

Mamang belched a contented cloud of bubbles from his blowhole, watching placidly as a snub-nosed dolphin berated him in no mild terms for his impudence. He flicked his flipper upwards, tossing a previously well-disguised skate into his interlocutor and sending both the confused islanders spiralling away together. His big sleepy eye rolled once more towards the blob.

The fat man had reached the heart of the forest - an overgrown beach full of rocks, broken eggshells, dead trees and skeletons of whatever was unfortunate enough to not make it off the island before it sank. Jiugui kicked a skull over and dug around in the sand. A curious school of anchovies nibbled on his robes and a broad-shouldered king crab plucked at the stale bones of the now-beheaded skeleton next to him. The violent protestations of a local hagfish went unheeded.

After some time of digging and the interruption of two very intimate sandworms’ delicate privacy, the drunk god fixed his grip on a hatch. He squatted down and flipped it open with godly strength, causing tons of water to rush into the air-tight cellar and causing a cacophony of breaking glass and pots, immediately murdering everything within the one-metre radius as a wash of concentrated alcohol pushing way beyond reasonable percentages oozed up from the cellar entrance like a plume of poison. Nearly all of the anchovies flipped onto their backs from acute alcohol poisoning, and the crab stood still in the ooze for a brief moment before she, too, keeled over. Even Jiugui wafted a hand over his nose and went, “Pee-yew! I reckon da’s the baijiu barrels bursting! Funny whad fifty cubics a’ water does to a wine cellar. Lemme go down ‘n see whad survived…” Jiugui squeezed his way into the cellar entrance and whistled a little tune.

Watching the perhaps-immortal goblinoid waddle down into the pit of noxious death, the whale shrugged his flippers and remembered that, unlike the other mammal in the vicinity, he occasionally needed to breathe. The stars high above were beautiful, if a little unsteady-looking, and it was a few minutes before he came down at last to see whether rotund little buddy had finally carked it. The initial cloud of poison had dispersed to the point where a smug-looking hag was able to escape its shield of slime, alive, if terribly wobbly. Shortly thereafter, the goblin climbed out of the hole again carrying a morbidly obese ceramic pot corked with a trunk-like lid. The drunken man giggled to himself and said, “Heheheh, the honeypot was shpared, my fren! Now lessh see if is all still here!” The goblin swam up towards Mamang with a raunchy chuckle on his lips.

The whale waited, floating, and watched with not a little admiration for the carrying capacity of the blob. For a god with more flounder than swim in him and the distinct look of one who might draw his own bath only to drown in it, the sight of that round artefact had sure filled him with spirit. Little did the cetacean know how much it was about to fill them both with spirit by more direct means. The Spirit of Spirits swam into the gape of the whale and sat the pot upon his tongue with a wet slap. Weighting nothing short of a ton, the pot was so wide that it approximated some kind of great squat toad, or turnip, or drunk goblin god, sitting neatly on the tip of the whale’s gargantuan tongue. Jiugui unlidded the container with a well-placed jumping kick and the ooze of obscenely strong alcohol filled the cavity of Mamang’s mouth. The enormous cork was lost somewhere in the darkness.

...Mäaämh? No sooner was the pot opened than the whale was suddenly none so certain of this game. The night had been fun so far, but a trickle was one thing. He was, after all, an inexperienced drinker. The drunk god seemed oblivious to this and scooped up a keg of the stuff, pouring it down the whale’s gullet with festive glee. “Oh, don’ worry, my friend - is a firsh time for everyone! Ganbeiiiiiii!

Well, they’d already come this far.

Mäang-mäaii~!

The keg’s contents disappeared swiftly down the whale’s gullet, and if it were only half-shot for Mamang, then, by God, it was certainly a strong one. The whale slammed shut his lips and eyes and slapped the water with its tail. Perhaps he had made an error of judgement earlier in the night. There was no doubt that this was sorcery, but, if the joy and love overflowing in Mamang’s heart once again were any indication, it could only be good sorcery. Another? Why, yes please! Another would be most welcome!

Ganbei!

That night, the ocean was a magical place. The moon rose high, and from its brilliant eye drifted down glittering sparkles of magic and light, splashing down into the water all around like shining confetti. Mamang’s tail-band attracted every manner of sea-being to come and enjoy the celebration, and many compliments besides. The drops that were spilled were swallowed down by flashing silver fish, and those that perished were snapped up by sharks and squids and laektears and porpoises, themselves swiftly intoxicated. They sloshed and slonked and rolled about together in the waters for hours in the shadow of the whale. The nautilus drank so deeply that the octopus rightly suspected that he would never swim straight again. A big dancerfish oozed a lava-lamp glow of reds and pinks that crawled slowly over her boozed-out body, a field of incapacitated firefly-squid pulsing dumb messages to each other as if the sunken island were itself a curtain of stars.

Then Mamang lifted its mighty head from the water and made to quiet the commotion of light and sea-noise. His brain rolled in booze like a raft in a storm, and the lightning-flash of drunk inspiration had struck. It was time for a poem!

Mamm mhä maäm mng mähm mmang mam-moom,
Moom mäng mhä mammam maang män-mmäai
Mämmmäa mah mma määä mng mhäm-oong,
Mamm mhä manng mng-mam mhäi.


The crabs wept and clicked their pincers. The dolphins slapped their tails and hurled themselves for the water, chittering for encore. The octopus crunched one of the crabs in its beak and wiped a string of briney mucous from its siphon. Even the hagfish swayed with pleasure. Tragically, however, the entire host was so well pissed up at this point that any hopes of translating this magnificent verse have been thoroughly lost to maritime history.

It was well that the evening should end on that high (well, technically, very low; Mamang was a baritone, even by whale standards) note. The sky grew brighter as the booze grew sloppier, and the whale’s tilting vision gave way to whirling fits of nausea. Up and down ceased to make sense, and were his capacious lungs any less suited to the task of gasping in swiftly his chance encounters with air, he surely would have drowned. The island seemed to grow further and further every time Mamang tried to swim back towards it. Flashes of fire began to streak across the sunken stone: the mouthless godfish had waited patiently, but now it was their turn to clean up all who had perished in the orgy of godlike excess, and slaughter the weak; the feast at last was theirs.

The island was lost altogether. The world spun. The tides of dream washed Mamang away into a swirling bubble, buried far in its black and baleful depths. His burned tongue tasted only moon-dust and spirits. His trembling eye swung left and right, fearing things he could not know, and glossy black whale-lice multiplied on his face, chewing into his skin. A shrill cry rose up from an unknown reef, as if some rooted jellyfish was weeping from its bell. Shadows of whales swept over him, and the shadows did not sing…

The dream dried up like foam on the sand, and Mamang was alone under the bright ocean sun.




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Hidden 8 mos ago 8 mos ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Heavy were the fins of the whale that crossed those cold northern seas. Heavy were its lungs that had breathed of many skies. Thin had grown its wrinkled eyes.

Mamang was old.

Long over was the age of whales now. Cows calved, bulls sang, and dancing lights ripped them apart in the night. The hound of Heaven had its fill. The sea was ever filled with them, as ever it would be as long as the cows swam south to calve, and every year the weaned grew smaller. Their kind had supped on the gifts of the Life Mother, though those gifts were small as their nature decreed, and their race were titans. Now her bounty revealed its hidden price: all things have their balance. Even the giants.

Even Mamang.

He knew what was coming. Only one clan had defied the crushing grip of Nature so, their ancient size preserved where others of their race shrank away. They were lords of the sea, unmatched in cunning and supreme in violence. No armoured scales could resist them, nor would they ever forget the secret of immortality. When Mamang had feasted on godfish, they had bolstered him, for a time. They had gorged. They were gorging still.

They were the god-orcas, and their song was the wolf-whine of death.

The alliance was forty strong, and bulls were with them also. Three matriarchs led the slayers into position, holding their voices quiet as they spun their wide net around him. Mamang did not need to roll his unbroken ear around to know that he was at the center. The fever had sharpened his sight, and he saw through clear water the black and the white, the two colours together that every whale feared.

Mamang's ancient heart began to hammer as he gained speed. He had seen it all happen before. It always began this way. First they marshalled. Then, the chase.

The elder whale accelerated. His body was an arrow, his heart a furnace, his banded tail a great wing. He flew through the waters, and his gargantuan body was no impediment, an engine of muscle that propelled him with terrible speed, speed enough to swallow whole schools of squid before they could scatter, speed to throw himself up high among the birds. He could not slow. He could not tire. To tire was death.

The matriarchs purred, and the god-orcas drew nearer. Divine power had seized them. Their song chittered with bloodlust. They would never give in: the Love Dance called them on, to slaughter, to glory.

The horror of death was the horror of utter helplessness. Mamang could do nothing to defend himself. When he finally tired, then the thrashing would begin, the desperate flailing sweeps of a tail that could propel him away no longer. An orca that fell in the path of that titanic wing could see its jaw crushed against its skull, or the wrist of its fin shattered in an instant. Sometimes a young bull would be maimed that way. The matriarchs never were. They led their slayers well.

Mamang's tail burned and he blasted air at the surface, breathing heavily, never slowing. His plume was the only one. The god-orcas never breathed.

After the thrashing, the drowning. Their net would close. They would be around him, on top of him. They would cover his nostrils. They would bleed him. They would shred his fins with their teeth until blue became red. They would circle in and out of the carnage as they tired, leaving the victim no respite. They would ram him as they entered the fray, until his pale-patterned skin was black with bruises. All the while, he would try to breathe.

They did not need to kill him. Once he could swim no further, they would feed.

Mamang flew on in the waters, surrounded, hunted, cornered, utterly alone.

Memories of his mother flickered unbidden in the whale's terror-soaked brain. No mother could help him now. Memories of swiftness. Memories of death. The chasm of air. The taste of poison. Zhongcheng's claw. Memories of corpse-blood fouling the ocean with its smell. Memories of the voice that had whispered at the chasm of death. Memories of other voices.

Kn... ...t... ...ef... ...nc... ...s... ...ed.


Memories flashed in his roiling brain like storm-lightning. His tail heaved. Mamang swam. He swam. He flew. He breathed. The sun burned his back. The god-orcas would never falter.

The chase went on, and on, and on. Exhaustion crept on the whale.

And yet it did not end.

Memory after memory burned in Mamang's eyes, and he did not slow. He tired and did not slow. He tired, and did not slow.

Memories burned before him. Memories of blue. Memories of speed. The memories were all around him. The memories were blue. The blue was speed.

Mamang's heart began to calm. He let his tailbeats lighten, then cease altogether. He glided, faster, faster. The blue wrapped itself around him like a pod of his cows, carrying him on. He was soaked in it. It was his.

He would not die today. He was beyond the orcas- beyond what he had been before his hundred memories. Mamang was not a calf. He was the bull, the ancient, wandering bull, lord among whales. The god-orcas would scatter before him. They would fear him. They would fear him like fish- because he could hurt them like fish.

Mamang's broken ear pounded with blood.

Memories of hurt flared within him.

I̸̛͎̟̠̦̙̝̣͎̼͎̮͍̩͕̤̲̤̫͔̥͍̊̔̾͗̾̑̐̏̑͑̒̈́̄̂̍͗́̀̑̈́͜͝ͅ ̶̨̨̡̨̛̝̼͎̱̪̲͓̥̲̩̦̘̫̖̩̬̳͙̮̽̓̈́̅̀̅̌̎͌̉͘͜s̷̤̤̻̦͕̟̫̺̳͈̠̗̼̥̞̒͜ḧ̸̖͕̥̪̳̪̬̝̀͆̕a̴͎̝̜̬͙̲̠͎͖̬̜̮̜̓̅l̶͇͙̙̫͍͈̩̺̼̻̈́̈́̾̿̃̊͛̃̎̾̍͑͑̽͆̾͘̕͝l̸̡̨̨̧̦̬̞̺̲̭͕̬̻͍̠͌̆̀́̓͊ ̸̨̢̖̥͈̙̥̠̩̙̠̹̦̈͛̓͛̃̒̀͋̍̑̚͘̚͜͝d̴͈̫̙̥̖̱̍͆̈́̓̄̈́̀̀̾̈́̿̕̚͠ͅͅî̷̡̢̬͔͙͓̲͓̭̲̥͓̟͉̥̥̹̼̣̯̜̦͗̇̽̓̃̄͂̏̇̈́̐̍́̓̈́͒̕̚͠͝͝v̸̡̧͖̥͎̭̜̲͔͈̻͉̰̓̉̓̓͋̓̆͆̇͊̑̈́̾̓̎̾͜ͅo̸̧͂̊͋̏̅̌̋̀͂͆̒̋̈̋̾̉̈̀͒̆͋͝ŕ̷̨̫̼̫̺̤̻̩̦͎͈͇̇͂͌̉͊̌̉̂͐̓c̴̖̍̉͛̋͗̓̅̈̌̽̔̿̈́̊̄ͅę̵͇̯̖̰͆̐̓͒̽͂͂͑͝ ̶̨̦̞̣͚̬̙̺͍̘̗͎̙̅͑̍͑̽̿͊̐̆͗͒̄̿̾́͒͘̕̚͠m̵̖̫̤͐̈́̓̆̒̊͛͊̃̓̔̂̎̈́ͅy̶̡̛̰̿̀͝ ̷̢̨̟̦̜̺̤̣̮͔͉͈̜̟̣̟͎̰͇̹̩͇̯̿̅̑̎̔́̐̋̒͒͆̄̕͝͠t̶̺͔̟͈̖̝̗͔͖̣͉̖̺̮̺̠͙̫͍̰̜͒̒́͋͑͂̔̀̏̾̔ỏ̴̢̡̹̬̰̱̮̻̫͌̈̄͛͗̉̓̐̚͘ͅṳ̷̾̍͌c̴̛͚͇̱̯̟͍̬̹̺͎̪̻͓͎̩̋̀͗̈́͘̕͝ḫ̸̨̹͔̺̺̥͇̻̤̭̔̀̂̀̈́̊̄̔̋͒͠ͅ ̵̧̧̤̟͙̪̦̯͍̣̳͉̪͍̜͐̅͌̿͜͠f̸̱͚̪̥͕͋͋͋̔̓̂̉̽̋͌̏͐̽́̚̕͠͠͝r̷̛̬̙̦̹̲͍̱̜̮̤̙͓̃̑͊̂͂͊̒́̅̐̌̐̃̽̈͆͌̚̕ờ̶̦͙̬̌̅͑̑͗́̓̊͆͝͝͠m̵̡̪̹̊̌͋͒͆͐̇́̓̍̅͠ ̶̟̻͆̈͋̎t̴̢̢̡̛̫̲̬̫̙̯̻͕̠̓̄̒͐̚ḩ̸̨͈͔̙̜͕͈̜̳̮̝͕̖̗̖̼̘͙͚̻͖̻͋̈́̾̋̚̕ͅȩ̵̨̛̤̤̖̩͔͓̯͚̰̼͇̖̬͎͔̱ ̶̧̛̫͙͍͖̳͓͍̥̪͎̞͖̭͔̳̦̤̹͍͌͆͑́͐́̄̋́̈̈́̅̾̍̈̑̔̈̍́̈̓͝G̵̯͉͚̯̞̤̭̟̬̳͚͖̻̜͚̗̹̾͑̇̈́͋̀́̈́͠͠͝ǎ̵̰̘̤̥̭̝͓͉̠̋͗́͊́̐̿̈͋̈́̾̿͛͗̉̕͝ḽ̷̢̨̧̧̬̯͚͕̰̻͔̥̤̼̩̜̲̞̻̜͂̎̑̄̄́̊͐̋͊͌̀̂̉͘͝͝ͅb̸̨̧̺̯̗͈̗͖͕͕̠̔͛͗̈́͋͒̄̈́̾͂̐̾͜͜͝͠a̸̧̛̩͎̺̘̜̩̖̜̻̫͈͎̺͎̲͇̦͈̖̽̈́̌͌͆̈́́͋͆̿̕͘r̵̢̻͙̟̱͖̬̥̱̩̣̈́̒̈̌̓̒̽̒̈́̓͐̓̆̅͊̕ͅ'̷̼̠̺͍̬̿́͐͆́̂̔́̓̓̄̓̽͑̓̆̅̾̚̚̚͝ş̸͈̯͎͎̬̗̬͙͙̱͓̗͖̞̺̗̗̦͛͜͝͠ͅ ̸͙̟́̑͑̄̍͌̌̂̊͆̋̀̉̉̚͝ṣ̷̛̙̗͔͚͓̑́̉̎̔̔̈́͆͌͋̐̎͝͝ͅų̸̨̥̞̪̯̪̯̖͎̙̣̬̬͓͓̰̪͚̹͈͒͑͌͑̿̂̌̉̏͝͝ŗ̸͔̬̬͎̱͍̳͎̜̙̙̭̈́͗͗̂̇́̄͌̍̉̅͑́̂f̸̡̨̗̤̙̀̋̉̏͐̾̽̋͂̎̈́͛̂͒̍̀͑̏̊̕̚̚͝ͅä̵̖̻̱̦̲̙͎͎̖̙̙̩̭̯̟́̐c̴̱͍̠̠̿̊̏͊̚̕͜ͅę̶͓͙̼͕͕̜̮̠͂͋͝͠.̸̡̨͎̯̻͓̜͎̥̜͔̏̓͗́̐̎̒͒̑


Blue memories.

Mamang breathed, casting into the air a high spout of steam. He allowed himself to slow. The god-orcas would never cease to hunt him, not while he still wore the band that was his shackle. He let them approach. He let his head sink below the surface. He raised his tail above the glittering blue.

He swung it down.

C r a c k.

XXIV


Mamang left the god-orcas with neither haste nor patience. Rolling and whining in the waters, eyes bloodied, they called to one another with seized and deafened voices. He did not stop to listen.

They may as well have been fish to him.

It was the season for whales to travel north. Mamang journeyed south. His song was sparing. He could hear it now, in that song: the ancient ocean he called towards him with melody, its soul wrapped around him, its unrelenting, endless blue. He had heard it before. He had always heard it. It had ever been a part of him, growing stronger and stronger. The Laektear-Mother had shown him what he had always known. Now, he understood.

Others could not hear it. He was not like them. He was barely even a whale.

Continents sailed past him. The whole world was nothing but a bay. He knew every rock. Mamang travelled south, and the journey of months was nothing to him. The stench of the curse grew closer and closer.

Mamang inclined himself towards it, and he moaned his song of death. Against that song, there was no equal. It was as if the curse made no noise at all.

He left that thing in pieces.

XXV


At the end of his journey, Mamang finally slowed. The water was blue around him. It had other colours, too. Green. Black. White. Colours for which there were no name.

The ocean burned. It shone, it cracked. Mamang watched it churn in restless chaos. He could hear them, now: whales, giant whales, like the lonesome giants that had once crossed the north. Or perhaps only their ghosts. The echoes of their song.

Whatever they were now, they were whales no longer. Somehow they had followed the godfish here when they had first spawned, and were feeding on them still, as godfish fed on the mana. The colours had soaked into them, and their undying voices were laced with light. They were nowhere to be found.

He could not stay here. He was not like them. He had only one colour- the natural colour, the ocean song, the blue. Perhaps the laektear-mother had that colour too. In time, the god-orcas would claim it as well, and then there would be no escape from the curse of the Band.

For a while Mamang drifted, feeling colour fade to colour fade to colour on his skin.

After all, he was only a whale.




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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone

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The Forest Beyond


Andromeda

&

Nimueh





PLOP!

And another.

SPLOOSH!

Andromeda cast stone after stone into the river with one hand, her ewer never leaving the other. None of these rocks were flat or good for skipping; it seemed that in their zeal to gather anything pretty that could be woven into clothes, the swarms of yareners had plucked up not just the shells but also most of the smoothed little riverstones.

The encounter with Masol’s two lackeys still had Andromeda upset.

There was little to be done about it. Even while she sat there brooding by the riverside, zenii trickled by all day to try speaking with her. The sudden fame and attention of so many strangers had been nice (or at least interesting; she’d always been shy) at first, and the cajoling of her newfound sycophants that much moreso, but now she just wished that her celebrity status could go away and that she could return to being just another zena. Alas, that was never going to happen, not after she’d been declared the Watcher’s chosen one, and given this murderous ewer, and summoned by the Lady herself, and given the Lady’s own dress…

There was a way to get some peace, she finally realized. She’d be able to find it in the forest all around the valley, with those great foreboding trees and the gloom of their shadows. Masol had of course forbidden anybody from wandering alone out there like this, but his word didn’t seem to mean much at the moment, and Andromeda especially was not so fond of him after his goons had tried to intimidate her into visiting his blackstone. Others had gone missing, and rumors were that the skin-changing ‘witch’ Nimueh lurked out there and had murdered somebody, but Andromeda wasn’t afraid.

Something had driven away her fear: maybe it was the Lady’s robes that gave her courage and reckless abandon, or maybe it was all the adulation of the other zenii, or being told that she was the Chosen One of the Watcher, or knowing about the ewer’s terrible power. But whatever it was, it eventually overcame her. When night fell and the Watcher’s pale moon rose into the sky, and beads of strange liquid light began condensing once again within her ewer, a restless Andromeda finally ventured toward the wood.

Some of her flock were still awake, and she didn’t hide her passage from them. When asked, she told them that she was going into the woods to find some quiet and peace, or to find Nimueh – whichever came first. Maybe even both. Some had valiantly offered to accompany her, some had tried to dissuade her, and some had just grown quiet and pale. She brushed them all aside and ventured out into the forest alone.

Moonlight wasn’t enough to see by beneath the shadows of the countless branches overhead, but the Moonstone Ewer emanated enough of a glow for her to get by… and by some supernatural sense, she just innately knew where to step, it seemed. No roots or pits in the ground made her trip or stumble, even as she ventured deeper and deeper into the dense wood.

At first a wolf howled as she stepped deeper into the woods. As if it warned its kin. Eyes began to watch her from the dark. Things were moving in the bushes. Nightly aerial predators took off from the branches. The forest started to buzz with life. Until suddenly an owl hooted loudly from a branch somewhere deeper into the forest still. Things skittered away and the wolves went silent. As quickly as it had come, the sense of activity died down again. Leaving Andromeda completely alone in the forest. Well, not completely alone. One pair of glowing eyes watched her from a branch deeper into the forest.

Andromeda paid the eyes little heed, eerie as they were, for the ewer’s light seemed to stave them off. But as she saw the spectral light reflected in a new set of pale orbs, ones that didn’t examine her for a moment and then just scurry away, she remembered that they’d said Nimueh could change forms. Why had she been expecting to see some feral zena out here?

“Are you Nimueh?” she asked the darkness and its eyes.

Before Andromeda’s eyes the owl transformed into Nimueh sitting on the branch. “What do you want with me?” She looked tense and ready to jump. She moved her hand as if she was lazily spinning some ethereal strands. With the other hand she kept her balance on the branch. Her eyes were going over Andromeda but then focused on the ewer she had brought with her.

“Uh,” Andromeda thought out loud. Feelings had guided her out here moreso than logic, and now it was hard to even explain what she wanted. “I came out here where it’s quiet, to get some rest from all the others. But I was hoping I might see you too, so that I could hear your story. My name’s Andromeda, and I was just a yarener, but then the Lady gave me her dress and also this thing” she rambled on, holding the shining jug out just a bit for emphasis, “on behalf of some other goddess called the Watcher, who lives on the moon. I’m supposed to be the Watcher’s chosen one and to build some sort of congregation, but I haven’t ever even seen the Watcher and, like, it’s all very confusing and fast. I don’t know what I should do!”

She huffed, and then blushed, suddenly aware of the awkwardness of spilling out her life’s story. “But the Lady’s tale about the Watcher seems to have made Masol’s tales all seem like lies, so now everyone’s upset at him. And I think he might blame me for that, because he sent some of his goons to try and drag me away. I’m fine of course, but it had me wondering about what else he might have, uh, possibly… made up?”

“You met the Lady!?” Nimueh exclaimed as she jumped up to stand on top of the branch. There was a split second where it looked as if she wanted to run but something kept her. For a moment she shook her head and gave Andromeda a weak smile. “Did no one tell you that the forests aren’t safe anymore?” In a split second she transformed into an owl and flew down from the tree. Once on the ground she transformed back. “They really aren’t.” She continued as she approached Andromeda. “Even now like a hundred animals want to claw at your flesh. Don’t worry! I’m keeping them away. I’ve been keeping them away from so many zenii so far.” Nimueh stepped just close enough to Andromeda that the shine from the ewer illuminated her quite well now and she looked beyond exhausted. Massive bags had formed under her eyes but she kept on smiling as best as she could.

“You mind if I sit? I really want to sit.” Nimueh said and even as she asked and received a nod in answer, she bent her knees and sat down. Then she motioned for Andromeda to do the same. “You wanted to hear my side of the story right? It’s not that much different than the tale they tell back at the blackstones.” And then she told her story. About how she learned about the Beast Queen, about that fateful night when she killed a zene, about her encounter with the Beast Queen in her dream. She told Andromeda everything.

And when she finished she kept looking at the ewer. “So… what else has the Lady said when she visited you?”

“Well, it all happened so fast. It felt like the Lady told me so much, but thinking back, it feels like I’ve almost told you everything already. She liked the yarene that I’d woven for myself, with some shells in it,” Andromeda explained, blushing a little bit at even that modest self-praise. “That was why we traded clothes… oh, and she seemed to be in a rush, and she left saying that she was being called away for something else.

“And I believe you, about the Beast Queen and about the animals. How could I not? It seems like the Beast Queen chose you just like the Watcher chose me. I saw the animals watching me, but I didn’t realize that you were holding them at bay – I thought it was my dress, or this Ewer, or the Watcher, or something… but thanks for that. I…I could have defended myself. I know that this thing in my hands can kill, and I almost used it when Masol’s friends tried to steal it and drag me away, but… I really don’t want to.”

Nimueh let out a sigh of relief when she heard that Zenia was gone again already. It looked as if a physical weight dropped from her shoulders though she still looked very drained, and of course she was naked – something that only added to her feral and disheveled aura. Then she looked with pure admiration at Andromeda. “You’re so lucky to have met her like that. The yarene you made must’ve looked so pretty.” She noted almost absent mindedly but then her eyes began to slowly fall back at the ewer beside Andromeda. There was absolutely no doubt in Nimueh’s voice about the claim that Andromeda met the Lady. How could she be in doubt when she evidently wore the goddess’ own dress?

“Thank you for believing me about the Beast Queen, by the way. I think you’re the first one to do so. Which is stupid. The foresters, they should know that there are other things in the woods than themselves. It’s like they never felt the spying eyes of a specked bark sparrow on the back of their heads.” Nimueh stopped herself and took a deep breath to clearly calm herself. “I’m sorry. Just – you’re the first zenii I get to talk to in just a very long time.” She pulled her knees to her chest. “You’re smart to not have killed anyone.” Nimueh’s tone became a bit melancholic. “But what are you going to do now? I don’t think Masol’s going to just let all of this happen. He’s very dangerous.”

Andromeda offered a smile back, hoping it would help to calm Nimueh… the wild outcast had offhandedly mentioned a strange bird that no other zenii spoke of, and moreover, even her demeanor was erratic and strange. Being alone out here seemed to have taken a toll of some sort, and truthfully Andromeda was beginning to feel sorry for her.

She mulled over the question for a while before saying anything. “I’m safe enough from Masol; there’s a lot of people who like me, and I think he’s losing his grasp over his own crowd. And of course you’re safe. He can’t find you out here, and even if he did, you could just turn into a bird and fly away again. Or you could unleash all these beasts on him.

“As for what comes next, I’m not sure. The Watcher might try to finally speak with me – it’s frustrating; I think I’ve felt her presence before, but she’s never used words, she just shoves thoughts and pictures into my head. But, perhaps I can at least help you. Those that didn’t listen to your voice and warnings about the Beast Queen might heed them if I repeat the same. Of course, I don’t think all of them will ever listen. Some foresters will laugh and bring baskets out here no matter what you or I try to say.”

“They’re already laughing and doing that.” Nimueh said before she released an exasperated sigh. “If only a few would listen I’d be so grateful. I might get some rest then. Thanks for wanting to try at the very least.” Her eyes shifted towards the ewer. “As for this Watcher, this is going to sound stupid but have you like tried to pray to them and ask for some guidance? I did it once, to the goddess of magic. They actually answered. Though they prefer the name ‘Keeper’. Still, they taught me about magic, in a way.” She waved a bit with her fingers near the grass next to her. They lit up as a lazy wave of green energy traveled around them and then disappeared again.

The sparkling mana coursing through that tuft of grass transfixed Andromeda. It was beautiful, and gentler than whatever power animated the ewer’s water, whatever power had twisted grass into those jagged jewels. “Of course I looked up at the moon and tried to pray, to just ask what to do really, but the Watcher never seems to answer in words. I know that she sees me because the Lady says that she chose me, and because those strange compulsions that she, uh, pushes onto me can’t be explained by anything else that I can think of. But the Watcher already, like, watches me. Watches us, probably…”

The zena’s words trailed off rather abruptly, as though she’d still wanted to say something else. Her lips quivered, her arm trembled, and for a moment her eyes were suddenly alight with the flames of madness. After a short and intense (but ultimately unwinnable) battle of wills, a compulsion overwhelmed her and her arm spasmed just enough to shake a splash of water-that-wasn’t-water out of the ewer. A gasp and a scream left Andromeda’s mouth even as the beads of glowing liquid seemed to soar and fall in slow motion… everything seemed to move so slowly. The expelled fluid gracefully seemed to arc away from Nimueh and Andromeda both; it fell squarely atop the grass that had been animated by Nimueh’s magic, and the last tiny spark of green energy was smothered and extinguished. Nimueh tried to dash back when the liquid went flying but she fell over her own feet and ended up lying stretched out over the ground. When she looked back she noticed the mirror forming on the ground.

The grass didn’t burn and turn to diamonds, not like last time. Instead it flattened itself to the ground, making way, as the liquid thinned out into a puddle larger than it ought to have been able to produce; the tiniest film of liquid covered a patch of the ground with a near translucent sheen. Strange shapes reflected in the beads mirrorlike fluid; it wasn’t the grass below it that their eyes were Seeing. Images of unknowable things that must had been demons and gods flashed by; there was the Lady, there was a dancing woman with a face painted in joy and in sorrow and a stump of an arm that oozed red sap, a horse with tentacles, an obsidian horsefly, and others. The last was just the empty moon’s reflection, but of course closer examination revealed that this wasn’t the moon’s reflection (that pale orb was obscured by the canopy above) and neither was this empty… a glowing eye was set into the socket of its greatest crater, and the countless chasms and fractures scarring the moon was magnified in size such that they resembled vast, branching veins of black blood. The Eye was terrifying, or beautiful, or some combination of the two. But then the Eye blinked, and they Saw Masol for a moment by his blackstone.

“What in the name of the forest!” Nimueh exclaimed with wide eyes as the visions on the surface flashed one by one. The zena couldn’t make sense of it. But there was something strange about the mirrorliquid itself. Out of pure instinct she suddenly transformed into a rat.

And then it all made sense. It was blue. The mirror was turning the mana around it blue. Not some mixture between blue and green either. The hue of all the mana it touched changed irrevocably and completely into blue.

Andromeda still knew nothing of mana, of course, and Saw only what visions the Prescient One conjured for them. Her own gaze had been bonded to the magical mirror and its visions, so when she finally turned her head for just a moment she was startled to see Nimueh gone; she didn’t even notice the little rat in the shadows.

“What do you want from me?!” she shrieked into the ewer and the puddle and the night and at the moon, but there was no answer. The likeness of Masol reflected in the puddle was plotting, and talking specifically about her, and it felt as though the wind carried the zene’s words into their ears, but the sounds were distorted and not so easily discerned. Soon enough the puddle evaporated into that same breeze and then there was just the rustling of leaves.

Nimueh shifted back into her zena shape and carefully put a hand on Andromeda’s shoulder. “I think they’re trying to warn you, Andromeda.” She carefully said. “Listen to me. You shouldn’t underestimate Masol and you shouldn’t be angry with the Watcher. Both are very dangerous. You told me you needed to gather a congregation. So you should do that, and quickly. And then you should run. Masol… I have a weird feeling that he’s the kind that won’t let things crumble beneath him. No, he’s like a wounded animal now. He’ll lash out against anything that threatens him. Maybe you can hold him off for a little while but he’ll keep trying. You should do as I did. After you’ve gathered your congregation you should run.”

A bird cried out in the distance. Nimueh jumped up and looked up. Her eyes were closed. “Something is moving. You have to get out of the forest. Now.” Nimueh said with a very strong sense of urgency. Though her anxiousness was clearly directed towards another part of the forest.

“Okay,” she breathed. It was a lot to take in, but she gathered herself and started a brisk walk away, beams of moonlight revealing the way back. She turned back to look over her shoulder, a moment later. “Goodbye, Nimueh.”

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

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𝒞ath elainea & Homura
A Collab by @yoshua171 and @Chris488
From the Plains she’d set out on foot, heading to the north along the coast. Placid and calm as the sea to the east, Melainea adored the world around her. Such variety and so many things to hear and see and smell.

It was a paradise of experience.

Almost.

There was one fatal flaw. It did not brim overfull with life, with activity unending. Everywhere she looked she laid her violet gaze upon new sights, heard new sounds, and felt new things. Yet, there was little else to feel in kind. Few with which to share this place.

Yet she knew these lands were far from empty.

Still, such meager numbers were not enough.

They were but a pittance, no better than infertile silt between her fingers. A scowl crossed her visage then, her eyes narrowing, brow furrowing deeply in contempt. She stretched out her senses, but it was a new thing, and so as her awareness pressed out into the world, so too did her form destabilize and change.

So the feminine facsimile that had been her guise wavered like purple smoke troubled by an unseen hand. The haze wove and shifted, then expanded in a wave. Faint shimmering flames shattered the night in that moment, cutting through it in scintillating bolts like lightning in all directions.

A flash of heat, of feeling, of sight, and knowing. Then nothing. That violet light across all of Galbar’s skies was there no more, and once more upon the cliff face a goddess stood.

“Northward a titan lies.” From an expressionless face rose a wide and terrible grin. It was there but a moment before only thoughtfulness remained.

“I will meet her, favored of my father. My Sister.”

She tilted her head, tasting the wind, letting it fill her until she burst once more into an indigo flame and flew across the sky. Traveling outwards towards the sea, Melainea flew, her form a winged bolt of lightning coiling north and west across the waves.



Dawn’s gentle hues broke the horizon as the goddess arrived. Pink and red and orange colored the clouds in a beauteous symphony, its like interrupted only by the tremendous eruption of flame as the amaranthine bolt struck the earth just short of Keltra.

The fire coiled and swam upwards towards the heavens, hungrily eating air. Yet the crimson wall remained unaffected by its touch, as if uncaring of its existence. Curious, enraged, the flame drilled downwards at the great edifice’s upper walkways, intent upon destruction.

It mattered not. Unyielding, the Red remained for even as the deity crashed upon its surface it found no purchase, instead coiling inwards upon itself. Slowly the otherworldly flame pulled inwards, and its light dimmed such that the sun was once more the reigning champion in the sky.

What remained was an intrigued woman, horned and garbed in flowing cloth and essence, her head adorned with feathers and even vines. Yet, where her torso would have been, was instead a shining tear within the world. A burning lavender abyss to which the flames were slowly pulled.

“How stubborn,” she murmured quizzically as she admired the stone beneath her feet. Perhaps this was of her sister’s design….

Was it a coincidence that such thoughts brought the Goddess of Honor to her, or was her sister compelled to answer the arrival of Cath Melainea in Keltra? Homura walked along the barren path atop the red wall towards her visitor, wielding a golden spear that shone with celestial light in one hand. Her graceful stride brought her before the horned woman, and she greeted her with a respectful bow. “I am Homura. I have no intentions of harming you, unless you seek to harm me.”

Turning her gaze upon the very presence she had come to experience, Melainea tilted her head, a small smile playing across her lips as the remainder of her flames sealed themselves within the crucible of her chest, which faded in turn. What remained was her faintly luminescent figure, gently burning against the black.

“Harm?” She queried, her eyes moving upwards to the heavens, basking in the vastness of the sky. As she considered the concept, licks of flame pressed outwards from her feet like faint sparks of lightning. Though her power could not directly intrude on the psyche of other gods, Homura might still sense the potency of emotion held within each spark.

Rage, distilled, mirth driven to destructive heights, contentment so deep that sloth set in.

The sparks ceased and the violet-eyed goddess met her sister’s gaze. “I suppose I have no such intention.” Unsaid were the words ‘for now’.

Stepping towards her sister, the Monarch’s Crucible glided across the surface of the wall. “I am Cath Melainea,” she said, her words too quick, as if she were compelled to reciprocate the greeting. She paused in her approach, wondering at the nature of her sister.

“I am our Father’s Crucible. Emotion distilled and pure and potent. I am the tempering flame of experience. What might thy Aspect be, sister?” Though her words could not tempt, nor sway Homura, it seemed that they still had an insidious affect. Twas as if they slithered into the mind, touching upon emotions, seeking to kindle them, to coax them into flames, or perhaps to snuff them out…leaving only ash.

“My Aspect is Honor, and I act as our Lord’s Highest Judge and His Emissary. Welcome to Keltra, sister.” Homura replied, and another fire burned fiercely within her, a blinding blaze which seared those that trespassed inside her mind. Seven burning serpents hissed and coiled, interweaving and dancing in the divine fire that enveloped them. The song they sang with their graceful bodies and forked tongues drowned the attempts to manipulate the inner fire, the mind, the emotions of the red goddess.

“I apologize, but I have little time before I must depart. I would ask that you cease attacking the wall.” Homura continued, her monotone voice and impassive expression proved only a poor attempt to hide the fire of her feelings behind the mask, as the truth of emotions could not be concealed from Cath Melainea.

“The wall is of little interest,” the Crucible replied, taking another step closer, not noticing in the least as Homura rebuffed her psychic intrusion. “You however intrigue me…and there is something else.”

She paused, breathing in as she came within mere feet of her sister. The scent of clay and flesh, of soul and mind. Slumbering emotion. Dormant and unkindled, untouched yet by the world.

Melainea’s gaze wandered inwards, falling upon the colossal shapes of three titans. In their forms were nested many sparks. Violet eyes flashed and for an instant her form flickered between mortal and divine.

“Life.”

She turned away, looking to the sparks, her sister left behind, but not forgotten.

“Where is it that you’ll go?” she asked of Honor. “What transpires within these lands…that might be more precious than these children?” Only then did she turn her gaze once more upon Homura. Curiosity, awe, and love were in that look. Yet the last was joined by a great ferocious anger, like a mother bear, protective of its cubs.

“My presence has been requested by both Iqelis, God of Doom, and Ea Nebel, Goddess of the Grave, to attend the trials of the latter imposed upon her by our Lord. It is duty that calls me away, however, the ninety thousand sleeping vessels within those three machines are unclaimed. They are my gift to the Divine, and so they are my gift to you, sister. You may take the colossi, and those that slumber within, if you desire.” Homura said, gesturing to the titanic trio standing in the red sea, before she began walking once more, traveling along the length of the wall’s walkway.

“Humanity is our instrument, our will made manifest, shaped by our desires and guidance. Your presence can awaken them, and define them, their design intended to adapt to the purpose we give them. Do you accept my gift, sister?” The red goddess asked.

With quiet intensity, she held Homura’s gaze, considering her words. Dawn stretched further into the sky as she pondered Honor’s offer, and what had come before it. After a time, Melainea glanced to the glowing spear and smiled before kneeling to touch the surface of the wall beneath them. Gently, she drew a finger across the stone. A faint red dust came off and her eyes shimmered with pleasure. Rising once more to her feet, Melainea met her sister’s eyes.

Dimly at first, the dust gained a crimson glow, before rapidly growing so bright as to be blinding. Violet flames snapped upwards from her fingertips, shrouding the residue, imbuing it. She drew a ring within the air, and the dust lingered therein. Slowly, it coalesced into a burning crimson circlet. It had a dull sheen to it, as if rainbows had been writ across its surface.

Hovering a moment, it soon fell into Melainea’s palm. “I accept,” she purred as she stretched her hand towards her sister, offering a gift. “In exchange, accept this token for a time. I wish to know of this trial, but I cannot go myself. The circlet will have to do instead.”

Should one look upon the dimly burning ring, they note that it was gossamer thin, as if crafted from as little material as possible. Yet, it seemed unyielding in a way, as if would simply bend rather than break. Further, it appeared to possess endless depth and upon further observation it was more a tear in the world than any solid thing. Nonetheless, it could easily be handled.

“So be it.” Homura held out her open hand to receive the circlet, and accepted the artifact.

Almost thoughtlessly, the violet-eyed goddess dropped the circlet into Homura’s hand, before turning to walk past the boundary of the wall and to one of the three great Collossi. However, the burning ring was another story entirely, for as it touched Homura’s divine flesh it lit up like the sun. For a brief instant, a frenzy of unstoppable emotions of every variety and hue would rush into her. Then, all at once, the deluge would cease and the ring would go dark, instead slowly shifting colors to match Homura’s countenance.

The red goddess examined what she held for another moment, before she placed the circlet atop her head, hiding it beneath her scarlet hair. Then Homura set out on her journey westward with a mighty leap from the wall.

Paying little attention to the departure of Honor, Melainea stepped off the edge of the wall’s path and into the air. Tongues of flame licked against her feet, buoying her on steps of flame as she approached the Collosi. There was awe and adoration in her violet eyes as she gazed upon the magnificent creations, and the sparks they protected. Eventually she stepped onto one of the titans. Closing her eyes she took in a long breath, taking in the sheer potential of what lay before her. Then, smiling, she sent her will throughout the metal and stone of the great Collossus. The fires of her power bound themselves into its form.

However, unbeknownst to her, the smallest tendrils of divine flame pricked the mutable slumbering minds of the many mortals therein. In time, they would wake, for now though…Melainea had a mind to truly populate the world.

Soon there would be emotions aplenty.

Driven forth by the great ardour of her power, the Collossus took a step into the bay, its great limb creating tidal waves as it moved. Its eyes had become embers of purple, veins of the same hue crisscrossing its form.

Pleased, Melainea’s mortal guise phased out of being, replaced only with an ethereal inferno, which soon disappeared into the Collossus’s core. It was time to inspect the bounty of her meeting.

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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by WrongEndoftheRainbow
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WrongEndoftheRainbow

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The land was green from far above; on closer inspection, it was a reedy dull brown, punctuated with what could be best described as olive-hued plantlife, rather than a vibrant green. Mud splattered on Biluda’s boots, a nearby creek soaking the ground and pulling with it enough sediment to colour the water with clay. They shook one of their boots with a vague grunt of disgust, looking around for life.

A dragonfly buzzed past without looking at them.

They did not immediately see anything else, and began to walk out of the sucking mud. It pulled on their boots; Biluda felt the resistance even as their soul held on tight. Once they were finally out of the mudbank, they climbed up the embankment of the creek to get a better view, their white mask cresting the slope to reveal the wider landscape.

There were no trees to be seen. A low, gravelly hill rose steadily a little way away. The grass was tufty and short, punctuated with stumpy little scrubs and an occasional rock sleeping under a skin of lichen. It was all low, even the slow, clear little streams that wandered around until they fell into the creek, which were ankle-deep. This was moorland, then: a highland that was short of everything.

Biluda turned to the rough hill; even if it would provide minimal vantage, it was still better than the reedy soil that fouled their boots. They walked towards the hill, dodging softer ground as they kept to the stubby grass. It was almost comforting when the crunch of gravel sounded under them, and they continued up the minimal slope.

No sooner had they come to the top of the slope than they saw the thin and wavering smoke of some thin and wavering hearth, drifting up from the bottom of a meagre and crumbly landslip that marked the far edge of the hill (such as it was). The smoke rose from a grass-covered hovel of peat or packed mud, too large for a water-rat and too lacking for a bjork shelter, and didn’t even clear the top of the little cliff before the breeze would whisk it away again. The reeds nearby had been… chewed, perhaps, and downstream of the brookside hovel was the first sign of a tree: a stunted birch as white as Biluda’s new body, and not an inch taller.

Seeing no other life beyond the base insects, Biluda carefully moved down the slope, the shallow nature doing nothing to prevent the loose gravel from slipping under their boots. WIth a few false-starts and missteps, though no major mishap, the Kynikos made it down the slope and began to walk towards the hovel. With nothing moving, they approached the peat mud construction and leaned to look inside the door. Just then – a splash behind them.

Biluda turned. The Kynikos locked eyes with the muskrat. The muskrat locked eyes with the Kynikos.

“HRIII!”

[AAH!]

Such was the shock of the encounter that startled rodent only yelled several seconds after its bundle of green reeds had tumbled out of its gaping mouth. The yelling being now finished, as was proper, it pointed to the big white apparition with a sharp claw, bits and bobs of jumbled words tumbling from its mouth with the reeds.

“Gem in the sky!” Biluda exclaimed, bringing up their arms in a defensive reaction. They stumbled backwards, tripping over the hovel and swinging sideways, rolling into the mud of the creek, whacked by reeds. The reeds whacked them more as they proceeded to also flail, attempting to achieve some sense of direction.

“HIEK IRII IKA IE!” [Bloody great big white thing in the reeds!] Without thinking, the chunky aquatic lawn trimmer threw itself across the muddy bank and into the reeds on top of the white apparition, its brain executing a simple calculation: something new and strange was either friend, foe, or food, and a simple two-thirds majority of those things were best off seized as swiftly as possible. Short as it was, the muskrat was heavier than it looked, and the combined confusion quickly rolled both of them into the stream true.

The reeds that had seemed so intent on laying Biluda low were replaced with the wavering blue of water – visibility short-lived as loose mud and sediment bloomed from the streambed and the Kynikos’ own body. They could not see anything. Something was moving next to them, flailing with them. Fight or flight instincts made a split-second decision. A heavy boot swung out, imbued with all the weight and power of the moon, and connected with something warm. There was a scream, and Biluda heard something landing nearby, through the rush of the current.

Which way was up? It was impossible to tell. Though the Kynikos needed not breath, they continued to flail in the water, desperately trying to find their sense of direction.

Somewhere in the modest distance, the big rodent crumpled and squirmed in a loosely foetal position where it had fallen, wrapped in its long tail, its claws- hands?- pressed firmly against its lower belly as it whined in pain. “Gik! Kii kii pri aghik! Yiek ikk!” [Owch! Bleedin’ heck, me ovaries! I needed those!] Its cries vented a good deal of its discomfort while doing exactly nothing to pick it up from where it lay.

They did, however, attract a curious thing. A bumbling, lopsided contraption of straw and twigs and clay walked-rolled-wandered into view from the reeds, staring at the scene with a rune-marked pebble that could have been an eye or a little head. If it had any intention to do anything, the thinking needed to decide what was clearly a little beyond it.

Biluda’s head finally emerged from the water, and their blue eyes blinked, glowing brightly through their mask. Still in the throes of panic, they pointed one finger at the runic contraption that could only ponderingly be called a golem and screamed, “What in the name of all that is holy are you?! What is going on?! Get me out of this damned stream!”

Golems of Bjarskaland, as Biluda was shortly to discover in detail, were notoriously stunted of both mind and body, and never did it show quite so much as when they had to comprehend a new order. The bundle of twigs lay there exactly as still as a bundle of twigs would be expected to lay, its master howling all the while (“Chee rik gachik rii!” [Sort yourself out, you long-legged gawpsheet!]). Then, after a painfully slow couple of seconds, it scuttled down into the stream and lay its tiny gravel paws on the edge of Biluda’s sleeve, tugging uselessly in what it felt must be the right direction.

The Kynikos was quick on the draw, and sharp of mind. They began to swim in the direction of the tugging, giving up any hope of direction as their head bobbed up and down in the water. All the while, they howled their frustrations at the Golem, though they didn’t bother to put words to it. There was one upside to the blasted water; the mud had mostly been stripped from Biluda’s body, and their white shone through once more, albeit tarnished from its original gleam.

There was only one place to go, only one place in the world that the golem really knew as different from the other places, and its blessed little heart would not be dissuaded by any amount of cursing. Biluda’s frazzled internal compass only steadied by the time they recognised their own shape pressed into mud and reeds where they had tumbled down the bank, and were now being innocently tugged back up, to the mud hovel, where a second muskrat was staring wide-eyed with its hands over its mouth.

Biluda calmed themselves down after a few moments, and their hands planted in the mud beneath them. It was undignified, but they were brought to their feet, in all their mud-dripped glory, and with an annoyed tone, they pointed a finger at the second muskrat and threatened, “If you jump me as well, I’m going to drown you in the stream.”

They knew the threat would not pass the language barrier; but it felt good to say nonetheless.

There was no need to worry this time. Whatever Biluda had said was clearly understood by the rat to be very important, and it nodded anyway, fearfully following the lilting melody of the alien’s voice. Biluda scoffed, and turned to survey the land once more, before they suddenly jumped at the muskrat.

Their hand sideswiped the muskrat, and they stormed into the opening they had created to climb into the little hovel. There, they hoped to find something to dry themselves off with, be it some sort of towel or fire. The golem followed, and Biluda entered otherwise unmolested, the thrown rodent scurrying off to attend her injured sister.

The bad news was that the hovel entrance did not, in fact, widen into a miraculously spacious house with a full bookshelf and larder. It wasn’t a burrow, but it also wasn’t a hut, or even a lodge, though it had bits of all of them. The walls were mud-packed reed wattle and the roof was mostly peat. An array of flint knives were stuck into a straw bundle near where strips of salt fish hung from the ceiling, and there at last the stooped-over Kynikos found the hearth, hissing steadily away on its supply of coal and dung.

With a growl, Biluda reached out to the coal, taking care to avoid the dung. Scooping up two great big handfuls, they tossed it all into the fire. Then, they reached out for more, and tossed those handfuls in as well. “Get bigger already!” They yelled at the fire, fanning it with their hands to encourage its growth. This succeeded at blowing a lot of smoke into their face.

‘Mind the fire’ was a simple order for golems and children, and the little pebble-head was just about capable of doing just that. However, ‘build up the fire’ was equally simple, and the poor creature immediately set about arranging coal on the existing flames and stuffing the gaps with straw.

The hovel being shortly burned down in this way, Biluda emerged from the collapsing heap of hot mud and charred reed completely dry, if rather well-smoked. They took a few steps away from the ruins of what was once a livelihood, stepping back onto dry ground, thankfully out of the mud. As the heat of the moment wore off, a twinge of guilt at burning down the couple’s home hit them, and they looked over to see how the two muskrats were doing. It seemed that at this point they were gone.

In their place, about a dozen sizeable males stood around the bottom of the stream in various states of grizzledness. The group noticed Biluda and fell silent. The last to stop making noise was the one sharpening his claws one by one on a small whetstone. Biluda let out a sigh, and raised their hands slowly, their fingers outstretched and their palms facing the muskrats. They muttered, flatly, “Just take me to – do you even have prisons?”

The assembly listened in silence, then began to share bewildered glances. A murmur of squeaking quickly rose into a general hubbub of chitters, chirrups, grunts and whistles.

[Is it some kind of deer?]

[Looks like an overgrown spider to me.]

[We could ask it.]

[Use your head. It doesn’t have the faintest clue where it is.]

[...Where are we, anyway?]

[Trook and Frook’s place.]

[Oh yeah, they married my fifth son.]

[They married my fifth son, idiot.]

[Oh. He’s dead, right?]

[Had it coming.]

[Well, they can marry my son next.]

[Why are we here again?]

Some spontaneous order asserted itself among the rodents after some debate of the most profound and vital sort, which was naturally settled by the cleverest manbjarsk- who was also, by no coincidence, the oldest- shouting for everyone to shut up and help take the foreign spirit to the Great Sun-Headed One. After a long wait, the rodents swiftly encircled Biluda and began to march them towards what was probably the next hill on the horizon, the ones in front looking back often over their shoulders, those behind close at their heels.

Biluda allowed themself to be driven on with no real protest. Slow was the going, though the muskrats were hustling on as fast as they could- their legs were short, and they weren’t built for jogging. The whole assembly was lucky that their destination was so close.

As they approached it, the bjarska dispersed slightly, as if afraid to be seen with the alien, and their wariness turned from their captive to the hill before them. It was noticeably taller than the previous one, and they were approaching from the cliff side, towards where a great dark gouge had been weathered in the rough and crumbly rock. “Kyech hi,” said the old rat, pointing to the gap. [In there.]

The squeaking of the muskrats was unintelligible to Biluda, and they did not fully understand what the diminutive creatures wanted. However, they saw only one path forward. Bodies blocked every route except for the cave entrance, and Biluda, with one last look at the surface world, walked in.

The cave was not at all deep. What might have been an antechamber to some more epic system of tunnels elsewhere was, here, the only room. Its high ceiling bore a small crack to the hill above, and the light that spilled therefrom and leached in from the wide entrance illuminated the denizen sitting crosslegged in the center of the chamber.

It was a giant.

Its twisted limbs were formed from petrified stone. Its head was shining brass diorama of heath-flowers, enclosed in a bubble of curious magic wider than Biluda was tall. Its only movement was to incline its straightened back forwards every so slightly as they entered. That was all it needed to do. Something, somewhere in that eyeless orb, was watching, and waiting.

Biluda’s voice cut through the shade of the cave and the lone beam of light, “Hello?”

They were tense. They did not recognize this creature, nor did it seem to share any traits with the much more barbarous creatures outside. Their blue eyes glowed in the dark, lightly illuminating their mask as they waited for some kind of response from the giant. Perhaps the creature was itself waiting for some more conversation, for it made no immediate response. Eventually, it lifted its big hands from its knees, and slowly opened them towards Biluda in a general gesture of questioning.

“I take it you don’t understand me,” Biluda sighed, taking several steps forward, careful to avoid uneven footing in the shade. They held out their hands, in a hope to avoid being taken as a threat as an approach was made.

One more intonation, just in case, “I was brought here by some little brown-furred creatures. What is their relationship to you?”

The giant moved with quick ease this time, raising its index finger as soon as it was questioned. Biluda was finally in luck. It pointed out to the entrance of the hollow, then made a motion like a scurrying rat into a hole formed by its other hand before tapping its chest. It made another rodent with its hand, and the two scurried into one another, its stone fingers clattering together as they squabbled. Leaning in closely to the imaginary bjarska in its hands, almost squinting at them, it pushed them away from one another, the left rat with its right hand, the right with its left, and then wagged its finger. It looked at Biluda, and resumed its casual pose.

Biluda looked down at the ground a moment, considering what the giant could be conveying. Once they had decided, they looked back up, running across the decorative diorama with their glowing gaze. Hesitantly, they asked, “So, you are some sort of judge or arbiter of these people?”

Double thumbs up. The Great Sun-Headed One even lifted its hands and added a polite little clap, which boomed tremendously around the shallow cave. It settled back down and once again opened a free hand towards its guest, a little more pointedly this time, nodding slightly.

Biluda brought their hand out, and with a great deal of trepidation, rested it in the middle of the giant’s palm. They asked, “Is this what you want me to do? What is going to happen?”

Its chest rose, then fell again, lower than it was, a remarkably accurate imitation of a sigh. It leaned in a little, touching its cool-but-not-cold stone fingertip gently to the top of Biluda’s head, then bringing it up to the side of the elegant brass egg it used as a head. Holding it there, nodding patiently a few times- aha! It raised its index finger and nodded understandingly in its ordinary pose.

The Kynikos elected to hazard another guess as to what the giant wanted; they paused for a moment to consider their options and presentation, before launching into an explanation, “I am Biluda, a Kynikos-in-exile from the Academy. I, ah, arrived to this land, and was immediately set upon by one of the creatures outside.”

They paused again, deciding on how much blame to place on themselves and what to pin on the creatures. They then continued, “In the ensuing struggle, I wounded them and their fire was let loose from its pit, burning down their hovel and their..” they struggled to find an appropriate word to describe the golem from before, “their living straw contraption?”

Without hesitating long, the arbiter-giant turned around and plucked from some niche behind it a smooth rock tied in straw and twigs. The twigs waved at Biluda briefly before being put back in the golem creche. A living straw contraption, yes indeed.

A continuation of the explanation, “Afterwards, a large mob of them set upon me and I surrendered. They brought me here, to you.”

The Great Sun-Headed One steepled its fingers and nodded sagely, pondering the matter. Then it reached out, very gently, patiently, and wrapped its hands around the stranger. Biluda was inspected, turned around, curled up, straightened out, gently shaken for loose bits and bobs, and set down on the cave floor again. The giant… shrugged.

Two squabbling rats? They blew away on the wind in a flurry of fingers. A home blown away in the same manner? Built up again, one knuckle at a time, good as new. The giant waved it away into some imaginary distance like a loose bit of dust and shrugged again. What was there to do? Life would go on. The bjarska would recover stronger for Biluda’s antics, and Biluda… well, nothing wrong with a learning experience.

In other words, it seemed, all was well.

“So, I’m free to go? What do I tell the creatures outside? Will they just let me go?” Biluda asked next, as they turned to look back at the entrance briefly. Their gaze lingered at ambient light filtering through the rough gorge that made up the entrance, before they returned to watching the giant for its response. All they got was a friendly wave.

With a turned back, Biluda extricated themself from the cave, out to the crowd of muskrats waiting outside. Some were gone, but seven remained, pouring something black-brown and bubbly from a jar into clay cups and sipping as they cast dice, using gravel chips as tokens. A young bruiser noticed the Kynikos and squeaked. “Chye, shru pikhii!” [Hey, he’s not squished!]

“Iiy yk?”
[What? Not even a bit?]

“Nii cheh-kiui iu. Kirire y eesh.”
[Shake the piss from your head, you decomposing sponge. Not a speck of dust on him.]

The rodents discussed the matter among themselves for a few seconds in loud chirrups, but made no move on the stranger until, finally, the old one grabbed the cup from the smallest one, topped it up, and waddled over, cautiously holding it out. “Ikriip ke,” he said. “Chekichek hiiri kuii. Hniknipi?” [Let’s start over, stranger. We’ve just begun our game. Won’t you join us?]

The cup was accepted into a white, gloved hand; the Kynikos looked it over, and said, flatly, “I assume you want me to play a game with you, but I still can’t understand you,” they paused, and then added, “I’m sure you can’t understand me, either, but whatever.”

They let themselves fall backwards, slamming down into the grass in a sitting position next to the muskrats. They then asked, “So, how do you play this game?”

It turned out the game was very simple. After the third cup of beet beer, it was even simpler.

Biluda won every round.








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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Leotamer
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Leotamer

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Arvum had walked through the sky, carefully observing the lands belows. Burdensome duty weighed heavily upon his shoulders. In the south, parasitic blight festered. For the time being, a wall of deadly salt barred their progress. Perhaps there was a lesson in its misleading beauty. He did not venture too close to the newest continent; divine aura emanated strongly from it. It was a mystery to him, and a concerning one. However, there were more pressing worries such as the monsters that caused even the Monarch paused. Perhaps there was only one, but recent events had eroded his optimism.

Other matters occupied his mind, such as the Stygian Tlacan Sea below, but it seemed that time was starting to betray him. It is in his nature to be patient, to wait for things to blossom at their appointed times. While he had many concerns, there was one he held above all the others. His journey around the world was in service to this goal. He had to be better informed of the world. He had to compare his designs to the others to ensure that they were sufficient. And he needed perspective.

He had returned to the Eidolon Plains, his destination was further south; however he felt divine presence strongly ingrained within his lands. He went over to investigate, finding a garden of another shardbearer’s design. Upon landing on the ground, he donned a disguise of an Eidolon to prevent his form from distressing any mortals that might happen to be nearby.

Now on the ground, Arvum could plainly see the world around him. Among the silent trees of the garden, the simple flowers, and swaying grass, was a flood of mortals. Humans walked every which way, fiddling with sticks and inspecting rocks. It was a scene of infancy as the young race discovered their surroundings — it was only closer to the nexus of the gardens that the theme changed.

With little mind paid to him, being a drop in a bucket of new stimulation, Arvum found the center of the garden without molestation. There he found simple stick homes built on some unseen perimeter, woven and mudded into solid frames — but beyond that he saw rows and rows of humans.

Their faces were red with exercise, arms and legs swinging at a myriad of smoky tendrils — the strange appendages swinging back. The small army was clearly practicing some sort of martial skill, using the wisps as their enemy. Each tendril all seemed to flow in the same direction, ultimately leading to the source — the back of a man hunched over a large sword, no interest on his face as he quietly and repeatedly scraped a glossy black stone across the blade’s edge.

His voice emanated from him without his lips moving, ”The weather is lovely today is it not?”

The scraping stopped for a moment, as if the man had to think about it. Concluding, he started scraping the stone across the edge once again. “I like it; there will be a storm tonight.” He paused again. “I like the feeling right before a storm.”

”Weather can be a fickle thing.” Arvum replied. He gestured around, ”This is a pleasant garden.”

“And it will be for a while yet,” Apostate answered. “You’re welcome to it as you please. This close to the statue—” He nudged a shoulder in the direction of the looming black monument “ —the ground doesn’t move and the plants refuse to change, but everything beyond the reach of the statue is usual.”

Arvum casually shifted his gaze to one of the trainees, who began to feel winded as if Arvum’s attention was a boulder he was forced to carry upon his shoulders, ”Mortals of this shared design seem to be rather common. I wonder what journey brought them here.”

“They were brought here by Homura.” Apostate looked up from Warbreaker, his one visible eye squinting at Arvum. He wiggled the fingers of the hand holding the black stone and it poofed into a puff of smoke. Now resting his elbow on the flat of the blade, he leaned towards Arvum. “And I suspect in time the ones you see here will find themselves elsewhere about the plains.”

”Mortalkind roams about. I have seen that some even seek out danger. It can be one of their many admirable traits.” he said, his gaze still cast upon a hapless human.

“Oh I know.” Apostate’s words were accompanied by a low groan, deep from his chest. The hapless human started training faster and harder, a strong determination appearing in their eyes and gasps of smoke puffing out with each exhale. Arvum’s grip was waning.

And he turned his gaze as doing was completely inconsequential, facing the shardbearer in front of them. ”I presume this Homura is their noble progenitor. I must admit that I have not had many opportunities to meet with my fellow shard-bearers.”

“If that’s what you want to call her.” Apostate closed his eye. “My only advice is to think twice before offering any of them fruit.”

Arvum examined another trainee, however his inspection was unintrusive. His eyes glanced around. ”I hope you do not mind, but I like to better understand these exercises they are performing.”. He said, walking over to one of the tendrils that originated from Apostate’s back.

“These one’s wanted to know how to defend themselves, so I obliged. Unfortunately, they aren’t anywhere near strong enough to even pretend to be a sparring partner of mine — but this will do.” Apostate didn’t turn to look, his gaze turning back to his blade.

Arvum stood in the tendrils place, his arms crossed behind his back. He intentionally held back his godly presence, ”Did they encounter the life-drinkers? I did not believe that their numbers were so great this far north.” The human in front of Arvum gave a confused look before frowning.

“What’s up?” The human, a young woman, asked, albeit with frustration.

“No, I don’t think they’ve encountered anything outside of the garden.” Apostate’s answer came slowly — interrupting the woman — as if thought had to be put into it. “Life-drinkers?”

Arvum first responded to the woman, ”Please. Pay us no mind and continue training.” before responding to the other god, ”I must confess that I am no expert. They are a mortal design that feeds upon other mortals. I have noticed several variations, the bat-like ones seem to pose the greatest threat to those who cross the world belt with their flight and enhanced strength. The sun otherwise seems to suppress their movements.”

Before Apostate could respond, the woman poked a finger in the air. “Not to sound rude, but you’re sorta in my way. This is my fight zone.” She made a motion with her hands as to outline her exercising area, making sure to note that Arvum was well inside of it. “Get it?”

Arvum replied, ”I am sorry. Was I mistaken in that this exercise involves hitting another?”

“You want me to hit you?” The woman arched a brow — the smoky tendril waiting over the conversation.

”Correct. I apologize if I am interposing, however I wish to better understand this exercise.” he replied.

Gulping, likely from sudden embarrassment, the woman steadied herself and fell into a fighting stance. With a warrior’s shout, she punched forward with her fist, smacking Arvum in the belly. It did not feel like striking flesh, or any material at all. It felt as if her arm simply stopped at a point, and refused to continue forward. She stared down at her arm, mouth agape.

“Did you feel it?” She asked, clearly self conscious.

”I did.” he said, answering with a technical truth. He turned back to the other god, ”These life-drinkers, along with other concerns, have made me more concerned about the safety of my progeny. It is reassuring to see others have similar concerns.”

“Another god systematically terminated an entire population of mortals one by one using machines designed to torture and kill,” Apostate said, his eyes on his blade. “I was the only one to show up in response, and I only succeeded to save a single mortal from him.”

With a loud wind, the tendrils flooded back into Apostate, leaving the humans confused while the god of defiance stood up and turned to Arvum. “I didn’t create any mortals, and here I am defending them. It was irresponsible for any of the gods to create life at this point in time, but what’s done is done, and many have been tortured and exterminated for it.”

Arvum's true voice resonated from within him, its tone changed in an ethereal manner, ”I am saddened to be informed of this tragedy, however I do understand the value of a single life. I must admit I can not agree with your conclusion however. If all of the noble shards of the Monarch refused to act until we could create perfection then who would have acted at all? .

“Do you know what an ant is?” Apostate crossed his arms.

”Yes. I rather like ants. So small, yet still so able to shape the world.” he replied.

“Me too.” Apostate grinned before remembering something that made him frown again. “Imagine two rams fighting and in the scuffle one gores the other — which makes sense, they were fighting for something they felt important. It happens, it was going to happen… but the anthill they stamped unnoticed also suffered, more so than a single ram — a whole colony.”

Apostate paused.

“I’m not saying the gods needed to wait until perfection. In my humble opinion, I’m saying there is a battle that is going to be had, things will shift and a lot will be destroyed — and how much better for the ant colony to build their hill after the fight rather than under it. The gods don’t agree on much, and we are all rams of our own design.”

”Rams are much larger than ants, and can easily stomp a single one. However, destroying the colony is not as easy as knocking over a mound of dirt. Ants can live deep within Galbar and inherit its protections. The gods are not akin to the rams, they are akin to the storms whose fury can reach within their tunnels and overwhelm them. Precautions will need to be taken to prepare for the flood.” Arvum answered.

Apostate pointed a finger at Arvum. “You remind me of a certain red-head I know: literal and criticizing. I think you get my point.” He furrowed a brow and made a face at nothing in particular. “But with the track record of our kin, I can only hope you get my point.”

Arvum gave a deliberate pause, ”Interesting. That is how you interpret my speech.” he said, ”I am sorry to divert to an unrelated topic, however have you had a chance to speak to the Lord of Lords. I apologize that my mind has been thrown elsewhere, but this thought weighs heavily upon my mind.”

“No.” Apostate said simply. “I’ve been… um… busy.”

Arvum replied, ”I have met with the Lord of Lords, however unfortunately it seems as though I might find myself busy soon.”

“I feel like you want to tell me something.” Apostate leaned on Warbreaker, the blade poking into the ground.

”No nothing important. Just a stray thought. he said. ”Well, now considering it I did hear something peculiar enough to mention from the Lord of the Moon about how the Monarch required another lord’s assistance in slaying a monster.

“What do you mean?” Apostate looked down at his blade.

”I apologize that I am not well-informed. I merely know that the Lord of all Lords killed a monster of the sea with the assistance of another shardbearer who I have not had the pleasure to have met yet. The Monarch did not mention it when I visited him. I apologize for presuming his motives, but perhaps he had thought that I was already aware.” Arvum replied.

“I don’t get it, what?” Apostate gave the god a quizzical look. “The monarch killed a fish and this troubles you?”

Arvum’s guise didn’t seem to change, however his true glare focused on Apostate, ”I am obviously concerned. If the Monarch was concerned enough to leave his palace while still recovering from his injury to personally see to such a matter, should I not be?”

"What are you implying?" Apostate pushed, but his words were cut off. While most of the human rabble had wandered off to do other things, the woman was still present — her fists bouncing off Arvum harmlessly and small puffs of smoke caught her every exhale.

Arvum replied, ”I am simply expressing my concern. If you believe it is a trivial matter, perhaps it is.”

"Arvum." Apostate frowned. "I'm an idiot, you have to speak plainly with me. Are we gossiping or do you have a plan to share with me? Do you intend to go into a fight, do you need my aid — or is it me you wish to fight?"

”I had thought that we were simply having a friendly chat. It is not often I speak with other shardbearers, though perhaps that needs to change. I believe you are the first visitor I have had to my verdant fields. I do hope you are enjoying it.” he replied.

"Friendly chat?" Apostate fell into thought against the sounds of the punches. "Well, yes, I suppose that is what we are doing. I'm much more used to blowing things up, you see… well I used to be…"

Arvum looked at the sun, ”The sun has travelled far in such a short time as we have had our conversation. It was a pleasant conversation, but I have duties I need to perform elsewhere.”

"Oh…" Apostate looked up at the sky. He thought for a moment before continuing slowly..."Did you want to go look at some ants?"

Arvum thought about it for a moment, ”I would not be opposed to it.”

-0-


Arvum continued his journey southward. This meeting had given much more to consider, especially concerning the story of a god who slaughtered his own charges and where this god stood in the grand scheme of creation.

However, his objective remained clear. He returned to the first farm, an appropriate position to enact his will. Time had changed the fields from his memories, and it had returned to being wild. Remnants of his encampment stubbornly refused to fade to the world. His mere presence seemed to restore it to a more orderly state.

He had completed the design, and imbued it with power. By his command, it washed over the world as a wave of energy, invisible to nearly all creatures except for the gods. The Eidolons could however feel it, if only vaguely. He had realized his gifts to them were insufficient. He hoped that his blessing could ensure they could prosper within this dangerous world.



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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Homura

(Wait this isn't Homura's POV)



Amid the scattered wattle and daub homes of the humans, the untouchable center of the garden of Hevel remained quiet. Even in spite of the chattering and activities all around the sacred spot — even this late at night —, the small sanctuary behind the statue sat at peace, as it always had since the day Apostate was born. The god himself was currently in between two mighty oaks, wrapped up cozy in the embrace of a hammock hung between the two. Only his nose poked out from the cocoon of cloth, that and what parts of Warbreaker refused to fit in the bedding.

The hammock had a gentle swing to it, paddled by a wafting breeze and perpetuated by the soft breaths of the god of defiance, tiny puffs of smoke exiting with each quiet exhale. Both his eyes were closed, summoning him in a world of darkness where only the pricks of his ears painted the world around him, that and the subtle burn of his deep burden. Even with the natural ability to feel the pain of the world around him, though, all was quiet and so was he.

A familiar light pierced the peaceful darkness, announcing the arrival of a familiar presence. There was nothing subtle about the aura of divine power that approached, the way it hesitantly stepped forth and carefully shaped itself to the lay of the land, and avoided the mortals that walked upon it. The two things seemed to contradict themselves; carrying a bright golden spear that illuminated the world all around with celestial radiance, while also refusing to touch or disturb even a single blade of grass as she came closer.

Apostate shuffled inside of his hammock, refusing to open his eyes and pulling Warbreaker closer. He made a face. “Homura… even the stars above aren’t as bright as you.” He wrenched a single eye open, the night sky blurred past the new wave of light from the goddess... “Can’t you shut off the light?”

The light receded, as Daybringer became smaller and smaller, until the spear sank into the skin of her palm, and the darkness of the night returned. “I apologize, I did not mean to agitate you, or your people.” Homura said, peering over her shoulder at the many people she had passed through on her march towards the God of Defiance. Despite her words, her expression conveyed no repentance, merely impassive as usual.

Turning, the God of Defiance poked his head out of his hammock and looked the goddess over. “Have you tried sleeping yet?”

She tilted her head in confusion, and then sighed. “I do not think I am capable of entering an unconscious state, brother. I am always awake.”

“You’re a god,” Apostate said in response. He fell back into his hammock to stare up at the sparkling night sky. “Yet you seem to like restricting yourself.”

Only the wind shifted as she stepped closer, and stood beside his hammock, her red visage on the peripheral of his vision. “Whether or not I enjoy my limitations will not change the fact that they exist, and I must accept them until I can overcome them. I have wandered the realm of dreams, but I have little reason to stay in such a state for any long period of time, so why should I bother sleeping?” She asked.

Apostate shook his head and gave the goddess a long sideways glance. He almost knew she was going to say something along those lines, and the unfazed stare that she returned his with only reminded him of her stubbornness. With a kick, the god tumbled out of his hammock to land on his feet, Warbreaker falling into one of his hands. Now standing next to Homura, he pulled the opening of the hammock wide.

“Go on, get in.”

“Fine.” She stepped forward, her form passing through the material of the hammock, until her shape seemed to distort like a flickering flame, and in the blink of an eye, her body was laying sideways in a stiff imitation of his previous position. She then regained her mass, and the hammock reacted to the sudden weight, sinking slightly while she found herself struggling to find a comfortable means of resting. It was evident she did not know how to relax, as she frowned with frustration, looking up at him with angry red eyes.

“Homura, do you know what hopeless means?” Apostate teased. “You like to dance, right? Try finding a calm rhythm to match the sway of the world around you. In and out like a soft breeze.”

She closed her eyes, sighing again, and attempted to appear comfortable while laying down. Regardless of how pleasant and snug the hammock was, performing its intended role with ease, the red goddess resisted relaxation and thwarted its every effort to appear inviting. No, it was definitely Homura herself that did not seem inviting, and it would be wrong to blame the hammock for her obstinate nature.

Rolling his eyes, Apostate blew a small river of smoke from his lungs, the gentle waft pushing the hammock into a gentle swing. While it swung, coating the scene in a haze of hevel, Apostate spoke.

“Would you mind if I told you another metaphor that you will likely over-criticize until it was pointless for me to tell you of it?”

Her hostile expression lacked any true malice as she replied. “Go ahead. Perhaps it will help me understand why I must suffer this ordeal.”

“Consider this a two in one. Think of a tree — it stands tall only because it has a good foundation, strong roots, and it only stays standing against the elements not because it is simply sturdy, but bends in the wind. Likewise, you are the roots of so many things, and if you can’t relax, how can you expect those who rely on you to be able to? Secondly, if you can’t let the wind bend you here and there, you’ll snap — and snapped roots are a rather useless tree.” Apostate pushed the hammock with another gust of smoke. “You did good, Homura, now try to learn how to rest — if not for you, then you know.”

She shifted, looking away from him. “An apt metaphor, but you have made a mistake. I am not the roots of any tree. I am the earth that holds it, the light that feeds it, and the wind that bends it…”

“Uht!” Apostate interrupted, “not in this metaphor you’re not.”

Silence reigned for a moment as she contemplated his words, until she answered softly. “Perhaps… I am a snapped tree then.”

Apostate tucked a frown into his cheek. “Just shh for a little while and look up at the sky.” The god himself plopped down into the grass below. “While it’s quiet.”

Unfortunately she did not follow his request, and spoke again. “I cannot. There is little time.” She offhandedly reached out towards the heavens above her, but grasped at nothingness, opening and closing her wrapped hand. She let her limb fall limp by her side.

“You never did tell me about the ribbons on your hand,” Apostate mentioned idly, as if changing the subject.

“Hmm… another error of mine. If you wish to know, merge with me once more.” She replied, almost whispering. He could not see her face, but he could hear the hesitation in her voice. Reaching out, Apostate’s hand turned into a river of smoke, pooling around the hammock, but this time, little flakes of black metal floated inside the stream.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

There was only a brief existence of a barrier between them, until it faded, and the fire within Homura opened itself to him. There was no blinding presence and scorching heat, only a warm light swirling and coiling itself all around the inner being of the Goddess of Honor. Seven ruby serpents swam in the light, but did not react to him, as they receded further into the depths. She shared her senses and her memories with him then:

Her return to Keltra and the last time she spoke with Lorelei. Her journey to the Monarch’s palace and her request to become His emissary. Her conversation with Chailiss, and her plan for the north. Lastly, her interaction with Iqelis and Ea Nebel, and her reason for traveling westward, along with encounters with more members of the pantheon. All of this, he felt and saw as though he had been there beside her, but her thoughts remained elusive.

“There is still so much you do not know…” Her voice echoed all around, it reverberated through him, and slowly painted more scenes: The calamity he had stood against during his birth, soaring through the sky in all directions, more massive than it had been, but Homura attempting to intervene with the last of her strength before it spread further. She could not overcome it on her own, but she was not alone. Two images; Chailiss and his box, and Apostate’s statue of himself.

Then he saw her explore the familiar land that had been devastated, where she encountered Iqelis, and through their powers mingling gave birth to a woman with divine blood pulsing through her veins. He watched and listened, as Homura watched and listened to Iqelis, Voligan, and the newly named Ea Nebel wandered the desert. She kept her presence hidden, until Ea Nebel had departed upon her metallic boar.

Memories of the time both Homura and him were in Keltra appeared, while she was performing the ritual to cleanse Lorelei of the contents deemed polluted within her. A vision of the same ritual being performed on Courage manifested, as Homura cleansed her champion as well. Then he watched as Homura washed Lorelei’s strange suit in the red sea beside Keltra, as the dried puke and grime was removed, the goddess looked at her hands and saw that her skin had been marred. Small stains like rust spread across her palms, and the Goddess of Honor gasped with sudden pain before she hastily covered the stigma with red ribbons.

“You have seen it now… Please leave my mind.” She said softly, her sorrow and shame seeping into him like the pain of the oppressed, but her thoughts remained shielded from him. The silent theater of her inner being was becoming more and more closed, as though the lights were being turned off one by one, and silence smothered the area.

The smoke snapped away from Homura, flooding back into Apostate and hitting him in the chest, forcing a loud gasp from him. His chest rumbled and he let out a groan. Things were still piecing together in his mind, mingling with his own memories of Homura, and how she reacts to the things he presents.

“I see…” His words were slow.

“My mistakes are many, and I will suffer the punishment for my foolishness.”

“What mistake?” Apostate’s eyes were now lingering on Homura’s hand.

“I thought such a thing was nothing to be concerned about.” The red goddess replied, hiding her hands beneath her back, before she attempted to lift herself from the hammock with grace, managing to somewhat accomplish that goal. She stared meekly at him, unable to hold her gaze upon him for long. “I have another favor to ask.”

“What do you need?” Apostate asked, his voice much gentler than usual.

“Please look after them. My champions are not ready for the cruelties of this world, and I do not wish for them to suffer because of me. If she ever asks you what I would have named her, tell it would have been --- Tell her that. She must walk upon a terrible path, but I cannot help her.” Homura said, bringing a hand up to hide her face as she spoke.

“Hope,” Apostate suggested, “you need to have hope. Your malady is not finality, but merely a reaction you have to the world around you.” He stood up tall, a fiery coal burning behind his bandaged eye. “Do you know what I say to things that push such oppression on others?”

“I would assume you hit them with your sword first before assailing them with various metaphors about plants.” Homura replied, letting her hand fall, and the impassive mask returned once more.

“Almost,” Apostate admitted. “First… well now no, you ruined it.” Apostate gave a defeated frown. With less energy in his voice than before he finished. “I say I won’t move and then defy them.”

“Hmm… that would have been my second answer.” She replied as she moved to lean against one of the tall oak trees. “Do you know why I did not mention you when I spoke to our Lord?” She asked, referring to the vision she showed him; of her encounter with the Monarch of All.

"You couldn't bear the thought of me wasting my metaphors on anyone else?" Apostate pinched his chin in thought. "Homura, I should be shocked."

“That would be the second reason, but my first reason is equally foolish. Our brother, Voligan, has been chosen to act as our Lord’s Champion. I thought that a much more appropriate way of introducing you would be through a duel with Voligan which will prove your strength. Regardless of the outcome, I think this way benefits us all. Do you object?” Her head leaned a little to the as she peered at him curiously.

"You want me to go beat up Voligan?" Apostate crossed his arms. Without pausing to think, he answered, "very well."

“The third reason is more complicated, but put simply, I think it would be better if you remained here attending your current task. The Garden of Hevel is situated in an advantageous position which requires proper protection. My duty takes me north where I will offer guidance to the people there, but this land also needs aid. Warbreaker was named such for a reason, so I hope that upon my next return, it will be love and laughter, not blood and corpses that litter the plains. That reminds me, I have another favor, if you will indulge me one more time. Daybringer is not attuned to Warbreaker yet, could you provide it with that power?” Homura asked, holding out her palm where a tiny golden spear, softly glowing, emerged and stood proud - despite how small it was (just like Homura).

“Sure.” Apostate reached out with a hand, finding the ruby gem that dominated the spear. He gently tapped a finger to it, a small wisp of smoke engulfing the jewel as he spoke. “Homura, I understand the more pragmatic reasons… but you make me curious… as in, why do you care so much about proving me strong to the Lord of Lords?”

“You currently lack any titles, brother. Our power primarily comes from our Lord, and he rewards more power to those that prove worthy of such. If you wish to survive, then you must acquire more titles. That is the simple answer, and I hope it suffices.” Homura replied, letting her weapon recede back into her palm.

“Simply put, you care.” Apostate fell into silence for a moment. He suddenly looked at Homura’s ribbons. “Hold out your hands.”

“I would rather you explain your intentions.” She replied, holding her hands out despite her words.

Apostate shook his head and gently positioned her hands so they were cupped together with the palms up. “Yeah, but this is a surprise.”

Cupping his own hands, he gently placed them over Homura’s, creating a small shallow between the two. He pressed his hands tight over hers, to make sure the only cracks were the tiny spaces between the bumps of their cupped palms. He knitted his brow in concentration, summoning a small ambient glow hidden by their hands. It pulsed a white light, slowly bleeding into a flowery pink.

A gentle fluttering feeling brushed against the rough bandaged palms of Apostate, and flickered over Homura’s own beaten hands. The gentle flaps and flutterings grew in number, tickling both their skins until the head of a lily, flush with pink petals, came fluttering out from the cracks between their hands and fingers. A pleasant fragrance followed and soon a flood of the strange sky lilies were pouring out from their combined hands, leaving a streak of dancing pink in the nightly breeze around them. It swirled about, engulfing the scene as Apostate continued his concentration, the myriad of flowers seemingly unending.

Homura stood there, confused, but she said nothing as more and more flora flowed from their clasped hands. An abundance of a flower she had never seen before, soaring all around her, and she appreciated the aesthetic, but she did not understand the purpose of this act. Her features furrowed with bemusement, and she continued to watch Apostate.

Apostate’s face screwed with more concentration, until with perhaps a defeated tone, he asked, “is this helping at all?”

“A little. Your effort brings me relief, but… this will not immediately change what has happened. I appreciate it, brother.” Homura looked away, and pulled her hands back, the final stragglers fluttering from their released grip. Apostate let his hands fall to his sides, and a contemplative look overtook him.

“I’ll fight Voligan, and I’ll take his title.”

“It will not be easy. I… I should go. I must make my way to the mountains in the west. One of our own is buried there, so I am told. You should visit Lorelei in Keltra, look after her for a time, as I cannot protect her when I am away.” Homura said, slowly stepping backwards.

“Wait.” Apostate held up his hand. “Are you sure it’s safe for you to go looking for the body with your condition?”

“If I am in danger, I will call upon you. I can only hope you answer my prayer. Hmm… besides, I am stronger than I look. There is no need to fret so much.”

Apostate crossed his arms defiantly. “I never fret.”

“Then neither of us need to be concerned. We will meet again, brother. Until then, farewell.” Homura said, and Daybringer reappeared returning to its original size, as she stepped farther back. The goddess was surrounded by a serene aura, it seemed her time with Apostate had soothed some of her wariness.

“We will.” Apostate gripped the handle of Warbreaker out of instinct. “And we will find a way to cure your affliction.”


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Cats are Worms


III


“W-What’s this thing, Wanda?” Lorelei asked and stuck her nose into the flower she had pointed at. She took a deep whiff and immediately felt her heart skip a beat when her throat locked up, then she coughed and sneezed all over the flower. “Waghh…”

“A flower.”

A bright spot of red on a blade of yellow grass called her attention. She jumped over to it and sniffled when the little insect spread its wings and bumped against her forehead. “W-What’s that, Wanda?” She asked again.

“A ladybug.”

Lorelei flicked the insect off her forehead and got to digging a small hole on the ground. After a moment, she saw worms wiggling around and grabbed one. It looked pretty different from the ones back home since it wasn’t made of metal to begin with, nor was it as hot to the touch. She hummed to herself before putting it on her tongue and quickly spitting it out. “W-Wanda! Is that really a worm?”

“Yes.”

Lore rolled to the side and threw herself head first into a bush. From inside her hiding spot, she stared at Wanderer with wide eyes, her ears twitching in futile attempts to swat away the leaves around her head. “Look! You can u-use these things to hide! What are they?”

“Leaves.” Wanderer approached the bush and stuck her head in, which Lorelei took as an opportunity to lick the tip of her nose and snicker.

“Wanda why are you c-covered in squiggles? They’re moving too. T-They’re so much more complex than Gray’s! I think my brother would’ve liked you.” She found herself asking, a familiar feeling of… Emptiness, was it? Surging inside her chest. She lifted one of her hands and poked at Wanderer’s cheek.

“The marks of sorcery. They appear when I concentrate on a spell. Perhaps I will meet your brother during my travels.” Wanderer said, and Lorelei looked away while barely holding her lip back from quivering. “One day I will explore the whole world. Do you want to come with me when I go?”

“Ah! Uhm, yeah! I do! I wanna see the fields of ice and the oceans of sand, you know. I-It was my… It is my dream!” Lorelei nodded, finding the courage deep in her heart to look Wanderer in the eye once more. After a moment of awkward silence, Lorelei couldn’t help herself from looking away again and fiddling with her hands. “Y-Your face is very close. Usually everyone pulls away when I l-lick them. You’re not getting another one yet.” Lorelei explained quietly and pushed Wanderer’s head away with a palm, then stood up and walked out of the bush herself, her hands curled nervously into the somewhat loose fabric of her dress.

“It is my dream to see the stars.” Wanderer said, peering upwards to the sky beyond the scarlet canopy, before her gaze turned back to Lorelei. “I want to soar across the sky, and see things never seen before.”

“You saw me. The other sisters, Homura and Apostate saw me too… But other than you all? No one knows I e-exist. So right now you’re looking at a very r-rare breed of Homuran! One that has never been seen before! Except uhm, for e-everyone who’s already dead, but they don’t count!” Lorelei said, forcing a smug smile onto her face complete with closed eyes, until she half-opened one to look at Wanderer’s expression.

Wanderer was smiling, before she stepped back and twirled like a rose flower falling from above. “You are more than a very rare breed of Homuran. You are a flower that sparkles, a glittering gem from a far away dream, born in this beautiful world. You are Lorelei.” Wander gracefully leapt towards Lorelei - who let out a tiny gasp - and leaned in close, their noses almost touching again, but did not say another word.

Lorelei’s vision blurred.She felt tears welling up in her eyes. She knew that trying to wipe them away would be futile, so she just let them go. Eventually, some of them found their way to the corners of her mouth and prompted her to lick Wanderer’s face again. “Y-You get another one. Lucky, t-they aren’t as wet as a dog’s.”

“I do not really know what a dogs is, but it seems unlucky. I would like to see a dogs, and more of the animals and plants found throughout the world. I think it would be fun.” Wanderer said.

Lorelei pursed her lips, deciding that perhaps telling Wanderer that the only dog she had ever known was also the dog they ate was not a great idea. “Y-Yeah! They’re friendly and excitable and very ummm, fulfilling?” She fruitlessly tried to kick up some dirt with her foot and wiped away her tears. “I can’t kick up d-dirt. I am a ghost.”

“So am I.” Wanderer also kicked the ground yielding the same results.

“We are ghosts.” Lorelei sighed. “S-Should we haunt Fear?”

“She may become angry if we try. I would lose against her in a fight too. We should haunt Pride because she cannot fight back if we are seen.” Wanderer suggested.

“No! Not Pride, she’s mine! Let’s haunt Homura,” Lorelei smirked, “she w-won’t expect it.”

“I would also lose against her in a fight. I do not know if I can win against Apostate, and I am uncertain I wish to test that. His smoke can be frightening.” Wanderer shifted to lay on the ground, and look up at the branches and clouds high above. Lorelei almost immediately skipped over to Wanderer and lied down in such a way that she was half beside her and half on top of her.

“It’s kinda cold. It’s a family t-tradition to share body heat when the AC limiters break. One time we all slept together and it w-was very warm and cozy. I liked the heartbeats and the tight hugs.” She sighed and wrapped her arm around Wanderer as best as she could and nuzzled her shoulder.

“Hmm… Winter is coming. I have only heard stories about snow and a land so cold your breath appears in front of your face. The Eternal Fire keeps us warm, and connects us to our other selves. I have not slept for a while now, but I recall seeing things when I was not awake. I want to go to sleep again, and remember the feelings I felt in the past.” Wanderer murmured, and closed her eyes. Lorelei did not.

Instead, she stared at Wanderer’s face for a long enough time that her vision started to get brighter and sharper as she felt her pupils widening. Her tail swished around until it finally plopped onto her adoptive sister’s arm, and she felt a great desire welling up inside of her chest… The desire to slap.

She stayed like that, barely holding her instincts back as she watched Wanderer’s breathing settle into a slow, relaxed rhythm and her muscles relaxed.

It was too much for her little heart to take, and before she realized it she’d placed her palm, fingers spread wide apart, on Wanderer’s face.

“Hmm?” Only one eye opened, as Wanderer looked at Lore with curiosity. Lorelei twitched a little then quickly straddled Wanderer’s torso and put both of her hands on her big sister’s cheeks, unable to hide her sheepish grin and saucer-like eyes.

“Hii, I couldn’t h-help it. Sorry. It was a slap or a bite.” Lorelei explained, starting to gently knead her sister’s face.

“Hmm…” Wanderer answered, her features difficult to decipher as they were twisted and pulled, but even her enigmatic expression managed to remain both blank and docile, as though she had fallen asleep with her eyes open. It didn’t bother Lorelei though and she kept kneading away.

“Let’s hide, Wanda. Let’s hide or I’ll b-bite you. We can’t sleep out in the o-open. It’s dangerous!”

“Hmm…” Wanderer seemed to contemplate her words, but did nothing more as her eyes closed and she snored. It didn’t take more than two snores for Lorelei to bite her shoulder, recoiling with a whimper when she felt all the force behind her bite reflected back at her teeth.

“We gotta hide!” Lorelei repeated and whimpered again, shaking Wanderer’s shoulders. Breathing was starting to feel more difficult and she looked around quickly, her ears covering all of her blind spots. “He’s s-still looking for me, probably…!”

Wanderer still slept, but she began humming a quiet melody. Her arms wrapped around Lorelei with sudden speed and pulled her close, eliciting a small squeak from the girl. Softly she sang, “For one so small, you seem so strong. My arms will hold you, keep you safe and warm. This bond between us can't be broken... I will be here, so don’t you cry.”

The symbols that covered Wanderer’s face slowly receded, and though her eyes remained closed, she smiled as she hummed, and held onto Lorelei, who started to sob and sniffle. She seeked refuge by nuzzling against Wanderer’s neck, her entire body quaking with every single sob. “L-Liar… Everyone w-who’s told me t-that… Has died… Everyone is gone. I wanna s-see them again… But t-they’re gone… Don’t go too, please…!”

“I will be with you. Courage, and Kindness. Fear, and Curiosity. Pride. All of us will not leave you. Mother would be angry with us if we did, so you never need to worry about that happening, ya?” Wanderer said, imitating Courage with a wild grin and much more lively eyes, before her expression drooped, and she was back to quiet Wanderer. Lorelei hugged Wanderer as tightly as she could, trying to find some solace in her big sister’s embrace, some slight escape from the terrifying shadows of memories that lay behind everything she looked at.

“I-I’m sorry… I wanna be b-brave and strong like all of you, b-but… I’m scared… I wanna hide…” She sobbed again, “...I-I’m a worm…”

“I do not know what a worm is, but I know that you are Lorelei. Have faith, you are stronger than you think.” Wanderer said, gently stroking Lorelei’s hair. “You should ask Mother to make you stronger. Hmm… you would be like the rest of us that way.”

Lorelei said nothing and merely kept crying until she exhausted herself, letting Wanderer’s embrace and affection lull her into an uneasy sleep.



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