Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Ruin fulfils her purpose





Tucked away in one of the many rooms of the divine palace sat Ruina. Hoping to catch up upon what she had missed during her time straying away from the grand stage of Galbar, she made extensive use of the artifact that she had been given. The events that she had missed would forever be lost to her, but now with an unflinching eye she could gaze across the surface of Galbar unimpeded. Though she could not hear words she could at least witness events as they transpired. Of particular interest right now was the events transpiring around Iqelis. She recalled their previous encounter with disdain and thus decided to focus her vision upon him and his companion in order to keep an eye on what they might be doing.

Witnessing their discussion with Homura, Ruina pondered the reason why Iqelis chose to shift into the form of a giant insect. More intimidation games? Some things never change. As the group began to depart westward Ruina rose to her feet. Departing the room, she spent a few moments walking and found herself before the great bridge descending to Galbar. But she did not descend yet. Focusing into her artifact once more, Ruina sought out the group once more to continue watching. If Iqelis was indeed attempting to intimidate other gods again, Ruina had plans to confront him. With the enhancements made to her suit she felt confident in her ability to take the upper hand in a confrontation.

Interestingly, she’d be going there for a very different reason…

Indeed, the looming black figure was nowhere to be found in the vicinity of the rest of the trio. There was a clink nearby, not of a blow upon the luminous bridge, which would not have made a sound under the heaviest of treads, but of crystalline talons striking together as they alighted. There, the divine she had observed not long ago stood upon his two feet, arms folding together after having carried him through the tide of moments.

“The Elder One has need of your aptitude again,” he crackled, somewhere between amusement and irritation, “This time, His will has spoken with His own mouth.”

Ruina could sense him the moment he began to materialize. Opening her eyes and turning her focus out of her artifact for a moment, Ruina turned to face Iqelis and affixed upon him a guarded gaze. When he finished, Ruina pondered. Why she had not heard of this from Him directly? Still, if the words spoken were true, Ruina did not wish to disobey.

Blinking to show some form of motion, Ruina nodded. It was clear that she remained guarded from their previous encounter, and even if Iqelis said that the charge came from Him directly, Ruina wasn’t sure if this was some complicated ploy to entrap her somehow. Speaking at last, Ruina addressed the charge she was given. ”Very well. What is the duty that He had charged me with?”

“Down there,” a dark hand pointed at the end of the bridge, where it disappeared into the many-coloured canvas of the Galbar’s surface, “Wait two deathless lives, one I have taken and one I have given. In exchange for the first, I am made to put the second to the test, that He may know it is worthy of His dominion. You, whose art is to forge crucibles, must ensure that mine is not too lax.”

As Iqelis explained, Ruina listened. As she listened, her guarded stance became more justified. Iqelis had taken the life of a god? Then she was right to avoid trusting him. Blinking one more as her gaze shifted from the spot where Iqelis pointed back to him, Ruina spoke once more. ”Very well. Go. I will follow.”

The outstretched arm was joined by another score, and a wave of oily haste pointed the way down the sun-bridge’s golden span.




The Bones were green, mostly, with tough little wisps of grass that peeked out between rocks and whipped in the gusty in-and-out breath of stone-channelled wind. Then they were white, laden with year-round blankets of clean fresh clouds and the snow they left behind, trickling meltwater that fed the valleys and tasted of youth and rock. In between, they were brown. The peaks of Aletheseus’ grave were fertile, but they were also very cold.

Ea Nebel sat on that gravel-studded slope now, between the drab alpine meadow and the lifeless, peaceful summit above. The flank of the dozy Iron Boar sheltered her from the wind, but her knees were still tucked to her chest and her arms around them, a hood thrown over her head. Nothing changed until she yelled. 

“Why me? Why am I forbidden?”

Her shout was answered with silence from the Goddess of Honor who listened from afar. The red deity had kept a distance, merely observing Ea Nebel, but never speaking to her. Homura did not hide her presence, as she stood atop a large ledge that protruded near the mountain’s peak. She still held Daybringer, the golden spear shining brightly like the light of the sun as it rose above the horizon.

Only the wind saw fit to speak, and didn’t have much to say.

Ea Nebel abruptly stood, tall and steady. She whirled her finger once, and a black sling tied itself around it, and a stone. She whipped it around and released with a crack of leather at the easy target.

The projectile shot through the cold air and struck Homura, the rock biting deep into the flesh of her stomach. The goddess stumbled back, before the stone fell from her bleeding wound, and she returned to her previous stance, ignoring her injury while she continued to watch Ea Nebel. Their gaze met again, Nebel covering her mouth with her fingertips, eyes wide. Her mouth formed some mumbled word that the wind blew away.

She sat down as quickly as she’d stood. Her arms tightened around her knees, and no more words were spoken.




A rain of loosened pebbles rolled down the slope as the parting outburst of the Flow, whose misty blackness mingled with the waning light of the already distant bridge, eroded the ground under them. In the retreating halo of gold and black, a new silhouette was left standing in the stirring stones.

“The second judge will be here soon,” Iqelis announced flatly, “We can-”

His words broke away into silence as his sweeping eye clambered up the mountain and stopped on the oozing blemish on Homura’s person. It shone in a blinding white flare, and the very next moment he was scrambling up to the edge of the cliff with unnatural vigour, many-limbed like some horrible spider. Dozens of hands gropingly reached up to the wound, and the raucous churning of a buried whirlpool rose from somewhere deep in the god’s frame. A blink, and already his claws were gripping the ledge, the hungry glow of his gaze not far behind.

Ruina did not immediately follow. Instead she turned her focus once more into the artifact she had. Sending her gaze doward to the spot that had been indicated, the first thing she saw was a lightly wounded Homura, and Iqelis racing towards her. To say that her suspicions felt reassured was an understatement. Ruina’s eyes snapped open, and she lunged down the bridge at top speed.

Were it not for the divine material that the palace was hewn from, Ruina would’ve left scrapes and footprints in her wake. Upon Galbar a streaking form rocketed down from the sky to land in front of Homura, and from the cloud of dust rose Ruina. Raising her left arm Ruina seemed to grip at nothing, but the moment before her hand would have closed to a fist, a large blade of bone erupted from her arm.

Unlike what one would imagine, Ruina didn’t flinch at this development. Instead she held it aloft seemingly effortlessly, pointing the tip of the long blade straight at Iqelis’ chest. Her tail joined in this weaponizing, with a large stinger growing from the tip as it raised above her head, much like a true scorpion’s tail. With a firm voice, Ruina issued a stout command. ”Cease your bloodlust!” The god let himself drop back to the lower slope with a discontented growl, his frenzied light fading.

With her command issued, Ruina’s attention turned slightly, to Homura. A soft whisper found its way to Homura’s ear. ”Are you well? What has happened? Is this a trap to slay us?”

Ruina’s gaze remained fixed upon Iqelis’ form, waiting to see what madness would come.

“That is distracting,” the One-Eye remonstrated from below, with an irritated jab of a finger in the red goddess' direction.

Homura had remained still the entire time, her crimson eyes colder than the frigid air around them, but she spoke calmly in a monotonous voice. “I am well, but our brother seems mentally ill. I doubt this is a trap, for it would be a poorly designed one, nor have I detected any attempt to deceive me from either of them. I am Homura, and you have my gratitude for your intervention, sister. Let us allow them to provide a proper explanation now that we are all gathered here.”

With the explanation given, Ruina nodded slightly. The whispered voice returned briefly to Homura’s ear. ”Very well. I will hear them out. I am Ruina, sister.” What would now be notable, with things having grown slightly calmer, is that the weapons that Ruina’s suit had grown were flush with destructive energy. It wouldn’t take much of an examination to realise that they were exceptionally capable of bringing harm to even divine forms. Why would Ruina have such a thing? A curious question to be sure, but interestingly the primary answer to that question had a blade levelled down at him for the moment.

A gentle grey hand alighted on Ruina’s wrist. She looked and saw Ea Nebel, standing with them at last, her eyes exploring every corner of her, down the edge of the blade and up the twisted surface of her armour, around the lethal loop of her tail and resting, finally, on her face. Fragments of thought broke off from the jade rune-ring on her hand and crawled up Ruina’s arm as glyphs. The only sign that she had been swept up in the wave of tension was the doom-claw, resting loosely in her hand, hanging from her index finger with its ring of ivory.

“You’re wearing a corpse.” She did not introduce herself further.

As she felt the hand of Ea Nebel touch her wrist, Ruina’s head and tail snapped instantly to glare at the surprise arrival, but instead of launching an attack Ruina merely blinked as she considered the statement provided. By all accounts the observation was correct, but there was more nuance to it than just being a corpse.

As the thought-glyphs began to crawl up her arm Ruina pulled it free from Ea Nebel’s grip. Releasing the handle of bone that protruded from the blade caused it to retract back into Ruina’s form nearly instantly. As it did, the raw destructive energy that was wafting from it vanished promptly. The stinger in Ruina’s tail followed shortly afterwards, and her tail would fall into being merely a balancing tool once more. Now, at last, she would address the observation. ”It is more than that.”

Folding her arms, Ruina would look back to Iqelis before speaking once more. ”Explain yourself. Why is it that Homura is wounded, with you so eager to finish what was started?”

“That’s-” Ea Nebel interrupted, caught herself, frowned, and continued anyway. “That’s not important right now. Divine Ruina,” she began instead, flicking her wrist to shake off the leaking glyphs, matching gaze briefly with Homura. “I am Ea Nebel, a god for the grave. The one to be put to test. You,” she repeated, slowly, impassively, “you are a grave. Her bones are your blades now. A monument to her hunger. There’s nothing like you in this world.” 

Four gunmetal eyes searched Ruina’s own pale jade gaze, tracing the crooked lines of her scars, her bleached white hair, flicking in the same breeze as Ea Nebel’s own. They settled again on Ruina’s narrow pupils, searching for nothing in particular.

Ruina’s eyes narrowed slightly. Not important? A wounded divine being about to be eaten alive by a divine that had previously gone and murdered another wasn’t important? Ruina disagreed quite severely. ”I am told that these trials are happening because a god has died at Iqelis’ hand, and I myself have some unfavourable history with Iqelis. A wounded god with Iqelis charging at them is something that I do consider quite important, given the context.”

“...”

Taking a moment to brush away the errant thoughts herself, Ruina’s eyes hardened to a glare as Ea Nebel began to compare her to a grave and call her unique. Blinking away the glare, Ruina would fold her arms firmly once more before speaking. ”My sister was a murderer from birth. It was by the whimsy of luck that she did not succeed. I took back what was rightfully mine… And it was not a pleasant happening. On this I will say no more.”

“I know,” whispered the gravekeeper. “You don’t need to. Ruina.”

Now Ruina affixed her gaze upon Iqelis, waiting for a proper answer. The whispers coming from Ea Nebel were noted, but for right now Ruina had higher priorities to tend to, so they would need to wait.

“Unlike some, who while away the cycle in keeps and palaces,” the acidic crack of ice shattering over a toxic waste-pit answered her stare from the head of the slope, “I feel the pull of my duty keenly through every drop of the Flow. The spilled blood of an immortal calls to me, compels me to sever the frayed thread, which brings me joy immeasurable. If the Lance-Flame cannot cross a mountain without gashing herself open, she should travel underhill.”

Ruina’s eyes narrowed once more as Iqelis explained himself. The explanation sounded more akin to an excuse, and the barb tossed alongside it made it seem as if Iqelis was doing his best to lessen the blow to himself. Ruina, naturally, wouldn’t tolerate that in the slightest. ”So your given excuse is that you admit you have no control over yourself? Forget not that I am destruction incarnate, and yet show an immense amount of restraint when it comes to my actions. Perhaps you would be wise to begin emulating my choices rather than disparaging them. Regardless, bickering with you is not why I was brought here. Return to the proper course of things, or I shall see to it that your efforts are marked as failures before they even begin.”

At this point Ruina began to tap her claws against her arm, producing three quick tapping sounds followed by a slightly delayed fourth sound as the sharp claws harmlessly impacted on the firm shell of Ruina’s suit. Ea Nebel continued to weigh her with impenetrable eyes.

“Restraint is a fine word for those who would make of sloth a virtue,” jibed the Fly as he moved to a high rocky pass nearby in long leaps from boulder to boulder, “Nor did your Lord call for an envenomed judge. Hark now! Four trials were demanded, and four there shall be. I will test my child for the essential virtues that are required of true divinity to fulfill its purpose. The first ordeal waits in the vale beyond this gulch. Make yourselves ready.”

The demigoddess looked down, exhaled, held it. When she looked up again, it was to stare down the path of the meadow and into the jagged dark of the valley beyond, leaving the bitter tension behind her like a bowstring strung between eyes. 

“May the Imperial Sun lead not my step astray,” she prayed. “I’ll see you soon, Father.”

She curtsied once each to her judges and leapt down from the ledge, coattails fluttering like windblown fire as she descended. Her silhouette soon grew small and lonely on the meadow. Ea Nebel summoned the Monarch’s talisman back around her neck under her hood. She knew not what lay before her: what terrors of the mind, what agonies of the flesh, what temptations and humiliations of the heart. So she was grateful, if nothing else, for its warmth.

The Iron Boar grunted a sad and knowing farewell, and she stopped, once, to force a smile in its direction. Then she turned around no more, and disappeared into the valley.


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Hidden 7 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


The days that followed the ritual were...interesting in their combination of quietness and activity.

The ritual itself had been physically taxing on all three hundred participants, including Raethel, all of whom needed some time to rest and recover from the ordeal. As such they were helped down into the nearby barrows so that they could get the rest they needed, with those Rattus making sure they got things to eat and water to drink being respectfully quiet in order to allow those who were sleeping to sleep.

The river itself was a frenzy of activity. The original plan of action against the water monsters had demanded a great number of water craft be produced and water had been produced in great numbers prior to the change in plans from a cleansing extermination to conversion via magical ritual. After a few brave Rattus had sailed out in order to test if the ritual had worked and not come under attack via water monster, even after landing on the opposite bank and walking up to one of the creatures to touch them, a sizeable number of Rattus had jumped at the chance to hop on a water craft and explore the new world that had opened up now that the river wasn't contested and the opposite bank wasn't a death sentence to explore anymore.

The only thing that stopped a tide of Rattus from running up to the nearest water monster and touching them was the presence of the few followers of the green wind that hadn't taken part in the ritual itself and were thus still in a condition to actually be active. While the animals were no longer inherently hostile to the Rattus and even instinctively liked them now, they stressed the point that the water monsters were still wild animals who could be dangerous if they felt the need to be and swarming them seemed like a fast way to make them want to defend themselves.

So within days of the ritual, outposts had been claimed and set up on the new side of the river, effectively doubling the amount of ground that the Rattus had held previously. The followers of the wind of nature and life were the ones to set up outposts near to where the water monsters tended to live through; While originally few in number, as ritualists started to recover those numbers were bolstered quickly.

Out of all the Rattus, the followers of the green wind were the most in-tune with the natural world... and that included its animal residences. As such, they were the ones who were going to be given the duty of taming the water monsters proper. While the ritual had done the heavy lifting in this regard due to outright removing the creatures natural aggression towards the Rattus and replacing it with more positive instincts, a better relationship with the grey creatures would require time and effort to establish.

It was on the second day that Raethel awakened... and it was with surprise that when he did, Aethel was waiting beside him. The deity couldn't help but smile as they said "You know... I remember saying rather recently that I was looking forward to seeing just how you, and I use the term you to describe the Rattus in general, were going to handle this situation with the water monsters. I will freely admit that I didn't know fully what to expect... but I must say I'm quiet proud of what you've ended up doing in the end. Well done."

There was a moment were Raethel was speechless. While the god of magic was a polite entity, it was still nice to receive praise from the entity that had helped uplift him from the existence he had before. When he tried to say something, words failed to come out of his mouth; His throat was completely dry as sleeping for at least two days had prevented him from drinking in that time. Aethel for their part politely waved the effort to talk off. "Do not worry. I will be brief and then I'll let you get some rest. Since you've proven to me that you've taken those lessons to heart and are able to survive without a god watching over your shoulders, I'm going to let you have your space and start roaming again. I'll stop by every now and then and I'm able to hear your prayers to me if something that you need a deity to deal with on turns up, but I think you'll largely do alright under your own leadership."

Clearing their throat a little, Aethel chuckled as they decided to continue "There is one last thing I will leave you through. Direction. I've spent some time recently debating with myself to give you a quest in much the same way as the god of darkness did. However, I've found myself with three good ideas that would in turn be beneficial for you and your people to pursue, if you didn't consider such ideas on your own anyway. However, then I decided that instead of picking one and forcing it upon you... I might offer all three to you and you may pursue them at your own pace in whatever order you desire. It's not like they have a time limit or anything."

"The three quests I bestow upon the Rattus people are as follows, to be pursued in whatever order the Rattus deem fit. The first is that They are to spread beyond the confines of their river home and claim the rest of their homeland as their own. The second is that they will discover a means to sail upon the great expanse of water that the river runs to and sail out to discover a land that is not apart of their original homeland. The third will be to find a means to defeat the mountains at the start of the river in order to allow Rattus to pass them safely and explore whatever lays on the other side." All of this was said with a surprisingly serious voice... and once it was done Aethel offered a playful wink. "I don't expect you to achieve any of these anytime soon. But I'm sure it'll keep you all busy for a good while. Take care Raethel and rest well."

With Aethel having ended their one sided conversation, they turned and walked out of the room. Where they went after that, Raethel couldn't say... but his eyes boggled at the tasks that had been presented before him and the Rattus as a whole. Oh boy...







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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Blessed Blood of the North


The rill flowed and sang, crystalline and melodious. Over its surface, the nisshinek twirled, dipping and rising in a dance that mirrored its ebb and flow. When the stream leapt up on a great slimy stone or a piece of driftwood lodged in the damp soil, the sprite swooped down in a powdery cascade and brushed its surface with a thin edge. When it sank in a groove in the riverbed or fell through a gap between stones, the child of frost soared among the fronds of young trees above, leaving a glittering veneer on the giant leaves and knocking down the odd cone or acorn. Its laughter echoed the splash of water on mossy banks in a tinkling of minute icicles.

It was that laughter, as it rolled among the venerable living pillars of the roofless temple that was the wood, that called the shadow. The music of the stream was broken when a branch crashed into it, and the nisshi recoiled in horror when the clear water was polluted by the stringy dust of decayed wood. There was little time for it to recoup, however. Something came fast on its heels, dark and enormous and choking like the edge of a wildfire. A wehniek, it thought. Then it glanced back and met the shadow’s pulsing red eye, and knew that it was something far worse.

The nisshi leapt away from the tainted rill and into the wood, searching for a hiding place behind the mossy trunks or in the tangle of serpentine roots. Everywhere it darted, the shadow hounded it. Ancient wood was of no protection; as soon as the thing inside the black cloud touched it, it fell apart into worm-ridden splinters and sludge. Birds fled with alarmed cries as trees toppled, gnawed by invisible teeth, and slammed into each other in a mutilation of leaves and boughs. The sprite slipped into the tall undergrowth, but grass and bushes withered away under the shadow’s breath. It jumped, twirled, cried out in wordless terror. There was nowhere to go.

Nooses of smoke curled around it, and despite its struggling – how weak it felt in that caliginous grip! - the nisshinek felt itself pulled to the cloud’s heart. It felt the writhing of a flame somewhere nearby, but no heat, only the bitterness of ash. Then the fire swallowed it, and its crystals cracked in a final scream, for it burned!

In the jaws of the cold blaze, the nisshi melted, and the contented thrum of the unhuman drowned out its cries.




”We meet again under the sixfold-cursed moon; what have you seen?”

“I have savoured this land’s carefree souls; they are worthless, but delectable.”

“I have sampled of its hungry shades; they are useful, but their taste is foul.”

“I have found those whom we seek. Quiet now! They are close, be ready.”





The forest by night was not something one ever fully became used to. Nights were made to be slept through, eyes and ears shut to their strange shadows, or at most whiled away by the fire, where the warm crackling light kept away the darkness and its illusions. Out in the woods, with nothing to relieve the sight besides the moon sometimes timidly peeking through the branches, there was simply too much for a fevered imagination to latch on to. That lichen-coated boulder by the dead tree might have been a bear spying anything that moved through squinted black eyes; that bush might have been hiding something that crouched, formless and terrible, waiting to pounce; that tangle of dry wood in the fallen leaves could have been a dead body that would now stand up, with a gaping mouth full of broken teeth and empty, hungry eyes…

Kinte shook her head and vigorously rubbed her eyes, chasing away the terrors born of a fanciful mind inflamed by a lack of sleep. There was nothing out here but trees and owls! She had walked through that thicket more times than she knew to count, and not once had she seen a bear or a hungry spirit. She did not even know what the latter really looked like. Like a dead thing that walked, said those her did; but then, thank the spirits, she had never seen a dead childan, and there was nothing frightening about an animal’s body. So, it followed that there was nothing to be afraid of here, either!

All these things made perfect sense in the light of day, but when everything around was black and she could not tell if that mound a few paces away was a stone or a plant, they sounded a mite less convincing even in her head. If a bear or a spirit had really been there, would it have cared for Kinte’s reasoning about how they should not? No, it would just have jumped on her and ripped her apart. It was impossible, it was unlikely, she could tell herself that all she wanted; it was not going to convince the world around her if things were otherwise.

Enough of these waking excuses for nightmares! She angrily smacked the nearest tree with the flat of her hand, and blinked in surprise when it answered with a mournful groan of wounded wood. Then she felt like laughing. She was a woman of the tribe! What did she have to fear? That strange strength, the gift of the Spirit Father, coursed in her limbs. It was the bears and ghosts* that should be afraid of her, and if she met one now, she would…

“Hey.”

Something warm touched her shoulder, and before she knew it she had spun around, by some miracle having held back her fist before it struck Hattek’s wide-eyed face.

“Seeing things again?” He smiled, and she let him lower her hand with a chortle.

“You know I can’t help it.” There was a sound of something heavy trudging through the bushes, and she was ready to jump again. But it was only Laach, looking bemusedly at her expression as he hauled half a great elk’s jaw over his shoulder, heavy and toothed. After all, a bear could have been there even if she did not see it. Kinte nodded at him. “Did you bring any more surprises?”

Hattek shook his head, smirking. “None. I hope you didn’t either.”

“Issi is watching today. The way she sits staring at the fire, she won’t even notice I’m gone if I get back before the moon starts to set.”

Something flashed between the trees in the corner of her eye. She did not hear any sound. It was nothing, just the darkness again. Nothing. Hattek had not seen it either.

Instead, he laid a hand on her belly, listening through the skin. “And how long until they all notice this?”

She covered his ahnd with hers. “Many moons still. Nobody’s even thinking about me now,” she chuckled, “There’s some others who are past hiding it already. Does your tribe know anything about that?”

“I can guess a few,” he grinned. Who it was, however, was to remain unsaid, for at that moment Laach shuffled closer to them, fidgeting uneasily with his elkbone maul.

“There’s something around here,” he muttered in his low grumbling voice, “Maybe nobody’s followed Kinte, but-”

A splash of something dark and heavy struck the side of his face from the treeline, and a cold, colourless light blinked through the air. Laach dropped the elk-jaw and clutched his mouth as more pale sparks erupted around him.

Kinte barely had time to jump before something searingly cold brushed against her ankles, and her legs gave way under her. She grasped at the air as she toppled on her back, and felt a dusty stirring like a waft of smoke run between her fingers, then that same icy burn. The moon was red as she stared up with clenched teeth. No, not the moon. A round, red eye was looking down at her, and in it she thought she saw detached curiosity together with a tired disgust, like someone examining a strange new insect.

Someone collapsed with a thud and a grunt beside her – Hattek? Laach? - but she could not turn her head to look. Her feet, her wrists, her shoulders, everywhere that cold breath had touched, refused to answer her.

Flies buzzed nearby, ahead of her. Flies at night. The red eye moved aside, and she could see the trees again, with the moon, still white, still without a pupil, up in the sky.

A piece of the forest stepped forward, and the moon glanced down. A light in the hollow eye of a skull. Branches and trunks were bones blackened by the flame, tatters of rotting skin and flesh hanging from them like the last leaves of a southern tree before the winter. A hundred arms. Sharpened fingers. The dead lived, as tall as the sky.

“This is a land of spirits,” the night spoke with the voice of a wood where every tree bent and fell with hoary age, “Only now will it know the touch of the One God. You will be the first to bear the Blessed Blood.”

The hundred arms stretched down to the earth, and waves of pain rolled through Kinte as something was torn from her hands and feet. The fifth finger, she understood before the urge to scream the pain away drowned out everything else. But now her mouth, too, was locked as if by frostbite, and only agonising moans forced their way out of her disobedient lips. The sounds around her head told her that she was not the only one.

Darkness gathered before her eyes. A half-flayed, half-fleshless blackened face as tall as her whole body bent over her. She could see huge corpse-worms wriggling in the ruins of its right eye, and the glazed, foggy, faintly glowing barren orb of its left one.

“Your child will be born under my sign.”

Then a lance of agony burrowed into her head, and she saw no more.




Kinte opened her eye and rolled it around, taking in the smells of the night as her glance ran and hopped about. Dark sky, sinking moon. Bodies among the trees, pale and – huge? No, they were just like her. Blood pulsing, healthy, powerful. Loose red hair tangled in the undergrowth, four-fingered hands splayed on the ground. Everyone was still asleep.

She rose to her feet, marvelling at how much less imposing the woods were than she had thought before. That bush, had she really ever thought it was a bear? She could have squashed it under one foot now. Her eye fell on a trunk that stood before her, where a faintly glowing sign, as starkly white as her skin had been carved into the bark. Despite the size of the hand that had scratched it, it was only about as large as something she could have made.



As memory stirred, she raised a hand to her belly. Her child. What would there have been for it before? Shame, resentment, envy? Those same things that made it so that it should be born a pariah among its people, just because she had done what every living thing did?

Now, it was blessed. Now, it had a destiny.

Grass and leaves rustled behind her, and she turned around without fear. Hattek and Laach were groggily standing up, running their tongues on their lips, winking and smirking as she greeted them with a grin. Behind them were all the others, every bit as tall and strong. Five women, ten men. Brothers and sisters of the Blessed Blood, their Blood. There were groans among them, and some scratched their empty stomachs.

“The moon is setting,” said Kinte, “Issi will come looking soon.”

She smiled wide, and a forest of sharp white teeth answered.

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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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The First War

The Hills of Western Nalusa


“A second time,” one of the men spat, gripping his crude club so tightly that his tanned knuckles became white as bone.

They found this group of men and women just like they’d found the first: skulls cracked, half their ribs shattered, tongues torn out, and the mangled corpses crudely thrown down and abandoned atop a nearby bluff in the dead of night. This gruesome display was the work of monsters, and yet not the work of mere beasts. Beasts wouldn’t have gone to such effort to mutilate and maim or to drag corpses up a hill, and moreover, common predators would have eaten their kills. Some of them already had, actually; the circling of so many vultures and a feeling of renewed dread had been what drew them to this hillock at dawn in the first place.

They all turned to their prophet. Some had eyes of fear, others of disgust, a few with steely resolve or even vacant emptiness that suppressed something else. “It is as I feared,” Kartar stated flatly.

Two of the eyes locked upon Kartar were filled with rage – something that not many knew in those early, distant days, in the time before all men even knew of the plough, before calendars, writing, metal, and war, when the ovens and kilns had first been lit.

Those two eyes alight with fire belonged to one Atash. Atash was a very strong man. As a boy he had slain a lioness with a spear, and as a young man its mate had finally tracked him down and attacked in the dead of night for vengeance. Yet Atash had awoken and strangled the tremendous beast to death in the darkness of the night. He wore their pelts always as his prize, and in so doing became perhaps more lion than man. Admired for his strength and courage, he was, even if they called him the Lion of the Night; he would have been respected and perhaps followed too, if not for his wild and crude mannerisms.

That all changed on this day, when Atash demanded that their tribe’s leader and prophet answer for his failings.

“So you say that you Saw who killed our hunters three days ago,” the Lion of the Night began, “and when I said that I would lead the hunt to slay these monsters, be they lion or worse, you said that they were no beasts; that you had Seen their killers a people like us, and that they might be reasoned with. And here these of our people have died for nothing, the folly of your weakness, your short-seeing Sight, your desire to speak to our enemies. I will suffer no talks with whatever things did this to my brethren. I will slay them and wear their hides! I swear it by the sun and by moon!”

There was dead silence, and then a dozen murmurs at once. Such oaths were not to be taken lightly, and his tone and words to Kartar were not at all becoming. “Do not speak to the prophet like that!” a brave man cried even as he reached out to try and grab Atash by the shoulder, but the Lion brashly and easily pushed him away. “Let the fool speak for himself,” Atash declared to the one who had objected to him, and also in sight and hearing of the ten others who had thought the same but feared to challenge the Lion.

Kartar scowled, but he paused to contemplate a response. Atash raised his arms, a lion on each shoulder, as if to show all those assembled that they ought to take this brief silence to be something like foolishness, something like a lack of an answer. But Kartar gave his answer soon after, “Others have walked that way before, and returned unscathed. There is surely a message of some sort to be uncovered here; we may not need to fight the folk of that hill, if only we can come to understand them!”

Atash had no words for Kartar; his lips only quivered while his nostrils flared. He lowered his arms, and Kartar stood triumphant for a moment, thinking that his wisdom had prevailed. But Atash turned his back upon the prophet, looked to the others, and softly spake, “So you have heard his words. You will know why I must do this; if not, then perhaps you are cowards and weaklings too, and deserving of the same fate.”

Then Atash spun about and raised an arm once more, only this time to strike Kartar. Once, twice, across the face and in the gut he struck the man. He battered the prophet, and he knocked their disgraced leader to the ground. They all bore witness to the scene: some had eyes filled with spite, others with fear, and yet others with agreement. But in the end, none had stopped the Lion of the Night from seizing the prophet’s place and casting him down in shame.

They returned to the rest of the tribesfolk at their camp, and King Atash reiterated his vow and his vendetta tenfold. That night they began making all the necessary preparations, knapping sharp new spearheads and carving even more heavy clubs.



In the nearby foothills, not long prior


Garza frowned so much that he was known as the Frown. His mouth was always set in a straight line and his brows were ever furrowed so that he always looked - at the very least - deeply unimpressed by whatever he saw. All who knew him considered it a great mercy from the Magnificent Sleeper that the maramoda lived in the darkness belowground and so could by and large avoid the torture of seeing his constant frown while lazing in the warm depths of their burrows.

Still, no one living in a community - maramoda or otherwise - could get away with wearing a frown all the time unless they could impose it with force or fear. Garza had mustered both.

It had occurred on the day he shed childhood and became a maraman. He was sat outside the burrow, as one does, staring off into the distance and wearing a deep frown when one of the others, an established warrior called Utu who had hunted an elephant or two in his time, walked by him. Utu gave Garza one look before slapping him round the face and hissing at him in a barely audible whisper to, “get that frown off your face.”

Shocked and startled, Garza looked at him with wide eyes and a deep scowl, which caused Utu to strike him again, harder this time. Incensed, Garza rose and shoved his face into that of the other, and they stood flaring their snouts and glaring into one another’s eyes. Utu shoved him with a shoulder, but Garza was hardly moved and, leaning back, smashed his broad forehead right into the other maraman’s snout. Blood exploded from Utu’s nose, who then raised his claws and slashed Garza across the forehead. Catching Utu’s offending hand before it could be withdrawn from his bleeding forehead, Garza headbutted him again across the snout, then again as Utu flailed and tried to shove the scowling maramadman away.

Once he had bashed him so much that Utu was on his knees before him, Garza proceeded to hammer at Utu’s face from above with the side of his fist, at points jumping and bringing his fist hammering home with all his bodily force. No matter how hard Utu flailed and blocked with his one free hand he could not stop the excessively violent onslaught. He took it all in silence, however, not a squeak or shout of pain escaping his lips; he would have sooner died than give off the squeak that awakened the Magnificent Sleeper and his wrath.

And die he would have had Garza had his way, but the rest of Utu’s party soon appeared and, seeing the sight, rushed forth and parted the crazed scowler from the unconscious Utu. One of them, a veteran and elder called Urma, tapped his temple sharply at Garza with a frown - are you mad?
Garza looked away with a scowl and huffed, flicking his wrist towards Utu - it was his fucking fault.
Urma scoffed and gestured at Utu with his snout while drawing a claw across his throat - you nearly fucking killed him!
Garza rolled his eyes and raised his brows briefly - he deserves it.
Shaking his head, Urma left Garza where he was and gestured for the others to drag Utu inside before moving to follow them. He glanced behind him and signalled for Garza to get back to keeping a lookout, and the young maraman rose and looked at Urma with a deep frown… then nodded.

That frown never left his face after that, though it was many years later - when he threw the chief Sagma and nearly cleft his head in twain with his claws, and so usurped the title of chieftain for himself - that everyone came to call him Garza the Frown.

He was sat above one burrow entrance, a habit he had kept to since the day he pummelled Utu, when the furless aboveground urchins had come shouting and screeching in their fleshy, wet language. That was all some days ago now. He had seen them long before he heard them, of course, but contented himself with leaning on his fire-hardened spear and watching until it became clear that they were heading right for the burrow, at which point he signalled to one of the lookouts below to send a warning through and gather a party to intercept the furless urchins if the need arose.

On any other day, he would likely have led an attack to disperse and warn them off long before, but he was in a rather good mood on that particular afternoon - despite his perpetual frown. That quickly evaporated when the urchins started screeching as they came near enough to begin their ascent towards the burrow entrance, and Garza leapt from his high vantage point and charged without a word. The party that had gathered at the burrow entrance followed him after a few seconds, charging down the hill on all fours with their tails wrapped about their spears. They raised them high as they charged and - but for their breathing and the pounding of their heavy feet against the ground - the charge was most notable for its deathly silence.

Of course, in the heat of the moment, panic overtook those humans and they failed to even make note of that perilous silence. Not knowing what offense they had committed, the foremost emissary raised up his empty hands and cried out for peace, shouting that he meant no ill. His companions had brought arms, though. Even for such a mission of peace they remembered well the grisly fate of the hunters who had been slain in these hills, and it would be foolish besides to ever roam the Nalusite plains without something to fend off lions and other beasts. Some of those brandished their clubs or spears high in warning even as they held fast and advanced no further. With wavering resolve, one of the younger lads looked back over his shoulder. He was visibly shaking, and terrified of the prospects of meeting the charge of the maramoda. In that moment, he contemplated fleeing.

The lumbering giants of the marmot race left him no time, however, as their well-fattened forms came lurching forth and then - rather unexpectedly - leapt to close the final distance between them and those furless urchins. In that leaping second spears switched from tails to hands, and the maramoda rained down like a hail of fleshy spears upon the hapless lot.

The spears of the maramoda found their targets well, and when the spears of those noisy enemies managed to dig into a maramoda they sunk into well-fattened forms and left little in the way of serious injuries. It was less a battle and more a swift race to silence their raucous screeching. When they were done, however, Garza the Frown was in a foul mood. He walked among the dead and where he found the slightest signs of fading life he snuffed it out with fleshy hammering on heads, necks, faces. He wrenched mouths open and clawed out tongues. Seeing this, the others swiftly started imitating him, bashing even the heads of the dead. Crossing one who looked rather young - with no fur but wisps on the upper lip - Garza took the corpse’s head up in his two hands and, stepping on a shoulder for leverage, pulled with such force that the head came tearing off with a good bit of spine. He inspected his gory works for fleeting seconds before letting the head drop and moving on. They returned to their burrows and mates drenched in blood that night, and the marawomenfolk had to use all their powers of will to restrain their cries and moans as those bloodied victors celebrated their triumph night-long.

When the sun rose, Garza was on his perch to greet it, his eyes scanning the plains. He paused on the bodies of the urchins every now and then, and huffed in irritation. When they had become such an eyesore that he did not wish to see them anymore, he signalled to one of his warriors to gather up a party and go throw the corpses on some far off hill where the smell would not disturb them and the sight would not mar the view, and so they had done just that.

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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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The First of Knights

...rip and tear…


Farwaen walked behind Hafface, his eyes studying her intently. She was rather weak looking and though she walked with purpose through the forest, he couldn’t help but notice her clumsy footfalls. He could only assume her parents were of a weaker stock — and noticing the abundance of lumber all around and the lack of the danger of the plains, he could think of why. Even still, he knew she was his guide to his quest, and beyond his judgement all he could feel was appreciation for her humble acceptance of his presence.

“Thank you once again,” He called out to her, causing her to flinch. The spattering of greens surrounded them as silence dominated the area following his voice. It took her a moment before she replied, much more carefully and quieter than he was speaking.

“Why are you following me?”

He frowned, clearly he wasn’t clear. “I’m on a quest.”

Hafface stopped to look at the Eidolon.

“What does that have to do with me?”

Farwaen gave a sheepish grin. “I don’t know where my quest is.”

“Remember my second question?” Hafface asked.

Farwaen opened his mouth, but before he could get an answer out, the roar of a bear came trampling through the underbrush. The serene noises of the forest were replaced with heavy growls and snapping branches. A massive beast of brown fur and teeth burst out of the green foliage — Farwaen’s eyes doubling in size, and a rattling scream coming from Hafface.

Instinctively, Farwaen punched out with his shield, catching the beast twice his size on its rim. His arm felt no weight thanks to the magical properties of his bulwark, leaving the bear snapping its jaws around the edge of the shield. Farwaen’s surprised expression turned to one of deadly seriousness.

“By Hevel…” he swore. Blinking eyes of all sizes were twinkling all around the scene and beasts of many sizes were emerging from the dark forest. Even the songbirds above began to circle angrily, screaming revenge at the trespassers. They were surrounded. Farwean bit down and bared his teeth at the salivating bear.

“See me through my battles, oh Lord.” His prayer was a growl. Hafface dove behind the knight and Farwaen’s blade flashed, catching the sun. All at once, the forest charged.

Farwaen stabbed out with his blade, slipping by his shield and dispatching the bear with a clean strike through the lung. The bear fell off his bulwark and he spun in time to use the edge of the circular shield to break the neck of a barking wolf. Without losing focus, he swung his blade around, slicing through a hovering songbird and landing into the neck of a deer with a fleshy thunk.

Squirrels bounded off the tree branches, tiny teeth and claws aimed for the Knight and his ward. Farwaen caught three on his shield, one with a stab of his sword, and bucking out his head, he knocked another one clean out of the sky. His boot came down to finish the beast with a splatter, putting him back into a fighting stance.

Wolves were circling him now and deer were stamping the ground. Farwaen gave a bestial roar and not waiting for his enemy, he brought the fight to them. Hafface screamed about something Farwaen couldn’t see, his vision as red as his sword as he dove in. He dodged a bite, uppercutted the jaw of a buck with the handle of his blade, drove a wolf to the ground with a stomp on the head, and brought his bulwark down to decapitate it. Blood sprayed and another wolf came snapping at his legs, but Farwaen was quick to strike its nose with his elbow, spinning to drive the point of his blade through its back and out it’s stomach.

The scene was painted red as more and more of the forest’s denizens attacked the knight with a maddened fury that could only be described as supernatural, but Farwaen was unshaken. He danced among the macabre scene, scoring the trees with the blood and flesh of his enemy, until at last the only sound left was Farwaen yanking his blade from the skull of a moose.

“Ha…” Farwaen mocked, only to spin on his heel and strike out with his blade. A sneaky polecat was now impaled on the end of it, the rest of the blade struck into a tree. Keeping pose, he looked over at the reddened Hafface. The elf was peeking up at the warrior through her fingers, only her face free of speckled sanguine.

She sputtered her words. “The… Beast Queen…”

“Beast Queen?” Farwaen pulled his blade free and gave it a flick, spraying blood off the sleek metal. He gave it one more flick before sliding it back into its scabbard.

“You want a quest?” Hafface found her resolution. “Then I think I have one for you. Come with me, I’ll bring you to Noetal. He knows everything there is to know.”

-0-


Along the outskirts of Masol’s settlement there was a house of sticks. While nothing should be noteworthy about such a thing, the house of sticks was one of a kind among the elves. It consisted of poles driven into the ground, then woven together with smaller branches. Curved to a round top, the entire home was complete and a blanket of moss was cut to curtain the entrance. Most unique about such a structure, though, was that it was much too small to contain a pile of elves.

Inside it’s soil smelling walls was only a single elf. He was a tall elf with a prominent nose and serious face. Something in how he stood showcased both a strict demeanor and a strong distaste for caring about his surroundings — in so much that he didn’t care for the politics or company of the other elves. Besides that, his seemingly tired eyes were hiding the glint of intelligence he was known for in the earlier days of the elves, before he retired to his house of sticks.

Being so insular in his behavior, Noetal had long since lost his shallow friends and the companionship of most of the village. One such exception was his good friend Hafface, to whom he never ostracized for her ugly scar, but rather enjoyed her seperatist way of thinking. It was hard to say how much he cared for her, but he did sample small smiles and grins whenever she was around, amused by her antics and pleased by her company.

It was at such a moment that he should have been smiling as he was looking right at her, but he wasn’t, since he was horrified…

“What happened!?” He all but screeched, standing at the entrance to his tiny home, his eyes glued on the blood pasted Hafface and her Eidolon companion.

“Ho.” Farwaen greeted and stabbed his blade into the ground before kneeling behind it. He tilted his head so that it met the cold pommel. “I am the Knight known as Farwaen.”

“He came from the sky,” Hafface explained quickly, summoning a disgusted look of confusion from Noetal. “But more importantly, he’s untouchable, and very stupid.”

“Hey!” Farwaen frowned from his kneeling position.

“I think he could be the one to fight the beast queen.”

Fight the Beast Queen?” Noetal scoffed. “Are you mad?”

Hafface aggressively grabbed Farwaen and stood him up. She pulled on his arm and forced him to showcase his weaponry. “He’s equipped with special tools, and… and…”

“Where is this… Queen of Beasts?” Farwaen cut them off. “If vanquish she must be, then I shall deliver.” He punched his sword into the air and stood tall. “Hevel wills it!”

Noetal scrunched up his face. “Hevel?” Shaking his head before Farwaen could answer, he explained. “The beast queen is a myth, one brought forth by a particularly troublesome elf who is now long since banished.”

“A myth!?” Hafface huffed. “We were just attacked by every manner of beast in the forest… the BEAST QUEEN’S FOREST! She exists, and she intends to keep us from the woods.”

“Oppressive.” Farwaen rubbed his chin. “Pray tell… where can I find this exiled elf of trouble?”

Noetal let out a long breath. “Nimueh is her name. You’ll have to find her to get any further in this mad inquiry of vengeance. As for where she is…”




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

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Zima the Cursed







There was only sorrow. An endless amount of it. That was what Zima felt when her eyes opened and her senses returned. She gripped herself tight, a numbing cold running down her back. She looked up to judge what time of day it was. The world had gone dark but it wasn’t night. She could see the sun but its warmth and light eluded her. That sun, it looked wrong, like a foggy haze covered it and the sky. Or maybe that was just her vision? Zima rubbed her eyes and opened them again. She could still see of course but it was a different view then what she remembered and still like before, misty.

The spirit sat up with a single thought and took in her surroundings again just to be sure. She frowned, for her entire world was covered in a haze that muted once bright and vivid colors. Trees dripped with water, like looming giants waiting to see the light of day. The bank she sat on was damp and dark. Swirls of the spectral mist whipped and blew here and there. She felt as if that was just how it was now, a depressing sight. Why was that? Not really thinking, or thinking too much, Zima plunged her hand into the wet sand, eyes going wide as her fingers went in. In the past… She could not do that. She would have had to possess it with her strength, take control and use it as a body.

She removed her and looked out at the still and quiet lake. The gate, she found, was still there. Even covered in a haze it stood out to her like a beacon. She could see the Vahuras ferrying souls, like the squirrel that brought her and…

Mish-Cheechel.

Pain erupted in her mind as she re-lived her most recent memories and Zima grimaced. The tunnel run. Mish vanished into the air. She ran after him. She… She looked to her hands to find them very much see through and grey. She moved them in the air before her, a smoky black after-image trailed where her appendage went. Where once this would have distrubed her, she hardly felt a thing. In fact, the pain in her chest and head had quickly faded once her memory had been jogged.

She died again, hadn’t she?

But where was Mish? She looked around for him but she didn’t see anything or anyone. His curse meant he was alive somewhere, probably where the Green Murder killed them. She knew not where it was and didn’t really care. Mish had gotten her killed again. What had been the point of even trying to escape?

Well, she knew what to do. With or without him, she had said. It was time for peace.

She rose and walked upon the water towards the gate. Each footstep left a small ripple in the water that faded into the dark waters. Leaving Mish behind would be fine. It was a decision she did not have to wrack her mind against. This was final and it would be so. It would also serve him right for getting her killed again. In fact, this was a mercy on her part! She would save him from having to make the hard decision to use her as a weapon again. That earlier trial where he had confessed to her about his thoughts, rang true in her own mind and Zima grew angry.

Her hands balled into fists as her posture straightened. This was all his fault to begin with! She had been stupid to wantingly kill herself just so they could scratch a god. How insane was that?

Before long the apparition from the first time she had arrived, rose from the water and stopped right before her, breaking her train of thought. Zima relaxed a little as she stared at it.

“You may not pass.” It said suddenly, “You are not worthy.”

She froze. “What?” she asked in a voice with brimming emotion, taken aback. She blinked, and rubbed at her throat. Even her voice sounded different, almost lifeless and devoid of energy. “H-How am I not worthy?” She managed to say.

“Only the worthy dead my pass. You are neither dead nor worthy.” It crossed its arms, loose robes tattered and drifting far too slowly for it to be wind.

“What… What do you mean?” Zima asked, eyes growing wide, breath quickening. If she needed to breathe or not, it was lost upon her as her mind tried to wrap itself around what the apparition was telling her.

“You are not dead. How could you be worthy?” It stated as a matter of fact.

Zima blinked. She looked at the gate, then all the souls being brought to it. Giant squirrels, bats, owls, other creatures she could not name brought the shapes and forms of bjork, beast and other humanoid creatures. Some wept, some shouted, others were silent.

“I’m not alive.” She said, glaring back at the apparition. “I can see the gate. I can see those souls being ferried! Only the dead may do that.” She pointed at herself.

“They are worthy. You, on the other hand, are not alive. Nor are you dead. You are not worthy, Zima Zimmer. One who is cursed may not pass.” It began to pass beneath the waves, like before, saying one last thing. “You are barred from the underworl-”

Or at least it was going to, before Zima lurched forward and grabbed it by its ethereal garbs. Water rippled underneath her as her fists clenched the creature who made no sense. Though the figure had no face, she could feel its full gaze upon her. “Unhand me. Now.” It commanded.

Zima did no such thing. It was not an impulse that drove her to grab the figure, it had been something else more nefarious. She wanted answers and it didn’t get to leave without telling her what she wanted to know. A scowl formed on her face, born of hate.

“No. I won’t until you give me a better answer.” Her voice grew with anger and disbelief. “You aren’t making any sense. How can one not be alive and not be dead? I’m cursed? How? Why?” It said nothing to her, nor did she give it the opportunity to do so. “Tell me.” Her voice cut like a knife, growing distraught. “Why won’t you say anything? Just tell me! TELL ME!” She shouted at it and the figure began to squirm in her grasp, trying to break free.

A black, smoking flame quickly spread from her fingertips and across the figure’s robes. Where the fire consumed, its body wore away to nothing. It only gasped as she watched it become nothing within her grasp. Zima had never even let go.

Her hands shook as she looked at them. What had she just done? What had… She had just killed. She had just… Murdered. The thing that was Zima caught her reflection in the glassy waters below and she stared at the creature that looked back. Gaunt was her face, harrowed and tired. Her entire body was practically see through with swirling grey lines and black after-images. Her hair drifted in a breeze she could not feel. But it was her eyes she could not peer away from. Black pupils, surrounded by a deep crimson in a sea of grey. Where once they had been blue and friendly, now her eyes only reminded her of something darker and pervasive.

Zima recoiled and tried to change forms, tried to make the living nightmare end but it was no use. She had been attuned so strongly to the world and now her connection was gone. She could not change her form, she could not even use the waters as a shield to hide her visage.

Yet. It was not her image that frightened her, however. It was more so that she felt nothing for what she had just done to that apparition. A greater part of her was more annoyed at the fact she hadn’t gotten any answers to her current predicament. Another part only felt disgust at the act but even that was fading.

She clutched her fists again and strode forth towards the barrier with renewed focus. About halfway to it, she felt repulsed by some invisible shield. No matter how much she wanted to go on, the Gate never became closer. This didn’t work well with her, so Zima screamed with rage and battered her fists on the force that repelled her. Black flame leaked from her hands, dripping into the water and making it exhume a dark steam. It was odorless and Zima paid no attention to it as she pounded her fists against the unknown.

With a final strike, she was flung far back onto the water, sending violent waves as she sank beneath the waves. It was an odd sensation, for it felt as if she was falling through the water. It did not want to touch her and only then did Zima gain a semblance of control over herself. She landed on the murky bottom and stared up at the darkness.

What had she become? She clutched at her bare chest.

Something was missing… Try as she might to remember, she could not. What was it? What had it been? Where had it gone? Who took it? She was not the same as she was before. This was not a startling fact, for it felt as if it had always been so. But that wasn’t right. It couldn’t be. She remembered everything before she rushed through the gate. How life had been, how she had acted, how she had felt.

But now?

They felt like the land around her, foggy. She grabbed her head and slammed a fist into her temple out of frustration. Gritting her teeth she let out an anger filled cry, muffled by the water. This wasn’t her. She wasn’t like this. What was she missing? What was-

A rock sank right beside her. Then another, a small ways off. Zima perked up and calmed herself just enough to stand upon the rocky bottom before she floated to the surface. Another rock came tumbling down as she neared the surface. There was some sort of muffled voices up on land.

She peaked her eyes up out of the water and saw a strange sight. There stood two figures. Both were breathtakingly pale with glowing blue eyes. The smaller one, a boy, with stark white hair, was being held back by the larger figure. One hand was over his mouth and the other was gripping his wrist, which held a rock. The larger figure was a girl, with wide blue eyes and long grey hair. They wore fur garments and then the boy, with his free hand pointed at her. The girl turned to look and froze. She blinked and her eyes stopped glowing, then the boy’s. IThey looked shocked to see her.

The girl gave a quick and hasty bow, before she began to pull away the boy with great haste. Enough that he dropped his last rock. Zima erupted from the water and landed upon the surface, sending waves. She shouted at them, “Wait! WAIT!” as she began to give chase but they didn’t stop, vanishing into the forest.

Zima reached the beach, her legs carried her with a speed she had never known on two legs. She could hover but could she even fly still? She shook her head, there would be time for that but not now. She didn’t know who they were but Zima was intrigued and there was nothing at the gate for her anymore.

She would have answers to her questions, no matter what it took.





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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Frettzo Summary Lover

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Lorelei asks for a Red Ribbon


IV


Finally, after what felt like a whole hour in the air, they landed inside Keltra. All that jumping and magic stuff was really… difficult to stomach. Poor Lorelei couldn’t help but feel a bit queasy and held on to Wanderer for dear, burying her face against the back of Wanderer’s neck.

“I-I like piggyback… The jumping is crazy though…” She said quietly and a moment afterward, Wanderer walked the both of them into the Keep.

Courage, Kindness, Fear, Curiosity, and Pride all gathered around Homura as they looked at the two newcomers. The Goddess of Honor was the closest to them and she addressed them with her imperious aura as they approached.

“Welcome back, Wanderer and Lorelei. Did you enjoy your stroll?” She asked, as her reticent champion respectfully bowed with Lorelei still on her back. Behind Homura, most of the champions seemed to be smiling as they watched the scene.

Lorelei smiled at everyone, feeling her eyes burning a little still. “Hii, y-yeah! The forest is very um, pretty! And open. And uh, l-lots of things moving around there too…” She said, her smile slowly vanishing until she went quiet and buried her face in Wanderer’s hair once more.

“Despite the delusions of my sister, her work is very beautiful. Hopefully there will be more opportunities in the future to immerse yourself in its wonder. I apologize, Keltra is still in the process of being built, and lacks an artistic touch. That shall be changed soon, but there is much I must do before that time comes. Forgive me, child. This is not the world I wished to create for you and your kin.” Homura said, looking back at the champions behind her as they all hastily swapped their smiles for much more serious expressions.

“I must depart and speak with the King in Heaven. You are all familiar with my commands, so I expect you to adhere to them. I will return soon.” The red goddess proclaimed, turning to look at Wanderer and Lorelei once more. The others returned to smiling when their maker was no longer looking at them, and without further word, Homura stepped out of the keep, leaving her champions and Lorelei on their own.

Lorelei stared at Homura as she walked out and frowned as she felt a sudden stab of pain in her chest, prompting her to disentangle herself from Wanderer and run after Homura, catching up to her just before she jumped away. As Homura turned to look at her, Lorelei smashed into her leg and hugged her tight.

“Bye bye, Homura! Be careful!” Lorelei said, the impulse dying down. She closed her eyes and rubbed her face and ears against Homura’s leg before pulling away and clasping her hands behind her back, beaming a bright smile at Homura. “N-No one leaves without a hug. It’s for good l-luck.”

“Hmm… Be careful as well. Your body needs time to adapt after the alterations I have made, and besides, there is more to life than just sustainability. There must be meaning in motion, like a hug. Thank you, Lorelei.” The red goddess replied, her tone slightly more gentle. Then she stepped back, and leapt beyond the wall like a soaring star. The wind barely stirred as she flew from the ground.

The six champions had joined Lorelei, and gazed in the direction Homura had gone. All of them were relaxed, and offered Lorelei amused glances.

“So how’re you doing, pipsqueak?” Courage asked with a chuckle, prompting Lorelei to spin around and hug her tight as well.

“I was sooo scared! I have never been outside for s-so long! W-Wanda had to sing for me when I got too scared...”

Curiosity jumped with joy and held Wanderer’s hand while she exclaimed, “She used to always sing and hum lullabies to all of you when we were watching over Keltra by ourselves. She doesn’t talk much, but she likes to sing.” While she spoke, Wanderer attempted to shove away to no avail, a scene which made Lorelei giggle.

“If you would like to go on more walks, please feel free to ask us whenever you want.” Kindness explained, while Courage and Fear assisted their sister in freeing herself. Pride was shaking her head in slight annoyance, but the smile she wore was filled with love and fondness for the antics of her sisters.

“I want to go outside too!” Curiosity shouted as she was pried from Wanderer, and restrained by both Courage and Fear. Wanderer then stepped beside Kindness, as the latter loudly sighed with exaggerated frustration. “Perhaps in a thousand cycles, we will let a crazy fool like you roam on your own.” The impassive champion said, pointing an accusing finger at Curiosity.

“I’m no longer the crazy one, huh?” Courage chimed, and Kindness softly smiled, before she looked at Lorelei. “Also let us know whenever you need rest. We are unfamiliar with taking care of others, especially those that are awake.” She explained.

Lorelei perked up at being addressed directly and shook her head, “Oh, I’m ok. I-I’ll keep up with you, we’re sisters now after all! I-I won’t fall behind. But, um,” Lorelei looked at each of the champions’ uniforms and then at Kindness. Gosh, she really wanted to look more like them. She scrunched up her nose and let her ears lay flat. “Can I have a ribbon like you? Maybe a red ear piercing! White used to tell me that I had to be older to get one, but! I’m o-old enough now.”

“Of course. What do you mean by red ear piercing though? I do not understand.” Kindness replied, while the others all listened intently. None of them seemed to know the answer to their sister’s question either. Lorelei looked at them all, eyebrows raised in surprise.

“A piercing! Like,” Lorelei grabbed one of her ears and poked at several spots along the helix, “you poke a hole and p-put a ring or stud or bar through? Right? Gray had a lotta them!”

“You want us to poke a hole in your ear?” Curiosity asked with bemusement, as her sisters still looked both concerned and confused while they touched their ears.

“Yep! It’s cute and everyone in Astalon has- had them. Every piercing represents a friend you w-wanna remember. It's a v-very small hole and Gray said it doesn’t hurt. You need uhm… Ice and a hot needle to punch the hole!”

“We’ve neither of those things, but we could make them!” Courage proclaimed, and looked among her fellow champions for assurance, but Pride quickly raised a hand in protest.

“It’d be more efficient to create the piece of jewelry itself, and we can enchant it.” Pride suggested, and all of her sisters nodded in agreement, aside from Courage who chuckled with chagrin.

“That’s a better idea, ya. We’ll do that then.” Courage said, as she and her sisters all hurried back into the keep, with the brash champion easily lifting Lorelei onto her shoulders and dashing after the others.

“W-Wah!” Gasped Lorelei as she was taken into the depths of the Keep.




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

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𝒞ath elainea & omni
Glimmering starlight once more fell over the continent, clear skies dominated by a half-moon and the gentle crackling of a dying fire. Still bundled up against the cold, a certain mortal finally came to wake. Eyes slowly fluttering open, Somni took a deep gasping breath as he shot up into a sitting position as if waking from some terrible dream. His sister sat across from him at the fire, staring in silence, her eyes slightly wide as her eyes caught his.

Where before his eyes had always been an almost washed out grey-blue, now they shone in the night, their hue pierced through by iridescent violet. He opened his mouth to speak but found he could not. Clearing his throat and coughing, his sister quickly recovered and fetched him a clay-made mug filled with freshly brewed tea. It had a faint spiciness to it, and it burned as he sucked it down, but he swallowed nonetheless. Sputtering a moment, Somni shook himself, a shiver running through him as he set the cup down beside him and met his sister's gaze.

"I...how did I get home?"

His sister's eyes widened, and so did his, for the voice that had come from his lips was resonant and tinged with an unearthly sound.

"I...Somni, your voice," she whispered, stunned. Bringing his hand up to his throat, Somni marveled at even the sound as he hummed quietly. He could feel it deep within him, and somehow he knew others would too as if it came from somewhere deeper. "What happened?" He wondered aloud, but his sister shook her head, not knowing either.

Slowly, Somni rose from his blankets, freeing himself from their embrace. The night air somehow felt more welcoming than before, warmer too. He turned towards the far-off coast, staring into the horizon. He didn't know why he looked in that direction, but instantly he understood that something was coming.

"Fetch mum and da," Somni said idly, but his sister heard a charm and a command. Rising, she quickly scampered off to rouse them from sleep. Turning back to the fire, Somni starred into its dancing light and all at once remembered. Curious, Somni took in a breath and spoke, his voice forming twisting words that he knew no other would understand.

Experimentally, he began to sing in this strange, yet all-too-familiar language, and in reply the fires danced in tune. He smiled.


Far to the north, a great Colossi stirred the seas with its every step, and deep within its heart burned an amaranth flame. The sleeping sparks of many mortal children flickered in time with its dancing rhythm as they came to grow in tune with the Goddess' power. At once, she attuned herself to the world and its many rhythms. The ebb and flow of the tides, the movement of the wind above, and the heavens far beyond. The gentle creeping of vines and roots, the subtle songs of creatures 'pon the land, and the idle existence of mortals near and far. Life and Death, happiness and pain. She knew them all, felt such things twisting in her breast, and deep at the core of her being she kindled a great and terrible fire.

As she came into harmony with the natural world and its inhabitants, she understood what the next step must be.

Opening eyes of violet hue, the goddess emerged from the belly of the stone and metal goliath, stepping from its back and up its neck. In the night its eyes blazed as purple as her own, each a beacon in the sky. Standing atop its metallic skull, Melainea raised a hand up to her lips and gently blew.

Coaxing a flame out from her form, the purple fire coalesced upon the surface of her palm, dancing in time with the world's beating core.

"Ah, thy souls of gods were borne into this world," she sang, a smile upon her face as the wind blew her hair back from her face.

"Unto them a power I will weave, a blessing for the world to keep. A curse it cannot flee."

The flames coiled inwards, then lept upwards from her hand in a bolt of astounding light. Cresting far above, the bolt of flame expanded, rippling outwards in great rings of purple illumination. They shook the air and covered the distance of Galbar from end to end. Life everywhere would feel them, feel the essence of their Lady embed itself within them.

None would know what it could do. For now.

Satisfied as the ember of her sky-bound flame continued its violet emanation, Melainea sat then upon the Colossi's head and stared out towards the Plains. This would be the first of her people's homes and she knew precisely who would lead them.

So it was that at the same time, the goddess and her unseen Champion smiled, and the latter stared far off into the sky where a great violet star lit within the sky, pulsing with deific light.

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

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Cycle 4







Yudaiel defied sleep, even as it clawed at her and tried to carry her away. In the wake of her battle with Iqelis and things unknowable, things far worse, she was weary, but she willed herself not to rest, not to succumb.

Weakness, Pain, and Exhaustion returned like old friends, just like they had after she’d struck down Ashevelen and battled with Epsilon. And some ‘friends’ they were! They were the fingers of sleep’s choking, grasping hand. They invariably crooned and whispered every conceivable justification to surrender her will and give in. But she was stronger now than she had been back then when last she’d dreamt, or so she’d like to think.

Hysteria, Psychosis, and Mania made for better company. They kept her vibrant, alive, and struggling, even if they couldn’t keep her mind in one piece.

”That foolish, tree-dwelling Horse claims dominion over the dreamlands now,” Mania hissed.


“Yet it’s hardly a part of the Tapestry; it existed before the Horse and will long after. So what if the Horse claims it? It’s all just pretension,” echoed the soft, resigned voice of Weakness.

”I want us to return to that lazy river we dreamt of long ago, to rest and be at peace,” Exhaustion admitted.


”Peace? There was no peace there. Even there we were harried by our foe the Fly, until we smote him again. There, we Saw that horrific cyclops, and He Saw us too!” Psychosis shrieked.

Pain’s sharp and insufferable cadence cut through the clamor, “And He was a horrible threat, but He can evidently See many things anyways, and His coming or going cannot be stopped if that is what He intends. There are worse things, like those that struck from the blackness, the void. We must hide from them and recover. I WILL be heard!”


Everything trembled – Yudaiel’s mind throbbed – as Hysteria battled with Pain and the two shook the rest of the chorus, until Pain finally relented. A silence so short-lived as to be nigh imperceptible followed, before it was then broken by Hysteria’s roar, “Dark forces loom everywhere! We SHALL remain vigilant and See them as they come! We SHAN’T succumb to weakness or blindness or the clutches of that Horse’s den!”

A defiant Mania tried to hiss its dissent and uncharacteristically urge for caution just out of spite and obstinance, but Hysteria and Psychosis brutally mauled it alongside the other three. They crushed, devoured, and assimilated all other shards of Yudaiel’s fractured psyche, and then joined together. Her mind was one, once more. Another voice rang through it though, a foreign and yet familiar one:

”Jingui, the Monarch’s Wit, know that your contributions to the realm have been seen and are appreciated. And though our dear Rosa has fallen, let it be known that she is the Unforgotten.”

Before she’d had time to contemplate the implications of such developments, the speaker made His entrance. In one moment she had been alone on her pale white rock, and in the next the Monarch of All had suddenly loomed before Yudaiel’s field of view. This time she hadn’t kept him waiting; she had Seen the coming of His arrival. Still, the goddess said nothing in greeting and only met the gaze of His eyes with her one. The silence between the two, however, would not last as His words wormed their way in the depths of Yudaiel’s psyche, making His voice heard.

”No ideabstractions? I must say, your silence astounds me for once.”

Echoes of her quarrels, that with Iqelis and the horrors and that with her own mind, faintly resonated through the bridge between their minds. Annoyance and anger was there, too; it was masked and yet it simmered beneath the surface as hot and violently as a volcanic vent lurking in depths of the seas.

”Please, I know your brawl with that upstart has you on edge but I have not come to talk about that, despite the spectacle that it was. Rather, I have come about the beast you two encountered.”

The Monarch of All’s words were filled not with the normal malice that He bore towards Yudaiel but rather of curiosity, a genuine curiosity towards her ordeal. Yet, she knew that He did not truly mean well, or have that genuine feeling, it was written all over how He acted. She could even See it woven into the Tapestry and within the Flow. His dance was an ominous one.

So the reticent goddess was loath to surrender the entirety of the truth and what she’d witnessed, and yet she was also certainly afraid to defy Him outright – especially not now, not while she was still weakened so. Fortuitously, it was easy to deceive when the contents of a memory were already so fractured and nonsensical – all thoughts of that light in the dark, that glorious Lord of Rippling Shadow that Towered over All, the one whose voice had lent her strength and clarity from within the horror’s gullet… all thoughts of Him, she buried deeply.

But everything else, in all of its madness, she relayed with perfect lucidity.

The Ancient One had listened intently with an unmoving form, His light solely focused upon her as she showed Him. When she had finished, the Monarch of All idly turned His gaze to the great void, past the light of the palace and into the great cosmos unknown to the gods. There was a moment as He seemed to recall something, though there were no words that He would speak. Yet, the silence could not last, even Yudaiel knew such.

”Such creatures, so wild and unyielding. They refuse to be tamed no matter how much power one has. I must commend you and Iqelis for being able to challenge one.”

Yes, it had been just one, kaleidoscopically split into too many shards to count, some paradoxically greater even than the whole. It had been like a puddle made of a million droplets, each grander than a lake.

Hmph. Praise was often an easy enough way to make Yudaiel glow, but not now.

The Galbar, the moon, and even the resplendent Jade Palace were all revealed as just mountain peaks on one tiny isle. The endless black ocean of the void was all around, and with piercing gaze, the vision revealed the endless schools of fish. The cosmos and realities beyond teemed with something analogous to life, though much of it was monstrous and abominable and anathema to even reason in every way – for every one of the infinite stars out there, there was a Horror, and all knew it.

Where rivers of light and warmth left the island to meet with the shore and their deltas sated it with warm and life-bearing silt, the fish were drawn nearer. Closest to the ocean was the summit of the moon, and atop it a single eye, albeit one endowed with Sight beyond sight, was set alone to spear the lurking monsters and stave away the madness.


The Great Lord of Reality nodded to Yudaiel, affirming her vision before His light would turn back to meet her gaze. Within a single step - He traversed the entire surface of the moon, seeming to inspect it all the while and admiring certain aspects of it. There was a pause as He came back to Yudaiel, His gaze unwavering from her until His arms folded over His great and infinitely deep wound. His voice penetrated her mind once more.

”Yes, I am aware that they would be drawn here and there are likely more yet to come. Precisely when or where, however, is lost upon me as I can no longer See into the Tapestry. That is why I have come to you, Yudaiel.”

So the mountain whose summit was crowned with an eye twisted around, its stony spine cracking as it turned its back to the shore (even if only briefly!) and faced inland towards the mountain of the sun. Staring expectantly into the dawn’s light would have blinded many, but not this Eye. The deleterious rays of incinerating, blinding heat would have smitten many things and cast them into the black river of the Flow, but not this eyed moon-mountain. It was scarred, and yet unyielding.

And so further moon-mountains yet all of the same Eye rose upon the periphery of the shores, all gazing outwards into the oceans and upon the abhorrent beings. Great ships sailed out to meet each of the beasts, beings bearing the banners of the sun skewering each yet cheering the moon-mountain’s name. The great island was now joined by many against the teeming fish and now able to call upon great armies of the sun, such power gifted to the Eye allowed it to stand triumphant over the void.

Such works could be constructed, such aims achieved. Yudaiel envisioned another two jewel-bastions patrolling the Galbar’s night sky, one black as onyx and one an immaculate but hazy grey opal. The trinity was perfect: one Eye blessed with three pupils so as to see past, present, and future.

Figments and wisps of such fancies manifested in the ideabstraction. A storm of thought suddenly focused upon the Monarch Himself though, but it was not interested in Him as a person so much as His potential – specifically that of an instrument for attaining her desires. The storm’s charged aura coursed not over His visage but into the bottomless depths of His wound, towards one specific crystalline shard.

The Monarch of All seemed to recoil at the sight of the shard, not out of fear or shock, but of pain and anger of yet another god looking to steal more of His power. His hands clenched, claws digging deep into the Artist’s palms and drawing from it His very ichor that slowly pulled itself downwards and threatened to fall upon Yudaiel’s immaculate sculpture. The anger radiated and it consumed the moon in its entirety as He stared down the great eye, wordlessly.

The island was no longer in the void, a time before such creation. But then it rose, first as a low-lying atoll, and then as that proper isle with its two peaks of the sun and the Galbar. The Eye was still able to make its own summit along the shore, raising the moon-mount from the tide. Why could it not do so again? Why did the great eye-mountain need the shard in order to make further more? The Mountain of the Sun stood defiant against pleading and power hungry masses that came to ask for further pieces that made it whole.

The churning seas circled the lonely island hungrily (or perhaps they were still as the island danced and spun and twirled; it made no matter) and the fish followed the currents. Warmth and silt and shallows by the beach nurtured reefs, and those reefs lured in those alien fish of the deep sea from the outer currents. Abominable, thrashing, fleshy things that were part shark, part whale, part godfish defiled the reefs and creation, and those fish-Horrors multiplied and clambered onto the shores with strangely misshapen and asymmetric legs.

Here and there, one strayed close to the Eye’s mountain, and she defended its slopes and fjords vigorously from atop her summit. There remained a great deal of shoreline that she did not defend, and would not defend, for it wasn’t hers; after all, what was hers was here, and there, and everywhere: the ephemeral, the Key to Seeing the Past, the Future, and Far and Near. Nothing so tangible as the sandy shores, or the craggy cliffs… not even her own mountain was truly, fully hers so long as the Sun greedily possessed its Key.

Moreover, a rainbow wall consigned her to guard her own mountaintop; she couldn’t descend down to the island’s jungles below even if she’d wanted. The Sun Mountain had decreed it, and so the rainbows forged from His prismatic light had bent themselves into a great barrier around her peak.


Still, rainbows were tenuous barriers, and they had proven no hindrance to the Eye as she had conjured great gales to sweep up and abduct a mortal – the one that was called Biluda – from what should have been its sanctuary below. It likewise did little to stop the moon-mountain as it gushed out great wellsprings that flowed downward as rivers that carved and gouged and reshaped the island all around as the Eye willed. In body the eye might not have wandered, but in spirit, it had most certainly violated its oath, and the Sun’s blinding radiance illuminated each of these transgressions in turn as they were shown. Still, He was a warm and just sun, and so had done nothing but simmer even as his patience was tested. So then, great torrents of the fish swarmed first the Moon Mountain, before the Sun sent His armies to stop the greedy beasts. Perhaps she would learn her lesson if she were left alone to the mercy of the circling wolves of the void that were so eager to prey upon all those who were not protected by His command.

The entire island tore itself from its foundation to flip upside down and soar into the emptiness of a plane above this ocean. As it ascended above and crumbled into nothingness, it cast a reflection in the waters below: that of another island that could have been. The one Horror which had contained and become so many other Horrors appeared again, but this time when it attacked, the Eye merely fled. Unassisted, the Fly fell before the monstrous extradimensional invader, and then with glamors and tricks and folds of the Tapestry, Yudaiel masked her own presence and diverted the thing to the peak of the Galbar where it wreaked havoc.

A ripple pulsed through the ocean, tiny by the grand cosmic standards of this surreal perspective, but massive enough to erase that small reflection of a universe. When the wave had passed, a more familiar reflection returned: that of their present Reality, and one for which the Eye’s lord ought to have been grateful.


The great claws of the Monarch of All dug into the eye of Yudaiel, dragging her form so that all she could see was His blinding radiance. Anger was all that she could see, and that anger enveloped her surrounding everything and invading all her senses. He had been angered by her constant visions of trying to merely leave His kingdom and abandon her duties, yet this rage was subdued.

His mind was harder to entomb within a prison of illusions than the likes of the Fly’s, or any of her vapid ‘peers’, so when her progenitor broke free with such ease and struck at her in Reality she recoiled with a hiss. To her credit the amorphous pupil dissipated and then reappeared somewhere else within the storm of consciousness, mostly unscathed from the rending swipe… mostly. With her Sight blurred by that strike, she still looked clearly into His wound and Saw what she wanted, and so much more, just waiting in there. He was inside her sea of consciousness, within her grasp. It was so, so tempting to reach into His chest and seize what she wanted, to eviscerate Him herself…

”Not yet.”


The whisper was faint, so faint that she was certain none beside her would have perceived it, and she almost took it for the Monarch’s own voice. The familiar tone was almost like the Monarch’s own cadence, but not quite… it was colder, more distant, less passionate.

She heard it and obeyed, arresting her racing thoughts before the Monarch sensed something amiss.

”You would not survive out in that void! You know not what lives beyond the periphery of my domain - beasts and monsters would be the least of your concern if you found ‘him’!”

Psychosis stirred from its slumber and reared its head once again, just long enough to relay an ideabstracted memory of that dream by the river… that part where the cyclops in the sky had peered at her.

The Monarch was a mountain before the trees of his making, which clung to His side and in His shadow. But proud as He was, upon the horizon were many, many more peaks… some that threatened to perhaps tower even taller than He.

The venerable Monarch of All was wordless, not because He lacked coherent thoughts or words to answer the question, but because He did not want to answer it. Lowering His arms, the Monarch of All looked back towards the star-filled void and watched it for the briefest of moments as His claws dug into His palms once more. There was a new feeling that emanated from Him, one that was unknown to any of the gods - fear gnawed at His mind as he glimpsed into the void. A single utterance graced Yudaiel as she watched the unmoving form of her liege.

”Amphiboles.”

So He had offered up a name to that alien giant with the nigh-omniscient eye, yet names meant little. Yudaiel knew and Saw many things: things that she should not have been able to See, knowledge that should not have been possible to attain, secrets that should have been forgotten. She knew that somewhere out there was that cyclops – Amphiboles – and that such a being might well be the Architect of His Undoing, if it smelt weakness and division.

Yudaiel, with no even a hint of subtlety, projected thought at the Monarch of All and imparted into his mind the suggestion that she keep careful vigil over the Tapestry’s threads so as to track the movements and machinations of that ‘Amphiboles’... perhaps the Tapestry’s weave could likewise be obfuscated in strange and arcane ways, so as to hinder that probing eye of the cyclops.

The Monarch of All continued His gaze outwards, looking beyond the great void that contained His opulent realm. With a sigh, He turned back to Yudaiel and gave thought to the proposal that He Saw. In the end, He nodded to her in silence, giving her the duty to watch over the tapestry so that the great Architect would not meddle within His affairs. The safety of His realm would not be guaranteed with her aid, but it would be a step in ensuring a warning.

And yet the apparition of an open hand, its palm still empty, invaded his mind.

Silently, yet angrily, a hand went to the deep wound upon His chest and went to the great many shards that made up His being. The Monarch of All felt His fingers pluck away one of the crystalline structures from its place within His core. He let out a sharp, pained breath and staggered - almost losing balance as yet another piece of His soul left His body. There was a moment as He stood there in pain, staring at the crystal that contained countless different orbs - an untold number of moons that could possibly be crafted and controlled. The Hallowed Lord regained His composure after a brief time and extended the hand holding the shard out towards Yudaiel.

”Do not make me regret this.”




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Hidden 7 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


It had taken another day and a bit of rest in order for Raethel to recover enough from the expenditure of the ritual in order to leave the barrow and seek out his people... or at least those Rattus that hadn't left either for the existing outposts or to join in on the rush to claim homes on the opposite side of the river. There was evidence of a great feast that had taken place in the food areas; A celebration of the success of the ritual and the good tidings that it offered them going forward undertaken in the only manner that they currently knew how.

While normally Raethel would have been enraged by the fact that so much of their stores of food had been used up without his permission, under the circumstances he was willing to let it slide. The occasion was a great one that deserved some kind of event to praise it... and not all of the food for the feast had come from their stores. While it had only been a couple of days since the other bank had been opened to them, already a number of new plants had been discovered that had proven edible and interesting. So far the most numerous and welcomed discovers had been two different kinds of fruit trees and a root vegetable that seemed to grow a strongly odored bulb that was tasty in its own right, but those Rattus who had taken a shine to preparing food theorized that it's true calling might be in enhancing the flavor of other foodstuffs. Other discoveries, like a tall yellow grass that was producing some kind of grain, were promising through exactly to make proper use of it hadn't been figured out just yet.

If there was one benefit of all this, it was that there had been enough Rattus who had simply been relaxing after gouging themselves on food around that enough of them could just be rolled into the local meeting area so that the matter that Aethel had passed down could be discussed properly... even if there were some complaints about being sleepy or feeling bloated. Said complaints died down fairly quickly once the meeting got underway properly and they actually heard what was going to be discussed... through in the case of the bloated, some belches and passing of gas went a long way to help as well.

As was expected once the options were presented and the floor was opened for Rattus to speak up and have a say, Rattus started to exercise the right to talk and make their opinions heard. Fairly quickly, three relatively equal groups formed among the body, each supporting a different course of action and championing their respective decision for which of Aethel's great tasks their people should dedicate themselves to performing first. A fourth group was also formed, made up a mixture of Rattus who hadn't made up their mind of which of the three options to choose or believed that resources should be dedicated to all three at once.

This latter point was the first point of debate among the crowd, through a relatively short one in that the heat of the sky was still in the same half of the sky when a final decision was reached; The final agreement was that while all three quests from Aethel were important to the future of the Rattus as a people, trying to pursue all three at once was simply not viable due to the grand scale of each individual quest. There was simply not enough rat power and resources to perform all three at once in a reasonable time frame. The idea that two of these quests could be pursued at the same time was floated and was tentatively agreed to be a valid option for them to pursue, but there were clearly some uneasy grumbles about the idea due to it stretching resources to the absolute limit.

The rest of the first day was carried out under the assumption that only one project was going to be pursued at a given time; An order of priority needed to be worked out so that in the event they did decide to push to pursue two of these quests at once, they would know which two were deemed the more important to the Rattus as a people. Most of this first day wasn't spent discussing the matter itself as it was working out the ground rules for how the discussion would be carried out the next day, allowing for word to get around that the debate was happening to those who weren't present so that even if they couldn't attend themselves, they could still send representatives or messages about what they wanted to happen... as well as messages sent to them with abridged, key point versions of what was being discussed so they could make an informed decision. It also allowed those present a chance to figure out the points they wished to discuss and how to discuss them.

The debates proper began on the second day. Each side would be allowed a number of speakers selected by their own group in order to represent points they wanted made to the best of their abilities since letting hundreds of Rattus speak would not only be highly time consuming, but the same points would almost certainly crop up again and again. It was agreed that counter-arguments would be handled the next day, since it would give time for proper thought about them to be made, through once a speaker was finished talking questions could be asked of them in order to clarify something or express additional information on a subject. While silence was expected while a speaker was talking, a request to interrupt so that a question for clarification or more detailed information could be made to Raethel who didn't have to allow it but was prone to doing so provided the person in question did so politely.

The process itself started off rocky but, as the hours passed Raethel found that he needed to step in to correct or sharply remind someone of the rules they had all agreed to less and less as understanding and experience removed some of the awkwardness and simple mistakes. The speakers were proven well chosen from all groups, as by the end of day all of them had made strong cases for each of Aethel's quests being given the priority. The third day carried on much like the second, with each of the speakers making strong cases and matter of which to pick remaining in deadlock.

However, Raethel had an idea to try and help break the deadlock. Namely, he requested at the end of the third day that each group should select some new speakers to present their arguments for the next day. The hope being that having new speakers would offer new perspectives into the issues at paw and a refocus on the issues rather then the crowd being won over by the personalities of the current speakers. In order to avoid harming the egos of the original speakers, Raethel added for their benefit (and because it was true) that all of them had done an amazing job and had championed their causes wonderfully... the issue being that with all of them being so passionate about the subject and clearly talented when it came to presenting their points verbally, he could already foresee that the sky would change many times before anything like a victor presented itself. In return for stepping down as speaker, they would be asked to join Raethel to help judge and discuss the matter further as future speakers make their points.

On the fourth day, with the former speakers joining Raethel as lesser judges while the new speakers stepped forward, the deadlock finally broke. It was a close thing, but in the end the plea to expand Rattus influence over the rest of their homeland managed to win enough support to take the priority. Figuring out how to develop a means of safely sailing upon the greater, salty waters beyond the river fell into second place, since the argument that in the face of the challenges that the great salty water was going to present when it came to the development of their water craft would, by their nature, result in improvements to the designs and construction methods of their current water crafts that were sailing on the river as a whole. The mysteries of the mountains would have to wait for the time being.

With the matter settled, Raethel called the meeting to a close... and planning for how they intended to tame the desert would need to begin.



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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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Cerulean Ailorn

“Sycrae, can I ask you a question?” Whitoa said as she played with the three rats that moved from one arm to another. They had crawled all over her as she cooed and whispered to them. Her dress was seemingly made of the local crimson leaves letting her blend well into the woods. But there were no woods here. The clearing around the crater had barely stopped burning. There was only ash and it caked the young dryad’s feet. Though she didn’t care.

The sentinel dryad motioned for her to speak but kept her eyes on the cleaned, white stone laying on the ground before her. Something was drawing in the sentinel. Or rather, her own psyche was yearning for its rough surface again.

“What are the others doing?” She pointed back towards the edge of the forest. Where several nymphs and even a handful of sentinels were softly singing while sitting spread out in the ash.

“They’re raising the forest plants, Whitoa.” Sycrae explained though she still kept her eyes on the Moonshard. “Phelenia wishes us to guide the cycle. You know how I killed that fox very quickly?” Whitoa just nodded. “They are doing the same in in essence. I encouraged the passing of the animal. They are encouraging the growth of new life. And so the cycle moves on. Helped by us but never stopped. That is how it must be.”

The young dryad nodded, though she didn’t fully understand everything about the cycle yet. Most of the time she just wished her friends didn’t die. Or that she was allowed to protect them. Even giving them shelter had caused a horrible debate with Sycrae, who only relented because it would cause a riot amongst the beastspeaking nymphs if she didn’t. Of course, a riot would only mean the nymphs don’t perform their duty. “So what are you doing then? Can’t you sing?”

“I can, Whitoa. I can but I won’t. I have more important matters to attend to.” She said as she kept looking at the stone. Her hand inched closer to it again but she pulled back. She needed more knowledge or at the very least enough control that it shows what she needs to know. Pillars in a strange valley was not useful information. “Tell me what you are.” Whispered Sycrae to the stone.

“It’s blue.” Said Whitoa who now held a rat over her and gave it small kisses. Sycrae turned to face her for the first time. Whitoa lowered the rat again. “Sorry, the rats. They say the magic around it is blue.”

“Go on.”

“They say that most of the magic here around is red. Whatever that means. Normally it’s green and white but here it is red. But that stone makes blue magic.” Explained Whitoa. “They say that ever since it landed there are just a bunch of colors here.”

“And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know.” Said Whitoa. “They just know somehow that it is magic and it is colored. Huh, what was that?” She suddenly held up a chittering rat to her ear and listened attentively. She gave it a few affirmative nods and ‘uhuns’ before lowering it again and continue petting it. “My friend here says that they can use magic easily. Maybe we could learn from them?”

“What’s blue magic doing for them?” Asked Sycrae.

Again Whitoa held up the rat to her ear. She whispered a few words in that ethereal tongue only beastspeakers knew and then the rat started chittering again. “Whenever he came close to the stone he saw his own tail.” Sycrae rolled her eyes. “And then the tail of another. Not close but far. One of his pup. He was worried for him. He had run away but… the blue showed him where he was hiding.”

That did get Sycrae’s attention. “Tell me more.”



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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The Tired One

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Chailiss Week





These are the dark days of winter
dismal dull dawn becomes dreary dusk
then darkness
and yet another sunless daybreak.

A few sullen lonely snowflakes
waft on frigid breeze
reluctantly falling to sodden soil.

This existence leaves an aching
in one’s spirit
a taste in one’s soul
like cold ashes of the dead.

These are the dim days of the season
the gloomy season of the year
a shadowy year of life.

So all be ware of winter’s might
lest you feel its frigid bite
and know the daggers of ice -
come for all who heed not his advice.

He stalks the season, stalks our dens
stalking our kits and stalking our kin -
casting a spell of cold upon all us.

Yet even he, so frigid and cold
would save us from beasts of green
and avenge kits yet lost
by the green murder’s hunt.

For even the wolves and bears must retire
as the frost come hither and desire
her pelt, her fangs, her time of hunt.

Her waters chill to ice
And her breath now shown in air -
we see her the green murder there
so that we may flee from her own snare.

It was then we knew and felt his grace
to save us - our salvation
and let his breath sweep all the land.

Now know his touch, his cold embrace
know his love and snowy dance
as frost and ice come out and play -
The Northern Lord is here to stay.


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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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Chailiss Week

The Heralds of Honor



They soared across the sky over the red forest upon Skydancer, the airborne vessel warding off the fierce winds that blew past them as they flew northward, allowing for a very relaxed journey. The warm and rich color of the forest bled together beneath them; a scarlet sea with shimmering sections of various shades and tints, rippling leaves and cascading waves of vibrant flowers that swayed with the breeze. Kel-Phelena stretched across the great land - the forest reached the massive mountains of Szrnelici created by Jiugui so long ago.

It was still morning when they reached the mountains, the peaks piercing the sky like stone protrusions along the shore, and they flew higher to avoid colliding with snow-tipped tops where the air was thin, and life was quiet. Curiosity and Wanderer leaned over the railings, and stared at the sights that raced by, while Courage stood at the helm, operating the rudder. Kindness and Fear peeked over the prow of the boat, peering down at the white mountains as well.

The champions of Homura passed over valleys and plateaus where animals and plants were sheltered by the presence of the looming summits, and thrived through their connection to an otherworldly power. It was not long until they departed these pleasant lands and reached the northern sea separating the realm of the North, and Termina.

“How many days has it been since we were here? Twelve, ya?” Courage asked, as they soared over the great water, seeking the familiar path they had once trekked before. Once they were guided by a goddess, and accompanied by thousands upon thousands of their sleeping kin laden upon three titanic machines. Now they were alone.

“We were born fourteen days ago, so twelve days sounds right, I think.” Curiosity answered, turning to face her sister at the helm. After securing a promise from the brash champion that she wouldn’t fly so recklessly, all of them had agreed to let her be the regular pilot of Skydancer. They were able to navigate easier with her being able to sense the direction and distance to Keltra, and had used their previous journey as a reference to chart their current route… which consisted of just flying in a single direction so far.

“Tell me again about the people we’re meeting, the children of Chailiss. Is it true they’re really big, and they all look different?” Curiosity continued, and her question gained the attention of her other sisters as well.

“They were easily twice our height, with darker skin and hair, and they were varied in appearance. It was overwhelming, but exhilarating… I am eager to speak with our kin now that they have had an opportunity to settle themselves and create a home of their own.” Kindness replied in her monotone voice, before she unclasped the necklace holding the blue amulet she wore.

“These pendants were gifts from Chailiss, a reminder of his realm that offers us a cool comfort… The heat has never bothered us, and we have been able to adapt to the cold as well.” Kindness explained, allowing Curiosity and Wanderer to closely examine the blue gemstone she held. “Chailiss is very generous and compassionate, so we must help him where we can. We cannot let any more of his children suffer.” She said softly, but her words were heard and taken to heart all the same.

“The farther from the Eternal Fire and… Mother… we get, the weaker we become. How’re we supposed to help them if we can’t help ourselves?” Fear asked, her gaze upon her hand of ice where she saw her own distorted and cracked reflection looking back at her. A gentle hand covered the sight, and Fear glanced up to see Wanderer staring at her.

“We will become stronger.” The quiet champion announced.

“How?” Curiosity inquired from where she was seated, looking between all of her sisters with an innocent expression. It was Kindness who answered her question first, by standing up and gracefully gesturing towards herself as her skin became covered in shifting runes. She moved to stand beside Wanderer, and placed a hand upon her sister’s shoulder.

“We use the Gnosis.”

Her announcement stirred excitement and apprehension among the champions, as they waited to see what Kindness would create. The otherworldly symbols indicated a spell was being cast, but none among her sisters could see the familiar signs of the Incantation of Sending or Making. Kindness called upon her inner Spirit, weaving it into the tapestry and shaping reality according to her will.

“I do not know the name of this Incantation, but I know how to give it shape. All of us wish to help others, and that wish will be what connects us. It will grant us the power to manifest itself. Allow me to offer us this gift, do all of you accept?”

In response to her question, all of her sisters arose and faced her; Courage, Fear, Curiosity, and Wanderer. As they stood, they called upon the Gnosis, and the ever changing runes appeared on their bodies as well. “We accept!” Courage claimed, speaking on behalf of her sisters, as none protested.

“Let us share our strength, and stand together then. We will fight against despair… that will be our purpose… as the Holy Quintet. Let it be known, and make our wish become truth.” The air around Kindness rippled with the resonance of her voice, as the Gnosis sang an otherworldly melody that altered reality. A myriad of colors burst from each of the champions, a rainbow radiance that splashed over the entirety of Skydancer, and spread farther and farther until the vast sky shone with scintillating light.

As the luminous power seeped into their skin and washed over them, all of the champions felt themselves become invigorated. Their bodies and minds burning with cosmic strength and lucidity as they bathed in the presence of each other - sharing their souls for an ephemeral moment. They were attuned to one another, five that were now one, and none knew quite what that meant, but that did not concern them. They were not alone. They had each other.

When the light faded, and they felt themselves fall back into their own separate beings, silence lingered like a shroud laid over them. None spoke for a time, letting themselves recover from their ethereal experience. Slowly, like pieces of a puzzle being put into place, the champions found themselves able to relax again, and the runes of the Gnosis faded.

Courage chuckled, throwing her arm over the shoulders of Kindness, then tugging her close. “And you call me reckless!” The brash champion cheerfully teased, with a large grin on her face. Through their new connection, all of her sisters could sense the joy of Kindness behind her impassive mask.

“Thank you, Kindness. You’ve given us what we need to help others. I won’t let you down.” Fear added with renewed conviction, finding it easier to banish her anxiety with the feelings of her sisters so much clearer and closer to her.

“You are welcome, Fear.” Kindness replied, as all of her sisters approached.

The Holy Quintet gathered into a hug, all of them holding onto each other, and brimming with both happiness and relief. Their fires provided more warmth and were capable of sustaining themselves for a much greater duration. Their purpose was given new clarity now.

“I should probably get back to piloting, ya. I doubt there’s anything we might hit this high up, but we wouldn’t want to just fly past the North either.” Courage said, struggling to free herself from the soothing embrace of her sisters. “Kindness, Curiosity, could you two let go of me.”

After being released, Courage returned to the helm while the others seated themselves once more. The sun had reached its zenith in the sky, and the clouds continued to drift past them during their journey. They were halfway to their destination when Fear suggested another idea to occupy their time traveling.

“We should make more tools with the Incantation of Making; things that will help us protect others…” Fear offered, her timidness answered by the calm support of Kindness. “I agree. We have seen what evil is capable of, and require the necessary instruments to defend ourselves and the innocent.” She said, holding Fear’s hand in her own.

“I’d like to see Homura try to toss us around now. We’ve become stronger with your spell, Kindness. There’s no need to worry so much.” Courage remarked, but she could not hide the trepidation of suffering another defeat. Memories of the theft of her kin, and her inability to even scratch their Maker, caused her to reconsider her words. “You’re probably right, ya. We’ve got a while before we get to the North, so let’s do this!”

“Do we all have ideas of what to make then?” Kindness asked, looking at the rest of her sisters. Their uncertainty was evident, even without the bond they shared, she could see them thinking of various shapes and meanings, but that was fine. Courage was correct in saying they had time to figure out what they wanted.

“I know what I want to make.” Fear announced as she stood, and called upon the Gnosis. Her sisters watched with anticipation as the power of the divine manifested around Fear, and she summoned red material from nothingness. Her hands wove through the air, her mind uttering the words of creation that would shape the material into the artifact she envisioned. Slowly, the coalescing scarlet essence had expanded, becoming more detailed and defined.

It was long and thin, like a limb, but was slightly curved and covered in small spines that protruded along its lengths. Its color altered and became white, though seams of red remained, dividing the artifact into numerous sections that were held tightly together. With agile grace, Fear turned her back to the newly forged object, and let it glide towards her. There was a strange hissing sound, as the artifact attached itself to her, melding with the fabric of her dress.

“What’s that do?” Curiosity asked, her eyes wide with wonder.

Fear closed her eyes, and then white wings of feathery light burst from her back. She was lifted off of her feet, and shed brightness like a beacon in the night. Her wings stayed still, but granted her the ability of flight while illuminating a small amount of the world around her. Fear alighted back on the boat, and opened her eyes as she smiled. “I was reminded of Viho…” She murmured, loud enough for her sisters to hear.

“We will see him again, Fear.” Kindness said, remembering the owl champion fondly. “We must still show him proper gratitude for returning you safely to us, after all.”

“Hey, it’s my turn! Take the helm Fear, and try not to crash us into a cloud or something, ya.” Without heed, Courage leapt towards the center of the boat, and summoned the shifting runes across her body, her face half obscured by the otherworldly symbols. “I thought of this!” She cried, as she held out her hand, and pulled on her own power to create another artifact.

The red material shaped itself around her fingers and palm, layering itself and swirling over her skin. The song of the Gnosis became like drums, pulsing in the air as the spiritual energy of Courage became solid. The brash champion now wore a golden gauntlet, decorated with silver filigree and the abstract design of an eye engraved in the palm. Courage flexed the metallic fittings, clenching and unclenching her fist. “Ha! It worked!”

With a turn, she looked back at Fear and playfully waved. “Now you’re not the only one with a special hand.” She quipped, her words accompanied by her typical grin, and Fear found herself smiling in amusement because of her sister’s antics.

“You’re such a fool, Courage.” Fear replied, as Courage moved to join her at the helm. The two watched as Wanderer took center in the improvised stage that was the middle of Skydancer. The reticent champion invoked the Gnosis, and began the process of making her own artifact.

The material shaped itself similarly to Fear’s design, but stretched longer, until it was taller than the champions themselves. Intricate patterns were carved along the length of the limb, and the red color was replaced with the texture of wood. When the ritual was complete, a replica of Tuku’s staff levitated in the air before Wanderer. With deft hands, she grasped the staff, and smiled slightly. Without further ado, she stepped back as Curiosity stepped forward.

The inquisitive champion crossed her arms against her chest, and concentrated upon the internal chanting of the spell. The shifting runes hummed their sacred melody, and the fourth ritual resulted in the creation of another artifact. Covering her arm, Curiosity had donned a round silver shield, set with a multitude of glittering gems. Even when the runes receded, the buckler continued to emit a gentle song, as Curiosity jumped up and down with glee.

“My little Shield of Faith to protect me and my family!” She chimed with joy, holding her artifact high and on display.

“Now the Holy Quintet is ready.” Kindness said, and all of her sisters silently agreed.

The Heralds of Honor experimented with their new equipment, and casually conversed, as more and more time passed, until suddenly Curiosity called out. “Land ahoy! Land ahoy!”

The cold coast of the North appeared on the horizon, and their destination was finally in sight. All of them, aside from Courage, rushed to the prow, and watched as the Giantlands came into view. The coast grew larger and larger as they soared closer, the speed of Skydancer swiftly bringing them near where the sea mingled with the land. The boat alighted in the freezing waters, before being pulled by the tide towards the stoney shore. The cold awaited them.

“We’ve arrived at our destination: the Realm of Chailiss. Please disembark in an orderly manner, and thank you for using Air-Courage.”



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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone

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The North
Where the wild things are!


A bitter coldness clung to the morning’s air; this was the north, and when winter came its chill could bite to the bone. The sun up here could at times feel almost anemic in the impotence of its warmth, even if the white snow was suffused with its light, reflecting its splendor more beautifully than anything save perhaps for the endless seas. On this day, however, the sun was not visible, for great clouds obscured the whole of the sky.

Fortunately, these were not the gloomy clouds of gray or black that heralded freezing rain and blizzards; these were white, wispy, and innocent enough clouds, like the warm breath of invisible giants.

Susanoo swam through those clouds where they were thickest and puffiest. He swam up there, high above the ground, not just to hide from prying mortal eyes but also because dragons like him could not truly fly. Though many of them took to the many isolated mountain caves and hollows of their homeland in the Great Dragon Range, and lived largely solitary and ascetic lives, they were equally at home in water; some of them lived in the rivers or lakes of that distant country, and a few of the most adventurous even dwelled beneath the sea. So dragons could swim, see, and swim through moisture of any sort, unimpeded by thickness or cold or hot or salinity… and clouds were wet enough for those magnificent serpents to swim through, and so they could fly in a sense, when weather permitted.

It was convenient that they could control the weather, of course.Susanoo brought the rain, and the wet rainclouds bore him onwards in this strange land. To keep his bearing, the dragon occasionally slipped into the lower, thinner reaches of the clouds where it was not so opaque. Everywhere below there was forest, lake, fen, and river. And along every lake and river were so many bjork dams. From above they looked like little wooden bridges!

He wouldn’t find what he’d come for too close to those dams, though. So he wandered away, over the forests, seeking out the telltale signs of rising smoke. Eventually he saw just one such plume, and so he conjured a light drizzle and made his landing a short distance from the campfire. On the ground, he coiled his great long body around a pine tree once, twice, thrice, and then stretched in some odd manner that bent scales into fur. What walked away from that tree looked nothing at all like a dragon!

Stealthily, he crept through the wood. Bjorks were not at their home here, away from the rivers; they were like awkward little toddlers in this land of savage and giant beasts, which was why most kept to the safety of their lodges. Most of them, anyhow. Here and there were the odd hermits, ascetic and hardy, that wore strange masks and worshiped some even stranger spirit. They lived (and died, in many cases, the dragon suspected) for the thrill and challenge of the hunt, and so they dwelled reclusively out in the forest and fought these beasts, and not even to eat them! The meat, and sometimes even parts of the useful pelts, they left abandoned in the forest in shrines.

The dragon, guided by his keen nose, had stumbled upon just one such bloody shrine then. He looked over the pickings; yes, these would do. He began scooping them all up when there was suddenly a garbled voice that cried out, “Halt!”

Susanoo the Bjork spun around to witness one of those strange shamans in a mask, the funny little mortal leveling a spear at him. It was rather impressive that the hunter had moved so quietly! An eddy of wind changed directions, and then that other bjork’s pungent stench reached Susanoo’s still-sensitive nose. It was even more of a surprise that the bjork’s reek hadn’t betrayed his coming.

“You would steal from the spirits, stranger?” the hunter demanded even as he edged closer. The bjork-shaped dragon didn’t flinch or back down, of course.

“Actually I was stealing on behalf of a god,” he smugly replied. “Collecting your tribute, as it were!”

Confusion lit the beady eyes that hid behind the mask, and then anger. The shaman came even nearer, holding his spear out so far that it threatened to push its point into Susanoo’s fur, but then there was a cracking sound. The thin layer of hoarfrost that had coated a boulder seemed to come alive, and it leaped forward.

The hunter immediately thrust his spear into the ground and knelt in obeisance, murmuring something that sounded like a prayer. “Nisshinek, forgive…” the dragon heard the hot-head whisper, and the strange ice spirit seemed satisfied. In placed itself firmly between the two bjorks, but then right on cue to sow the maximum amount of chaos, a third bjork arrived with a great big sack slung over his shoulders.

“How strange!” Shen exclaimed. The god walked right up to the nisshinek and bent over to look at it. The little spirit stared back curiously, and then Shen grabbed it and tossed it unceremoniously into his bag. “That one might be useful for later,” the god explained. “Now, Susanoo, let’s see what else you’ve found here. Hmm, hides, very useful. Of course we’ll need to cure and tan them into leather, then braid the strips, and we’ll need a lot more to build the ballistae…”

Pleased that the great and enigmatic Plan seemed to be taking shape, Susanoo eagerly assisted his master by tossing the bits into that sack. They’d been filling it for days with leather, timber, and other sorts of useful materials. Oh, and a couple of conscripts too. Somehow the bag never quite ran out of space, and all the stuff inside never spilled out or got broken around by all the jostling.

Another ice spirit appeared as if from nowhere, possessing a cloud of freezing mist, and it foolishly charged at Shen. A great sneeze erupted violently out of him; partially a product of that mortal guise, and equal part from the fact that he was an old hermit who usually lived in a cave. “What, are you trying to give me a rheum?” the god called out as he flailed about trying to swap the ice spirit like a fly. When he finally managed to catch it, it bit his finger, and with a yelp Shen let go and looked at the blackened tip.

Frostbite!

“Phooey!” he called out, desperately rubbing his hands together. It was no use, he needed something else to get warm. The nisshi was meanwhile buzzing around Shen's ears, but Susanoo opened the bag really wide. A great whipping wind was created as air suddenly rushed into the massive void inside the enchanted pouch, and aided by a little bit of huffing and puffing, Susanoo managed to force the spirit into the vortex so that it was sucked into the bag, and then somehow he closed it again and returned it to his master's hand -- the one that Shen hadn't magically lit on fire.

In any case, the shaman, who both Shen and Susanoo had turned their backs upon and largely overlooked, bellowed out a roar of outrage. He seized up his spear, and as the two defilers before him spun around at the sound of his battlecry, he rushed forward with his spear…

Only to have Shen knock it aside with that gigantic bag. “Yield!” Shen called out as the shaman staggered to the side, his balance lost. The god really did look quite intimidating in that moment, despite subpar planning, if only for the fiery hand. Really gave him a nice demonic flair.

But the attacker said nothing, only raised his spear once more, and so the sack in Shen’s hands suddenly became a stick (for just a moment!) and with a sigh, Shen knocked out that hapless mortal with a single THWACK!

And then the staff became a sack once more.

Susanoo scratched his furry beaver head. “Should we put him in the bag too?”

Shen shrugged while shoving his half-frozen, half-burnt finger into that unconscious bjork’s drooling mouth. “Maybe he’d make a good spotter?”

They put him in the bag too. It was handy having a bag, for when plans went awry.

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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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AERON



Aeron was not doing his job. In fact, Aeron had never done his job. Voi had no sooner left him and his sister to their devices before the lanky lad declared that he was going to go find the other Voirans. His sister had objected, of course. It was not what they were meant to be doing. "Eh, we'll go exploring later Mair, later." He had told her. Everything could be done later, Aeron knew, and as his sister had pleaded with him (for she was the diligent sort), he had laughed off her pleas and told her, "c'mon Mair, why should we go exploring today when we can do that tomorrow? Relax." She had not relaxed, but had left him there. He still wondered how far she had gotten, sometimes. Sometimes he even thought to go looking for her, but at just such moments he would stretch, rub his nose, and decide to get to that task later.

Aeron was immediately popular with his fellow Voirans. They were the very diligent and careful sort, all of them, and the few thousand of them had rather quickly organised themselves into a strict hierarchy with a rotating 'Council of the Nine' at the helm. It came almost instinctively to them and Aeron had no doubt that their lord and creator had something to do with it. Aeron was different though, and in the humdrum of daily duties - that was how they lived, those poor Voirans, from duty to duty and task to task - Aeron brought something different. He joked with the men, accompanying them on their hunts and fleeing as a raven the moment trouble started "Ah, you're a useless coward Aeron!" They would joke afterwards as they carried off whatever moose or deer or mammoth they had caught.

"A coward, sure, useless now that's a lie." He would protest. They could not deny that. He brought something no one else quite knew how: smiles, laughter, lighthearted joy. The ladies liked it too, loved his swagger and charm and poor attempts at wooing. He had no chance with any of them, of course - they knew it and he knew it too - and perhaps that made it most humorous of all. Everyone called him Laughing Aeron; that was all he was good for.

Now as he was lazing about a near a river one day - the Voirans were a nomadic people, and it so happened that they were camped by one that winter - he was startled by one of those curious snow spirits the Voirans had taken to calling the nasnooka. He shot up on seeing it and dashed for a nearby tree, and the spirit - drawn by the sudden movement perhaps - chased after him. He yelped at this and darted away, but like a cat playing with a mouse the nasnook tailed him until he hid behind a tree. It stood on the other side - he could sense it - and whenever it made to move about he moved just enough to remain hidden. Realising his trickery, the creature expanded its form and circled the tree from both directions so that Aeron had no choice but to dash away. And so the chase continued.

When it became evident that the nasnook had no intention of leaving him be - though Aeron could not fathom why it was so hellbent on chasing him - he morphed into a raven and flew off. The nasnook gave off a cry of disbelief behind him and he quite suddenly felt it explode after him in a blizzard of ice and hail. Giving off a squawk of frustration, he disappeared into the tree canopy and stealthily darted from branch to branch. He would freeze amongst the leaves and branches for a few moments, watch out for the nasnook, then dart elsewhere speedily. Perhaps if he was a black raven he would have been successful, but a white raven could not hope to remain hidden long in greenery.

Leaves and small branches were blown out of the way as the nasnook descended on Voi's chosen eye, and Aeron dashed downwards and zipped from tree to tree as the nasnook followed closely behind. Exploding into his Voiran form at a run, he screeched profanities at the thing. He swept a rock up and turned to it at last. It came to a grinding halt right before him, hovering side to side in what could have been excitement. He threw the rock right at it, and it went flying with it before returning and depositing the thing at his feet. He picked up a nearby branch and flung it its way, and again the nasnook went hurtling after it and brought it back. He clutched dirt - there was nothing else within easy reach - and dashed it. He did not know what exactly that was going to achieve, but he reasoned that it was better than doing nothing. The nasnook spread out in every direction and - rather unlike with the rock and branch - disappeared.

Aeron looked around in surprise. He turned, eyed the ground suspiciously, then the trees above. All was quiet and still. "Well," he grinned, "that worked." And he sauntered off. "Bet Bertha will be impressed by that. Watch out, ladies, here I come." He had no sooner said that, however, before his feet disappeared beneath him and he fell with a resounding thud onto his bottom. "FFFFFFFFFFF-" he managed before his eyes caught on a weird ferret-like thing of soil circling before him. It rose on its haunches and considered him eyelessly - expectantly, even. Aeron pursed his lips and frowned. "You're some fella, you know that?" He told it warily. It leapt up and down in what might have been agreement.

He got up carefully, his eyes on it. "Alright, you got what you wanted - whatever it is you wanted. You humiliated me, proved your power and tenacity. You, my friend, have won. I applaud your stubborn stupidity in pursuing this useless chase. You have earned my abiding respect and I will teach your ways - nay, I will preach your gospel - to the Voiran race. I salute you, ferret thing. And now, fare thee well and all that." And giving it a wide berth, he walked right past it and jaunted off with half an eye behind him. While he did not see it, he could hear it scampering after him. He ignored it and just kept going.

By the time he had gotten to camp it had made itself comfortable on his head. "Aeron!" One of the hunters, Herlow, approached while giving the thing a strange look. "You've got a weird thing on your head!"

"Well, aren't you just the smartest." Aeron snapped crabbily, which only engendered guffaws from the hunter and giggles from some of the women cooking nearby.

"What is it?" Herlow asked. Aeron gave him a wide-eyed, haunted look.

"It is Voi." He said sombrely. Herlow blinked. "His enemies proved too great and have trapped him in this unspeaking, ferrety form." Herlow furrowed his brows and looked at the creature closely.

"Looks like some kind of slug to me." He mused as a crowd gathered around Aeron and stared at the odd creature on his head. It darted now from shoulder to shoulder, scrambled down his back or round to his chest, before darting back up - across his face - to rest on his mop of white hair.

"That's so cute!" Bertha laughed. "Your wily tongue actually worked for once."

He was the butt of jokes all winter after that, though he took to them with his characteristic good humour. Though his wily tongue had little to do with it, the nasnook (who was not believed to be Voi by anyone though the name Voia stuck anyway) seemed to have taken to him so strong that it was clear from early on they were going to get along. For one thing, it was rather the clever sort and took to all sorts of tricks very quickly. Old and young alike would watch in captivation as Aeron displayed the latest clever trick they had mastered, and on occasion the Council of Nine itself would have him perform at certain ceremonies or marriages. But there was no doubt that the children - the little ones, of whom there were already many running about - loved his displays most of all, as well as all the clever little stories he regaled them with about his exploits (all lies, of course, not that his tiny, wide-eyed listeners knew).

In all ways, Aeron was enjoying life. And Voia was too.

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The First Trial


The vale was long and deep, a concavity that could have been carved into the side of the mountain by a drifting glacier, or perhaps by a judicious finger of divine magnitude. And, as something etched by such an even sweep ought to have been, it was perfectly smooth, a flawless inverted arch plunged into the live rock. Not a single stray boulder nor patch of snow marred its floor, not a stalk of grass or mountain-blossom grew from the dry stone, not even a small crack nor pebble ruined the harmony of its levigated surface.

Little of that could be seen for certain, however, because of a heavy black cloud that covered the sky directly above it. Though no larger than most of the ragged grey nimbi that drifted among the nearby peaks, this dark clot was much heavier, and it appeared to be brewing a small storm directly overhead, for something growled and grumbled ominously in its depths.

Then, before Ea Nebel had the time to step either further ahead or back over the ridge, it suddenly burst, and fell to the ground in uncountable fragments. It became visible then that it was no cloud at all, but a behemoth swarm of carrion-flies, larger than any the Galbar had seen since the pestiferous insects had first set out upon its surface. There were as many of them as drops of water in the ocean and grains of sand in the desert, and as they set down on the ground they carpeted the vale entirely, so that there was not enough soil left uncovered for the slightest of raindrops to have fallen. All as one, they faced the demigoddess, silently challenging her with a sea of rust-red eyes.

Iqelis' voice rang out from the now clear sky.

“All flies know you, all flies look to you. All but one of them, who turns the other way. Find it among the multitude, for until you do, you may not depart this vale. This is your first trial.”

A gust of chilly wind struck her in the back, flinging her hat out ahead, and the steep pass behind her was enveloped by a swirling tide of thick black fog. Another such smoky wall swallowed the opposite end of the ravine. The world beyond might as well have faded from existence; there was only her and the flies.

...Well.

Ea Nebel faced the grey sky and nodded to her unseen judges, then took a step. A few hundred flies scattered, reforming their ranks around her boots and clustering over her exposed footprints until they obscured. The insects between where she had been and where she stood now had dutifully turned their heads, and watched her still. She waved her hand loosely in front of her, rune-ring sparking with glyphs of Gnosis, throwing out a stiff gust. Thousands of flies flew up before her, tossed in a dense wave that became a zephyr, black like smoke as it spiralled away its momentum ahead of her. The flies swerved, circled, tumbled this way and that, crawled over each other in piles as they landed, arranged themselves once more in a thick blanket- and faced her.

Ea Nebel caught a straggler between thumb and forefinger. She lifted it to her face.

Many ways to solve this puzzle, if one were only a god.

Ea Nebel stared at the fly and contemplated, turning it around. She could force this fly to turn its back. Then she could incinerate the rest of the valley wholesale, and leave only this one remaining. A trite answer. She made a note of it.

Stepping out into the endless blanket of vermin, she recovered her hat.

Any mortal would spend lifetimes searching the flies without finding the One. She was not mortal, and could search these flies by hand- if she had to. Ea Nebel bent her knees lightly and leapt to the other side of the vale, coat flung open behind her like a cape, watching a subtle wave in the sheen of the flies below her as they turned in their millions, skidding down over the smooth stone in another great black cloud until the heel of her boot disappeared into the fog of the barrier. She stepped promptly out, glancing at the sky once more. A stupid approach. She might need that energy later.

What then?

Ea Nebel trailed two fingers idly down her neck, cleared her throat, and sang a slow, wordless, operatic note into the valley. From her half-open mouth emanated a light as harsh as death, whiter than the very Moon, blinding, obscuring the shape of the insects. It echoed far between the walls of the valley, a verse in no language, recorded in glyphs of no script. She let it trail off. A faint, foul smell of burnt chitin hung in the air, and she stepped through the usual whirring clouds into the path the beam had traced. There, the flies beneath her feet rolled, wriggled, and crunched. Her light had burned through their eyes into their brains.

She was impressed by her own work. With a single song, Ea Nebel could purge the whole vale in a matter of minutes. Only the turned fly would remain. She sighed. Another fine way to waste her precious strength.

Ea Nebel paced, watching insects scatter underfoot. Patience and power were good virtues. She had an opportunity to prove either. She wanted to. All of her little toy solutions seemed more pleasant than the true answer she already knew.

She doffed her hat and looked into it.

“All flies know you.”

Ea Nebel threw her hat far into the air, down the valley, and watched it dissolve into blowflies. She shed her coat and let it fall around her, letting it sag and melt into a seething mound of the insects, revealing her arms, her shoulders, the brilliant shawl of Heaven around her neck. She felt her hackles rise. The endless sea of eyes upon her was hungrier now.

“Well?” She whispered, loud as a thundercrack. “Don’t you know me?”

The flies rose, slowly at first, then all at once. Their wings were loud as stone and timber grinding in an earthquake. A storm of darkness fell upon her, a gale, a swirling, droning whirlwind of innumerable insects rising around her in a towering pillar. Fat, writhing flies crawled over every inch of the goddess, hanging from her skin, layers and layers of them, heavier and heavier. Ea Nebel screwed her eyes shut, covered herself with her arms, and was lost in a seething mountain of vermin.

Minutes passed. The great mound billowed, heaved, and sagged. The noise grew softer as the last flies landed on their kin. The motion was subtle at first. It grew steadily, sweeping around and around, the repulsive skin of pawing scavengers carried by the currents whirling beneath their feet.

Then they, too, were absorbed.

The mound flickered, from sweeping black silk to glistening ferrofluid to glass and back to blowflies, blowflies, obsidian, silk. It collapsed in on itself until it was a pillar, and in that pillar was the figure of a woman, still standing, arms still crossed over herself, and finally resolved itself into a heavy black coat, tightly buttoned. Not an inch of skin showed under her sleeves and gloves, not a single line of her cringing face beneath her hat and veil.

Without releasing her arms, Ea Nebel snapped her fingers, conjuring into being a tiny animal; the runes from her jade ring traced the spell and tangled together as it resolved into a little tombwasp, perching on the clear and empty rock before her, cleaning its little white antennae as if afraid to get a speck on its garments. She pointed, and it flew off. By the time it returned, she had finally opened her eyes, relaxing her stance very slightly. She lifted a palm and let the predator deposit its quarry: a single, paralysed fly.

Ea Nebel raised her veiled face to the clear sky above.

“...Here it is.”

The fog at the throats of the vale dissolved, and the voice from above spoke again.

“It is the virtue of wisdom to know the nature of things,” it said, “Wherein they are constant, wherein they are mutable, whereby they are driven to their acts. Likewise it is to know how those attributes may be coaxed and guided to form a nature embodied in a guise that we desire. This is a virtue of the divine.”

A black cloud briefly swirled around the thinner end of a low nearby mountain's bifurcated summit, about large enough for one to stand.

“The second trial awaits there.”

“...Let me catch my breath.” Ea Nebel had yet to move a single step from where she stood. She inhaled, held it deeply, released. “Blowing away my hat. Was that a clue?”

Only the bitter howl of the wind among jagged rocks answered.

Ea Nebel looked down at the envenomated fly in her hand. It was twitching weakly, on its back, as if drunk into stupor. In its current state it could neither look towards her nor away from her. She let it fall between her fingers to the valley floor. She stared out into the long trough of empty stone, no longer bound on either side. Had she solved this riddle? Had she even tried?

Why had the one fly turned its back to her? All else looked to her, while it looked away, away from the Nebel spirit, looking out from the grave, looking towards- what? Life? The cradle?

Birth?

Ea Nebel watched the little wasp she had conjured take to the air in front of her, innocent and young. It had found the fly, not her. She pinched the tight fabric of her sleeve, the skin beneath. In the end, she might as well have just counted them. It didn’t matter how many millions of insects were woven into her own inescapable cocoon. The test had been to call up the one that wasn’t.

Footsteps echoed down the god-carved gulch, and then all that was left was the fly, and the wasp.




From the high ledge of Fortitude's tomb, the inaccessible spires and hidden depressions of the range were bared in a vast circle, and by far moreso to a divine eye. Even the secluded gulch had been keenly visible to the watchers above, though they themselves were concealed by a snaking bank of pale mountain mist.

Iqelis moved a step back from the ledge and silently turned an expectant eye to the others.

“How wonderfully contrite; a murderer pontificating the virtues of wisdom and divinity. However, I can at least appreciate the simple nature of your test.” Homura commented, content with the outcome of Ea Nebel’s first trial.

The One-Eye gave no reply, perhaps disdainful, perhaps absorbed in some arcane effort of marshalling the invisible forces that guided the ordeals, save a meaningful glance at the spear in the goddess' hand.

Ruina blinked as Ea Nebel began to depart for the second phase of her tests. Turning to face Homura as she spoke, Ruina noted the lack of a reply from Iqelis and spoke her own observation shortly afterwards, turning to face him as she did. ”I will agree with Homura that the simplicity of the test is appreciable, but I will raise observation that the lack of any form of limitation on time was rather generous. If she wanted, she could’ve counted each individual fly until she found the one you indicated. Some form of limitation or urgency in that sense would make for more thorough testing, I believe.”

“Be assured,” the god's voice sounded distant, like an avalanche somewhere far among the Bones, “That the flies would not have sat idle if she ever neared her goal by that path. She could have worn out her eyes counting without approaching it.”

Ruina could only let out a hum in response as she turned her attention back to Ea Nebel and awaited the next of the trials.



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The Helping Spirits


When Witale's pregnancy became known, the ensuing quarrel spread from the woman-tribe of the River Bivyech to their brother-band in the woods, and nearly tore apart both. The correct rites of gift-giving had gone ignored, and so the old mothers of the tribe had been given no opportunity to approve or condemn the union. Those old mothers had been alive since the days of Lansa, and their words were old and sacred: Learn honour, know honour, strive ever for honour; This is the highest tenet, the greatest knowledge, the way of living. Do not tread the path of despair. Do not go the way of greed.

Anger had flared among the Childan youths, who had already partnered in their hearts, the men according to the secret rules of the forest, the girls whispering and giggling around the fire as they accepted the gifts that came every season. Hasty Witale, unruly Witale, who did not listen to her mother! How could she cheat her sisters so? How much hotter would the char of longing burn in her nieces and cousins, knowing that they must wait when she had already taken? Who else would be inspired to steal?

Such distrust and hurt was death to the Childan women. On the morning after the weeping, when the girls had slept in separate corners of the huts and sobbed and seethed on the knife-point insults that had been thrown that night, the Spirit Father's curse was awakened and felt for the first time. No logs were hauled that morning, no stones knapped, no roots dug out. They had abandoned each other in spirit, and their strength had been taken from them, as surely as by plague.

Worse still were the sounds from the forest. Strength and leadership had been vested in the women of that race, and their grief-hatred was great. But violence was the domain of men.

The old mothers had met that day with the new leader of the brother-band, Dosho, who was now Dosho the Punisher, and the old, Lawivawan Copper-Bearer, his powerful body beaten and swollen, his hand broken by the force of his own blows.

Witale could not stay. She had been whipped with the birch, as was proper, yet still her presence divided the giantesses and made them weak. She could not be cast out, for then their abandonment would only seal the curse upon them further. Nor could she go among the men. To have a single woman among a band of men spells ruin. So Lawivawan Copper-Bearer and his ill-gotten bride were to be sent out together.

Several of the brothers went with them. Some went at once, for the same reason that they had followed him their whole lives, that the Flamekeepers had gifted him the spear of copper that Dosho the Punisher now held, the same reason that Witale had gone with him and started this sorry business. There was something strong in Lawivawan, chief among hunters, something wild and sacred in his smile.

Others broke away and followed later. Shason was among them.




The autumn berries had already been taken by the time Shason made it to the river, and he had no more food, nor a spear. He was too far now to go back to Dosho and beg for either. He had no axe to cut down staves and whittle new spears from the staves. He was too hungry to knap an axe.

The scent of the meat lured him down to the river. He could taste it on the air: fresh blood, rich and salty, and fat, prime flesh. His heart roared and warmed with the taste of distant butchery. It was not the smell of death, to Shason. To him it was life.

He seized the thickest muscle from the stone where it lay and ate it raw and cold. His teeth ripped at it, little Homuran fangs, but fangs nonetheless. He lit a fire with the flint and tinder in his pouch, still chewing. Only when he began to be sated did he notice the blood, bone, and feathers marking the trees, and the man now watching him.

"Lawivawan!"

Laviwavan laughed, spread his arms, and embraced his young cousin, slapping his back, kissing his forehead. His bruises were still visible, his fingers still bent in an awkward clutch, but he bore a new spear, smooth and tall with a fine bone point, and his smile was hot and wide. "My boy! I can't stand to look at you like this! Eat up, Shason. Eat everything. You need your strength."

"I was so hungry! I didn't notice the shrine-"

"Take it. The beavers left it here as an offering to the Masked Spirit. Their shamans hunt, even though they cannot eat! They risk their lives just for horn and fur... Take it, they abhor waste. When I travelled among them, they offered me their meat. Some of the older ones were sorry to see the tradition of flesh-offering overturned for my sake, so I always left the entrails at the shrine, for the Spirit."

Shason swallowed meat from the skewer and looked at him wide-eyed. "You've travelled with the shamans?" He was answered with a wild laugh.

"Yes! I've travelled with the shamans. The old ones, the Bijjiork-shamans, not our shamans. I've been with the dam-dwellers too, many times! They call this place the River Bivyech- that's as close as I can speak to their language, anyway. There's a wide dam not far downstream from here, where there are dozens of them, tucked under a big, fine wooden house in the water. Truly, Shason, you've never seen anything like it. If you were to follow the river all the way up to the mountains, you would meet hundreds." Lawivawan laughed and chattered on like a cockerel, then deflated.

"Listen, Shason, if ever you leave us and are hungry again, you must go to the river. Sometimes they will feed you, if they are at peace with their neighbour clans, and trusting. If not, offer to stand watch over them while they work, or at night. Many beasts prey on them that would never harm a Childan man- eagles and bobcats and wolverines, and even a wolf will take more pause for you than a beaver. They will feed you then. It's all leaves, of course, mustard and chicory and sorrel, and that's if they even know how to feed a Childa stomach. Else you get ferns and reeds and expected to thank them for it. Still, they'll feed you. They keep the berries for themselves. Wait until late, then ask for a cup of the drink they make from it. It has some beaverish name. Mighty good stuff."

Shason looked up. "Do they not hunt, Lawivawan?"

The hunter cackled, stamping the dirt with the butt of his spear. "The dam-dwellers? They don't even fish! They only use their spears for fighting. Sometimes wolverines, sometimes each other. Besides-" he rested the spear in his elbow and held his hands out a little distance apart. "Their arms are only this long! You should have seen them gawking the first time I showed one how we Childa men throw a javelin, really swing it, with the whole body..." He stretched out his arms and made the familiar motion, long arm spinning all the way over his torso, then burst once more into laughter. "The old shamans have bloody good aim, but I could see her big flat bottom teeth shining in the sun, so wide was her mouth! Their legs are short too, so they can't chase what they hunt and stick it, not like we can. Not that they really need to. They've the appetite of a goat and the gut to match. Oh, and they swim, I give 'em that. They can swim like a damn fish."

At this point, Shason was gulping down the last of the rare, glistening meat. It was hard to tell if he was listening. Lawivawan hooted a laugh, pinched his ear, and tousled his hair. "Oh, whatever, little man. Come on. The other boys have a hut between the trees round the next bend, there's more food there. Come on- we're trying to decide if we should be shamans next year."




Autumn quickly became winter, and soon there was no promise that any of Lawivawan's little band would survive that long.

Grey earth turned white. The green world disappeared. The Shepherd called his flocks to sleep, and only cold, thin, hungry animals remained to keep watch in the long night. The fox and hare and ermine shed their summer colours and disappeared into the blinding blankness of snow, leaving only their little black eyes and noses. The great aviary of the Giantland trees disappeared for warmer and wetter countries beyond the horizon. Even the seabirds departed their cliffs.

It was time for the North to slumber.

The Childan women huddled in their simple cabins under furs their men had brought them and prayed to the fire, to Lansa, to the Spirit of Heat, and to the Spirit Father, that he might not test them more harshly than they could withstand. Earnest and urgent was their prayer, which they sang in unison every dawn, waiting away the meagre hours before the winter night returned. The winds were harsh this year.

It wasn't the cold they were afraid of. It wasn't the snow that kept them inside.

The roots and greens were gone. There were no more truffles to dig up. The deer and muskox were growing leaner and leaner, and jealously guarded by wolves. The Dwami had sealed their caves with stone, and would not be seen until spring. The Bijjiork had no more leaves to offer.

In the women's camp, there were still acorns, and grains, buried in stores, dug up in small rations. Lawivawan's boys could do nothing but fish through a hole in the ice. It was good eating, but most of it went to feed Witale's growing belly, and the long hours in between soon taught them that grass and bark were meagre fare.

One day Lawivawan vanished. By the time he returned, the clouded night was black as pitch.

"Here."

The smell was unmistakeable. His meat was under a small fur in a grass basket. It was still warm. The Childans tore into it with no less savagery than the beasts howling outside their shelter. He disappeared to his hidden fire without a sound, without a word. There was more meat when he returned, heavy and dripping with fat. The boys scratched marrow out of bone with stone knives. They said nothing, even when Witale slept, better-fed than she had been for months, even when the last bones were brought in and the source of the meat became clear.

No laughter was heard in that camp.

"I met Onki out tracking today while we were looking for you," said Shason. "He says Dosho is dead. His wound festered after the bison hunt. The copper spear has no master." Lawivawan stared into their little fire, his face stone, eyes reflecting the flame like glass.

"There are pregnant women in the camp," said another boy. "They needed that bison. They can't just live on nuts and grass."

Silence.

"Do not dwell in starvation," intoned Lawivawan, quoting the ancient rhyme they had heard from their grandmothers. "Feed yourselves and all who hunger. Do not fall into the ways of sameness, uniformity breeds stagnation. The tools are given to you by the Spirits. Your hands alone can move them."

Dozens. If you were to follow the river- hundreds.

"Be thankful," said Lawivawan Copper-Bearer. "Our Father brought them to us in the shape of an eagle. They are our helpers."

Shason shuffled closer to their little fire. The smooth staff of his new spear stood out in the light. He was already thinking of the girl he would hold in his arms when the season of rites came to pass. The smiles he would see. The feasts they would have.

As always, the Bijjiork were a gift from the Great Spirits.



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The Schnapps Trade

Evoker & the Rómssa




The eastern mesas of the Varia provided good shelter against the northern winds, and despite the childans’ natural resistance to the cold, they needed to be wary of the elements nonetheless. The Rómssa, as the group in the Hárstákki caves referred to themselves, had moved away from the heartlands of the tundra and settled here, where they were safe from both the cruel weather and roaming bands of wound-up men seeking wives by any means necessary. Here, the women had developed a method of, if not actually warming themselves, at least warming their bellies. In the tundra mires to the west and the lowland wetlands to the east, a plethora of sour and sugary berries sprouted throughout the spring and summer. Chief among these and the most coveted by the Rómssa was the cloudberry, the gold of the tundra: these berries were often sour, but the tartness was quickly overtaken by a sweetness and a round finish that could never be replicated in other crops of nature. The berry-pickers of the Rómssa who returned with even just a small pouch of these berries would be treated as an equal of the band leader - in practice taking over as leader - and many would do their best to convince the picker in question to share with them the secret of where they picked - never would a picker share such a dear secret. Like a secret technique passed down through generations, the secrets of the cloudberry locations were passed from mother to daughter and no one else. The women of the Rómssa would on occasion bring trusted friends along, but only to ensure that their rivals wouldn’t dare spy on them, and even then the friends would be left a good distance away from the actual spot to stand guard.

Why were cloudberries so coveted, though? Sure, a nice berry to snack on in the late summer was always nice, but surely they couldn’t be all that interesting on their own. While saying this out loud would surely get you the whole band on your neck, there was a motive behind the picking beyond just eating the berries. The Rómssa did not have much in the grand scale of things, but they had their caves and they had a basic understanding of pottery. In some of their deeper caves, there existed the perfect environment for brewing the band’s most important source of joy and trade income: schnapps.

Rómssa schnapps was a surprisingly strong, spiced alcoholic drink which could be brewed from anything remotely sweet. The berries would be crushed by foot in baskets so that the juice poured out over the cave floor. The women had chiseled small channels in the stone floor leading to a small drop deeper into the cave, under which they placed pots to catch the runoff. The berry juice would then be boiled over a fire and spiced with the plants of the warmer southern wetlands: hops, angelica and caraway seeds. The spices not only provided very welcome flavour nuances to the wine, but also had extraordinary medical properties: Angelica treated coughing and diarrhea; caraway stimulated fertility and warded off curses and evil spirits; and hops warded off disease and calmed the nerves and hearts. Finally, the mixture would be stored in pots deep within the caves and left there to age and develop its character.

And no other berry cooperated better with these flavours than the cloudberry. This made cloudberry schnapps a substance more coveted than gold among the Rómssa - and among their rivals.

It was late summer. Sákka and her young daughters Súnna and Máddji, whom she had respectively had with a mysterious hunter from the forest and a charming wandering soothsayer - sat inside the cave stirring in a pot of boiling juice - cloudberry juice. The delicious scent could almost outcompete the thick smoke from the fire. Súnna paid close attention to her mother’s technique, mimicking it with movements through the air; little Máddji was too young to understand much of what was going on, so she had been given a stick of angelica to snack on. This would be the eighth pot Sákka had made this summer - her ancestral cloudberry patches had bloomed like never before. The other seven pots sat safely within their storage cave, vaulted behind a door of reeds sealed and hidden with magic. Such a seal was necessary when it came to cloudberry schnapps - its taste was as close as the average Rómssaing came to divinity - and stealing had occurred in the past, usually resulting in the cutting of someone’s tongue.

But recently, a strange, foreign entity had come to the Rómssaings for their wine…

The quick patter of feet signalled an approaching figure from behind. Without casting a glance away from the intensive process of stirring the boiling juice, Sákka said, “Who’s there?”

“Sister,” came the voice of Sákka’s younger sister Uksáhkká. Sákka afforded her a small glance, but even in the darkness of the cave, she could see in the flicker of the flame the sheen of sweat all over her body. She furrowed her brow and asked,

“Is something the matter, sister?”

Uksáhkká looked to be frowning. “I wouldn’t call it a problem, but… They have come back.”

Sákka frowned back. “Who’s come back?”

“The ones they call the Primes… They have come for more.”

Sákka let out a vexed growl and wiped her sticky hands on her fur tunic. “By the Father Spirit, they were just here! How thirsty can these wicked people be?” Uksáhkká offered her a shrug. They then each grabbed a fur that was lying in a pile nearby, took hold of each side of the ceramic pot and gently lifted it off the fire and onto a black-burnt pelt on the floor. Sákka stomped out the fire and said, “Súnna, bring your sister somewhere and go play, okay? Mommy will be back soon.” Then she turned to her sister and the pair headed for the cave exit.

Outside in the clearing in front of the cave, most of the band had gathered, some warily armed with stone spears and others keeping a safe, yet non-threatening distance. At the front stood the leader Helve Two-Teeth, an ageing crone, negotiating humbly with the group of small metallic creatures before him who probably all measured at half the leader’s height at most. Their shapes differed quite a bit, some of them were sharp and dark while others were round and bright, but they were all made of metal and light.

“... Yes. We Require Caraway And Hops. How Many Units Can You Provide, Childan Leader Helve Two-Teeth?” Said the foremost Prime, its voice stiff and rough and flat. It spoke with no movement coming from its body whatsoever while its two spear-wielding companions stood to either side of it with their smooth glassy faces blinking yellow. The leader sighed.

“As I said, you will have to be more specific: Is a unit the seed and pod by themselves or are you requesting pouches of the stuff? We can offer you both, but the answer as to how many will vary depending on what volume you have in mind.” She sucked on one of her two teeth.

The Prime’s face flashed red for a second, until it came back to yellow. “Error. We Require The Traditional Beverage We Traded For In The Past. With More Caraway And More Hops. Can You Produce Pots Of The Requested Beverage?” One of the Prime’s companions, one with particularly feline-like ears, twitched while its face flashed pink.

The leader sighed again. “Look, if you want schnapps, you can have schnapps - it’s been a tough summer, though. We only have a little to spare this time.” He snapped his finger. “Eijá! Go and find our guests some of our best produce.” A young woman hurried into the caves with two others in tow. Meanwhile, the crone turned back to the Primes and said, “So you’ve gotten the taste for schnapps, is that so? What, uh, what do you like the most about it?”

The foremost Prime’s face flashed yellow for a few moments, the machine almost appearing frozen. After a few more moments of this, one of its companions patted it on the head, which forced it to twitch and step back. The one who had tapped it was a rather feminine-looking one, with triangular mock-ears on top of its head and lithe, slightly worn down parts. It bowed a little, the movement unusually smooth for someone of its kind.

“I apologize about that, his Uplifting Ceremony was held only a few weeks back, so he doesn’t quite know how to use his body yet. I am the female One named Evoker, Leader Helve Two-Teeth.” Said the cat-like Prime, her voice sweet and full of intent unlike her newer, shinier brethren. “To answer your question, we Primes have not tasted the schnapps Beverage. We obtain it in the name of the Boss and distribute it to worthy Astalonian Homurans as we wish. The kitties tell us that they enjoy the warmth in their abdomen and the releasing of their inhibitions.”

The leader furrowed her brow. “Is that so…? Well, I suppose that is as good a reason as any. We’re no strangers to eager customers, but I hope we may be so rude that we may ask for a better deal now than last time. The food your delegation offered was, if I may, downright inedible.” She gestured to a pile of metallic scrap in the corner of the clearing.

Evoker only gave the pile of scrap a short glance before focusing back on the crone. “My apologies, Leader Helve Two-Teeth. What do you wish from us in exchange for the schnapps Beverage?”

“Some proper food,” the crone said with a wagging finger. “We would like meat of mammoth and grain of barley; whatever roots and fungi you come over as you gather this would also be fantastic.” The other Rómssaings nodded along in agreement.

Evoker’s visor turned off for a few moments, until it turned back on and settled on blue. “Leader Helve Two-Teeth, The Boss is interested and has offered a rebuttal. We are not able to offer the items you requested at this time. We can offer two Second Generation Prime Astalonians to aid you in your hunts and gathering efforts for a period of Ten Years, as long as you provide custom-made schnapps Beverages on a regular basis as well as aphrodisiac concoctions. Keep in mind our two agents will have to return to headquarters every year for refueling unless you can provide a suitable source of Aethelic Energy for them. Do we have a deal?”

The childans looked puzzled at the words spewing out of Evoker’s throat. Sákka leaned over to her sister and whispered, “What aphrodisiac concoctions?” The crone seemed to follow the same line of thought:

“I, uh, I must say I don’t quite follow - the order of schnapps, I can get, but the subject of aphrodisiacs, you will have to take up with my sister, our shaman. Is Ristinn here?”

“She’s out picking herbs and digging for roots,” came a swift response. The chieftain frowned.

“Say, have the homurans purchased this aphrodisiac from us before? What was it like? We might be able to find some for you here and now to verify if it was that.”

“I cannot confirm what ingredients the aphrodisiac concoction contained as it was a different Prime who purchased it, from a different group of Childan no less. Do you know of the female Prime Astalonian called Knuckle, Leader Helve Two-Teeth? Have you come across her? She has been missing for some time, so we do not know what Childan group she purchased it from. The Boss requires as much aphrodisiac as you can provide.”

“Haven’t had the pleasure,” the crone confessed. “If we do not know what this aphrodisiac is, though, I cannot in good faith make any promises that we’ll be able to provide it. I hope you can understand. How about we settle on the schnapps in exchange for meat to begin with, hmm?”

“Agreed. These two will be your assistance for the next ten years,” Evoker nodded towards the other two Primes present, “They’ve yet to choose names, therefore I hope you can guide them in this regard. About the schnapps Beverages, the Boss would like two deliveries a year of at least two five liter pots. Would it be acceptable with you if we came by for collection at the end of Summer and Winter, Leader Helve Two-Teeth?” Evoker leaned her spear against her shoulder and lifted her hand up to try and shake the Childan’s, despite the sheer size difference. The crone scratched her head.

“Can’t say I know what a litre is - is it a term to denote volume? I reckon it’d be large pots since you ask for them twice a year, and that would be doable: Five large pots. However, let’s take it back to the timespan of the trade deal. Please take no offense, but we have only traded once before, and that did not go so well for us. I therefore request that we start with a smaller deal than one spanning ten winters. I’m not sure if I will even be around in ten winters’ time; wouldn’t want my band to inherit something that - again, no offense - could backfire on us. What say you if we instead start with one year’s trade, hmm? You may come this winter and next summer to collect, and we will welcome the help of your two Primes for the same period of time. Agreed?”

Having not lowered her hand at all during the Chieftain’s spiel, Evoker replied. “Agreed, Leader Helve Two-Teeth. As a way to clear our name, we will not collect any schnapps Beverages today and we will bring you a gift worthy of your patience this coming winter. Would you prefer a tool, a weapon, or progress?”

The childans exchanged looks and the leader turned to her colleagues with a shrug. Upon turning back, she mumbled, “Would it be possible to be a bit more specific?”

“By ‘progress’ we’re referring to knowledge on more efficient procedures and tool-making that you could use to manufacture more units of schnapps in a shorter period of time.” Evoker explained, lowering her hand. ”Sponsored by the Boss, provided by Astalonian Homurans.”

“Then, uh,” she began and turned to her fellow bandfolk. “Alright, show of hands: a tool?” A few raised their hands. “A weapon?” Considerably more hands. “Progress?” A couple of hands, but many seemed to be on the fence.

“Not sure what part of our technique could be improved - the amount of schnapps is rather more dependent on the Father Spirit’s bounty, innit?” came an argument followed by hums of agreement.

“I concur,” said the crone and turned to the guests again. “If it pleases, then, we ask for a weapon in exchange for the schnapps.”

Evoker stared at the chief for a moment, then nodded and offered her hand again. “It is settled, Leader Helve Two-Teeth. The Weapon will be delivered as soon as possible.” Evoker then looked at the other two Primes, her face flashing purple, and then back at the Chieftain. “It is customary to shake hands once business is concluded, Leader Helve Two-Teeth. It is a show of good faith.”

The crone nodded and approached with a large hand held out in front of her, which Evoker took and shook. “Then let our mutual faith be good,” wheezed the crone cordially through the pain of iron limbs squeezing her fragile bones. Upon completion of the gesture, she wafted her hand as discreetly as he could and drummed on her chin with the fingers of the opposite one. As she did, the young woman she had sent for some schnapps earlier returned with a head-sized ceramic jug. “Say, why don’t you take this to those homurans - as our own show of good faith.” Helve took the jug from Eijá and handed it to Evoker with both hands. “It’s red currant schnapps, picked summer last. They’ve had good time to develop their flavour, I think - I pray our friends in Astalon will feel the same.”

“I’m sure they will, Leader. Thank you for this generous gift.” Evoker agreed, slinging her spear over her shoulder until it locked in place with a loud clank, then grabbing the jug with both her arms without much issue. “One last thing, Leader. May I ask you a final question?”

“Mmm? Yes?”

“Have you or your people dealt with a particularly deadly strain of fungus infection, with the capability of bringing back the dead?”

The whole band fell dead silent. Helve drew a slow breath and turned around halfway, beckoning towards the rest of her people. “Would someone see if they could find… that?” A group of four headed towards a tent at the far end of the camp. The crone turned back and nodded slowly. “Aye… Some months back, our Biijá went out looking for her sister, Tuá - Father Spirit guide her lost soul. She had been missing for the whole day, picking berries in the marsh. Biijá looked for her for a week before her corpse was found in the bottom of a ditch beneath a cliff…” Some huffs of sorrow hacked from the back. Many left the semicircle out of fear that their hearts would succumb to despair. The crone could barely hold the tears away herself. “Now, now, the Father Spirit taught us that death awaits us all in the end - our land is a paradise one day and a den of wolves the next. Only Tuá hadn’t left us after all - at least, her body had not. Biijá was on her way bringing her home, but… Halfway there, she says, she reawoke from the dead. At first, she was beside herself with joy, but she was only her sister in body - inside, an evil spirit had taken refuge.” A sinister nod. The crone clutched a talisman about her neck. “Biijá managed to escape through a miracle of the Father Spirit - a winter light descended to whisk her away in the nick of time. She lost a leg to the monster, but at least she kept her life.” She thumbed over to a woman sitting some distance away on a rock, one leg missing. She looked distracted, or empty, rather, staring into a campfire searchingly.

“I understand, Leader. To confirm, was the hijacked corpse of Tuá left to roam the woods? Is it still out there? Was that the first time you had such an encounter?”

“Aye,” said the crone. “It isn’t Ristinn’s first time, though - our shaman. She’s seen its like before many years ago, which is how she managed to deduce that an evil spirit had overtaken Tuá’s gentle form. I would show you to her, but she is still out.”

“No need for that, Leader. We did not expect to come across the Hivemind here but as per our duty, we will attempt to cleanse the area. Your Prime Assistants will hunt down Tuá’s body and cleanse it of the infection so that she may be given a proper burial and will keep a look out for increased rates of infection amongst flora and fauna. Be very careful, Leader. This infection has been causing trouble in the south for years now.” Evoker adjusted her grip on the jar of schnapps and curtsied. “I will take my leave now, Leader. I will return bearing gifts within the month.” She declared and walked into the trees.

This summoned forth a bow from the crone as well as everyone else who were still present. “Thank you, good Evoker. May the Father Spirit guide your way safely!”


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

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Zima the Cursed





Wind whipped through her as the chase led her on. Through the tall trees, cutting through rocky creek beds and down into wet gullies. The world never changed for Zima. It was all a haze and dreary but that didn't stop her from pursuing those pale humans. She had tried several times to call out to them but they never heeded her, much to Zima’s growing frustration. All she wanted to do was talk and figure out if they knew anything. They didn't have to run!

But it was becoming evident the smaller boy was getting tired. They had been running for a long time and Zima was always behind them. Now she was getting closer with every glimpse she got through the brush and trees. She could hear their voices, how the girl was pushing him on. How she was too weak to carry him for far. How he complained and cried. The girl always kept looking back and when she would spot Zima, she always pulled ahead, eyes blazing blue.

With one single yelp, the sound of crashing and frantic shouts- it was over. Zima hovered over a log and caught up to them. It seemed the boy had tripped over a root and slammed into a rock wall. He was either dying or out cold, either fate barely registering with Zima. The girl pulled at the boy, trying to wake him.

"Von. Von!" She spoke in an exotic tongue, one Zima had never heard before but could understand. "Wake up!" She shouted, frantic tears streaming down her face. When she caught sight of Zima, she took a defensive posture over the boy, shielding him from whatever perceived wrath she thought might come.

"Stay away!" She growled.

Where her feet touched mossy earth, all grew black and withered. This frightened the girl but Zima paid it no attention, if she even realized. She stepped forth and then stopped, hands at her side.

“If you had stopped and listened, he would not be in such a state.” Zima looked at the boy, his ragged breaths making his chest go up and down. “Regardless, I’m not going to hu-”

“No! No!” The girl screamed at her, eyes fierce as she tried to catch her breath. “I don’t believe you! You are a wakeful soul, this is not right. You are not right!”

Zima stayed her down, growing with that all too familiar feeling- Anger.

“Now listen he-” she tried to say.

“No! You will trick us! You will lie! Be gone!” She said with her own anger. Zima’s boiled all the same.

“Let. Me. Sp-”

“We are protected by the Maker! You cannot harm us! Be at peace elsewhere! Leave us al-” This time it was Zima who interrupted her.

“BE QUIET!” Her voice boomed, and the ground rumbled. From her feet came a wave of black fire that consumed the trees, plants, grass- even rocks to naught but ash in great jagged lines. The air grew still, now choked with black soot that landed upon that perfectly pale skin of the girl and boy, who had narrowly avoided a line. The girl stopped talking now, eyes wide before she began to quietly pray, holding the boy close.

ZIma huffed and once more looked at her grizzly work. Anger retreated to a bitter numb as she balled her shaking hands. "Look what you made me do." She said, eyes narrowing. "All I wanted to do was talk but you would not listen. And if you refuse me again, that will happen to Von." She pointed at the boy. The weight of her throat was heavy. Had she really just threatened an innocent child? Well, it wasn't like she was actually going to hurt him.

Right?

The girl, perhaps realizing her mistake before, relented and nodded her head.

Zima sat down amidst the withered ground and spoke. "What is your name?"

"Vare." The girl whispered.

"Vare. A pretty name for a pretty girl. How is it that you look this way? Who made you? Why are you here?" Zima twirled a bit of her own ghostly hair.

"Our Maker is Voi." The girl said with downcast eyes. "My people are the Voirans and we are here because we live here."

"Voi?" Zima asked herself. "I'm not familiar with that name, what does he look like?"

"He…" She began, "I don't know. Our parents say he spoke to them before they awoke. That he wore robes and had blue eyes like ours. That he protected souls." She squeaked out.

As the girl spoke, something clicked. She had met Voi, hadn't she? The Way Keeper or whatever his name was. The one who had let her go with Mish. The one who had cursed her to be whatever she was now. These were his people right before him. Dark thoughts flooded her mind, things she would never have even thought of before, less act on. But her hatred swelled and she spat on the name of vengeance proper.

Revenge was what she was after. If she was to suffer through all this anguish and sorrow, this lack of feeling, this- this thing she was now… Then she would make the ones he had created, feel as she did. Somewhere perhaps her mind recoiled at the mere suggestion of harming a soul but… She had already hurt a soul, hadn't she? Snuffed it out like a flame and she had felt nothing.

Zima faked a smile. "You spoke of your parents, where are they?"

"They're at the..." Vare's voice faded as she looked at Zima. Something came over the girl, she weighed her next words carefully as Zima watched a look of defiance spring up in her eyes.

"I'd rather not say." She said.

Zima nodded. "Of course, you don't have to answer. I'm sure your brother will help me all the same." Zima stated with confidence as she stood. Vare began to shake her head.

"No. You can't." She said, gripping her brother tighter. Zima pressed on. Vare begwn to stammer, "P-Please! T-There at the cave! The cave!" Vare was nearly over Von now, practically using her body as a shield.

Zima loomed above them. "I don't believe you." Her voice was like ice. "Pity."

"I won't let you take him!" Vare shouted up at her. Zima scoffed, then bent over and reached out for Vare. She tried to hide her arms from Zima but she was too fast. Grey fingers grabbed a fur sleeve and Vare began to panic as she watched the brown hairs turn black with wither. She fought back by using her other hand to punch Zima in the chest but her fist went right through Zima and she screamed out in pain as her fingers and hand blackened before she could pull it out. Zima grabbed her blackened wrist and only added to the decay as she tried to subdue her. When Vare could not fight back any longer, she began to struggle.

It was too late for her. Zima pulled the girl up and threw her off of the boy. She landed with a thud against the blackened ground and let out a pained groan. Satisfied with that, Zima turned her attention to the boy. His peaceful face reminded her of how she used to be- Innocent. But no longer. Zima grabbed the boy and began to shake him.

The furs she held began to wither, spreading like terrible vines across his chest. But he did not wake. She opened her mouth to speak but something tackled her from behind. She dropped Von and fell to the side of him. Vare was on top of her now, trying to bash her head in with a rock. It wasn't working of course, each frustrated yell and painful groan as her furs began to wither away made that clear. Zima could only lament the fact that if she had been able to become one with the rocks, she would have bashed Vare's own skull in.

Then the spirit had a wicked thought. If she couldn't possess the land, could she possess other things? As Vare's rock crumpled and she pushed herself off, Zima's form became a black smoke and she entered Vare.




His head was thundering, his lips were chapped and he needed a drink and when he opened his eyes he had no idea where he was. He blinked a few times, thinking as the memories came flooding back in. He had thrown rocks in the Sacred Lake, then Vare had stopped him saying it was disrespectful! Throwing rocks! What would Aeron think of that?

Then he… Then they saw those two eyes… Terrible eyes and Vare made him bow and then run and they were being chased and he was so tired and he tripped and and and… "Vare!" He shouted sitting up. His vision went a little hazy as he did, head still pounding. He looked around until he spotted a familiar shape. He half crawled, half ran as he found his sister. He listened for a breath and found it very shallow. She looked rough, her clothes looked singed and her right hand was blackened. Like some sort of terrible frostbite, the kind the elders warn about.

He shook her gently, "Vare. Vare! Please wake up, please!" He cried, an unfamiliar wetness streaming down his cheeks. This was all his fault, wasn't it? He fell backwards, clutching his head in between his knees.

What was he going to do? What would Aeron do? He had to go get help! He had to!

"Von…?" His sister's voice hit his ears. Von looked up and saw that Vare had sat up and was looking at him. "Where-" She began but Von cut her off by attacking her with a hug.

"You're alive!" He exclaimed. "I knew it!" She had barely returned the hug before he let go out of embarrassment. "What, uh, what happened Vare? Where did that evil spirit go?"

Vare's face grew distant and then puzzled. "I… I don't know. One minute we were fighting and then I prayed to Voi and it was gone. I blacked out after that." She looked around. "Do you know where we are? We should get back before our parents begin to worry."

"The maker helped us!" He whistled, a feeling of pride welling up inside. He also looked around and then nodded. "We aren't that far from the camp, maybe we'll reach it as the sun goes down? Come on sis, let's get you home. You're a hero! Just like Aeron!" He exclaimed, standing up. He felt a but woozy but stayed his ground. He was strong too!

"Yeah… Like Aeron." Vare agreed. She sounded sadder, perhaps that fight had taken more out of her then she let on? Von would do the brotherly thing, as much as he didn't want to. Probably. He took his sister's good hand and squeezed. She looked down and squeezed back with a small smile. Her touch was very cold but that was okay. It would warm up with time.

"Come on, let's get home." Von said as he led the way.





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Hidden 7 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
Chailiss Week


Exploring the lands beyond the river was proving harder then anyone had expected.

There had been some concerns before the original expeditions had gone out that groups might encounter Pretenders out in the sands, alongside any number of unknown animals and dangers that had never been encountered before. In fairness these concerns were proven to be completely valid in all regards.

When the winds picked up, they tended to create 'waves' of dust and sand that could easily cause a band of Rattus to be split up and lost, if not outright bury them if the 'wave' was strong enough. The sands also proved home to a number of smaller creatures that, while not intimidating in their own forms, had a bite or a sting that inflicted untold pain and often death on those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of it.

An old foe revealed itself to still be lurking as well, as one of the expeditions had its look out come under attack by a creature that matched the description of a pretender... with the added description from the survivors of the encounter that the beast seemed to have a series of old burns on their body as it fled into the night.

But the true threat was the sky... and the heat that it radiated. A group of Rattus could only carry so much water and food at once... and the desert provided little of both, largely preventing foraging for food on a scale required to sustain an exploration band. The light was taxing and sapped strength, requiring the consumption of large amounts of water in order to survive. Since there was a hard limit to how much water a group could carry, that enforced a hard limit on just how far out they could go and still make it back alive.

Some groups had bet their lives on continuing on past that point, gambling on finding a new source of water somewhere out in the sands. None who took that gamble returned, either in victory or defeat. The crypts for those brave souls had been dug out and created but... as of yet they hadn't been sealed in the hope that they might have found water and food and simply don't wish to risk their lives further on a return journey.

Raethel leaned against a wall of one of the deeper chambers of the original barrow as thought after thought ran through his head even as he lightly started to bang it against the wall. He hated this whole situation. Aethel had given them this quest to achieve and they were stumbling at the first hurdle with his people dying and he didn't see a way to change it. Sure he could change the focus to something that was hopefully less hostile, but it wasn't like he could just refuse a quest from one of their creators... and even if he could, failing to secure domination over their homeland created nightmares that haunted him as he slept for it meant his home and the home of his people not being secure and safe.

What they were currently doing wasn't working... they needed to try something new in order to make any progress with this but nothing came to mind. He had come down here because it was nice and cool and... and...

He paused banging his head, blinking slightly to himself as he slowly examined the idea that had sprung up in his mind from several angles slowly in order to look for some flaw that might invalidate the whole thing... or at the very least justify why he hadn't thought of it early before a number of his people had gotten killed trying to explore their homeland. While some answers appeared to try and ease his mind by offering suggestions, against the positives they quickly proved to be little more then attempts to not have to deal with the guilt of the lost.

Since the surface was clearly hostile, why not tunnel instead? Sure the process of forming the tunnels might be slower then walking along the surface, but it would be out of the glare of the sky, the various dangerous animals wouldn't be a factor and there wouldn't be able further pretender attacks since exploration would largely be happening in a secure, safe manner. Considering how much of the area away from the river was nothing but sand and heat with nothing of value, they didn't exactly need to take and hold it; All they really needed to do was locate any water sources that the desert had to offer and claim them to secure the surrounding area because water meant life.

When Rzelios found Raethel, the former observed as the latter was banging their head against the stone wall, clearly punishing themselves as they claimed "You. Are. An. Idiot." over and over again, each word being punctuated by skull hitting stone. It was only when Rzelios cleared their throat loudly enough to be heard that the banging stopped and Raethel, head resting against the wall, tiredly muttered "What is it?"

Rather then ask the question of Raethel was alright because it was rather clear that they weren't, Rzelios instead decided to do something productive... even if they were somewhat nervous as they started "You... never mind. There's something I need to show you. Catch this." and waiting until Raethel had turned to look did Rzelios under arm lobbed a water skin towards them.

On instinct, Raethel's paw lashed out and catch the airborne water skin... before their eyes went wide as they suddenly dropped it, letting what should have been a container for water make a strangely solid noise as they started to rub their paw while squeaking "[color=browns]GODS THAT IS COLD![/color]" in complete shock and surprise. Having taken a moment to warm their paw back up, Raethel looked down at the water skin... then back at Rzelios before asking in a more calm voice "What is that? What did you do?"

Scampering forward to scoop up the fallen water skin, Rzelios looked shyly proud of themself as they explained "Y-You know how our people are struggling to explore because of the heat? Well... we thought that maybe what was needed was to develop something cold that radiated cold in order to keep people cold... or at least not at hot while they're traveling. So we started trying to channel to mana to make things cold and... well, when water gets cold it turns solid and radiates further cold! It's heavy through... to heavy for anyone to carry and after a while in the sun it starts to warm up and turns back into water anyway... so instead we decided to try grinding it down a bit so that it's still solid and cold but able to fill a water skin and...

Opening up the water skin, Rzelios turned it upside down and started to pour out... it was hard to describe, but it looked white and powdery, but seemed to radiate an aura of coldness around it all the same. I mean... I'm not sure how long this stuff will stay solid on the surface for, but even if it only lasts for a day or so it's presence might still keep the Rattus carrying it cool in the heat... and once it's returned to water it can just be drunk as normal! W-What do you think?" He asked at last, clearly nervous as their tailed twitched behind them.

Raethel just stared at the strange 'powder' for a few moments... before he started to talk slowly "I... might have already come up with a solution to most of our exploration problems but... this is a wonderful idea. In fact..." Memories of fish and animals caught and killed during the night came to mind, for while the sky when it was light trended to dry things out in the harsh heat, the cool night tended to keep them fresh "I think your idea might be greater then you realize. We need... we need to test something out. We need to get some water down here... as well as some meat."




The test itself was fairly simple, through it would take a bit of time to run its course. Raethel arranged for several buckets worth of water to be brought down into one of the rooms of the barrow to have Rzelios cool it into a solid form, resulting in several of the cold blocks making the room colder. Three fish were quickly caught within minutes of each other, one placed in the cold room, another in a different barrow room and the last one kept on the surface.

The surface fish started to smell awful within the light in the sky moving very little. The one kept in the normal barrow fared better, lasting until the sky had gone dark and lit up again before it started to smell stronger then normal. The fish in the cold room through lasted a full three changes of the sky before anyone noticed even the slightest hint of a change in scent... and even then it was felt that it would still be alright to cook and eat.

With the experiment deemed a success, Raethel quickly sent messengers to spend the news, as well as sent Rzelios to teach other Rattus how to turn water into a cold solid and thus allow the creation of other cold rooms in different barrows.





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