Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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Pride is short… Tempered



Apostate had been missing for nearly the entire day, leaving Pride alone with Lorelei — at least up until the small girl waddled off to bed, a sleepy look in her eyes. With the young one cloistered behind her bead curtain, Pride was left truly alone, only the crackle of the eternal flame to keep her company. Apostate would be back soon, she knew that much. Aside from Homura herself, he was the most commonly seen deity here in Keltra.

Without much else to do, Pride preoccupied herself with patrolling the vast hall, primarily pacing back and forth from wall to wall in what would definitely be deemed an unnecessary act considering she currently held the Staff the Master of the Hunt had entrusted to her, and she could easily sense every happening within the immense keep through her empowered perception. However, there was not much to see.

The humans gifted to her from Aethel remained dormant, along with the remaining twenty thousand, eight hundred and seventy-four that had yet to be claimed, and all slept peacefully as they awaited the touch of the divine. Their pale featureless bodies intricately arranged within the interior of the keep, kept close to the Eternal Fire that sustained them while they slept. Pride remained uncertain of the situation outside the wall, her mother having refused to explain the situation with the purple goddess that had visited prior.

What few furnishings decorated the keep were mostly gathered into a single small area where Pride now found herself seated and playing with her Silk Song, the artifact wrapped around her neck. The shimmering scarf pulsed as she poked it, swaying and flowing upright like a prehensile tail in defiance of the weight of the world, and she noted how it almost seemed to have a personality in the way it moved and reacted to her touch.

Relaxed in the soft cushioning of her white owl plushie, with the staff and dagger of Tuku, the orb of Hevel, and the egg, all placed upon the lone table surrounded by the empty seats that belonged to her sisters, Pride was left truly alone. The nearby Eternal Fire kept her wakeful and warm, and she kept its flames bright and burning through her connection to it. Aside from the gift of humanity itself, Pride was aware that her mother would claim her only great creation was the Eternal Fire and its sacred purpose.

So she waited, wondering which type of music would properly convey the atmosphere of Keltra at the moment. With closed eyes, she contemplated and conjured an otherworldly melody that filled her mind with visions for the future. Visions of how she would change the fortress into something so much more fun and beautiful. Hugs, cuddles, running, jumping, climbing, seeing, and so much more - Lorelei had a simple way of viewing things, but that did not detract how true her words were.

Pride offhandedly set a foreboding theme to play when Apostate inevitably returned, letting him know exactly what she thought of the alterations to the orb he kept here and his often brutish choice of words, then pondered whether he would even care. Such was the nature of the Divine after all, and there was little she could do to change that. Perhaps he would find it amusing. Perhaps he might smite her with divine retribution.

The small champion chuckled to herself, letting the theater of her mind indulge her with the childish fantasy that her choices would not be choices that determine whether thousands upon thousands, even more than that, lived or died, and she could simply pretend that she belonged among the innocent, the happily unaware, the foolish. That her thoughts would match her childlike body, and she would think solely about the pure joys and sorrows of the world, as opposed to the diluted and much more messy truth of those that shaped reality.

Oh, dealing with mother was such a pain, she mused with another dulcet giggle before she mirthfully shook her head once and let out a content sigh. Was there really no such thing as rest for the wicked? Pride could feel the strength of her Spirit recuperating, granting her access to the Gnosis, which would alleviate some of her stress, she supposed.

There was a hint of regret that nudged the back of her mind, chastising her for the excessive use of her Spirit for frivolous things like song and dance, but she chose to ignore it. She hoped her mother would be able to see how such things ushered inspiration, which would kindle the spirits of those that called upon the Gnosis, and allow them to step farther along the Sacred Path. Provided with a sudden epiphany, Pride realized what was the Gnostic term she had sought as an explanation for her actions… She had performed the first Ritual.

Her mother did not deign to offer more than a mere glimpse at the meaning of this word, which frustrated the small champion, but at least she was given something to satisfy the lack of a definition for her previous spellcasting. Perhaps mother would explain further in the future, with more lessons regarding the nature of the Gnosis. Until then, Pride would have to wait and contemplate what she had in the here and now. It seemed the prologue was reaching its closure, and the next step of this story was about to begin…

“Pride!” Apostate’s voice boomed from outside. “Come here!”

She began intoning the Incantation of Making, conjuring a lamp like the one she had seen in Lorelei’s room. With a source of light to fend off the darkness of the night, Pride was ready to answer the calling of a god. Her little steps languidly brought her outside the keep, and she stood at the doorway, peering at the source of her summoning.

“Pride!” Apostate boomed again. The god stood in the center of a small formation of strangers, five on each side. They were tall, much taller than Pride, and stood straight. Plain woolen trousers and shirts wrapped their bodies, leather boots covered their feet and bandages concealed their hands. With blackmetal masks covering their faces, no part of their skin was visible. Only the small tinkling of hidden eyes betrayed that they were living. On their hips, blades made out of that same blackmetal hung.

“I see you’ve brought company. Why?” Pride asked, placing her lantern on the ground and crossing her arms with annoyance. Outside of the keep, the Silk Song had become much smaller, the tail of the scarf barely reaching Pride’s feet, while the rest remained wrapped around her neck.

“They’re here to help you,” Apostate answered and the group took collective steps closer to the keep. “There are valuable resources in this keep, they are here to make sure it stays out of the incorrect hands.”

“Aye, miss,” one of the masked soldiers said. “No enemy will put a finger on the inventory with us around.”

“I don’t recall asking for such help, Uncle. Surely you’re teasing me. You don’t really mean it when you say these thugs will be staying here?” Her head tilted to the side as she began to pout. She crossed her arms again, emphasizing her displeasure.

“Thugs?” One of them asked.

“Well that was awfully mean,” another teased.

“You alone can’t stop an army,” Apostate answered. “This is just the first detachment in preparation for a full garrison. Can we come inside?” He motioned to the threshold Pride was currently standing in.

“As you’ve said; I can’t stop an army, especially one headed by a god, so feel free to come in. However, bring harm to any of those within this fortress, and Mother will come.” The small champion answered, as she picked up her lantern, and stepped back inside her home.

Apostate behind her, the first soldier calling out again in tow. “Don’t you worry, Miss. That’s what we are here to prevent.”

Once inside, the assortment stood in line once again — the one on the far left adding. “This place sure is big.” Another wandered off towards the sleeping humans, pinching the bottom of their mask as they studied them.

“These are the humans, huh?”

“Indeed…” Pride replied, reaching her area of comfort, and proceeded to seat herself upon her white owl plushie. She dismissed the lantern she created, letting the spirit flow back into her before she scowled at Apostate. “So, are you going to explain yourself properly?”

“Grumpy face.” Apostate teased before ripping Warbreaker from it’s resting spot on his back. He spun it around and planted it on the floor before leaning against it. He sucked in a breath but then covered his exhale with a hand. Peeking about he watched the Recusants he brought with him. They were already scattered.

One plopped down next to Pride, onto their own plushie. No facial expression accompanied the action, a blank metal mask staring at the champion. Silence lingered for a second before Apostate spoke again. “These are Recusant soldiers, it’s their current duty to protect the sleeping human’s of Keltra.”

“Uncle, you must understand how their very name brings me doubt about all of this. Do you think Mother is going to accept this? I want Keltra to be safe from the squabbles of the Divine, not a set-piece that provokes them.” Pride replied, before glaring at the soldier near her.

“That does not belong to you, get off.” Pointing at pillows and cushions, before directing her finger to the soldier. “Now.”

“Ever hear of sharing?” The soldier bit back, unmoving.

“Pride.” Apostate pinched the bridge of his nose. “This isn’t the time to be acting like a child. Whether you like it or not — whether Homura likes it or not — this fortress holds the last of the untouched humans. Until that resource is used, this already is a ‘set-piece.’ I’ll remove them when that time comes, but until then, there are dangerous gods who likely already have set their sights on this place. Do you understand or should I remind you that the unintentional loss of humans to other gods is not a novel nor unprecedented event.”

“Uncle, your thugs lack manners. If you wish to defend Keltra, surely you could employ a more polite company.” Pride replied, glaring at the soldier.

“You aren’t being much better than a thug yourself right now,” Apostate answered. “You’ll get what you sow.”

“Please, Miss,” the first soldier — now studying a bead that had dislodged from the faraway curtain some time ago — spoke again. “We are here to help. Core-Naulty!”

The soldier sitting next to Pride perked up and the first soldier spoke again. “Why not give the lady some time to absorb all this, yeah?”

Naulty tipped his head and stood up from the plushie, mumbling under his breath. “I just wanted to sit.”

“You’ve brought weapons in my home. Mortal weapons. Are you telling me that if a malicious deity visited, that there’s anything these soldiers can do to protect us?” Pride inquired, turning her attention to Apostate, still frowning with her arms crossed for a third time.

“In time, yes,” Apostate answered with a defiant frown of his own. “As of right now, no. However, in the case of a god-attack, I can be called. They’ll pave the way for the rest of the garrison and in time, it would need to be an evil god to get anywhere close to the sleeping denizens of Keltra. Armies are forming and I won’t be able to be everywhere at once.”

“He’s right, Miss.” The first spoke again. “I’ll sooner die before I let the enemy touch anyone here.”

“Uncle, explain to me why I really detest this idea. If this is the way to protect my kin, why’s it so revolting? Why do I believe this is all a mistake?” Pride asked, looking bemused with numerous lost glances all around her and hesitation in her voice.

You tell me, Pride,” Apostate snorted. “I’m smarter than to try and understand whatever you or your mother’s reasoning ever is.”

“Fortunately Mother isn't here. I’d just rather you didn’t bring those that seek war to my home. Keltra is a shelter for those seeking peace. Weapons and death have no place here. It just isn’t right to bring such things here.” Pride mumbled, shaking her head with frustration.

“Think of it less like war and death, and rather new friends.” Apostate pinched his chin. “They are only here to keep the sleeping humans safe from people who wish them harm.”

“Maybe you’d be more comfortable if we were to stay outside?” A woman’s voice came from behind one of the masks. Naulty scoffed at the suggestion.

Pride let out a sigh, and faced the soldiers. “Why do you wish to protect this place? What significance does it hold to you?” She asked.

“The sleeping humans, Miss.” The first stepped in front of the others. “It’s our duty and desire to keep them out of the hands of the enemy. Once they wake up and go about their business, we can leave, no harm done.”

“I fail to see how such concerns you all. Why do you desire to keep them out of the hands of the enemy? Because it benefits you? Because it handicaps your opponent?” Pride addressed the soldier in the front, rising to her feet and standing now.

“Right,” the first hissed, his tone changing. Taking steps, he stood next to Pride, dark brown eyes peeking out from his mask. His voice echoed off the back of the metal. “I was debriefed on you before arriving here, Pride. If you want the straight answer, fine. You god created the humans erroneously, and now they all suffer on the Galbar. Some learned how to fight back and prepare for what’s to come, others haven’t. The sleeping ones here are innocent, they don’t know any of this yet. Either they stay asleep and in peace, or they wake up — and chances are they are going to wake up to this hell — and when they do, it is the Recusant’s desire they wake up free, and not at the whim of a genocidal maniac. Oh, it handicaps the enemy and benefits us — but who are you? The enemy? The ally? I was told ally. It benefits the humans first, and maybe your ego last.”

Pride merely glared back. “You speak of ego… I hope you understand that your presence is completely unnecessary here. I don’t pretend like I can change the whims of the Divine, and you’re foolish to think otherwise. If you wish to remain here, you’d better pray your name is nonsensical because there are rules. Do you understand?”

“Actually, no.” A genuine confusion was in the man’s voice, cutting his frustration. “My name is what?”

“The Recusant. You speak of duty, yet your title suggests such holds questionable value. My Uncle is dear to me, but I know of his power and its effects. There is a code of conduct you will be expected to follow for the duration of your stay here. Failure to comply, and you may find yourselves recused.” Pride answered.

“We are Recusant to the same thing Hevel is Apostate to.” The first stood up straight. “What are your demands?”

“First; you will not kill. Second; you will not touch those that sleep. And lastly, do not incur the wrath of the Divine if you can avoid it. The fact that you idiots think that it will take longer than a blink of an eye for a deity to destroy all of us is annoying, and I’d rather not have to deal with that. That is all.” Pride stated, looking at all of the soldiers gathered nearby.

“We are unable to touch the sleeping safely, regardless,” the first tapped his mask. “They are vulnerable to divine influence. So you don’t have to worry about that.”

“You’d be surprised how often simple things become truly clustered and messy. Just try your best, okay? Everything about this seems troublesome. And don’t bother my sisters either. You’ll wish my Mother was able to kill you then.” Pride huffed, and then returned to her seat. She stared at Apostate with a neutral expression, awaiting any words from him.

“So did you sit on a porcupine or did you wake up this bitchy today, Pride?” Apostate grinned.

“Do you normally invade the homes of little girls with armed soldiers, and I’m just not familiar with this tradition?” Pride asked.

“Should have seen how I met Lorelei.” Apostate stood up straight and shrugged before putting Warbreaker away. “I did try telling you about the war a few days ago, but you were in a dance.”

“I had hoped you would bring your war elsewhere… anywhere, but here. Your actions may have killed us all, Uncle.” The small champion remarked, with another sigh.

"Is there nothing I can say to you or your kind without you blaming me?" Apostate furrowed his brow. "The war was already here. I didn't conjure it up, no would we be here if there was no threat, but sure, blame the Apostate."

“If you could squeeze in blaming Mother as well; all of you divine fools are at fault here.” Pride added lifting a pillow and clutching it close to her chest. “You’ve said it before. Life was created prematurely.”

"I'm not sure if you know this, but I've never created life… Well other than sky lilies. But that was for someone."

"I like them." A soldier idled by the fire.

“Perhaps you were more intelligent than the rest of your kin then. What will you do now? Your changes to my kin have not prepared them for this war. They will die, and will that mean anything to the rest of the pantheon? I’m possibly wrong, but I doubt Mother wanted to arm us against the Divine. Do you think otherwise?” Her words were briefly muffled by the pillow she brought to her head to obscure herself, but her question at the end was clear, the small champion revealing her face upon asking it.

"Your mom made us," one of the soldiers said. "Then she put you alone here. I don't think she's running any plans."

Apostate simply shrugged. "I asked you what you wanted when we first met, don't you think I asked these people the same thing?"

“My answer remains the same. You and your kin are still the greatest threats to humanity. However, I can’t make you leave, and we both know that. These soldiers you’ve brought - they aren’t sustained by the Eternal Fire. They’re different, but they’re still mortal. Not very good tools of war, you know.” Pride remarked, tossing her pillow at Apostate.

Apostate caught the pillow and scowled. "Again you're blaming me. I didn't make these people, nor did I make them tools of war. I know more than you that the divine are the biggest threat to mortality."

Pride looked back at the soldiers, then returned her gaze to Apostate. “Then why did you bring them here? I assumed they were your’s, but if you took them from another god, like you did Lorelei, you’re asking for more trouble. They think they’re protecting Keltra?” The small champion became bemused again, trying to ascertain what piece of information she was missing here.

"We don't belong to anyone." Core-Naulty said.

"Naulty's right," a woman's voice added.

The first nodded along. "We are of our own design."

Pride glowered in response. “How irksome... I digress, they may remain here as long as they adhere to the three rules I’ve explained.”

"Don't be prissy just because you're under the thumb of a god and we aren't," one of the soldiers said in response.

"How many more are you bringing, and when should I expect them to arrive, Uncle?" The small champion continued her conversation with the God of Defiance, ignoring the comments of the soldiers.

“That depends on a lot of things,” Apostate answered. “I’ll update you as the leadership makes decisions, though I do have a personal quest for you in the meantime.”

Pride tilted her head, intrigued by his words. “Hmm… know that any other outsiders you bring will also have to follow these rules. You understand that I cannot leave Keltra, so if this quest requires me to do so, I’ll have to decline. Otherwise, I’ll see if it’s within my power to accomplish. Tell me about this quest, please.”

"Socialize." The god crossed his arms. "I think it'll go a long way for you if you attempt to try and make at least one friend. You're an ambassador, after all. You never even asked anybody their name or said hello."

"It did hurt my feelings." A soldier whined.

“I’ll remedy my mistakes later. You may not realize this, but your presence incites terror. I love you, Uncle, but you aren't human. I’m not an ambassador. I’m a toy. If I don’t do what I’m supposed to, you’ll break me. That’s the truth every human faces in your presence.” Pride said, before she shrugged, then turned to the soldiers once more and bowed respectfully.

“My name is Pride. I’m the Keeper of Keltra. A pleasure to meet you all.” She greeted them, offering an innocent smile.

"I'm Cosi-Dern," the First replied.

"Core-Naulty."

"Core-Ophi."

"Core-Veldin."

"Core-Xan."

"Core-Soth."

"Core-Thiddock."

"Core-Amul."

"Core-Repha."

"Core-Garren."

The soldiers circled Pride as they sounded off. Cosi-Dern held out his hand. "Debates aside, we look forward to serving here."

She hesitated at first, then found herself accepting his hand in what she hoped was a gesture of peace. "I confess, your naming convention confuses me, but that's something we can figure out later. If there's anything you need, please let me know."

Dern shook Pride's hand. "Likewise, Miss. We have to work together after all."

Gentle music suddenly filled the hall, a soft and serene melody that came from everywhere and nowhere. Then the Silk Song grew - its length easily longer than the small champion’s height by a hundredfold, and Pride began levitating in the air, her head almost reaching the same height as everyone else now. Perhaps the pleasant tune was a sign of good faith…



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Hidden 6 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


Some years prior


Even before the creation and usage of ice to create cold rooms, the exploration tunnels were dug out and new settlements of Rattus were developed across their sandy homeland, other Rattus along the river turned their attention elsewhere. After all, Aethel had handed down three tasks.

The eastern mountains were a daunting task... and the massive creatures that were occasionally seen flying among those peaks only made the prospect of trying to open a safe passage through to the other side all the more harrowing. All the more reason for the Rattus people to breath deeply, come together... and bravely turn westward so they could focus on the other task while putting off the mountains for another day.

Being considered by many to be the original mastermind behind the Rattus taking to the water via craft, Raethel would often find himself during his free time joining the teams of Rattus attempting what was deemed to be one of the most important projects since the creation of the water craft and the calming of the water monster; Improving the water craft so that it might sail across the vast waters that stretched out as far as the eye could see.

The original water craft that sailed along the river were sailed out in an experiment to see just how different the conditions fared... with the results being enlightening. While it was true that when the weather was rough that it could cause issues for those sailing the river, even when things were calm and the wind barely moved the greater, salty waters proved to be a turbulent thing. Considering the river craft had been designed with stability in mind this wasn't as bad as it could have been, but it was clear to all watching the test run that it simply wasn't up to the task. The salt water offered fresh challenges that needed to be faced and overcome.

After some discussion, Raethel was the one who suggested that the current 'flaw' with the river craft when it came to handling conditions on the salty tasting wider waters was that of size. It was simply too small for the task required... stability aside that would have been an issue anyway; While the act of fishing would certainly provide food for those Rattus sailing on the salty water, the fact remained that there simply was no land for them to disembark on once they got a certain distance out and thus any supplies they would need, be it food, tools, places to rest and resources to repair any damage taken would need to be on the craft... and the crew of the craft would need to be able to sustain themselves for an unknown amount of time.

The issue of supply space only grew after Raethel requested several healthy Rattus to drink of the salty water for a few days in order to test it; The fact that the water tasted so strongly different from the water of the river was a matter of concern and he was afraid that there might be some health risks if one drank it. This concern was proven to be well founded as those who drank the salt tasting water quickly found themselves growing sick.

It started with them peeing well above normal... then muscles started to cramp up even as their mouths grew dry and their thirst only got worse, no matter how much additional salty water they drank. They started to get weak and nauseous, as well as suffering other afflictions that mirrored those of Rattus that had gone exploring the deserts sands and managed to get back to safety after their water supplies ran out. The danger proven, Raethel ended the experiment early and got the Rattus in question as much river water as they could safely drink, all the while hoping that he hadn't condemned these brave Rattus to die. They would recover without long term ill effect, through it did take several days of care for the sickness to pass.

A brave woman named Leucopus stepped forward and suggested that, much like how they had been taught to boil still water to cleanse it of things that would make them sick, the process might work here as well. She volunteered to test this theory herself. While she too would suffer the affliction of the original group, Raethel personally stepped in to bring her experiment to an end before her condition reached their degree of severity when it became clear that she was undergoing the same symptoms despite her water having been boiled first. She also made a full recovery once she was back on good old river water.

Much like their exploration of the desert, water was one of the supplies that was going to have to be carried by the water craft, despite the fact that it would be floating atop of water itself.

Much like the days of the original project to produce the first river crafts, several teams of Rattus formed around differing ideas that spurred on a feeling of playful rivalry and competition. Unlike the original through, it seemed to lack the same air of haste; This was not a race to see who could get the first craft out on the water that would stay floating after all. This was a matter of endurance and longevity as much as stability and speed.

A recovering Leucopus was actually the one to suggest a means of testing the designs that caught Raethel's attention: Sail them along the coastline. They would be given a solid test of salt water conditions while being clearly within range of the shore in the event that something went horribly wrong. It would also be a chance to properly explore the coastline and see if there was anything of note... through for this early stage of testing the test should likely be limited from when the sky's heat started to rise to when it set again, giving the craft a test of endurance, a proper time frame in which to operate since they would be turning around once the light of the sky reach its peak and... well, would test the design of the craft in seeing how they handled turning around on the salt water.

Raethel agreed with her reasoning...and felt compelled to work with Leucopus as often as he could from that moment onward. She was a brilliant Rattus... and pleasant on the eyes if he did say so himself.





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Hidden 6 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Keltra Vanguard Garrison



Outside the main keep of Keltra but still behind the exterior walls, the ten recusant soldiers that made up the Keltra Vanguard Garrison were scattered. Two sat off to the corner, eyes closed and a gentle hum on their throats. Their masks were removed, revealing metal scarred faces. With hands outstretched towards each other, a pool of recusar smoke hazed above them, metal fragments moving in the swirls like liquid. One was Core-Garren, a fit young man trained in wisp-welding, the other was Core-Ophi, his twin and fellow welder. Though they were first generation recusants, their homuran mold ended up being identical except for gender, making them one of the first recusant twins.

In front of them, armed and masked, was Core-Naulty, his weapon drawn. Across the way from Naulty were most of the others being led by Cosi-Dern. They were marking areas of grass with notches made into the ground by sword. Apostate was nowhere to be seen, as well as Core-Xan and Core-Soth, the three allegedly out for a walk.

“We can use stone to lay the foundation,” Dern was saying to Core-Veldin. The woman’s mask hung off of her hip as she listened, showcasing that she was missing her left eye to a rash of blackmetal, her bottom lip cleaved with a strip of the same material. He pointed to the outer wall of Keltra, it’s interior face right next to them. “We’ll use the existing wall as a backing to save resources.”

“Understood,” Veldin answered, a slight lisp in her serious tone. Dern pinched the bottom of his mask and thought for a moment.

“Can you measure the paces along the far wall? Maybe we could save even more resources by making the barracks long and curving along with the wall.”

“Of course.” Veldin nodded before spinning on her heel. With purpose she walked off from Dern and the others, her working eye settled on the far side, a good fifty feet away from everyone else. A small pool of sky lilies sat at her destination, fluttering to life whenever a small breeze sank into the area. Instinctively, and mirroring a common trait of Apostate, she rested her hand on the hilt of her blade as she walked.

Scuffing to a stop, Veldin pushed the lilies with her boot. She cleared her throat and gave the pile of flowers a serious look. Her working eye rolled to the side and she glanced over her shoulder — her comrades were deep in their own work, too busy to be looking her way. Looking back at the small pile of pink petals, Veldin quickly kicked them up into a plume, smiling at the display.

The petals caught the breeze and started to flutter away, taking Veldin’s short enjoyment along with it. With the area mostly clear of the funny little flowers, Veldin put her hand on the cold wall of Keltra and set her boots along its side. Clicking her front front heel to her back foot toe she started to pace out the steps of the wall.

“Core-Veldin!” Dern’s voice called out.

“Yes?”

“We misewell get a full measurement, mark were you started and head the other way until you loop back to us.”

Veldin looked down at her feet, only four paces in. The prospect of walking the entire outer wall suddenly felt daunting, but she looked up with resolve — not that Dern was looking at her. “Very well.”

The soldier turned around and started pacing in the opposite direction, one hand brushing the wall as she walked.

“One…”

“Two…”

….

“One-hundred and Seventy.”

It was monotone at the start and now without the view of her comrades, it was even more monotone. The interior grass was all the same, and the sky lilies were too far and inbetween to provide too much entertainment. Verdin almost felt like she had been walking in place this entire time, and if the keep itself hadn’t been cube but rather circular, she figured there would have been little to tell her otherwise. That is, with the exception of the miniature encampment that was slowly coming to view further up ahead consisting of a tiny canopy nestled up against the wall and a set of ropes heading up onto the ledges above.

“... Two-hundred and Ninety Three.” She muttered as she finally reached the canopy, held up by flimsy wooden sticks and made up of several large red leaves. Below it laid a small figure curled into an even smaller ball. It was a young, olive-skinned girl who wore a spotless white and gold dress, with a long furry cat tail and a pair of twitchy feline-like ears on top of her head. She slept peacefully, the only sound coming from her being that of her slow breathing and the occasional murmur, squeak or whimper.

“Oh,” Verdin said, curious. She recognized the little girl from description. Thoughtfully, she was about to step around the canopy but then froze — that would ruin her pace count. She needed to walk under the structure. “Shit.”

She marked the ground where she stood with a quick notch of her sword. “Two-hundred and Ninety Three.” She named the mark before stepping away from it and putting her weapon away. Gulping, she crouched next to the sleeping girl.

“Erm. Lorelei.” Her lisp made the name come out peculiar, almost as ‘low-ah-lay.’ She tried saying it slower. “Lorelei.”

“Hhrmmm…” Lorelei groaned softly, rolling onto her other side with a yawn and a quick wipe at the corner of her mouth. She shivered a little and muttered, her left eyebrow twitching a couple times. “... Gray...”

“Lorelei.” Verdin hesitated a moment before prodding the girl with her bandaged finger, making her jump a little before opening her eyes. “Excuse me.”

Lorelei yawned again and rubbed at her eyes. Her hair was disheveled, her ears pointed in completely different directions and drool stained one of her grass-marked cheeks. Groggily, she sat up and squinted her eyes at the mask dangling off of Verdin’s hip.

“I need to step through here,” Verdin said. “I’ll only be a few seconds, then you can go back to napping, deal?”

The girl’s squinty eyes darted back and forth several times between the mask and Verdin’s face. “Y… You’re not P-Primes?”

“No, I’m Core-Verdin, a recusant soldier.” Verdin stabbed a thumb into her chest, punctuating her introduction.

“Mm…” Lorelei nodded after a moment and stepped out from under her canopy. “What’re you d-doing?”

“Measuring the wall.” Verdin answered as she swapped places with Lorelei, hunching under the canopy. She realigned her feet with her mark from earlier and started again. She got seven paces through the canopy before she was out on the other side. Kicking the ground with her boot, she marked the 200 pace mark and turned to Lorelei. “Thank you.”

“Would you like some assistance then?” Pride asked, as she announced her presence from behind Verdin, where she had stood silent and still until speaking.

Verdin flinched, her fingers clenching and unclenching. Stiff, the soldier turned to Pride. She blinked her working eye. “Do you already have a circumference measured out?”

“I have walked across the entirety of Keltra. I’d be happy to share its measurement, if you’d like.” Pride answered, offering the soldier a small bow - before looking past her and at Lorelei with a content smile.

“That would be great,” Verdin answered. Folding her arms behind her back she awaited the measurements. “I assume this is at your pace?”

Pride tilted her head as she considered the question, even resting her chin on one hand while she hummed. “Hmm… I’ve counted my steps as I walked, which seem equal to your own divided by two and a half, so through simple mathematics we can ascertain how many of your paces I’ve walked. You’re seeking the perimeter of the keep’s exterior which is twenty one thousand, one hundred and twenty of my steps. If we divide that number by two and a half, we come to eight thousand, four hundred and forty-eight paces.”

“Are you sure?” Verdin couldn’t help but raise a skeptical brow. “Maybe it would be safer if I just finished my pacing.”

“You’re currently at two percent completion regarding your task then. There are still eight thousand, two hundred and forty-eight paces to go. I also wouldn’t recommend keeping track of the doors; Mother often changes their locations and sizes.” The small champion said, as she walked past Verdin and stood next to Lorelei, who seemed unsure on who to look at.

Crossing her arms, Verdin stood up perfectly straight. “I’m getting the feeling like this is going to be a pain in the ass. Do the perimeter sizes ever change or just the doors?”

Pride crossed her arms as she pondered again. “Hmm… I’ve never seen the keep itself alter its size, but the outer wall has opened and closed before. I’m afraid the shape of Keltra isn’t something I get to decide. Speaking of which, did Apostate bring you all this?”

Pride then turned to Lorelei, and gestured with a hint of bemusement to the small encampment that had been setup. “Oh!” Lorelei perked up, “No. I made it all. Dead sticks, l-leaves, y’know!” She said with a sheepish smile.

“One of life’s greatest mysteries is how you always keep finding so many things to build here. I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me come up with ideas on what to build in the future. I’m no architect, but it’s my intention that Keltra would have a great many sights and wonders to behold.” Pride proceeded to ask, with a meek mixture of modesty and excitement, and then holding out her hand towards Lorelei, which Lorelei grabbed with a grin of her own.

“Cosi-Dern and the others are mapping out the fore area for barracks, armory and welding locations,” Core-Verdin stated with a puff of smoke. “Well, I suppose it’s only the fore area for now… We’ll have to ask Homura for her plans, so we can build stable structures.” A thought occurred to Verdin.

“But while I have you both here, I ask that you stay away from any welding.”

Pride glanced at Verdin with a raised brow. “When you say welding, what exactly do you mean?”

“Making metal hot and pushing it together, p-probably.” Lorelei explained, her grip on Pride’s hand loosening a little as she started to clean her face and fix her hair.

Verdin nodded her head. “The manipulation of metals, correct.”

“So be it. Are you still planning to continue your task now?” Pride inquired, turning her attention primarily upon Verdin to avoid chuckling at the sight of Lorelei.

“Not with the knowledge that the fortress can change at whim, I’ll have to report the findings to Cosi-Dern before deciding our next steps.” Verdin paused, hesitating with a finger poised. “I just really want to go over this one more time, just to make sure both of you understand for posterity. Please do not approach any welders or be present at any welding stations. It’s not a simple ‘so be it’ situation, your presence around the recusar smoke could chance infection. This is your formal notice.”

“C-Can I watch if I wear my suit? It filters the air.” Lorelei asked hopefully.

“I can’t guarantee your safety, but that might be enough,” Verdin answered honestly. “Just note that you’re watching at your own risk.” The soldier tapped her left eye, finger panging against the blackmetal that grew over the mutilated area. “You could lose an eye.”

“Eeeh!” Lorelei took a step back while scrunching up her face, “T-That’s some really intense welding!”

“Indeed it is.” Verdin looked at Pride. “Do you also understand?”

“I’m well aware of the dangers you’ve brought here. You needn’t concern yourself with me, Core-Verdin.” The small champion answered, before she simply sighed, and looked back at Lorelei and casually shrugged.

Verdin frowned and stepped back into Pride’s line of sight. “Not to be stubborn, but we are supposed to be working together. I just need confirmation that you understand what I’m telling you.”

The smaller girl nodded and stole a sideways glance at Pride. “S-She does! She’s just being…” Lorelei chuckled, “Y’know.”

It was Verdin’s turn to let loose a long sigh. Tucking a frown into her cheek, she nodded. “I know…”

Pride shook her head with frustration in response. “Hmph, how amusing. As I’ve said, I understand. And, now my sister advocates such, so will you continue to pester me with the same question until Mother or Uncle comes and tells you the same?”

“You’re just a very mean person, aren’t you?” The words were more of a statement than a question. Verdin’s frown grew and she turned away from the Champion. “Well, either way it was nice meeting you, Lorelei. I’m sorry for disturbing your nap.” She started to walk away, and held up a hand.

“If either of you have any questions, feel free to ask any one of us.” There was a pause. “We are at least willing to work with others.”

“I remember when they were all just nice, quiet, and sleeping. They also weren’t so rude back then.” Pride remarked, looking past Verdin to the corner where hidden on the other side soldiers gathered and did their work, marking various locations and spewing forth their smoke. She was most uncertain how she felt about their presence.

“You’re being mean, Pride. Keltra is supposed to be a S-Sanctuary, isn’t it? How can it be a Sanctuary if tall people aren’t allowed in?” She asked with a pout.

“They didn’t come here seeking shelter… Lorelei. Hmm… you’re right, I’m being mean. I can’t help it, these fools have come here acting like this is their home when everything they do seems to bring Keltra closer and closer to destruction. I’d rather they leave, but I’m not so mean as to just banish them all of a sudden.” Pride answered, eyes shifting back and forth with thoughts as she explained herself before she became overwhelmed by both pondering too much and fatigue.

Lorelei huffed and shrugged, flicking her tail violently a couple times. “Wanna go p-plan out the things we want to add to Keltra?”

“I think I’d like that very much.” Pride replied with a small smile.



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Voligan Week


Alum had considered himself unlucky. As was common, he had a great love of aesthetic but no skill to impose it upon the world. His fingers lacked the dexterity required to make elegant sculpture. He was a golem, and he was cursed from his creation to have a large, bulky body of hard-packed clay. It was useful to collect materials and carry them around, however he knew that he could do more. He had a great sense of detail and structure, and he knew what he needed to do, but his form simply wasn't the shape that it needed to be and there was a better chance that the unanimated crafting supplies would listen to him than any member of his community. He would tell them that their structure was top-heavy and instead of reinforcing the base, they would add more flourishes wherever they pleased as if to spite him.

However one day while gathering materials, he encountered a collapsed bion. He had seen them in the distance, but they usually did not approach this closely to the crafting grounds for reasons he did not understand. Out of compassion or curiosity, he had brought him to two golems had taken an interest in organic life. Their knowledge was mostly limited to what they observed from passing animals and thus one of their early attempts was to feed him grass. Eventually, he received water and was permitted to rest.

Alum had found himself primarily responsible for the bion as he feared the consequences of leaving him alone with the other golems. He could not be certain what those disinterested in organic life might do him. He was even less certain if he could trust those who interested. The bion clearly had some type of language which he spoke, but it was not shared in common with the golems.

As they attempted to share words between each others, Alum thought he could turn to earth sculpture to help convey ideas that could not merely point to. At one point, he had even tried to create one of his own however his clumsy hands had made it difficult. However, instead of mockery, feigned concern or a look of annoyance, the bion attempted to help him. Even as they struggled to communicate with each other, they worked remarkably well with each other.

As they had a great grasp of each other's language, the bion eventually could convey that he was an Eidolon named Eduardo from a community in the far-south. He described a harsh landscape devoid of greenery where one bad step could be disastrous. While facial expression did not have the same significance to golems, the distress of recalling the memory was carried by his tone. He had saw that there was golems near that region as well, which Alum did not know as nobody he knew ever travelled that far from the crafting grounds. Despite being more able, he wasn't willing to say much more than that. He dismissed it as unimportant.

Eduardo and Alum worked together closely, spending time gathering food while collecting materials and working together on projects. One day, Eduardo asked what the purpose of the sculptures was. After waxing lyrically about the joys of art and creation fell upon deaf ears, there was an argument. As it escalated, Alum asked him what the purpose of living in a land so hostile to his existence was. Eduardo deflated. He explained that salt was valuable to Eidolons and they always needed more. If you couldn't be trusted to do any other job, you had to go the wastes to gather. That if you didn't have a job, you would just wither away and become inanimate. After that, the argument vanished and they agreed that the reason to make sculptures was because they wanted to make sculptures.

While others were skeptical at first, their combined efforts had proven worthy of praise. Compliments were not something that were given lightly in the community. They were even encouraged to spend less time gathering to further pursue their craft. It was nothing something Alum had ever expected to hear but what he had previously considered tedious had became far more enjoyable with another's company. Besides, they still needed to gather food as while others had tried, the concept seemed to elude them.

One day while gathering materials, a bion flew overhead. It was a different type of bion than the Eidolons, it was something Eduardo called an intruder. They did not usually approach the golem's crafting grounds either, however when they did they were usually nuisances knocking over sculptures and saying words which he knew to be rather rude in nature.

It happened so quickly, Eduardo froze before trying to find shelter behind the golem. However the intruder had already lunged and pinned him to ground and bite down hard on his neck. Alum warped his arms around the dangerous bion and pressed with all of his rage. In the aftermath, both Eduardo and the intruder were made inanimate.

When a golem became inanimate, the community would honor them by returning most of their form to the earth while using the best part of them in sculpture. Eduardo once explained how his people did the same, and the community gathered to replicate it the best that they could. His heart crystal was removed, cleaned and embedded into a soft portion of Alum's chest. His body was encased in clay and buried.

Alum had one chest upon his chest, remembering his friend, and he lead a group of golems across the darken plains. While Eduardo was travelling north, he had heard about a group of Eidolons travelling in Duskwall, the Eidolon term for the shadowed region his community resided, to fight back against the intruders. He did join as he said that he didn't have the proper motivation.

As he wandered, he encountered a group of Eidolons fighting against two flying intruders and three grounded ones. They wielded strange weapons which seemed to help keep their dreadful mouths away. There was a strange dance where one side was approach and the other would back away, followed by the other side doing the same. There was a brief conversation before the golems charged at the unprepared intruders, throwing stones at the flying ones and using the weight of their hands to crush the grounded ones. The one that managed to avoid being clubbed by a clay fist ended up running right into the blade end of a scythe. After the grounded ones became inanimate, the flying ones fled.

Alum had became more accustomed to facial expressions, and they seemed surprised. He approached and using their common language asked, "We wish to join you."

The Eidolons were even more confused, muttering something about earth spirits. The concept of spirits was never something he learned a great deal about, but he was vaguely aware of what the word meant. He had never considered himself an earth spirit, but it wasn't an inaccurate description of his existence.

The golems were lead to outside the trenches guarding the Grand Silo. A few Eidolons were left with them to watch them while the others discussed. While some of the other golems knew a few words of the Eidolon language, only Alum could speak it well. They waited for a long time, but the golems understood the importance of patience and deliberation. One of the guards however began to get nervous and started explaining things to avoid the eerie silence. He talked about how the tower was crafted by the ancestral spirit's power and the function of the trench. Alum would let him finish his thought before translating it to the others. It became harder to listen to the guard as the ones behind him started their own conversations, such about how impressive the tower was or how the trench should be wider.

Eventually, someone walked over a gap in the trench and announced, "We would be glad to welcome the noble spirits of earth into the Autumnal Order."



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The GREAT BEARER of LANDS | EARTHHEART| CHAMPION of the MONARCH

&


ROSALIND

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

&

Arvum



Voligan searched for Rosalind’s essence across Galbar, speeding quickly across the landmasses of Orsus and Termina. He reasoned that it would not be hard to find her. As far as he knew, she had not created anything of her own beyond those fish and the bangles the Monarch had given her. Unlike himself and several of their siblings she had not spread her essence through various things. That made it easy to find her, for once he found a trace of her essence it would be simple enough to follow it to the source.

He passed by more than a few things of note on his search; there wa an island that radiated the healing light of the god of Cultivation; there was a wall that his sister Homura had built, presumably to defend her remaining humans; there were the hivelands of the parasite god, spreading inexorably; there were humans wandering the devastated lands where Ashevelen had died; there were Rosalind’s dancing islands, which had fostered civilizations, and the north had filled with life without his knowing. He would have to visit these places, but for now he needed to find Rosalind.

He soon found the trace he was looking for and was quickly following it when he abruptly pulled himself to a stop. He was on a beach, sand composing of his form. He paused, looking around for the source of his sudden stop. There was another stench, overpowering her essence. Consuming it. Voligan did not recognize this starving, desperate essence personally, but as soon as he stumbled upon it he knew who it came from. The god of Parasites had been here. Voligan moved faster, through the beach and then through trees as he followed the path the Feverfoot had taken. His form changed smoothly from sand to dirt as he raced along, hurried by worry. He found the path their chase had taken, passing through the Rivulet that shone with power and reeked of Rosalind’s essence.

Finally, moving through a bog of blood, he reached what may have once been a grove but was now a lake of golden-red ichor. In the centre was an odd barkish structure - almost human in form - and Rosalind was reclined against a tree at the grove’s far end. His normally stoic exterior cracked, a great sorrow filling him at the sight of Rosalind alongside empathy for her pain. He did not bother questioning why he suddenly felt as such, letting out a cry that shook the ground.

Voligan was at her side in an instant, arms lifting her still body (save for her dancing feet, a relieving sign that she yet lived). “Rosa. Little Feverfoot. I am here. I know where you can be fixed. Hold on, little Dancer. You will be healed soon. I swear it.” Water from the River of Blood and Flowers ran down his face like tears, shining with her blood. She shifted ever so slightly in his great arms, sighed something inaudible, but remained unconscious.

Voligan raced across Galbar, Rosa in his arms, heading straight for the island he had passed. He did not care if the god of Cultivation was planning on restricting its access. He would make his kin share the healing power that had been created if necessary. He was the Champion, and he acted with the Monarch’s will.

As they reached the island, Voligan did not even give the courtesy of following set paths. He simply willed the earth to move as he raced past the superficial healing meant for mortals. Hot springs and medicinal herbs would not help Rosalind. Only the source of power he felt at the bottom would, and he could not waste any time. The dirt and rock of the cave parted as he made a direct line towards the lake. He knelt and held her in the strange liquid that seemed to be the source of the power of the island. Moments passed, then minutes. Voligan finally broke the silence as he held Rosalind in the fluid.

“It should be working. Why isn’t it working.”

The goddess’ gold-red ichor oozed through the sacred wellspring and her black hair drifted in every which way, its dark tendrils spreading endlessly. But neither her wounded neck, where the Exile had bitten her so long ago, closed up nor did the flesh - or arm that Yesaris had cleaved from her form - return.

A voice emanated through the cave, “Greetings.”

Voligan whipped around, looking for the source of the voice. The earth around them shuddered, responding to his increasing frustration and desperation. “Who is there? We do not have time for games, show yourself.”

Arvum walked forward from the caves above, his pace faster than any mortal could manage, “I merely wished to welcome you to my sanctuary, the Eternal Bastion.”

Voligan paused, looking at Arvum. Another god, this one he had not met. But he could still sense the divine power and identify its source. “Hmm. God of Cultivation. I apologize for my directness through your sanctuary, but our sister is dying. The God of Parasites attacked her, and I sensed the healing nature of this place. It is not working, however, and she does not have much time. Why is your Bastion not working as it should? Did I miss a process, a step?”

Arvum approached the lake and carefully observed the biological matter composing it as it joined together and broke apart, as well as the entity submerged within it. “The lake is functioning as intended, however it is sad that divine wounds are not easily mended.” His gaze shifted to the tunnel that Voligan had bored, “I have not had the opportunity or strength to sanctify this region such that it could easily restore a god to proper health. And I have been warned that had I done so, I would have drawn the attention of a shard-bearer that would seek to oppose it.”

“Do you have the strength now? If so, do it. Fear is no good reason to let our sister die when you have the power to save her. As Champion of the Monarch, I will ensure that it is protected from any of our siblings who seek to do it harm. I will protect you as well, if you so desire it. But you must save her.”

Arvum’s true attention did not turn itself to Voligan, “I do not know.” His attention hyper-focused on the pool’s resident.

“Either you have the strength, and can do it, or you do not have the strength, and I will have to help you. Whichever it is, you can’t just sit here staring at her. Something has to be done, and quickly.” Voligan rose, the ground beneath Rosalind’s unconscious body rising to keep her held. “Which is it? Can you do this on your own, or do I need to help you?”

Arvum’s intention pulsed forward, “Leave.” . He composed himself, “I will tend to her.”

“No.” Voligan's voice was forceful and uncompromising as he took a step towards Arvum, his form shifting to iron. “Either you help her with me here, or you help her with my aid. I am not leaving her alone. If you refuse, I will do what you either cannot or will not.” He glanced over at Rosalind, making sure that she was still breathing, before facing Arvum once more. “Make your choice, we have no time for your games.”

“The subtlety of my words seems to escape the others. Excuse me for being brutally clear. If you were capable of what you claimed, then you would not be here. You either remain and she will remain as she is, or you return to the surface and I might yet restore that which should have festered and withered away.” Arvum said, his attention still focused on the pool.

Voligan's form shifted back to dirt, and he returned to Rosalind.

“No. If you were truly offering help you would not hide it from sight. I will heal her myself, one way or another.” He lifted her up and began to leave through the tunnel he had made. “I bid you goodbye, God of Cowards. May you receive the same aid you gave today.”

Intention echoed through the caverns, “My help is genuine, and the offer remains.” There was a deliberate pause, as Voligan kept walking, “I do not wish to see another shardbearer to be lesser. If you must, I shall permit you to watch my healing should you swear upon your truest nature that you shall not infringe upon my most sacred places.”

Voligan stopped and slowly returned to the healing pool, laying Rosalind in it once more. “You have my word that I shall not infringe upon your sacred places, so long as you heal her.”

“As I said, I do not know if it is something I am capable of. But I will try.” Arvum retrieved the Asclepius Orb from his cloak and placed it upon its pedestal. The lake of life responded, but it still struggled to mend the wounds of the divine. He focused and imbued the trinket with his power. When it was saturated with divine will, Arvum lifted his hands from the orb and began to rhythmically sway them. The greenish liquid began to ripple and sway following his motions.

Still motioning with his arms, Arvum took three steps back and then three steps forward. His pace was slow, however he kept repeating those same steps each time slightly faster than the last. With each step, the healing lake’s movement hastened and became more complex.

Spiral waves swirled around the surface of the green, now mixing and joining with the reddish divine ichor. The god’s steps escaped their simple pattern and started to emulate the dance of the lake, for while Arvum was no natural dancer the lake was. As his motions became more and more fluid and his movement took on a flow utterly foreign to the god of cultivation, the goddess in the divine pool disappeared beneath the surface.

The water rippled and its flow became a whirl. Here and there the liquids moved, now up and now down and now side to side - movements foreign to any natural liquid body. As Arvum moved, the liquid sent out flowing tendrils which arched across the cavern and twisted now about the dancing Arvum and now about the tense Voligan. The waters whirled and rose, flowing in every which direction - and at their centre, surrounded by sprawling onyx hair that twisted with the water and danced - but never touched it - was the unconscious Rosalind.

The scar on his neck closed up before their eyes - not perfectly or prettily, for it left a great mass of twisting scar tissue - and the flesh Yesaris had taken out of her upper body slowly regrew. It was again not perfect, there would forever be a marked lack of meat on her left shoulder and the writhing scar even greater than that on her neck, but it was healed. Her arm seemed to regrow for seconds, but then the flesh jolted and closed up on itself, leaving a short stump just off her shoulder.

Her hair retreated as Arvum continued to flow with the water, and she descended to the ground before him and crumpled in a small pile there. Almost immediately, the dancing fluid fell and splashed everywhere - on Voligan, on Arvum, across the cavern and back into the lake. Then everything was stillness once more.

By Arvum’s will, the escaped fluid returned to its basin. He removed the orb from his pedestal and returned it to whatever nebulous space upon his person he had retrieved it from. His voice addressed Voligan, “Function has been restored to the god-form.”

Voligan knelt and gently touched Rosalind’s shoulder and shook her. “Little Dancer, are you awake? It is Voligan. Are you okay Rosa?” She did not respond, but her feet kicked. A short silence followed before a moan escaped her lips and the stump of her right arm moved.

“Goodby…” she muttered, “Earohana… Voi.” Her head fell to the side and she pressed her eyes together (and stifled a yawn) before she opened them. She took Voligan in, who was staring down at her, and then Arvum. “Uh. Earthheart?” She asked in confusion.

“Hmm. Yes, the Earthheart. I am very glad to see you awake, Little Dancer.” Voligan rumbled, pleased. “I found you after the attack by the God of Parasites, and took you to the God of Cultivation’s healing pool.” Voligan gestured to Arvum. “He helped bring you back from your coma.” She looked at Arvum bemusedly.

“I… that feels… like a very long time ago.” She took a short breath, “I was in a coma?” She asked as she attempted to get to her feet. Forgetting that she had no right arm, however, she leaned to the right and inadvertently planted her face in the ground. She flailed like a child until she could right herself and tap the dirt away. “Thank you, Earthheart, I would probably still be in that forest if you had not found me. And thank you, Arvum. I don’t think I would have been able to come back if my body was not healed.”

“He was not able to fully heal your body, unfortunately.” He raised a hand, pulling the moonstone he had given her to him. “I can help with that, however.” He reached his other hand out for her stump, and pressed the moonstone against it. The stone began to glow with divine power. The stone melted and began to flow like water over her stump until a new moonstone bicep, elbow, forearm and hand molded into place and cooled. “There. That should be just like new.”

The goddess brought her new hand to her eyes and looked with no small degree of wonder at the strange colours - now blue, now green, now black - that shimmered through the pale stone. “It’s…” she smiled up at Voligan as she flexed her new fingers, “incredible.” She could not stop looking at it as she got to her feet and ran a finger across her new forearm once she was stood up. “I bet no one will be trying to eat this one anytime soon.” She chuckled at last, then moved towards Voligan and embraced him. “Thank you.”

“I very much doubt that anything will try to eat that.” Voligan chuckled, returning the hug. “I am glad that you are okay Little Dancer. Now that you are, I must go and find the God of Parasites. He must answer for his attempted murder and cannibalism.”

Voligan stood and nodded towards Arvum. “I thank you again. I may call upon you as a witness for the Parasite's trial".” Rosalind looked from one to the other in confusion, and opened her mouth to speak.

Arvum was focused elsewhere and replied before she could, “You are welcome, Voligan and Rosa. I must ask that you mend my island. It would be inconvenient for myself and the denizens of the island if the hole were to remain.”

“I will fix it as I leave. Worry not.” Voligan looked over to Rosa. “Do you wish to come with me, or shall you find your own way out of this island?”

The goddess looked at him with a small frown. “I’ll uh- I…” she paused. “What did you mean about a trial for Yesaris? You’re… you’re not going to hurt him, are you?” She grasped Voligan’s shoulder. “You mustn’t. He didn’t mean what he did. He’s in pain, that’s why he did it. He’s got a terrible illness and there’s nothing he can do about it but… but eat.”

Voligan was unmoved. “That will be taken into consideration. Pain or no pain, he cannot attempt to eat his kin without consequences. He will not be killed. We didn't kill Yudaiel or Iqelis for murdering their kin, we will not kill Yesaris.” Rosalind’s frown deepened.

“Yudaiel did… what?” She glanced at Arvum in disbelief. At the mention of Yudaiel, Arvum turned his attention elsewhere. He walked over to the pool and focused on it instead. Rosalind looked after him in confusion, then back at Voligan. “When? And… why?” She raised her moonstone hand to her head and looked rather unsteady on her feet. “Yudaiel wouldn’t…” she managed, descending to her knees rather than suffer the embarrassment of falling. Realising that Voligan was looking at her, she raised her hands in embarrassment. “Oh- I- uh. I’ve caused you enough trouble, Earthheart. I- I’ll be okay from here. Don’t trouble yourself with me.”

“Some time ago. From what I was able to ascertain she killed the Goddess of Luck with a mountain. I do not know why.” Voligan looked at Rosalind for a few moments longer. “If you say so, Little Dancer. Remember you can always call upon me if you are in need of help.” He nodded once again to Arvum. “Goodbye, and I will call upon you later.” Voligan began to leave, closing the hole behind him as he did so..

“Are you certain you do not require assistance, the path to the surface is long and dangerous and your god-form has not been completely restored.” he said, his head still facing toward the pool. Rosalind considered him for a few seconds, then walked beside him and looked into the pool also.

“There’s something you’re not saying. Are you alright? It’s… it’s about Yudaiel, isn’t it? You know something.” The goddess’ black eyes were on him and she brought a hand to his shoulder. “Tell me.”

“I have noticed a portion of your essence has remained within the pool.” he said, attempting to change the subject. Rosalind cocked her head and pursed her lips, then looked back at the pool.

“Is that bad? I would fix it, but I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Arvum paused to study the changes to the pool. He seemed to relax slightly, “No. I believe it shall be a boon to those who are also restored within it.”

“Oh,” Rosalind murmured, a small smile spreading on her lips, “well, that’s good. I’m glad I could do something to help, for once, even if by accident.” She considered the pool. “You made this to help people, then? Why did you put it here? You said the route to it is long and treacherous - surely those in need of it would never be able to reach it, no?”

Arvum paused to consider his words, “The island above provides many mundane sources of healing. The liquid partially retains its healing properties when removed from the bastion, but even that should not be taken lightly. Much less the kind of healing you received.”

“So people aren’t actually meant to come down here?” Rosalind asked.

“I would not punish anyone for doing so should they treat the bastion with care.” he replied. Rosalind nodded and was quiet for a few moments.

“You’re the god of cultivation, then? You must be greatly loved.” She bent down and placed one finger into the still pool, and twirled it. The motion spread throughout and when she withdrew it did not stop but continued moving with a life all its own.

“It is irrelevant whether I am loved or hated.” he said, staring out into the waves. Rosalind looked up at him thoughtfully.

“I don’t think that’s true.” She said slowly. “You try to help, and people love those who help. If you are hated perhaps it’s a sign that you wronged people in some way. Love and hate don’t come out of nothing.” She paused for a few seconds and returned her gaze to the lake. “The normal response when somebody looks at something like this is to be grateful that it exists, grateful to the one who made it exist. And gratefulness is just a kind of love, really. Or at least that’s what I think.” She kissed her lips and stood back up. “So, why did you make this then?”

Arvum turned his attention to the god-form, “Mortals and gods are fickle creatures. There will be those who curse my name during the plant season, when they toil against the earth under the oppressive heat of day. There will be those who praise my name during the harvest season, when they feast upon the rewards of their labor. We all have our obligations. I know what mine are.” he paused and gestured forward, “This is a sacred tool for my divine duties.”

Rosalind considered him for a few moments then sighed. “Duties…” she murmured. “What is your duty, Arvum?” Realising that she sounded almost stand-offish, she hurriedly continued, “I mean - I don’t know mine- I’m sure I have one… but I haven’t worked it out. So maybe if I, uh, knew yours then it’d help me know mine.” She smiled sheepishly at him.

“To learn. To grow. To craft. To mend. They are all expressions of the same grand concept; to improve. I believe this is the obligation of all, but we all have our own means to do so.” Arvum answered. Rosalind scratched her head.

“That’s a lot of duties. Our father tasked you with all that? It seems very… unspecific.” She glanced at the lake. “I guess this… relates to mending?” She looked at Arvum uncertainly.

“Perhaps you do not understand at the moment, but I believe that one day you will. There are some things which must be experienced.” he said. “Have you had a chance to walk among mortals as if you were one? I believe that would aid your understanding.”

“As if I… was one?” She furrowed her brows, then chuckled. “I’d rather work out how to be a god first, in truth. It hasn’t come very naturally to me. I don’t know how to make things like… like this,” she gestured to the pool, “or tunnel through the earth like Voligan. Or fly about or any of that.” She sighed. “You know, when I was dead there was this one shade who took one glance at me and… well, he said I wasn’t a god. I told him it wasn’t true but… I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t do anything.” She exhaled. “To know my duties I should be mortal. To do my duties I should be divine.” She cocked her head at Arvum and chuckled. “It sounds very wise, doesn’t it?”

Arvum considered her words, “We all have our obligations and labors. You are wise in understanding that they are not always simple.”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it that.” She chortled. “Have you met any of our other siblings? Who of them is best at doing their duties?”

“I have met several other shardbearers, but I must admit that I have not had time to worry about their work as well as my own.” Arvum answered.

“Shardbearer?” Rosalind asked with a raised eyebrow. “What do you mean by that?”

“Someone who possesses a shard of the Monarch of All.” he explained, “A reminder of our common origin.”

She smiled at the mention of their father. “I didn’t know that. Shards, huh?” She looked upward, but there was only the cavern. “We’re literally part of him.” She looked back at Arvum. “I’ve not seen him in a very long time. I wonder how he is.” Her eyes became thoughtful. “Not that he would need anyone to worry about him though, right?” She chuckled and scratched her cheek.

Arvum noted her reaction to the mention of the Monarch, “I believe you are correct.”

She stared at him for a few seconds, as though expecting him to continue, but when he did not she cleared her throat. “Uh. Thanks… I think.” She looked around and the silence - she had not noticed it before - seemed to press down on both of them. “Well- that rock- uh,” she started speaking if only to fill the sudden vacuum. “It’s a… pretty rock.” She finished lamely. “You… design it yourself?” She grimaced as she finished and avoided looking at the other god.

Arvum paused, “I had not thought about it, but this is a part of the original earth of the Galbar. I would presume that rock would have been created by the Monarch himself.”

Her eyes lit up with pleasant surprise as she considered the rock. “My goodness,” she breathed, “that’s a bit… mindblowing. So everything that you and our other siblings didn’t make was made by our father? Isn’t that a lot of things?” She approached the rock she had gestured to and inspected it with newfound fascination. “What’s the rock made out of?” She glanced up at Arvum. “I mean, like, I know it’s made of earth. But… what’s that made of?” She rushed across to the pool. “And the liquid there, what’s that made of? You made the pool, but what’s it made of? Did you make that too?”

“I presume Voligan would know more about the composition of rock than I. As for the pool, I had created its contents. It is composed of the materials which compose life, but imbued with divine intention so that is constantly shifting and rearranging. If we were to define existence as smaller and smaller composite parts, there would reach a point where I could not express what I understand with words.” Arvum answered.

Rosalind looked at him curiously. “But… when we get there - to those smallest things that you can’t express with words… did you make those too? Is everything made of them? If they’re the smallest thing then surely…” she scratched her head and turned back to the rock, “then surely… even this… even,” she glanced at her two hands, “even this…” she threw Arvum a confused glance, “no?”

“I do not know if there is one universal smallest component or not. I do not know if I am converting divine energy into these small components or conjuring them from elsewhere. It is unimportant. What is important is the meaning imparted into that substance, the possibility for it to be improved.” Arvum replied.

“Oh,” Rosalind murmured, looking back at her hands, “you seem so adept at making things- I thought you’d surely know. It’s like… if you want to make a boat- like Yudaiel once made me a boat - you need to know about wood. I guess to shape wood that way you’d need to understand it - where it comes from, how to get it. From trees, I know that much. But then when you want to make a tree - and I have no idea how to make a tree - I imagine you need to know everything about how a tree works. You probably know about this stuff. You’d have to know every little thing if it is to work - because if even one thing is out of place then surely the tree just wouldn’t work. And then those littler things in the tree - things I don’t even know about - you’d have to understand how they function and what makes them tick so that the greater whole works. I’d think you’d need to know everything about it until you get to the thing that has nothing littler. If you don’t understand how the littlest thing works and where it comes from and how even it is made, then how can you create anything? I mean, I don’t know about any of that and I can’t make anything. That’s probably why I can’t, actually.” She scratched her head and turned to Arvum. “This is hurting my head. Why don’t you walk with me?” She extended her stone hand to him and took half a step towards the route out. “We can walk and talk.”

Arvum reached his hand out towards her - finding the stone surprisingly warm - and they walked together out of the Eternal Bastion.



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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Raethel Norvegicus and the Rattus People


Some years prior


The trials of sailing the boats along the coastline had evolved in time. Namely, after the original flaws in design had been investigated and either corrected or doomed that craft's design, the refined water craft would take to the coastline again, this time for longer and longer periods. After a point it stopped being about finding faults and issues with the designs and became more about weighing the pros and cons that each design could offer.

After months of trails the design selected was effectively just a bigger and wider version of the river craft, but rather then risk open waters a different journey of discovery was suggested.

Those craft that had traveled along the coast northwards made several notes on a large landmass in the distance that was connected to their own via a sand covered passage. Since they didn't exactly know what was on this new land at this moment in time, the possibility of danger was present... even more so since almost all Pretender sightings suggested that they traveled along that passage in order to reach Rattus held lands.

So rather then sail directly to this new land in order to test the craft out on open salt water, the idea instead was to sail along the sand passage to investigate this new land... and then sail back via open water so that in the event that the ship was damaged, the crew wouldn't have to be concerned with walking all the way home in possible Pretender held lands.

Surprising to many, Raethel insisted on being apart of this expedition. Officially he said it was so that they could give the regent speaker a chance to get used to the job, but privately it was because Leucopus was going and he wished to spend some actual time with her that wasn't going to be interrupted by his duties as Speaker. Plus it would be nice to actually leave his homeland to see a new land for himself.

The journey along the coast took a couple of days and for the purposes of this record were largely uneventful. It was mostly just Rattus either working the oars, fishing or resting (or in the case of Raethel and Leucopus, snuggling up together). The new land in question slowly became visible on the horizon and it was easy to see how it differed from their native homeland; It was green... and the green seemed to reach up into the sky a fair ways. The mystery of the coloration was quickly answered as they drew near this once distant shore; The land itself seemed to be covered in trees. Massive trees. Plant life as well littered the shade of these giants.

While the river provided life to plants and greenery, it was generally localized within an area around the river itself; You could literally have one paw on ground able to support plant life and one on dry, barren sand at the same time. There didn't seem to be that disparity here. It was just green and brown.

Going through their supplies and deeming that it would be more then enough to cover the trip and the test back home they decided not to disembark... but Leucopus found Raethel staring at the trees on more then one occasion... and before they underwent the true test she decided to ask her lover what was on his mind. "...I was just thinking... remembering actually. One of the early river craft designs was made out of wood. It was a pretty good design too, but since trees are a rare resource back home it was beaten out by craft made out of reeds. We didn't even have an ocean craft made out of wood because there weren't enough trees and the followers of the wind of life deemed the matter not worthy of accelerating growth. But a settlement here... well, not only could we build craft out of wood here, but we could ship it back home and we'll never have wood issues again."

Of course, it was just an idea at the time... but once the test run across open water proved successful Raethel decided to revisit the minds behind the original wooden craft and had words. Words turned into action as something of a call was put out for settlers of this new, green land. It took a bit of time, but soon reed craft were sailing out to drop off bands of Rattus on a suitable looking shore so that they might dig in and set up a new settlement.

There were obstructions of course. This new land that the Rattus began calling Greenland had challenges of its own that the desert simply didn't, but once the Greenland settlement was properly established both above and below ground it quickly grew into one of the most important trading hubs within the Rattus nation; It's ability to produce and supply wood, new samples of plant life and even animals that the homeland lacked made in highly important... but the settlement wasn't content with merely being apart of an important trade hub.

On the shoreline, new buildings were being produced above ground for a grand purpose. While reed craft had proven their worth and would continue to see use by the Rattus in both river and ocean activities, the cold hard truth was that for longer journeys, reed wasn't going to endure the rough conditions for an extended period of time; Sure it's possible that such a craft might make it on a one way trip, but the Rattus wanted to have a reasonable chance of making it safely back home. For that to be a reality, the Rattus were going to have to discover the secrets of woods. And what better place to learn those secrets but their first true dockyard?




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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Voligan Week


Keepers of the Flame





Today was a good day. The food was warm, the waters fresh and the stones were with them. Alberich made his way through his earthen halls, engraved and embellished with all the tales of his people and the smells of hearth and home. What a people they were! Made from hardy rock and stone, plucked from the cavity of the lightless caves by the great Stone Father himself. In those days of yore, the land was shadowed in mist, a foggy recollection of their history followed. How their first father, Lodur of the knives, wandered far and wide with the first mother, Brenn of hearth. Long did they seek a home for the child in Brenn’s belly and long did they walk the mist. Lodur etched from his hand a waysign of gold and amber as they traveled in the myths of old until they founded the great dwarven home of Kolgoch’Urum. It meant ‘Under hill of greens’ in the old speak. Lodur pressed the waysign into the doorway and forevermore it stood as a bastion of dwarven kind.

The tales were just that though, tales and today Alberich led Kolgoch’Urum as leader but more importantly, friend. And today, they would make friends with giants. He found Bori and Bragi waiting for him near the entrance of their hilly home. A wide passage, guarded by kin wearing their best leathers and wielding their best clubs. The doorway held the back of waysign, their most coveted heirloom, a picture of two dwarves, braving the crest of a hill to look upon a ringed sun. Bori and Bragi were brothers, nephews even, both of few winters but enough to be man dwarves. Fiery eyed, and red haired as their mother’s, his sister had passed from the morning sickness years ago and their father was one that no one spoke off. A deserter and a fool.

“Nephews!” Alberich roared, slapping them on their shoulders to give a mighty squeeze. “Today is a good day! Today is the day we meet with the giant’s leader, to talk about trade and a brighter future for Kolgoch’Urum! I am happy you are here with me, you would have made your mother proud.”

The two puffed out their chests. “Uncle!” Bori said, “We are honored to be here with you at a time like this. Truly.”

“Yes uncle, I can think of no one better suited to lead us to a brighter future.” Bragi nodded.

“Good, then let us go out and take on this day with mirth in our hearts and stone in our bellies.” Alberich pulled them along as they passed through the great door, followed by two guards. It led out into a bubbling brook, nestled at the foot of the hills. Birds chirped and he had to cover his eyes briefly so that they could adjust to the morning glow of their grandfather sun.

Once his eyes were better he made note that the giants had not yet come. They had said early in the morning had they not? Alberich frowned. “I wonder what delays our friends here.” he said aloud, kicking a stone into the brook. It gave a quiet splash.

“Perhaps they are delayed?” Bragi said, a little too loud for being so close. Alberich looked at him with a raised eyebrow, then watched, as a spear landed with a sickening thud in Throth, his guardsmen. Hrog, his other guardsmen, tackled him to the ground in safety as a spear nearly whizzed over the both of them. Bori gave a shout and then a yell, as a spear found a resting place in his shoulder. There was no cover beside the brook, but there was the door. Alberich restled for a look and he found it closed. Bragi stood in the way.

A splashing of water caught his attention and he looked to see several dwarves crossing the brook. They wore dark furs, unkempt beards, and haggard eyes. Each carried a tool; a spear, an axe, or a club. Bori was the second to die, he pleaded for help from his brother but a club came down on his head and ended him. Then they came upon Hrog and he, and though Hrog was quick to his feet, he was skewered. They grabbed Alberich with hard hands and raised him to his knees before Bragi. The others were already getting rid of the bodies.

“Why?” he asked his once nephew.

Bragi brandished a stone knife from his belt and clutched it with anger. No longer did he see the youthful eyed mirth or the laughter of a loving boy. Now there was only hate burning in those eyes of amber.

“You lied to us. You told me our father was a traitor, a deserter, that our mother died of the morning sickness!” Bragi struck him with a fist. The blow dazed Alberich but he was made of tougher stuff than to be felled too easily. He struggled in his captor’s grip.

“Your father WAS a traitor, boy!” The older dwarf shouted. “I know what he was going to do, what he wanted to do with our future! I could never allow it. Poor Aina only got in the way. She fell head over heels with that stupid pi-” Bragi struck him again, this time his ear began to ring.

He spat blood at Bragi’s feet. Another strike. “Don’t speak about my father that way!” He shouted at the older dwarf.

“I tried my best to make things right with the Stone Father. Took you in, raised you and now this is how you repay me? By killing your fellow dwarves and your own brother! Like father, like son!” Alberich sneered, blood falling into his beard.

“All my father wanted to do was expand our great nation, to build it better than ever before! To make the Stone Father proud, and you exiled him for it. I owe you nothing, old dwarf. Your isolation makes us weak, makes us unprotected to the greater threats in this land! My father has a vision and one that nobody will stand in our way against. Not you…” He looked over to the corpse of his brother. “Not even Bori.”

Alberich laughed. “Expansion will lead us to ruin. There are no great threats that can’t be negotiated with. We are little people in a world of giants, what can you or your father ever hope to establish? Ruin I say! Desecration of our forefather’s names! You are as stupid and weak willed as he, now be down with this. Death is the only way you will ever get rid of me, Bragi. Let me go and your doom will be at hand. At least in death I can live with the Stone Father forever and turn my back to the ruin of my HOME!”

“NRRGHH!” Bragi shouted, plunging the dagger in the heart of his uncle. The old dwarves eye’s flickered and in moments he was gone.

Bragi spit on him. “Father sends his regards.” He looked at his father’s clan, the Ut’s and smiled. “Get these bodies disposed of, send for my father, we have giants to deal with.”




Mair was in a strange place. It had only been a day since she had awoken from a fretful dream of death and despair when she realized where she had been. Captured by the giant folks, but not really. She was more of a guest now, celebrated and adored. She was conflicted, even now as the acolyte keeper (as those were still learning to be proper Keeper’s were called), Shysie, combed her hair. She had even helped her bathe, now that she had a broken arm. Chilali had told her that Shysie had been the one to accidentally crush her, so she felt she had to do this to make up for it.

Mair had been fine with it at first, but she quickly learned she did not at all like so much attention to herself. Sometimes it made her feel less lonely and other times it made her feel even lonelier. And it was becoming ever more prevalent in her mind; she missed her people and Aeron, despite his aloofness. But her mission… Her divine task… Could she take a break from it?

“What do you think?” Shysie asked. Mair blinked and her thoughts came back to reality. They were sitting next to a pond, her gaze along the far shore where Keepers washed. She looked down at their small bit of glassy reflection and gasped. Where once her hair had been worse for wear, it was now shiny, lush, and straight. It was enough to make her feel like a person again, instead of just some creature who could turn into a raven. She nodded approvingly.

“Shysie… Thank you.” she eeked out. Talking had been another new thing, well not new, but old and new. She had to find her voice again after going so long without speaking. “Come, let us head back. Keeper Alona should be returning soon with news from the dwami.” The giantess stood and smiled down at Mair, offering a hand. The small girl, ever feeling like a child amidst these women, took her hand and was helped up. Shysie was also learning how to control her strength, so Chilali had said, which had unnerved Mair at first but Shysie was doing good.

Her other hand was cradled by a leather strap, to keep it from jostling around too much. Mair was even fitted with some leather skins that fit her. It was amazing how such large hands could weave such delicate crafts. In fact, Mair often found things she had never even thought could exist before. Clay pots as they were called, copper tools, homes, weaving, crafting- the list went on. She felt as if she was somehow in the realm of the gods, and that these were their people, delegated to learn and teach and progress. Often she wondered how her own people were doing or if they had unlocked such secrets as well. If they hadn’t Mair could teach them and that was another weight upon her shoulder for whether or not she should go back. She wanted to learn everything she could here, it was all so fascinating and as much as the women gave her too much attention, they were always helpful and smiled.

Did she deserve it?

She pondered this as they walked through the camp, waving and smiling as they went.

“Shysie?” Mair asked, looking up at the tanned goddess in a moment of quiet.

The woman looked down and smiled, making her heart do strange things. “Yes Mair?”

“Do you think I was meant to come here?”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Hmm. I do not know, little one. Perhaps it is as the Father Spirit guided or by simple chance. All that matters is that you are here now. I do know that you were definitely not meant to have a broken arm.”

“But if my arm had not been broken, then I would have flown away and not stayed.” Mair protested.

“I hadn’t thought of that!” Shysie placed a soft hand on her shoulder and Mair felt a jolt of something down her spine. It was a strange feeling, almost… Excitement. She blushed pink and looked away. “Come, put these thoughts from your head. As Chilali would say, ‘do not think of what could have happened but what is happening now’ or something along those lines. Your arm will heal in time and you will soar again Mair. Fear not.”

“I know, it’s just… I don’t know. I’m almost glad it did get broken. You are all so kind to me and I…” her voice quieted. A gentle squeeze of reassurance made her look back up at Shysie.

“It’s okay, Mair.” Shysie said in a calming voice. “Put these doubts from your heart. Spirits, I sound like Chilali.” she laughed.

Mair smiled then laughed herself. Maybe she did deserve some happiness after all.







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Hidden 6 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by Kho
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Mish-Cheechel the Avenger




Deep in the loins of the earth, where no bjork had ever ventured alive, lay Mish-Cheechel. The earth pressed heavily on his form and had he need for breath he would have choked; but he had learned how to live without breathing. He had struggled at first, thrashed against the darkness smothering him from all directions. He bit into earth, attacked it with his great buckteeth, but found that only brought the dirt to the lips his teeth shielded. He shook his great shoulders - such blows he landed on the earth as would have shattered the jaws of gods. The earth took it all, however, silent and unmoved.

It was a long struggle before he lay back at last and was still. His thoughts returned to Zima - in his savaging of the earth that bound him she was all he had thought of; what had that Voi done to her? Had she managed to escape? Was she safe? He had to find her. But now as he lay there with no way out, his thoughts turned to the eagle god - or rather, returned to the eagle god, for it was always there; it was a great shadow that pervaded his every thought and memory and was in all that he saw or heard or felt. He grit his teeth as rage boiled within him and he pounded with his great broad head at the earth above. Had he been of those who could know sleep he would have lost consciousness, but he was not of those and so he simply lay there staring liquid fury into the nothingness. He closed his eyes then and tried to find some calm, and before he knew it he found himself whispering words that had been carved into his being.


Mish-Cheechel finished the recitation and lay in silence for a few seconds. Then he started again from the beginning. He recited it repeatedly in the darkness of his grave and all thought of Zima left him. Only the eagle god remained, only the Green Murder. He continued reciting it even as he raised a hand - serenely - to the pounded earth above him and power pulsed through his form. It was a great and familiar heat - bereft of rage or anger. There was only purpose there now. He was still, feeling the heat building up in his palm, still whispering the Warpath. He did not release it, but held it there like a child and was filled with a small amount of wonder at how such a thing could exist.

He looked up - almost lazily - into the darkness, and released the heat. Warmth spread through his form and permeated the small grave, and above him the world rocked gently and all pressure disappeared. When the heat had dissipated, he found that not far above him was light. The charred earth was perfectly smooth, but here and there remnants of rocks jutted out and he was able to climb his way out of the hole.

Spring was in the air and the world was silent where his blast had rocked it. His body was bare - no spear or saddle; they were all likely buried deep in the earth where no one could ever find them again. It was no matter, however. He looked skyward, his eyes as liquid steel. "I'm coming for ye, Green Murder."

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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Voligan Week



“Show me the world…”


Through the Incantation of Seeing, while wielding Tuku’s Staff, Pride could peer through the Otherworld and across the Tapestry, letting her gaze upon the Galbar and its great history. The spell required an intense level of concentration, and so she dedicated the entirety of her mind to this task as she stood alone in the vast hall of the keep within Keltra. Still like a stone statue, and covered in the shifting symbols of the Gnosis, a mere mortal could not see the expenditure of spiritual power that granted her such an otherworldly vision.

Pride attempted to acquire a glimpse of the world from the perspective of the heavens, from beyond the sky and clouds to where the stars and moon dwelt, but the artifact she possessed was attuned to the land itself - and would not stray far from the Galbar, even in an ethereal state. She could not view the Galbar from above, it seemed. Though she lacked astral sight, she was granted another otherworldly sense; an ability to feel the shape of the land and its reverberations. She could hear the song of the earth with greater clarity, and listened intently as it told her the many tales it had to share:

The small champion had never spoken directly with Voligan himself, but she had heard stories from her sisters regarding his powerful presence and words when he appeared before them, and had received one hundred thousand of their kin as a gift from Mother after forging an alliance with the promise of protecting mortals. Despite the lack of interactions between them, Pride felt as though she had attained, perhaps, a glimmer of an understanding of what her other Uncle was truly like.

The lands told her of his traits, his immense strength and resilience - how he had imbued such into the Galbar to be the foundation of life. His will and hands had shaped and sculpted the earth akin to how those among the Divine had shaped and sculpted her sleeping kin, granting defining features as well as providing potential for growth: for without soil, one cannot plant the seed that will sprout. Without ground, one cannot stand on their own… She was surprised upon hearing the song describe the assistance of other deities, unfamiliar to her, but it brought her a modicum of joy to hear that the Divine had come together to create beauty once upon a time. She would recall this tale, and share it with her sisters, for it brought her hope which was in short supply during these troubling times.

Her mind had briefly wandered for only an ephemeral moment, and now she found herself lost in the baritone melody of mountains and deep caverns. Through stumbling in the Otherworld, she had found those that Voligan had claimed, and watched as they prospered in their new home. They were short compared to their original shape, but surprisingly strong, and they demonstrated a great understanding of mining and masonry. She felt them carve simplistic and abstract patterns in the walls of a cavern as though they inscribed their work upon her own skin, and she recognized artistic renditions of the history of the Galbar. Pride looked forward to the day she would share stories with the wise folk in the mountains who called themselves the Tribe of Aleth, led by one who molded earth with true grace - known as the Shaper.

With a crescendo in the earth song, she finally reached the top of the massive mountain she was within, its peaks piercing the sky like an immense spear that reminded Pride of Daybringer and its light that illuminated the land. She felt massive, as though she and the mountain were one, and that feeling offered exultation and far from danger. It was as though she stood atop a second Keltra, safe from the turmoil and hardships of cruel and capricious deities. Though her Mother often irked her, she was grateful that there were more gods like her, that sought to protect and nurture life.

The mountains nearby sang, but their voices were filled with sorrow and remorse, and Pride could not ascertain why… she simply let their grief wash over her and wondered whether it was physically possible to cry without a body. She could shed no tears in this state, nor did she feel her own face in the waking world, but her vision became blurry, and the world around her seemed to tremble until the song continued onward. She could only watch as tall guardians set forth to defend life as she attempted to wave farewell while being carried by the chthonic currents of the earth song.

It brought her elsewhere - to where the land was divided into much smaller shards and danced across the sea. The ethereal pain Pride felt was replaced with relief, as the voices of the deep told the tale of a goddess and her flight across the great water upon stone steps with the aid of Voligan. She felt the weight of islands that sank below the waves, only to rise and sink again in an endless cycle, while other islands were much more fluid, sailing the sea instead of standing against it. It was a strange and wondrous feeling, and the small champion found herself wishing to dance when she would eventually return from her meditation.

The vast sea could not suppress the words that came from afar, and Pride followed these voices to another landmass surrounded by a sheer cliff perforated with massive openings - marble cavities from which the voices had emerged from. The small champion felt compelled to see what awaited her through these tunnels, and allowed her mind to mingle with the reverberations deeper and further into the unknown. The tunnels she traversed had been built by Voligan, and she could feel the lingering presence of both his touch and voice. The song of the earth led her on, until she passed through one last marble tube and emerged in a great and barren plain encircled by a multitude of identically shaped mountains. This land had been given a purpose, and it resonated with the trace of divinity within her. The mountains here had called to her, but she did not know their reasons.

Pride wondered why the mountains would appear so similar and were arranged in such a manner, until it suddenly occurred to her. She was reminded of her sisters, and she realized that the gods and goddesses were all siblings after all… so perhaps Voligan had done what they had done whenever they had a discussion; creating a circle so that all were presented equally in the conversation, all could clearly see the center, and all could clear see each other. Twenty-three mountains, so were there twenty-three gods and goddesses upon the Galbar? Pride quickly accounted for those that she had learned about through the knowledge Mother shared with her, and observed that there were still seven mountains that would represent an unknown deity. Mother was not included in the circle of her sisters, so Pride doubted that the King of Heaven would be represented by a mountain here.

Once more, her mind wandered, and she found herself entangled in the weaving of the Tapestry. Thoughts of the King in Heaven, combined with the song of the earth, directed her towards a thread intricately tied to both. Pride could sense heat and an abundance of mana above her as the song of the earth became metallic and thunderous. Thousands upon thousands of hammering strikes and constant grinding - it was overwhelming, and yet it was not yet complete. She could finally comprehend what she senses now, and watched as an incredibly intricate dance and song continued to take place. A massive horde of mechanical beings operating forges and factories where more metal was shaped and given purpose. However, no sight compared to the colossal forge that most certainly belonged to Voligan himself.

Uncle has been busy, it seems, Pride mused to herself while she watched the metallic beings move with such efficient expertise, never stopping to rest, and always certain in their task. She had easily identified the various shapes of their great project, and it concerned her, but there was nothing she could do except observe. Perhaps she will get the opportunity to speak with her Uncle someday soon. Though time was a fickle thing, she did not want to stay in this place for too long, so she focused her attention elsewhere. As she spread her senses across the Galbar once more, barely able to comprehend the sheer scale of the earth, and she came to one more conclusion: It was evident that Voligan was worthy of his title, The Great Bearer of Lands.

She would fondly recall the deep song of the earth, and would eagerly await the time she may hear it again, to listen to what new tales it would tell her. For now, there still many other things to see, and she must be swift for a cloud of unease hangs over the land, and Pride could sense the coming of calamity. She hoped her sisters were safe... She prayed that her Uncle would protect them.



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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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The Tale of Nîrn, son of Khîrn


Listen, good folk of Dukha! Come listen to the sorry tale of Nîrn the wanderer, who drags himself from mountain to mountain until his creaking legs will at last give way. Listen and I will tell you why I have come to you from far north, why I roam so wide though my back is more stooped than an old highland tree. Don’t be awed by my grey and heavy beard or by my wizened eyes: little more than forty winters have passed since I was born! Aye, just so, though you wouldn’t give me less than a hundred. Listen, then, how this came to pass.

It was some three years ago that we set out from Vonde for the last time, me, still young and hardy then, Ibar my brother, not much older, and Andró the stenzhik, who had carried the packs of Khîrn my father before me. For the last time, I say, because of us three who left, only I ever came back. Aye, this mourning-bead you see on my beard is for my brother, earth be light for him. What about the other one, you ask? Listen, and I will tell you about it.

We set out, then, to do as we had always done - to find rare and precious things to trade. We would go down into the valleys and up the steepest mountain-paths, Ibar and I, to find the glittering vein-stone, the caves where the drowsy ore hides like a coiled snake and the snowflake-flower that chases away fever. Sometimes we would find the cold carcass of a foolish orzmiy, and then it was a day of celebration for us, because you know how many want a piece of those! I see you shake your heads and snicker. ‘To go far and wide, ready to give up your skin for a gain?’ you say, ‘This must be the last of the Chtviertne!’ Well, that was how we lived, and how our father had lived before us. Some have their caves and tunnels, others have the winds and the valleys like sun-lakes. That’s how it is.

Before, we had oft gone west, where the orzmiy breach the most and where their scales sometimes lie on the earth like snow. But that time we went north, for we would hunt the crescent-horned mountain goats that were said to live there, and bring back their rare pelts and skulls. We crossed many a gulch and mountain, and for many a day we searched every slope, but though we were in the roaming-grounds there was not a single goat to be seen. Just when we had lost hope and were about to turn back, though, we did find something else.

As we hunted and tracked the goats, we had pushed further north than we or any of our kin had ever roamed before. On the last day we were to chance the land, we rounded the foot of the Five-Finger Mountain, and then, as true as I'm standing here, we saw two suns in the sky! Aye, so it was. No, we didn’t have cave-brew in our waterskins, and we weren’t just dazzled after coming out of the shade. There was the sun up in the sky, and beyond the mountain, over the next crest of ridges, there was a little light shining. Little, I say, but for us to see it from so far away, it must have been brighter than a wildfire. Yet most wondrous was that, when night came down, it did not fade as the sun did, but stayed burning with its own white flame like a star fallen from above.

What would you have done, had you been with us then? We broke camp, and the next day we began to climb the further ridges, to see what it was behind them that shone so. Ibar thought that it would be a vein of strange ore, open to the sky, richer and more potent than anything anyone had ever seen before. Me, you may laugh, but I was certain it was a gemstone. Why I thought it would’ve been bare open, I couldn’t tell you, but had you seen its light you, too, would’ve doubted than anything less clear than adamant could cast it.

The ridges were tall and steep, but our feet were light with impatience, and so in a few days we had crossed them. But what we saw then! By Orjarz, may the earth swallow me if I lie, because you won’t believe me otherwise!

We saw a mountain, taller than any around, indeed taller perhaps than any I’ve ever seen before or since. We would have spotted it from much further away had it not been for the light, which sat right on its summit. It could have been a glacier, you say, but nay, no glacier shines on its own at night.

There was something in that mountain that almost made us abandon our curiosity and turn away, had we been wise enough. It did not stand, as mountains do, shoulder to shoulder with its sisters, but alone in their circle, as if it had grown from seed rather than stone. And it was all black, glinting and glossy like the smoked rock that the orzmiy sometimes bring from under the earth. There was not a single tree on its slopes, not a spot of snow. Not even birds approached it, though we gave it no mind then. It chilled our hearts a little when we looked at it, but the light called to us, and it had to be thousands of the clearest gems, waiting at the top of that strange mountain! It could only be a gift from the gods to the bold, and we would turn to stone before we proved unworthy of it!

In three more days, we were at the foot of the black mountain. As true as I stand, half of it must have been smoked stone! It grew out of the live rock in a way I had never seen. Had there been more of it, we could not have tried the ascent, smooth and slippery as it was. But among it there was also much basalt and dark granite, lying in coarse slopes and ledges that struck out like wood-fungi from a tree, and strange though it was to see them close like that, we were glad to have a footing in them. So on the fourth day we gathered all the moss and herbs we could find, we filled our waterskins, for we were not certain we would find open streams, and set to climbing.

It was a strange thing, I will tell you, to climb that mountain. From below it looked tall and forbidding, so much that your legs would start to ache as they just imagined the pains of scrambling up its side. But once you started, it went so easily! From ledge to ledge, you could go climbing seven, eight hundred spans in a day, whistling all the while, as if you were walking downhill. Then, when the sun began to set, all the weariness would hit you in one punch, and you’d be left there, panting, your legs buckling under you. Every day that moment came a little earlier, and only later I found out why that was. And why? Listen, and I will tell you.

We had been climbing another three days, and were already quite a bit above two thousand spans, when I became annoyed with my beard. Now you see that it is long and flowing, white and grey like the winter, but then it was thick and brown, and I kept it cut to my chest, so it would not hamper me in our travels. But it was always very fine and smooth, as that of all goodly folk should be, and so it surprised me that it should be tugging and itching so. I looked down, and it was terribly tangled, as if I’d been wandering the woods for a week. I called to Ibar, who walked ahead, and asked him, ‘Hoi, what’s the trouble with my beard?’

He looked back, and since he was straight against the sun I could not see him well at first. He looked a bit, and I thought it was strange he took that long, because we weren’t very far apart, and then he said, full of surprise, ‘By all the gods, your beard is grey!’

I did not believe him, and came closer so he could see better; but when I did, I saw him too, and what a sight! His face and hands were wrinkly like dried goatskin, his beard was wild, almost to his legs, and streaked grey and white, and his eyes were squinting and watery. He saw the look on my face, and I saw the one on his, which told me that I must have looked little better. Then we both turned back to look at Andró, who trudged behind. He had been walking slower and slower as we climbed, and now that we looked at him attentively, his shell was all worn and full of tiny cracks.

We looked at each other then, and you must’ve already understood what we both thought. It was the mountain, that terrible Lone Mountain! Now we understood all too well why we had seen no living thing on its slopes. It was cursed, or maybe something dwelt on it that stole our strength in the night as we slept; we did not care to know.

We hurried down as fast as our legs would take us, but where the ascent had been light and easy, the way back was a maze of danger. We had lost threescore years in a few days, and rested and eaten little, hoping as we did to reach the beguiling light faster. Slopes that had been a joke to us before now threatened to break our necks if we did not watch our aching feet, and that damnable slippery smoke-stone was everywhere.

Worse still, while we had barely noticed as we grew feebler on the way up, we now felt our forces leave us with every step. We had to bind our beards, because they grew so long that they got tangled in our legs.

There was less than a day left to the ground, and I, who was still stronger and sprier, had gone ahead, when from behind me I head, ‘Nîrn, help me!’

I looked, and there was Ibar, clinging to the edge of a treacherous crack, where he had slipped and perhaps broken a leg. I hurried to him, but I was worn and weak, and before I was even close my brother lost his grip on the smooth rock and fell into the fissure.

Some of you will know what it is to lose a brother. You can imagine how it was then, when I ached all over, when the life had been stolen out of me. I sat there, and I don’t know if I would’ve moved before I was too weak not to starve and be ground down by the wind to a pile of bones.

But I felt stony hands lift me then, and carry me down the slope. Andró was pitiful to look at, all chipped and falling apart, and he had lost both legs below the knee, but I was all skin and bone by then, and even as he was he carried me easily, until the very foot. Then he stumbled on his half-legs, and broke into four pieces as he fell, but from there I was soon on even ground. You see the second mourning-bead, near the one for Ibar? This I wear for him. One does not usually wear a mourning-bead for a stenzhik, but Andró acted like a true brother then, and as a brother I will honour him.

So shun it, good folk, shun that lone black mountain! Don’t go looking for its tempting light! What does it matter what treasures are up there? You will be dead long before you see them. It has swallowed my brothers, and chewed me up and spat me out like this, as you see me now. I see some of you look to each other and whisper, as I have seen others do in every town. They were unlucky, you say, but if we try, maybe we will find a shortcut, a safe way up, and see what is at the top. Don’t gamble your heads on it! That place is unholy, and I, Nîrn, son of Khîrn, have come to warn you.

When you see two suns in the sky, when you see a light among the peaks at night, turn away, and do not look back!

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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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The North
Here be dragons! And worse things!


Further west, Raijin had landed. There were not so many rivers out here and he hadn’t seen any of the bjork dams; perhaps mortals had not yet conquered these wilder parts. So, without being so concerned about being sighted, the dragon trudged through the pine wood by foot. He left some very curious and large tracks with his four great big claws feet and his long tail that occasionally slid across the snow, but there were all sorts of big creatures out here with funny trails already.

Unlike some of the lazier or more mischievous dragons that had come here with Shen, Raijin wasn’t bothering with pilfering from the offerings of mortal shamans. He hunted on his own, and though he’d already earned a few swipes of a claw whilst slaying a giant grizzly bear, the glowing praise of his master was worth it.

Here, though, he’d come across another bear as it was feasting upon a huge stag. Still, there was something else besides the cloying, metallic scent of blood in the air. This one didn’t smell right; the odor of rot hung over it like a cloak. It didn’t look right. Bit of ragged flesh and fur draped down the sides of its ribs like curtains, and it was a wonder that the thing was still walking. On that note, it didn’t walk right. Its gait seemed unnatural and ungainly, as if it weren’t used to its own limbs, and yet it still moved altogether far faster than any bear should have, wounded or healthy.

And its head wasn’t right either, because it was charging right at the giant dragon rather than fleeing! He snarled through a cruel draconic visage, then he too charged forward like a bull. Where the two giants met there was fury and rending. Raijin’s scales were like stone and they held up well against the beast’s claws, and yet even as the dragon tore through flesh, the bear seemingly felt nothing. They wrested, bit, and clawed, trying to force down and finish one another, and yet both were utterly unyielding in their strength and fury.

With a great swipe that disemboweled the grizzly, Raijin felt a sense of triumph. But that glowing grin gave way to a horrified gasp when maggot poured out of the great wound alongside rotted guts. Still, the bear that was a wehniek fought on, dragging its guzzards through the dirt and snow as if they were no more hindrance than a sagging pair of pants! Its incessant slavering roars and growls seemed to have attracted more of its kind, for soon Raijin saw more darkened silhouettes bounding towards them from the shadows of the dense forest.

At this point, he began to grow panicked. He bashed his head into the bear’s own iron skull and then wheeled about to retreat for a clearing, but when he found it, to his horror the sun’s rays were oppressive, bright, and utterly unfazed by any clouds. It was so warm that the icicles in tree branches were weeping… it would be difficult and time consuming to conjure any rain or mist, and without that, a dragon had no means of swimming away into the sky.

’Thump-thump-thump!’ his heart pounded, so hard that it seemed as though the ground was shaking.

Agony coursed through him as one of his pursuers caught up and bit the end of his long tail. THUMP!The dragon spun about and breathed out a freezing mist, but the chill carried no bite for the wehnieks; once, they had been spirits born of that same icy aspect, before they’d been twisted by hunger. Still, they feared not the cold. THUMP!

Draconic claws rent and tore through rotted flesh, while putrid maws bit down on his hardened scales. Individually these monsters were frightening to be sure, but perhaps not big enough to truly maim his great serpentine body; however, together, this pack of them was overwhelming. The one that had bitten his tail held on tightly, and another one gnashed and tore and dug into one of his rear legs. THUMP! Raijin’s head was spinning as he thrashed about, biting into one of his assailants and gagging at the revolting taste that filled his mouth. The itself seemed to throb, no longer even in tune with his heartbeat.

Neither dragon nor wehniek had noticed the guardian until its gargantuan shadow fell over them and the pounding thumps of its footsteps ceased. It reached down and snatched one of the corpse-bears, crushing it in a display of might almost as gruesome as the gore that spilled from between its great fingers.

The gigantic guardian looked every bit a god, for it towered over even the highest of pines. Before its great stature everything was tiny and almost insignificant – a microcosm of the whole forest crowned its head, and that immaculate globe looked more regal than any golden circlet or laurel wreath or rack of antlers.

Raijin’s awestruck stare shattered in the next instant when the guardian’s fist slammed into another wehniek, pulverizing it as easily as a careless foot was wont to crush a flea. These spirits were rabid, but even they had enough instincts of self-preservation to show some dismay at this turn of events. It mattered little though; the remaining two or three only lasted a few seconds longer; how could anything evade those giant hands? How could even a four-legged beast, whether it could tire or not, hope to bound fast enough to outpace those huge strides of the guardian?

The massacre finished, the guardian turned its gaze to Raijin’s the sole survivor even as the wehniek spirits abandoned the ruined bear-husks and fled away in search of new corpses to puppet. But it looked at him almost inquisitively, as if unsure what to do. It probably hadn’t ever seen a dragon before – but before it could finish whatever deliberations were taking place within its enigmatic mind, there was a screaming sort of sound from high above.

The guardian and the dragon both alighted their heads skyward, only to see a fiery trail of glory as some crazed humanoid man was falling upon them with terrible speed and force, a great big metal pole in hand.

“HIYAH!” Shen roared as his battlecry, and with a resounding thwack he struck the guardian over its globed head so hard that it staggered down onto its knees, dazed. The pole became a gigantic bag, and then the master was suddenly yelling at him. “Great find, Raijin! You’re doing better than even Susanoo! But here, hold this thing, and held me get it open–”

The guardian shuddered, planting a hand on the ground as it readied to push itself up. In a panic, Shen took on his true form – that of a great golden dragon.

The two fumbled with the sack for a moment. It was really tiny compared to a dragon, but it proved quite stretchy and their giant claws got it wide open. And then as the guardian tried to stand once more and groaned with fury, Shen circled around it really fast and headbutted it right in the rear, such that it tripped forward over its own face and fell right into the open sack. There were a great many thuds and yelps and sounds of jostling that echoed out from inside the bag, but Shen closed it really fast before anything could escape.

“Close one! Ahoo-aha, ha-ha-ho,” he cackled.

“But what are we going to do with it?!” Raijin stammered, all thoughts of his near-death already replaced by overwhelming bewilderment. It started raining, and Shen’s golden scales gave way to rags as he once more became an old man, except this time wet and tired. And so, so very hungry. He found his rice pouch and nibbled on his dinner, biting the grain in half and letting it sit in his mouth for a minute so that it felt like he was cheating and eating tomorrow’s food too. Perhaps this diet wasn’t going to work out after all.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” Shen actually confessed, “but the Plan is flexible enough, and a guardian this big will be useful for sure! Hmm, maybe once our invasion is over, we’ll even be able to induce it to make some new guardians to watch over the locale.”

“What locale? I thought you said that the Hivemind had already just about killed everything in its land?”

The god shrugged at that. “It can protect the wildlife then, I suppose. You know, the little bunnies and other critters.”

“What happens when you take one of these guardians away from the land it’s supposed to protect?”

Shen shrugged again. It’d be a science experiment worthy of a kynikos!

Fortunately for him, the incessant questions stopped when Susanoo fell down with the raindrops. The newcomer dragon landed with all the grace of a one-legged horse, which is to say that he slipped and slid in a puddle, splashing muddy water on his master and friend alike.

“My friend, you look worse for wear!” the fellow dragon began affably. Raijin only sighed in response.

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Voligan Week


There in the heart of the Forge of Worlds, the great anvil of Voligan in which countless artifacts were amassed in the name of the Monarch of All, stirred the many hands of the Earthheart’s servants. They toiled and pounded away upon metals, warping their forms into shapes of all those mortals that inhabited the Galbar - those that would be chosen to serve the venerable Sun God in all due time. Those husks knew not what they did, less so the purpose of their task, but all was to the Earth Lord’s design for autonomous production. The Automatons there stirred endlessly - without tire or hunger to compel them otherwise in the march forwards in the name of their creator and his Liege.

Yet, just as meticulously as the automatons went about their duties, a single light descended from the skies towards the continent. The Forge of Worlds may have had deterrents against outside forces but this light attracted no such ire for it could not be seen by those who were not of divine blood. It traveled the length of the great workshop, inspecting the automatons all the way until it settled behind one. The light wordlessly fluttered around the empty vessel, looking upon the sword that it was crafting, pounding metal against metal in a monotonous fashion. Once the sword was formed into shape it passed it to another of its kind before the light entered the form of the automaton.

The metallic being studied itself with a consciousness that it did not have, yet it knew exactly what it was and even knew of its purpose! Not many beings could confidently know such things and yet the simple automaton did, and it was proud of such a feat. It stood triumphantly with its form before a voice that repeated in countless echoes spoke out, uttering a name to itself, “Vilicus.”

Vilicus turned his head and looked at another of his own kind before clumsy shuffling over, it was odd to have limbs but it knew how to use them in some capacity. He took a chest piece and held it to the sun, inspecting it with eyes that it did not have before carelessly throwing it to the ground with an angered grunt. The other automaton did nothing more than look at the one who threw away its project, but did not complain (for it simply could not) and went to pick up the chest piece before its hand was slapped away by Vilicus.

“No! You cannot use such a ghastly thing! It has no form - nothing even remotely ornate about it!” Vilicus scolded the soulless machine, though letting out a disappointed sigh as the being continued to pick up its project and walk back to its post. Looking back to the sun, Vilicus spoke to the Great Sun, “Master, why do these things not understand true art?”

Without waiting for an answer, the life-filled automaton stomped deeper into the Forge of Worlds towards an area that seemed to be storing the finished goods. The artist could do nothing more than let out a desperate cry at the sight that had befallen him! He turned away and felt as if he needed to wretch (even though he physically had no such feeling) and fell to his knees in tears! For all the arms and armors were nothing more than bare metals, unpainted and ghastly beyond reproach! He slammed a metallic fist into the ground unable to comprehend the horrors that had tainted his mind.

“This cannot stand! I will not allow a single shipment to go like this!” He raged, unable to allow these to exist in His world. Vilicus looked to the air once more, gazing at the perfect artistry that was the Great Sun and His great architecture. How the soul wished that he could have been back there, creating art with the new body that he had possessed! Yet, he would not shirk the duty in which he was charged by the great and venerable Monarch of All. The automaton pointed a finger at the sun, declaring to it with a dramatic tone, “Know this, master, know that I, Vilicus, shall make sure that all these pieces shall be fit for even you to wear!”

The automaton stood back up and turned to the ghastly mountain once more, hunching over a bit in intimidation. Surely he would not have to do all of them, after all it was a fair bit for even the likes of a lowly servant of the Monarch of All. Vilicus knew he would need aid, apprentices to his great artistry who might be able to aid in making these pieces truly something the likes of a Divine Guard of the Monarch. Looking towards the sky, Vilicus did ask a simple question, “Tlanextic, could you send a couple of people my way?… Not that you have to of course I know- Never mind, I’ll find a way.”

Vilicus shook his head before stepping to the great mountain and pulling one of the ghastly blades from a neat pile and looking over it. He had no tools but he would be able to grab some from the other beings that worked the blades.

“This will take a lot of time.”




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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Vec
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Vec Liquid Intelligence

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&




Tension dissipated like steam. The moon and Yudaiel, or perhaps Yudaiel the moon (for now more than ever they were truly one), trembled softly in relief.

He was gone. They were off the moon -- not just the so-called Monarch of All, but also the wretched Fly.

Peace could be had again, but All-Seeing lunar goddess possessed all the time in the world and yet no time for such trifles as rest; there remained much work to be done. So she composed herself and then peered upon the Tapestry once again, searching across the endless plane of threads to track the movements of her many plots, only to find the search harder than ever before. A new haze blurred her Sight, no matter where she looked! Confusion and rage rippled through her vastness, and the moon seemed to glower at the rest of the cosmos.

Her Prescience hadn't been this clouded in a long time, for she'd done many things to attain clarity. With the passage of time she had gradually honed and progressed her mastery of her own aspect, she had eliminated the Shard that had been the foremost anathema to certainty and Sight, and more. Yudaiel had done more, acts that others would never have even contemplated, all in the pursuit of mastery. She had dreamt of a great and terrible being -- Ã̶̡͝m̶̰̬̍̈́p̸̱̀h̸͚̚͜i̷̧̓b̴̲͛o̷̠͑ļ̷̧̊e̴͕̳̎̓s̶͎̈̅ -- and merely by observing the flicking of its singular eye had she garnered a better understanding of Reality, a more expansive view of what was even possible for divinities to attain. She had looked upon the infinite iterations of the Codex back in time and discovered the unknowable secrets that Tuku had hidden, and she had gazed into the maws and innards of indescribable and alien Horror. Within its depths, she remembered visions and words sent through space and time from another being, one perhaps even more terrible than the cyclops, that thousand-thousand limbed and million-million ribbed giant that was infinitely tall, the same darkened silhouette that she'd seem looming over both the past and future. She had attained a better understanding of Iqelis and also of that black Flow over which the Fly presided, and through contact with Rosalind, likewise come to understand motion and rhythm. All of that and more!

Yet so much was undone the moment she had absorbed a second shard. The limitless potential and power was intoxicating, and never had she felt so powerful as now, but through the juxtaposition of two shards within her it was as though her mind and very essence had been bifurcated... she felt like someone different, someone impure, someone conflicted. She hadn't expected this, but she should have. It only made sense; how else would the Monarch of All be kept in check than through the countless contradictions and separate pulls of the nigh-infinite aspects of Reality that he retained for himself still?

Her toil and struggle was not so great as it would have been should she have adopted two more opposing shards, she instinctively realized, but neither was this inner turmoil lessened by any similarities between the quintessence of the lunar and prescient shards. She was a fish that floundered in an ungainly body, suddenly unable to remember how to swim. She knew it would take time to master this new state and come to terms with herself, and yet she knew also that this power was worth the pain.

In the meantime, perhaps she could improve herself. She had Seen her brother Astus, and how he had taken mere rocks from the earth and refined them into pure metal, then fashioned them into false life -- crafts so complicated and intelligent that they perhaps were truly alive in some sense. The Yudaiel of the past had been mere ore. Now she was to become metal. She Saw that to realize her inevitable triumph, she had to shape herself into the force, the machine, that she had always been destined to become.

First, that meant turning stone to steel, freeing the gleaming metal that hid within the ore, and adding strength and resolve to temper it. Candidly and honestly, she looked through her own woven threads and her own past, self-reflecting with utter humility for the first time in her entire existence. From a new lens, she Saw the errors in her ways.

I am erratic!

Emotion is good; it gives force behind every motion, the strength and desire to act.


Emotion is irrational; a slave to unreason is weak.


Is my righteous anger not rational? Is my pride not warranted?


The tumult grew and grew. Her mind bickered with itself more vehemently with each passing moment until it threatened to fracture and perhaps come undone entirely, and that looming threat was what finally pushed her to decision. Mere meditation or contemplation would not be enough; the making of steel required the burning away of impurities. She needed to surgically excise her weakness -- the parts of her mind that held her back.

But what parts were those?

The past was haunting at times but it always had lessons to offer. Memories flashed by: the snide words of the Monarch and barely restrained anger when he'd decreed her imprisonment, the rasped jibes and insults and threats of Iqelis, Homura's confrontation, and even those whispers of Ashevelen that she'd heard from afar.

Her confrontational nature, that proclivity to anger and to impulsively pick fights, had not served well. What had she to show for it besides enemies, lost battles, and His order to remain on the moon?

Is a storm still formidable if it doesn't rage, if it's not fickle, if it's not prone to hurl lightning at whatever dares challenge its heights?

Of course.
The storm is only deadlier when it lets its victims grow complacent...
when none expect its lightning or know where it might strike.


One last great act of spontaneity remained in her future. She focused and turned her gaze inward, her pupil wrapped around itself, and then she channeled her force of will. Telekinetic and psionic power coursed through every fiber of her being in one great feedback loop. She screamed. She barely remained conscious. The power remained under tenuous control though, and eventually she succeeded.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A cacophony of voices, screaming, arguing with one another.

The formerly transparent, crystalline mirror now opaque and listless.

They are the many that make up the one, but now find themselves fractured, broken like no other.

Tumultuous clouds rapidly emerging beyond the mind’s reaches.

A black, oppressive barrier, hell bent on making them suffer.

Heralding an age of ruination and destruction; the world left in pieces.


A faint ripple in the Tapestry, detectable only to those most sensitive to its myriads of intricacies, spread out, covering a vast amount of space. In its center, a wisp suddenly ignited, seemingly out of nothingness. But it was not 'nothing' at all.

This tiny flame was unlike any other fire in existence, for this was the flame of life - and what life? Divine. It needed neither air nor heat to proliferate, but should a mortal come in contact with it, they would very quickly be consumed by its hunger. Seemingly defying the most basic laws that this corner of the universe adhered to, it simultaneously boiled and burned. That, coupled with the myriad - one could even dare say "kaleidoscopic" - array of colors it emitted, and the contrast between it and the dark backdrop of the scarred and bare moon surface, painted a truly mystifying picture.

Iridescent waves of divine power slowly swirled around the small blaze, a thin, gangly tendril of which extended towards it. Oh, so tenderly, it poked and prodded at the fire - akin to a mother poking her newborn child's nose. Then, as if catching on something, the tendril stopped at one specific point before merging with the flame. As it merged, divine power started being fed into it, kindling for the blaze to feed on and grow into a mighty pyre.

Yudaiel hadn't expected this. She should have Seen this outcome, but in that moment, her Sight was obscured by the glow and shadow of all the luminous moons that she had yet to bejewel the heavens with, by the throb and ache of pains that she had suffered from others and inflicted upon herself, and by the many great and terrible beings -- primordials -- that loomed behind and ahead. Her prescience was almost worthless then; it hadn't even shown her that in in casting out Turmoil, she would be birthing another conscious entity.

Far below, upon the Galbar's surface, snakes slithered and shed their skins. Stags lost their horns, and nearly all things shed hair and flakes of dead skin in a great rain of food for the tiny beings that feasted upon such detritus. Yet this was different; if a divine spirit shed a part of itself, that part was not wont to rot. It struggled, persisted, and fought to survive -- just like this thing before her, the only other soul on her entire moon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The others were gone.

The disparate voices that had so vehemently argued with one another and fought with venomous fang, who'd vied endlessly for power (unseen, deep below the surface of her psyche) and whose impulses had manifested so often to destructive effect, were gone. Not merely silenced; this time, they were truly gone for good. Yudaiel was whole again... more whole than she'd been, even before the trauma of being devoured by the Horrors, their innards deepening the cracks and unleashing all the voices even as their strange bile had tried to dissolve her very soul into nothingness.

Blessed peace was hers again.

Now only darkness remained, and even then, it was not the usual, comforting type of darkness that lulls one to sleep; as if diving into a cold, dead sea, a mix of arrogance, cruelty and aloofness was subsumed into the murk. Yet, the darkness ached – a debilitating injury had been dealt to the world, and a faint throbbing could be felt, ever present in the backdrop.

Silence..? No, there was a noise, something else.

Suddenly, a bright point of light shined within the previously pitch darkness, akin to a beacon signaling the way for the lost traveler. With the point at their center, ripples fanned out in all directions, searching, searching, searching… finding.

It'd been seeking her!

The ripples emitted by the point of light had bounced off something within the darkness. Akin to soldiers relaying information back to their general, upon returning they indicated the location of the target, and at that moment everything stopped. Serenity had returned to the dark, but not for long.

Abruptly, a beam of light shot off from the bright point, heading straight for the target – that ‘something’ that had been deemed as significant within the emptiness. Right before reaching its destination, however, the beam slowed down, coming to a screeching halt. At its end, a bulbous, lidless eye formed, taking in its surroundings for a moment before homing in on a small, floating, luminescent crystal.

Even with cracks riddling its surface, it nevertheless stood proudly as a whole. As if composed by many different, smaller crystals, each segment faintly shone in a different spectrum of light, giving off a sense of imperfection and fragility. And then, just as the eye laid its gaze upon the crystal, it visibly shuddered for a split second before projecting a single lucid thought out towards the eye:

“Are you my echo, or am I yours?”


Silence answered her -- contemplative silence that seemed to last eons.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yudaiel's mind considered extinguishing this fire of life that she'd accidentally sparked. Ending this... this accident would be easy, and indeed, if she were at all like she'd been before, then she'd have likely done it without hesitation. Yet she was different now, the worst of her impulse and violence removed when she'd cast out Turmoil.

And this thing was intelligent. It ideabstracted at her, in its own crude and unrefined manner. It had inherited some manner of her own divinity, she surmised, for how else would it have sustained itself for long enough to form thought or take shape? How else could it See and Speak?

It had potential, and could be cultivated. She quickly and easily wrested control of the ideabstraction.

The eyeball that had floated before the crystal was gone, replaced by the spiraling expanse of an entire galaxy -- one of many. The stars were everywhere, and they were beautiful, like little pearls embroidered onto a vast velvet.

The fabric of Reality seemed to ripple, and in the sound of its rustling there finally came a whispered answer, "I̧͎̘̤̅̇̿̚ a̛̟͔͇͌̄m̖͍͂̇ t̟̤̂͌͜͡h̖͕̬̺͆͒̅̀ĕ̡̥̺̼̂́͞ ş̘̽̈́o̻͈͛͒u̝̮̒̎͊͢r̤͖̘͔̟̆͆̆̈́̀c̼̬̑̓̄͜ȩ̞̦̘̿̃̚͠.̟͛͋͢”

As Reality bent, the cosmos seemed to spin. In truth it was the crystal that dizzily spun, though; the eye at the center of that closest galaxy, the nascent spirit's origin and progenitor, examined every facet and angle of that crystalline form. Gemstones were beautiful, and this one was prismatic and almost perfect... almost. It clearly had the potential to be something magnificent, but it needed a strong hand to guide the chisel that would shape it further and chip away the imperfections... it needed to be cultivated.

So it was. In one moment it had been a crystal drifting through the cosmos; in the next it was a dewdrop rolling off the leaf of some strange tree in the desert, cascading down to water and nourish the smallest of gardens, a tiny patch of grass springing out from sandy soil.


Yes, this one could live. Should live. Would live. Yudaiel had never truly understood the nature of parenthood; she'd thought that she had, having witnessed bears defending their cubs, a manbjork swearing vengeance for the dead kits, little creatures suckling milk, and a thousand other sights a thousand times over. Seeing and observing the phenomenon was one thing; experiencing it personally felt altogether like another.

Possibilities pulsed electrically through her sea of consciousness: memories of her own banishment to the moon, before she'd ever truly descended down to the Galbar. She could view it from afar, but repressed deep down had always been a regret, and loathing for the Monarch, from depriving her of so many experiences. It had been enough to influence that field from afar, to merely witness all its events of import and live them through the eyes of other... but it would be even better to vicariously experience it through a child.

His decree that she remain on her moon -- or moons, as it was destined to soon be, would not apply to this child. It couldn't. Just as that thought made its way through her sea of consciousness, the goddess felt an oh so slight tug at her mind. Turning her attention once again towards the flame and the primitive soul within, she noticed something quite peculiar.

On the outside, the flame had begun to change – from the iridescent hue it started out as, it had slowly turned to a darker orange, akin to a setting sun disappearing over the horizon. It had also grown in size, now taking up as much space as one of those many large boulders that had – during the battle of the ages between Yudaiel and Iqelis – broken off from the moon’s surface and spiraled down toward the Galbar.

The blazing flame of life evoked memory of Homura. Others saw just the red goddess' diminutive little form, or the gleam of that spear she bore so brazenly, yet from the first moment of Homura's existence Yudaiel had Seen the truth: she was a raging inferno entombed within some cold statue of a simulacrum -- shackled, as it were. This conflagration wrapped around the crystal rather than simmering as a hot coal somewhere deep within. That was good. It meant strength and potency, rapid growth. Let her child wear its flame like a cloak.

That crystal in the heart of the blaze, as well, had gone through some changes during this time. Hidden deep within the core of the pyre now, it started to vibrate; its color, slowly at first but quickly picking up speed, shifted through all the hues known – and possibly unknown – to mortals. The outlandish flames of life that had been summoned along with its accidental inception at the hands of Yudaiel, that had been protecting it from the barren and inhospitable environment of outer space, had turned their metaphorical back at it, now threatening its feeble existence. They were burning it.

The crystal, as if sensing the change within its guardian, hurriedly tried to wrest away the ideabstraction that Yudaiel had stolen from it, its power too weak to create a second one. Even as it flailed in its desperation with a clumsy and unsuccessful attempt to reshape their shared dreamscape, within the ideabstraction their thoughts were linked close enough that Yudaiel could sense its panic -- something was amiss. So the Prescient relinquished her control and let the nascent spark weave whatever image it would.

A small piece of debris that had broken off from gods know where, was floating through the emptiness of space. Without will, without knowledge of its being or even instinct, it seemingly existed. Its creation ordained by fate or by luck, no one really knew. Within the vacuum, its only constant companion had been, for an undiscernible amount of time, the warming rays of the sun.

But without a way to steer itself away from danger, a mind to know of what was out there, it could not protect itself from its eventual doom. Alas, it had neared too close to its previous ally and companion, and so its friend had opened its arms to embrace it. Just as it plummeted into certain annihilation, a small, imperceptible voice echoed out.

“…help…”


The celestial planes contorted and bent. That one galaxy that had formerly been an eyeball was in the very center of a new face, superimposed over a thousand-thousand dim nebulae and blinding constellations, clusters, and galaxies as it claimed a place at the very center of the universe. But then the cosmos blinked, and the galaxy was a bloodshot eyeball once more. A hazy corona of star-stuff partially shrouded the three pupils of that Great and All-Seeing Eye, sparing the crystal from the worst of its overpowering glare.

The Eye did as eyes did: it watched, in silent thought, for what seemed like far too long. Near the last moment, vast bleeding tentacles -- like optical nerves and severed blood vessels -- erupted from the oculus and whipped around to seize the drifting entity. The strength of those stringy cords proved sufficient to arrest all motion; the tiny crystal was saved from the doom of time, even if it dangled in a net precariously close to that sun which had been dragging it away.

The blood that oozed out of the grotesque limbs extinguished the crystal's wreathe of fire, at least in part, and cooled it from the sun's incandescence. But all was not cold: a tinge of anger pulsed through the bleeding arteries. There was disappointment there too, the sort that despised weakness and spat in its presence.

One particular artery that had been spewing out droplets of hot blood suddenly ceased its heaving and coiled itself. Its end morphed into the head of a snake, and it hissed, "I̤̭͌͊ w̺̖̃͋ị̧̈̚l̙̈l̟̖̭̍̅͘ n̗͇̝̒̏͝ỏ̦͇̙̑̚t̩̺̤̔́̋ r̥̘͗̀̀ͅe͎̯͆͒̚ͅĺ̰̖̊̂͟e̟͌a͎͇̾̀s̼̤͍͐̎̚ḙ̮̫̃͛͘ y̡͇͔̑̚͡ò̺u̺̭͋̿̀͟.̞͔̭͆̌̆”

Freedom was only to come if the splintered fragment proved itself capable enough of self-sufficiency, and so the crystal had to learn to steer its own flight.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Doom had been averted, but how much longer?

The fire around the crystal had simmered down somewhat but had neither died nor surrendered. A higher power was restraining it and so, like a caged animal, it bade its time. Its prey would not escape it – could not escape it.

The whole ordeal had stirred up something within the crystal; the tiny, fragmented soul residing within had finally awoken fully. After having tasted betrayal, it had become aware of its predicament; through its primitive senses, the crystal could feel the mighty being's presence, enveloped as it had them in its power.

The being had responded to its plea, stopping the flames from devouring the crystal, and for that the soul within was grateful. The crystal could feel the overpowering authority the essence it was subsumed within carried – the being could squash it into dust without the soul even realizing it. Yet it also felt a kind of longing towards the being, a faint link that was shared between them that seemed… important.

However, it also sensed that something had changed. The flow of energy around the crystal gave off an... odd feeling. Previously it had been surprised, intrigued and, one could even say, hopeful. All that changed after the crystal had reached out to be saved. The energy imprinted within the fabric of space had become more reserved, withdrawn and aloof. As if a parent had been disheartened by their children's actions... as if they had expected something better...

The tiny soul gave out a low, droning sound as new feelings slowly emerged within it – remorse and guilt. Just like how the flame had betrayed the crystal, so had the soul within betrayed the mighty being that had deigned to save it from annihilation. It could feel an insurmountable burden weighing it down, as if it was nothing but a pebble atop the ocean floor, an immense amount of water pressuring it down, threatening to grind it into dust. Expectations.

Upon this realization, additional feelings swiftly arose from deep within the crystal soul, the droning reaching a crescendo. Flaring up like an uncontrollable wildfire, anger and indignation overcame it in an instant. Anger and indignation towards itself, with how little it could do; towards the flame that had betrayed it; towards the being that now looked down upon it with contempt; towards the harsh, barren world that it had come into being.

The crystal suddenly let out a violent pulse of iridescent light, shooting out in all directions around it. The flame that surrounded it – that same beast that had earlier tried to prey on it – bore the vast brunt of the impact resulting in it dying down quite a bit. Silence once again reigned.

Having expelled most of the negative energy that had welled up within it, the soul within the crystal felt sluggish and weak once again, however an unprecedented level of clarity took the place of the ousted emotions. It was up to the soul to prove its worth to its savior – nay, its creator – as well as itself.

The tiny comet stilled as the bloody tentacles wrapped around it, saving it from certain annihilation. Time and space were meaningless within the boundaries of the dream, yet what seemed to be ages passed before something stirred again within the tentacles’ grasp.

There, under the bloodshot eyeball’s gaze, vines slowly rose from the comet's surface. Covered with patterns of unknown origin, they slowly slithered around the root-like tentacles that had covered it, piercing through their fleshy exterior and latching on to them tightly.

Then, as if a snake injecting its venom into its prey, the thorns unleashed a thick, shimmering, black-and-white liquid within the tentacles – raw emotions: anger, betrayal, indignation, remorse. At that moment, the tiny comet burned with a passion, a will to pass on its feelings onto its mighty savior.

“I was wrong. The only way to help, is to release me…”


...

In the dream, Yudaiel released her hold over that crystallized fragment of herself. Its newfound bravery pleased her; however, like a newly hatched bird leaving its nest, it now would either learn to to fly, or else fall down and die in the attempt. The Prescient goddess has already grown more attached to this little clone than she had realized -- reflexively and anxiously she'd peered into the future to assure herself of the outcome, and only after that did she allow the hatchling to throw itself from the nest.

It would fly.

But young and impulsive things were easily swayed and influenced by something so subtle as the slightest breeze. The child's inchoate motivation and purpose facilitated, nay -- necessitated -- that its progenitor guide it to where it was needed, for its own good. For both of their good. So that posed the question: where should the winds nudge it?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The moment the goddess undid her metaphysical hold over the fire, like a rabid wolf, it launched at the crystal with ferocity. Made of instinct and pure action as it was, its momentary weakness after being hit by the pulse of power released by the crystal did not deter it from taking another chance at its prey.

Feeling the fire encroaching on its periphery once again, the soul within steeled itself to fight. Its own internal fire and drive to survive had been kindled by the intense residual turmoil carried over from its creator, giving it the perfect mindset to combat its first enemy in a new world - itself. Just as the fire licked the surface of the crystal with its scalding fangs, the soul within released a keening cry; another pulse of iridescent light rippled out, this time with the intention of subjugating its opponent, not just weakening it.

For a split second, on that small corner of the moon, something akin to a second sun emerged. A white flash of light gave color to the previously dull darkness of space; unlike a supernova, however, the aftermath of the ordeal was something out of the ordinary. Where previously a crystal wreathed in fire floated, now a medium sized, egg-like shaped cocoon existed. Its surface swirled with color, and a faint feeling of power and of the life budding slowly within emanated from it. It carried an echo of a thought within, possibly meant for its helper but also towards itself, the one who realized its own self-worth.

"Thank you..."

Silently, Yudaiel's power pulsed out through the regolith and into the newly-formed egg, filling it with a thrumming energy. It resonated and vibrated in its place for a few moments, and then was suddenly spurred into explosive motion as it rocketed away from the moon at well past escape velocity. Minor telekinetic adjustments perfected the course: the Prescient ensured that her daughter would land in the vicinity of the Eidolon Plains. She had yet to install an agent there, and the region's proximity to Nalusa could prove pertinent.

Time would tell. The future was still too murky and nebulous for Yudaiel's liking, but this was an improvement.


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AERON

&
ZIMA the ZIMMER

in
An EXPLICATION of the BEGINNING of SORROW

followed by

A PRELUDE to ALL SUFFERING



The chirping of songbirds, a warm sun, and the roar of a high river across the northern bounds of the world could signify one thing only: Spring was coming North. As the sun’s conquering rays marched ever more northward and subdued plain after plain and forest after forest and lake after lake, the days had started growing longer. The sun-kissed air was blowing a good and pleasant breeze, and greenery was beginning to emerge from the melting snow - which was now in full and open rout. True, the nights were still chilly and often froze any still water, but a change was coming; the land and animals could feel it and so did those that walked on two legs.

Soon the Voirans would be moving off to new lands as the Council of the Nine decreed. Winter had taken its toll on many and with that came restless feet and legs in need of long rambles across the earth. It was the Voiran way, after all. So there was indeed a growing murmur amongst those nomadic people, who waited each day with patience and anticipation. Many of the things they murmured were trivial. Would Haana bear twins? Could enough furs be found to replace old clothing? Would they be heading south or south-east when the time came?

That naturally gave rise more generally to the matter of moving on, lamenting those who had not made it through the winter, and talk of the celestial debris and strange moonfalls - as those were called. Many of them had witnessed the way the moon had shed itself and sent great clouds of dust and rock in every which way. The Council of Nine had deliberated on the strange happenings but ultimately declared that all things were as the gods decreed and that the world would go on whether the moon exploded or did not, and life too and all things.

“But what about us?” Juirga asked, holding her latest child on her shoulder (her fifth, and one of three who yet lived).
“Yes, Juirga,” councillor Rhinan said, “life and all things will go on even if we don’t.”
“Not very comforting,” the mother winced.
“That’s how it is,” Rhinan shrugged, and everyone had dispersed.

Along with all that, many also wondered if Aeron would ever get to work and stop playing with his nasnook. Others wondered, more seriously, when his more diligent sister would return. Though she had not stayed with the Voirans for very long, Mair had become immediately popular with her people and something of an authority. She was renowned for better reasons than her brother, who was more infamous than famous, and was praised for her hard work, respect for their Maker’s wishes and was, above all else, idolised for being a true Voiran explorer. Oh the tales she might bring when she returned! The words from Voi she would bring! Not like Aeron, who sat lazing about all day… Oh but none could deny his tricks with Voia were a delight, and he did make everyone laugh, so he was tolerated. And, of course, he was an eye of the Maker, just like his superior sister, so they had to tolerate him regardless of his usefulness.

Mair did not return with the coming of Spring and did not return on that day. Instead, a pair of siblings - gone out for a walk earlier in the day - came trudging home. Night had already approached and their worried parents had gone to the Council for aid. It had not been needed, ultimately, for little Von guided the now sickly Vare into camp, much to the relief of their parents and kin. Yet, even as she was fussed over and helped to a bed, Vare seemed different. It was not her hand or their furs or the story she told of an evil spirit that had attacked them. No- it was her eyes. Lifeless eyes. The sort that marked something truly terrible. And so, as gossip spread like wildfire through the camp, many remarked how the chill had turned colder. The promise of spring seemed to fade away as quickly as it had come and there was an inexplicable feeling that something had gone terribly wrong.

Aeron felt it too, and Voia curled on his head and covered herself in his long white hair as he sat by a fire with some six others to ward off the sudden cold. “You seen lil Vare’s eyes, Ron?” Petors asked him.
“Oh, she back?” The performer asked. “I told her not to go off all on her own. Feisty that one.”
“Wait, you knew where she was all along?” Petors frowned.
“Uh…” Aeron glanced at the bigger voiran, then at the others who looked equally unamused, “sort… of? I mean, well, in theory. Uh. Allegedly.” He kissed his lips. “So it is said… I have heard that claim made of late. Uh. I can neither confirm nor den-”
“You’re a real twat sometimes, you know that? She’s not in a good way at all. What did she even go off for?” Another, Poilina, asked.
“Well, I’ve heard it through the tree-vine tha-” Aeron began, but swiftly ducked away from a slap Petors sent his way. He righted himself after that and grinned. “My, so violent, these big fellas. Typical brainless sort, y’know?”
“Where were they?” Poilina asked, ignoring his antics.
“Well, like I was saying before I was set upon by this giant mammoth spawn thing, I heard it through the tree-vine that she and good little Von were rather impressed by the many heroic - and entirely truthful - exploits of a certain fella and his nasnook-”
“Oh for crying out-” Poilina got up and trudged off, “you should watch those stories of yours, Aeron!” She shouted, turning around. “Watch them or you’ll have more than Petors’ slaps to worry about!”
Aeron watched her go off and then glanced awkwardly at the others, then frowned indignantly. “Look now, my stories are important. How are these kids going to grow up into the fine brave sort without good stories, eh? How will they know what goodness looks like if they don’t have any proper models of goodness? Don’t blame my stories if Vare is in a bad way. Going off and exploring is our way - what she did was good, heroic, courageous. What? Would you have us coddle them? You have only one of me today, but if you start coddling them you might as well kiss your ways of bravery and hunting and exploration goodbye.” He stood up and flashed them an affronted look. “That’s how it is.” They were all silent.
“Well, no one’s blaming your stories, Ron, sit down.” Petors muttered.
“Vare is a good kid,” Aeron insisted, not sitting, “in fact, Vare is the best kid. She’s helpful, she hunts better than anyone, she’s not afraid of the dark, she’s protected her brother from more things than I care to count. If my stories made her like that, then I’m proud of it. You all go off hunting and doing your stuff, but my stories are creating our future - my stories made Vare what she is.” No one said anything. “What, am I wrong?” He asked.
“No no, you’re right.” Setven declared. “Just sit man.”
Aeron complied at last and sat down. “If I grew up listening to the stories I tell - if the Maker hadn’t just, I don’t know, snapped his fingers and made us as we are - I would have been the bravest, the most dashing, the noblest, the cleverest (in fact, I’m still the cleverest, Mair has nothing on me) voiran in existence. But hey, things just didn’t work out that way, and so I tell stories to make sure no one turns out like me. Is it so bad of me? I don’t think so. You don’t think so, Petors, I know you don’t you big oafish mammoth thing.”
“Well, Vare’s been talking about some evil spirit.” Setven said, returning the conversation to more important matters. “Apparently attacked them or something, I don’t know. I’ve never heard of a spirit that attacks people.” The others murmured in agreement and frowns spread around the fire.
Aeron scratched his head and shrugged. “Maybe she, uh… was exaggerating a little? Exaggerations always makes a heroic tale better. I’m all for exaggeration. In the name of good stories and morals, of course.”
Petors gave him an icy stare before saying, “Vare doesn’t lie, because she’s a good kid.” Aeron shrugged and nodded in agreement. “Still, I’ve a bad feeling. Everyone has a bad feeling. It’s weird.”
“There’s this heaviness in the air, I’ve never known anything like it.” Setvens added, and the others whispered words of agreement. That was the sentiment everyone echoed for days afterwards.

When Vare was well enough, Aeron decided to take Voia and cheer her up a little, since everyone who saw her noted that she looked especially sad. He found her parents, Baella and Mirtan, sat sullenly by their tent with young Von lying lethargically at their feet. “Well aren’t you a cheerful lot.” Aeron grinned, getting only a long sigh from Mirtan in response.
“What d’you want Aer? Haven’t you someone else to wind up?” Baella managed after a few moments of silence.
“Thought you’d be happier to see me, little man,” Aeron said to Von, ignoring the miserable grown-ups.
“I’m booored.” The boy said, rolling over, “Vare just sits inside and won’t go exploring again with me.” Both Baella and Mirtan perked up at this, and stared daggers at Aeron, who smiled awkwardly.
“Exploring… can be done anytime.” The entertainer enunciated. “You, uh, have better things to do. Like cheering your mum up. Look at her face, I could make a speartip just from the point in her eyes!” Baella’s gaze softened and she looked down at Von after that. “Anyway, I’m going in to see Vare.” He walked past them.
“None of those ridiculous stories, Aer,” Mirtan said warningly.
“Me? Ridiculous? Rats would sooner talk, Mirty!” Aeron laughed, then ducked into the homely tent.

It was dimly lit inside, with the only light sources coming from under the entrance flap and faint traces underneath the furs covering the tent’s structure along the ground. The structure was as small as could be, just enough to house Baella and Mirtan’s family. Vare sat at the back of the tent, where only the faintest of light touched. In fact the only thing that could really be seen, and so marked her presence, was her pale skin. It seemed far paler than it ought to have been, and her expression was one fixed in the muck of depression. Her silver eyes fared no better as they bore into his soul.

“Hello… Aer.” The girl said slowly, if not perhaps deliberately. Her voice was of loss, nothing at all like she had sounded before. “What brings you…” She began to ask but her words faded as her eyes snapped up, past his face, to look at the nasnook sitting on his head and blanketed in his long white hair. Voia had been moving around tensely the moment Aeron entered the tent, but he had not seemed to notice until Vare’s eyes grew fixated on the nasnook.

The spirit, having taken on the earthy form of a polecat, leapt down and approached Vare with tail raised in alarm, hissing and baring its icy fangs. “There now Voia, there’s no need for that.” Aeron said, bending down and scooping the nasnook up. She twisted easily out of his grasp and leapt up, shedding her physical form and sending the furs and tent flying as she screeched and unleashed a small blizzard within herself. Raising a hand and backing away with a frown, Aeron shouted for the nasnook to be calm, but it was to no avail.

Vare shrieked, eyes never leaving Voia as the wind whipped at her air. “Don't let that Nisshi hurt me, Aer!” She cried out, backing away on her hands and legs, and even in the face of the wind Aeron cocked his head in confusion at her words.

“Nisshi?” He muttered bemusedly, running around Voia and looking at Vare. “What the hell’s a nisshi?” He looked from Vare to Voia a few times, and then something seemed to click in his mind. His eyes began to glow a faint blue as he looked at Vare, and he saw beyond the veil of life and death, spirit and flesh, what is known and what is unknown. In seeing what he saw, he understood. “Voia! Calm yourself Voia!” He hurled himself between the nasnook and the girl, then brought Vare to him roughly, his brows furrowed. “Hey, look at me.” He pinched her chin and turned her face side to side as if trying to understand what he was seeing. “Who are you? How did you get in here? Is that even possible? What do you want?”

Vare’s demeanor morphed into something else. Where once there had been a scared girl, there was now something else, something darker. She stood straighter, arms dangling lifelessly at her side as she forced her chin out of Aeron’s grasp. Her lips curled into a frown as she looked up at him, eyes beginning to flicker from silver to crimson. “How stupid of me.” She said in a quiet voice full of spite as the wind whipped at her hair. “Of course you wouldn't call them Nisshiniek. A pity.” She spoke to herself even though she looked at Aeron still, veins of black spreading from her eyes. “The girl did that trick before with her eyes but what did you see in the space between spaces?” She asked, unwavering in her gaze as her eyes became engulfed in red.

Aeron did not answer, but backed away. Their breath became visible as a chill air descended, spreading an unnatural darkness that began to creep into the corner of Aeron’s eyes and his surroundings. With the tent now fully blown away by Voia’s blizzard, Vare’s family stared at them with a mix of confusion and horror. Others stopped to look at the spectacle, curious to see what was going on. Baella called her daughter’s name, but she did not answer. Aeron made to speak, but paused and frowned. Voia raged behind him for a few seconds more, and then was at his shoulder, beneath his chin, and distance simply grew between Aeron and Vare as Voia expanded there and engulfed the girl utterly. Baella screamed out behind Aeron, but everything seemed oddly silent and slow, and Aeron watched as though he was merely a passing bird - mostly because the entire affair was so bizarre that he could not really comprehend it.

Vare was flung at him from inside the maelstrom that was Voia, and he just about managed to catch her, but the nasnook never turned her attention to the girl and kept fighting something else. Vare gasped and groaned and when she opened her eyes, they were silver and full of fear. Her lips quivered as she held tight to Aeron. “R-Run…” She said in the weakest voice he had ever heard uttered, before her eyes spasmed and closed.

“Voi’s head, Vare,” he muttered, and in front of him the maelstrom of blue and white became tainted with darkness. How quickly it spread to subsume Voia entirely as the two forces whipped up a mighty and terrible wind. They collided with nearby tents and people screamed as they were thrown about or hit with flying debris. Then the forces halted as the darkness took over completely and hovered before them for a split second… and then Voia was flung out. She was now naught but a tiny, wispy thing that fell before Aeron. A shade began to form from the coalesced mist, revealing a woman wreathed in a gray flame that ate at the light, and her face seemed centred around two horrible, crimson eyes that bored down into him. All grew breathtakingly quiet as the woman raised a hand into the air.

Ignoring the crimson-eyed demon, Baella was immediately above Aeron, dragging her daughter up out of his arms and rushing off. Mirtan grabbed Von and followed her, and all about the camp the people grabbed what little things they held precious and got to putting as much distance between them and the demon. Aeron sat where he was, Voia rolling about by him. Grabbing her, he shot to his feet and stared right into the demon’s eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, paused, glanced around at the chaos all around, then chuckled awkwardly. “You- uh- you’ve got a great look going. Except for maybe those eyes, I think your pretty face would frame them just right if you toned down the whole red look.” He grinned with as much confidence as he could muster. “And I would be happy to offer my services if you so desi-” halting abruptly mid-sentence, he leapt to his left and bounded off as fast as he could. “What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck-” he mumbled to himself as he put every ounce of strength into his legs.

The demon watched him go. An inverted flame grew in her outstretched hand, calling to itself in a deathly song. Flame’s extinguished, then the land buckled- crumpled like a dry leaf. Its life force yielded itself to the unflame, the nonlight, like streams of smoke. Yet it was not smoke that was ripped from the earth and the trees, and plants and the animals; it was their souls. And as they lost their souls, their very being, they withered and died. It was worse for the Voirans, especially those closest to catastrophe, for their souls were cut so clean from the vessel that the body imploded from the pressure, bathing the ground in red. And when the unlight of the demon grew to twice her height, she threw it at the earth beneath her feet.

Thus did day become night; sorrow become suffering.

The explosion of deathly forces tore apart any that lingered, those that ran were flung or outright eaten, turned to but an after-image of what they once had been. Most faces were of agony, others only fear, all showed the final desperate moments of a confused people. Those further out were hit with the shockwave of the blast, cut to pieces or torn apart by debris. Only the lucky would escape that bloody and blackened field of sorrow. Only so few would they be.

Something strange happened, however, in the aftermath of the terrible death she unleashed on those nomadic voirans. Driven to insanity by her dark powers, or to grief-driven fury and madness by the sudden death of so many loved ones, the voirans rallied en masse and returned in small groups wielding spears and stone axes and daggers - and more lethal still, wielding blue murder in their eyes. The first such group was led by an enormous man hefting a great wooden club, and he came charging ahead of the others towards the demon while roaring murder and death and fury.

She sat unmoving, eyes shut in the center of that broken ground. Even when he swung his club down upon the demon, she was unmoving. The club struck the earth where she sat, cracking apart as her decay took root in it. It went through her, as did the next swing and the next until there was no more club and the others arrived to see the same. But their anger was great and so too were their fists. It was only then did they learn that the demon could not be harmed, but they could. Her red eyes opened and her hand tore through the enormous man, leaving him hollow with blackened eyes as he fell over dead.

Many fought on. Many fled in panic, but it did not matter. The demon caught them all and ate upon their souls. Only one escaped her, a woman who she had nearly killed but whose face now held her mark. It was not luck or strength that saved her, but an act of love. For a man threw himself into the demon and as he withered away the demon let go of the woman to focus on her lover. Thus she was saved and the shrill crying of the baby she held faded into the distance as more voirans came, fewer now. Most tried to run at that point, their rage broken as they looked upon the hollowed out eyes of their kin around the demon’s feet.

In the heavens above, a single white raven - grasping a wispy creature in its talons - circled and bore witness to it all. Its eyes shimmered with blue light and what dripped from them was neither blood nor rain - and could not be tears, for ravens did not cry. It watched until everything below had died - the greenery that had thought spring was come, the trees, the soil, the air; all things - and yes, the voirans too.

The last thing the raven saw was the demon, kneeling amidst a field of white and black, with her hands covering her face.

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The Journey of the Holy Quintet
Part I



The wind was quiet; its soft murmurs the only sound the five Heralds of Honor heard from outside Skydancer as they soared through the sky and gusts of air rushed by them, but the sacred power of the flying vessel had protected all of them from the fierce gales. The airborne boat swam through a sea of great clouds, ascending and descending through the vaporous banks of suspended moisture like the very large denizens of the sea that those among the Holy Quintet had seen before on their previous journeys.

Through the connection the five sisters shared, Wanderer was able to wordlessly describe why those creatures would reach the surface and stay there for a time, when others in the water would remain in the depths, never revealing their presence to the world above. However, Wanderer was unable to provide an absolute answer when Curiosity asked why the other creatures chose to never come to the surface, and the Holy Quintet silently contemplated the nature of life in the water compared to life elsewhere.

Courage continued to steer Skydancer towards their destination, while her four sisters had wrapped themselves in the large black-furred blanket they had been gifted by the Childan. Wanderer refrained from explaining where such a blanket most likely came from, as her sisters would certainly be unable to enjoy the welcome comfort they had now if they knew. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, the reticent champion pondered, as Curiosity held up and inspected various shells and shiny stones that had also been gifted to them.

“There’s so many! Did Chailiss make these, or was it our brothers?” She asked, and her sisters observed that the inquisitive champion seemed to be quickly recovering from her trauma at the village. There was no comment from any of them, as they saw how much Curiosity utilized their stoic thoughts through their sacred connection to fortify her own feelings and protect herself from grief. It would be cruel to deny her this way of coping, wouldn’t it? It would be inhumane, perhaps?

“Zenia mentioned helping Chailiss create this land, so maybe she made it, ya. I just really wish she was here, because it’s obvious you’d love her. She’s like… the light of the sun, always shining bright and smiling, if that makes sense...” Courage replied from where she stood at the stern, and then closed her eyes as she fondly recalled the feelings she had felt in the presence of the golden-haired goddess. The memories of those feelings spreading through her sisters like an aura of peace and calm.

“Viho is looking for her. We’ll get to see them both at some point.” Fear commented, attempting an emboldening smile as she sculpted small floral petals and leaves from ice with her frozen hand that quickly melted into nothingness upon departing from her palm. “Do you think Pride and Lorelei are alright? We said we'd be back soon, but who’s to say how long we’ll be gone now?” The anxious champion continued, looking at her sisters and their myriad of concerned expressions.

“Hey, listen now. Pride is tougher than she looks, and Lorelei has survived much worse than her big sisters leaving for a little while, so let’s focus on the task given to us. That’s probably what the pipsqueaks would say anyway.” Courage countered, wearing her usual cheeky grin which alleviated much of her sister’s unease. The reminder of Lorelei’s hardships reinforced their dedication to helping their currently lost sister, Zima, and the Holy Quintet shifted their attention to the world around them.

“What are our current options? The Gate to the Underworld is located somewhere in the west of this land, but we do not know what this gate looks like.” Kindness stated, looking back and forth between the Blade of Mourning she held in one hand, and the absence of Courage’s ponytail. The brash champion simply wore her hair loose, and her black ribbon was now tied around her arm. The sight was strange, but Kindness refrained from saying anything because Courage seemed content with her actions and choices.

“Well Underworld means that it’s beneath something, or maybe under the world itself? Gah, this is actually something we should already know! Isn’t it?” Courage complained, smacking her hand against her head in frustration. She shook her head, unfettering herself from anger, before casually shrugging back at Kindness without an answer.

“Wouldn’t the trees know? Don’t their roots dig deep into the earth, so, uh, they might have an idea where this gate is at least. Why don’t we ask them?” Curiosity suggested, bringing her legs up and resting her head upon her knees where she was seated.

“The trees would not understand our questions, hence we should seek out other humans that would recognize a gate, and ask them for guidance.” Kindness proposed, before turning to look at Fear for affirmation.

“We should, um… wait until we’re at the west coast, and then ask around, I suppose.” Fear humbly offered, hoping the uncertainty in her voice did not dissuade any of her sisters. Her words could be considered diplomatic in the sense that they did not directly side with either of her sister’s suggestions while excluding the second’s.

Their minds were suddenly shown images of what lay ahead, as Wanderer internally intoned the Incantation of Seeing - the spell enhanced by the Staff of Sight she wielded. With the blessing of Chailiss, its power was increased and expanded upon in the North, and she saw far and wide with great clarity. Through their connection to the reticent champion, the other four members of the Holy Quintet were provided with a close understanding of the distance to the west coast.

“We’ll be there soon.” Courage remarked, as they flew faster and faster towards their ascertained destination, and the Holy Quintet became quiet with contemplation once more.



Where the great land mingled with the vast sea again, as the trees parted becoming fewer and fewer until reaching a cold coast where their coniferous kind kept their distance from the icy waters, and most beasts only ever briefly visited for the waters here offered no nutrition that would benefit them - it was here where the Holy Quintet descended from the sky upon their blessed boat, and truly began their search for the missing daughter of Chailiss.

“Wanderer, begin looking for humans or Bjork nearby. We need to gather information from the local populace in the region.” Kindness said, as all of the Heralds of Honor began chanting the Incantations of Sending in their minds. The otherworldly ebon symbols appeared on their skin, shifting and weaving in their intricate design and patterns, so the steps of the Holy Quintet left no prints or trace of their passage.

Concentrating upon two spells at once, Wanderer felt the strain upon her mind, but with assistance through her connection to her sisters, she was able to sustain both incantations. Her Spirit was still strong, even after expending energy to create the artifact she wielded now.

Her senses spread like the light of the sun, washing over the land and its denizens, illuminating the shadows that her limited awareness before had hidden, and revealing the details of the world around her in ways her previous awareness could not comprehend. She felt intensely; and so potent did even the small rustle of pines or grass seemed that she knew how easily she could be overwhelmed now.

However, she had honed herself for this task through practice with the staff Tuku had temporarily bestowed upon Pride, then with her own staff as she traveled across the skies from Keltra to the North, and to eventually here. Lastly, she possessed a natural aptitude granted to her upon birth along with an understanding of what her name truly meant. With the Incantation of Seeing, she Saw what the world ahead consisted of:

The white forest stretched on, primarily pines and spruces, with fewer little-leafed deciduous kin such as alders, aspen, and birch - covered in glittering rime and snow. Even in the cold, life continued to cultivate itself by adapting to the trials and tribulations it faced; constructing sanctuaries where it may wait for winter to pass, and for the warmth to return, or through altering their shape and color to thrive in the stark environment.

The beasts were much larger than their brethren found elsewhere across the Galbar’s woodland realms, matching the size of the massive creatures found in Orsus that thundered across the land. They were clever and had discovered safe ways to hibernate, or they were strong and remained insulated through their thick fur and muscle. The North was a land that tested its denizens, culling the weak, and challenging the mighty. It was beautiful and terrifying to behold, and worthy of worship for its wonders.

Wanderer turned her attention from shimmering stalactites that grew upon the bottom of many branches beside a nearby cavern, to the whispering wind which danced among the trees as it proclaimed the world was changing once again. The song of snow shifted, its otherworldly lullaby slowly transforming into a gentle and graceful dirge as ice would inevitably crack and melt, and the frozen water would resume its fluid state with the coming of spring. This quiet that Wanderer cherished would become lively, and the reticent champion hoped she could see the glory of winter again before she had to return home.

Her senses continued to swiftly expand while her sisters briefly waited, and she alerted them she had found something with a quick raising of her hand. “One of our sisters is ahead. We should hurry.” The Holy Quintet took her words to heart, despite the lack of urgency in her tone, and Courage began issuing orders.

“Kindness, Fear: bring Skydancer overhead. Curiosity, you’re with me. Wanderer, lead the way.” With those words, they pressed onward.

Wanderer moved with haste, navigating the slippery and thick snow with ease, while Courage kept pace a few steps away from her - the two traveling faster than any animal could comprehend. As they raced through and over snow laden boughs and dense thickets with hidden thorns, such ever irksome entangling limbs and twigs, it was Curiosity that struggled with the foliage and fell farther behind them.

Despite the trepid nature of Kindness and Fear, Skydancer was able to follow those on the ground merely because moving slow for a vessel that soars across the sky like a falling star is still more than enough to maintain pace with anything traversing the land below.

A bellowing roar cut through the forest, not of any animal they had heard of before, followed swiftly by the crunching of branches and the sound of something large moving. It was distant but getting closer with each of their steps, almost like it was coming right at them. Then a different sound came, more nuanced, of a heavy struggle and a stumbling step. A soft cry filtered forth from the brambles, their sister was close.

Images of what awaited beyond were projected into Courage’s mind, as Wanderer pointed her sister in the direction of the struggle before leaping away from it. Knowing where she had to go, Courage wreathed herself in her sorcery, passing through the flora like a spirit, emerging on the other side where she heard the cries of one who had needed her help, and quite literally was run into by the woman, who fell backwards with a cry of surprise.

“Ah, sorry!” Courage called out, coming to a halt after realizing her mistake before she offered a hand out, and smiled. “Are you alright?” She asked.

It was only after a closer inspection did Courage realize she was not, in fact, alright. Her furs were tattered, blackened and bloody as she clutched a bundle tight to her chest with one arm. The other hung limply at her side. The woman blinked up at her with one good silver eye, amidst a pale face covered by a sea of fresh blood that flowed from her head. Where once there had been silver or perhaps white hair, it was stained in a pale reflection of their own. The other side of her face was blackened and non functioning, covered as well in grisly crimson. Another monstrous roar echoed, growing closer and the woman lurched to her knees and held out the bundle, which moved, to Courage with desperation in her eye and movement. “P-P-Ple-ase…” her broken voice begged.

“You’ll be safe now, we’re here to help you.” The champion replied, tenderly taking the bundle with one hand while she attempted to help the woman stand with her other to little avail. She looked back through the curtain of branches and bushes she had passed through and yelled. “Curiosity, get over here!”

She could sense her sister approaching, and shook her head with annoyance before looking at the woman again. “Alright, I’m not great with this spell, so I’m just going to wait till either Wanderer shows up, or Curiosity comes and helps us out, ya. You’re going to be safe, just let us handle this.” She tried to place the woman between the large roots of a tree, but she grabbed Courage’s forearm and looked into her eyes. There was a smile on her lips as tears flowed, “R-R-Rowan.” she looked at the bundle before her eye fluttered shut and she went limp, falling over.

“Alright, you rest here.” Courage mumbled to herself, as she placed the woman among the large roots of a nearby tree, before she glanced in the direction the roar had come from, her gaze filled with barely contained anger. “Now I’m getting mad. Well, why don’t you show yourself!”

As the snapping of branches and the sound of crashing trees came ever closer, the only immediate sound was crying. Small at first but growing louder. The bundle in her hands shaking.

Emerging from the foliage behind, Curiosity leapt and dashed towards her sister and moved to stand by her side. “What happened?” She asked, taking in the scene with wide eyes, and noticing the absence of Wanderer, and turning to the source of the violent sounds approaching. “What’s that noise!?!”

Courage shook her head again. “The cause for our troubles, ya. Here take this to Kindness and Fear, then come back. I’m going to teach our friend some manners.” Curiosity accepted the bundle gently given to her, and nodded. The Gnostic runes that covered her body spread to that which she carried, and without another word, she leapt through the trees and into the sky above.

It was a smell that hit her first. Of rotting flesh, carried by a foul wind. Another tree fell and before her there came a creature of nightmares. It stood before her as a wolf, at least that might have been what it looked like once. Now it’s black fur was ripped to bone, rotting flesh and air. Ribs protruded from its sides and it stood far taller than she. It’s maw was skeletal, as well as half of its face, but the creature looked upon her with green hatred in its eyes. It opened its mouth, black saliva drooping as a low growl emanated from its chest. It began to pace, seizing her up.

“Listen here, Ugly. Your obnoxious everything is making me real mad. If you want to stay here and dance, that’s fine by me. If I were you, I’d run away as fast as you can!” Courage shouted, stepping forth and punching the palm of her golden gauntlet. She stood alone against the large monstrosity, challenging its terrible visage with her much smaller and defiant presence. “So, what will it be?”

It answered, ripping through the little space that separated the two of them with great speed, leaving a trail of filth and destruction in its wake. The corpse-monster leapt with corrupted claws, seeking to pounce the charging Courage, who jumped high into the air, before falling upon the vile creature that had attempted to tear her apart. She stood atop it, looking down upon the horror with disdain in her burning eyes.

With terrible agility, it adjusted itself and reared up until the brash champion was forced to step off and retreat back, as it lashed out at her with furious fangs and claws. The forest floor was ripped asunder where she had just been, and both dirt and roots flew in all directions while the macabre monster harried its prey, but Courage continued to elude it with her incredible nimbleness and dexterity - more swift than any animal it had hunted before.

She alighted upon a high branch, and stared at the demonic beast that climbed up after her. She was aware that a stumble or fall here would be disastrous for her, so she persisted in her flight through the wintry canopy as the monster behind her continued to give chase. While her passage was deft and careful, the monster marked its way with devastation, and Courage could feel her anger swell with each snap and thud of fallen flora littering the ground underneath them. The monster would pursue from below and then attempt to leap up at her with its ferocious maw, breaking branch after branch.

“Hey Ugly!!!” Courage bellowed, before she descended to the ground as well and chose to no longer flee. With keen haste, she prepared herself; ice gathered around her feet as her skin became white with frost, and so she let the monster pounce upon her. Despite the great difference in their size, Courage was not thrown from her feet and remained standing while foul fangs bit into her golden gauntlet. Its claws raked at her, but her free hand successfully pushed one away, while the second was not enough to unbalance her. However, even the ice along her skin did not protect from its ferocity, and four great slashes were inflicted upon the side of her torso.

Courage retaliated by breaking the bones and rotten flesh of the creature’s other claw, rendering the forelimb useless, before granting herself a reprieve by using both arms to guard herself against its repeated attacks now. The continual growling and spittle in her face was enough to provoke her again, and she countered with a quick thrust to the monster’s head that tossed the large body of the baleful beast back.

Courage peered at the great gashes along her body, as blood poured freely forth from the four lacerations and she could see the rippling light of her inner fire attempting to escape through the openings. She slowly breathed, frost swirling in front of her as more ice was collected and quickly covered the wounds, but she found her movement much more limited - lest she crack that which prevented the sacred water of life from cascading out of her. “Oh, come on…” She muttered, seeing the monstrosity rise despite its head having been shattered from her punch. She couldn’t comprehend how it ignored such grievous injury, but it did… and it prepared to charge her once more.

“Come on!!!” Courage exclaimed, before she summoned forth even greater strength with reckless abandon. The blood-stained ice all around her turned to blinding steam, as her small visage became fierce and fiery, and those that saw things with the gift of second sight would be witness to the great spiritual aura that she exuded. Just as the monster loomed over her, about to renew its vengeful assault, Courage countered with her own attack.

Saint’s Sacred Sixfold-Smash!

The Golden gauntlet struck upward in a blur, followed by five more fast punches that hit the monstrosity before the weight of the first blow was even felt. The entire body of the nightmare beast shattered into broken bones and violent viscera in a shower of gore that was thrown backwards. Death’s putrid presence filled the forest, and Courage stood alone facing the sight of such carnage, such a grotesque scene that would haunt her long after she left it.

It was not over…

From the obliterated remains of the monster’s corpse, an evil flame emerged - the true shape of the wehniek. The oily green fire was weak, but it persevered and fled into the foliage with mocking laughter. Courage stepped forward to give chase, before she stumbled. The wounds reopened, and much of her blood spilling forth into a crimson pool at her feet. The flames within her were beginning to consume more than just air and water… soon it would be her flesh.

Though her agility would be limited, the brash champion refused to let the demon escape. She created more ice to seal the lacerations again, and languidly marched after the abomination. Though she had lost sight of it, there was no concealing the scent of its presence now, and she followed the trail of its stench that it left behind. She found herself where she had left the woman, and couldn’t discern which way the evil spirit had retreated to.

She was too focused to see Curiosity descend from above and alight beside her with a concerned look. “Courage, what happened? You’re hurt!” The inquisitive champion placed a hand on her sister’s side, touching the scarlet ice that was both hot and cold. She recoiled upon contact, frightened by what she had felt.

Courage turned to face her sister, overwhelmed with an intense anger, and she shouted. “It’s still here! The monster! We can’t let it get away!”

There came a sickening crack of bone. Their attention turned to where the woman had fallen, to where she now spasmed on the snowy ground. This gave the two champions pause for it was then that Courage realized a terrible truth; The monster had not gone anywhere.

The woman, with unnatural speed, pushed herself upright. Two eyes of green peered at them, lips curling into a smile as her body convulsed, spasmed and twisted. Her limbs elongated, hands growing into claws, running red with blood. Her furs ripped apart as fel energy seeped through cavities in her torn skin, now too tight to keep things in. Her smile became full of sharpened teeth and only hunger. Then the monster screamed and the fight began anew as it charged with uncanny speed towards Courage.

The air rippled, before a shimmering shield surrounded the wounded champion, as Curiosity activated the power of her artifact. Strands of light wove together, layered with walls of ice, as the barrier interposed itself between the monster and the duo. Both Courage and Curiosity peered through the shield at the enemy with uncertainty in their eyes - they were hesitant to fight the desecrated corpse of their fallen sister, but they could not see an alternative.

Courage sighed, and both sisters knew what had to be done. Through their connection, a strategy was swiftly understood, and so they prepared to enact it. With another release of spiritual power, Courage began burning bright and the ice around melted in her presence. Curiosity dismissed the shield as she leapt back, the barrier shattering instantly, and her sister surged forward to clash with the monster once more.

Courage could curse the difference in their sizes again, her shorter height proving to be a disadvantage as she focused solely on defending herself from corrupted claws and the teeth of the monstrosity. Fortunately, whenever she failed to guard herself from the onslaught, a small shield would manifest and protect her from further injury. During the prolonged fight, she could feel her strength wane while her foe showed no signs of fatigue, and it pressed the attack even after sustaining injuries that should’ve weakened it.

She realized the mistake she had made, the fatal flaw in the design of her own body. She lacked a means of properly channeling her inner fire when she was wounded, and her own power was undermining her as it eroded the other elements that her body was composed of. “Curiosity, you’ve gotta fight!” She called out, sending both her anger and audacity to her sister through their bond.

“I can’t!”

The delivered emotions were not enough to combat the quandary of Curiosity, as she stayed at the edge of the conflict, only acting to shield her sister from harm. Her hands were trembling; she didn’t want to hurt another creature, not even the demon she faced now, but she could feel the power of Courage falter and exhaust itself, and there were no other options. “Please… stop!” She cried out, hoping that the monster would hear her and cease its destruction, hoping that the blood that seeped out of her sister would halt.

Her words were futile, and nothing changed. Courage staggered back, dodging another attack that whooshed through where she was. The sacred fire that surrounded her had grown dim, only tongues of flame slithering from the four gashes, and embers flickering everywhere else. She had burned herself from within and could no longer stand. “Oh…” She mumbled, stumbling backwards and falling to the ground.

Their tactics resulting in failure, Curiosity dashed back and fell to her knees beside her unconscious sister, hastily summoning the barrier with her shield before the monster could pounce upon them. “Courage, please get up.” She whimpered, feeling tears trail down her cheeks.

The crying champion did not know what to do, only capable of sustaining the shield for so long. She was afraid that if she attempted to flee while carrying her sister, could the monster catch them? Her despair was echoed with the howling of the hungry demon, as it continued to batter the barrier, clawing its way closer and closer to its prey. Its menacing snarls and vicious assault came to a halt, with a sudden burst of light that both blinded it, and entangled it with strands of light.

Emerging from the trees, Wanderer circled the restrained monster, and stepped towards her sisters. In her hands, she carried a glittering gold and silver bow instead of her staff, and she gestured for Curiosity to rise and follow her. There was a hint of hesitation, as Curiosity peeked at the temporarily restrained monster, but the determined look in her sister’s eyes gave her the will to stand and lift Courage. They had time to retreat now, Curiosity prayed, and felt hope as the shield dispersed so that they could leave.

Then another roar, with deeper reverberations, sounded before them. The first demon shrieked with anger, breaking free of its confinement just as another pounced into the clearing. This creature looked like a giant cat, almost skeletal with lingering bits of fur upon its back and haunches. Great sabers of teeth came from its drooling mouth as it looked to them and to the other demon with furious green eyes. It hissed at the female demon and she growled back at it. Then, both looked to the champions and the fight renewed itself. The female went for Courage and Curiosity while the cat ran towards Wanderer.

There was no fleeing from this fight, as Wanderer dashed towards the grotesque feline, matching its feral agility with her own incredible swiftness, but the weapon she wielded was restricted in its usage, requiring a brief period of time to ready itself. Wanderer had no choice but to dedicate herself completely to defense and avoidance… She knew that these creatures were drawn to death, and she had seen the necrotic beacon that was not too far through her spell. She knew that it was likely more of these monsters would arrive.

Curiosity was not a warrior, and she was not brave. Against such an evil, she did not know how to stand and face it, only that she must protect her sisters. She called forth her shield of faith once more, praying the Divine would save her sisters and herself from despair. Her prayers were answered by a flying boat crashing into the monster as it approached. Skydancer was not intended to nosedive into the earth, but Kindness was not a capable pilot, and in a moment of panic, she steered the airborne vessel directly into the ground where the monster stood.

Enchanted wood and ice crushed the creature, the prow of Skydancer like a hammer as it struck its accidental target and buried itself deep in the earth. Kindness was clinging to the seat and rudder of the boat; the reticent champion stared at her two sisters with her usual emotionless expression. “I suggest we leave this area with haste.” She said quietly, before she began attempting to excavate Skydancer with great difficulty.

“Where’s Fear?” Curiosity asked, as she set Courage gently in the boat, and then started helping Kindness. Quickly, they shoved aside both viscera and snow, and Kindness answered while they worked. “Currently holding the child. She is waiting for us above. I will assist our sister now.”

With those words, Kindness turned to study the skirmish between Wanderer and the demonic cat - She immediately came to the conclusion that stepping in would be detrimental to her wellbeing, and would likely hinder her sister as well. The Blade of Mourning she held was the only weapon she held, but she was not as strong or fast as the rest of her sisters. She thought it was strange that she would be given such a thing, but Chailiss must have had his reasons.

Suddenly, her mind was granted a vision of Wanderer raising her bow and gathering otherworldly power before releasing a bolt of light that would restrain the monster. The reticent champion understood what her sister wanted her to do, and leapt into the fray. Through their connection, the two members of the Holy Quintet were just able to switch places with each other; Kindness now fending the monster away with her dagger, while Wanderer kept her distance. With every parry and riposte, her opponent grew more wary of her, and after a couple more cuts the baleful beast withdrew.

Kindness kept back, uncertain whether the creature was attempting a feign, while Wanderer drew back the shimmering string of her bow, and called forth otherworldly power. Before either champion could react, the evil spirit had abandoned its host, tossing it at Kindness and then fleeing into the forest. There was only the taste of death and foul rot in the air, and both Kindness and Wanderer moved to Skydancer while keeping an eye out for any ambush that may come.

Once all of her sisters were aboard the boat, Curiosity steered them upwards - through the bloody and broken canopy, and away from the carnage. They flew higher and higher until they were rejoined by Fear, who carried the bundle that the pale woman had given them before her death. The anxious champion entered the comfortable aura of Skydancer, and seated herself beside the still unconscious Courage. Silence weighed heavily upon the Holy Quintet, as none knew what to say to each other, and the knowledge of what had happened was shared between all of them through their connection.

“What do we do?” Curiosity finally asked, looking to Kindness and Fear for guidance. The latter looked away, before glancing down at the swaddled child she held.

“There’s people nearby, and they’re in danger. We need to help them now.” Fear answered, as Wanderer held out her hand and grasped at her staff which manifested beside her. The silent champion gave her winged sister a forlorn nod having seen something truly terrible - red eyes that conveyed demise - and without further words, Kindness began steering Skydancer in the direction she was given by them.

There was little time, and so they flew swiftly.



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The Last Trial


A cold wind swept over Ea Nebel’s face, dragging her into wakefulness like a splash of chilly water. As soon as the comparison struck her, she could feel that it was no mere obvious simile, for the back of her head rested on a bed of damp snow. Stinging as it did, its grudgingly creaking softness was less sore than the hard stone beneath the greater part of her body.

Straight before her eyes was the sky. Not a gentle grey nor a glaring white, but the clear, rarefied mountain air, marred by cloudy streaks, which she had left behind so long ago. The sun had begun to set, stretching every shadow into a rivulet that coursed eastwards, eager to be swallowed by the gathering tide. The outcropping she lay on was one of the last islands of light in a lake of dusk that covered most of the mountainside, a hand raised to eagerly catch the last rays that would fall its way before phantom twilight set in.

Around, the Bones loomed, grey bodies of giants with the weary white heads of elders. It was not a side of the range she had seen before, not these three massives leaning so close, as if wedged into each other, with even chains radiating out from their ragged circle. The stony slope of one propped itself up on another, diverging from a narrow lip strewn with dead trees and mossy boulders, and was met halfway by the sheer wall of the third. Between them, in the very middle, they formed a small cauldron, as broad and deep as a well of titans. In the spring, when the snows on the lower slopes melted, its bottom would be hidden by dirty water. Now-

Now, there was no bottom at all.

The cauldron was a stain of darkness so deep that it starkly broke out of the mountains’ shade. In the last few stray glances of sunlight, she could see that it was a pool of inky black, still despite the wind’s angry moaning. Nothing could be seen past its surface, but it was clear that, whatever the limits of the earth, its depth was beyond fathoming.

The Last Sea has no end.

Words rang out over the unnatural well, dry and unreadable in expression, a shattering in the wind.

“The path of adversity, which duty must tread.”

Then, others joined them, from the mountaintops and the sky.

“Failure,” came Homura’s somber voice.

“Unworthy,”, Ruina sharply rejoindered.

A towering cloud drifted over the peaks from the north, and it was a vast figure with an awning gash in its chest.

“Answer for your father’s crimes,” it thundered, “Be ended by my hand!” Then it melted into tatters, but its shadow remained, drawing closer.

Rot in hell…

A breeze brought a choking whisper to her ear. “Meant to be…”

Then, silence. Only the black well far below remained, as certain as what is most inevitable in the world. Ea Nebel seated herself on an ice-scoured rock on the edge of the near-vertical slope into oblivion and looked down. Her head throbbed. She wiped away a fresh tear and shook it off her fingers into the pit, watching it fall into forever.

It hadn’t occurred to her that she could fail. Now, everything fell into place on the snow. A life for a life: Ea Nebel for Aletheseus. Whether she lived or died, Iqelis would be punished, and the Law of Heaven vindicated, without the Lord of Creation ever needing to put His own offspring in any danger. She who had sprung from nothing could be returned to nothing, and no Shard of His own body would need to be returned before its time.

‘I am sorry that it is you who must answer for your father’s crimes.’

In the end, only Ruina had really mattered, the blade and hammer hung over Iqelis’s throat to ensure his adequate self-flagellation. The Emperor had given Ea Nebel every possible chance to escape. Her own father was the architect of the absurd games, and her mother had been her judge. He had even given her a talisman. She reached up to her throat where the Banner had been wrapped, but it was long gone, and she knew not where. Had He sent the mushroom vision, too? Had He sent its architect?

All for nothing. Homura was unyielding. Iqelis had been too clever and too cruel. The true failure was his, for not understanding the game.

“...Thank you,” she prayed, not making a sound through the lump in her throat. She dug her fingers under a crack and lifted up a tall stone, covered it in her coat, and revealed it to be a stele. She scratched four gently curved lines on its surface with the doom-claw: four eyes shut. “For letting me meet both of them before the end.” She left her blade and rings in a sealed urn under the stele and stood, draped now in her full regalia. “Goodbye.”

Ea Nebel had no intention to stand around and allow herself be executed. Her life was already over. She could not return to her wandering ways with this pain in her chest. Nor, she now realised, did she ever want to. Her heart of fire had been doused in ice-cold water and could never be relit. There was nothing Ea Nebel wanted more than for it to finally be finished. She was ready to sleep forever.

Her sleeves caught the wind as she fell, and she spread them wide, imagining, for a moment, that she was a bird.

Then she struck the water, and it closed silently over her. It was like cold smoke, thin yet cloying, drinking out all strength and all warmth. There was nothing to see as she sank, nothing to hear, nothing to smell, and at last nothing to feel but the numbing cold.

Then that, too, was gone, and so was she.

Far above, faint and muffled, the husk that had been Ea Nebel heard the voice deliver its eulogy.

“The virtue of courage is the strength to face that which all living things dread. Many are the guises of fear, but all their roots lie in the One Law that binds the world, the destined end. There is no greater force of resolve than to know its Truth in heart and mind alike, to step forth to embrace it under one's own will.

And it is the virtue of faith to fulfil the direst of oaths, were they even the path to Doom. For from every godly word is truth born into the universe, and its potency is sealed by the bindings it lays on the one who speaks it foremost.

These are virtues of the divine.”





There were chains around her.

Taut, hard, cutting, bound around her chest and neck, slung about her shoulders. They held her upright, would not let her fall, would not let her rest. Would not let her-

Die?

No, not die. She was not dead, and it was her, not a scrap that had floated up to the surface. And those were not chains, but arms, tens of arms around her, rigid and faceted. A shadow loomed over her, dark against the crepuscular sky.

“It is not your time,” it whispered, like the snow crunching under her head, “Not yet. Not now.”

Her eyes screwed shut. She let her forehead tilt forwards and press against a spindly bough of black glass. She was exhausted beyond words.

“With that, we are done here, yes?” Came a second voice; the familiar stern tone of Homura, as she projected the words she spoke aloud for all to hear. “These trials are over now.”

“Yes,” Iqelis hissed, quiet but no longer gentle, “Deliver your judgement.”

“I see no reason to annihilate Ea Nebel. She has passed your trials, brother. Let it be known.” Homura answered, and nothing had changed with her proclamation. The red goddess refrained from saying anything more.

At first Ruina was silent. She had taken a few steps away to observe the horizon and surrounding area. In truth she cared little for how Ea Nebel went about completing her trials. She was not the reason why Ruina was here. Upon hearing Homura give her judgement, Ruina nodded to herself silently. It was time.

Turning to face Iqelis, Ruina lowered her hands to her side. Her hands were curled into fists, and behind her her tail wove side to side gently. It was fair to see that Ruina was preparing to deliver news that would likely not be received well. Quashing her hesitation, Ruina began to speak. ”You have failed, Iqelis.”

The delivery was blunt and concise. Ruina’s gaze drifted into a glare as she began to render her full judgement upon Iqelis. ”In a grand majority of the tests you provided there was either no limit, or the test was itself reliant upon abilities already natural to Ea Nebel. You have provided little in the way of actual challenge and framed it all with a lesson upon what it means to be divine that could have easily been had within a simple conversation. I dub these trials unworthy, and will not spare you from whatever punishment comes.”

Her judgement given, Ruina waited to see what, if any, retaliation would come. But now the truth of her presence was known to both Homura and Ea Nebel: She had never been judging the trails, she had been judging Iqelis.

With a spiderlike rearrangement of limbs, the One-Eye withdrew one half of the arms he had coiled around the limp godling, letting her rest on a web of hands as he turned to face the Lady of Pain, and stretched taller as he moved. The white light of his gaze fell onto her from twice her height above.

“Yes,” he crackled, low and grave, “I should have known that trials of virtue would be lost on a brute. Can you only see adversity in cudgeling the body? The corporeal presence of the divine is inconstant, for it is the fiber of its spirit that makes it what it is. If you cannot grasp this nor sense the straining of that fiber, tell your Lord that He should have sent a worthy judge instead of a half-witted ghoul.”

Ruina could only let out a huff as Iqelis rebuked. Of course he would resort to insults so quickly. When he finished, Ruina rebuked. ”To use your own example against you, this fiber should be something that each divine being develops on their own. At the end of each trial you have dictated the exact lesson that you sought to impart, and not once did you ask Ea Nebel what she had learned before feeding her the answer as if she was a helpless babe. You have coddled her and sheltered her at every possible turn rather than allowing her to forge herself. But then that would possibly lead her to hold views that ran counter to yours, would it not? The rapid nature of giving her the answer betrayed your intent: You wanted her to adhere to your thoughts and your ideals, not to step forward and present herself independent of you.”

“I am the One God over the world,” Iqelis' boast seemed to send air and earth stirring with indignation at his hubris, “I alone know the virtues worthy of divinity, as you even now demonstrate, and I have sounded for them in deed, not empty word. She stands here now because they have been with her from her very birth. This I have proved to the First Source, for He never willed for me to teach. Godhood is inherited, not earned.”

Ruina’s eyes narrowed as Iqelis proclaimed himself to be the one god over the world. That certainly sounded quite a lot like a declaration that he was above The Monarch of All, which certainly didn’t sit quite right with Ruina. Iqelis’ arrogance made itself known once again, but Ruina had a surprising response. ”Godhood is granted to those who are worthy. And of this I will hear no more. Submit yourself to the punishment of The Monarch, as ordained by Him, or I will be made to bring you to his court myself.”

With this, Ruina’s arms produced blades quite similar to the ones she had produced before, and along with that her tail produced another stinger, equally like last time. Ruina was prepared and radiant with raw destructive power, but would Iqelis be swayed by someone capable of rending his form with impunity?

A crystalline hand rose and splayed its fingers. The growth of the nascent barbs' lowermost roots slowed perceptibly before the claw folded again, releasing the stymied currents.

“The trials were His punishment,” the god's voice was amused, “Failure was to be quelled by death at His own hand. Unless you can dispense this, your bluster is as hollow as your lonely decree.”

Slowly and deliberately moving to stand beside the two deities on the verge of a great and terrible confrontation, Homura announced her presence again. “Brother. Sister. Ea Nebel has gone ahead of us, to acquire the shard of our fallen brother, I presume. Shall we proceed onward with the last of our business here before you begin either bickering incessantly or have an unnecessary battle. Please.”

A score of Iqelis' arms snapped at their elbows, vainly groping for the body they had been cradling not long before. The god spun his eye to the nearby ledge and let out a stony crack.

“Not in her state now!” He stalked over to the rim in a stride, all tension forgotten. “Come, then.”

With a bound, he dissolved into the gathering night below.

Ruina blinked as Homura delivered the news that Ea Nebel was gone. As Iqelis bound away hastily, Ruina released the blades of bone and willed her weapons back into her form. Looking to Homura, Ruina spoke quickly to explain her next course of action. ”I am going to inform Him of what my judgement is, though I will also inform you that I would vouch for the continued existence of Ea Nebel. With this in mind I would ask of you a favour: Please safeguard Ea Nebel as much as you reasonably can. She has suffered enough at the whims of Iqelis choices and I would prefer no further harm comes. Now, I must depart. Farewell.”

And with that, Ruina would vanish quite immediately to go and locate The Monarch of All.

Homura merely nodded, before she followed Iqelis into the darkness.




The wind fluttered once again over Ea Nebel’s gown, sweeping her sleeves into wings as she fell. Her arms were outstretched, but this time, her hands were fists, and her eyes were wide open. She struck the alpine lake feet-first, and submerged in a splash. The meltwater was clear and chill. No pit this time. No descent into oblivion.

Not for her.

Too tired to swim, much less change her shape, she lay limp as black and white mana flared around her and swirled into a current, carrying her down deep into the ravine that this pond had once been, the train of her regalia rippling behind her like the feeding-arms of some exotic jellyfish. Everything around her was pure-water blue, even her own hand in front of her. She pushed her five fingers into the gravel at the bottom of the lake.

“Open.” And it did.

The rocks fell away, and Ea Nebel swirled down into the deeper and the darker pit. Around her, now-flooded stalactites loomed like curtains of teeth, and the blue shaft of dimming sunlight disappeared immediately into total darkness. The current swept her forwards at a brisk pace. She knew exactly where she was going. She followed it with blind certainty, like a hagfish following the scent of carrion. She snapped her finger in the water and listened to the echoes ricochet against pillars and false doors, into chambers and galleries. No hand had designed this cave, yet the architecture was intimately familiar to her. It was not a labyrinth. It was a crypt.

She breached through the lake’s true surface, still blind, breaking the cavern-silence of the abyss. Her hands reached for the shore of the island and pushed her up out of the shallow water, dragging her waterlogged gown behind her, streaming with sheets and droplets of melt. She groped the darkness until she found her torch and it ignited. Its light was small on the gigantic shape that lay before her, and yet the shadows were titanic.

There it was, in the pit of death, towering over her like a mountain within a mountain: the many-horned mask, the eyeless skull of Aletheseus.

Yet seated upon it was another form, a hunched and cowled creature, their four arms picking away at portions of meat, flesh, and bone, and depositing them into a waiting maw filled with teeth. It crunched and chewed with the ferocity of a starving beast, gulping down every last bit of blue, spectral gristle it had gathered, only a few chews in between each starving bite. If it had noticed the sudden arrival of the Demi-goddess, it did not show it, only eating its feast.

KRAK

Her gunshot shattered the silence like porcelain. Noxious smoke drooled from the muzzle of Ea Nebel’s slender jezail, her exhausted hand already sinking down again under its weight, water still dripping from the fist with which she raised her torch.

The shot cracked through the pile of flesh, tearing through and sending bone shards flying. Finally, the creature stopped its feasting to gaze upon the new intruder, their mouth forming a wide, tooth filled grin amongst the darkness that was its face.

”And who, are you, to interrupt our feast.” It spoke, its voice clashed against itself, as if spoken by thousands of different voices all at once.

“...”

Her hands fumbled the torch and it splashed into the water, for a moment shining brightly on the monster as it fell, casting their hunched shadow high over the cavern wall, enthroned in the horns of the skull. A new, smaller spark lit up in Ea Nebel’s hands as she planted the pole of a small powder-rocket in the gritty cave sand, then gripped the surface of the battered skull and began heaving herself up with all her gown behind her, like a half-drowned caterpillar. “Stupid… vermin.”

The vermin clattered their way to the edge of the skull, gazing down upon the demi-goddess climbing her way up. This was certainly not what they expected, but hey, they had been through weirder. They continued to eat portions of flesh, as they continued to speak with their countless voices.

“We didn’t quite expect another to come down to this depth. Must be an odd reason for one of the divine such as you to come all the way here.” Their grin showed no sign of faltering, eager as ever. Ea Nebel had never hated anything so much in her life.

“Spit that out,” she grunted, hauling herself to the top edge of the giant skull at last. “Now. Spit it out. Spit that out! The fuse hissed into the rocket and it whistled up to the cave ceiling, where it burst with a snap and scattered magnesium sparks over the island, casting the two of them into unnatural light. Ea Nebel reached for her god-knife as she trudged towards the grinning devil, but it wasn’t there. “Spit it out! I’m sick of demons!”

Instead of spitting it out, the demon merely tossed their head back, swallowing the flesh in their mouth in one fell swoop. They turned their gaze back towards the clearly angered god-being, a smile never dwindling.

“For one, we are not a demon, we are god, like you. We also continue to be curious why you have brought yourself down here, and rudely interrupt our feast, we get very hungry, and this flesh is some of the best we’ve had.”

“Shut up!” Ea Nebel finally came close enough to swing a cutlass at the creeping scavenger, her long arm slashing left and right as she kept her balance, her shoes long lost somewhere in the tunnels. “Vermin- shouldn’t- talk! What are you? Who are you?

The scavenger backed up, trying to keep the slashes of the blade away from themselves. “You ask us to keep quiet yet ask us questions regardless? And we have told you who we are, we are a god, and just because you think us Vermin doesn’t mean we are not divine.”

“IGNITE!”

Cousin or not, a whirl of fire leapt to envelop the scavenger as Ea Nebel’s arm finally faltered. “Hold your maggot tongue if you won’t answer me,” she said, her gown steaming on her shoulders as she stood. The fire was already wavering out into smoke, depleted as she was depleted. “This tomb is mine. It will be mine until the end of time, just like the rest. Mine!”

They yelped as the fire curled around them, patting out wherever their cloak caught aflame, yet not once did their smile falter as they continued to hold their gaze towards Ea Nebel. ”We have answered you, yet you refuse to listen,” They lowered themselves, becoming even smaller in contrast to the towering goddess. “And if this is your tomb, you are being a rather bad host.”

She replied by thrusting a pike down at them two-handed. The wood splintered behind the steel as the spearhead screeched against the skull. Her strength was recovering faster than her aim. “If you are my cousin, give me your name and begone!”

Despite her terrible aim, the beast still sidestepped away as she jabbed at them with the spear’s long cue, not willing to take any chances with her. “We will tell you our name, but we have a feast to finish, and would much appreciate yours in turn. We, are Yesaris; and who are you, oh aggressive guardian of tombs?”

“Shut up!”

Still in war-stance, Ea Nebel lowered the broken pike at last. Yesaris, the Devourer. The many-minded mould that rotted the root of the world. She sniffed, wiping her face. Even they had a name. Even this… thing, this wretched, crawling, starving animal spirit, had a name, but she… she was just Ea Nebel, Maid of the Nebel. A goddess for the grave.

Her gown began to boil. Thick ferrofluid bubbled over her, creeping up and steaming as it melted on her skin. “I hope you starve, Yesaris,” buzzed the voice now covered entirely under the boiling plastic tar. “I hope it’s painful. I hope I get to drown you in hot sulphur. La da daa, di da… I’ve already tried to die once in this hole, did you see that? Instead it just brought me grief. I don’t think you’ll die here. Shame. But this pit will bring you grief,” she said, the iron tar around her congealing into new armour, black armour, rough iron rings and studs and spikes in irregular heaps around her limbs. Dense layers of metal, reddened by heat, with no face. “That’s me. I’m grief.”

Then Ea Nebel screamed like a demon and leapt like an animal and seized Yesaris by the throat, cracking whatever chitinous windpipe lay under their grisly unflinching grin between her iron hands, shaking them, choking, crushing, slamming their little cloaked body onto the skull again and again and again and again…

Taloned steps stirred the water and scraped against the floor of the impossible tomb. A white light, colder than flame, drew their amalgamating shadows out anew.

“It is done.” A recurved obsidian blade arced across the vault at a pace easy enough to be caught offhandedly. “Finish that thing and let us away.”

One armoured iron claw sprung out from the parasite-monster’s hood, reached for her knife, and- fumbled. In the blink of an eye, Ea Nebel released Yesaris to snatch the doom-claw in two hands like a cat.

The parasite clung at their throat, their haggard breathing even more broken and scattered. They scrambled with their remaining three arms away from her, putting distance between the two of them, yet still remained on the mask, their feast still in sight. Slowly, they stood back up, their own chitin covered claws readying themselves. “Well, Kin Grief, you have a ferocity in you, but we have a feast we must attend to, and would appreciate no further distractions.”

She shot it with a pistol-bow. “It can speak,” Iqelis remarked with idle disdain.

“Hold the Flow while I gut it.” Ea Nebel advanced on Yesaris swiftly, with deliberate steps across the dead god’s face. As she hounded Yesaris closer and closer to the horns at the end of the mask, Ea Nebel finally reached that point at the center of the mask, a rhombic hole like the niche for a jewel in a crown, where the now-lightless blue flame had shone the most brightly. She came to a sharp stop and sank her arm deep into the still-flickering mass. A strange, moaning boom resonated from deep in Aletheseus’s skull. His spectral body billowed a heavy cloud of smoke, and when it finally cleared, there was not a shred of it left. Only the mask, and the pulsing cyan Shard levitating over Ea Nebel’s palm.

Yesaris screeched an unearthly cry both as their feast vanished away in smoke, and as a small bolt from the pistol-bow stuck into their shoulder. Yet they could only continue to scramble themselves further and further away from Ea Nebel, beginning to climb up the horns of the mask to keep the distance. “Now why did you have to go do that!” They ripped the bolt free, now covered in the thick white blood that came from the wound, tossing it away into the depths around them. “Yet you do not seriously intend to kill us? The crime of killing kin is a serious thing, you know.”

“Your only kin are worms,” came the dry crackle from the One God below. An odd sound rattled in the eyeless steel armour. For the first time in far too long, Grief, too, was laughing. She sheathed her blade in her armour and called her musket once more to her hand, dropping a black pearl down its muzzle.

“Watch me,” she said, slipping the ramrod from its notch one-handed and forcing a steel ball down the barrel onto the mana charge.

Any shadows of the tomb that remained were suddenly banished all at once, as Daybringer shone brightly with its celestial radiance from where Homura stood at the edge of the skirmish, watching while the scene unfolded. “Ea Nebel, that is enough.”

The red goddess slowly approached, as her voice continued to echo all around. She spoke with clarity, and did not shout, yet with otherworldly power she made herself heard. Homura refrained from stepping onto the skull, keeping her distance, but her fierce gaze and the blinding light of her golden spear washed over Ea Nebel with a merciless heat - a heat akin to that of stepping too close to the imperious sun.

“...You wouldn’t do it.” Ea Nebel turned her head away from the blinding light, shouldered the jezail and steadied the wandering barrel on Yesaris’s grin as best she could.

“You stand upon a precarious precipice, the culmination of these trials, and now a choice. I will not decide for you, but I will inform you of the consequences. Should you strike now, I will defend Yesaris, and you will be punished. If you desist with this, I will defend you, and Yesaris will be punished. Now, the decision is in your hands. Choose.” Homura said, and awaited an answer.

Ea Nebel looked towards her again. The plates covering her head screeched and ground open, revealing four small, dark eyeholes. She looked back at her quarry, saying nothing.

“What is this wretched creature worth to you?” Iqelis’ eye turned to the goddess. “Let us quash it and be done with it.”

“Yesaris is a god. One of the lords in our Lord’s celestial court. He is also our brother, and so one of us. I will not allow him to die.” She replied, still staring at Ea Nebel and the weapon she held.

That is a god?” the One-Eye repeated incredulously, “This is either the worst folly I have heard out of you yet, or damning testament that the Elder One has no notion of the honours He so largely and ignorantly bestows. Slaying it would at least silence His mortifying error.”

“Eager to add another slay to your list, Kin? Last we checked our existence was no crime, though we suppose that is no matter to you.”

“You displease my child. That is reason enough.”

Now it was Yesaris’ turn to chuckle “This is your child? We can clearly see the resemblance, she has your insolence. Kin-slaying must run in that portion of the family.”

“We are the only ones who do not let inane scruples interfere with our duty, much as I doubt you know that word,” Iqelis assented in a crackle that might have been either nonchalant or disgusted, before sharply waving a claw, “Enough. End it.”

Ea Nebel did not respond. Slowly she lowered the muzzle of the weapon, just a little, keeping it shouldered. Her eye remained at the sights. She turned, pointing it first at Homura, and then at Iqelis, and then at the glowing Shard that hovered beside her; the relic of the killing that had brought them all here, through so much suffering. If she angled her musket just right, she could deflect the ball against it, back up into her own eye, into her brain. Her finger tightened on the trigger.

The light shifted subtly and Ea Nebel glanced back up at Yesaris’s glinting teeth. “I don’t think you’ll die here.” She locked eyes with Homura- eyes, indeed, that must have laid somewhere in that mess of steel- and let her left hand fall from the musket’s barrel, then raised it one-handed at Yesaris, and fired blind.

KRAK

...splip.

The ball zipped somewhere past their head and bounced from the stone wall far behind, into the lake. Ea Nebel turned lazily towards them, hoping to see Yesaris drop dead, but unsurprised at the result of the wild shot. After all, Luck, too, was dead. “Get out of here. If you trespass again, I will make sure my mother gets no chance to save you.”

“Mother?” Yesaris turned to the goddess of Honor, their grin somehow wider than ever before. Yet all they offered was a small chuckle, and they slowly descended from the horns of the mask. Their new gaze towards Ea Nebel unwavering. “Have no fear, Kin Grief, We are sure you and us will meet again.” Suddenly, they jumped from the mask, allowing their form to fall towards the lake below. As soon as their body hit the surface of the water, it erupted into a writhing swarm of Leeches. They descended back towards the tunnel beneath, leaving the family once more alone with each other.

“Is this the Path you have chosen?” Homura asked Ea Nebel.

“There is no choice in these matters,” Iqelis spoke from behind her as he lowered his twoscore arms from a battle-dam stance, “The Flow guides our hand.”

Homura allowed herself a small-sorrowful-sweet smile. “There is always a choice.”

“The only Path I choose is the one that leads home.” Ea Nebel’s armour disintegrated into fluttering flakes of steel and rust, assembling into a dense coat she clutched tightly around herself. It was almost impossible to tell that her eyes were unfocused, but her eyelids sagged with exhaustion. She took the Shard of Fortitude and dropped it into an inner pocket. “I’ll travel up the rays of the Sun and claim my birthright. The penance has been served. This farce is over.”

“An adequate answer. Go then.” Homura said, before she turned to face Iqelis with another neutral expression. She nodded absently in his direction, then proceeded on her way out of the tomb, only pausing once to speak with the one-eyed god. “For now… farewell, brother.”

Iqelis' gaze leapt away from the colossal hollow mask, over which it had been climbing and sliding, to follow her steps. He held up four hands, framing the vestige's empty eyes to her sight.

“Do you want to live forever?” Though he faced away from the skull, his voice seemed to bounce off it with a metallic murmur.

“Indeed. That is the Path I walk upon. You said that… even gods have their fated ends. Hmm… know that I will continue to persevere even when I am defeated, and I will continue to spread hope through this world, for I know that even the worst of calamities are merely temporary and that death is only a prelude to rebirth.” Homura answered, her eyes and the skin around them appearing a familiar blue for an ephemeral moment, before they returned to their original color, and she stared at Iqelis.

“Perseverance lies broken at our feet,” the One God raised two more claws, turned to point at the husk that the others encircled, “A flame extinguished while it blazes strong burns brightest until the end. One that obstinately clings to every last scrap of kindling will choke ignominiously on its own ashes.” He let his arms fall into a wheel at his sides. “Farewell, sister.”

Ea Nebel stood at the edge of the water behind both of them, facing away into the still lake, examining the back of her bare, pale, spidery hands, mumbling something. “May we not meet again… Homura. Not like this.”

“It is the darkest Path you walk upon.” Homura said, stepping under the opening in the ceiling, and without any further words she leapt up and out of the tomb, leaving Ea Nebel and Iqelis alone.

The One-Eye glanced briefly after her before striding over to the godling in two scraping steps.

“Take these.” A talon rested on her shoulder, as another slid around near her own hand. Precariously balanced on its narrow, ridged palm were two jewelled bands, gold with jade and grey with blood-red. “It is not yet time for the earth to reclaim them.”

She looked up, around, and into the bleaching white light of her father’s face, reflected once more in the dark of her eyes. The corners of her mouth twitched, and they rested there for a moment. They were all very human, really, if only in shape.

“I must away.” She pulled her rings onto her fingers, her coat already tightening around her upper body, her skirt below crawling and thickening into fins, scales, and muscle. “If Ruina is wise, she won’t have wasted any time bearing her judgement to the Monarch, but I might still be able to intercept her.”

“Do not fret about that.” A third claw hesitantly ran over her forearm, the soothing gesture made inadvertently menacing by its stiletto-like tips. “This is your triumph, now. You are worthy, not of the First Source's pretensions, but of the world itself. Let none say otherwise.”

“...” Ea Nebel looked down at her reflection in the water. Still standing. Despite everything, she was still standing. A mote of pride blew into her heart like an ember on a breeze. She ran her hand over the polished surface of his arm, fearing no edge on the glass. “...Until we meet again, Father.”

Her feet disappeared from under her, and all that was left of her was a splash and the wake of a great mer-tail churning the still, dark waters, and the One-Eye was alone in the dark. He watched the ripples play with his glow on the surface, until they were stilled. A crooked black finger reached down, and met its counterpart from under the flow of the umbral waves.

“Who are you?”

Silence. The stirring raised by the fingertip subsided, and god and god looked each other in the eye for a creeping moment. Then both were gone, and death alone rested in the hoary vault.




Grief dug herself out of the snow near the font of a mountain spring, a stain of black on the fluffy white. She gazed upwards, measuring the distance to the Sun with sore eyes. Try as she might, she couldn’t make out even the faintest outline of its hallowed rooftops through the blaze. Homura’s god-spear flickered in her vision, and she looked away, rubbing her hands to warm them.

GROI-GROIIIII!

“PIG!”

She swung her head and dashed through the snow, throwing up a rain of white as the giant rust-brown warthog barreled towards her, slipping and stumbling on the ice-slick rock below, leaping about. She grabbed its tusks and pushed and pulled against its strength as it sniffed her up and down, laughing all the way to Heaven, laughing without end. She wrapped her long, tired arms around its neck. They didn’t even meet on the other side. “I missed you, piggy.”




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Autumnal Order - Death


When Adan was a child, Death had crept through the shroud and found him. He was a foolish child who had strayed too far. It had lurched upon his back and stabbed him with a terrible dagger.

Death has lured him to sleep so that he might simply fade away. His uncle had forced Death to escape its corporeal form. His parents told him that it was the Sun that had intervened upon his behalf, but he could never share their conviction.

Against the wishes of his parents, he had traveled into the Sunless Lands to fight against the slaves of Death. There he was drawn deeper into Duskwall and closer to the Shroud. It was by the grace of the ancestors which he survived.

Adan had remembered Death, and Death had remembered Adan. Death’s sibling, War, had brought about his confusion during a struggle with the grim servitors and he had once again strayed too far from the group.

Death seized its upon to cling to his back once again. The stab of its terrible dagger was debilitating, and his body refused to move. His mind was stronger, and managed to resist the false allure of sleep.

The organic intrusion pulled up his life-force with unnatural suction. Using all of his will, he resisted it. His essence respected his tenacity, yet it had only made the tug of Death more apparent.

As the dimmed and distant sun traveled across the sky, coldness crept from his fingers and toes up his appendages. It felt as though someone was pricking his skin with needle grass. A realization dawned upon Adan, he was going to die.

He had found a quiet serenity. He reflected. He remembered his uncle’s words about how you should neither run to Death, nor should you run towards it. Death will bring you to your ancestors when the time is right. He understood those words.

He had realized that he was the same foolish child who clung to something as pointless as fear. The monster was removed from his shoulders, but it never left because he did not allow it too. And that it was precisely that, a disgusting monster.

His assailant was not Death, but another monster of the same kin. He had found a strange resolve. While he had accepted Death, he had found no reason to surrender so easily to his enemy. Perhaps if he could withstand the mockery of flesh, then it would starve. He recited the names of his ancestors as he focused upon not ceding a drop of essence to the monster.

He had heard the sound of hooves in the distance, and thought it might be an ancestor’s horse returning from the Shroud to aid him in his final journey. Instead, he heard someone dismount the horse, the sound of metal sliding against metal, and then the muffled death-throes of an intruder. He heard them kick it off his back, and comforted by its death, he permitted himself to sleep.

Fluttering in and out of consciousness, he felt that he was resting on his stomach on a clay slab. His woolen shirt had been removed, and he could hear two salters beginning their work. He felt the pressure of a stone knife prodding him, opening the wound further so that they could remove the fleshy dagger from him. They washed the wound and packed it with salt.

His senses slowly returned. Pain was the first. Where he was stabbed felt like it was burning, while soreness radiated from it. Eventually he could glance around and look at the packed earth walls.

The salters would occasionally lift him so that he could drink from a clay bowl, chew some medicinal herb and eat a little meal. They would inspect his heart lifemark, and Adan used the opportunity to glance at the thatch roof. They would wash out his wound again, and repack it with salt.

While the clay was not the most comfortable to rest on, it was the most conducive to healing. He was thankful to be sheltered from the elements, especially when it rained. He had overheard the salters mention how the earlier roofs would collapse after a heavy rain until they used a slanted design. He had not paid much attention to it before.

Besides the salters, Adan was only visited by Sage Draza. He was an old story-teller, and had become a spiritual leader to the disparate Eidolon. He was interested in Adan’s account of his survival.

Someone had been dragged to the slab beside him. It looked like they were struck by lightning but it had not rained for several days. The people who had traveled with them explained that they had encountered a strange metal thing in the ground.

It had seemed harmless at first. While they were walking away from it, a burst of energy ascended to the sky. Stray bolts peeled off from the column and had become lightning and one had struck the poor fellow beside him. Those in attendance felt the intention of the ancestors, ”Contain this threat, but do not destroy it.”

The energy geyser was particularly far to the north. They had wondered why there were so few intruders in the area. While the area otherwise seemed safe, it seemed best to be cautious. There was a river between it and the first garrison. It was agreed that they would establish a second garrison at the river, and then a third some safe distance away from the geyser.

Adan was eventually well enough to light work around the encampment, however he would occasionally help carry the large jars of water when the salters were not looking. He did not feel unwell, it felt like he was swelling with essence.

Thinking back to his ancestor’s words, he had stopped for a moment and called his life-force into his arms. The jar felt less heavy, yet after he had completed the work, he collapsed. He had to be carried back to the salters, and they were not pleased about that.

Draza also did not approve of his actions, but it did confirm his suspicions. While it was obvious that could not subject every member of the Order to near-death at the maw of an intruder, he had thought there were less barbaric ways to replicate this success.

They had developed a meditation technique called the Ancestral Prayer Rites where a person would sit down, and force their life-force towards their core while reciting the names of their ancestors. It was effective, but it was strenuous and took significant amounts of time to see progress.

As the Order became more established, it was obvious that not everyone was suited for the life of a warrior. The region around the garrison also became safer as intruders became more distant as those nearby either fled or died. Those who weren’t adapted for combat had placed their scythes into a storage area and gravitated toward other roles.

In recognition of their martial services, the scythe-wielding martialists were bestowed the name of Guardian Reapers. Everyone could sense the Ancestors’ approval, and their intention was clear, ”Craft more scythes.”




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The Holy Quintet Meet Sorrow



Their flight was very brief, for Skydancer soared across the sky at high speed, and their destination was very near. The Holy Quintet could only prepare themselves for what lay ahead; Kindness and Fear taking lead while Courage was still incapacitated, and Curiosity was assigned the responsibility of watching over her and the infant they had been given. Wanderer saw with eyes enhanced by her spell; a field of white and black… a field of corpses, and a lone woman that exuded a terrible aura. Through her silent means of communication, she conveyed the danger and told her sisters to alight away from the macabre field.

Fear finished sealing the wounds of her unconscious sister with ice, and then turned to look at Kindness and Wanderer with an apprehensive smile - an expression that quickly faded when she met the faces of her somber sisters. “Shall we?” She hesitantly asked.

Kindness nodded, and the three champions slowly disembarked Skydancer upon reaching the edge of what was once the home of many people, but was now their mass grave. The taste of death filled the air, and even from where they were, the Holy Quintet could feel the darkness that now permeated the land. None of them wished to approach, but they would not find the answers to what they were seeking if they did not press onward. They began their trek towards their grim destination.

The closer they came, the more they felt the touch of despair - there was nothing subtle, it washed over them like a powerful wave consisting of grief and pain. None among their trio were prepared for their minds to be besieged by such suffering, and they came to halt after being overwhelmed. Fear held up her hand, calling upon her power to ward away the harmful effects, the strength of her spirit manifesting as a pale light that bathed both her and her sisters in its radiance, granting them protection.

The anxious champion began breathing heavily, stressed by sustaining a second spell after enduring the strain of standing against the dark aura, and found herself relieved that she was not alone as Kindness and Wanderer offered their support. They continued forward, to the one that remained here, to the one that stayed in solitude. The lone woman that may or may not have the answers they seek.

There was no concealing their presence now; three champions covered in the otherworldly shifting symbols of the Gnosis, shielded by a large sphere of light that currently fought the curse upon the land. They walked towards her, carrying a myriad of weapons, but there was no hostility or anger in their eyes… just the shadow of sorrow and regret. Kindness called out in her monotone voice, loud in the hollowed silence, and almost unfamiliar to both her sisters.

“What happened here?”

The woman, who had been kneeling before them on her hands and knees as they approached, looked up at them with a crimson glow. She stood with unnatural grace, even from a distance they could see she was taller than them. She wore nothing and her almost see-through body looked as if it was constantly moving even as she stood still. She looked around and then back at Kindness with an indifferent look upon her face.

She spoke with a cold, emotionless voice, “A people fell to ruin.”

Kindness spared a glance towards her two sisters, and Wanderer gave her a gloomy nod while supporting Fear. Through the connection they shared, Kindness was shown what Wanderer had witnessed: the terrible truth of what this woman had done to those that lived here. The reticent champion turned her gaze back to the demon disguised as a human, and posed another question. “Why did you kill them?”

If the accusation bothered the woman at all, she did not show it. She gave a tilt to her head as she stared back at Kindness. “For revenge. Their God cursed me, so they died in his stead. I am not familiar with your kind. Though you wear red, tell me, are you agents of the Green Murder?” she asked.

Kindness shook her head before she answered. “We are opposed to the Green Murder, the goddess that brought such suffering and sorrow to this land. I am Kindness, and these are my sisters Fear and Wanderer. We wear red because we wear the garb we have been given. I have introduced myself and my kin, what is your name?”

“We tried to kill her, that Goddess…” the woman said absentmindedly. “She killed me instead. Have you ever died before? It isn’t very pleasant.” she finished in a quiet voice.

Fear found herself suddenly speaking, holding up her hand of ice as she called out to the woman. “We’re looking for Nisshi! We were sent by her father, Chailiss, to find her. Would you… help us find her?” Her words caused Kindness to look back at her, and Fear wondered whether she had made a mistake. Neither of her sisters were unfriendly, but they lacked the affable attributes of Courage and Curiosity, and it seemed diplomacy was necessary now. Fear attempted to smile again, looking at the woman with hopeful eyes.

The woman’s demonic gaze snapped to Fear and her hand. “You have an odd name, Fear. Why is that? Did he give it to you? Like he gave you that hand? Do not speak to me of him. He abandoned his Nisshi and left her to suffer. Zima is all that remains now.” Her voice was of growing spite and hatred as she clutched her fists tight.

Fear repeatedly averted her gaze as the woman spoke, unable to look at those crimson eyes for long. She remained silent for a time, until she felt her sisters encourage her through their connection. “No… Mother chose my name. I… I lost my hand when I almost drowned. We’re not your enemy… we just want to help our sister, we just want to help Zima. Please help us find her.” The anxious champion repeated her plight.

She rolled her eyes before narrowing them. “You already found me.” Zima shifted in place, giving a mocking bow. She then looked at them with cold clarity. “I don’t need help. Not from anyone, especially not children. Shame on him for sending you in his stead. You barely look old enough to be out on your own without supervision.”

“I’m older than I look. It'll soon be sixteen days and sixteen nights since I awoke…” Fear mumbled, hearing her sisters warn her in her mind. The anxious champion felt herself fumble with her words, but persevered. “Everyone needs help. I… we’re your family. We want to help you, even if you think we’re foolish…” Her sisters continued to urge her to stop talking, but she couldn’t give up. She had to reach out.

“I’m not part of your family, little girl.” Zima began to pace, gaze never leaving Fear. “I may wear this… Form… But I am not like you. I do not wish to be like you.” She glanced at Kindness and Wanderer. “Only fools would come to this place searching for a ghost. Your courage wanes the longer you stay… Your souls burn so bright but I wonder how long your power will last to save you?”

Fear stepped forth, her wings emerging from her back to keep her standing and lifting her forward until she stood only a short distance away - Kindness and Wanderer followed a few steps behind their sister. The radius of her protective light almost touched Zima, and Fear held out her hand of ice. “I’m not going to leave you alone in this place.”

Zima stood still, facing Fear. “Perhaps you’re right. Everyone does need help.” Zima began, “So I shall teach you a truth of this world; You cannot save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Now put your hand down and go back to your mother before you die here and are forgotten. Just like they will be.”

“No. Come with us. Don’t suffer alone.” Fear replied, her hand unwavering. This close, her eyes did not wander, and she stared at Zima. “Kill me if you must.”

“So be it.” Zima said, dashing forward. As her presence touched the protective light, she was repulsed by it but quickly unleashed her own power to challenge Fear’s. The unlight and light ebbed and flowed, neither gaining ground for a time but ever so slowly, ZIma’s strength began to creep around them. It wouldn’t be long before their protection was consumed as Zima looked at them with glowering anger.

“Fear! Release us!” Kindness shouted, struggling against an unseen force, as Fear approached the one that sought to end her. Wanderer found herself restrained as well, and could watch as the anxious champion stepped before Zima.

“I’m the only one among my sisters that’ve never died. I… almost died once. Hmm… is this what your friend would’ve wanted? Is this what vengeance is?” Fear whispered, before she projected the light away from her and was no longer protected by it.

Zima loomed before her in an instant. “This is not vengeance. No, this is pity.” She then backhanded Fear across her face, sending the champion to the floor. Zima then fell on her and through her, her presence began to eat at Fear’s clothes and exposed parts. She grabbed her by the neck of her collar and brought her head up to face her own. “You ask for death so willingly, so what? You can prove a point? Is this what your sister’s would want? To watch you die? Is this what you want? What you truly want?” She asked in a veiled whisper, eyes burning.

“Not… fault…” Fear said, biting her lip before the pain overwhelmed her and she began screaming, overwhelmed by the grief and suffering of the thousands upon thousands that had died and suffused this place with despair. From within the protective light, Kindness and Wanderer could move again, but the light was their cage, and they could not leave it lest they be overwhelmed as well.

Kindness clasped her hands together, and prayed. “Chailiss, Lord of Winter, hear my plea. Come to us now. Come and save your children.”

Wanderer held her bow, summoning otherworldly power as she aimed at Zima. She just needed enough time to fire her bolt of light at her, and then she could rescue her sister. Wanderer silently prayed that she would have enough time.

“Shh, shh.” Zima cooed to Fear. “Death would only be a mercy to you. It would relieve you of all this pain.” She dragged a finger along her cheek, leaving a scar of black. “Let me…” She leaned in closer, “Ease your pain.” Meeting Fear’s lips with her own to plant a deep kiss.

Kindness continued her prayer, “Come and find your daughter. Save us from despair. Come and you need not grant me any wish, just save my sisters…”

Wanderer stood at the edge of the protective light, crouched beside Fear and Zima with fierce hatred in her eyes, directed at the one that threatened her sister. The Bow of Light hummed with power, she could almost release it and unleash her wrath upon her foe. Fear was helpless, wracked with agony while tears streamed down her scarred cheek. She could only falteringly spasm, as her muscles all seemed locked by pain.

Zima released Fear from the passionless kiss, the girl’s lips much the same as they were before but now stained black. “Another lesson for you; do not pretend to be something you are not.” She then let go of Fear’s collar and from her left hand there came a crimson splinter as narrow as a hair, and as long as a pinkie. With her right hand, Zima pressed a finger into the middle of Fear’s chest, withering away a small hole to reveal bare skin. Zima then held down Fear to steady her. “It seems only fitting I give you a gift like my Father. You gained from him, now you lose from me.” Zima then plunged the splinter into Fear’s chest. “Perhaps your name will change to Sorrow.”

An arrow of golden radiance shot forth, filled with otherworldly power, and exploded into celestial chains to entangle Zima, forcing her off Fear and pinning her arms and legs to the blackened ground. Both Kindness and Wanderer blazed with sacred fire and called upon their Spirit. Kindness leapt upon the woman, and slashed with the Blade of Mourning, as Wanderer came seeking to pull back Fear into the protective light. The blade cut across Zima’s chest, leaving a visible tear and the woman’s eyes widened. “Pain…” She breathed. “What a feeling.” The chains that held her began to fade with unlight and Zima looked up at Kindness with malice in her eyes. “I’ll be taking that from you.”

Kindness answered Zima’s malice by surrounding herself in spiritual power, and plunging the dagger into Zima again and again, while nearby Wanderer had retrieved Fear and then proceeded to remove her ethereal neckpiece, and throw it towards the forest with great strength. Fear did not stir, her eyes lacking focus - not seeing anything. There was little Wanderer could do except remain by her sister’s side.

Each stab made another tear in Zima, another gaping hole. The woman was gritting her teeth at this point but even she seemed to have had enough and with an explosion of power, her chains broke away and she rose to her feet, moving out of the way from Kindness’ latest strike. Before attempting to disarm her.

After missing her foe only once, Kindness rolled back into the safety of the protective light, and stared vehemently at Zima. The sacred flames that enveloped the reticent champion were receding, but she still stared with defiance in her eyes at the one that had hurt her sister. “Come closer, and I will end you.” She uttered with quiet fury.

Zima did not speak. Instead, the dark champion surrounded herself with her power and thrust it forth onto the barrier of precious light. Like a torrent of grey fire it washed over the barrier with terrible force, screaming as the bubble began to be consumed.

Kindness and Wanderer prepared themselves for the coming agony, clutching their weapons with desperate zeal and apprehension. In her blind state, while she lay upon both ash and death, Fear whispered. “Sorrow… comes…”

With a sudden realization, both of her sisters looked back before they hastily dived down and held onto either the cursed earth or a pale corpse, as a loud noise came from behind them. Protected by the light of the Shield of Faith, Curiosity and Courage soared upon Skydancer into the heart of darkness, the latter shouting wildly while burning bright with sacred flames. They flew faster than the wind, and came to a sudden stop just outside the weakening sphere of Fear’s spell. There was a rush of wind and ice, as the vessel hovered there - and its shield began to spread.

Still ablaze, Courage leapt through both protective light and accursed fire to land beside Zima. She planted her fist in the palm of her Golden Gauntlet and wore a feral grin as her spirit raged like an inferno all around her. “I’ve been dying to meet you, ya.”

Zima's attack faltered against the newest shield of protection and her power coalesced around her as she turned to face Courage. She glanced back at the other four, eyes narrowing. Then the woman flicked her wrist and her power became a wall of inverse light, blocking their path and view of the two. Then Zima bounced forward and attacked Courage.

Courage stood still as pillars of light and ice emerged from the ground and protected her - then a blade flew through the inverse light right into her palm, and the brash champion brandished the Blade of Mourning. “That’s the thing, Zima. You don’t just fight one of us, you fight all of us. You can’t win when you’re alone.” When Courage spoke, audible over the barrier that separated them from the four other members of the Holy Quintet was the voices of her sisters speaking in sync.

She pointed the dagger at Zima. “Chailiss is coming.”

The demon stood straighter after her failed attack. Anger was apparent on her face but she finally opened her mouth to speak. "I wondered how you all seemed so in sync. To think you share a connection. Oh well, it matters not, in the end. You'll soon find that when you need him most, he will fail you." She began to walk forwards. "No one is coming to save you."

“You’re wrong. We’re going to save you!” Courage dashed through swirling ice and light at Zima, dagger in one hand, her gauntlet guarding the other, prepared to clash one more time. She fought with the aid of Curiosity and Wanderer, while Kindness continued praying, and Fear struggled to regain her strength.

Zima walked forth, unwavering. Then she brought her hands together with a soft clap and a wave of death rushed for Courage, hungry for her soul. The champion leapt into the air, rotating until she was pointed downwards and her feet made contact with an ice shield that she used to launch herself back and behind Zima. With another burst of speed, she thrust out her hand.

Fiver-Fingered Penitent Palm of Peace!

There was a pulse of scarlet energy that rippled around the two, before an ephemeral imprint of a red hand manifested upon Zima and tossed her back with great force.

Before she had even come to a stop, Zima used the momentum to land on her feet. This time she flicked her wrists and deathly orbs shot out from the earth and hounded in on Courage, following her movements. With more leaps and bounds, stepping on pillars of shimmering ice, the champion circled the field, but found that she could not elude the orbs on her own. She shifted her direction, and dashed towards Skydancer beyond the wall of grey fire.

Kindness and Wanderer had lifted Fear and placed her aboard the flying boat, where Curiosity concentrated on protecting both their group as well as Courage while she rushed back and forth during her skirmish with Zima. Behind Curiosity, the infant was wrapped in a black furred blanket and shielded from harm. The four champions watched their sister approach, and then slip past them followed by numerous vile spheres of necrotic power - one of which crashed against Skydancer, shaking the vessel. “A little help!” Courage called out behind her, still being chased.

Wanderer readied her bow, gathering power, as Kindness grasped the rudder and began slowly steering Skydancer. The lone Courage ran and ran while pursued by the orbs of death that were now being followed by the remaining Holy Quintet upon their boat. Wanderer would take aim, and fire a bolt of light that would banish a dark sphere, and they repeated this process, until one by one, more and more of the spheres were vanquished.

While they were distracted by the spheres, Zima summoned a lance of unlight behind her wall and once it was ready, Zima dropped the dark wall and sent the lance flying towards Wanderer. As the silent champion released one last arrow, the lance struck its target and embedded itself in her back. She fell at her sister’s feet, and Kindness redirected the boat to face Zima, before sending Skydancer at high speed in an attempt to crash into her, while Courage followed from behind.

There came a great thud as Skydancer impacted into the earth, sending a plume of ash into the air. This was followed by strange silence. Had they done it? No sooner had the ash settled to reveal the ever watching after images of the dead people; she came. The demonic woman emerged from the middle of the deck, floating up through the wood and ice. She stood still for a split second, then with uncanny speed, she pulled the lance from Wanderer’s back and thrust it at Curiosity.

The tower shield the champion held compressed itself and became a buckler which she used to deflect the lance, before surging forward and shoving Zima back to the prow of Skydancer. Courage and Kindness joined in the assault; leading with an attack from both sides. Courage struck with her gauntlet and dagger, while Kindness borrowed the Staff of Seeing from the fallen Wanderer - and together the two champions flanked Zima with Curiosity creating a dome of light and ice around all four of them. All three champions moved with a combination of grace and unity; one attacking while another defended, and the third hindering their foe.

Cut after cut, with the occasional bludgeon, was inflicted upon Zima as the remaining members of the Holy Quintet lashed out and attempted to defeat her. Both consuming darkness and blinding light tore through cracks and fractures in the frozen barrier that held all of the combatants, the dome seemed on the threshold of a terrible explosion at any point. Despite the great power they used, the artifacts they wielded, and the conviction with which they fought - the trio could not win against Zima. She could not die.

It was Courage that fell first, her wounds had reopened at the beginning of the fight, and what little strength she had gained from her second wind had finally faded. She finally collapsed when Zima grabbed her hair and smashed her head into the deck. As Zima turned her sights to Kindness, Curiosity was forced to pull her back from the conflict, leaving her sister to face Zima alone. Before trapping the two within the shield, Curiosity tossed her the Blade of Mourning, and prayed in hopes of some miracle.

The fires of hatred burned bright as Kindness held the dagger and stared at Zima and her lance of unlight. “You have become worse than the Green Murder. You should evidently be erased from existence.” The reticent champion intoned, prepared for one last clash.

Zima brought the lance close to her face and held it pointing up, eyes full of hatred and… Sorrow, as she looked to Kindness. "Evidently… You are not so kind after all. Comparing me to the Green Murder… No. She struck without discourse. Like an animal. There was no warning. But you… You had your chance to leave but chose to remain and now you will face the consequences." She swung the lance down. "Those consequences shall be without death, for it would be too much a mercy for you and your sisters who came seeking it. But... You will beg for it in the end." She spat with venom. "I have taken already from Fear, who now knows only sorrow. But those three... I shall take Wanderer’s legs in mockery of her name. I shall take that one's eyes so she may never see." She pointed with the lance to Curiosity. "And that one's strength so weakness bites her soul." The lance fell upon Courage, then pointed at Kindness. "And I shall take from you that blade and etch a new name into your soul; Hatred. Then you will all be crippled in your shared union." Zima then attacked Kindness by bringing her lance down but was met with the blade in parry. The baby began to cry. Zima glanced towards it before her eyes fell back on Kindness. "And I will silence the last Voiran when you are disposed of."

Her aura grew and began to attack Kindness' light. Zima next flicked her lance free and brought it up to try and slash the smaller champion's chest. With the Staff of Seeing used to deflect, and another quick thrust as a riposte, Kindness continued to fight. Though stone would crumble in her hands with ease, and she could leap higher than any creature could reach, Kindness knew her strength was not enough. She was the weakest among her sisters, and they were not able to defeat Zima, so how could she hope to?

She would not let this evil reach the rest of her family. She absolutely refused, and dedicated herself entirely to eliminating the threat now. Another exchange where the air burned and hissed as it was consumed by otherworldly forces, as immortals imbued with monstrous might struck at each other, and Kindness saw her opportunity. She could not inflict any deadly wounds from afar, so she had to close in with Zima, and cut into anything that may be vital, but such would be an impossible task without being equally wounded in return. Kindness did not hesitate.

She allowed herself to be pierced as she lunged, pressing the point through until the lance of unlight punctured her body and ran her through, but she continued forward. A life for a life, a death for a death, a sacrifice of the self to protect others. Kindness was more than willing, and pressed onward with clarity in her mind. Despite being eviscerated she was still swift, and before Zima could free her weapon, or conjure another - Kindness was upon her. The Staff of Seeing quickly tossed aside as the rampaging champion stabbed and slashed and tore at the one before her. In the blink of an eye, she had struck one hundred times, and then without pause, she began hacking the head off of her foe, sawing through the neck with the Blade of Mourning like a bjork bites through the bark of a lone tree.

Zima’s head was cut even as the demon clawed at Kindness to be free of her and then her body grew limp as the head came clean off. It did not fall like a normal head but instead floated, with crimson smoke, like vaporious blood, being the only connection as her grip on Kindness faltered further and her body hung loosely in the air, unmoving. With the last of her strength, Kindness plunged her dagger into the head, and shoved the decapitated body back against the wall of the ice dome, before she stumbled back and fell as she succumbed to her wounds.

The ice shattered, and only the light of the Shield of Faith remained, as Curiosity stood watching what had transpired. The sight of her older, quiet sister, bloodied and broken, overwhelmed her and she rushed to her aid, pulling Kindness back to the other. The inquisitive champion could not stop her hands from trembling, now stained with blood, and she sobbed as she tried to wake her sister. “Kindness, please open your eyes, please!”

Thud. The sound came as something dropped and Curiosity looked to see Zima’s head reattaching itself to her severed neck. She had dropped her lance, which melted into shadow and then, as her crimson eyes flickered to life, Zima pulled the blade free from her head as the tears and cuts on her body began to slowly reform.

"You cannot kill something that is already dead and no longer living." She said, in a much weaker but no less spiteful voice. "Now… Let’s see those eyes." And she began to approach Curiosity while the champion continued to weep and grieve over the body of her sister. There were none standing among the Holy Quintet, none that possessed the will or strength to fight.

Zima loomed over Curiosity, blade in one hand and darkness in the other. She reached out to her and then the whole world went white. But it had not been the Champion's eyes withering away, no. For a hand did touch Curiosity but it landed on her shoulder, large and comforting. The white glow faded away to reveal a now encased Zima in a prison of ice, still reaching out, mere fingertips away. The large hand belonged to Chailiss, much smaller but of no less stature, who stared his daughter down with a look far colder than ice and deeper than the ocean.

"Move aside Curiosity, you are quite safe now." he said to her in a stern but soft voice.

Curiosity gazed upwards at Chailiss with her vision blurred by tears and the blinding presence of the cold. Her throat was hoarse, and she could find no words, only able to cling onto Kindness and keep holding onto her. She couldn’t feel the warmth of her sisters and their inner flames anymore, she had nothing else but their still bodies. She looked to Chailiss with the lost eyes of a child overwhelmed with sorrow.

He understood without speaking. With his free hand, he raised it in the air and from it light ushered forth like snowflakes, absorbing into the skin of the fallen champions. Their wounds began to heal but it wasn't over yet. He let go of Curiosity and went to the rear of the ship, where he sat down and grabbed hold of the rudder. He began to steer the ship. "Curiosity, I have done what I can for them. Only the fire of your Keltra will aid them further. I know it pains you to let go but there is another on this ship who suffers as well. Tend to the baby, your ache will be comforted."

The inquisitive champion found some solace in the power of his voice, the words of a great god that offered salvation. She weakly nodded, moving to kneel beside the swaddled infant, and took the child in her arms. Curiosity simply cradled the one that Courage had told her to look after, giving the baby a name before she flew Skydancer into battle.

“Shh, Rowan, don’t you cry… it’ll be alright now.” Curiosity cooed, gently rocking Rowan while she still cried. She focused upon the child, on the life she held in her arms, and found purpose that alleviated some of her pain. In the end, there was one they were able to protect.

Chailiss said nothing else as they left that sorrow struck place, leaving behind those woeful feelings to be blessed by the light of the sun and its warmth. Skydancer flew faster than it ever had before, boosted further by the God at the helm. He knew the way back and his eyes never left Zima’s, who’s eternal stare was of pain. They had left that field of sorrow but they had all taken a piece of it with them.

For better or worse.








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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Enzayne
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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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Valley of Strife





Synn had never imagined she would grow tired of her new station. First pick of the food, eager listeners for every tale she could muster, enough companionship to sate a blackstones' worth of zenii. Yet her lover made himself scarce. Every day was the same now, she'd sit in his seat with a few others hoping to share her status and warmth while Masol leapt into the ring, muddied up and ready to face the newest malcontent hoping for an easy way to recognition, or looking to settle last sun's grudges. She was as partial to watching undressed zene wrestle and squirm as the next zena, but the amount of challenges heaped onto the muscular ruler was reaching absurdity. Every zenii who saw an opportunity for a small measure of approval among their peers now sought to denounce Masol publicly, challenge his wisdom, or challenge his authority. The ones he'd truly beaten into the ground had scrounged for what supplies they could muster and left to try and rule over a blackstone rife with dissent.

He'd lied or mistold his early tale, that much was obvious even to her, but instead of simply trying to smooth it over, show some humility or error, Masol insisted on taking each challenge of his honor personally. Worse, the way he afforded intense attention to each of his wrestling partners and focused only on his own honor shot pangs of jealousy through Synn. She thought back to the early days when that focus had been reserved for her. Worse, she now spent near every morning feeling sick and bloated, some strange affliction rumbling her stomach and giving her unnatural cravings for food. It was - according to hearsay - afflicting many zena all over the valley, yet Masol had eyes only for defending his name and authority.

When he came stalking back to her perch under the blackstone, covered in drying mud, grass and filth, he barely acknowledged her with more than a grunt. Fuming with anger over his latest bout and some perceived humiliation in front of the crowd. A few zenii eagerly rushed to help him get clean; pathetic 'loyalists' who preferred the stability of his rule. They mocked him behind his back and scattered when Synn came close, yet Masol kept them at hand. Their chattering only served to annoy her further - their fawning over him made it impossible for her to cut in and have even a brief conversation with her lover. Not that he seemed interested.

Instead it was Serrat’s presence that calmed her nerves. She felt his hand on her shoulder, and his stern and faint smile as she glanced his way. She smiled back wistfully, before the scarred zene relinquished his brief comforting grip and moved onwards towards Masol. Behind him walked Jem, an ever present shadow behind him nowadays, and Gaher, who still dared not look Synn in the eyes. Synn busied herself with arranging some food baskets, conveniently bringing herself closer to the group as they walked up to Masol and scattered his deceitful fans.

"Kirra and her cohort have officially splintered. They threatened Lonam and his with clubs when they came to check on them. Said something about only following the exact word of the Lady from now on." Serrat mumbled under his breath, still easily perceptible thanks to Synn’s idle eavesdropping. "That's four camps now, not counting the loons bundling under the yarener zena, or the ones sneaking off to the forest at night to look for Nimueh. It's gonna get worse before it gets better."

"They'll come and I'll show them the truth. Not to worry," Masol returned with tranquil fury, wiping his body down with a repurchased yarene. "Do you doubt my ability to defend myself?"

"No," the scarred second intoned with what appeared to be irritation. "I doubt their interest in returning to the fold at all. We worked hard for this, Masol. We can't just let them slip through our fingers."

"If they cower in their corners then we will sweep them up when all others are convinced." the muscular Masol shrugged firmly, discarding the cloth. "What about this yarener… Andromeda? Is she coming?"

"I doubt it," Jem cut in from behind Serrat. She took a step forward and leaned on the scarred zene's shoulder as she explained. "It's been several days since we spoke. In fact, Gaher here-" She shot a thumb towards Gaher, who shrank at the attention. "- says fresh word is she is out in the forest too."

"To find Nimueh?" Masol asked with a voice like rolling thunder. Jem only shrugged. A few moments passed until eventually Masol swore and turned aside, busying himself with a little light flexing. "...It doesn't matter. When the Lady returns, everything will be set in order."

"Worked out so well last time," Serrat muttered. The effect was instant. Masol whipped around on the spot, charging forwards to brush and bristle. He forced his naked chest against Serrat - who did his best to withstand this onslaught of muscle - staring deep into his eyes with a frown marring his handsome features. Jem wisely pushed away from her lean, taking several steps back. Somewhere deep inside, Synn felt jealous even of such rage. Where was this passion when he looked at her?

"You doubt my leadership, Serrat? After all we've been through? Going to forget who made you what you are now?" Masol growled, staring his second deep in the eyes.

Serrat did not seem particularly fazed. It wasn't the first time the two had openly quarreled, and it was doubtfully the last. "Calm down. This obsession with proving yourself is making us weak."

"Maybe you are the weak one," Masol spat back, but did eventually take a step back. "Can't even bring a single yarener into the fold. The next time a group tries to leave, I'll talk to them. Now, I'm due for another bout."

Serrat tried to interject, but it was too late. Masol stormed off in a huff, returning towards his beloved crowd of violent malcontents jeering and cheering in equal measure. Serrat glowered after him and Jem mostly looked amused. Synn watched them closely until she realized that Gaher was watching her in turn. She fastidiously turned back to the baskets.

"That went well," Jem's voice rang out with her lazy sarcasm. Serrat grunted gruffly in return. "Andromeda ain't coming without a fight, I can tell you that much. She may be worse than the wood hag."

"Forget Andromeda. She's clearly got the Lady on her side. We tried, that's what matters. If she makes a move, we'll consider our options. Nimueh- she doesn't seem that dangerous. Could probably be useful if we found a way to talk that wasn't reliant on her deviant magics." He muttered to himself.

"Are we stopping the tales of her evils then?" Gaher cut in with a measure of cautious confusion.

"No. She serves us better alone and ostracized. It's bad enough that a few are seeking her out anyway. Maybe look in to if anyone comes back claiming to have spoken to her. We might be able to send messages." Serrat scratched at his chin, glancing towards the fighting pits.

"I see what you're thinking, shaeska." Jem said with a conspiratorial fit to her voice, making Synn glance over her shoulder at the assembly once more. "I think he’s run his course."

There was a tense silence, before Serrat scoffed and turned to push Jem away with a hand to her face. "Jem. Always too eager for your own good. Be a good zena and shut up, yes?" The zena staggered back a few paces and just snickered. Gaher looked increasingly awkward. "But maybe put out a few questions. See how many of his trusted that are displeased with how things are going."

With that, the group dispersed, and Synn was left standing staring at her jumble of baskets. What had she just listened to? She tried to make sense of it with what little context she had. She put a hand to her stomach and sighed firmly, trying to sort her feelings of discomfort from this new sensation of creeping dread. What would her fate be, if the Lady returned and did not help as Masol said she would?

What if they'd already had that talk?

Synn busied herself with the baskets again. This time, it was to distract herself.






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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Raethel Norvegicus


With Raethel stepping down for a period of mourning and a Regency Speaker taking over, one might have expected chaos and panic to grip Firstbarrows or the now properly established Greenland Dockyard... but the truth was it didn't. Those in the know of Rattus politics didn't really see this change as anything major since there wasn't anything vital to be voted for in the foreseeable future. Those not in the know generally only care about the board strokes of what was going on anyway so the Regency likely would go unnoticed as they went about their lives.

For the first time since he had awoken all those years ago before his two gods, Raethel was free of the duty of leading his people. The loss of his mate was a heavy burden to bare still but... for the first time he could actually spend some time at home, being a proper father to his children. That wasn't to say that he didn't try to spend times with his offspring when he could, but in the balancing act of family and leading their people he had to admit that things tended to slant towards the latter at times.

As hurt as he was through, Raethel knew he wasn't the only one that was hurting from the recent loss. The pups of his second litter had only just recently grown thick enough fur that their skin would be covered and protected from the light of the sky and were so... lost. Confused by the fact that their mother wasn't around anymore. They weren't sad, but that was only because they didn't truly understand what had happened... but they felt the absence of their mother all the same.

Their first litter was older and did understand the situation. While Raethel might have spent the first half of the sky cycle quietly mourning by himself, the rest of his time seemed to be attempting to weigh giving his children the space they needed to process and grieve in their own way and spending time with them on a one to one basis. Occasionally a small group of them could be gathered together but it was still too early for all of them to gather together at once.

There was no real ritual or plan. They just stayed in their barrow, occasionally talking, occasionally eating something simple. Every now and then a friendly, sympathetic soul would stop by and offer some food so that they didn't have to burden themselves with preparing anything themselves. Occasionally they fell asleep. Despite everything through, the youngest still needed to be looked after and entertained... and truth be told Raethel was perfectly happy to take on that duty. While his own body had started to be worn down by the many cycles of the sky that had passed, seeing the joy and youth of the pups filled him with an energy that he hadn't felt since before his fur started to lose its color and go gray.

Personally he loved sitting down and telling the little ones stories in order to help them drift off to sleep the most. He generally tried to do so regularly even before this self imposed rest, since while he might not have been able to spend a lot of time with his children he wanted to at be present to help them sleep, but if there was one silver lining to all this it was the fact that he got to do so consistently without the threat of some bickering over trade calling him away.

After a few cycles through, Raethel decided that it might be for the best to have a change of scenery; To leave their barrow for a time in order to see some of the other areas of Firstbarrows... maybe even take a trip over to Greenland so that they could see it for themselves for the first time.

Granted he would have to check if the latest issue with the Water Steeds (formally Water Monsters) in Greenland had been resolved yet; Transporting them there had been a logistical challenge in the first place due to the fact that they didn't like the deep, salty one bit and trying to escort them via the land route was such a supply issue that it was honestly quicker and easier to figure out how to develop a wooden boat that could not only safely carry one of the big, heavy bastards, but also the food, water and mud required in order to keep them happy and healthy... on top of the standard supplies and crew.

It had been done. It had taken many cycles of the sky but it had been done. Unfortunately that hurdle was quickly followed by the fact that the plant life in Greenland didn't seem to agree with the Water Steeds. Thankfully they weren't poisonous to them or anything (apart from the plants that were poisonous) but the new diet seemed to cause more discomfort then anything else. That problem had been solved by planting some of the plants the creatures ate along the water sources where near the Greenland Docks and with some slight influence of the Followers of the Wind of Life the plants started to thrive.

Last he had heard, the issue now was the Water Steeds and most of the local wildlife didn't seem to get along. Considering what the Water Steeds were like before the ritual that made them friendly and passive to the Rattus, this wasn't completely surprising. It also answered a question about why they had started attacking Rattus in the first place but seemed to leave other species alone. The Water Steed was by their nature a highly territorial creature and proved highly aggressive to anything that entered what it deemed to belong to it... and to put it bluntly the wildlife around the River Rattus had learned long before the Rattus had shown up that they didn't want to try fighting a Water Steed.

Unfortunately, the wildlife of Greenland didn't know this lesson yet. The Followers of the Wind of Life had convened on the matter and decided to largely let nature take its course here; As they put it, a new natural order was being sorted out between the Water Steeds and the local animals and it was not their place to interfere with that... through they would heal up the wounded on both sides as possible. Not only would this ensure that the Water Steeds would be fine, the Green Wind hoped that the act of healing wounded local animals would improve relations between them and the Rattus in general... at the very least, they felt that having survivors of fights with the Water Steeds would help the local animals figure out that it wasn't a fight that was worth having a bit faster then letting the Water Steeds kill everything.




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