Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Corelei


I


It was a clear midnight. Rays of moonlight reflected off of the big drops of sweat rolling down Lorelei’s face. Her shoulders rose and fell rapidly as she panted and rested the head of her hammer on the stony dirt ground. One of her small hands came up to wipe some of the sweat away from her face, a hand that she quickly wiped on her dress after the fact.

She let out a sigh, took a look at her hands, and slowly touched the tender calluses that had started to form. Stone was difficult to work with, she thought with a groan before completely dropping her hammer and squatting down to pick up two of the better shaped boulder shards. She flipped them and observed them closely and nodded to herself only after she was satisfied with them.

Finally, she sat down cross legged on the ground and started to strike the bigger shard with the smaller one. It would be a long time before she had anything workable, but she knew that patience was one of the biggest parts of life as a tinkerer, and stone tools weren’t known for being fast to make.

Little by little, strike by strike, the true shape of her new tool began to reveal itself. She didn’t even let the sudden scent of smoke disturb her work, reacting to it by quickly donning on her gas-filtering visor.

“What are you crafting?” Core-Verdin’s voice came over shoulder, the moon glinting off the metallic scars that carved the left side of her face. Her words came with tiny puffs of smoke.

Lorelei stopped striking the stone shard and turned towards Verdin, the only features of her face that were visible behind her dark blue visor being her glowing golden irises. She knew this because she could see her own reflection in the visor.

“I-I’m making a hammaxe. I need to use it instead of W-White’s hammer, since I don’t wanna waste my metal tools when I finally get outta h-here.”

“You could use our tools if you like.” Verdin crouched next to Lorelei, examining her handiwork. “Just don’t grind any metal flakes and start inhaling them, not that I think even that would do anything.”

Lorelei chuckled and dropped the two shards of stone.

“Ok! I-I hate stone anyway. I’ve cut my hands like five times y’know! Not f-fun.” She said and stretched, her tail swishing behind her contentedly as she stood up. “I-I need an axe, a hammer, a knife, a c-chisel maybe… Lots of pointy things!”

“We’ll be shaping stone soon, so we just had some of those made, actually.” Verdin furrowed her brow. “Say Lorelei.” Her lisp was ever-present. “I have a question.”

The girl perked up “Yeah? W-What is it?”

“I noticed you have a bit of a stutter,” Core-Verdin said. “Have you thought about removing it?”

“Uh..” Lorelei deflated a little and twiddled her thumbs, thankful that her visor was there to cover her grimace and blush. “Y-Yep… I can’t h-help it though. ”

“All it takes is exercise, and I think I might have a form of speech exercise that could help you strengthen your words.” Verdin stood up and looked down at the young girl. “Interested?”

“W-What?! You do?” Lorelei pumped her fists in the air and nodded, “L-Let’s do it! I like e-exercise!”

“Great!” Veldin brought her hands together. “You’ll be running messages between the soldiers and bringing equipment to those who need it. In return, you’ll have a lot of exposure talking with us and using your words — also you can use our tools and other equipment as you wish.”

“Yes! A mission for me!” Lorelei jumped over to Veldin’s side and stiffened her body, “A-Awaiting orders. Beep.”

“Follow me to the others,” Veldin smirked before setting off, Lorelei having to practically jog to keep up. The recusant flickered her eyes down to Lorelei for a moment. “You used to fight the drones, yeah?”

“I-I tinkered with them. The others did t-the smashing.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Um, so… W-White, Gray, Black and Brown w-would leave the butcher’s every couple d-days or so. Y’know, to look for food or water or other things w-we needed. Sometimes they’d c-come across drone squads which they’d have to t-take out immediately. They had to destroy them fast because if they were given e-enough time to transmit thoughts back to the Boss, h-he’d send one of the Primes to us and then… Yeah…”

“Anyway, every f-few days they’d return with uh… Piles! Piles of scrap! And tell me to sort through it. I got a lot of burns and cuts b-by doing it, but I found out about the Cores, and managed to build and maintain the Astawhacker too from Core shards. ” Lorelei looked at Veldin’s face briefly, then explained herself better. “I-It was a pointy mace kinda thing. You pierce a Neuron’s outer shell with it a-and press the trigger, and it makes the juice running through the drones go stale. It was pretty cool.”

Verdin bit her finger as she thought. “Interesting. A noticeable weakness for sure. vWhat other damages are they susceptible to?”

“Umm… Dunno. C-Crushing? Maybe blunt weapons? They’re made of metal, so… They’re very tough, y’know. They shoot little pellets that can go through normal metal, too… So W-White’s suit had plates of undergrounder materials sewn into it.”

“Ha!” Verdin made a mocking face. “I won’t have to worry about that as much, I think, but regardless — the welders are making chest plates for us. Core-Orphi is especially skilled in welding, too.”

Looking over at Lorelei, Verdin gave a half smile, to which Lorelei responded with a hidden grin of her own. “Thank you for your information, I think you’ll be a valued member of the team.”

II


Already a square perimeter of stones marked Orphi and her brother’s workshop off from the rest of the fortress. Of course it was only separate in theory, but Orphi had already taken to it, only using the spot where the entrance will eventually be to enter and exit the marked space — a habit which Lorelei seemed intent on avoiding.

Orphi was currently standing over a blackmetal bench, tongue bit between her black teeth as she concentrated. She had her mask on, so no part of her was visible, as she often wore when Lorelei was around — her anxiety about infection a bit greater than Verdin’s. Even so, she had no issue with the small suited up little catgirl watching her work — so long as no welding was going on.

“What are y-you doing now, Orphi?” Lorelei asked, standing on the tips of her toes to look at what Core-Orphi was tinkering with on her workbench.

“Something to help with precise cutting for fabrics and cloth,” Orphi explained as she held up a small single edged blade fitted with a curling handle and a small hole punched where the blade met the handle. “I’m going to connect this knife with another opposite blade using a metal peg, so when you press both handles in, it creates a shearing motion as the two blades rub against each other.” Lorelei’s tail swished curiously as she listened.

“Scissors?” The girl asked with a subtle tilt of her head.

“O-Orphi-cutters,” the inventor quickly said. “But I do like the sound of scissors.” She looked down at her work.

“I bet Core-Verdin can’t even say scissors.”

“Lorelei.” Cosi-Dern’s voice came from behind. Turning, the two tinkerers were presented with the blank mask of the commander, with Naulty behind him. He folded his arms. “I was hoping we could do your debriefing.”

Lorelei’s ears flicked a couple times before she nodded. “Sure! What’s a d-debriefing?”

“It’s when you report on your duties and explain everything you learned,” the Cosi explained. “You lived in Astalon for the first part of your life; it would help us immensely if you could recount it…”

A short bout of snickering came from behind Lorelei’s visor, followed by the girl skipping up to Dern’s side and looking up at him excitedly. “You wanna know? I’ll tell you e-everything. Everything! S-so the earliest thing I remember is the smell of s-smoke and burning tuna…”




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Leotamer
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“Go you among the fleeting, and make it that the name of the One God is given due veneration.”




Wandering away from the river-side encampment, Raul walked upstream to be alone. His mind was plagued by thoughts of the intruders, and how he wished he had the strength to kill every last one. What he had lacked in talent and finesse, he had compensated with rage and brutality.

Holding tightly to his scythe, he had demanded that his essence return to his core. Instead of invoking the names of the ancestors, he repeated one name over and over again, “Aritz, Aritz, Aritz.”

This time, focus did not come so easily. An odd feeling of tension, honed by a life amid danger, clenched the nape of his neck, distracting from the recitation. It was not long until certainty crept over him - he was being watched.

Raul stood up and made a quick motion with his scythe to extend the blade outwards, however what tried to accomplish in one clean swing required several awkward attempts. He franatically cast his gaze left then right, before finally turning around.

Behind him was a strange spirit unlike anything that he had known. He immediately started taking several steps back as if by raw instinct, using the point of the spear to prevent it from reclosing the gap. He stammered out, "What is your nature, spirit?"

The shifting cloud of smoke that was the being’s body did not approach further. A single red eye looked at him with placid amusement from its folds.

“I come from the house of Father Death, in whom all things end,” she intoned in the rush of a flame, “It pleases him how gladly you send many to meet him across the shroud.”

While trying to maintain a brave face, he stammered out a response, "The River flows with or without us. In that regard, I am not worth notice."

“Only he knows for sure where it will carry us,” the wraith recited in monotone, as if it were a formula she had committed to memory, “Tell me, young one, would you like to live a great destiny, the greatest among the slayers of dusk?”

His hands wavered, and the inner mechanisms of the god-forged scythe struck against like barely audible bells, "The ancestors have already bestowed me with greater purpose than I deserve."

“You deserve what you aspire to, that is the way of things,” the eye swayed, “Honour the spirits, and they will give unto you. There is no end to what the determined can become.”

The scythe-glaive grew heavier in his hands and began to lower, and he muttered, "Honour the spirits.. Pleased by." His hands regained their right grasp and the point of the blade ascended to meet the strange spirit, "Is Father Death pleased when the intruders kill my people. Was he pleased when they killed him."

“The intruders are selfish beasts,” the spectre’s voice crackled with scorn, “They know neither balance nor ritual. The lives they take are not returned to the River, but swallowed in their gullets. The world becomes less for their predations, and our Father favours those who cut them down.”

"So. So. He is." He rose his scythe-glaive into the air, but could not find the strength to let it descend upon the spirit, "Everyone is taken by the River. He can't be… You must be lying."

“The River takes all, but does not leave the same. Some reach the mouth, others are dropped to rot in the shallows. Watch, I will show you.”

Her eye blazed bright, and together with its reflection on the blade, it was blinding. The biting red light swallowed Raul’s senses, and he saw-

Between two steep grassy banks there flowed a wide river, dark and deep, smooth and even. Its course was lost in the distance, which it pierced like a spear, not wavering in a single bend or turn. On one bank, a large band of eidolon was tending to a score that lay motionless on the ground, some struck down by age, others by hunger, others still by large ragged gashes on their chests and throats. The living dutifully swaddled them in furs, after the northern fashion, and gently laid them onto the water’s surface, where the current carried them downstream without letting them sink. The other bank was teeming with hideous monsters, bats and leeches and gnats of horrid size, who gnawed and drained on bodies mangled beyond recognition. Those they reduced to pitiful wrinkled husks they tossed into the waves, and likewise did the river carrying them away, bobbing and twirling as they went.

On and on the river flowed, and with it the bodies, until they came upon a wall of grey fog, swirling here and there with hidden winds. The shrouded corpses, borne ahead by their confident weight, did not stray from course, and passed unscathed through to the other end, where he could dimly glimpse an incredible expanse of still black water. Their tormented brothers were not so fortunate, for, light and loose as they were, shifting currents pulled them apart and dashed them against rough banks and sunken stones, until they were broken to even more sorry pieces. Some made it through the mist and were lost beyond, but the heads were all caught in rocks and whirlpools, and they wailed in sorrow for their fate, forever trapped neither in one place nor quite in another, but in the uncertainty between.


The lamentous wail jolted him from the vision, and once more he was standing by the stream, the spirit before him.

“Ritual honours the living and the dead alike,” she said, “Those lost to it are taken, but never borne anywhere. That is an unworthy fate.”

The Eidolon's hands and voice began to waver, "No. You must.." His words trailing off without him, "Why? Why did you intervene sooner? Why did no one intervene sooner?"

“Death is our domain,” the spirit answered, “Our reach among the living is short. Only now that your Order has been brought together can we act alongside you.”

Raul remained silent, though something began to change right behind his eyes. His grip on his scythe changed, becoming neither too tight or too loose.

“Take it or leave it, the choice is yours,” the smoky mass rolled, giving the impression that she would have shrugged had she but had shoulders. A tongue of pale fire licked the ground between them, and when it withdrew a large, faceted bead of glinting black stone lay there in a circle of charred grass. “Bear this into battle and offer those you slay to the Father, and as long as you have no fear, death will not find you there. Else throw it into the water, and the River will take it back.”

With those words, she spread her coils and roiled away on a rising breeze, soon fading into a wisp on the horizon.

Raul glanced between the bead and scythe uncertainty. The words of the spirits haunted him even after they had left. His eyes eventually landed upon the river, flowing ever onwards.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Homura Returns to Keltra



She was swift - akin to the dancing stars that would shoot across the night sky, for the golden spear, Daybringer, shone in her hand; its point shimmering with a myriad of prismatic colors, she held an ethereal crown in her other hand, and she flew through the air with mighty leaps and bounds. Homura made haste back to Keltra after standing as a witness and second arbiter to the trials of Ea Nebel, and the almost silent passage of the goddess was marked only by ephemeral scarlet steps and a faint whisper on the wind speaking of a wounded deity as she traveled in solitude.

She was far from home, but such a great distance meant little to her, as she crossed the northern regions of the Eidolon Plains quickly, and noted to herself the absence of Apostate in the Garden of Hevel, which led her to believe he would be waiting at Keltra alongside her champions and Lorelei. His alterations and distribution of his humans was also observed, and Homura wondered where she recognized the presence of a second deity’s power… until she recalled its origin. It seemed the God of Hunger had visited somewhere else before arriving at the Mountains of Fortitude.

The world continued to change, and there were more and more forces at work that she could not see, filling Homura with a sense of dread she knew she would have to endure until she reached Keltra. The Otherworld hinted at ill omens, tormenting her with vague signs and little information. She needed to seek more knowledge before continuing onward upon the Sacred Path - she needed to prepare herself for the coming calamity, so that she could fulfill her purpose and protect life.

She leapt across the southern edges of Kel-Phelena, traveling eastward along the shores of Kel-Mera, letting the song of the forest and sea soothe her troubled mind. Though the water was filled with sorrow after the death of its maker, it had carried on with its purpose and was truly beautiful. Homura had yet to ascertain the cause of death for the deity that shaped the sea, and she knew that she must uncover the secrets there as well, and soon. Too many of the Divine had perished already.

The red goddess could now see the citadel of Keltra standing tall beside the coast, the immense fortress shimmering like a blazing ruby beneath the light of the imperious sun. The great wall which stood twice as tall as the colossi used to carry humanity, proved no barrier to Homura as she simply soared across the sky and gently alighted upon the ceiling of the central keep. It was barren and quiet atop the keep, but she could clearly hear the sounds of others from far below. It seemed Keltra had a multitude of visitors, Homura mused, having glanced at the numerous mortals in the empty fields as she flew overhead.

Her presence had been announced by the light of Daybringer, and the macabre monument felt itself stir once more as her will suffused it. With a purposeful stride, Homura walked off the edge of the keep and fell to the ground - descending upon the doorway that served as the closest entrance and passage to the Eternal Fire.

Immediately she alighted and stood before a man standing tall at the entrance. He wore a blackmetal mask and was gripping the hilt of his sheathed blade — frozen with hesitation. It took the man only a fraction to suddenly relax his sword arm and step out of Homura’s way. Past him, Homura could see more like him, with three in particular sitting in a spot away from the Eternal flame, talking with a hunched over Apostate, his face hidden in the shadows.

It seems you have been quite preoccupied in my absence, brother.” Homura said, as she approached the God of Defiance, and the interior of the keep became full with Daybringer’s otherworldly luminescence. She observed Pride rise from her seat by the bonfire as well, offering her a little bow before walking towards her, and she could sense the ire hidden behind the courteous mask the small champion wore.

Homura simply stepped past Pride - choosing to ignore the Keeper of Keltra and the look of concern she had, and instead moved to stand near Apostate. “Tell me, what have I missed while I was away?” She asked, as Pride quickly followed after her, and stood behind her much like a nervous child stands behind their mother.

“There’s a pain in this world,” Apostate’s voice came softly, the god not looking up from his hunched position. The recusant soldiers sitting with him were staring at the god. “It’s growing.”

A groan rumbled from deep inside Apostate’s chest, forcing the god of defiance to shift his weight onto Warbreaker, his hand gripping it tight.

Homura gave a nod of agreement, before she pulled Pride out from behind her, and placed a hand on the small champion’s head, letting herself gently ruffle the red and pink hair, as she spoke. “That is why we must stand against it; for if life strays from the Sacred Path, it will find only annihilation. We must bring peace to the world.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about,” Apostate said. He stood up, using Warbreaker to help him to his feet. He wobbled for a moment before turning to Homura. As the light hit his face, the bandages that covered his eye were glistening with blood, the saturation dripping down to his chin. His one working eye was milky with smoke, wisps of the vapor threading out from the sides. Blackmetal freckled his chin and the cuts on his fingers were open, baring a bright red whenever he squeezed the handle of his weapon.

“It’s growing, I feel it — a great pain, a great injustice. I don’t know where it is yet, but I feel it.” Apostate lurched forward in agony, only to retch for a moment. “It’s horrible. I feel their pain.”

Homura seemed to hesitate, peering at her own hands, before she stepped forward and placed her hand on his shoulder. “You are being overwhelmed by this connection. You must not let your strength wane, lest this stigma defeat you. Find the power to stand now, or rest here while I fight and bring an end to their pain.

“It is not that I’m losing my strength,” the god of defiance leaned onto his weapon. “I’m losing the will against the fury. I feel it in my gut, the retribution, the fire. It will know where the pain originates, and it will destroy the source…” Apostate hesitated. “But I don’t know what else it might break.”

As if on cue, a lick of flame jumped out of Apostate’s smoky eye, only to fizzle away. “This body is being destroyed, I need to find the source before it is.” He closed his eyes as his chest rumbled. “It’s not exactly in this world, but it is the machination of a god, I can feel that much. What have the gods done?”

Homura put her palm upon his chest, and shook her head. “We are not strong enough to face those that dwell in the Otherworld. Please, you must find the strength to resist this torture. You must have faith that we will free ourselves from this prison.

“Torture.” Apostate’s eye widened. “Prison.” A rumble. “Otherworld.” His eye flickered around as if he was reading something. “I need to go think on this.” Stepping back, he let Homura’s hand fall from him. “Prison… torture…” He muttered to himself before turning around.

Homura’s gaze followed him, sorrow shimmering in her scarlet eyes. “I need you, brother. Please do not leave me.”

“If I leave, I’ll be back,” Apostate said simply, stopping in his steps. “What do you need from me?”

She stared at him, and sighed. “A promise that you will return is enough. I… you can call upon me whenever. Do not concern yourself if you think calling me will interrupt or disrupt my goals, as I am always willing to answer and come. You are my brother, no matter what.

Apostate turned to look at Homura. He furrowed his brow. “Then know me by my name, Hevel. I’ll return, you know I will. But first I must untangle this pain, for the good of everything involved. I cannot allow it to grow.”

Homura turned her attention to Pride. “Your orders are the same, do you have any objections?” Pride answered by shaking her head, but the red goddess could hear the unspoken words the small champion wished to speak. It was a shame there seemed so little time for such things.

Standing there, holding tightly the golden spear in her grasp, Homura looked back at Apostate. “I would come with you then. We fight together, remember.

“It won’t be safe for you,” Apostate’s frown deepened. “There is no telling where the pain will lead me, what I will find or what I must do to end it. I may have to come in contact with the things that eat away at you.”

I am not afraid. To let you go alone, would be to forsake my aspect. Honor demands I stand by your side, through whatever trials and tribulations we may face.” Homura replied, striding forward to a halt a single step away from him.

“Then I won’t stop you,” Apostate was still frowning, but there was a look of respect in his milky eye. “Though you may want to spend a day here beforehand — you have your own business to attend to here first, and a daughter to catch up with.”

She tilted her head with bemusement, glancing back towards the mortals in the vast hall. “Can you wait that long though? With enough time, I could gather more allies; Voi, Voligan, Zenia, Chailiss, perhaps even Yudaiel and Tuku… We could mitigate the risks and… hmm… there would still be danger, but we could face them together.

“I will move ahead, and you can catch up to me — speak with Pride, then come find me.” Apostate closed his eyes as his chest rumbled again.

So be it. I will be with you soon. Thank you, Hevel.” The red goddess offered Apostate a small smile before stepping to stand beside Pride, who looked between the two deities. Suddenly, the small champion dashed towards Apostate, and leapt at him.

“I won’t say farewell without giving you a hug first.” Pride mumbled, as she clung onto him, her little limbs holding him with a surprising amount of strength. At that exact moment, a familiar voice rang out from the entrance.

“Hey! Not fair!” Lorelei shouted before pouncing at Apostate and wrapping her arms around him as well as she could. “Also hi Homura!” The girl exclaimed, her voice now muffled as she rubbed her face against Apostate’s leg.

Apostate put one hand on top of Lorelei’s head and smiled. “Thank you both, now I’ll be back shortly.” He stepped from their embrace, heading towards the door. He hobbled a slow spin and pointed one last demand at the two. “Get along with the recusants!”

Pride and Lorelei waved back, with Lorelei smirking and walking off toward her bedroom and Pride walking back to Homura, peering at the red goddess with a myriad of emotions; the ever conflicting combination of both frustration and relief, but the contradictory feelings were always welcome if it meant spending time with her mother.

“I’ve granted them stay here in Keltra. They’re young and reckless, but with well intentions. Also, the others haven’t returned yet, and I couldn’t find them in the North. Also, I’ve performed my first ritual. Also, you’re hurt - what happened?” Pride said, letting loose her feelings and concerns upon Homura.

She was answered with another enigmatic look; that look her mother had so often previously provided before, but Pride persisted and was rewarded for her efforts. The red goddess sighed before she replied in her usual intonation. “I must make haste, for time is of the essence of protecting that which I hold dear. I shall have faith that you will be able to manage things here while I am away again. It is likely your sisters have found Chailiss, and that is why they have yet to return. He will look after them.”

Homura began stroking Pride’s head once more, as she continued to speak. “You have done well - rituals and incantations go hand in hand, so you will find it easier to articulate your spells in the future. Continue your training, and you will become a very powerful sorcerer soon. Lastly, this wound is inconsequential regarding my health. I will find a way to heal it soon, so rest easy knowing I will recover and return to you. Does that suffice, Pride?

Pride pouted, before she leaned in and hugged the red goddess. “No, but it’s not like I can stop you from leaving. You and Uncle are really irritating, but I’m certain you both already know that… I’ll patiently await your return, Mother, and then I can tell you what I’ve planned for Keltra, okay?”

I look forward to it. Of course, I will not be leaving without providing you with a reward for your service. Regardless of the distance between us, I will come when you pray for my aid.” Homura stepped back, and revealed both an ethereal crown and glowing pearlescent stone, both of which levitated over her ribboned palm. With Daybringer in her other hand, she touched the tip of the golden spear with the stone, and began an incantation.

Pride felt the power of the Gnosis suffuse the air around her, and saw the otherworldly symbols that flowed freely in the presence of Homura. The small champion was reminded of the difference in their understanding of sorcery, and felt how little her own power truly was. It was a frightening sight that inspired both awe and dread in her. She was not surprised when her mother simply took command of the otherworldly music within the keep, and guided a new melody that accompanied her actions.

The red goddess gestured with her legs, tracing runic circles with her feet that hummed and pulsed. Daybringer began to sing, and flew from the grasp of Homura, now dancing gracefully in circles around her - and both goddess and golden spear were exuding an aura of enchantment as they performed, their motions both subtle and pronounced were sacred and harmonious. The levitating crown drifted away from them, but the moonstone was pulled closer, now involved and affected by the divine power gathered by their dance.

Scarlet energy manifested, seeping from the wound upon the belly of the goddess, and streaming towards the stone. It collected and coalesced into a shape, and the energy flashed in concert with the crescendo of the music, shining with prismatic radiance until it dimmed and solidified into a golden scepter adorned with the moonstone at its top. As the performance came to a conclusion; Daybringer and the ethereal crown returned to Homura’s hands while the symbols of the Gnosis faded, and the newly forged scepter gently flew towards Pride.

The Scepter of Keltra - it will grant you greater sight, and allow you to protect your family. Follow your orders until I return, and pray that all will be well. That is all I can ask.

"This location will be secure, Ma'am," Cosi-Dern piped up, "you have the recusant's promise."

Homura looked to the others in the vast hall, and held up her hand. “You have all been granted access into the sanctuary of Keltra. Let it be known that this is a place of peace, and there will be no killing permitted here. Aside from that, you are welcome here for now.” She looked directly at Dern then. “I will be holding you to that promise.

She turned towards the doorways that led out of the keep, and sighed with forlorn. “Now I must depart, before my brother does something foolish. Farewell…” Homura said, and afterward she suddenly vanished - and the shadows returned to Keltra, creeping forth from the far corners of the keep.

Pride walked towards the doorway, briefly wondering where the two deities were going until she realized that there was little accomplished by idly waiting. She looked at the Scepter of Keltra she held in her hands, and frowned to herself. “That went better than I expected…”

Dern stepped to Pride's side and folded his hands behind his back. "Indeed."



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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 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





Raethel had always found the settlement of the Greenland Docks to be an interesting contrast to Firstbarrows. Where the latter was largely located underground with settlements made of sand colored stone on the surface (turning sand to stone had been among the first tricks their people have ever employed mana to perform after all), Greenland had provided new challenges in order to properly settle it.

While digging down was still possible, the vast presence of plant life and especially trees caused an issue that simply wasn't a concern in their homeland: Roots. They were numerous, big and often ran deep into the soil around them. While it didn't make creating barrows impossible, digging down to the layer you needed to be in order to avoid roots completely was something of a nightmare to do. While there had been some early clashes between the Followers of the Green Wind and others on the debate of moving the roots verse destroying or damaging them in order to bypass them, the truth of the matter was that both were highly time consuming and troublesome to do.

As such, the early settlers of Greenland had come up with an alternative method of dealing with their shelter problem since burrowing into the ground was so difficult to do in a timely manner; They started burrowing into the trees themselves. The idea wasn't as insane as it sounded, Raethel had discovered when he had visited the place for the first time once the settlers had gotten a bit more dug in.

Some of the true giants of the forest of Greenland were massive things that alone could provide enough timber that would last the Rattus as a whole for years, but their size made actually felling them a logistical impossibility; Not only would it cause untold damage to the world around it as it fell and crushed everything unfortunate enough to be in its path, but wood trended to decay fairly quickly unless the could get to it and treat it first... and the sheer size of one of these fallen titans of timber would ensure that most of its bounty would simply go to waste if the time and effort was made to bring one down.

Instead, Raethel was proud to say that the settlers had solved two problems at once as they started burrowing into the titans and hollowing them out, extracting block after block of timber in the process while also leaving enough behind to both keep the tree stable and keeping it alive so that the rest of the wood wouldn't start to decay. This allowed the creation of rooms within the still living trees for Rattus to move into and maybe use some mana in order to strengthen the walls a bit in order to better support their house.

This development also meant that unlike in Firstbarrows, where structures tended to go downwards, in the Greenland Dock settlement their buildings went upwards as they dug out more and more of the tree. There were Rattus who spent the dark hours of the cycle resting closer to the sky then most animals dreamed possible, with those in rooms closest to the outside even going so far as to gnaw holes in order to let in air and light. Some of the wood of the tree had gone into creating barriers for the entrances and these holes to the outside so that they might be closed as needed, but Raethel had to admit that it was quite a sight to see the tree barrows at night, when the shutters were left open and one could see the lights of the Rattus within brightening the trunk.

The view from those upper windows truly was something to behold as well, as Raethel himself gazed from one out across the construction yards of the Docks themselves, as well as the forest and far out across the great salt waters for a long way. He couldn't quite see their homeland from up here, but maybe in a few more years as they went further up the tree...

The only thing that was even more impressive then the view outside of the window was the expression on the faces of his children as they, in small groups, had their turn to look out and see it for the first time. While this exact height was new to Raethel himself, he had seen similar views in prior visits to the settlement... but this was the first time his children had ever been so far above the ground. He still somewhat remembered his first time gazing out and feeling a mixture of fear and excitement... it was something else entirely to see those expressions play out on the features of his pups.

Then again, this whole trip had been a chance to witness his pups see and experience things for the first time. Sailing on open waters, the site of the tree barrows at early dark, the sight from the top of the tree barrows.. but he still remembered the captivated look in the eyes of some of his pups from both litters when they witnessed the construction yards of the docks from up close. While he could see them from here if he poked his head out and looked down, it wasn't quite the same as actually standing there... and he didn't want to encourage his children to lean out the window either.

In person the dockyards were in full swing as countless paws worked on creating ocean craft. All one needed to do was look towards the ocean in view and one could see the fruits of the dock workers labors as wooden craft sailed between Greenland and the homeland to trade with Firstbarrows... but craft were also traveling along the coast south of the docks. While it was true that the craft could only travel so far still, each week seemed to bring improvements to the designs and how they were constructed, as well as better preparing them for the rigors and trials of the salty sea.

Their crews also had a chance to grow more experienced and practiced with every journey, allowing for quite a selection of Rattus to choose from in order to build a crew to fulfill Aethel's divine mandate for Rattus kind to set foot on a far distant shore that wasn't connected to their homeland at all. While he couldn't see it from here without setting a bad example for his pups, Raethel knew that down below the frame of a new craft was slowly being put together. One that was bigger then all the rest.



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The Holy Quintet

In

Sorrow comes to Keltra



There was otherworldly music within the great hall of Keltra, where the Eternal Fire blazed brightly and gave life, as thousands of unclaimed humans remained slumbering near its illuminating presence. The peaceful melody consisted of quiet chimes and dulcet voices filled with both hope and despair - it was a bittersweet melody. Pride hummed along as she walked between the intricately arranged rows and spirals of her sleeping kin, letting them rest peacefully as they listened to the gentle lullaby. One day, they would awaken, but not now… she mused to herself.

She found herself lulled into a trance by these thoughts, her mind wandering between the waking world, and the ethereal landscape of the soul. Her body moved, guided by the push and pull of unseen powers; she gracefully twirled and gestured with her little limbs, and her motions found resonance with the notes of the song rippling in the air around her. They came together in concert to convey her feelings and to speak through dancing and music. Her tranquil mien and motion, the curving ascent and descent of an empty hand, and another hand wielding a golden scepter, her slow steps upon a Sacred Path - everything spoke of a far away dream she was reaching for, but had yet to grasp.

She was not alone. There were the Recusant soldiers that had been brought to Keltra, and now they stood stationed outside, and within, anywhere and everywhere that offered an advantageous and strategic position for an upcoming battle. Her long scarf followed her, the Silk Song playfully trailing through the air, unburdened by the weight of the world, and empowered by the ritual she had performed here - in her home. She allowed it to uplift and carry her high above everyone else in the vast hall, and she chose to observe the happenings around her:

The shifting symbols of the Gnosis appeared on her skin as she internally uttered the Incantation of Seeing, granting her greater sight and senses. She could see every corner of the keep, her sight piercing the shadows there and along the far edges. She could see beyond the walls, and extended her vision to the fields outside the keep, where there were many more soldiers that had come and prepared themselves to fight for those that slept here. To fight against their enemies. She could see the sky, and watched as the solitary Keltra bathed in the welcome warmth of the sun; the macabre monument almost glittered akin to a sparkling jewel in the imperious light. It was both a strange and beautiful sight.

“Nice, huh?” Core-Verdin said idly, not quite mentioning anything specific.

An object came, blurred against the sunlit sky, cutting the recusant off. The silent shadow shot through clouds with much abandon. It came so fast that it left a streak through those clouds like an arrow cutting air. It moved so fast that the young champion could not get a good look at it at first, but as it made its way to the Keep proper, the cold of Skydancer became clear. Then it was upon Keltra. With a sudden loud bang it shook the sky upon the wall as it came to a stop. Then despite all that speed it was capable of, it began to descend like a feather — the soldiers on high alert, only to relax as the object matched a previous description.

Pride only watched the arrival of Skydancer and its passengers for an ephemeral moment before she stirred from her trance, and began her flight towards the doorways of the keep, in order to properly greet the familiar travelers. She flew with haste, concern showing in her features; wide worried eyes and furrowed brows, for she had seen the dreadful state of her sisters, and did not know what had happened to them. Even the God of Cold, who guided Skydancer in, looked grim. She had swiftly reached the entrance to the interior, and stood at one of the numerous doorways closest to where she had seen the airborne boat descending.

Far behind Pride, the quick and light footsteps of a young girl echoed in the vast hall of the Keep. Lorelei, upon hearing the telltale sound of the arriving Skydancer, had practically sprinted out of her room and was about to catch up to the small champion.

“They’re back! Courage, Curiosity!” Lorelei called out, a massive grin on her face even as she panted, the sweat drenching her newly made training uniform a telltale sign of what she had been up to in her room.

Pride glanced towards Lorelei with a pained expression and gently wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulders as she caught up, and attempted to smile. “Come, let’s welcome them back.”

Skydancer passed through a nearby larger doorway, soaring towards the Eternal Fire and its divine radiance. Pride watched its unobstructed passage, and then followed after it - lifting Lorelei with ease and carrying the girl with her, a hesitant hope in her flight as she prayed for the wellbeing of her family. She suspected that none aside from Chailiss could feel it as the bonfire channeled its sacred power into four among those aboard the boat, and the small champion felt relief that her sisters had not perished on their journey.

Pride felt herself shaking her head with mirth, as she watched Curiosity peer over the railing of Skydancer, to watch as Lorelei and her approached. She could feel the growing pressure of overwhelming emotions upon seeing the shimmering sorrow in the inquisitive champion’s eyes. The sight of terrible grief, of suffering, and loss. Pride longed for the days of peace, where she did not need to see such pain in her sister’s eyes.

She alighted nearby, letting Lorelei gently down beside her, and she bowed to those aboard Skydancer, to the one that was divine. “Welcome back, your grace.”

The God rose from where he sat and his gaze lingered upon the icy block that stood in the middle of Skydancer for a time. He then looked away from the darkened shape within, back to Pride. With a look of dejection he spoke, "I am afraid my return, once again, carries ill tidings. But I am glad to be here. Come, we must remove your sisters from…" he glanced at the ice and sighed, "From this sorrow. In warmth and comfort shall we talk within." Very gently did he pick up Kindness and Wanderer, cupping them with his right arm. So did he do the same with Fear and Courage. The champions were small enough, after all.

Lorelei looked at the scene for a long time, her grin slowly fading, her ears and tail slowly going limp, and her eyes widening. She couldn’t bear to look at the cold giant, and the shadow within the ice was scary, so instead she tightly pulled at the hems of her blouse and looked down at her feet.

Pride tugged at her arms, and whispered. “We shouldn’t let them see our sadness. Let’s smile, and ease their worries. Our sisters are safe now.” With those words, the Keeper of Keltra demonstrated what she meant; and gave Lorelei a simple smile, before turning to the giant god once more. “Lay them near the fire, please.” Her directions were accompanied by the scarlet stone shifting and bringing both their owl plushies and soft pillows to an area beside the bonfire, close to the boat. The small champion pulled at Lorelei, hoping she would come and be at her side now. She didn’t. With a sniffle, Lorelei pulled herself free of Pride’s grasp and ran away.

Before Pride could do anything, Cosi-Dern fell next to her, his elbows square behind his back and his mask emotionless. He stood like a statue, all the recusant did. Only after a moment did his voice slip from behind his mask. “The perimeter is secure. It’s a good thing we were debriefed on the eventual return; the boat startled the welders.”

Core-Thiddock fell to Pride’s other side. “Such a vehicle could be useful for garrison transportation and reinforcement.”

“We shall see…” Was the small champion’s quiet response, before she joined Chailiss and her sisters, noting the presence of a pale infant in Curiosity’s arms, before she looked to the God of the Cold. He had laid them out beside one another, shrinking himself to a more manageable height as he made them comfortable. “Will you tell me what happened?” Pride eventually asked.

The God looked upon her after a time. ”It is a long tale. Upon speaking with your Mother I sought out Voi to see what might have become of Zima. I found something worse. Far worse. She was dead after all but she and her friend defied death and craved for life. Thus she was cursed with… Revenancy. A being neither dead or alive, bringing suffering and sorrow wherever she may go. I would have gone after her myself, tried to stop her from…” He shook his head. ”Voi spoke of another God in my land, she was dying and she needed aid. I found… What remained but that is another tale for another time. Upon my travel to this Goddess, I found your sisters and sent them on a quest to find Zima. They were not to fight her but such things tend to happen.” His gaze hardened as he looked at the boat. ”She overpowered them, Pride. Kindness and Wanderer were very nearly dead when I arrived, just in the nick of time. Late. Always too late. I failed them as I have failed you and your mother.” He looked back to Pride. ”They will heal in time but some injuries… They only scar. I am sorry.”

Pride remained silent for a time as she pondered his words, before she shook her head and sighed. “Your apology is accepted, your grace. As you’ve said, these things tend to happen, and despite arriving too late… you did save my sisters. You have my eternal gratitude…” Her words were accompanied by Curiosity approaching and embracing her, letting her hold the child in her arms. The small champion could even hear her sisters stirring after regaining their strength, the Eternal Fire revitalizing them and banishing both their exhaustion and dread from such a close encounter with death.

“I’m afraid Mother has left with Apostate, and she cannot offer any aid now. Much has changed since you last visited Keltra, your grace.” Pride said, cradling the baby with a gentle strength, and tender gaze. Core-Amul gave a thumbs up from the doorway.

”Much has changed, yes.” Chailiss’ voice was quieter now. ”His name is Rowan, saved by your sisters. Perhaps one of the last of his people. For they were not the only ones to suffer at the hands of Zima.”

“Rowan’s a funny name,” Core-Naulty mentioned from the sidelines.

Pride glanced up at Chailiss with a somber gaze, and gave him a sorrowful smile. “He is safe here… I’ll watch over him, your grace.” Curiosity stood beside the Keeper of Keltra, placing a hand upon her small sister’s shoulder, as she spoke. “I’ll protect him as well.”

Mumbled groans and tired noises came from the four champions rising from their rest, their lucid expressions conveying their quick understanding of the situation. Courage stood up, staggering slightly, before catching herself. “We’re back, ya…”

“None of us are gone. It seems we are… all alive.” Kindness murmured from she was laid down, and then began crawling towards Fear so that she could hold onto her. From her position, she simply called out to the God of the Cold in her monotone voice: “You could have come sooner.”

”And you should have listened. What did I tell you?” The God replied in the same monotone voice.

“There are thousands of our kin that were left behind to rot in that terrible place. We were uncertain who we were approaching, and the situation continued to become filled with more and more unknowns… We did what we thought would protect others from suffering the same fate.” Kindness answered, but Courage moved to stand between her and Chailiss.

“What Kindness means to say is we’re sorry too! It’s Fear’s fault - what happened, and all that -”

“You cannot blame Fear for what happened, she-” Kindness interjected, tossing a pillow at Courage, who was unaffected by the attack of the cushion.

“What? I’m just telling the truth! She did something to you and Wanderer, and then tried to be something she isn’t! It was foolish, ya.” Courage interrupted the explanation, turning around to face her sister with a scowl. Core-Amul looked at Core-Thiddock, who shrugged.

“I… she… you do not understand…” Kindness said, as she averted her gaze with reluctance. The reticent champion could not comprehend why she could not articulate her thoughts, why words would fail her when she required them to defend that which she held precious. It was frightening.

“That’s because you’re not letting me see what happened! Why are you hiding your thoughts and memories from me? Both you and Wanderer!” Courage paced back and forth, as she accused her sisters of conspiring against her, and then shook her head with frustration. The brash champion came to a halt as her mind was provided with visions of what had happened through their connection, and she looked towards the most anxious among her sisters; the one that had shared the visions. “See! I was right! She put us all at risk, trying to be a hero… trying to be like me… but you’re not, Fear. You know that.”

"Rough," Thiddock said under his breath.

Courage sighed and stepped back, and began quietly ruminating to herself. Kindness was joined by Wanderer as they both looked over Fear, checking for any unseen injuries. “You are… too kind, Fear. It is too much…” Kindness murmured, but her sister did not answer.

“But it’s my fault too! I wasn’t strong enough… I let that monster damage me, and couldn’t fight… I let you all down, and wasn’t there when you needed me.” The sound of metal grinding against metal was heard, as Courage clenched her golden gauntlet into a fist. She stood before her sisters once more, and seemed to struggle with ascertaining what next action she should take, until she suddenly bowed. “So please, forgive me!”

“You do not need to bow to us, Courage. You fought despite your wounds, and allowed us to endure long enough for his grace to arrive.” Kindness replied, and upon hearing those words which mentioned their savior, all of the Holy Quintet looked towards Chailiss, all of them with great gratitude and returning joy in their eyes.

The God gave a slight nod in return. ”None of you can change what happened. Any action you took was what you thought was needed, do not blame each other or yourselves. That being said, I hope you all learn a very valuable lesson and grow from this encounter. Next time a savior may never come to your aid and you all would have died. That is the simple truth. If you still desire to go out into this world and help people, you must become stronger, individually and together if you are to overcome such adversity in the future. If your desire wanes… There is no shame in that. Rest and recuperate now, wait for your mother to return before you do anything else.”

“Yes, your grace!” Courage, Kindness, and Curiosity all chanted in unison, while Wanderer and Fear bowed their heads. Curiosity found Rowan back in her arms, as Pride gave him back, and then the small champion approached the Eternal Fire, letting its brightness envelop her until she was only a silhouette before the bonfire.

"Homura has already left," Cosi-Dern interjected, "her return will be delayed by Hevel's mission."

“Until she returns and heals all of you, you’re to remain within the keep. Your bodies are healed, but there is pollution in each of you. Mother will have to cleanse your flames before you can depart again.” Pride proclaimed, from where she stood, her voice distorted by her close presence to the blazing monument.

"Infection?" Core-Thiddock asked.

“Our bodies weren’t designed to digest other living things, it either chokes or corrupts the flames within us. Courage, Kindness, and Curiosity are being choked, while Fear seems to be corrupted. Sorry, this isn’t something that will affect any of you.” Pride answered, while her sisters all looked between themselves with a blend of anger and embarrassment, which Courage directed back at the small champion.

"Is that why you starve Core-Lorelei, then?" Naulty pinched the bottom of his mask.

“Listen, pipsqueak, we can still help, so listen to your big sisters, and let us stand together, ya. There’s still a lot you have to tell us after all, like where did all these people come from?” Her question added beside Naulty’s, eliciting a sigh from Pride.

“I’m surrounded by fools… Lorelei can’t starve, unless she leaves the keep, at which point there is a digestive system within her that allows her to consume other things to survive.” Pride answered Naulty, and then spoke to her sister. “Secondly, none of you are capable of standing right now, in fact you’re likely to just fall down as soon as you leave Keltra. Lastly, stop calling me pipsqueak or little sister. I’ve seen over one hundred and nine thousand, seven hundred and thirty-four days and nights now. I’m older than all of you combined.” She shook her head with irritation, and then glanced towards Chailiss. “Your grace, I have a favor to ask of you.”

The god, who by this point had sat down with his eyes shut, opened them to look upon Pride. ”What would that be, Pride?” he asked.

With her scepter, she pointed towards the southern doorways. “There are two colossi standing outside the wall in the red sea. I wish to store them within Keltra, but can’t command them. I can open the wall and keep, would you bring them inside, please?”

He nodded and rose. ”I shall do this for you.” He looked at Kindness. ”Our agreement still stands, think on it for a time. The rest of you, do not go near Skydancer. The prisoner is quite secure and will not break free of her confines but best to be safe all the same.” he gestured to Pride to lead the way.

"Prisoner?" Dern perked up.

With her enchanted scarf, the Keeper of Keltra flew towards the doorway she had pointed towards prior, and alighted at the threshold. When she stood there, the scepter in her hand began humming with great power. Suddenly the southern section of the outer wall stirred, as the scarlet stone began to shift and reshaped itself. More and more of the wall became divided as an unseen force pushed it apart until finally there was a giant gap wide enough for the two colossi to pass through. Beyond the newly formed opening, standing still in the red sea were the two slumbering colossi.

Pride looked back to Cosi-Dern and called out. “It may be better to keep a distance for now, until the move is complete.” She turned her attention to Chailiss then. “If you can bring them where the wall previously was, and align them along its length, I can store them there, your grace.” She explained, and pointed with her finger for emphasis. With little else to say, Chailiss went to it.

Back by the bonfire, Courage faced a few of the soldiers, and offered a friendly smile. “I’m Courage, by the way, nice to meet you!”

"Oh that's much better," Core-Naulty said from behind his mask. "I'm Core-Naulty, happy to meet someone who thinks of us as people."

His comment urged a snicker out from Core-Amun by the doorway. Core-Thiddock tipped his head. "I'm Core-Thiddock, happy to meet you, Courage."

"Cosi-Dern," the Cosi said, clearly distracted by the moving wall and talks of prisoners. His eyes never left the colossi outside.

Courage gestured back to the other members of the Holy Quintet, all of them now sprawled out on pillows and cushions seeking respite after their ordeal. “These are my sisters, Kindness, Fear, Curiosity, and Wanderer, and this is our little brother, Rowan.” She said, introducing the others. “I’m surprised to see so many people here, it’s actually making me tremble, hehe.” Courage chuckled, noticing the shake in her bare hand, and the wobbling of her legs. “Or I may be more tired than I thought…”

“You should lay down, Courage.” Curiosity called out, beckoning to her sister while she cheerfully played with the infant she held in her arms.

Courage merely mirthfully shook her head at the suggestion. “I’d rather do something right now. Seems like there’s something happening here, and I want to find out what, sooner rather than later, ya.” She grinned at the soldiers again.

"Mostly wrestling with Pride in debates," Naulty mentioned off-handedly. Cosi-Dern swore.

"That reminds me, we missed our noon meeting."

"Well, this happened," Amul added.

A hum found Dern's throat. "Run and inform the welders that we are rescheduling for the evening, but check in with the guards and relay the reports."

Amul stood up straight and saluted. Spinning on his heel, he marched out of the keep, boots clapping off the floor. With his echoes fading, the soldiers all looked at Courage again.

"It's our duty to protect the keep and the slumbering humans from the enemy," Cosi-Dern started, "Pride has been tasked to work with us to ensure an efficient defense and management of resources."

Courage imitated Amul’s salute with enthusiasm. “I’m happy to help in any way I can! Let me know if there’s anything the Holy Quintet can do to assist you! I’ve some information regarding our enemy after facing a few in the North… I’ve a few ideas on how to combat them!”

"You've fought the Astalonians?" Dern's voice dropped.

She nodded. “There were two of them, or something like that… One struck me here, and I began losing blood.” Courage gestured to the large tears in her side, even lifting the hem of her shirt to show the large white scars that were healed by ice. With a harsh scowl, she pointed towards Skydancer and the large block of ice. “Then there’s her. A murderer.”

With a sigh, the brash champion looked away from the one imprisoned within ice, and gave another grin to the soldiers. “The first two we fought though; lacked a means of attacking from afar, so if we fight with projectiles, it should be much safer to engage them, ya.”

"What's in the block of ice, again?" Dern asked, eyes on Courage's scars. Thiddock cleared his throat and Dern shot the man a look.

"And by what means did they cause that damage?"

“She’s the daughter of Chailiss, so our sister, I suppose, but she killed thousands of our brothers and sisters, and so she is just a murderer, I think. She’s dangerous, so let’s keep away from her for now... As for your other question, they had claws. Sharp teeth too. They were just focused on tearing us apart, and lacking thought. No strategy or anything.” Courage answered, letting her shirt fall and covering her scars, and let out a chuckle at the sight of her torn and stained attire. “I’m going to have to mend this soon.”

Dern's mask fell silent. "Astalonians?" The word reverberated as a question.

“Aren’t Astalonians… just monsters? They kill people, right?” Courage asked, feeling perplexed now.

"They aren't," Dern shook his head. "Astalonians refer to the robotic minions of Astus as well as his non-metallic denizens, such as Core-Lorelei's ancestry."

“Wait! You’re talking about those metal folk that stole from us! The ones that work for Asshole, ya. So you want to defend our kin from them, huh. Let’s do it! I’ve been wanting to pay them a visit at some point anyway!” Courage exclaimed, punching her hand in the palm of her golden gauntlet.

Dern looked at Thiddock for a moment before stepping closer to Courage. With a bandaged hand he turned her away from the others so they could speak with some privacy. Voice low, he spoke in a conspiratorial tone, “there has been one great detail the Keltra Garrison hasn’t been able to solve, and that is the best way to move reinforcements, resources and information to and from Keltra. We have reports piled up that need to get to the leadership, and no doubt the leadership has arms and armaments plus recruits intended to go our way… are you following?”

Courage’s brows furrowed as she considered the predicament. “Well, how far is this leadership?” She asked.

“It’s situated in the Garden of Hevel, across the All’s End Sea. There is a land route, but it’s longer and the Eidolons there are currently ‘no-contact’ so building a road is sort of out of the question.” Dern pinched the bottom of his mask. “But Keltra has unused tools that can ferry large groups across the sky, yeah?”

“Not without our Maker - she’s the one that controls the colossi. We can’t even use Skydancer because Chailiss said to keep away from the prisoner. At the moment, it seems like we’ve got nothing like what you’re asking for…” Courage confessed with a frown. “Any idea when our Maker and Apostate are coming back?”

“Can’t we relocate the prisoner?” Dern crossed his arms, but asked genuinely. “And out of curiosity, do you know why you’re unable to pilot the colossi without a deity?” He paused. “As for the return of Homura and Hevel, that depends on them.”

Courage glanced back at her sisters, and the boat near them. “Eh, we can ask Chailiss. He’s the one that encased her in that ice. If she gets loose, I don’t want to fight her with so many of our kin laying about. Anyway, the colossi weren’t built to carry people, but our Maker changed them or something, so they would. She does things like that to all life near her, ya - it’d be really nice to have right about now. Well, it seems like we’re on our own since I doubt Chailiss is lingering here any longer than he has to. Somebody has to protect the North after all. Hopefully our missing god and goddess will come back soon.” The brash champion let out a sigh, and then grinned at Dern. She held out her fist pointed towards the soldier, and gestured to it. “We’ll fight together, ya?”

“Yes. Every blade is appreciated…” Dern placed his palm over her fist, his blank mask staring at her. He stayed like that for a moment before he turned his head to the god of cold who was walking back with Pride by his side after settling in the Colossi. “Excuse me, Chailiss.”

”Relocating Zima is up to Pride, caretaker of Keltra, to answer your earlier question. I will take her far from here if Pride does not wish her presence in this sacred keep. I believe your mother will wish her to stand trial for her crimes, maybe even try to help her but, was there anything else?” he looked to Dern, crossing his arms as he and Pride came to a stop before them.

“How long will her current restraints last, and what should we be worried about in the case of an unexpected release?” Cosi-Dern dropped his arms to stand up straight. “Not to sound too urgent, but this information is crucial to the security of the keep.”

”That’s alright.” He outstretched a hand and a blue pendant formed, the same of which the other champions of Homura wore. He held it out for Pride. ”This pendant is not like the ones your sister’s wear. This one controls the ice that encases Zima and is now linked forever more to it. I give it to you Pride. This ice will restrain her indefinitely. It slows down… Well, it shall keep her in a frozen state. If you were to undo the ice, her mind would still be seconds away from when she was first placed within. If somehow she is freed, she will bring sorrow to this place. She cannot die, Cosi-Dern. She is unkillable, neither dead or alive but stuck in between. Cursed to walk this land until she awakens to the truth of suffering. The blade she now holds is the only thing that can weaken her.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Cosi-dern offered his condolences. “There is a chance we could have the welders create a holding cage for her in the case of a trial, but…” He shook his head. “Regardless, it would aid the operation if we could use the boat to move around resources and information.”

”The boat was a gift to the daughters of Homura. They may do what they wish with it after Zima if taken care of. Pride, what do you say?” Chailiss looked down at her.

Pride stared at the scarlet floor, glancing up at the god when she realized she was being spoken to. “I… have three questions, if you’ll indulge me, your grace.” She inquired, upon inspecting the pendant she had been given. Hesitation filled her voice and glittered in her ruby eyes.

”Go on.” he insisted.

“First, does the prisoner require any form of sustenance if she remains here? The Eternal Fire can’t provide her with anything, and there is little else in Keltra.” Pride asked.

”She does not.” he answered.

“Secondly, what is this awakening to the truth of suffering you referred to… can she undergo such an awakening here?” Pride asked her second question.

”Even I am unsure.” he confided in thought, ”Voi is the one who cursed her, that is what he told me but not even I know the answer. Only she will be able to find this truth. At least, I hope.”

Pride simply nodded, and asked her third question. “You left before we could confirm whether it would be alright with you… if we called you Uncle outside of formal occasions, your grace. I consider you such…”

He chuckled. ”In truth, I do not consider any of my fellow Gods as siblings. Distant kin, perhaps and friends. But I shall not deny you this request, Pride. You and your sister’s may do so. I would prefer that over your grace in fact.”

Pride allowed herself a slight smile, and glanced towards Skydancer. “I shall prepare a room for her then. If you’ll please bring her there then, Uncle.” With those words, the small champion flew into the air, and held up her scepter. In the far north eastern corner, the scarlet stone shifted once more, gathering into a small solitary structure with a single entrance. Pride pointed in the direction of the newly created with her scepter, feeling the burden of condemning and isolating another like weights on her little arms.

She tilted her head, and spoke to the soldiers. “You may make use of Skydancer once the prisoner has been unloaded and secured, however Wanderer will travel with those you send back and forth. Is this acceptable?”

“It’s more than acceptable, it’s generous,” Cosi-Dern tilted his head. “Thank you for your cooperation, I’ll go prepare for the first trip.”

With little else, the man turned away from the others and began a slow walk to the exit, Thiddock following shortly behind him. The two turned to each other and spoke softly for a moment, then Thiddock began his trek over to the sleeping humans while Dern disappeared into the light of day outside.

Chailiss looked back at the other Champions within and walked over to Fear. He knelt and looked her over. ”How are you feeling?”

It was Kindness that answered. “There is something inside her, a sinister shard that your daughter created. She is barely absorbing any warmth from the Eternal Fire, and her thoughts are quiet. I do not know how to heal her…” Both Kindness and Wanderer continued to cling to Fear, each one holding onto one arm as though loath to let their sister go.

His icy gaze looked to Kindness. ”Sorrow, born of suffering. Such a wound cannot just be healed but instead overcome. This I know, because,” he looked back at Fear. ”Because you will, Fear. You are stronger than you know. Now Kindness, our agreement. Have you thought upon it?”

“Can you undo the spell upon her?” Kindness asked.

”Is this what you want? Is this what you want, Fear?” Chailiss looked between the two of them. Kindness watched as Fear spoke with her hands, and gestured to the prison which would hold Zima. Her somatic words seemed to anger both Kindness and Wanderer, the latter shaking her head vigorously.

Kindness contemplated for a moment, before she looked at Chailiss again. “It is not what I want, but Fear asks you to forgive Zima, and be there for her. She doesn’t like the idea of imprisoning her here.”

“A god has the ability to destroy the lifeform entirely.” The words came from Core-Naulty, the soldier hanging back from the scene. “In the case of eternal suffering, a god can make the decision to exterminate the perpetuity as well. Of course, it’s usually the god that made the lifeform to begin with… and it would also seem that a god caused the endless suffering. Hm. Curious creatures.”

Chailiss turned his head to the masked man, as if pondering what he had said. "An interesting perspective, mortal." he said with a curt nod. He then looked back at Fear and dipped his brow. "Nor do I but I see little alternative. She is not the one I remember, but I can try. For you." he gave her cold hand a tender squeeze.

"Unfortunately I must leave soon. The North is unguarded and I cannot keep failing its denizens. Lean on one another, be strong and recover. You will all be alright with time. Kindness, is there anything else or shall I leave you to ponder it?" he asked.

Kindness blinked, and then answered. “I have made my request, if you cannot undo the spell, then there is nothing else you can offer me, your grace.”

He looked over Fear and nodded. "This might sting." His hand became see through and he plunged it into Fear’s chest. Quickly he removed the crimson splinter and incised it in ice. Next his hand became solid once more and his wiped his thumb over her lips, removing the dark pigment on them. He gave the splinter box to Kindness to hold and with his now free hand there came a crystal vial. He then dropped the dark liquid pigment within it and sealed the top with ice.

He then gave it to Kindness as well. "There. Keep those artifacts out of prying hands less you have another incident. Now I must go remove Zima to her prison." he began to stand.

“Please!” Fear started, speaking up for the first time. “Don’t imprison her like that! It’s… not good.” She said, looking desperately at Chailiss.

"That may be so but you already know why it's necessary. Speak no further on it and Fear, you are forbidden from stepping foot near her prison. For your own safety, am I understood?" his tone became stern, his eyes growing hard.

Her eyes became crestfallen, and she answered with a disheartened nod. With some struggle, she freed herself from the grasp of her sisters and stood up, before her wings emerged and she flew away. Both Kindness and Wanderer eyes fluttered, as though bemused by what had happened, and turned their forlorn gazes in the direction Fear had fled. Without looking at the God of the Cold, Kindness offered her gratitude - her monotone voice filling the space where Fear once was. “Thank you… You have done more for my sisters than I could ask for. Do not needlessly concern yourself with our mortal folly.”

He shook his head. "I will if it's for your own good. Keep her away from Zima. Despite what Courage said earlier, Fear’s heart is already courageous. She just needs to realize that it doesn't mean one should sacrifice herself when she doesn't need to." he looked at all of them one by one, gaze hard as it lingered on Courage. Then without another word he made his way to Skydancer.

Pride approached her sisters, and gestured with hand signs towards Wanderer. The silent champion stood up, and then leapt and bound out of the keep, presumably after Fear. Then the small champion turned her attention to Curiosity and Rowan. “The Eternal Fire cannot sustain the child until he’s cleansed, so we’ll have to figure something out.” She explained, and watched as Courage stepped up.

“We can use the Gnosis to make food for him! We’ve seen how others eat things now.” The brash champion remarked, and gave a paradoxically solemn and confident grin to Pride - as though aware of the futility of their predicament.

The Keeper of Keltra simply shook her head. “You understand that the inefficient design of his body will produce waste here, and that the Incantation of Making shouldn’t be used in such a foolish manner... There’s a high chance of something going awry as well, you know.”

“So what do you think we should do?” Curiosity asked.

Pride let out a tired sigh, and gestured at nothing in particular. “We’ve a few options: We could arrange a cleansing ritual, as I’m certain Chailiss could help us. We could ask the Recusant to adopt him, making him one of them. There are also numerous places outside of Keltra that may accept him. Those are my suggestions.”

Courage looked to Core-Naulty. “Would the Recusant have spare food for him?” She asked.

“Our stomachs have rotted.” Core-Naulty put a hand on his abdomen. “But if the child needs food, we can obtain some — or as Pride mentioned, he could be adopted as a recusant, though that’s normally a decision one needs to make for themselves.”

“Turning the child into a soldier or bringing food here should be our last options. Let's ask Chailiss if he’d be willing to help us first.” Pride interjected before Courage could reply, and the brash champion could feel Kindness and Curiosity silently agreeing with their little sister. With a shrug, Courage chose not to comment further.

Pride looked towards the prison that would hold Zima, and Chailiss as he delivered its prisoner. As she flew towards him, Naulty crossed his arms, voice growing distant, "Or you could just… feed the boy."

Yet Pride was intent upon finding a solution sooner rather than later and she landed near the tall god as he placed Zima within. He turned to Pride, his presence obscuring the prisoner within. “Uncle," she began, "There is another child that needs our help. Will you cleanse him for us?” She asked.

He raised an eyebrow. "I should have known there wouldn't be anyone here capable of producing milk. Much too young, you and your sisters are. Even still you aren't quite like all the other humans, can you even mature?" he rubbed his chin as he spoke to himself. But the full weight of his gaze fell upon Pride soon after. "What exactly is this cleansing you speak of? How might it affect the child?"

“The Eternal Fire sustains life in Keltra, but its warmth cannot spread through a system that contains a conflicting source of energy. I’ve not performed a cleansing ritual myself, but I believe it primarily consists of removing certain chemicals from the body, and allowing the Eternal Fire to temporarily replace them. Aside from a dependence on the Eternal Fire while he remains here, there shouldn’t be anything that affects him in a harmful manner.” Pride explained.

"One must wonder how your mother sought to feed the world with but one light, locked away in a keep." Chailiss mused. "What would you have me do if you haven't done it yourself?" he asked.

“I… I’m uncertain. I’m not familiar with the chemical composition of his body, and I don’t know what should be changed and what shouldn’t… I had hoped you would. His inner flames are divided and in disarray, and Mother instructed the Eternal Fire to refrain from sustaining those that aren’t cleansed… I’m uncertain of the reason, as well.” Pride answered, feeling shame tint her cheeks, and she averted her gaze from Chailiss.

"Look at me Pride." the God said.

“Mmm… apologies, Uncle.” The small champion said, as she returned her eyes to Chailiss, and attempted a calm and cordial demeanor, but it was clear that she struggled with her own lack of a solution to this predicament.

The god spoke in a softer voice now, "You say you are far, far older than your sisters now. But even ancients can become students. Even Gods learn. Do not look away in shame because you know not all the answers. It's alright to ask for help. We all need it from time to time and to go about this world too prideful to admit that… Well. You may think yourself old but don't grow up too fast Pride. Or you may become… Like Zima." he finished sadly.

“It’s as you say, Uncle. Mother would likely explain the nature of her aspect at this point, but I’m not her, and I only wish to protect my kin. Will you help us cleanse the child?” Pride asked again, offering him a slight smile.

"Of course." he put softly.

Pride turned back, and gestured for Curiosity to bring the baby forward. Quickly, the inquisitive champion stood before Chailiss, with Rowan cradled tentatively in her arms. Pride watched as her sister kept her gentle gaze upon the child, before she looked up at the God of the Cold and spoke.

“If there’s a risk, I’m willing to let you practice with me before you try with him…” Curiosity offered, but Pride swiftly shook her head.

“The differences between our bodies would defeat the purpose of such practice. I’d ask Uncle to cleanse you and the others as well, but you’re not at risk of death and can wait until Mother returns.” Her words caused her sister to become evidently disheartened, and Pride wished for more peaceful times, but the path was long and arduous, and peace was still far away.

Curiosity anxiously looked at Chailiss, and then held up the child before him. He took him in a gentle way and pressed a finger to his forehead. "In the beginning, you were all made of the basic elements as Homura designed. Once given a soul you were altered, changed and molded into your current forms. They are all different and complex but at the root; you are all the same. I see what Homura has done and I look upon this little face and I cleanse you, Rowan. Let the flame guide your way and sustain you as you grow." The God said, as the air shimmered and crackled before all quieted and he returned him to Curiosity.

Curiosity bowed her head, and held Rowan closely. “Thank you, Uncle.” She and Pride both said in unison, with gratitude and fondness in their voices. Both the baby and the Eternal Fire had listened to the command of the divine, and coexisted in harmony as the monument sustained the mortal.

"Now for better or worse, I must leave. There are terrible things afoot in this world of ours. Be safe, be smart and if anything goes wrong- Pray to me and I shall try to come as swiftly as I can. I can make no promises. Pride, that pendant can mold the ice into any shape for containment but it only works on one person or thing at a time. You could even remove the ice from certain parts of the confined's body but in this case, I forbid it. If all goes well you will see me soon beside your mother so we can chat." he made his way to leave "Until next we meet, nieces."

“Farewell, Uncle.” Pride said, as Curiosity waved good-bye beside her. They remained rooted where they were, watching as he departed with a look of longing and regret in the small champion’s eyes. Then they returned to their sisters when Chailiss had finally gone, and were left to themselves to find some form of solace in the absence of all their gods and goddesses.



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Aethel and ASTUS


I




The rain was falling, the wind was blowing and despite the otherwise terrible weather Aethel continued on their personally assigned ‘quest’ to explore the world as they started to stroll between the chains of islands that connected the eastern landmass to the western one.

…To be fair, it wasn’t exactly a proper ‘quest’ per say, but in their own mind it sounded a lot grander and more noble than ‘I’m kind of bored and having a look around’.

Skipping across the water of the ocean in a carefree manner, there was a strange grace and dancer like motion to their movements as the humanoid body that they were currently wearing in the event that mortal life was nearby to witness their passing seemed inclined towards turning even the simple act of walking into a performance.

It had to be said that it took Aethel a few moments to realize that they had actually stopped skipping upon the surface of the ocean and had actually made landfall due to the rather swampy, watery nature of the region they had arrived at. The presence of trees hinted at there being land but they hadn’t dismissed the idea that one of their siblings had decided that what the ocean needed was trees that grew tall enough to anchor on the seafloor, but reached all the way to the surface to bathe in the sun… but it was the familiar lingering aura of rot and life via decay that only a swamp could generate that confirmed it for them. It wasn’t an exactly average swamp either, at least it had things the others did not… For example, overgrown remains of ancient structures, or the occasional spot where equally ancient roads had yet to be reclaimed by nature.

Had Aethel not been a God, they probably wouldn’t have noticed the little speck far above in the sky, visible only through a small opening in the canopies that covered the swamp, and they probably wouldn’t have realized that that little speck was in fact some kind of… Mechanical being. Not unlike the great Colossi that wandered the lands, just much smaller in scale, and apparently also capable of flight.

The thought of checking the machine out from much closer was interrupted, however. Naturally, Aethel knew that they were being watched. They also knew that the ones watching them were the six furry creatures hiding in a bush half-hidden behind a thick willow. Aethel knew they were furry, because a quick sideways glance revealed six pairs of triangular feline ears poking out of the bush. The ears flicked every time a fly buzzed close, and the leaves rustled whenever one of the creatures inside swatted off a spider or caterpillar.

“A-choo!” sneezed one of the creatures.

“Dumbass!” whispered another in response.

All of this was relevant information that had been picked up on… but Aethel made the appearance of having not noticed. In their strange dancing skip they continued on, passing by a tree that blocked them from sight of the various pairs of eyes for a moment. Then there was nothing; From their point of view, the skipping being should have passed the tree and kept going but they seemed to have stopped behind it for some reason.

The truth was more humorous for the deity though. They had gone past the tree, leaped upwards and over the top of the treeline and the group of watchers with what would have been an awe inspiring twirl and landed behind them… all in a matter of seconds and all stages done in complete and utter silence.

Hiding in the bush behind the interesting cat people, Aethel waited a few seconds for them to notice the lack of… well, them coming out from behind the tree before they reached out to casually flick a spider off of the shoulder of the person who had sneezed before as they softly stage whispered “Maybe someone should go investigate?

All the children in the bush froze. They made no movement, with the exception of the sneezing one who little by little lifted her shaking tail to confirm someone was indeed behind her. The moment her tail bumped against the deity, she screamed. Then, everyone else screamed. Before long, all six children were pushing each other as they tried to untangle themselves from each other and jump out of the bush.

For their part, Aethel seemed to take a great deal of enjoyment out of watching the small band of ragamuffins freeze up as they spoke… and the girl using her tail in order to confirm what her ears had heard was just adorable. There was something to be said about a bit of terror to make life worth living after all.

Calmly standing up and walking out of the bush at their own pace in order to give the children more room to get in each other’s way or tangle themselves in the bush further, they decided to politely wait for them to get themselves…somewhat organized. Finally, after quite a bit of struggling, one of them popped out and pulled the others out as quickly as he could. Once only the deity remained in the bush , he pushed his siblings without turning his back to the deity. “Run, run! Get Carer and the Tins! I’ll be fine, Master Night Terror taught me how to defeat Aliens!” Ordered the one who’d jumped out first, assuming a combat stance despite his size being at most a quarter of Aethel’s. Brave, Aethel thought. His siblings quickly took the hint and ran off into the swamp, leaving the boy alone against the god.

For their part, Aethel didn’t chase after them. It was tempting, but their attention was currently locked on the boy who stayed. “The next two minutes are going to be really important to you. You’ve got some critical decisions to make and the first of them is to concede prior to this fight starting because I’m not going to hold back if we start. Here’s the thing… you’ve probably got about ninety seconds to concede and you’ve really got to think it through because what’s going to happen is this…” there was a slight pause in order to take a breath, Aethel’s tone being surprisingly calm and collected, as if they were merely informing the boy of something rather then what the words were about to suggest.

I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen to you. There’s no promise for your safety, no promise for anything like that. About sixty seconds left. If you’re not going to concede, what do you want me to tell your family?

“Waow,” The boy sighed, relaxing his stance and shaking his head. His tail imitated the motion. “When did I say I was gonna fight ya? Never! That’s when! ‘Cause Night Terror told me the best way to defeat a villain is to never fight them at all. If I fought a massive alien like ya I’d probably just get punted all the way to the golden toilet. Smart, huh?” The boy nodded with a wide smirk on his face, hands on his hips and chest puffed out.

For their part, Aethel couldn’t help but grin just a little. “Let me guess… You figured that if I actually meant you or your… friends? Siblings?” there was a brief pause before a quick shrug followed and they continued “Any actual harm, I had ample opportunity to do so before revealing myself… and why you were all struggling to get out of the bush. So you decided to prove how brave you were in their eyes by staying behind to stall me. Clever. What’s your name?

“It wasn’t really about ya meaning any harm. Ya wouldn’t know the kinda messed up things that happen round here. For all I know ya could just be toying with me, asking me questions before ya drain me dry. Or ya could be a new kinda ghost! Or maybe a very weird looking mushroom. Huh, there weren’t any mushrooms on the ground inside the bush were there?” The boy asked and took a quick look inside the bush, emerging with a shake of his head. “Nop. None. I’m Blue Soar, anyway.”

There was a brief pause as Aethel absorbed this information… and after a moment asked “Considering that of the local threats the first one you decided to mention involved the draining of your blood… I’m guessing you’re referring to a breed of creature that changes their appearance and pretends to be other people to drink the blood of their victims. The Rattus refer to such creatures that lurk in the deserts around their homeland by the name of ‘Pretenders’.

Having offered a reward of information in exchange for what Blue had offered already, Aethel did add “I haven’t heard about hostile, bipedal mushrooms before… but then again this is my first time visiting this part of the world. You can call me Rainbow Tree if you want.” the deity offered back, thinking of a name on the fly.

“Rats? They have names for Vamps? Ya pulling my tail, Tree? Though to be honest I haven’t seen that many rats around. Mom says it’s because they were all eaten after the Day of Ashes. Also on the mushrooms, obviously ya wouldn’t be the mushroom Tree, ya’d be one of the crazy things the mushrooms make ya see! Ya know, one time I licked one of them and dreamed I was a girl? Not just a girl, a Prime too! So ya could easily be a vision from the mushrooms.” Soar said with another self-confident nod.

Blue, if I was yanking your tail you would know it. That being said, the Rattus do have a somewhat easier time with the bloodsuckers because they see the world a bit differently than most. Their illusions still fool the eyes but it doesn’t change how the winds of mana interact with them. But the Rattus are a people much like yourself and the others you were with before they scampered off… they were originally rats, but they’re a lot more now. There was a slight smirk as Tree added “Some of them stand taller than you on their back legs.

The mushroom dream actually caused them to chuckle. “I’m not going to rule out the possibility that I’m some kind of dream created by fungi… but I like to think that if I am, that means you’re having a good dream. After all, a cute, brave boy deserves them.” There might have been a slight wink and a playful chuckle, before ‘Tree’ got semi serious again as they asked “You mentioned a ‘Day of Ashes’. What is that?

“I did. Ya don’t know about it? Ya truly are an alien. D’ya come from the moon, Tree?” Soar asked and crossed his arms. “I’m not supposed to tell aliens anything to begin with…”

There was a small scoff at the suggestion. “No. But creating the tree I call my home played a part in creating the moon. Launched most of the materials it’s made out of up there. But I don’t know about this ‘Day of Ashes’ and I do enjoy hearing new stories.” Some might have considered Tree’s words to be utter insanity but… it was the simple way they said it in passing that suggested that not only was it the truth, but it was an unimportant one at that.

Soar scrunched up his face, then with a flick of his ears he turned his head to one side and chuckled. “Carer’s on the way. I’m not old so I can’t tell ya about the D.O.A. If ya wanna know just ask her.” The kid explained.

Was this Carer old enough to be there?

Blue Soar shrugged, just in time for a figure to drop down from above the canopies of the trees. It landed with both feet on the muddy ground and skid to a halt in-between the child and Aethel. Arms that previously looked like metal wings quickly turned to humanoid ones, and it's pointy face flattened and an opaque blackish green visor slid over it. Once its transformation into a full humanoid was over, it stood upright at nearly two metres tall.

Blue Soar didn't seem scared. Instead, he had a wide smirk on his face as he turned around and walked off into the swamp with a swagger in his step. "See ya round, Tree."

The distinctively feminine metallic humanoid's visor flashed green for a split moment before settling on a rich orange hue.

"Divine creature, your presence has been reported to Astus. Will you tell me what the purpose behind talking to a lone child in the middle of the swamp is?" The robotic human asked, her voice coming from a box in her throat rather than where one would expect her mouth to be. It sounded raspy and had a constant background of static.

Had they been any other type of entity, the new arrival could have been seen as threatening or at least have gotten a surprised reaction from its appearance. In Aethel’s case, the look on their face, after they offered Blue a polite wave and a simple “Take care Blue.” before giving the newcomer their attention, was that of a child's curiosity.

Well, aren't you an interesting one? A living creature made out of metal with a mana heart bringing you to life. You’re utterly captivating in how beautiful you truly are…” their voice trailed off for a moment… before he suddenly shook their head in order to snap out of it because the being had asked him a question.

Oh forgive me, I just found myself lost gazing at your core. I’m sure you hear that all the time through. You can call me Rainbow Tree and I was just passing through on a quest to see what my siblings have done with this part of the world when I happened to encounter some youths. Blue seemed inclined to talk and I was happy to do so.” An explanation given, ‘Tree’ smiled as they asked “Are you Carer by any chance? Blue mentioned the name but I didn’t want to assume.

“I am Carer, First Generation Prime Astalonian, our Cores are triple-shielded against shock, temperature and penetration. They’re masterpieces created by Astus, Chief of Industry, that serve as Central Processing Units and Black Boxes. In the future please refrain from speaking to lone children, Divine Creature Rainbow Tree. Are you taking your leave now?” Carer asked, her hand resting on the hilt of the long blade currently attached to her hip.

For the first time in what felt like eternity, the smile slowly started to fade from Aethel’s face until there was only Aethel left. While it might not have sounded like much, for someone witnessing it, it would have been as unnerving and creepy as if Aethel was disappearing and leaving a smile behind. “I’m sorry, I do believe I must have misheard you. Did you just imply that I, as a divine entity, cannot be trusted to be left alone with a child? Because that would be insanely rude. The only thing I dislike as much as rudeness are people who attempt to lie to me.

Carer's visor flashed red. She was silent for a few seconds. "I apologise if I have offended you. Is it rude to request unknown Divines to stay away from Children? Our own Divine Patron killed hundreds, after all."

The best way to describe ‘Rainbow Tree’s body language would have been that of an angry bird who, having ruffled their feathers and finding the situation returning to calm, was smoothing them out again. The smile was back. “Very much so, but I am willing to chalk this up to a hole in your creator's teachings since he is clearly somewhat active in your life and thus I will accept your apology Carer. Out of curiosity, was this slaughter of mortals the ‘Day of Ashes’ that Blue mentioned? He didn’t go into details, but insisted you would be a better storyteller.

Carer's hand came off the hilt of her blade and her arms began to stretch and twist and break in different places, slowly assuming the form of a pair of long wings. "Blue Soar tends to exaggerate my skills. I am merely a machine, after all. The Day of Ashes was a tragedy that took place on this land decades ago, orchestrated by Chief Astus in order to cleanse the land of a horrible taint. The project was a success, of course, but I have no more memories of it. I was confined to the Vault throughout it all."

Aethel’s head tilted slightly to the side, a small ‘hmm’ escaping them before they asked the first question that came to their mind. “And what nature of taint was this?

"I do not have that information."

There was another ‘Hmm’ as for a few seconds the gears in Aethel’s head turned. “Fair enough then. I will have to speak with Astus himself at some point to find out that detail. Would hate for the mortals I’ve created to encounter something that needed to be so heavily purged after all. What is currently troubling your people at this time, Carer? After all, while I am sure Astus meant the best, I'm sure Blue and the rest of the organics you protect would appreciate a more… soft handed approach to problems going forward.

"We've recently contained a Stage 4 Fungal Outbreak fifty seven kilometers northwest of this location. We estimate about three hundred and seventy nine tons of biomatter has been infected on the surface, with an unknown quantity extending underground throughout the caverns. We need more firepower in order to stage an effective extermination. Chief Astus is also always on the lookout for ways to increase birth rates among the Astalonian Homurans."

For a moment, Aethel weighed their options before at last suggesting “I think, before I make any decisions of how to proceed, I should have a look at this fungi problem you seem to be having for myself. If you want to lead the way I’m happy to fly after you.

Carer nodded, "I will lead you to the entrance into the quarantine zone and request the Primes stationed there to let you through. I can not be your guide in the area, however." She said and took off running, then with a mighty jump propelled herself to the sky, using her wings to glide.

In what had to be a flashy, somewhat gaudy display a pair of translucent butterfly wings appeared on Aethel’s back, easily lifting them off the ground and allowing them to fly after Carer, bathing the land below in different colored lights as the sun beamed through the wings with each flap.

II


Carer landed with a long skid and a quick shift back to her humanoid form, with Aethel landing behind her almost soundlessly a split moment after. The Primes posted at either side of the double chain link gates nodded at Carer, their visors a steady blue, and placed their hands on the hilts of their weapons as soon as Carer returned the nod.

“This Divine wishes to enter the Quarantine Zone. Stabber, Cleaver, you two will allow their entry or exit at any time as long as protocols are followed at all times.” Carer commanded, her visor green. The two Primes nodded again.

“Acknowledged.” They both said at the same time, their voice boxes sounding the exact same.

The one named Stabber then nodded at Aethel, his visor suddenly changing to yellow. “Does the Divine Creature wish to enter the Quarantine Zone now?”

Gazing through the chain link gate into the Quarantine Zone, Aethel let Carer speak with her peers in silence as they focused on what they were seeing… only to snap out of it slightly as they turned to look at Stabber. “And what exactly are these protocols that are in place?

“To go through decontamination before entering and upon leaving.” Stabber nodded his head towards a moderately sized tent beside the entrance. “To prevent any infected lifeforms from exiting.”

About a hundred meters overhead, what must have been a hundred drones whizzed past and over the Quarantine zone, dousing the area in some kind of purple powdery substance. Massive needle-like projectiles launched up from the thick, sickly swamp and shot down several of the drones, the sound of the explosions reaching Aethel several seconds after the fact.

Aethel was listening to the discussion, but it was easy to see that they were watching the fight that was happening in the air with a degree of interest… event as they pointed out “Decontaminating before going in seems like a waste of time. I mean, are you worried that I’m going to take something into the zone that will sicken the fungi?

“We’re worried you may carry new, lethal microscopic life into the zone which the Fungal Hivemind will then inevitably assimilate into its arsenal, Divine Rainbow Tree.” Carer explained, making her way to the tent’s entrance and motioning inside. “Please, if you would. Upon entering, the entrance will seal while you’re decontaminated.”

Very well. I am a guest in your land after all.” Aethel politely offered before walking towards and into the tent in order to get this process over with. True to Carer’s word, immediately upon entering, a flap of plastic dropped over the entrance and sealed it, then they were doused in a yellow vapour of some kind for what felt like an entire minute. It was eventually over, however, and as the vapour was finally completely sucked out of the tent through some small vents on the ground, the flap of plastic covering the entrance came off. When Aethel left the tent, the gates to the Quarantine Zone were open and the three Primes motioned for them to enter.

“The Divine Creature may now enter.” Stabber declared, both him and Cleaver closely observing the tree line a few dozen meters past the gate. Offering the two ‘guards’ a small bow of his head, Aethel said nothing as they crossed the threshold in order to see what was hidden within the infected zone.

III


It was a good three days before Aethel exited the treeline of the infected zone, clearly no worse for wear because it would take more than a fungal infection to actually cause a deity any actual issues. In a calm but thoughtful manner, they allowed themselves to undergo the process of decontamination. An idea had already, pun intended, taken root in their mind but the details needed to be worked out just a little.

It was once they had left the tent that they got to work. With a small show of flare, Aethel walked about an arm's length away from the wall of the quarantine zone, pausing every few meters in order to throw what appeared to be some kind of seeds into the air away from the wall. This would continue until at last they had done a full circuit of the wall… and then they turned around and repeated the process by going the other way. At no point did Aethel actually reveal a bag or container for the seeds they were throwing; It was as if they threw their hand out and the seeds appeared.

Once the second circuit was done, Aethel came to a stop to take a deep breath. Their eyes closed, they tilted their head upwards as they let out what would appear to the mortal eye as a rain cloud, floating up out of their mouth and spreading out, growing in size until it easily surrounded the Quarantine Zone so that it had a ring of cloud cover, but none of it drifted past the wall. Those with the ability to see mana would easily be able to spot the green that laced the cloud that Aethel was creating.

Once the cloud was at an acceptable size, it stopped coming out… and Aethel closed their mouth before bringing their hands together in a loud, thunder-like clap that caused the clouds to suddenly start raining.

For a few minutes there was no change… and then the flowers started to pop out of the ground. At first they were small things, but within seconds they started to swell in size until a massive ring of brightly colored, beautiful and pleasant smelling flowers surrounded the other wall. Then the flowers started to push themselves out of the soil, revealing that the ‘flower’ was simply the top of what appeared to be a dark bluish humanoid body with legs, arms and a pair of small red eyes and a small mouth.



While they were all a variety of sizes, shapes and colorations, the biggest of these plant characters was almost two meters tall… though while there were hundreds, if not thousands of them, few actually came close to that massive size. As the plant animals started to look around and move, spores started to leave their flowery heads, filling the air to seemingly no ill effect. Satisfied with their work, Aethel turned to Stabber and Cleaver and offered “I do believe this will help you and your feline companions out in keeping things under control.

“The Divine Creature’s work is appreciated.” Stabber nodded, his visor blue.

“The Divine Creature’s work will ensure the outbreak is contained.” Cleaver said, his visor red.

And if you let them wander around and do their thing in peace, it should be rather difficult for further outbreaks to get rooted.” Aethel offered, but didn’t feel inclined to explain the details of it. “Before I go wandering again, you wouldn’t happen to know where Astus is, would you?

“That information is classified.” Explained Stabber.

Aethel looked at Stabber in their blue visor with the look of someone who knew what the outcome of this conversation was going to be, but they were still slightly inconvenienced by the fact that the other person was insisting that the steps be taken in order all the same. “I was under the impression that Astus wanted to see me at some point. He was made aware of my presence after all. At this stage I feel like it would be awfully rude to have enjoyed the hospitality of his domain without at least meeting with him personally.

Stabber’s visor flashed yellow, “A report of the Divine Creature’s presence has been submitted to and received by the Chief. No further reports have been made. Does the Divine Creature wish for us to submit a request for an appointment with the Chief?”

“The Divine Creature would have to be really fuckin’ lucky to get one. Worth a try.” Cleaver added.

Glancing towards Cleaver, Aethel’s face was unreadable as they asked “You are suggesting that Astus wouldn’t make time to meet one of his kin?

“The Chief is a busy Divine Creature. The Chief will make time if the Divine Creature requests an appointment and He deems it worthwhile.” Stabber explained, his visor slowly going back to blue.

For a moment, Aethel placed a hand on their hip and slowly started to tap it with their fingers in a slightly put out manner… but they shrugged as they answered “In that case, please send a message on my behalf that I was intending to move on and leave his domain, but would have liked to see him in person before going.

Stabber’s visor flashed yellow again. “Request submitted. Orders received. Engaging R.C.M.” A split moment later, Stabber’s visor turned off entirely and his entire body seemed to twitch. When his voice box activated again, it wasn’t the smooth and calculated voice of the Twin Primes, but a rough and obnoxiously loud one.

“IF IT ISN’T ONE OF MY COLLEAGUES! CUT TO THE CHASE AND JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT, SMALL MAN. I GOT A 155,000 HORSEPOWER ENGINE PROTOTYPE WAITIN’ FOR ME TO GET BACK TO WORK.”

For their part, Aethel sort of leaned back as the yelling started. Despite having a form that didn’t have visible ears, their ‘hair’ seemed to fold onto their head as if trying to protect them all the same. “I’m assuming I’m speaking with Astus. Why are you yelling?” was the first question that came to mind.

“AIN’T YELLIN’ SMALL MAN, MAYBE YOUR EARS ARE TOO WEAK? I GOT AUGMENTS HERE THAT YOU COULD PURCHASE, HAH!”

There was a deep, deep breath as Aethel took a moment to respect the fact that this was Astus’ domain and thus he was the host. A short explanation was offered quickly“I was passing through the region when I encountered some of your people. After a bit of a chat, I decided to assist them with their Fungus problem… but before I departed I wanted to check in with you, since this is your domain. I would have done so sooner, but I was exploring the depths of your infestation problem.

“I’VE ALREADY SEEN THE PLANT THINGS YOU MADE. THEY’RE GONNA BE REAL HELPFUL, SO THANKS! NEVERMIND THAT THOUGH, YOU CALLED YOURSELF RAINBOW TREE WHEN YOU SPOKE TO CARER. YOU AETHEL? CREATOR OF THE AETHELIC FIELDS?”

There was a brief moment of confusion on Aethel’s part… before they blinked as it hit them. “Yes, I am Aethel… and I am the creator of Mana. I’m not sure if that’s what you’re talking about though because I’m not prone to naming things after myself.

“K, SO I’M GONNA ASK YOU. NO COPYRIGHTS ON THIS MANA THING RIGHT? I’VE BEEN USIN’ IT FOR A LONG ASS TIME NOW, WOULDN’T WANNA HAVE TO PAY FOR THE RIGHT TO USE IT.”

There was a glance offered to Cleaver that summed up in a single look the sentence ‘The fuck is Copyright?’ before they turned back to Stabber and answered “I did create it with the intention that it was going to be used. Granted, using it to create a machine heart to develop metal life wasn’t something I had planned but that’s why I’m happy to let people play around with it. Wonderful things come of it after all. So yes, you may continue to use it. However, there is one question I would like to ask of you while I’ve got you here.

Carer mentioned that you needed to purge a number of your organic mortals due to some ‘taint’, but she didn’t know what it was. You mind filling me in?

“AH, THAT. YEAH THEY WERE LAZY AND DUMB CAUSE I DID EVERYTHIN’ FOR THEM. SO I WIPED ALL THE TECHNOLOGY OFF THE ISLAND AND FORCED THE SURVIVORS TO LEARN STUFF PROPERLY. WHAT NOSTALGIA! SO, YOU DONE SMALL MAN?”

It would seem so. Thank you for your hospitality Astus. Though I must confess the coincidence of how your organic mortals bare a striking resemblance to the mortal template that Homura created and started gifting to other deities to finish.

“IT’S ALMOST LIKE I MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN THEM FROM HOMURA TOO. WHAT COINCIDENCE! WE BOTH CAN CONNECT THE DOTS. YOU IMPRESS ME, RAINBOW TREE.”

“I see I have contacted you at a bad time. Thank you for taking some time out of your clearly busy day to speak with me, Astus. I’ll let you get back to playing around by yourself in your workshop.[/color]”

“AND I’LL LET YOU GET BACK TO DANCIN’ IN THE SWAMP.” And with that, Stabber’s visor turned back on and settled on a deep purple.

“Is the Divine Creature satisfied?” He asked, his voice back to normal.

There was a small sigh as Aethel answered “About as satisfied as I can be under the circumstances. I will take my leave… that being said, I do hope that whenever Astus brings the wrath of other deities down on himself that you survive it. It would be a shame to lose such a marvelous people like yourselves after all.

The Primes nodded at Aethel and went back to standing at either side of the chain link gate.




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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The Holy Quintet in Keltra



With wings of light, Fear flew from the keep - away from the pain and suffering that ate away at her being, away from the grief and sorrow withering her mind, away from dreadful despair that whispered dark words into her ear. Her heart ached, and she could find no cure in the place she left behind, so she flew and alighted atop the outer wall of Keltra to where she could see the world beyond.

She was greeted with the sight of foul decay; the land westward had been touched by Doom and ravaged by the lingering death. The anxious champion could not fathom why such evil could exist, and exist so close to her home, but she knew she felt compelled to stand against it, despite the fate assigned to her by her name. She would fight against such cruelty and injustice, even if she must sacrifice herself to do so.

She sensed the presence of her sister approaching through the connection they shared, and couldn’t decide whether she should flee or face what was coming now. Though Wanderer remained verbally silent during the majority of conversations, Fear was well aware of her sister’s thoughts and opinions, able to directly feel them as though they were own because of their sacred bond. Fear was gladdened by the fact that she did not sense any hostile intent from her sister.

Wanderer leapt up to the walkway atop the wall, and walked towards where Fear was standing alone. The shimmering wings of the anxious champion had receded, and Wanderer observed the way her sister glanced at her frozen hand, she felt her sister’s self hatred, and wished she could excise it, but she knew not how. Without hesitation, she stepped towards Fear, and placed a hand upon her shoulder, hoping to provide some comfort. Neither of their flames were polluted, so neither of them were required to stay by the Eternal Fire, and Wanderer felt Fear’s desire to run away from the turmoil within the keep. She reached out with her mind to ease the worries of her sister, but Fear gently brushed her away.

“I don’t think I ever wanted this… there were thousands of them… and we couldn’t do anything at all to save them. I still hear them too. I’ll never forget.” Fear faintly muttered, feeling the tears gather around her eyes and renew themselves for another journey down her scarred cheeks. Despite the removal of the Midnight Shade, she still struggled to articulate words as though her sorrow manifested and reached out from within to choke her while she spoke. She could hear the terrible fate of her name resonating in her words, the effect it held over her, and so she chose to silence herself while Wanderer conveyed concern.

Through her body language and their shared thoughts, Wanderer expressed forgiveness - she forgave herself for what happened, she forgave the others for what happened, and with great emphasis; she forgave Fear for what happened. Then came a ripple of gratitude and joy which washed over Fear, as Wanderer splashed and gracefully swam in the river connecting their consciousnesses, beckoning her sister to free herself from distress and join her. She even allowed visions of a serene refuge for just the two of them, where the troubles of the world were nothing they needed to be concerned with, but the images quickly faded as both champions knew that such a thing would never be found upon their chosen paths.

Fear was surprised that Wanderer would be willing to invite her and share in such a fantasy though, as even through their connection, all of her sisters still kept their secrets and certain thoughts as individuals. The anxious champion did not think that her sister would even entertain the idea of leaving though… not for her sake, at least. Besides, even though they were blessed with great power and longevity, they would have to inevitably return to Keltra to restore their inner flames. There would never be a world where Fear and Wanderer could just find peace and quiet, living tranquil lives freed from burden and pain.

There was also the ultimate truth that neither could abandon their kin to the cruel and capricious nature of the world. Both were compelled by unshakable conviction that led them along their current paths; attempting to bring salvation to all before all fell to ruin. Fear found herself holding onto Wanderer’s hand, her icy fingers entwined with her sister’s warm ones. She hated that she couldn’t tell whether it was her sister, or a puppet that she touched now… “I’m just tired, but I know I can’t give in. I have to defy my destiny, and help others be brave, not afraid. Um… thank you, for standing beside me, Wanderer.”

Fear suppressed the haunting visions of a future where she succumbed to her cursed fate, and attempted to smile. She would have to rely on the usage of facial expressions since she could not risk revealing her nightmares to any of her sisters, even though they already knew too much. Wanderer smiled back, and pulled at her, indicating they should return to the others. Fear pondered her predicament for an ephemeral moment, considering her options and the consequences of her choices. She hid these thoughts as well, knowing that none of her sisters would accept what she knew she had to do. She simply had to wait for the right opportunity.

Her wings of light emerged, and she swiftly flew back to the keep, holding onto Wanderer. The two champions gently alighted before one of the many southern doors, and then stepped inside. Though Fear had been overwhelmed by grief at the time, she had still heard all that was spoken around her, and knew that Wanderer would be called upon by the Recusant soldiers to fly Skydancer to the Garden of Hevel very soon. There was a brief temptation to ask if she could accompany them, but that wouldn’t help her with her current goal, so she said nothing. She could only pray for her sister’s safe return as she joined her sisters by the Eternal Fire with Wanderer, seeking to enjoy the respite while it lasted.

There was simmering tension as silence lingered between the six champions of Homura, as they all said nothing while seated in their large collection of comfortable cushions and owl plushies. None among the Holy Quintet had quite recovered after their defeat, and a myriad of disquieting emotions shifted between them, but that came to an end when Courage suddenly stood up - exuding an aura of self-assurance and conviction. It was enough to garner all of their attention, and temporarily wash away the unease that had settled upon them.

“Praise be to the King in Heaven! Praise be to our Maker! Praise be to the Sacred Path we walk upon… Nobody said it was going to be easy.” Courage said, addressing her sisters with both righteous anger and a subtle challenge that they all understood. Her voice reached into the Eternal Fire, and called upon its power - rousing the strength and energy to motivate all of them once more. The otherworldly music within the vast hall changed to match her tone and volume, transforming mere words into evocative sounds and images that manifested in each of their minds.

“Sisters, we must face these hardships, these trials, and overcome them! Not every battle will be a victory, but we must take responsibility for what happens, and we must always strive to make the world a better place for ourselves and for others, ya. I’ve realized something; that we must become stronger, that we must train ourselves. It’s time to focus our minds and our bodies, so that we fight against the coming darkness!”

As Courage spoke, Pride found herself observing how her sister easily weaved encouraging enchantments into her words which inspired those that heard them. The Keeper of Keltra wondered if that was the gift given to Courage upon her birth when she had received her name from Mother, and noted that there was a secondary source of power among her sisters that they all seemed to share. The brash champion continued her speech:

“Our weaknesses have been exposed, but we’ve an opportunity to improve our power through increasing our strength, intellect, discipline, and agility, as well as our understanding of the Gnosis. We’ve discovered our limitations, and now we must transcend them, ya. We’ve got time till our Maker comes back, so let’s show her what we’re capable of!” Courage declared, with the music around her pushing towards a crescendo.

“We’re fighting for our family, and I want to be able to protect all of them.” Curiosity remarked, offering her sister a hopeful smile. She still held Rowan in her arms, letting him rest peacefully, and was ready to do whatever she must in order to defend him. She knew that was her purpose. The music had matched her words with a gentle melody acting as a last prelude to the climax.

“The path is dark, but we stand together now. There is much evil in the world, and I agree that we must be prepared to oppose it. I suggest empowering our bond further, and including Pride in it, of course.” Kindness added, turning to look at the small champion.

“Of course! She’s burdened with the same responsibilities as us, after all! She’ll be an honorary member of the Holy Quintet, otherwise we’d have to change the name.” Courage commented, grinning at Pride now, joined by the tune which seemed to usher excitement and wonder as it began its dramatic ascent once more. Courage, Kindness, Fear, Curiosity, and Wanderer all understood what must come next.

“What’s this bond? Also, I propose the Sacred Sextet, if you’re willing to change the name to accommodate more members...” Her words were answered by all of her sisters standing up, and leading her to a close clearing where they circled her. Then they began dancing as the melody reached the precipice of emotion and meaning:

Though there was a taint among their inner fires, the remainder of their unpolluted spirit blazed around them. Otherworldly power manifested and coalesced in waves and shimmering splashes of scarlet light, as the shifting symbols of the Gnosis covered their bodies, and five voices sang in harmony. All five of them moved with grace, their motion seemed mesmerizing as though they moved in all directions and across dimensions and there was nowhere Pride could look where she could not see them at the edge of her vision.

Will you still love me 𝄞

When I'm no longer young and beautiful?

Will you still love me ♪

When I got nothing but my aching soul?

I know you will, I know you will ♫

I know that you will

Will you still love me when I'm no longer beautiful?


Though they rarely radically changed their position, Pride could not differentiate her sisters at all; she could not pinpoint which one was which, or even tell which direction she was facing anymore. She knew that Wanderer held a staff and bow upon her back, and Courage had cut her hair short and wore that large golden gauntlet, Curiosity was even carrying Rowan, and yet for some reason, she could not find these distinguishing details, and it was as though five identical beings encircled her.

Pride did find that each of the five beings danced in their own unique manner. There was one that acted wild and fierce in a flurry of limbs, and another that slowly swirled like a lone leaf falling from a high branch. There was one that swiftly leapt and bound, and another that was reaching out with hands and beckoning to an unseen audience with slow and sensual gestures. Lastly, there was the fifth dance that incorporated tapping feet and snapping fingers with a hypnotic pacing that greatly amused the Keeper of Keltra.

With a sudden realization, Pride understood that her sisters had discovered the potential of rituals, and that she was not involved in more than just a playful performance, but an actual ceremony which would initiate her into another mystery of the world. She lifted herself with the Silk Song, and joined their dance with her spinning acrobatics while sailing through the air. There was a surprising heat around them, unlike the warmth of the Eternal Fire, that mingled with the small champion’s skin, spreading along the contour of her body and mind.

A sea of visions and feelings, a myriad of shapes and colors that overlapped with each other to create images that became sequences that were filled with associations and meaning that she herself had never prescribed to them. It was a vast wealth of knowledge that Pride’s mind could not process all at once, but she recognized what she was seeing. She was spiritually bonding to her sisters, forming another island in the sea of their connected consciousness.

The secondary source of energy that her sisters shared became clear to her, and she understood that she was sensing their thoughts, and letting their memories seep into her. It was both a welcome and overwhelming experience, and Pride could not ascertain whether it was prolonged or ephemeral in the end. She could recall the music receding until it was only a quiet sound adding ambience, and she could recall her sisters with their familiar shapes standing around her with pleased smiles after they finished their performances.

It was akin to awaking from a dream, Pride mused to herself, and heard a few giggles from among her sisters. “I see you think this is funny.” She accused in an irked tone, but her sisters continued laughing, and she understood the truth of their mirth, much as they understood the truth of her mock frustration. The small champion even found herself laughing with them, and the Holy Quintet, or Sacred Sextet, name still pending, walked back to their seats beside the Eternal Fire.

Kindness kept her laughter limited and subtle with only slight smiles and the occasional shake of her head. The reticent champion looked to Pride, exuding an aura of mischievous intent that was only detected through their new bond. “I am inclined to inform you that despite your extensive knowledge of the Gnosis, it was I that performed the first ritual. When will our Maker offer such fine praise and a reward for my service, I wonder?” Though her verbal words lacked all emotion, Pride could now easily sense the teasing tone of her sister - and the effort to direct any conversation towards more benign topics.

“Mother is beyond my sight now, even with my gift and the Eternal Fire. I suspect she wanders in the Otherworld with our more reckless Uncle. You’ll not likely receive praise anytime soon, and don’t forget Mother will have to cleanse you too. You’re probably going to be scolded when she comes back.” Pride countered, realizing that she did want to discuss any dire matters either. Her sisters were now aware of Apostate’s deterioration, Homura’s wound, and of the myriad of woes across the world witnessed through the Incantation of Seeing, but there was little any of them could do right now.

“I don’t think Mother will be mad - not if we show her Rowan and how adorable he is.” Curiosity cheerfully pointed out, as she let the babe play with her fingers. The rest of her sisters held back their surprise that the inquisitive champion would even partake in their conversation, considering how enamored she was with the child, but they all quickly recalled how talkative their sister could be.

Behind the gossamer veil of their attempts at casual chatter, the morbid thoughts of what the Holy Quintet had encountered in the North continued to plague their minds. It was incredible how efficiently they could process and utilize information by tapping into each other's intelligence and wisdom, more akin to multiplying their abilities as opposed to just adding the sum total of all of them together. They were aware of what the other was going to say before words were spoken, and could understand the deeper intent and meaning behind said words.

“What will alleviate our Mother’s anger when she sees that you’ve cut your hair, Courage? You’re aware that it won’t regrow on its own, and you’ve left a piece of yourself with our far away kin.” Pride stated, feeling uncertain about the change herself. Courage seemed so different without the long trail of scarlet of hair that had followed after her for so long, as though she were lost. The Keeper of Keltra kept such musings to herself in the end though.

Courage cocked her head to the side, and grinned. “You think that our Maker has time to worry about such things? She’s rushing from one thing to the next now, ya. You don’t have to be afraid on my behalf, pipsqueak, but I appreciate it. By the way!” The brash champion reached underneath her shirt and pulled a small blue stone out before tossing it to Wanderer. “You’re going to want this when you go, ya.”

Wanderer gratefully nodded in acceptance, tucking the Gem of Guidance upon her flesh where the navel should be. Afterwards, all of the members of the Holy Quintet unloaded Skydancer of their belongings: the large black-furred blanket, and their small pot filled with shiny shells and stones. Though half their number was weakened by the foolish consumption of that which they were not meant to consume, there was still a fond recollection of the brief time they had spent with their brothers in the north, and these gifts reminded them of that fondness again.

Fear could hear Wanderer silently urging her to be patient and cautious, as though she had somehow seen through the mental barriers the anxious champion had erected to conceal her plan. Fear deliberated for a moment, and ascertained that Wanderer wouldn’t be leaving if she was actually aware of what was to come. It would be less than a day and night until Wanderer and more Recusant returned because of Skydancer’s speed, so aside from prayers for her safety, there was little else aside from promises of more peaceful conversations in the future between the sisters.

Words escaped her unbidden then, and she paradoxically felt both regret and relief upon saying them aloud. “I’m sorry, sister. Regardless of what happens, I’ll always love you.” Her sisters turned to her then, and offered bittersweet smiles, so Fear simply averted her gaze to avoid letting them see the turmoil in her eyes.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The Tired One

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The Monarch of All


The palace yielded armories upon armories yet there were no souls to garrison them.

Weapons and armors were being made upon the Galbar within the continent-sized forge raised by Voligan, and yet there were none to wield such great and terrible tools.

The Divine Palace, in all its resplendent glory and filled with gardens and libraries, was devoid of life to walk upon those hallowed grounds. There were mice and rodents, but they seldom strayed into galleries of art or into any room occupied by another. The Monarch of All was left with none except for Tlanextic who had taken up the mantle of guarding the great bridge that connected the Galbar to the Divine Palace. Yet, Tlanextic was the master of the Palace Guard with no guards to lead or organize into ranks to defend the Great Sun and all His domain. It was a fact that the Monarch of All knew that He would have to rectify, especially now that some gods may rally against HIs cause.

Thus, Tlanextic was summoned to that hallowed throne to once more pay heed to the Monarch of All’s words and wisdom - two bright souls sitting with each other. Bowing to the Great Sun, it was then that the Monarch of All would speak and let His will be known to the First Tlatoani of Chicomoztoc. His words echoed throughout the chamber, as if a chorus of His will was making itself known to the two kings.

”Tlanextic, it has come time that we have made an army for you to lead and bring strength to my domain.”

“Thy will be done anon,” the brazen spirit’s voice echoed from within a suit of divine armor, “within heaven, as on the Galbar. Whencesoever they might hail, this soothfast servant will guide them in thy name.”

The Monarch of All may have not been visibly smiling but it was clear that He was for Tlanextic was one of the few that knew how to stroke His ego, the only mortal that had been able to truly please him. It was another moment of thought as the Great Sun thought of how best to discern what souls would be able to fight for him. For only the most dedicated of souls and only the most brave of the mortals would be able to serve after death, none other would be able to hold the mantle as one of His guardians. There was no idea that could presently come to His mind as He was perhaps too critical of most other mortals, knowing that there would never be another Tlanextic that could grace His palace halls. Though, perhaps there needn’t be such a need for another god-king to be recruited to His cause for the Monarch of All looked down upon the mortal.

Who else would know who would be best for the Palace Guardians than the very captain of them?

”Tlanextic, I seem to be struggling on how best to recruit those suitable enough for your men. If it were my way, it would be more of you, and yet, I know that there will never be another Tlatoani of your power and devotion. Who would you feel best to be amongst your ranks, o’ wise Tlatoani?”

”Shouldst thou count any number of my progeny thither worthy, ‘twould be an honor to raise the fain to thy repair and thy host.”

He shifted in the throne, looking onto Tlanextic with amusement before His voice once more spoke and cast away the mortal’s original idea.

”If they prove themselves worthy then yes, but a force of your progeny alone would not be enough to stand against the forces that would be against us.”

”Nowise beyond thy power be it to fashion a host from nothing,” Tlanextic reminded his lord. ”Still, fire that coldens anon has an appetency to break asunder. If it behoof thee to claim only the most tested of rocks, then quiz the crucible yonder,” the guardian went on, opening the heavenly bridge if only to use it as a window. “There, I See war,” the Protector of the Vestibule finished, one of his many hands pointing through the aperture to the rugged grasslands of Nalusa.

There, far below, a war began as man fought maramoda. From his silent post above, Tlanextic had watched their doings with his two eyes and Seen them with his third. From his bridge he heard the grass grow, and felt the thuds of the dead as they fell upon the ground. Some among those warriors were worthy; others were recreants, but the crucible of war sorted them easily enough.

Yet, he did not notice the Monarch of All extending out a hand to seize the heavens of that country until the light of the fields of battle turned red - red as if blood itself made up the sun. Turning around, Tlanextic saw not the familiar sight of his liege, but a wrathful being that cast off pride and sadism in droves and He watched Nalusa with a burning red glare. This was one aspect that Tlanextic had not yet seen - that none of the gods had claimed quite yet. It was War, bloody and unrelenting. His red glow cast itself over the warriors, burning within them the desire to fight - the desire to survive and win. The Great Sun looked upon both Human and Maramoda, and so War uttered unto them a single command.

”Fight.”




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Shadows Over Keltra


Part I





Five black trails wove through the haze of an oceanic cloud-bank, crossing and winding like threads trying to sew together the ephemeral white mountain before it was inevitably pulled apart by the winds. Below, a dark blue plain ran around and ahead of its shadow, an immense silky drape creasing under the pulls and tugs of countless unseen hands. It was a cloudy day over the waves, and the sapphire ever so often became lead, but the five leapt and breached above the impalpable snowy cap, coiling and dancing in the undiluted sunlight like earthen sprites atop a mountain.

“Even she will have rested there, who was never of ours,” one of the sisters suddenly mused as she cavorted in a spiral through fraying fringes.

“And she has also had her rest in death, which she was never destined to,” another answered, “So what of it?”

A third laughed lightly. “Everything ends up there, but she most of all had it written in her fate. Isn’t that true, sister?”

The three-eyed spectre who flew ahead of the rest did not reply, but bobbed up and down before diving into the white.

“To jump into the stream as she did is the gesture of someone who is fated,” the third concluded.

“And still, death has spat her out,” the fourth Eschatli pointed out as she twirled above the others.

“That too has to be fate. What else?” answered the third without missing a beat.

“Then you mean that what we do now will be fate also, and not a strike against it, as we’d rather have it?”

“Think about that later,” the second quieted them, “Or, better, not at all. If we start thinking like him, then we’ll have already lost.”

As if to sweep away that grim thread, the Outsider sang gently from the clouds:

“Her home is like some crystal urn
Upon whose cold and carven side
Glyphs of cerulean sparkles glide
In scrolls that wander and return;

How fair and strange the art thereof!
But, irony supreme, within,
The poisonous black dust of sin
And ashes from dark pyres of love.”


The celestial island ended, baring the ocean to an iridescent cascade of sun-rays, and a dark strip rose out of the water at the horizon. The Eschatli circled one last time through the milky fog, hung still high under the First Light for a moment, and dived down to where the earth met the sky.




Gentle music continued to fill the Keep of Keltra, as its inhabitants preoccupied themselves with mostly mundane affairs. Beside the great Eternal Fire, Kindness and Curiosity tended to Rowan as the quiet trio bathed in the warm radiance of the blazing monument; letting joy and comfort seep into them, and slowly lull them into a serene trance, akin to the peaceful slumber of their dormant kin all around. Pride held onto her scepter, and continued her exploration of the land with the Incantation of Seeing, focusing her attention upon the Garden of Hevel and the activities there. Courage sought out the Recusant, seeking to engage in conversation with the only other awakened beings in Keltra. Lastly, Fear paced back and forth, watching the rest of her sisters and anxiously waiting for the opportune time to arise.

Xan was standing watch by Zima’s prison, with Core-Soth right next to him muttering something about the impracticality of the room having entryways when one of the champions had the ability to simply create and uncreate walls. Core-Amul was in earshot, shaking his head as he stood guard over the sleeping humans alongside his patrolling comrade, Core-Repha. Core-Garren and Core-Orphi were out in the workshop, while Core-Naulty, Verdin, and Thiddock all had left that morning with Core-Lorelei to gather reinforcements at the Gardens — which left Cosi-Dern as the final soldier.

The Cosi was standing by Courage, his face hidden behind his mask as he listened to her words.

“So, you’ve decided to bring reinforcements here, but what about our brothers and sisters elsewhere? Our sleeping kin need protecting, ya, but there’s also those that need help against the dangers of the outside world. Our Maker hasn’t mentioned much about her own plans, but I was wondering what ideas you may have? Whether Apostate has said anything, or something like that? I’m mostly checking in to just see where my sisters and I can be of help.” Courage simply smiled as she asked her questions, fascinated by the presence of the altered humans and their objectives.

“The Recusant Army currently operates in reach of the Garden of Hevel, but we have plans to expand. So in short, our current operations stretch across center Termina. The biggest challenge right now is determining an effective strategy to move resources and troops long distances reliably and consistently. Keltra is our furthest garrison and it’s severely lacking at the moment, being cut off from general supply.” Dern folded his arms behind his back. “It doesn’t help that this garrison is under a shared command.”

Courage chuckled upon hearing his answer. “We’ve shared the same challenge; trying to move so many of our kin as well. When Asshole finally learns his lesson, maybe we can ask him to make more colossi that we can operate and use for transportation?”

Dern blinked at Courage. “Astus is the leader of the enemy, he’s not going to make tools for us. If anything, that should go to show you why this is so important. The enemy forces already have reliable access to transportation. We are lagging behind dangerously in that regard.”

“I meant after we teach him some manners, ya. After the gods settle their dispute or whatever it is they are doing, we’re going to have to work together, right? So we can ask him then. There’s also another way to get here, but we need help from another god. I think he’s sleeping though, so… we’re stuck waiting.” With a sigh, Courage gave a shrug and glanced towards where the rest of her sisters gathered.

“You talk about it so lightly.” Cosi-Dern crossed his arms. “Do you know what’s going on?”

Courage nodded. “I’ve seen it, but we’re stuck here.”

Cosi-Dern interrupted, and held out a hand. “No, it seems you don’t. Astus or Hevel, myself, the Primes, and the Recusant Army — many of those names will be obliterated and will die by the end of this. A lot of things are going to die. While your sister sat here and wasted her power on music and dancing, I’ve been picturing the reports, thinking about the casualties. This isn’t a game, this isn’t a family, no one is going to win and then say let us work — no one may very well win. This is a spiral of entropy, and at least a few of us are rebelling with what time we are given.”

Courage tilted her head as she looked at the masked man beside her. “You mortals and your limited perspective…”

Cosi-Dern let out a sharp snort. “If all you plan on doing is looking down on me with insults, you can leave. Go pretend somewhere else.”

“Always assuming, sort of like our Maker…” Courage continued.

“Did you not hear me? Are you also deaf?” Cosi-Dern held out his hand pleadingly.

“Always concerned about death, but blind to the beauty of life…” She spoke as though she were indeed deaf, or had not heard him at all.

“Smoke be damned, why are you still here insulting me?”

“Neither of us are insulting each other, brother.” Courage said, raising a hand as well.

“I disagree, you’re being a bitch.” Cosi-Dern rested his hand on the hilt of his blade. “Just like Pride, you dismiss us because we think differently than you, I don’t need any more of that in my short life. Now leave me alone, I have a job to do.”

Courage shook her head and crossed her arms. “Come on, don’t be like that. I’m not dismissing your ideas, but I think you need to see a bigger picture if you’re going to lead your people.”

“Who am I to argue with the one who knows everything.” Sarcasm dripped through Cosi-Dern’s mask, the recusant soldier taking steps back. “You’re more than welcome to prosthelytize to my gravemarker once I’m either nagged to death or slain.”

“So you’ve given up already?” Courage asked.

“I know a lost cause when I see one.” He shook his head and mumbled a few more words under his breath. “Smoke forbid a moment where you people could see eye to eye.”

“There’s times when we all have to accept defeat, but I don’t understand why you seem so intent on hastening your demise? Shouldn’t you want to live?”

“Pah! There is no greater moment in a recusant life than when we get to die,” Cosi-Dern replied.

“I’ve yet to meet Voi, but I think he’ll find it sad that there are those among the living that so readily seek out death. You’ll get the opportunity to ask him for me when you die, and I suppose there will come a day when I stand with my grief over your grave, Cosi-Dern. I’m not looking forward to that day.” Courage peered at her hand, as if lost in thought or seeking an unseen answer in her palm.

“Ah well, don’t feel too bad when it happens unless you’re the one who killed me,” Cosi-Dern offered, “the day I die will likely be sooner rather than later. I’m a burner after all.”

“As one who knows everything; accept that it’s a truth that you’re not a burner. Not to me, at least, so just try to not die, ya. We’re all warriors, but we have to remember what we’re fighting for. We can’t spend our whole lives fighting, or you’re right, and nobody wins.” Courage chuckled again, and smiled at the soldier once more.

“No, I don’t think you understand.” Cosi-Dern waved his hands. “I am a burner. I don’t have a lot of years left to live. Some of the infected become burners, we burn many times as hot at the expense of our lifespan. It’s all hazeries and fighting for me… and leading the vanguard at Keltra, of course — so I guess no hazeries.”

“I propose an alternative then, but it’s your choice. Just to be certain, your goal is to protect your family, right?” Courage inquired, gesturing around her and the area with one hand.

Cosi-Dern stood up straight. “My task is to lead the vanguard garrison in setting up a secure perimeter to then ensure that the humans present at Keltra don’t fall into the hand of the enemy.”

“What about after that? Do you have any other goals? This is prevalent to your task, I’ll add.” Courage questioned, peering at his mask, as though she were attempting to see beyond it, even beyond his face, to what lay behind the exterior.

“Are you asking me,” Cosi-Dern’s voice softened, “what would I do if I could do anything?”

Courage stepped back, as though she were struck by his words. She blinked in confusion, and thoughts seemed to race across her eyes, until she became very still. “I… I am.”

Cosi-Dern slowly and quietly inched his blade from its resting spot only so much as to show the every start of the sharpened edge. “You see this edge?”

Courage nodded, and smiled slightly. “I do.”

“I’d put it in the eye of whoever thought the creation of this realm was a good idea,” Cosi-Dern finished before slamming the blade back in its spot. “Then I could die happy, for all the good that’ll do.”

“I like hearing some of that defiance! It’s hard to find with all the fatalism you spout. Well, let me explain my alternative then; your current system is greatly flawed considering you’ll be dead in a few years! I don’t know if Apostate plans on remedying this flaw, but if not, I want to offer you the chance to join my sisters and I on the Sacred Path. You’ll then have a shot of what you said before… a shot at being able to do anything.” Courage said, extending her hand towards him in invitation of what she promised.

“If that path has anything to do with how awful your sister treats me and my soldiers, I think you know what my answer is. Contrary to whatever ideas you may have of us, we don’t abandon our comrades.” The Cosi looked away from Courage and to the sleeping humans — or rather the clay vessels that they were. “We’re only here because of those right there.”

“The Sacred Path is what you seek if you don’t wish to abandon your comrades. It's what you seek if you want to prevent further theft. It’ll be our answer to our accursed fates, and give you the power to face your creator and the creator of this realm, ya. To be explicit, my sisters and I can give you the power to change your fate.” Courage stated, placing her hands on her hips nonchalantly.

“You’ll have to speak plainly, I’m just a mortal,” Cosi-Dern replied, no ounce of submission in his tone.

“That’s the chain used to cage us, so I’m offering to make you immortal. I’m offering to make you a god, ya. At least, I’m offering the chance to become one.” Courage answered.

The commander crossed his arms. “That’s a really weird thing to say without an explanation.”

Courage shrugged with an abundance of mirth. “I’m quite weird. I can’t see ahead on the Sacred Path, only guess at things. Anyway, as a mortal, you’ll always be limited in your power, behind the divine, or beneath them, if you like. My sisters and I were given the power from our Maker to walk beside her. Through a ritual, we can give you that same power, and you may be able to ascend, or something like that. Hopefully, that makes sense to you.”

“You have my curiosity if nothing else, but before you say anything further, I'll say that my answer is absolutely not — unless you can show me the benefits through the combined actions of yourself and your sisters as beneficial and good. Lead by example and all that, if you have faith in yourself and your sisters, and show me and the others that you're all capable of something good, then I’ll give your offer another look.” The Cosi rested his hand back on his blade and scanned Courage from behind his mask. “Reasonable?”

Courage bowed before the soldier, and spoke from her bent position. “Will you not accept my offer now?”

“Not before I see the fruits of its labor reflected in its disciples.” Cosi-Dern took a step back.

Courage slowly straightened herself, and nodded. “I can only give you a choice… You’ve seen what I’ve to offer, and I’ve told you what I promise for the future. My invitation remains while you still yet live, brother.”




Fear watched as Kindness and Curiosity had closed their eyes, resting with Rowan now, while Pride remained in her trance, her vision far away from here. She looked to where Courage and the one leading the soldiers continued their conversation, and was thankful that their attention was not on her. This was her opportunity.

With delicate steps, she approached the inattentive Keeper of Keltra, betraying no hint of her hidden intentions. It seemed as though she merely sought company, the comforting feeling of Pride in her arms like the rest of her sisters had so often seeked after their return - earning each of them complaints and harmless whacks on the head. The irony is that there was a part of her that truly did wish to only hold onto her small sister, and forget this plot that would endanger her family.

Fear moved to embrace the small champion from behind, pretending to playfully hug her sister for any that may glance in their direction, but before she could turn back, before she could give up on her plan, Fear called upon the Gnosis, letting the shifting symbols cover her body, and then did what she thought was necessary. Her hands swiftly grasped the blue pendant, and shifted the accessory through the body of her sister and into her own possession. There was no reason to avoid rushing now, and with a hurried pace, Fear began her trek towards the prison containing Zima.

She could sense the growing unease as she neared the prison; her ruse was quickly becoming apparent, and now she could only pray that all went well. Her Wings of Light emerged and she flew towards her destination at high speed, reaching out with the power of the pendant to begin the process of freeing Zima. In the blink of an eye, she stood at the doorway as though she had stood there when the prison was first erected, and she watched as the ice began to viciously crack down the middle to reveal the revenant it held in its cold grasp.

Fear held up her frozen hand and summoned frigid cages around both soldiers, frosted threads intertwining until two glaciers stood beside the winged champion. Within the cell, more of the ice parted, and began to let go of Zima while Fear looked behind her, taking in the fact that all were now aware of her betrayal.

“Listen! You must flee! Get up quickly!” Fear called out to the revenant. Zima was unresponsive but the prison was shattering more and more with each passing second.

At the edge of her vision, black shades blossomed to fill the corner of her eye. There was a roar as Core-Amul rushed to the scene from his periphery post, but before he had time to approach her, something inky and nebulous burst from one of the higher gates. A cloud of charcoal smoke rolled across the chamber, splitting into five shapeless, spectral nimbi as it advanced. Each of the shades held its single crimson eye fixed on her, save for one, whose three lobes swept an expressionless glance over the fortress’ interior. Then it sharply veered aside, followed by two of the others, and lunged for the closest inanimate vessels, even as the remaining two rushed towards the locule and - she could see now - the crumbling block beside her.

Uncertainty struck Fear who had not expected the arrival of these wraiths, but she couldn’t hesitate lest her betrayal was for nothing. She flew into the prison, and grabbed onto Zima, tossing another shield of ice to block the doorway for those that pursued her. She swiftly intoned the Incantation of Sending, surrounding herself and Zima with more otherworldly runes, and then with a burst of strength lifted herself and the revenant through the back ceiling of the prison. There was a clang of metal as the blade of Mourning loosened from Zima’s grasp to drop upon the red stone and melting ice of the prison floor.

They passed through the scarlet stone as though it were merely smoke, and the second to last obstacle in freeing Zima was overcome. The dark champion was still out of it however, a very thin layer of ice, almost like frost, covered her still. All that remained for Fear to avoid was Pride and those unknown trespassers, but it seemed she was fortunate in that regard.

Kindness, Curiosity, and Pride were focused on protecting their helpless sleeping kin, calling forth thousands upon thousands of stone hands that shielded them, the vessels, and the Recusant, from the three wraiths. So truthfully, there was only Courage to contend with, but her sister wouldn’t leave Keltra because of her condition… Fear desperately hoped.

The brash champion was blazing with sacred power, having rushed past the soldiers directly towards her. Fear didn’t need the connection they shared to see the great rage of her sister as she approached, and a deep sense of dread washed over her. The feeling was accompanied by her sister’s thoughts threatening her with the promise that Courage would indeed split her skull open when she reached her. Fortunately for Fear, Courage couldn’t fly.

A chill stronger yet than the touch of the thawing Zima swept through her legs as the two smoke-spirits that had darted in pursuit swept by, brushing her with their cold trails. They did not swerve to follow her, but instead whipped down to interpose themselves between her and Courage.

One of the two threw her an impatient glance with its eye and hissed "Keep going!" Its voice was the dulled whistle of a flame through the air, and before the surprise at its ability to speak had left Fear, it hurled itself at her sister along with its companion, spitting out tongues of grey fire at the grounded champion.

Sheathed in cosmic flames flickering with a myriad of colors, Courage lashed out with a flurry of blows; striking away the torrent of fire directed at her with blurred fists that burned the air around her. “Fear!!! Come back now! Don’t do this!” She shouted, and continued her dash from below despite the attacks from above.

All of Keltra seemed to stir, the entire Keep shifting and molding as the scarlet stone shaped itself into a multitude of limbs warding away the trespassers. Shadows danced across the floor composed of over a hundred thousand hands covering the Recusant and those that slept peacefully during this encounter. From near the bright Eternal Fire, a massive upright palm with curved towering fingers arose from the floor, and seated in the center of the palm stood Kindness, Curiosity, and Pride.

The otherworldly music that filled the vast hall seemed to understand the dire nature of the situation, changing into an intense melody evoking both the tension and awe of incredibly powerful forces at work. The voice of the small champion reached all from afar, echoing throughout the keep. “Cease this nonsense, and come here, sisters!” She called out.

If the three shades that had broken from the flock harboured any doubt that her words might be addressed to them, they gave no sign of it, much as they did not flinch at the spectacle of such puissant marvels. They stubbornly bore down upon the stony shell that had formed around the inanimate bodies, before scattering at the last moment before impact and weaving among the still coalescing limbs further away. The three-eyed one swayed and billowed along to the crescendos of the ambient tune, and its movements seemed to guide the others, for they dove and lunged in a way that preempted the hands' interlocking reaching - so that when an instant later the last ones closed over their charges, the wraiths were likewise trapped beneath them.

“You would hide before the Keeper of Keltra, a Herald of Honor, Daughter of Homura, and wisest among the Sacred Sextet! There is nowhere you can conceal yourself here, for I see with the Gnosis, and the Eternal Fire rejects you! You shall not bring harm to these children!” The thunderous voice of Pride reverberated throughout the scarlet stone as each hand was seeded with the sound of her ordainment and sprouted numerous small simulacrums of the little champion that repeated her words. Her mind was joined by Kindness and Curiosity assisting her processing, allowing her to easily concentrate on multiple tasks, while sustaining her spells. She traced each of the wraiths that thought themselves hidden, and excavated them with shifting stone.

Beside her, Kindness and Curiosity had begun to dance, calling upon their spirit and the power of the Gnosis. Pride observed that the former imbued the scarlet stone with greater resilience and swiftness, while the latter empowered her Shield of Faith in preparation for any further danger that may arise. However, with the absence of Wanderer, there were not enough of their own forces to defeat these trespassers and prevent their escape with Zima. “Let us resolve this peacefully, sisters! I will not offer a second time, and you have no power here!” She proclaimed, and could only pray to the Divine for a peaceful resolution, though she did not foresee such an occurrence with her spell.

The last of the frost finally began to melt away from Zima, ushering in a loud gasp from the dark champion as she began to squirm with animation. Fear's protective barrier against Zima's withering also began to fade and eat at her. The frail demon looked around her and down below to witness what was transpiring. A moment later Zima slowly moved her head to gaze upon Fear, frost and what little ice remained, cracked as her body stilled. Her crimson coals burned as she looked Fear up and down, a thin frown forming on her dark lips as they fled farther from the fight.

"It would be you to free me. Did I leave such an impression?" She asked with a somber tone, darkening a strand of Fear’s hair as she twirled it with a slow finger. "I would thank you but one should not coddle the foolish." She let out a small sigh. "Oh but if it helps your heart any, I am sorry for what comes next, Fear. But you should have let me be."

Fear shook her head with apprehension and scowled at the Revenant. “The gratitude is appreciated, but we fools aren’t free yet!" With as much haste as she could muster, the anxious champion carrying the demon in her arms flew towards the wall of the inner keep. She understood that Pride couldn’t summon stone from nothing, she had to shape it using the finite amount of stone present - however considering everyone found themselves surrounded by aforementioned stone, her little sister was never lacking in needed resources.

Every doorway had been closed, but the shifting symbols of the Gnosis still stained both Fear and Zima, and with great speed the former flew the duo towards the shimmering stone wall. “Close your eyes, this can be disorientating!” She warned, before both of them collided with an uproarious boom against a very solid structure that rejected their passage. Like a tiny bird battering against a resilient window, Fear fumbled in her flight, staggering a great distance downward until she finally recovered and resumed her ascent, soaring upward while she panicked.

“I don’t understand! It worked before! It needed to work!” She screamed, and the damage inflicted upon her by the collision with the wall was observed by her other sisters who’s eyes she saw through now. The upper half of her head had shattered like crystals struck by a hammer, her skull and all above the nose region had been broken upon impact, shards and cracks spreading throughout the entirety of her body where tongues of prismatic flames seeped out.

Her movements became unsteady and aimless, as she pressed against the wall again and again in an attempt to flee from the keep and the punishment of her failures. “I can’t do anything! Anything!” She wailed, and pounded against the stone with her feet in a feeble attempt to break it.

“You would abandon your kin?”

The terrifying and familiar voice of her Maker haunted her now, calling out to her from the cosmic inferno that was the Eternal Fire, but Fear did not want to hear that voice, she did want to face the one she had betrayed in an effort to earn her approval, not when she had failed again. “Leave me alone!”

“Then go, and do not come back until you have atoned…”

Suddenly the stone yielded, then both Fear and Zima were rushing past the blinding barriers of the macabre monument and outside the Keep. The warmth of the Eternal Fire expelled them farther and farther, where Fear could sense that all of Keltra was animated now, hear the tumultuous shifting of stone, even the outer wall which danced and moved like an incomprehensibly immense ring of fire that prevented their escape. Pride was everywhere and possessed the great power to mold the fortress into whatever shape she desired. However, even that last blockade did not intercept them; the Incantation of Sending allowing them to pass through it safely, and the two then seemed free to depart from the bastion of Homura.

“I’m now banished…” Fear whispered, the truth of those words hit her harder than crashing against the unbreakable walls of the keep, and there was no warmth that would wash her guilt and grief now. Only the cold presence of the demon she freed, held in her arms.

Zima had remained silent through it all and only now did she speak in the freedom of the air. "Sweet Fear," she lulled, "What did you ever expect to accomplish from this besides pain?"

“Life is wrought with pain, so I’m going to change that. I’m going to bring you to your friend too. You can kill me if you want, since I’ve known nothing but failure so far, but I’d suggest otherwise. The voices aren’t here, and my sisters will come eventually, also I don’t think you want to be imprisoned again.” Fear replied, adding a humorless chuckle at the end, as they continued to fly.

"Such a noble soul." Zima mused, a malicious glint in her eyes. "A traitor now banished for doing what she deemed right. Wounded and failing. Not to worry, Fear, I'm not going to kill you. You are far too valuable now. Let me… Heal you and ease your suffering." She whispered into her ear. "All will be better when we are together."

“I’m dying, Zima. You lack the power to heal me, and I’ll perish soon. You can kill me now, or wait for my broken body to fall apart, but there’s a chance you keep your freedom with patience. I’m lost either way.” Fear answered, trying to ascertain whether she was traveling the correct direction. “By the way, are we still heading north? I can’t see anything right now.”

"You talk too much about things you know nothing about. Now hush, rest your weary soul." Zima's form began to fade from her grasp, becoming crimson smoke. "Death will not claim one who has helped me spread suffering." And before Fear had any say in the matter, Zima entered her newest vessel with a cold laugh.





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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Leotamer
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Leotamer

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The Slumbering Depths - Rell


Rell’s webbed hands clawed through dirt before swiftly stashing away a strange material, a drifting piece of cloth, and burying it. She trusted the foundation to hide away her secrets. While keeping curios wasn’t exactly forbidden, it was frowned upon especially after one merfolk stabbed another with a pointed piece of rock.

Had she been any ordinary merfolk, Rell would likely not need to resort to such measures. However, she was not fortunate enough to be any ordinary Ao. She was chosen to be a hydromancer as her mother had gained the Pearl-keeper’s favor, and while she had two older sisters, neither had the displicine for rigorous studies.

Rell liked to look up to the mer’s edge, and wander what was beyond it. It was why she collected stray bits and kept them hidden from the others. She wondered if the dead space was truly as terrible as the stories say, but she obviously could share these doubts with no one, not a soul.

Everyone knew that she was rather strange, but she was only ever bothered by other hydromancers. Her genuine talent and meek nature allowed her to escape most of the harassment, but there were a few others that were not as fortunate. When the Pearl-keeper did visit, everyone would treat each other nicely, but those visits keep becoming rarer and rarer.

There was only one time when she remembered being yelled at in front of the Pearl-keeper. Ice naturally ascended to the dead space, however this was inconvenient for creating ice tools that would float away when they left someone’s grasp.

Rell attempted to resolve this by creating hollow spaces within her constructs and filling it with the dirt and rock of the foundation before sealing it up. Her instructor had thought that this was a terrible blasphemy, and waited for the Pearl-keeper to agree. Instead, her cold glare fell upon the teacher. She regarded the sinking ice with curiosity, telling her that she was misguided but that the idea held merit.


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Episode: A jollyriffic first contact <3
Starring: The Recusant Army and the Astolanian Remote Forces




I


A low and long groan came from Core-Keon, his face screwed up with disgust. The sun of the Termina’s eastern coastline reflected off his metal-pocked face and outlined the features of his comrades. Most were standing up straight while a few slouched, a long march throughout the night still pulsing in their sore legs and feet. A few Eidolon guides had warily joined the group, but otherwise kept their distance.

The scene all around was nothing short of peaceful. Large rolling hills of emerald grass made up most of the view, with the hillocks hiding various dips and valleys up until it stretched closer to the beach. There it turned into a large berm of coarse soil and sand, slowing abruptly to the water-lapped coast below. Dark blue water — very much unlike the stagnant pools of the All’s End Sea — washed lazily over the saturated sand, pushing a small army of hermit crabs to and fro with each breath.

On the wind was the smell of salt and in the ears of the recusant, the calls of shorebirds and gentle songbirds played alongside the whispers of the eastern ocean — it’s only challenger being Core-Keon’s groan. His legs were throbbing under his greaves and he could barely feel his feet. No matter how much he padded the inside of his leather boots with Xo wool, it never felt like enough. He was just glad he didn’t get hungry anymore.

“Damnit Keon,” a tall man known as Core-Faulo quickly snapped. He stood behind Keon, with dark eyes stabbing into the other man’s back. “We all marched the same distance, stop your whining.”

“Yeah?” Keon turned to look over his shoulder, never sure if Faulo was an unlikely friend or just a jerk. “But not all of us have blackmetal feet, you big-mouthed jackass.”

Faulo shot a breath through his nostrils and stabbed a finger against the back of Keon’s cuirass. “It’s not my fault you were given a metal-plated asscheek instead.”

“Core-Faulo!” The bark of Cosi-Werria scattered the bickering as both soldiers stood up perfectly straight. The Cosi stepped beside the two. Like the rest, she was in complete scouting uniform. From leather boots and gloves, to blackmetal greaves, cuirass and pauldrons. Her head was uncovered, letting jet black hair freely fall over her armor. Her hand was ever attached to the hilt of her sheathed blade, a habit a lot of the hard-asses tended to possess.

“Yes, Cosi?” Faulo looked to his officer with as much respect as he could muster.

A small grin cracked on the side of Werria’s lips. “Are you harassing our one-cheeked-wonder once again?”

“Cosi-Werria!” Another voice came bounding onto the scene. The owner was scrambling down one of the grassy hills, an Eidolon guide and another Recusant soldier right behind him. This soldier was wearing his full face-mask, but even so, the excitement in his voice was palpable.

“What is it?” The words were light — Cosi-Werria’s tone seemingly couldn’t help but mirror the excitement.

“Junt-Cailen located the vent, she’s requesting we all meet at her location to begin a full perimeter scan.”

Keon’s face brightened, though he couldn’t help but feel at least a little nervous; he never met the Godstriker before. Faulo shoved a hand against his back, knocking him forward. This time a bubble of anger popped in Keon’s gut and he rolled his eyes. “Hevel’s own, were you always such a dick?”

Faulo simply shrugged, starting his march as if he didn’t do a single thing.

II


Second Generation Prime Days were long. It wasn’t because the work was hard (which it was), or because they worked far from home (which they did), but because they never slept. They never ate. They never relaxed. Second Generation Prime Astalonian platforms had the shared feature of being unable to go into standby mode. This meant that they had to experience every second of their days completely conscious and bored out of their minds.

And bored he was, the Prime who’d taken the name of Biter. You see, he had been assigned to one of the worst types of missions available to the Servant Armada… That of Vent Maintenance.

Vent Maintenance was simple, right? You were given a bunch of system upgrades that allowed you to perform highly skilled tasks and directly control two wings of drones, and then you were sent off on a predetermined route to check up on a given number of vents, to make sure they were working well enough to not cause a catastrophe.

The issue was that expedition-grade drones needed to charge for eight hours a day, and guess who had to wait sitting around doing nothing while the drones soaked in the godlight? Exactly.

His current route had taken him almost an entire year so far, and the next Vent was the last one he had to check before going back home to Astalon to check up on his descendants.

Three hundred and five days of walking and fault finding… It was at times like those that Biter missed having an organic body, one that could sigh.

About time now, he thought as he felt the first of the drones booting up. Full charge, it reported. Before the others woke up from their long nap, Biter squatted down, grabbed a pebble from the ground and stuck it into his mouth. With a powerful bite, he crushed the pebble and caused it to let off a few multicolored sparks. The latest A.F.M. System was really pretty handy and went along with his theme, not just because it gave Biter an actual mouth to bite with, but also allowed him to measure the potency of the Aethelic Flow wherever he was. Useful when one’s job involves tracking Flow Blockages for a living.

AETHELIC FLOW BUILDUP DETECTED. TWO THOUSAND SEVENTY SIX METERS BELOW, SEVEN HUNDRED EIGHTY FIVE NORTH NORTH WEST.

One last fault to fix and then he could go home, Biter thought. Then the rest of the drones came back online and assumed formation. All 7 Guardians formed an arrowhead above the treetops, and all 7 Engineers trailed behind Biter himself as he shifted into a quadruped form, then they shot off towards the Vent nearby.

III


Core-Keon stood in shock. To his left was the half of his scouting squad, and to the right was Faulo and his other half, but in front of him stood the fabled Junt-Cailen, the warriors discussing something with Cosi-Werria. Cailen wore the uniform of the leadership, her entire body covered in plates of blackmetal save for her blazing eyes and oddly enough everything below her elbows. She was unique in that she didn’t carry a blade on her, instead being renowned for the use of her fists, that of which were naturally plated in metal by her infection.

The spectacle of seeing Cailen for the first time almost overshadowed the discovery of the vent for Keon, but in the end he couldn’t help but notice the strange metallic grate, a hot hiss of air ripping through it and causing the wild moss that dressed it’s perimeter to shake with life. Already, the logistics core had placed several large wooden crates by the vent, and Keon could only assume the parts for the tabular dial were enclosed within.

As exciting as meeting the Junt was, the realization that this would be the easternmost vent in current Recusar territory was not lost on Keon, his mind already piecing together what the tabular dial would look like hovering above the vent — not that he had any idea what it looked like. He frowned. Or did.

His observation of the Logistics Core ended abruptly as he caught sight of his comrades pointing up at the sky. As soon as Keon himself craned his head up he saw seven identical trails of white smoke painting the sky. They weren’t clouds.

Muffled, hurried whispers came from the group around Cosi-Werria. The Cosi herself stared up at the skies, as if expecting something to come crashing down. Keon’s hands started to sweat and without realizing it, he rested his left hand on the hilt of his blade.

Then a sound like thunder rolled over the land.

Many flinched and covered their ears, while others like Cosi-Werria and the famous Godstriker held fast. In his entire career, he’d never seen his superiors as tense as now. He had never seen them holding so tightly onto the hilts of their sheathed weapons, or seen the subtle way their fingers shook in the case of Junt-Cailen. Though Keon couldn’t tell if the Godstriker’s fingers were shaking in fear or excitement.

A distant hum grew closer and closer, until even Keon could tell that it wasn’t just one hum, but seven. Closer and closer, until he heard both the hums and the whirring.

“Do not move a muscle.” Called out the Godstriker.

Seven figures burst forth from the canopies of the trees to the southwest. They were made of metal, they were loud, they floated, and they all trained their sights on different members of the expedition. Their shapes all differed slightly but they all had a single round eye at their front, which glowed a bright and angry red.

Keon froze, his eye meeting one of the flying automatons’ as it observed him closely. That gaze made his legs feel like they were made of stone. The smoke that began to trail out of the holes of both barrels that lined the flying automaton’s undercarriage lit up all the warning signs in his brain. Do not move, Keon thought as hard as he could, for Hevel’s sake do not move!

His peripheral vision caught movement. All the automatons caught it too.

The sound of a blade being unsheathed. A hiss of smoke. An intense hum as the automatons all turned. It was Core-Faulo.

“NO ONE THREATENS US! ATTA-”

It was as if the very air shattered. A deafening cacophony of thunder after thunder, explosion after explosion rang out. Keon’s eardrums nearly popped. Most of the Logistics Cores’ screamed. Keon himself took a step back, stumbled, and fell onto his backside.

A foot hit someone in the face. An arm shot up and entangled itself in a tree. Rotten organs splattered and covered Keon and three others in their blackened juices. A dented metal skull fell through the grates of the vent.

All that remained of Core-Faulo were pieces, his anchor ripped apart. A stray bullet had taken a piece of Cosi-Werria’s face off, but the hiss of her smoke was already slowly repairing her fractured skull and relining her face — the Cosi not even flinching.

“First protocol!” The order went up. Keon could hear his old training Cosi’s words, Protocol One: no quarter. A silence that lasted only a fraction of a second punctuated the change — ending with the cacophony of blades being drawn and battlecries rattling the ground. Metallic boots slammed down and recusant soldiers launched through the air towards their prey. The wind hissed by Keon’s own eyes as he followed behind the Junt.

Streaks of fire followed bullets and flashes of metal blinded the periphery as the two vanguard’s clashed. Smoke hissed for every bullet that punched through the flesh of a recusant and the scream of tearing metal followed every sword strike against the drones. One such drone flew by Keon, but he was quicker and managed to stab out with his blade, knocking it off course and putting a heavy dent into it. The machine wobbled, guns firing haphazardly into the sky — only to stop as a blackmetal fist came plowing through it’s form, launching sparks in every direction.

The ominously steady gaze of Junt-Cailen burned into Keon’s memory as she stood there with a drone impaled on her right arm, the fire of battle raging behind her. In his astonishment, Keon barely noticed Cosi-Werria spinning wildly behind the Junt, her twin blades whirring through enemy after enemy — until reaching a taller robot in a humanoid form; a prime.

IV


GUARDIAN 6 OFFLINE

GUARDIAN 3 OFFLINE

CRITICAL DAMAGE INCOMING.


Sparks flew and explosions ensued. The smoke momentarily enveloped the leaping Recusant’s body and when she finally emerged closer to him, her body was covered in grievous burns and cuts.

Both cooling fans on his back spewed forth fire as he forcefully engaged all the vitae in his body. He shot his left arm up. One of the twin blades sunk into his reinforced metallic chassis and with a single step he threw the homuran off balance. He parried the second blade and with a single move he unsheathed his own blade and cleaved off both of the Recusant’s arms.

The smoke-flesh fell to the ground and smoke hissed out of the Recusant’s stumps.

Activate broadcast. Recipient: S.O.A. EXTREMELY URGENT.

Only two of his Guardians remained… In a moment of respite, he caught a glimpse of a heavily battered Guardian on the other side of the clearing. With a single thought, all seven Engineers under his control rushed out of hiding and towards that drone. Four of them crashed into the Recusant soldiers, and the other three retrieved the drone. There’s no need for you to die a second time, boy.

A male Recusant jumped down from a tree, landing on Biter’s back and nearly knocking him down. A long dagger dug deep into his thorax. He let out a demon-like wail as he felt the tip getting stuck on his core’s shielding. The last Guardian drone, rather than continuing to defend itself, turned and shot a single explosive bullet at the Recusant on Biter’s back.

The Recusant’s stabbing hand exploded in a shower of smoke and Biter’s visor cracked under the shockwave. In that instant, he turned his head around completely and bit half of the Recusant’s neck out.

The stealthy Recusant fell to the death-stained ground with a gurgle and wide bloodshot eyes, until Biter stomped on his chest, crushing his Anchor.

The buzz of electricity and an ensuing explosion alerted Biter to the destruction of his last Guardian, and so he stood straight up and stared at the approaching Recusant soldiers.

Biter had been keeping count. With just himself and seven Guardians, they had managed to reduce the Recusant squadron to one third strength. He felt nothing as he looked at the carnage spread all over the area. There was no blood, only smoke and rotting bodies.The Recusant were not truly alive, and therefore deserved no empathy.

His Central Pump roared as he fired his Vitae up once more, this time to push the blade stuck in his left arm. It shot out and buried itself in the Twin bladed Recusant’s torso.

His grip tightened around the hilt of his long blade.

“Seventeen down, ten to go.” He said, his voice box distorted. Out of the ten remaining Recusant, only one was confident enough to approach. She was a fist-fighter, capable of punching through reinforced metal plating, and something about the way she walked seemed familiar…

V


Cosi-Werria fell off to the Prime’s side, arms severed and a blade sticking out of her stomach, but otherwise completely alive and unharmed. Junt-Cailen could see that there was the energy of health still in the Cosi’s eyes, but between her and the Godstriker herself was the final enemy, a prime. Without wasting any time, Junt-Cailen fell into her stance.

She shifted her feet and squared her shoulders, cocking her elbows and bringing her fists up in a martial pose. Fire still scorched the wild grasses around her, making the final battlefield a charred and burning valley between two helpless hillocks.

The prime seemed to hesitate once Godstriker fell into her pose, but instead of thinking too much on it — Cailen let loose a fist. Biter went to dodge, but the fist Cailen threw froze halfway — a feint — her other arm came in a wide arc, giving the prime just enough time to leap back from the strike… or so he thought.

A third punch was thrown, this one straight and bearing the Junt’s entire weight behind it as she stepped forward and gave a powerful shout. Thrusting like a piston, her fist plowed into the Prime’s chest and blasted through every layer of circuitry and shielding with a disarray of sparks until her metal hand came exploding out the back of the robot.

Cailen’s face was mere inches from Biter’s as she held her final stance — but his body was unresponsive, his core clutched in the fingers of the fist that had impaled him, wires rattling with excess energy. Godstriker could feel the metallic body go limp against her arm — it was over.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Legion02
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“AHA!” Farwaen roared triumphantly, his hands groping a nearby tree. He was still blindfolded, and only wore a big smile — naked as can be. This didn’t stop him from his victory as he slapped the tree with a final word. “Tis but a tree!”

“Yes… I know… they’re all trees…” Hafface’s annoyed voice came from the blackness, somewhere behind him. “They’ve ALL been trees.”

“Yes indeed my daring damsel, but one of these trees happens to be THE tree, and I’d be remiss not to check each one!”

Another groan. “Each one?”

A jumping laugh broke from Farwaen as he stepped forward blindly. “Each and every one!”

They’ve been checking trees for hours now. Most of the trees bore regular fruits which only satisfied the stomach.

But with a blink, it happened. An idea, born from pure instinct, bubbled up in Farwaen’s mind. He had no reason to know it, there was no logical explanation for it, but suddenly He knew in which direction they could find the tree. His smile curled, his silence causing Hafface to suddenly stop behind him. Swinging a hand behind him blindly, slapping Hafface a few times in the process, Farwaen let out a chuckle.

“I think I know where to go.”

“Oh please let this be the end,” Hafface answered.

They chased the instinctual trail and in almost no time both of them found what they were looking for. As if they’ve been walking in circles for hours only to now stumble upon it. Before them stretched a clearing as Nimueh had described it. The canopy opened up revealing a sole tree basking in the middle of the light. Its fruit looked purple and strange and Farwaen knew, without any doubt, that this was the tree they’ve been looking for.

“Wait, how did you know they were purple?” Hafface asked, Farwaen not realizing he had been thinking out loud. He coughed and Hafface growled.

“Were you peeking this entire time?”

“Hark! Tis the tree we have been looking for, my dutiful squire!” Farwaen ripped the blindfold off and stood proudly in front of the tree, fists on his hips and stance wide. He sucked in a breath of the breezy forest and puffed out his chest. “Pray tell, oh wild tree of mystery, speak to us of your noble lady.”

First there was silence, and then a lone cricket started chirping. Hafface slapped her face and pushed Farwaen forward. “You have to eat the fruit, you idiot!”

“Ah yes…” Farwaen’s smile faltered as he pedaled forward to the tree. Once there he reached up slowly, fingers tapping one of the fruits. He retracted his hand and poked a different fruit, a thoughtful hum rumbling in his throat.

“For all that is good, are you really checking each one?” Hafface swore. Farwaen snuck a smile over his shoulder.

“The first one was bruised.”

“Move aside!” Hafface burst past Farwaen, the man desperately using his hands to censor his view. The elf, however, only gave him a frustrated look before ripping two fruits from the tree, slamming one into his mouth and taking a rigorous bite of the other herself. Farwaen closed his eyes and let his teeth sink into the fruit, taking a healthy portion into his mouth. He wiggled his nose, tasting the strange fruit and then swallowed.

When both of them opened their eyes they weren’t in the forest anymore. Instead, they found themselves in a verdant, serene field. A small creek, crystal clear creek ran through the field, and sitting beside it was a green fox.

“I’ve been waiting for you.” The fox said, though both of them knew that a goddess was talking to them. “You wish to talk?”

“I sure hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long, my venerated vulpis.” Farwaen lent himself to one knee and tipped his head, one hand flourished outward with the other cupped the space between his forehead and his raised knee. “But lo, I do indeed seek an audience with you, Queen of the Wood.”

“Stand, Eidolon.” The fox said.“And speak your mind.” Even though it spoke towards Farwaen, it was looking at Hafface. Or – judging from the intensity of the gaze – looking through her.

“Very well!” Farwaen stood tall. “I have braved your wilds in nothing but my own skin as per the request of thine own prophet — and I’m here to…”

Hafface prodded Farwaen in the back and he cleared his throat. “Right, I’m here to request the release of the violent curse set upon the forest the elves rely on.”

“The violent curse they suffer because they refuse to abide by the laws of my domain?” The fox asked as it stood up. “The violent curse they suffer because they refused to listen to a blessed one of their own? The violent curse they suffer because they believe themselves superior above all but their so-called Lady?” The eyes of the fox began to burn and glow with rage. Though her voice didn’t reflect it.

“Tell me, Farwaen. Why should I lift a curse that the elves so readily deserve?”

"Because, my dear Lady, tis but the nice thing to do!" Farwaen tipped his head. "Take them unto thy benevolent bosom and show with example the possibility of coexistence and mutual respect to both party's desires."

“The nice thing to do?” A chuckle slipped from the fox. “I don’t think you understand to whom you are talking to, Eidolon. When a lion catches a newborn gazelle, should he leave it alive because it is the nice thing to do? No. He will eat it. Like nature, I am not benevolent. And yet despite all that I have made an attempt to offer coexistence.” It locked eyes with Hafface, who was standing behind Farwaen now.

“I’ve sent Nimueh. One of your own. One who I gave understanding. And when she went to talk to the other elves she was ridiculed and shouted out. Still, she lives banished. Still, she is talked about as if she is some hag that must be avoided at all times.” The land on the other side of the creek shimmered and shifted into the shape of Masol’s Blackstone. It showed Nimueh pleading with Masol and Masol verbally putting her down. Until the crowd started chanting and Nimueh fled.

“You wish for a second chance for the elves. I am willing to give it but for a price. Are you sure you are willing to bind yourself to this, Farwaen of the Eidolon?”

“Alas, I have little choice.” Farwaen stood up tall. “On my honor, I swear to you that I shall pay your price and grant the elves their benediction — and should I fail, I give them to your final judgment.”

“Farwaen!” Hafface squeaked, clearly anxious.

“Worry not for me, Hafface!” Farwaen waved a hand. “A knight is only as gallant as their word, and I have already given mine.”

Hafface shook her head wildly. “I was more concerned about the whole part where you gamble the elven people on this.”

“They will have their part to play.” The fox said as the vision of Nimueh being ridiculed faded away again. She turned to face the elf directly now. “As do you, Hafface. I do not expect the elves to listen to the Eidolon, no matter how boisterous he is. So you will have to make sure they are taught how to respect nature. Plant a tree if you sunder one. Tend the berry bushes from which you pick and never take all the berries. If you hunt do not selfishly take the carcass with you and deny my scavenging children. There is a cycle in nature, so too must there be a cycle between elf and land. A cycle of giving and taking. If the elves understand and can respect that cycle, I might be persuaded to lift the curse. Will you do that, Hafface?”

“So long as you give us allowances as well,” Hafface stepped beyond Farwaen, the knight averting his eyes. “Allow us to bring baskets, to wear our clothes, to gather material for our homes. Let us do what we naturally need to do to be comfortable and survive — even thrive. If we can do what we need to do, and keep your decrees at the same time, then maybe we all can thrive together.”

Farwaen nodded in agreement, a proud curve on his smile.

The fox goddess remained silent for just a second before she said: “I’ll allow it, but on one condition.” She then locked eyes with Farwaen. “You will kill Masol.”

“Ah!” Farwaen bit his knuckle and grew pensive, almost comically so. He turned to the side, away from Phelenia, as if in dark consideration. “A macabre prospect, my Wizened Woman of the Wood. I dare say I have not yet met this man and find the idea of being his assassin quite the disturbing task. Dare I say!” He turned to the goddess, a shining plea in his big eyes. “Dare I ask? Perhaps instead of rigor mortis to be cast upon this target of yours, expulsion? Sent to learn the proper respects in isolation, far from intervention of the new covenant between you and the elves?”

“Just as Nimueh was forced to live in isolation? I think not.” The fox said as it threw a sly smile – as much as a fox could smile like a humanoid – at Farwaen. “You did swear that you would pay my price. This is it. Wet your blade with his blood and deliver his soul onto my brother of souls. When his corpse falls to the ground my curse will be lifted to give the zenii time to adapt to the new covenant.”

“I see…” Farwaen pinched his chin and looked at Phelenia with downcast eyes. “As you had said, I have given my word as a Knight and it would not be fitting of my honor to turn from my dictation, however dastardly the request. If you are sure of this, and see no other solution — then I shall engage Masol in a sport between gentlemen; though I will add that some may not find this conquest befitting of a new beginning and budding relationship.”

Hafface quickly added. “It could cause more strife, more odds.”

“Perhaps.” The green fox said towards Hafface but then turned towards Farwaen. “But he must die if the covenant is to succeed. It was his arrogance that put the zenii on this path. He was the one who humiliated Nimueh and refused to heed her warning. Even now he sends in his dim-witted followers into my domain believing he can fight me. He must die.”

“And then-“ The fox began to glow and morph right in front of both Hafface and Farwaen. A figure began to emerge from the glow. She was elven in features, but a bit taller and unnaturally beautiful. A dress of emerald green leaves was draped over her body. Before them stood Phelenia as the aspect of beauty and life. “-the covenant will flourish.” She gave Hafface alone a gentle, hopeful smile. “Don’t fail me.” Then she held out a hand. A bright light flashed from her palm.

When Hafface and Farwaen both blinked they found themselves standing in front of the tree again, with the purple fruit in hand.

The two stood in silence for a while, contemplating everything that happened and what will happen. A dense somber atmosphere fell between them as they thought and ran scenarios over and over… Until it was suddenly cracked by Hafface's voice.

"Oh but she can wear a dress!"

End




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Astalonian Shenanigans





20 Years Ago, Nube City, Astalon


Fred’s official title was ‘refrigeration engineer’, though in all honesty he wasn’t entirely sure what the refrigeration really was supposed to do in the lab or how any of that worked. He wasn’t much of an engineer; more like a technician, and since being assigned to work in this laboratory all he’d ever done was make sure the damned ice-rooms got closed whenever the Boss or any of his more competent and knowledgeable minions came and went.

He didn’t know what sort of research was supposed to be going on inside this lab or why they kept bringing in animals (dead or alive!) and stuffing them in those ice-rooms, but they did it, and he didn’t ask questions. He just closed the doors so that cold air wouldn’t get out, and he felt lucky to have such an easy life.

That all had changed on that fateful day when the announcement came, though. The Boss’ words echoed through even the lab’s speakers, buried as it was within a mountain, just like they echoed everywhere else throughout Nube and the rest of the whole island: 30 minutes to get into the Boss’ workshop, or be cleansed!

Fred had laughed. What did ‘cleansing’ even mean? They’d be grabbed up by some Primes and marched into a bathhouse? He spent the first ten minutes in disbelief, even as all the other technicians and whatever passed for homuran ‘scientists’ fled the lab to find their families or try to somehow make it in time. There was no way anyone could get down the mountain and all the way to the workshop within a half hour, even on the best of days, even without traffic. It was just too far.

This had to be some kind of prank, right? Some kind of horrible prank? As fear began to creep into Fred, he paced down the now-emptied hallways. He heard something from Joe’s office, and peeked in through a crack in the door to see his coworker’s shoe sticking out from under the desk while the lab director hid and murmured to himself in a panic; that was when Fred really felt the adrenaline kick in and send him into a rush. He knew what cleansing meant; they all did. The Boss’ tone had said it all, even if some chose not to hear the meaning.

Fred was running; he didn’t know where, but Joe probably had the right idea. They were deep underground in what was supposed to be a top-secret lab, so maybe if he just hid for long enough, this could all blow over. So Fred threw on a lab coat that he found on a rack somewhere, and then another coat over that. Then a rain jacket over that! Undoing all the latches on one of the ice rooms, he opened the door. He’d never really looked inside before – it wasn’t in his job description and he could supposedly do everything he needed to do from the maintenance corridor adjacent, so they’d never cleared him to go in – but now he just ran inside. Nobody would look for him here, and with the three jackets maybe he’d still be warm.

Of course, when he went inside, he shut the door behind him out of habit (couldn’t let any of the cold air get out, that was his one job!) and then he was completely in the dark. He fumbled around looking for a light switch, but found none. He couldn’t even get the door open either; from this side he could only feel a keypad, and he had no clue what combination to try. He fumbled at the buttons in the dark until his fingers grew numb, and then reality set in.

It felt like he’d been trapped in there for hours already. It was deathly silent except for the whirring of the refrigerated room’s fans, and the metallic echos of his footsteps and pounding on the door. He staggered around in the dark, walking facefirst into a wall in what must have been the back of that room. But then his hand felt something strange; it was a terminal of some sort.

He started mashing buttons, and a screen lit up. He could see!

”Cryotank engaged,” a robotic voice sounded, and then a glowing pod opened in front of him. It looked nice and padded, but it didn’t seem to do anything. Fred just stared into the funny bed for a minute, tapping the keyboard every time the monitor started to dim. He couldn’t lose the light. He was starting to get cold, though. He needed to think! To stop panicking! Maybe laying on that padded thing would help. Impulsively, he flopped down in, but then with a start he heard and felt the pod’s lid slam down closed on top of him. Now he was trapped in an even worse place! It was completely dark, but it wasn’t quiet. There was the gurgling of liquids through pipes, and then frigid water filled his coffin while he screamed.




Navigating was hard for a dragon. You couldn’t just go wherever you wanted – you had to swim through clouds, and clouds tended to just float wherever the wind was going. You could at least huff and puff and summon clouds when there weren’t any, but that got really tiring really fast. Raijin and the rest were taking their chances with the clouds and swimming through the sky, but Shen had laughed at them all and said they’d probably just wind up back where they started, but that he’d come back and find them if they took too long. He had important things to see to in the meantime, so they were on their own getting back. Susanoo really wanted to get home, but in the end he couldn’t be bothered with all of that, so he was just swimming in water like a normal sort of thing.

Swimming all the way across the ocean, from that northern land full of giants all the way back home to the dragon mountains! Yup, that was the plan. But sometimes plans went awry, and all the islands that they’d passed on the way over here were different. Some memorable ones were gone, and others were there that Susanoo could’ve sworn he hadn’t seen the first time through. It was all terribly confusing and tiring and in the end susanoo decided to just take a break, so he clambered up onto the first island that he saw. This one was big, and it did look familiar, which was a good sign. It was a bit rainy too, so Susanoo slithered up into the sky and flew to a mountop to get a better view. It was icy on top, and his landing wasn’t terribly smooth, so when his great serpentine bulk landed it cracked the ice and started a miniature avalanche. Woops.




Astus was pretty good at building things, but everything broke after a long enough time with nothing to fix it. It was a wonder that the prototype cryopod had lasted as long as it had on low power and with no properly certified refrigeration engineer servicing the rooms for the past two decades, but it had kept going! At least until an avalanche had knocked out the last of the ancient backup power lines to the lab.

Fred had been dreaming that he’d drowned, and that he was cold. Then he woke up trapped in some sort of liquid, and he was freezing cold. He panicked and thrashed, trying not to breathe in, but when instinct finally made him surrender, he did. But strange as it felt, he could breathe in this strange water! And it felt as though it was warming up.

”Power levels critically low,” a strangely familiar voice announced. ”Initiating emergency abort procedure. Thawing.”

Fred was too weak to think or make sense of that, much less move.

”Thawing.”

The memories were starting to come back, as were hints of the panic.

”Thawing.”

Hadn’t it already said that twice?

”Thawing.”

Was it going to just keep saying that in the same annoying voice?

”Thawing.”

SHUT UP!

He angrily pounded the lid of the cryopod in just the same moment as it finally cracked open on its own. In reality he’d done nothing, but it felt like he’d just smashed his way out, and that did a lot to soothe his bruised ego.

He clambered out of the wrecked pod, a shaft of light coming from the ceiling to illuminate the tiny ice-room, or what had been an ice room. Now it wasn’t even cold anymore. There shouldn’t have been any light… shivering and wet, he padded over to the place beneath the beam of light and looked up, only to see a hole all the way to the surface. Some fissure in the rock had erupted and cut a hole all the way through the mountain down into the lab, twenty feet below! Well, that was convenient. But how long had he been down there?!




It took hours for Fred to cough up the last of the weird liquid from his lungs, wring some of the freezing fluid out of his clothes, and then regain the strength to climb. It took the rest of the day for him to actually succeed in climbing out – he’d slipped and fallen, or been too tired and had to give up, a half dozen times, but luckily he never really got hurt and eventually he mustered up the willpower to finally succeed. He clambered out of the fissure and onto the ground above, beholding the wonderful sky again, and panting. And then some sort of weird snake slithered through a cloud in that sky. He blinked, thinking he was hallucinating, but it was still there, so he screamed.

That was a really dumb reaction, because the snake seemed to hear and almost immediately it began coming down. Fred looked into the hole he’d just clambered out of, and seriously contemplated going right back down to hide. He really didn’t want to go back down there, but he also didn’t want to be eaten. He steeled his nerves and got ready to slide back down, but then the dragon landed right next to him with a thump.

“Hello, stranger!” it amicably announced. “I’m Susanoo, a loyal servant of the god Shen, just passing through. But I seem to be lost! Who are you?”

“I’m Fr-Fre-Frederick Zolner,” the terrified homuran stammered.

“I’ll call you Frettzo for short,” Susanoo answered. “Where is this place?”

Frettzo blinked.




Astus tapped his chin with his middle finger, eyes focused on the strange colleague in front of him.

“Listen li’l dude, I can fulfil your order just fine but I need twice the time and some of your flying snake friends to provide extra protection to my Labyrinth expeditions. It’s dangerous down there y’know? And I’ll need to make many, many trips just to establish enough mining outposts to gather the resources we’ll need.” The gray-skinned God asserted and set his hands down on the metal table between the two Gods, the metal that had come into his skin slowly turning a shade of orange. Who knew that doing business with fellow gods would be this exciting? “I’ll also need a copy of the schematics of the weapons and other items you want me to mass-produce and some assistance in locating the Colossus I mentioned before, number 8. Deal?”

Shen brought a finger up to his fu-manchu, braiding and twirling it in thought. “Those favors seem easy enough to arrange; how hard could it be to find a Colossus? And half those dragons just spend their time mucking around in caves anyways, they may as well do something useful while they’re at it.” But something was troubling him.

He explained, “You see, if i knew what sort of weapons would be most effective, I might’ve built them myself! Fortunately, or uh, maybe unfortunately, I can sense the taint here, too. You’ve had issues with that nasty fungus infecting the locale, yes? Well, if it’s still around, we can at least do some experimentation on it to try and devise an effective countermeasure. Then we’d both be equipped to fight it!”

“Hah! I like the way you think, guy. Let’s go, I’ll lead t’way. D’ya know how to airwalk?”

So they went to one of the triple-quarantined isolation zones, neither of them paying any heed to the countless biohazard signs, robotic guards, or other countermeasures in the way. “I feel as though fire might be an effective means of destroying these things,” Shen explained as he looked through a window at one of the fungal horrors inside. Then he suddenly grunted and groaned and took on a form closer to his true nature – a giant golden dragon that nearly filled the whole room, and he opened the door with a claw and then breathed out a torrent of fire that roasted the monster inside.

Then he went back into a smaller and more convenient form and ate a grain of rice to wash out the sooty aftertaste from all of that. “A shame that my dragons can’t do that!” he announced nonchalantly. “Really seemed to do the trick though, eh? Maybe we can make a weapon to spit fire! Or, to throw it, maybe.”

“Huh. I won’t deny that it was effective, but that kind of fire could vaporise anything on this Galbar, guy. There’s no telling if a mortal-tiered fire spitter would even come close to your breath in terms of power, but I can make a few prototypes to test them out.” Astus perked up a little once he saw another oversized, deformed fungal horror shambling into view from behind one of the half-melted boulders at the far edge of the area vaporised by Shen’s breath. “Hold on a second- '' He said as he dug into the various pockets in his extra short cargo trousers, finally pulling out a tiny vial from his back right pocket. It held a yellowish liquid inside. With a smirk, Astus threw the vial at the faraway horror, the sound of breaking glass and hissing reaching their ears but a moment later.

After a moment the horror’s skin went red, then purple, then blue, and the blisters all over its skin popped and dark blood seeped from its orifices. It groaned in anguish the whole time, scratching away at its skin and throat until it crumbled onto the ground a shivering mess.

“It’s a gas-based weapon designed to immobilise infected personnel. Recipe’s a trade secret and liable t’change, but I can make as much of it as you need if ya like it. I recommend your cloud gecko boys wear gas masks if they’re going to be handling it… We offer those too, by the way.” He explained with a thumbs up and a grin, a single glint of light reflecting off of his teeth.

“Oh, the dragons won’t be using any of this stuff,” Shen snorted, “because they’d find a way to screw it up, and they’d tip my hand anyways. This is all top secret, see? If it it goes according to the plan, they won’t even know I was involved. So that means you’ve got to keep all this to yourself, too!”

“That goes without sayin’, moustache.” Astus answered as he pretended that he was zipping his mouth closed.

What was left unsaid was that it’d look an awfully lot like Astus or maybe Voligan had set this whole thing up when push came to shove and it was time to execute the Grand Plan, but hey, Shen couldn’t exactly take all the heat on himself.

Shen momentarily ceased toying with his moustache to give Astus a hard, serious stare. “But yeah, I’ve got a bunch of golems. Rock guys, sort of like your metal ones here,” Shen went on, lightly thwacking the closest Prime Astalonian with a stick for emphasis. “So I figure this gas wouldn’t do anything to them. They’d be pretty good for distributing it.”

“Ah, the automatons created by my pal, Vol! Yeah, the golems will be perfect! Nowadays I never seem to have enough bodies t’do the things that need to be done.” Astus admitted as he slicked his napalm hair back. “Station a number of your rock guys with me and I’ll give them your monthly order so you can decide where to distribute it.”




The pair of third-generation Primes stationed at the main entrance to Astus’ Workshop were known to be the best of their class. How else could one justify having been given the important job of protecting the Boss? So naturally, as soon as they saw the strange fellow approaching the blast doors, they stepped in his way. The organic looked markedly… Different… Than the ones they’d seen inside the Vault. His golden hair and lanky, uncommonly tall stature almost made him look like one of the fabled fang-ears said to inhabit the east. His scent, too, was unlike anything they’d ever sensed, and his hormonal balance was all over the place.

The Prime to the right, an amalgamation of hundreds of interlocking plates and gears made of bronze and iron, twitched. Its visor flashed red, yellow, then red again, and finally turned black. A spark flew from the back of its head and it slumped, immobile.

“State Your Biz-Ness In The Workshop, Homuran.” Ordered the one who remained upright in a tinny voice that resembled a drone’s whirring engine more than a Homuran’s vocal chords. This one was made of an almost entirely opaque metal, the colour of the poisoned earth to the southwest of Astalon, and had an ovoid visor that covered the entirety of its face and top of the skull that flashed an intense yellow.

Susanoo, in his perfect homuran guise, projected a confident air and smirked at those two chumps. “I’m here to see the Boss, so you’d best not keep him waiting.”

The Prime's visor stayed yellow, "Doubt. No App-Ointment Today. You Will Leave Now, Homuran, Or You Will Be Stab-Bed. Not By Me, The Boss."

“It’s one of those, uh, what are they called? Walk-ins!” the persistent dragon-in-disguise retorted. He really needed to see who the hell this ‘Boss’ was, stabbing people and laying waste to the island… Shen would need to know so that this place could be liberated, as soon as they finished saving the world with the Grand Plan.

It turned out that Shen already seemed to know all about the place though, because in the next moment the workshop’s metal door opened with a loud clack and Shen strolled right on out, next to some other god that Susanoo had never seen or heard of before.

Shen and Susanoo locked eyes. It was a really awkward moment, because the god’s fist was jammed into his rice pouch as if he were about to chomp on a whole handful, but he’d just been busted. “Oh, Susanoo! Fancy seeing you here! I promise I’m sticking to the diet! I was just counting how long until I need to cook more!”

“Huh, wait wait wait!” Astus tapped his temples as he jogged over to the Prime that had short circuited, a quick glance being enough for him to turn to Susanoo with a raised eyebrow, “The hell did you do to my newest employee, gecko?!”

“Why, I didn’t do anything to it! Just told it that I wanted in!” Susanoo would have answered, if he’d been paying any attention at all to what that fiery-haired Astus fellow had been saying. His attention in that moment was on something far more urgent – that of his master, and his excuses.

Susanoo’s open palm, raised as if in peace, twisted from its soft and squishy state into a hard draconic claw, and then he swiped right at Shen’s face. The god barely managed to thwack him at the wrist in time to block the blow! “You told me what to do,” the dragon reminded Shen, “if you ever tried to get off the diet!”

More swipes were met with more thwacking blocks and graceful dodges. Shen frowned. “The plan was that you’d forget! Stop this nonsense anyways! My new business partner here has some work for you to do!”

The dragon stopped his wild swings at Shen and turned to look at Astus, panting and with his face now covered in golden scales. The gray-skinned god merely watched, a gentle hum coming from inside the prime he was leaning on, until a loud ‘DING’ came from the Prime’s chest cavity. In response to the ding, Astus pressed on the Prime’s chest plate and once it swung open, pulled out an oversized bowl filled with rice.

“Y’should really eat up, pal! The little pleasures in life, am I right or am I right?” Astus said with a chuckle as he walked past Susanoo and pushed the bowl into Shen’s hands. “Try it, it’s amazing stuff lil guy. Handmade!”

When Shen sniffed at the steaming hot grains, he caught a faint whiff of some sort of chemical. Everything here had weird odors though; must’ve been some sort of food additive. He indulged himself one grain right in front of the infuriated dragon, but nearly gagged. This stuff wasn’t rice! “There!” Shen said, pointing up at the sky dramatically. Everyone looked up at some funny-shaped cloud, just as he’d predicted they would, so then he took the chance to discretely spit out the nasty piece of rice-shaped plastic.

“That’s where I’ve gotta go,” he explained awkwardly to Astus, “back up to the sky. Gotta make sure all the pieces keep moving, never enough time. I’ll be seeing you around, partner! I’ll just take this grub of yours to go.”

And then the funny-looking man was suddenly a great big golden dragon, five-clawed and winged unlike any of the others. The celestial dragon took off into the sky without any further goodbyes. A torrential downpour of acrid rain (everything still smelt and tasted wrong on this whole polluted island) came a few moments later, which afforded Susanoo the chance to likewise make his escape.




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Autumnal Order - Expansion


Moonlight illuminated Lord Night’s territory. It was never impossible to tell day from night except to look up and see what color orb dominated the sky. Adan patrolled the band he was traveling with. While most were asleep, several herders remained awake to watch over their herd of sheep.

Several eidolons had attempted difficulty navigating the eternal dusk, however Adan’s eyes had adjusted. He saw a lone herder begin to wander off after a sheep. He increased his pace after him. As he became distant from the group, his eyes cast a wide net to both of his sides.

As his head turned, he saw the blur of an intruder’s maw racing towards his neck. While this would mean death for an ordinary person, he was no ordinary Eidolon. He did not have time to draw his scythe-glaive, but he reached his hand to stop the winged intruder from biting down.

He wished he could have simply strangled the monster, but it was hard simply to keep his grip. A stray thought had crossed his mind that he should have kept his weapon in hand, perhaps he had grown complicit and forgot that intruders could be so bold.

The beast’s claws rose up and slammed down into one his shoulders, his other shoulder just barely dodging away from his crude attack. He felt his life-force drawn towards the unnatural appendage intruding upon his body, but he gritted his teeth and directed it away.

His essence flooded into his arm and before the intruder could react, he had punched him square in the gut. A terrible sound emanated from where he struck. It had attempted to swipe out with his free claw, but after the wind was removed from his lungs, his attack did not amount to anything.

It stumbled back, releasing his shoulder and using his other hand to hold himself up. He paused, his eyes betraying his uncertainty. He turned around to fly off, but his moments of hesitation allowed the reaper to draw his weapon and catch the creature’s calf with its perpendicular blade.

It managed to escape into the air, but did so without one of its legs. Its foul blood quickly began to be pulled towards the ground and created a trail behind it. It must have realized that it was doomed to bleed out.

It did its best to gain height in what short time it had left before being dragged behind the shroud. It swooped down, claws extended to make one final attack. Before the eidolon was in arms reach, the scythe glaive had adjusted its blade to be spear-like and it had thrown itself upon its point.
Adan spun around to ensure that there were no other intruders lurking nearby. While he was examining the area, the lone herder began to wander back with his sheep. His eyes had stopped at the dead intruder. He wordlessly mouthed a thanks, before quickly rejoining the others.

In the morning, Isabel began her patrol to allow Adan a chance to eat. He would not have an opportunity to sleep before the band needed to continue forward. Everyone agreed it was best to make the journey to the sunny north as short as possible.

Adan, Isabel, two other reapers, a handful of golems and a story-teller called Abril had joined with this traveling band to offer protection and establish an outpost in the north. It would have been better if they could send a large group, but they simply didn’t have enough people to do so.

While eating, Adan noticed the herder from last night pointing him out to the marshal. The marshal walked towards him with another person which he introduced as his son. The marshal had congratulated for slaying the intruder, and danced around the topic but he could tell he was asking if his younger son could join the order. He finished eating and directed the marshal to speak to Abril.

Being polite, he had guided the marshal and his son to Abril. She was chosen to lead the northern outpost mostly because nobody showed any interest. While there were those who had started to eye leadership roles, fortresses closer to the silo were generally considered more prestigious. Adan had found Abril exchanging stories with the band’s storyteller, which he would guess was her own reason for traveling north.

Adan found himself wandering around afterwards. As they were in a particularly dangerous area of the Duskwall, away from both the silo and the northern edge, it was decided the group would press forward several days, stopping only to sleep. All of the adults and older children busied themselves to prepare for the long trek.

Several young children had gathered around the golems and pestered them. The golems seemed happy answering even some of the more inane questions. While it was difficult at first to read golem’s tones and mannerism, Adan thought he was getting better at it. One seemed to react with mildly bemusement at a child climbing up his back.

One of the other reapers was still sleeping since she was the one to stay up on patrol tonight. The last reaper was busy cleaning their spare clothes and blankets while watching their horse. They needed to bring one in case they needed to quickly return to the silo to relay an urgent message. It was apparently Isabel’s horse.

The next few days were uneventful. He briefly wondered if the intruders spoke among themselves and that was why they were so hesitant to attack directly. Three intruders in false skins and tattered clothing approached the group, but a simple incision into the skin revealed their insidious nature.

Perhaps they thought they could overpower the band if they could get close. But they were quickly proven mistaken in that regard. One of the other reapers guarded the marshal, while Adan managed to slay two with his scythe. The last managed to escape out into the wilds, and they didn’t pursue as it might lead to an ambush.

As they continued, there were several minor encounters with the intruders. One day, he was pulled away to look at the corpse of a giant wasp that another reaper had killed. He had heard vague rumors about them before, but this was his first time seeing one. Based on what he had heard, he was glad it was dead.

The band eventually reached the edge of the Duskwall. The abrupt end caught Adan by surprise. He needed time to adjust to the brightness, everyone did. While most wouldn’t want to settle down so close to its border, having several reapers to guard them allowed them to be more bold. Everyone, including the sheep, were tired from pushing as hard as they did.

The members of the order continued to travel with the band while they looked for an appropriate place to establish a new fortress. It also gave the band some time to adjust to the new lands and make plans for where they should go. Draza had shared what knowledge the order had regarding the north, but even still it was unfamiliar territory.

As they continued traveling, they eventually ran into another band that was a part of the small Saltstone Alliance. The two bands had lengthy discussions with each other and Abril. He was invited to attend, but wasn’t particularly interested. The Saltstone leader was called for and joined the conversation. It was decided that the wandering band would join the alliance, while the order would establish a fortress nearby closer to the Duskwall.

Living so close to Lord Night’s territory had instilled a terror of intruders, and so the Saltstone were glad to have someone to their south to help protect them. The wandering band offered them wool and rations as thanks for providing them safe passage. Having several encounters with intruders would have led to many deaths, if not the annihilation of the band, had they not had guardians. However even so, they couldn’t take so much and leave them empty handed. They didn’t have much to give, but they gave them some grains taken from the silo as a gesture of goodwill.

The group took some time finding the right spot to set up the fortress. The golems were very particular about things Adan didn’t fully understand. When speaking to each other, they would often revert to their native language but he could pick up certain words like soil and wind. When they decided upon a location, the reapers gathered together and stood in attention. Abril dug a small hole in the ground and filled it with grain from the silo, she said a prayer before burying it and then marking the location with a twig from a bush.




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Shadows Over Keltra

Part II



The warmth of the Eternal Fire passed through the scarlet stone, it filled all of Keltra, and shaped itself around each creature, living or dead, passing through all like an unseen force. As other fires that had been corrupted continued to persist in its presence, it felt its purpose awakened further as its connection to the divine was called upon from afar. Something sacred stirred within its revitalizing depths.

Before the nigh omnipotent reach of Pride wielding the Scepter of Keltra, and aided by her sisters, could unbury and reveal the three wraiths that intruded in their home, another more dominant and ancient entity had found and spoken to them. “You whom I have forsaken… Why have you come to this sanctuary?”

It was a whisper that answered from among the entombed neverborn, a shiver of mournful reproach and bitter confession:

"Because of thee the light within us died:
Because thy wilful word our flames did cleave,
Her hands and ours a thorny crown must weave,
A harrow for the world we were denied."


“You did not deserve this cruel fate, and I do not deserve your forgiveness… something is coming, but there is a merciful gift I would provide you. You whom struggle to walk upon the Sacred Path, may receive this gift, though you must flee the child of the Underworld before it is too late. Begone, accursed Eschatli…” The familiar voice of a goddess said before it began to recede, and with it much of the warmth that had enveloped the unawakened bodies like an ethereal cocoon was now gone.

"...It feels so nice."

The words had come from the stone shell that covered the three interlopers, but they were nothing like the hollow hiss that their sister had flung at Fear. It was still a hoarse, dry, unpleasant sound, the groan of a parched throat blasted dry by desert winds, but it was firmer, more vibrant, more alive.

As the groping enchanted limbs rearranged themselves, three shapes leapt out from among the tangle, striking a pose between the ghoulish and the heroic as they landed side by side. They had at one point numbered among the thousands of quiescent husks in Keltra's custody, yet such they were no more, for a breath of life, however tainted, had come to dwell in them. Emaciated, blackened like charcoal by coursing fingers of liquid flame, grey and crimson alike, that flowed over their skin, they resembled more than anything the mummified remains of victims of a wildfire. Ash flaked away from them with every motion, and their eyes, singular and threefold, were set in featureless, defaced heads that appeared to have cooled after being liquefied by heat.

"We would not hide from you, sisters," one of the cyclopes rasped in that fire-scarred voice, "Let us dance."

As Kindness and Curiosity continued to swirl, caper, sway, and gesture, beside her; Pride remained in a state of detached stillness, only motioning and pointing with her scepter as though she were leisurely conducting an orchestra. Her eyes and voice conveyed otherwise, suffused with an intense forbidding aspect that forewarned her wrath. “Then come here, and accept my invitation… or remain trespassing, and suffer the consequences.”

With her words, the majority of the vast hall and its continual shifting came to a halt; a legion of scarlet stone hands and statues surrounded the vicinity, shielding all aside from the Sacred Sextet and the intruders. Only the stone close to the champions continued to ripple and readily mold itself into whatever shape was desired. The Otherworldly music sang clearly, an angelic choir that resounded throughout the keep, powerful and wondrous in honor of this encounter.

"Is there a difference?" A provoking laugh, or the shadow of one, accompanied the question, ash blowing over barren dunes. The three incarnates stepped towards their scarlet counterparts, tentatively at first, on legs that slipped and bent in strange ways, then more and more firmly, until at last they were gliding and drifting on weightless leg-stumps that barely touched the ground. An uneven black trail stretched on the red behind them, cinders sloughing off their burning skin with every leap.

"A true dance is a dance with death." Every time they alighted, the Eschatli momentarily froze in a new statuesque stance, fracturing their jaunting advance into a rosary of crystallized instants. "It is a passion we have never felt. You would not refuse it us, would you, sisters? Would you deny it to yourselves?"

Pride shook her head, and sighed once more before she answered them. “I’m afraid I must. Perhaps another time, but one of our own has fled after unleashing a great evil upon the world. Our dance will have to wait. Now, your grace, would you reveal yourself, please?” The Keeper of Keltra called out to one unseen and unheard, waiting for a reply. The keep grew quiet, as the otherworldly melody became little more than a whisper, and the nearby skirmish between Courage and the other two wraiths came to a close. The brash champion having lashed out at everything after retrieving the Blade of Mourning, now imprisoned within stone as well. There were only a few hushed sounds of those that were still free persisting in Keltra.

“There is no grace here,” the cyclopic wight chuckled as her disembodied sisters streamed out from the nearest gateway in the outer wall in a whirl of smoke, “Only us.”

The sound of her words had scarcely died below the distant ceiling when she sprang, impossibly light on her feet even for her desiccated frame. Her high arc through the air brought her bearing down on Curiosity, gnarled hands outstretched and open for a terrible clasp. Beside her, her twin was plummeting towards Kindness along a flawlessly matching trajectory. Only the three-eyed Outsider had stayed behind, hesitant all of a sudden, and looked around as if something were palpably amiss.

A combination of coalescing light and glittering ice interlocked and woven together into a large barrier interposed itself between the three champions and their two assailants, shifting and shimmering with the might of both Curiosity and Chailiss as the Shield of Faith hummed. Gnostic symbols soared all around, pouring forth from the shield and rising off the skin of the trio of sorcerers as they channeled their Spirit.

“Your servants have no power here! We wish only to welcome you, so cease with this, and let’s just be courteous…” The Keeper of Keltra proclaimed, but she could not hide her anxiety, repeatedly glancing all around for the sight of a deity to make an appearance and bring an end to this chaos. The Scepter, pulsing with power in her hand, brought little assurance when it became evident her control over the situation was an illusion - Both the Eternal Fire and the fortress were acting of their own volition, under the authority of what must’ve been the Divine, yet no god or goddess had reached out, it seemed.

“Perhaps we should simply kill these fiends?” Kindness suggested, while Curiosity vehemently shook her head in clear opposition to the idea. Keltra could not be allowed to be tainted with killing, Pride knew, as Homura herself had ordained such, so what was the solution to the presence of such profanity in this sacred space? The Incantation of Seeing revealed nothingness ahead, and the small champion realized that she was possibly perceiving the end of her life then. Perhaps they have already failed…

There was scraping and screeching as the Eschatli slid down over the barrier’s surface, their fingers rasping against the icy shards and leaving behind black ashen smears as they wore themselves to stumps in their fruitless grip. The cyclopes pushed themselves off in concert and landed upon their feet, crouching with the impact before agilely redressing themselves. They paced and cracked their consumed knuckles, trying to round the shield even as its edges stretched to bar their passage.

Abruptly, they stopped still and turned back their heads. The Outsider had raised a hand, and as her eyes met their two, she whispered on a pervading gust of air:

“Blackness I see where brightest threads once ran,
And Time's sealed mouth greets me with silence grim.
Objects around float nebulous and dim—
False, phantom trifles of some vaster plan.”


The twins craned their heads, perplexed, but they moved a step back. A wary glint coursed through their eyes as they followed their sister’s retreat through an outer archway, no more freely bounding, but almost scampering in its haste.

Pride furrowed her brow, pondering the prophecy of the one that had left, before she stared at the remaining intruders with bemusement. “Why did you come here, sisters?” She asked.

Then there was an explosion.

An incomprehensibly potent, bright and fiery eruption of power from the Eternal Flame, that both blinded and deafened all within the keep. The entirety of Keltra was consumed in the blast, a fleeing Outsider being pursued by a colossal tide of celestial light that seared the stone and burned the air, pulling upon all loose things nearby. The outer wall rippled and shattered across sections, barely containing the sudden massive burst of fire that then shot upward into the sky.

All across the Galbar’s north-western hemisphere; a radiant pillar of cosmic energy piercing the heavens was visible to both the divine and mortal alike. The life near the immense red fortress found itself overwhelmed by the presence of this unexpected cacophonous explosion, briefly blinded as well, but otherwise left unharmed after the initial exposure as the force seemed to be pulled back in upon itself. When sight was finally restored, all they would see was a bonfire, a bonfire as large as a mountain, burning brightly where once the fortress stood.

Then an otherworldly voice sang: “A god whom is found, another created, a child’s desire that can never be sated. A music so sweet, the gods were offended, and a singer’s pain which surely must be ended. A mountain of grief from its roots to its peak, within it they slumber; the brave and the meek. Step lightly and swiftly - mortals - or you they shall seek!”

A myriad of voices, whispers and screams, then the roaring of fire and the whooshing of wings. The voice sang on: “Trust not your eyes, your senses spread lies. Know now the witless, once fools are now wise.”

Then a different voice, akin to the first, but lacking any melody, and simply speaking: “I am Charis, the Red Wing Healing the Faithful… I have been summoned to protect the sanctuary known as Keltra…”

Of the champions in the keep, only Courage had been spared from the blinding radiance of what had transpired, and found that she could not see through the eyes of any of her sisters. She could feel them stumble with their hands along the stone, but there was a terrible ringing in their ears, and they had yet to recover their whereabouts. Pride had dropped the Scepter of Keltra, and Courage could do nothing to free herself. “Let me out!” She screamed.

The song resumed: “The dreams that it grants have the feeling of life. Its hunger is boundless, their presence brings strife. Death comes like the kiss of a lover and the crashing of mountains. It comes to a question, a choice; are you afraid of death?”

“I can’t see!” Curiosity cried.

“Stay close!” Pride called out.

The sounds of three girls struggling to find each other was barely heard over the crackle and bellow of a massive fire.

With another greatly disorientating rush of wingbeats, the stone-shaking voice spoke again: ”Mother warned you of my coming… yet you chose to remain… Disgusting servants of Doom… willing sacrifices…”

Immense wings continued to drown the sound of music, and the echoes of voices. An intense heat reached forward and seeped into the bodies of both the champions of Homura and the Eschatli. Then there was a great snap; an audible bite, as unseen titanic jaws closed around a space nearby. Snap again, two terrible bites that seemed to sunder the world itself, and then something vast retreating upwards. The relentless heat receded for a moment. A brief moment of respite.

It returned once more and Charis intoned: “What of the rest of you… do you wish to be sacrificed?”

“You can’t kill here!” Pride shrieked, and clung onto her sisters now. She couldn’t find her scepter, but Curiosity still had the Shield of Faith, and the sound of ice forming a protective dome around them was heard.

“You know nothing of death, little one… I have come from the Ashen Plains and passed through the veil between the world of the living and the world where souls gather… Our Mother has commanded me to come here… Finish the ritual…” The voice that was a myriad of many asked, and the words baked the air around the three champions of Homura.

“We don’t understand! How can we use Gnosis now? We can’t see! This is madness!” Pride shouted back, struggling to stand as Kindness and Curiosity held her.

The song began anew: ”Are the blind unable to sing and dance? Does one so weak refuse a chance? Bound together by Fate’s own hand, must we be, to be free. Shrine maidens calling spirits, such as we, the Umati.”

“You stated you would protect Keltra, then provide evidence." Kindness commanded with as much authority as the reticent champion could muster.

“Help us protect our kin!” Curiosity pleaded.

“I shall complete the ritual...” Pride muttered to herself, and the three champions became quiet once again.

The music of the Keep and the Eternal Fire persisted, but those with acute hearing would hear the shuffling of small feet and rhythmic clapping of hands. Then Pride began to sing:

Didn't I do it for you?
Why don't I do it for you?
Why won't you do it for me?
When all I do is for you?

They want to see us, want to see us alone
They want to see us, want to see us apart
They want to see us, want to see us alone
They want to see us, want to see us apart

And I, just want to feel you're there
And I don't want to have to share our love
I try, but I get overwhelmed
When you're gone I have no one to tell
And I, just want to feel you're there
And I don't want to have to share our love
I try but I get overwhelmed
All wrapped in cellophane, the feelings that we had


Pride’s voice fell away, and a quiet melody remained.

“Selophant? What madness?” a voice of hollow and bemused fire rose for a moment over the deafening wingbeat, like a tongue of flame over a bank of fog.

Hmm… this Keltra shall be my locus, despite how small it is, but I suppose that fits you, little one.” Charis said with amusement, ignoring the hollow voice.

“You’re now my Champion.” Pride proclaimed, accompanied by the tumultuous rush of gigantic wings and deafening roar that reverberated throughout the fortress.

I am now your Champion. Allow me to banish all of your foes, the accursed ones that reek of Doom.”

“Are you so eager to be another in a line of failures?” the empty flame jibed again from the sightless glare.

Dulcet laughter burgeoned and echoed all around, before Charis answered. “Ever eager, I am! Do you have any more words that could be considered worthy of my ear, or is there nothing but weightless prattle that comes from such grotesque creatures such as yourselves? Your foul presence has lingered within me long enough… Any last words before I expel you from this place?”

"Yes," replied the flame,

"Perish."


Amid the impenetrable white, two red eyes suddenly lit up, their glare so vigorous that it cut through the already blinding radiance and impressed itself on the eye despite its daze. Black smoke erupted around them, too dense to have possibly been real, carving out a gap of darkness which starkly swallowed the light. Shades that might have been two upright figures moved through that inky blur, but nothing could be seen for sure in that unnatural contrast which forced itself into being.

Then the gloomy maw and the eyes within it were hurled sideways, and something cut through the air with a whistle. The entire world seemed to tremble as the thunder of immeasurably wide wings shook the area once again, and the playful laughter returned.

“Such filth capable of conjuring not only worthy words, but worthy action as well. Oh, I would offer more praise were it not for the fact that such filth is nothing more than discarded dolls possessed by pretentious pests, and I shall not sully myself further by prolonging this boring farce. Do not return, creatures of darkness. You do not belong here.”

With those words, the everpresent combination of celestial light and intense heat became more potent, more focused as it shone so brightly upon the tapestry that it stained the threads of reality with its luminous presence. Sacred power was fiercely channeled in abundance, an overwhelming amount of positive energy resembling the staggering ferocity of an immense storm wreaking havoc with its indomitable will, and visibly hidden within the hurricane of shimmering whirlwinds were the faint sounds of clapping hands and tapping feet.

“Please, let us help!” Curiosity chimed, and her voice which was engulfed in the shimmering gale of sacred power was joined by her sister’s.

“We wish to assist.” Kindness intoned, and her voice was swallowed by the storm as well, but the two champions and their Spirit had also beget a change that could only be felt in the minds of those that had knowledge of the sorcerous arts. The gathered celestial power was given purpose now, harnessed by those that had aligned themselves with the Umati, and had learned the Exorcism ritual.

Radiant energy spread throughout Keltra once again, threatening to shatter the structure once and for all, and applying cosmic pressure which sundered stone, vaporized water, and seared the air - leaving large glowing scars in its wake, as the darkness was suddenly pushed by the numerous wills of all that defended the keep from death and despair. Time itself seemed to scream, as two bodies were hurled from the fortress with truly impossible momentum, streaking across the vast sky towards the distant horizon and unravelling into ashen bands, like black comets that sullied the heavens with their crumbling tails.

Otherworldly music and periodic wingbeats was all that was heard in Keltra afterward, for a time, then Charis spoke again in her cheerful, melodic tone. “The servants of Doom will continue to plague the world, but for now we may enjoy a little peace and quiet…”




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone

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Cycle 5







Confinement left one with an appreciation for the smallest things.

The walls were padded with roiling darkness. There were no cracks or faults; meticulously and laboriously, every tiny facet of the hyperdimensional cage had been examined a thousand times over, and the architect of his prison had made no errors. And the prison’s occupant could not escape. These seals could not be broken from within, not even by a force cataclysmic enough to rend worlds asunder.

His sanity remained, even though all of his senses were now shrouded and worthless in the black void. There was nothing to see, nor hear, nor touch, nor smell… usually.

He could still See, if he meditated, and what else was he to do? Relive the betrayal a millionth time over? Stretch to relieve pains that could not ever be relieved so long as he was coiled up like a wire inside this accursed, tiny oubliette?

So he meditated, and his mind Saw – for all the Architect’s ingenuity, this prison could not contain a prescient mind quite so absolutely as it could a physical body – and at times, there was the radiant glow of salvation. It was a tiny, beautiful prick of light at the end of this all-encompassing black expanse. It was a stifled murmur in the shadows, the ghost of a smell, the faintest of tastes.

But it was so sweet.

His mind reached out to it through space and time, raging against the physical confines of his cage. What faint mental projections escaped from the Galbar’s core were too muffled for his enemies to sense, but not so faint that she wouldn’t feel the perturbations, if only she would look.

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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Leotamer
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Leotamer

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The Slumbering Depths - Roiling


Leviane had spent days in isolation. She studied the orb meticulously and sent away any who would disrupt her focus. Her eyes glanced over their concerned faces and her ears were deaf to their worried voices. Should her people be endangered once again by a threat from the foundation or the dead-space, their people would need the true power of the divine.

Eventually she was disturb by a large gathering of her precious hydromancers. When she tried to send them away, they refused. They could not be satisfied with the gift of magic. Their endless greed had compelled them to treason. She was angered by their treason, but they had simply revealed their own inner weakness.

Followed behind them was a second group of hydromancers. Misplacing the blame for their imperfection on everyone except themselves, they hated both their pearl-keeper and the other traitors. She could see that it was a mistake to permit those talented but ill-adjusted to proper society to join the prestigious ranks of the hydromancers.

Even their defiance of her, they were still disunified. The cacophony of chaos was what truly broke her heart. She could even tell that there were several within each group which did not truly believe their purported purpose, but she did feel it was necessary to speculate their own causes.

She could tell that they intended to murder her, and then pointlessly fight each other afterwards. Using their magic, they cast waves and ice alike towards her. She barely needed to act, their own techniques work against each other and meant that she was in little danger. She brushed her hand and created a tide that swept what little reached her away.

Perhaps had all of her best students worked together against her, they would have possessed some amount of threat. The few gifted students among those who had cast away their futures were hampered by the work of their inferiors.

One was more bold than he was bright. He conjured an ice spear from the mer, and charged at the pearl-keeper. With one hand motion she crafted a shield of ice, and with another she pushed it away. The assailant was slammed against the moving wall.

The side opposing the spearman continued their attack. Seeing how their ally was in harm's way, the others retaliated. Thus before they could even land a single glancing blow upon the pearl-keeper, they had begun to wage war upon each other.
Even though all that had gathered in front of her were worthless traitors, Leviane still felt bad seeing her fellow mer turn against each other, maiming and killing each other senselessly. She had felt as though she had failed them. She knew that she had failed them.

Leviane held the sacred pearl tightly within her webbed hands. Within the tempest of her emotion, she could feel it’s power awaken. By her command, a large rip-tide washed through the disorganized masses, washing away their measly attacks and disorienting them.

Shards of ice appeared behind her, and her slightest thought she could send anyone of her enemies to the true goddess’ dream. But they were not her enemies, and perhaps in their surrender, they understood that.

Those who died in the carnage were permitted a proper burial, while those who survived where all treated as murderers. Even if one did not personally kill another, it did not matter. They all shared in that profane guilt. And as such, they were all banished.

It was obvious to the pearl-keeper people required greater attention lest their base desires lead them astray once more. They required correction.

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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by yoshua171
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yoshua171 The Loremaster

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Cath Melainea & Aethel
A collab by @yoshua171 and @Bright_Ops

An artist might have coined the term ‘Ocean of Dreams’ to refer to some ideal or metaphorical mindset that one needs to enter in order to experience things beyond the standard reality; While Aethel could and did liken themselves as an artist (if they actually were an artist was debatable), the Ocean of Dreams that they crafted lived up to its name in that it was a literal ocean.

Traveling through the Ocean of Dreams required one to swim. In theory, it was water that all visitors to the realm that got there without falling asleep was submerged in, for the Ocean of Dreams didn’t have a ‘surface’ as it were, but it lacked a number of the traits that water should possess. The first and most important for if and when a mortal somehow managed to end up here (Mortals tended to get everywhere, no matter what you did after all) was the fact that one could breathe normally regardless of what they should require to fill their lungs.

The second was that despite how one felt like they were submerged in water, with all evidence pointing to that conclusion as everything seemed to have a weightless feel to it as it drifted in the softly moving tide, there was never a sense of wetness to go with it; The sensation of being submerged in water without being submerged in water.

The ocean itself seemed to go on for as far as the eye could see… and drifting in the tide in all directions in their hundreds of thousands floated the orbs. Each orb seemed to glow with a primary color, with easily noticeable traces of other colors flashing across the surface every now and then… and each one represented someone in the waking world who was currently dreaming, experiencing whatever the deeper depths of the mind wanted them to experience via visual, audio or alternative mediums for in the Ocean of Dreams the limitations of the body faded away and the mental held sway in full.



Upon the skull of a great stone behemoth with the shimmering starlight above and the shifting waves of the ocean beneath, Melainea fell into repose. Eyes open, her awareness drifted across the titan’s back and deep into its core, gently skimming against the subconscious surface of her would-be subjects. Something curious occurred, for as her deific attention settled like a weighted blanket upon their bodies and their souls, so too did their dreaming minds react. A great contentment fell upon them, an unknowing languor, a haze of emptiness, a daze. Though yet to truly live and breath, each of them dreamed, and so their emotions were reflected ‘pon another sea, of which the Goddess did not yet know.

First, the impressions trickled slowly into being within the many bubbles of the dreamspace, like royal ink, dying everything purple as it bled upon the pages of their many minds. Yet, this violet haze did move, dancing slowly, rhythmically to an unheard tune. Tracing lazy glyphs, humming a dreadful tune of silence and of sleeping while one had yet to fall into slumber’s soft embrace.

Like satin, like ribbon, like the sound of a mother soothing babe, that inky violet invaded that unseen realm. Unaware, Cath Melainea pondered the subtle motion of the waves and sky. She considered what she might do with the children her titan had in tow.

Her children.

She smiled faintly and the ink blossomed across many spheres, becoming vibrant and alive. Within the great Collussus many sleeping hearts soared in a brief outpouring of ecstatic joy, before falling once more back to calm. Greens and blues, yellows too the colors danced in tune within the dream-spheres till they slowly bled back to violet, trailing like smoky threads within each mind’s domain.

All around those dreaming souls, the spheres of many others remained chaotic and truly strange. Yet, in this pocket of the endless Dreaming Sea all was in harmony for each soul remained in sweet melodic sway.

It was this strange calmness in the otherwise chaotic nature of the Sea of Dreams that drew Aethel’s attention to it in much the same way that movement at the corner of one’s eye did. As the equine drifted over to investigate, their curiosity piqued; Whatever was causing the disturbance wasn’t happening in the Sea itself like had been originally expected when the Sea was developed, but instead something had gathered together a number of mortals in one place and was influencing them there.

Having designed the system, it was child’s play for Aethel to trace one of the affected persons back to their physical body. After that, all it took was a small amount of effort and… without a noise their mind and body realigned as their physical self simply appeared within what appeared to be one of Homura’s giant transport beast… things.

Blinking slightly as they shifted into a form that wouldn’t cause any mortals nearby to suffer horribly if they encountered it, Aethel decided to try something a bit new and different in order to change things up. Rather than the more equine bipedal form they favored, they opted instead for a more traditional humanoid form… though the hair seemed more like a solid piece then traditional hair should be.

Now that the body count was going to be minimized, Aethel began looking around to see if they could locate the deity they had come all this way to find.

All around her, blanketed by the embrace of a gentle violet-blue flame, thousands of humans slept. Yet, twas clear they had never even been awake, so deep in their slumber were they kept. As she searched through the core of the great stone behemoth, far above, another presence stirred.

A brief pulse of light traveled through the violet flames that blanketed every surface and the sound of rushing air swiftly became apparent. Its volume rose, as something careened ever nearer, and then, at the end of the hall a whirling dervish of power rounded a stone-made corner. It gathered there, that wild violet flame, pulsating with strange otherworldly light. Behind it, the world seemed to warp and twist, as if some other realm dwelled beyond its luminescent surface.

Slowing, the wind dying down till twas but a breath, the flames coiled upon themselves forming in their midst a feminine silhouette. Glowing ember orbs opened, their light glaring across the distance that yet remained between them.

The figure took a step, filled with poise and grace, limned with silence, and preceded only by a subtle air of calm. “Who is this, that steps among my children. A trespass, uninvited? A threat, a friend, a sister?”

Melodic, lilting, with deep undertones, and a richness that mortals could not stomach, these were the traits of her voice as it traveled the distance that remained. Carefully, with confidence, the Crucible moved to close the gap, stepping lightly as she did. Yet behind her trailed a great and terrible weight of power. A gown of flame, night-dark tongues of ashy desolation.

A veiled threat, kept only in reserve, should her guest require its deathly touch.

When Aethel spoke, their voice had a sing-song quality all of its own as they answered “I am merely someone who was seeking an answer to a mystery… and I believe I have found it. As for what I am now… We will see in time, but regardless of outcome I believe siblings will always be valid.

As they walked over to meet their host proper, there was a flexibility and grace in Aethel’s movements that suggested that even the very act of walking was nothing more than a performance to be embraced and enjoyed to the fullest, both for the dancer and those witnessing it. “I had noticed something strange within the Sea of Dreams… something that was influencing quite a number of dreamers at once in the waking world. Curious to see what was doing that, I decided to drop in and meet a new sister in the process! I see you’ve visited Homura.

A visitor unexpected, a sibling in her home, amongst her children. Intrigued, Melainea’s form began to shift, the flames crystalizing first into fractals, then further into solid flesh and blood. Her garments formed as well, full of feathers, cloth, and fur as they settled ‘pon her figure. Smiling slightly, she regarded her sister for a moment, before crossing the distance that remained and burying her in a sudden embrace. Holding her a moment, Melainea drank of her experience, coming to know the flavor of her essence, the Aspect of her form. Then, pulling away, she stood before the Goddess of Mana, mischief in her gaze.

“This Sea of Dreams, tell me more,” she begged with baited breath, her voice a sultry whisper.

This was not the first time that Aethel had been embraced by another, but unlike that first time they were more than willing to return the affectionate gesture as their own arm coiled around their newfound, fabulous sibling and squeezing hard. Much like how she had drunk in their essence in order to better understand them, the favor was returned… and Aethel felt truly at ease as they found what appeared to be a missing piece of themselves.

It’s simple enough really… I rather enjoyed the experience of laying down and having a sleep, but by chance I wondered if I could make the experience all the more enjoyable. Since going around and blessing everyone so that they could better enjoy sleep seemed like such a bother, I instead created the Sea of Dreams so that all of them could be connected to it and appear there as they slept.

There was a pause… before Aethel grinned as they offered “If you want to see it for yourself, I could show it to you.

Watching with rapt attention, her eyes shifting from lidded, to wide and intense with burning violet interest, Melainea replied. “Please do,” her voice a whisper filled with curiosity and yearning. At the edges of her clothes and ‘pon the angular lines of her horns, flares of amaranthine flame shuddered and danced, revealing the true intensity of her desire for the thing of which Aethel spoke.

Very well then! If you’ll just close your eyes for just a moment…” They instructed. Waiting until their new sister’s eyes were closed, they reached forward and lightly placed their hand on her forehand… and with some light and sound effects that would have looked incredibly cheap and tacky in some of the entertainments that Astus’ civilisation would have employed, the pair left the waking world and transitioned into the Sea of Dreams proper.

Ta da!” Aethel announced with some flare, their ‘hair’ already floating in weightless directions. While the environment was something that they themself were familiar with, they were curious about how Melainea would respond to the place.

Something shifted in the world around her, that much she knew even with her eyes tightly shut. So it was, that after a moment, her body floating weightlessly in an unseen sea, Melainea unveiled her gaze. Her eyes widening in supreme delight, a flush colored her cheeks as she raised her hands to her lips in a quiet gasp. Flames sparked and flowed from her form, banking and rising in billowing waves that carried with them tremendous joy and exultation. A smile spread across her lips, wide and wild, her eyes filled with limitless violet mirth. Excitedly she grabbed her sister's arm and squeezed, shaking her slightly with the intensity of her jubilation. However, as deep and all-consuming as her happiness appeared, the glowing embers of her core were far more wild. Within her seeming mortal vessel an inferno raged just short of bursting through each and every seam of her being.

Releasing her sibling, Melainea drifted through the vast expanse of the Dreaming Sea, her gaze darting about to peer between bubbles of glorious consciousness--each filled with the many dreams of mortals far and wide. "It's beautiful," she whispered, and even that quiet sound echoed outwards in a wave of powerful intent, coloring everything around them with a sheen of violet power. Then, all at once, her fires paled to a hue of somber blue, like slowly flowing stream. Turning slowly, she met Aethel's eyes as tears beaded in her own and fell, slipping down her cheeks and causing ripples in the Sea.

"Yet, tis empty, nothing exists to truly enjoy its currents or the imaginings of mortals that drift therein." The tears, with the same suddenness that they'd appeared, ignited into tongues of flame and burned black and violet against the unreal waters of the Sea. Once distressed, downtrodden, and despairing, Melainea squared her shoulders, pulling herself up as both defiance filled her eyes. Swiftly joining that emotion was the golden glow of intense determination.

"I would change this," she declared, and in that instance, the black edges of her deific flames burst into golden light, flooding the realm around them. From within her, an amaranthine glare grew to the point of blinding, and her eyes shone with that same pulsing luminescence. As she looked upon her sister, the creator of this wondrous realm, her gaze challenged her very essence, as if daring her to try and stop her. Yet, quietly, in an unseen corner of her being, she hoped it would not come to such a frightful conflict.

Truth be told, Aethel had been intending to give the Sea of Dreams some residents… though their motives weren’t as pure as wanting someone there to be able to enjoy it. The realm needed someone here to maintain it and since they didn’t want to have to fix something unless the problem demanded their personal attention as a deity, developing some breed of ‘helper’ species to handle the day to day things that popped up… in a manner of speaking, since the Sea didn’t really have a day/night cycle in the traditional sense.

Melianea deciding to take that first step might have, under other circumstances, be taken as a grave insult… but reading from the emotions that she was radiating it was easy to see that she meant no slight against them; If anything, it was fueled by a desire to create something to bare witness to the backstage in order to understand and appreciate how the ‘magic’ on stage happened. Instead of being hurtful, it was flattering….

As such, Aethel was more than happy to start pouring some of their own strength into their sister’s efforts. It was nice to create something with someone else again!

So it was that with her inaction, Aethel condoned creation. Gladdened by the welcome revelation that her sister would not oppose her, Melainea’s flames were stoked till they burst out from her core. It would appear as if her vessel had been but a thin skein laid upon her true nature, a glamour to hide away her glory from those unprepared for such a sight.

Billowing outwards, the prismatic flames of her essence erupted from what could only be described as a violet tear within the world. Hidden beyond that aperture was a visage impossible to discern, even for her kin. T’was the Crucible of experience which briefly Aethel saw.

Then, in a golden flash, the varied hues of Melainea’s widespread might snapped inwards upon numerous axes, creating singularly brilliant points of light within the endless Sea of Dreams.

At the center of the gathering of starlight emanations, was the familiar countenance of Aethel’s sister. Eyes closed, fatigue upon her features, Melainea waited. Slowly, the whispers of many minds made themselves known, first as utterances to the senses of her sister, then as slithering sigils within the Dreaming Sea. From each dreamspace of that far-cast realm did these sigils emerge, seeking out the countless shining stars.

Languidly, the Violet Goddess opened her eyes, her gaze falling upon her sibling.

“Brilliant and untarnished by Galbarian Law, behold ye these souls: Our children. Borne of my flame, and the dreams of mortalkind. Give unto them thine gift, such that they might act upon thy edicts, and impose upon Galbar the shifting wonders of the dream!” Though she did not shout, there was a quiet intensity in her every word. Curious and eager, she awaited her sister’s choice.

Having waited for their sister’s part of the performance to end and their own to begin, Aethel stepped forward as they started to pour their own energies into this new creation. While granting these new lifeforms the ability to use mana was a given, there was a simple obstacle that needed to be dealt with in order to make that mean something because the Sea of Dreams was largely separate from Galbar… and that included the winds of Mana and the system in place to manage it.

This would require a bit of reshaping of the nature of the Sea of Dreams in order to connect it with Galbar and thus gain access to Mana. This… required creating gateways between the two realms that would be a physical anchor between the two of them. It wasn’t a prospect that Aethel really liked, but the exact method of how to use these gateways to gain access to the Sea of Dreams would be so complicated and dependent on circumstance that in the unlikely circumstance that a mortal managed to wander in, figuring out how to gain entry again once they were evicted would be more than a lifetime of research and experimentation.

With the background changes taking place, the proper work on this new life form could begin. Considering that in their current state that these unfinished souls were closer to Mana in nature then the standard living creature, Aethel easily understood as they gave them the gift of being blessed with being able to channel it freely and naturally that these new entities would be heavily affected by the deeper, more primal ideals of the colorations they encountered.

Considering the plans that they had for the creation of life within the Sea of Dreams, Aethel’s energies were bent more towards making these new creatures more attuned to their home itself, easily granting them the ability to shape and alter the Sea as required or desired… but these gifts came with a price. “I, Aethel, grant you life and the ability to thrive and enjoy your new home in the Sea of Dreams. In exchange for this through, I task you and your descendants with the duty of maintaining and safeguarding the Sea of Dreams from threats overt, subtle and general decay. This includes the safety and wellbeing of the dreamers within the Sea of Dreams. You are free to call upon me if a problem requires a deity in order to solve.

The only restriction that I place upon you and will hold you accountable for is interfering with the Dreamers. This realm is meant to serve as a safe place for them to experience their dreams and you are not to interfere with them lightly. You will not end a dream prematurely, nor will you alter or enter one. The only time I will accept you entering a dream is if an outside force has already invaded it and it needs to be evicted. There will be dire consequences if this rule is broken.

Their ‘commandants’ given, Aethel turned to their sister and offered a smile now that the serious moment had passed. “Do you have anything to add?

With the subtle workings of her sister’s power weaving to-and-fro, Cath Melainea remained rooted in place, hovering within the currents of the Dream, her silhouette surrounded by the numerous stars of their children. As each emanation of experience was joined to Aethel’s power, becoming souls en full, the whispering sigils gathered about their forms.

Focusing on a soul before her, the Violet Goddess watched as each sigil expanded into a greater form, melding with the soul itself until the form of the entity was precisely in line with its intrinsic nature. This entity, their child, opened its eyes, and irises of red and swirling gold laid eyes upon the Dreaming Sea, their realm, their home. Melainea smiled as wonder entered the eyes of the newborn, many limbs spidering out from its shifting vessel as it turned, the sigils continuing to attune to its essence.

“Dearest children, borne of sisters two, let the tides of emotion and ideation shape your beings true. Follow thy whim and fancy, sow chaos, but beneath it all know this.”

Melainea’s form grew more distinct, the flames of her body crystallizing into fractals of endless depth. Her amaranth gaze pierced to the core of each child, many glowing eyes opening across her form to take in each and every one.

“You are the Lords and Ladies of this realm. Stewards and heralds both. Underpinning the storm of thy nature will reside a singular truth. Know it as such, to defy thine word is to break the covenant of your being. The covenant binds you, by it you shall not tell a lie for to do so is to be untrue to thyself and this I will not allow.”

The being before her, at her words, turned to gaze upon Melainea and so was struck by an unseen force. Freezing in place, something within each mortal shifted, twisting into a set pattern where it crystallized and remained, hidden beneath the veil of their appearance.

Satisfied as this same reaction happened to each of their children, Melainea once more took on her mortal guise, her many eyes closing, leaving only two.

Glancing to her sister, Melainea smiled in kind. However, something mischievous entered her expression as she met Aethel’s gaze. Drifting through the Sea, she made her way to Aethel and took her then into an embrace. Holding her closely, there was something far more intimate than before about the expression of her love. When she pulled away, there was a heat to her that had before not been present. Her eyes, half lidded and filled with temptation, flitted over Aethel’s form, then–with great effort–pulled away.

“What shall we call them?” She said breathlessly, her tone low and filled with honey. Quietly, she slipped her hand into Aethel’s.

This was a brand new experience for Aethel, but as they gazed at their sister they offered a soft, gentle smile as they squeezed her hand in return. Of course, this blissful moment was somewhat ruined by a slightly frustrated sigh. “I don’t like naming things. It’s hard to do right and I feel like I’m terrible at it. Granted, I’m better at it then some of our kin, but that isn’t as grand an achievement as it sounds.

Still, Aethel did look at their newly created children with the expression of one who was going to do their best for a task they didn’t like doing. After several moments of concentration, an idea managed to gain enough traction that it managed to meet with their personal approval. “Let them use whatever name they so wish, but compared to the races of Galbar they are ethereal…

Listening intently, Melainea nodded, before her gaze fell once more upon their children, a deep-held adoration spilling forth from her in palpable waves as she did so. Taking a breath, she closed her violet eyes and thought on the nature of their offspring, these ethereal beings in all theory mischief and glory.

A gentle smile touching her features as she pondered their quintessence, Melainea spoke as if without thinking.

“They are a fey lot are they not,” her eyes opened and she looked to Aethel, “...why not call them as such?”

For a moment, Aethel seemed to be considering the suggestion… before a small nod was given. “Yes… yes I can see that. Fey is easier to remember than Ethereal anyway…” Clearly accepting the new name, Aethel was about to suggest something before… they paused.

They entered a brief bout of deep thought, before they blinked as an idea came to them. “...At some point we need to visit the spirit world and have a chat with the god of souls. I suspect that a few of the cases passing his way might be a lot more comfortable here…

In response, Melainea only nodded, her faintly glowing eyes drifting shut as she reveled in the moment. Some time passed this way, with the mothers hand-in-hand as their children took form all around them. However, all things must come to an end, even the Crucible knew this, and so her eyes opened and she seemed somewhat renewed by the moment of quiet indulgence. Leaning into Aethel, Melainea briefly kissed her cheek, before pulling away with a teasing swiftness.

“I must go,” she said, her half-lidded eyes speaking of other desires left untended. With effort, she pulled her gaze away from Aethel, glancing upon the Fey, before taking her leave. As she departed, a flirtatious whisper touched the ears of the other goddess.

“I’ll surely return, sweet sister, for revelry and bliss~”

Then, with a sharp crack, Melainea’s form vanished from the Sea as she returned once more to her charges nestled deep within the Titan’s core.

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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Journeys V





The owl champion’s mind was left to his own devices as he flew. He dwelled upon what he had learned. His sibling was dead, fallen at the hands of the Green Murder. He had never met his sister, yet he felt a profound sense of loss. Now he was alone, flying to the obelisk of the Goddess of Joy. Perhaps it would bring him some sort of comfort. Perhaps.

So Viho, as he always did, flew.

It only took him around a day to find the obelisk. How could one miss the black stone standing in the field of endless white?

He approached and landed down before it. There was no sign of anything. No animals, no mortals, not even chirping birds. Just the wind. With a curious he looked upon the intricate details of the black stone and became enamored with its beauty. But Viho had a task to do and he would do it. Cautiously he approached the looming, towering obelisk as close as he felt necessary. Just so he could reach out and touch it. Anticipation jolted down his spine as his feathers brushed the obelisk.

He waited for something to happen. But after brushing the cold stone with gas feathers some more, he was disappointed. Perhaps his feet would work better? So the owl hopped forward and placed his talons upon it but likewise, nothing happened. It felt much the same.

How was he supposed to find Zenia if he couldn't use the obelisk? Frustration set in as Viho tried a variety of methods to unlock the obelisk but each resulted in failure. The last attempt he made was bashing his head into it. Not so hard to cause any sort of damage but enough to give him a headache. After that the Owl Champion sunk low, wings sprawled out as he shut his eyes tight.

He was tired and upset and out of ideas. Slowly the chorus of wind and the dipping of the sun eased his body and mind into a needed sleep. It had been so long…

He dreamed a strange dream. The place around him was not the Giantlands or anything he had ever seen yet. Marbled stone, etched with finery and details he could hardly decipher stood all around him. He walked through the hallways, it was so bright but he was unbothered by it. Next thing he knew he was staring at a being so profound and grand, with that tear across its chest, that he felt… Excited? There was no fear here, how he missed his friend, but just Joy. He looked down at his own two hands, sun kissed and dainty. He felt his long golden hair and radiance fit for a stellar queen. He bounced over to a mirror and laughed when he saw beauty looking back at him.

Then Viho woke with a fright. He ruffled his feathers and stood up and gazed upon the obelisk under a shattered moon. So that was the trick. Sleep? But what if… With determination in his eyes, he pressed his head against the Obelisk one last time and willed it to obey.

Blinking lights struck out at him as his vision became muddied and brighter. Soon enough he was no longer in the Giantlands again. He caught bits and pieces, white hair, faces of mortals with wide eyes, crowded around and whispering. Anticipation built in the air. He somehow knew he was the woman from before, no, this was Zenia wasn't it? He stripped herself and he felt embarrassed but soon enough she was up in the air, watching her mortals faces slowly disappear as she flew higher and higher. High enough that Viho could make out the land and ocean and etched it to memory. The vision faded as the earth below became a giant orb. He blinked and it faded.

The dawn was rising now and Viho puffed out his chest. He had done it despite the odds. Maybe a bit of sleep now and then wouldn't be so bad after all? He would consider it but for now, he had a ways to go.




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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Raethel Norvegicus


As his pups were running around doing... pup things and generally amusing themselves while trying their best to stay out of the kind of trouble that would look really bad for their loving father if they were caught doing it, Raethel sat on a wooden seat, looking over some clay tablets in order to try and get the best understanding of the problem being offered to him. While at the moment he wasn't acting as the First Speaker and thus politically he was just an ordinary citizen, what he was being asked to look at wasn't a political problem; It was a navigational one.

The Rattus had taken to sailing upon open waters...rather well all things considered in that no properly made water craft had been lost to the salty depths. While some Rattus had died on the trips between Greenland and the Homeland in the past, this was normally due to factors such as age, illness or injury and was thus seem as within acceptable standards, if stressful for those on board said craft with them. However, a concern that had been lingering among the minds of all those who sailed since the original trip had been how easy it was to get lost out on the open water.

Currently most water craft preferred to take a little longer and sail within sight of the stretch of land between Greenland and the Homeland in order to keep a firm understanding of just where they were at any given time. Those that took to sailing open water had much fewer options as far as ordination was concerned; Generally they used the sky orbs in order to make sure they were sailing in the general right direction and avoided being turned around or the wrong way, but that wasn't the most refined of methods. Sure, it would ensure that you would find the coastline of the land you were looking for, but both had a rather far reaching coastline. This wasn't such an issue if you were planning to land on the Homeland since there were Rattus settlements and outposts all along the coast, but in Greenland the process of developing Rattus settlements was a lot more slow going.

There were some suggestions on different ideas of course and Raethel was reviewing them... but none of them really seemed to have that glint of promise. Taking a moment to push one of the more... optimistic of suggestions away, he reached up to rub the bridge of his nose and on reflex start cleaning his whiskers and he considered the issue. There was a small part of him that raised the question of how the gods would solve it, but his experience with Aethel had enlightened him to the fact that the idea of getting lost while traveling would simply be viewed as an experience for their co-creator, who didn't give a damn about things like supplies or survival.

However... thinking of Aethel gave Raethel an idea.




In the end, Raethel had needed a little help with the more physical side of things and his second born daughter Nitidus had thankfully be up to the task of helping him with the prototype, but the idea was honestly rather simple in execution. They had created a pyramid out of three sticks and used a bit of rope to dangle from the top where they sticks met. Hanging from the rope was a stone ball that he had thrown together rather quickly. The ball and rope was defying the natural order all by itself by noticeably floating in the air, pointing a certain direction. No matter where they moved the pyramid too or what direction they turned it in, the ball would move in order to continue pointing in the same direction at the same thing.

While the mana workings were a little complex, the idea was rather simple really. The ball had been attuned towards the most powerful mana fixture on the planet... the Tree to the south from which mana came from, went to and was renewed at. It also was, according to Aethel, at one of the 'ends' of the world, with another opposite it far up north. It wasn't a grand enchantment, the ball would simply be pulled towards the Tree of Harmony firmly enough to be noticeable, but not so much as to cause it to fly off and defeat the whole point Raethel had been going towards.

A stone enchanted in this manner, if suspended, would always point towards Aethel's Tree of Harmony... and thus would always point south. Unlike the vague nature of 'East' and 'West' that the sky orbs provided, this method would allow an exact measurement of where South was... which when you don't have any landmarks in sight to use, could be a highly useful tool to have in order to figure out where you are and where you need to be going.

Of course this was merely the prototype; There would no doubt be refinements and experiments in order to develop a version of it that would be useful and strong enough to endure conditions on the open water... or even traveling over land now that Raethel thought about it, through that version would have to be smaller due to carrying concerns... but as Raethel looked over the prototype he couldn't help but reach out a paw and squeeze Nitidus' paw with love and pride of this very moment



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