Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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The Ascent of the Nebel


Ea Nebel stared up into the morning sun again, pacing the chilled and snowdusted rock. The Iron Boar observed her with patient tension. Time was very short.

She knew that the Bridge of the Sun would open to her, if she only called out to it. The Monarch of All would hear her voice. She now bore a Shard of His being that was not hers, and if He did not wish for her to deliver, He would have come to take it. But Ruina had blazed on ahead, and Ea Nebel had no time to row that merry solar stream. She needed something fast, something that could convey her out past the Ring of Shadow, to the Sun and the Moon and between the stars all under its own power. She needed to conjure something up. What?

Her boots had dug a pattern into the snow as she paced. The flame in her heart was out, but she still had enough heat in her veins to do this task, that much was certain. The Gnosis had not left her. How would she do it? Her trials had exhausted her heart and body, and she longed for sleep. She could scrawl a deep glyph, but she didn’t know what to write, and formulating a clear vision of it in her mind would take too long in any case- she might as well fly up in the shape of a bird. And Grief was in no mood to dance.

None of it mattered. She could do it. This was a feat, not a riddle. Ea Nebel looked up, tightened her muscles, screwed her eyes shut, shook her head and kept pacing. She could do it- there were many ways to do this- and yet she…

‘Some voices ought never be heard, as some sights ought never be seen.’

…She was scared. It was a fear she could feel in her gut. Ea Nebel barely knew what she’d heard, but she remembered the sound. She was too exhausted to face such things again. She couldn’t bear the thought of any more pain. Not while the heart-wounds of her trials were still fresh and bleeding. It made her stomach crawl.

But she had to, and she would. What would comfort her in the abyss of outer space? Ea Nebel was fearful; she needed to feel powerful. Dangerous. Mysterious. Strange. She would take strangeness by the throat, and then no strangeness could threaten her. She dragged her boots in the snow, turning her trail of pacing into the seed of a rudimentary glyph, and began to sing.

So stand beneath
The starry beams
Of foreign lights, and
Fever-dreams
Then turn your head
To tongueless teeth
In new-moon nights, and
Heavens deep

The sun can burn
Only in turn
When day is dry, and
Hollow sky
Fall in your bed
Don’t dream in dread
When chasms rise, and
Demons fly


She let her voice taper off. Now it rose before her, called down from some void behind the stars, its hundred filamentous arms radiating up from its core and meeting high in the sky like steepled fingers without joints, perfectly spaced. Against the white of the snow, it was as dark as she was. Ea Nebel pushed its fractal tendrils aside and stepped onto its center, admiring the subtle bulges of hidden teeth like an echinoid. She took hold of two translucent, spiraled appendages, allowing them to wrap around her arms, and shouted a goodbye at her faithful boar as the creature spread its arms and was lifted off the face of Galbar as if it were a bubble and the atmosphere was a bowl of water, buoyed up by earthlight, like the seed of a dandelion.

The sky grew darker and darker. Ea Nebel’s hat melted over her face in a smooth charcoal-black faceplate and helmet, fed with pipes. The Dusk Kite turned its outer face to the Sun, pulling her along by her arms, and began to pulse. Its filaments were innumerable, branching like a basket-star, like a fern, its body like velvet. Every tentacle was longer than the tallest redwood in the giant lands of the north, yet barely thicker than her arm at its base. It ate daylight, and she could see the glow of it, travelling softly up and down its primitive veins to its core like rivers to a lake, breaking up into colours as it was digested. No eyes, no heart, no brain, no gut, no lungs- only those rivulets of luminescence, dripping to its core. So weightless was its impossible body that the solar wind slowly blew it away, out from the sun, away from Galbar.

Ea Nebel frowned. She squeezed the ribbonlike arms that had crept up her sleeves and wrapped all the way up to her shoulders. Hidden organs around her blazed with a spray of refocused light, and shot her forwards to the Sun.

“SHOW ME THE WAY!”

A gust of solar wind rocked her, and she saw a long, straight ray of gold stretching from the Sun before her to Galbar far behind her. She sailed down into the Bridge and was immediately hurled back by the gale, the Dusk Kite curling up around her and flipping around and around as she was blown down towards Galbar, eventually falling out of the beam. She recovered her senses and clung to the creature as it unfurled its arms once more.

The solar wind could only blow her away from the sun, but the veins of the kite were flashing like a heartbeat.

Ea Nebel propelled herself forwards with the kite’s own power, following the Bridge from outside its dangerous current, swiftly exhausting the stored radiance. The wind of photons began to push her back again, and she sailed into the golden beam once more, travelling not up but across it, tumbling out again as swiftly as she could. Once more the kite replenished its store of stolen daylight.

She launched herself forwards again, sailing over the Flow, skimming over the dark surface of Time as she advanced through Space in leaps; tacking back and forth through the golden stream of sunlight before each jump, smoother and smoother, losing less speed each time the gale forced her back, spinning the radial kite around its central axis without ever flipping over and tumbling down the stream, gaining more and more speed…

And then she was just flying, the splayed-fern tentacles swept back around her and trailing far behind in a tail as she skimmed over the golden stream below, a sleek, black meteor diving towards the Sun faster than any living thing could ever dream to fly over the face of Galbar, now far behind.




Upon the bridge itself was Ruina, having teleported up to the bridge itself in lieu of anything more fanciful. She moved with both haste and purpose, and Ea Nebel would see her push open the grand doors of the palace with ease. Ruina left them open wide, knowing that they would close themselves in time. The guards that stood around the palace now were interesting. Did He feel as if He was under threat of some kind? Hopefully they wouldn’t impede her mission.

Entering into the main plaza of the palace Ruina took a few moments to look around briefly, casting out her divine senses in hopes that she would find the blinding radiance that was The Monarch of All. Unfortunately, she did not find Him this way, and thus resorted to something that would be simpler. Speaking up, Ruina spoke in a way to cause her voice to echo throughout the winding halls of the palace. ”I come seeking an audience. I bear news regarding my assigned judgment.”

She’s here.

The Dusk Kite spiralled into the beam of gold and shot over the golden tiles of the bridge as the doors began to swing shut in its path. The creature burst through the crack between them as they swung, throwing them wide, exploding into the palace atrium in a wild spray of tendrils and pulsed photons, and Ea Nebel tumbled from its arms, landing mostly on her feet in a field of staggered and recovering guards. The panicked Kite wrapped its filaments around the marbled pillars of the Palace and flung itself out of the atrium, into the open space of the plaza, leaving Ea Nebel to follow on foot, never daring to turn and look at who or what might pursue her.

“I’m here! I have the Shard!” Her coattails swished around her as she came to a stop in the plaza, standing almost side by side with Ruina. She turned her head wide and searched for the Monarch, faceplate dissolving back into a hat, but all she could see was the Kite mooring itself to a colonnade and drifting upwards in a curled-up bundle to rest, like a sea-lily, like a sleeping buoy. Then it grew quiet, and she met eyes with the goddess at last.

As the Dusk Kite burst into the palace Ruina turned on the spot to glare at the interruption. Readying a bone blade for something to begin attacking her, the guards, or both, Ruina found herself somewhat relieved when it was not an attempt to disrupt her report in some fashion. Releasing the bone blade and allowing it to retreat into her arm, Ruina turned her attention away from the beast as it scrambled around and instead looked down at Ea Nebel as she proclaimed to have a shard with her. Why did she have this? Ruina’s best assumption was that He had directed Iqelis to tell Ea Nebel or told Ea Nebel personally to retrieve it, and thus she paid it no mind. At least for now.

Nodding a greeting at Ea Nebel out of courtesy Ruina turned her attention away from the demigoddess and looked around once more to try and find The Monarch of All. When she couldn't, Ruina merely resolved to wait. A few moments later a thought crossed her mind as she recalled a detail from the trials. Ea Nebel had referred to Iqelis as her father. The same Iqelis that she was about to condemn to death. Perhaps it would be best to say something to Ea Nebel…

Turning to face Ea Nebel again, Ruina spoke softly. ”There is something that I would say. You referred to Iqelis as your father, yes? I must apologize then, for I am about to condemn him to death. I was told to judge him and his trials, and he has failed. The Monarch will not be pleased to hear this failure. I am sorry.”

Ea Nebel held the gaze, then looked down at the smooth floor. It was tiled in jasper and chalcedony. She shook her head, aware of the silence. “Ruina… Don’t you see? There was no trial. Neither for me, nor for my father. This was pure punishment.” Now she looked up again, arms loosely folded. “The Divine Iqelis struck down what the Emperor lifted up. He showed that it was possible to rebel. That was why he had to be humiliated, cornered… hurt where he was most vulnerable, even if it meant sacrificing the Emperor’s own grandchild. An example had to be made. With witnesses. And it had to be done without even lifting a finger Himself. That is the root of royalty: power without effort.” She rubbed the toes of her shoe over the unwalked tiles, once boots, now slippers. “So you were fed a lie, and you became His hammer. My father subjected me to cruelty because you were there to watch him. That was the heart of it all. My father is paraded as a weakling and a monster, alive only by His mercy, and the ties of family between us are… wounded. Between you and me. Me and my father. My father and my mother. It was the perfect plan. Now it is done, and we are afraid to rebel. The Emperor’s will has been carried out. All without even raising his hand.” She stared out, to the colonnades around them, the fountain-monument at the centre of the plaza, the distant height of the halls that held the Throne. “Even I am forced to come and grovel before him now, while he withholds my birthright. This is what it means to be a subject.

Ruina remained silent as Ea Nebel spoke. Perhaps her words had wisdom to them, but there was possibly something that she had never been told of, and even if her words held some wisdom Ruina found it wise to reveal another part of the story that further complicated things. ”I will not dispute what you say, but I will offer up a wrinkle to it: Iqelis has attempted to exert his will upon me before.”

Ruina turned now to look upon the moon, and gestured to it briefly before speaking again. ”The moon gained its scarring by his hand, but if my designs had gone as intended the scars would’ve been by mine. I had announced a test of the moon, just as I had announced and performed a test of the oceans across Galbar. The holes that were there, and the ones that appear at random? They were and are the result of my trial.” Indeed, Ea Nebel recalled the whale bones, a field of emaciated carcasses in dry silt.

”When I moved to test the moon Iqelis appeared and told me not to hold back, inferring that I did in the first place. I informed him that I did not hold back in my tests and questioned why he was so eager to see the moon tested. I suspected that he wanted to start a conflict with Yudaiel, and told him that I would have no part in it.”

Yudaiel. Grief recalled the mushroom. She had been given no choice in such matters.

Ruina looked back down to Ea Nebel now. Her gaze was as steel as she continued. ”Iqelis spelled out his view of things, and I told him that my trials were mine. I also told him that I would never accept the mantle of pawnhood. And then I told him that if he wished to see conflict begin that it would be best to start it himself. In response to this Iqelis called me a fool and asked if I thought I was anything but a pawn. Claiming that he was attempting to guide me, as he described, along currents more favorable, I could tell that I would have to fight or flee. I chose to flee, since I was not at full strength. I warned the other deities and hid myself for a time to recover.”

Ruina raised her arm and once more produced a blade of bone. Looking across the surface of it, Ruina spoke again. ”This suit could not produce these weapons at first. I found a remaining piece of my once sister and removed it to fully become the master of this suit, and following that I infused it with all of the destructive power I could muster. You can sense it, I’m sure.”

“...”

Ruina lowered her arm towards Ea Nebel. Surprisingly, there was no threat to this motion. The bone blade hovered just before her, radiating raw destructive power. Ea Nebel could tell that being struck with a weapon such as this would devastate the corporeal form of even divine beings. She frowned at it, saying nothing.

After a few moments passed, Ruina would retract the blade into herself and lower her arm before speaking again. ”I did this explicitly to defend myself from Iqelis’ machinations. Even if what you say is true, and these trials have all been a display of punishment to remind us all of our place… I would hesitate to say that Iqelis is undeserving of such punishment.”

“...That’s why He chose you, then. You’re afraid.” Ea Nebel finally turned her face away, looking down at the floor. She was quiet, almost mumbling. “Scared hearts are easy to goad. They lash out. If you ever felt yourself losing control, you would wash that blade in my father’s blood. You wouldn’t hesitate to do that, would you, Ruina?” She looked up to where those bright green eyes towered over her, and it was once again clear that she was not talking to herself. “Is it because of your sister? Are you afraid that your brother would hurt you, too? Or are you just scared to die like she did?”

”I chose her for her loyalty, daughter of Iqelis. A trait that your father lacks.”

A voice came from behind Ea Nebel, the voice of her grandfather resonating within her mind as the light from His wound made her cast a shadow upon the floor. He stepped out from behind Ea Nebel, circling the two goddess in silent steps on the hard floor as His lower hands pushed their fingertips together. The great Monarch of All had made himself known, and His eyes rested solely upon the half-god herself as He continued his motions around the two of them, the multicolored cloak dragging on the floor behind Him. His voice came through again before either of the two could attempt to speak, a cruel voice descending upon the two of them.

”Do you believe that I am but a tyrant who prays upon weak hearts? A monster for a ruler? I can be, if that’s what you so desire. It would be an interesting change of character, if I say so myself.”

Ea Nebel released some of the sudden tension resting taught in her spine, and flung out her arm, flourishing her sleeve. Once more she was draped in the sheer layers and puffed silks of imperial regalia. Only then did she curtsy. “There is no more need for such things, Sire. I understand the courtly game. I suppose I should thank you for teaching me a lesson I shan’t forget.” Ea Nebel held the curtsy, but did not lower her gaze. She could almost have been smiling.

Ruina had been about to respond to Ea Nebel’s observations when The Monarch made himself known. Ruina chose to remain silent, and instead gave a silent nod of recognition to Him. As the conversation reached a point of pause, Ruina spoke up to deliver her report on events that had happened. ”Greetings, Monarch. I have done as was requested of me, though I would’ve liked to have heard it from you directly rather than Iqelis. I have watched the trials and I have deemed them a failure. He tested Ea Nebel on things that were already natural to her, frequently without any form of time limit, and at the end of each test he promptly fed Ea Nebel the answer he wanted her to learn. Not once did he challenge her to use her abilities in a new way, an unconventional way, or did he ask her what she had learned. Iqelis has coddled and sheltered her consistently rather than allow Ea Nebel to present herself independently of him. That being said, Homura and I are in agreement: Both of us find no reason for Ea Nebel to be destroyed. I feel that she has suffered enough under the whims of Iqelis. That is my report.”

”I did instruct Iqelis to not hold back in his tests, however…”

The Supreme One looked to Ea Nebel, an inquisitive glare rummaging through her mind as a simple question entered her mind. It was invasive yet it pried not upon needlessly forcing the question into her soul - a mere suggestion that she should answer to Ruina’s accusations. His voice was nothing more than an echo that traveled the length of her mind.

”Do you believe your father held back out of love for you, child?”

The answer was immediate, visceral, almost visible, a thought like an image like a snarl of bared fangs: If he had withheld his fist from his child, would she have jumped?

”Then there is my answer, Ruina. Iqelis shall be spared for the time being, until he inevitably tries to cross me again.”

The Monarch of All turned towards She Who Tests and allowed Himself a brief moment of silence as the two locked eyes. His arms crossed behind His back and the King of the Gods let out a disarming laugh at the two of them, allowing the tension to release itself. Almost as if He knew that the air was too thick to walk through, the Monarch of All let a hand out to Ea Nebel and Ruina in a gesture for them to take His hands in that moment. Yet, it was becoming too bright for one soul amongst them - the mortal in flesh who stood in the palace grounds that were not made for such primitive beings. Ea Nebel could, perhaps, have felt the heat of the blinding palace lights chewing at her, gnawing at her mortality despite her divine nature doing its best to keep her together. It was a slow and gradual heat, but it was making itself known, yet the Monarch of All did not seem to notice, or if He had, He was ignoring her suffering.

”Ea Nebel, do you have the shard of Aletheseus?”

She nodded, and reached into a small purse, raising a hand-sized fragment pulsing with blue spectral fire over her palm. As she did, the crushing sun-heat of the Palace fell on her, fluttering her gown like air from an oven, immediately breaking into a sweat. The Divine Shard of Fortitude had given her strength to endure the solar gale for as long as it could, but it would soon be time to surrender its protection.

”Excellent.”

The Monarch of All’s voice was riddled with happiness as He took the shard from Ea Nebel’s hand and held it close to His light-bearing chest. There was a brief moment before the inevitable pull clutched the shard, dragging back into His body and filling Him with a vigor that had not been seen within the divine being. It was the feeling of power flowing through Him that made the Monarch of All let out a pleased sigh, as if He could breathe once more. Ea Nebel’s own breaths were already growing laboured.

In a swift flick of His hand, the supreme being summoned guards, marching past them, dressed in ornate armors and weapons that radiated divine power. He looked to Ea Nebel and gave her a final trial for her to pass to claim her birthright, speaking softly as a parent to a child.

”Make your way to my throne. There you will receive your birthright, child.”

She nodded, silently choking on air. Her skin had taken on the translucence of warm wax. Ea Nebel took a step, then another, and began to walk, maintaining both her posture and her stride- but slowly. Very slowly. In the moment before her veil fell down around her face, something like a skull was visible beneath it, white as marble.

As the instruction was given for Ea Nebel to make her way to the throne room, Ruina actually stepped forward with something notable to say. ”Come with me, Ea Nebel. I shall guide you.” Ruina had been there before, coming into existence behind the throne. Regardless of why she had been there, Ruina knew the way, and began to lead Ea Nebel.

However she could tell that something was quite wrong by now. Ea Nebel was already under a bit of strain from simply existing in the divine realm, but now as Ruina looked back, her sister was quietly struggling. Looking up to the perpetual light that surrounded the palace, Ruina was able to quickly guess as to why. Though the question of why it took this long for things to become dire puzzled her briefly. Perhaps the shard of fortitude had been lending aid? And thus with it’s loss Ea Nebel was now worse for wear? Unfortunate, but not something that could not be helped. Turning and walking behind Ea Nebel, Ruina paused for a moment to focus.

With the sound of shifting flesh and bone, and a bit of a grunt from Ruina, a wing grew from the left shoulder of Ruina’s suit. It opened gently, revealing that it held a structure much like a dragon’s wing. Tough opaque flesh stretched between malleable fingers, and with a gentle motion Ruina stretched and lowered the wing to shelter Ea Nebel in its shade before speaking softly. ”Come. I will ease your burden, you have suffered enough. It is not far.”

And with that, she urged Ea Nebel further into the throne room.

Together they walked through hall and pathway, following that long, straight route to the heart of the Palace. It was wide, airy, and tall; such was its lofty height that it gave the impression of a mountain, and such did Ea Nebel struggle on its steps that she may as well have been climbing one. Her veil had once again swollen into a featureless round plate of black, and new layers were creeping down from it, one after another, each thicker than the last. She disappeared under bulky heat-armour, and her footsteps clanked on the porphyry floor.

The grand doors of the Imperial throne room were open, flanked on both sides by their ceremonial guard. At the top of the steps, the unidentifiable black figure under Ruina’s wing hunched over and stopped, resting her hands on her knees. A thin white liquid was boiling out of the seams of the suit.

Slowly she raised her hand, and nudged the back of two fingers against the arm of Ruina’s sheltering wing. She could have no more shade. These last steps would be taken alone.

As Ea Nebel pushed against the shade of the offered wing, Ruina hesitated for a moment before realizing what Ea Nebel wanted to do. Nodding, she took a moment to place a reassuring hand on where Ea Nebel’s shoulder would be before pushing her forward slightly and withdrawing the wing in silence. With a wet slithering sound the wing would retract into Ruina’s form, and she would ascend to stand beside Him and await her arrival.

The figure rose from the shade of its sister. Whatever glories of Imperial majesty lay before her went unseen. All she saw was sunlight, a river of golden fire sweeping over her and into her, blinding as it burned. Even her armour swirled and warped with the heat, returning to shapelessness. She did not see behind her a second light emerging, a white light growing and dividing into four smooth, sleek blades, light like brilliant pale crystal hovering behind the back of the ghastly walking sarcophagus she wore, perfectly steady against the gale of the Sun, two on each side, like the spreading wings of a white moth…

But the wings weren’t steady. One flickered, wavered, like a candle disappearing and reigniting in a breeze. It flickered left and right, now on her one side, now on her other, an uncertainty, an error, until finally it crossed over from her left side to her right. As the chrysalis-figure fell at last to its knees before the Throne of the Sun, four white vanes stretched out behind it: three on the one side, and one on the other.

“Ea Nebel, First of the Demi-Gods, Daughter of Iqelis and Homura, Maiden of All Tombs, you have completed your trials as were given to you by your father and, under affirmation of both Ruina and Homura, you have become worthy of becoming wholly divine. As such, I bestow unto you: the Shard of the Grave.”

The Monarch of All spoke loudly, so that all divinity may hear, and a single shard floated between two of His hands, sat perfectly within the light of His chest. As the winged figure came forth, He allowed the gem to slowly descend to her, and the sounds of spears clattering into the ground could be heard behind her. It was then that the Monarch of All raised His trident before bringing it down to rest atop her head, and after speaking a single, indiscernible breath to Ea Nebel, the Monarch of All swiftly brought the trident up and slammed it into the ground.

”Now, Grief, I name you First of the Grave! Come and become a great lord of my realm!”

And then she rose, and there were no wings, no hideous shell, only herself. Her body was as it had always been. She stood up, her black gown trimmed with filigree gold, a thin cord clutched in her hand, and let the Shard rest in her palm: a tiny crucifix of polished bone, as smooth and pure as ivory. She set it around her neck, and it disappeared beneath black satin, cool against her skin.

“Sire, you have honoured me.” She lifted her head and looked up for the first time since abandoning the protection of the lost Shard, then curtsied. “I accept with gladness. As I have been ruled, so too shall I rule in kind.” A tiny smile. “Grandfather.”

”Go, my child, and let my will be done!”




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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The Tired One

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Nalusa

“Behold yonder and seeth our shah, so resplendent and fustian a sir yet succumbed with grief and tragedy. Doth thee not seeth yond that gent suffers with us? His sons hadst been lay base upon the day of red sun? Certes any sir wouldst beest wrought with despair to seeth his children dead by any such hest, coequal shouldst it cometh from the gods?”
-Herald of the Great Shah Hurang

Hurang lay upon his bed, merely gazing upon the wall in a sadness that no parent should ever have to come to terms with. His sons all lay dead upon the field of battle and he knew that it had been his fault for sending them to lead his armies into those now bloodied fields to the south. Had he been less impetuous perhaps they would yet live, but he could still hear the hallowed words of the Red Sun ringing in his head - compelled to fight against his better judgment. But now, Hurang merely clutched tightly upon the sword of his eldest, the sword that he had gifted his son to aid him in battle. The shah had since lost the ability to weep for his lost children, only hoping that his misery would soon come to an end - death would return him to his sons soon enough.

The Nalusan Shah shifted in his bed to check his shoulder, seeing that his wife had long since left his bed - not content to sleep next to a weeping man such as he. It was a pitiful thing to be dejected by one's own wife, for it had been days ago where he had been merry and treated her as if she were the only thing that he could live for in this world - the news of death, however, forced them apart. That said, Hurang wished for nothing more than to be alone with the hallowed items of his sons to comfort him, not that he could receive comfort in the death of his children. After all, who amongst his subjects could share in his grief?

Turning in his bed, trying to get comfortable, he let out a pained hiss as a reminder of the sun’s existence made itself known in his eyes. Has the sun always been so bright? Had it always looked upon him in such a pitiful manner? With a melancholy sigh, Hurang knew that he could not plead for further sleep for the sun beckoned him to attend to his people - to attend to matters of state. Yet, even as he swung his legs over the side of his bed, knocking the goblet to the side without care, Hurang could not release his clutch of his eldest’s sword. How could he let go of the one thing that he currently held so dear to his heart.

Hurang would eventually get to his feet and dither about before finally dressing himself, making himself seem of disheveled royalty. Slowly did he walked through the halls of his home, his feet seemed so heavy that they must be dragged forwards. There was nothing more that Hurang could do as he slowly crept his way to his throne for all of his court to see - the priests, the nobles, his confidants, and his wife could all see Hurang trudge his way to throne. Yet, they said nothing, no words to console him nor any gesture for him to distract himself from the entropic pain that ate at him. All they did was pity him, gazing upon him in silence with sorrow filled eyes as he sat upon the throne and slumped down, unable to muster the energy to even seem regal.

The day dragged on, he answered questions that he hardly focused on - merely spouting out whatever would get whoever conversed with him out of his hair. Hurang no longer cared about his post as the malaise that his mind would always remind him to clutch his son’s sword until eventually he felt his emotions begin to get the better of him. The shah gazed into the sword and the reflection he saw was that of his eldest, his heir. It made his broken will shatter and all that he could do was weep, breaking down in front of his court.

“M-my Lord, but one more cometh for an audience,” a courtier said nervously, attempting to help the shah bring himself together before the final person would come before the court. The servant continued to whisper into Hurang’s ear, “He is an outsider, we mustn't show weakness to those of another land.”

With a drawn out breath, Hurang straightened himself and looked to the door with an impassive look, merely ready for the day to finally be at an end. Yet, his tired mind would be stirred as the stranger walked in with his dog, while it would have been mundane, it was the garb of the stranger that made Hurang’s interest rise. The man was adorned with jewels and golden wears that certainly could not have come from any of the nearby lands - certainly he must have come from outside of Nalusa. His black beard was finely kept, braided in a way that a woman would do her hair and a golden band wrapped itself around the short curls of his head. The dog’s fur was blue upon the top and white upon the bottom with jewels of different colors impeded in the beast’s skin. Light spilled from behind the two, the setting sun cascading into the room threatening to blind all in the room.

Hurang would not be the first to speak as the stranger did not wait to be welcomed by the shah or his court, his voice carried with it a cruel satisfaction, “Good day, little shah. I have traveled far to marvel at the wonders of your city. I have heard it is so great and opulent that it would match the moon in its beauty.”

The stranger’s words made the shah cock an eyebrow before he would respond slowly and solemnly, “You will find nought but heartache and woe, stranger. Our city has lost much the past few moons, there are hardly any men to stand vigil at night.”

The strange man let out a light laugh, “Such is the cost of war, Shah Hurang. We must celebrate your victories, surely your sons would be out making merry with the people!”

“Speak of my sons again and I shall rip your tongue out!” The shah snarled in a sudden anger, causing the stranger’s smile to change only to mild interest. The room was silent with the exception of the dog who growled lightly at Hurang, positioning itself between its strange master and the shah. Hurang leaned back in his throne, allowing his son’s sword to rest in his lap for the time being. He would speak again, this time restraining the sudden urge of anger, “There will be no celebration, even if the gods themselves demanded it.”

The stranger frowned, clearly dissatisfied with the answer but, without another word, turned away from the shah with a flourish of his cape. The dog snapped its jaws at the shah before turning to follow its master out the door which came to a close without the aid of any of the servants. Hurang slumped back in his seat and loosed a pained sigh, knowing that the interaction had been merely too much for him. Sleep called for him again and he stood to dismiss the court but before he could, there was a sound of drums and music that came from outside the temple palace. The court all looked at each other and muttered in confusion, but many broke from their positions to see what would be happening, including the shah himself who continued to keep the sword clutched tightly at his side.

Upon the balcony, the shah saw the opulent stranger rousing the populace into a fervor of festivities that would have been reserved only for his own triumphs. The people formed a circle around the stranger’s form, watching as he spoke to them, but Hurang could not make out what they said. His own coronation as the Shah of his own lands had seen such happiness and jealous rage began to spur within his heart as he moved towards the stairway of the temple. Yet, he stopped when he saw the dog sitting vigil on the way down, staring at Hurang with glowing yellow eyes and a growl so fierce that the dog seemed a demon!

Hurang stopped a few paces from the dog, too afraid of moving past it, but, focusing back to the crowd of the people around the stranger, the shah would scream and holler to get the people’s attention. Eventually all would look to their leader in time, but before the shah could even bother to speak it would be he, the foreigner who would call out to Hurang. The voice mocked him, “Oh look upon the shah! So inconsolable is he that he would come to ruin our fun!”

The crowd began to boo and jeer at their shah, but Hurang’s anger would quell them, “I will not be mocked by some cretin from far away! I do not celebrate our losses nor will I celebrate victory in a war compelled by the gods that cost my sons!”

“But the gods are what brought you victory! Even the lands that you rule!”

“The gods are nothing! They took- no, killed my sons! Have you not seen the red sun!”

It was after that statement that Hurang would come to regret his words as within the blink of an eye the stranger was not within his sight. Hurang looked around before he saw a silhouette behind him, but quickly seeing that it was the stranger, the shah raised his sword to stab at Him.

Yet the sword was shattered upon His skin, metal fragments clattering to the ground as His glowing eyes pierced into Hurang’s own. As He spoke, light came from His mouth blinding the shah and forcing him to look away, raising his hands to block away His light.

”You would dare say that I am nothing? That my Lords are nothing?”

Hurang could only stutter, unable to find words in His presence.

”I grant you power to rule and you shun me after the loss of your sons.”

“You are not more important to me than my sons!” Hurang cried, falling to his knees as His divine will compelled him to, his legs having become weak in His presence. He did not know what to do any more, not even able to form any further coherent thought as the growling dog drew closer and closer.

”I am Shahansha, Shah of Shahs! You have abandoned me, He Who Stands Above All, the Great Sun! Your sons serve me in death!”

It was at these words that Huran’s eyes widened and he was forced to look upon Shahansha with tears streaming from his eyes. He knew not what to say but could only fall and prostrate himself above his Lord, pleading to see his sons once again and to return them from a death wrongfully deserved. Yet, there was silence, no answer from Shahansha, who cast his light elsewhere, bringing darkness to Hurang’s world.

”You have abandoned me, and so my Light shall abandon you. You are no shah any longer.”


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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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The Pieces to Pick Up

The Champions of Homura



All of Keltra was continually afire and illuminated with cosmic light which coalesced into an immense radiant pillar that arose skyward and pierced the heavens. Outside of the fortress which still stood and formed the firm foundation of this celestial tower, there was little sound that came from the otherworldly phenomenon. Its presence seemed to defy comprehension, eliciting no more change in the world beyond Keltra, aside from the incredible visual spectacle; the largest tamed bonfire upon the Galbar that history had seen so far.

Within the Keep itself, the source of this great display watched as three blind girls attempted to familiarize themselves with their environment, and wondered whether she should bother with offering assistance. Charis the Red Wing Healing the Faithful, the colossal spirit summoned by Homura in answer to Pride’s prayers, found herself examining her new home: the lack of any architectural flourish and diverse color, the evident absence of furnishings and other miscellaneous things gathered that transform a mere dwelling into a proper residence - hmm… her locus was rather boring by itself, it seemed.

The six-winged spirit turned her attention to the trio that falteringly stood now upon the center of a massive upright palm, and she spoke with her multitude of voices that repeatedly mingled between a euphonious cadence and dreadful cacophony which would under usual circumstances inebriate the minds of mortals which heard her speak.

“Why do you stumble around? Are you hurt?” She asked the three champions, and her gigantic head loomed over them. Charis was careful not to harm the numerous tiny creatures that filled the structure, though except for these three that had become members of some bond they now shared with her, the remaining thousands upon thousands were all entombed within the scarlet stone that was shaped like a sea of hands held together. There was nowhere comfortable for the spirit to alight, but fortunately she was not truly a physical creature that required things like a roost to rest in, despite being born with the tendency to enjoy such comforts. Some alterations will have to be made for her locus, Charis concluded.

“We still can’t see... Could you help us find my scepter, so we can free the others?” Pride replied with a hint of panic in her little voice, wandering aimlessly across the large palm upon her hands and knees as she searched for the missing artifact. Kindness and Curiosity helped hunt for the scepter, but none had discovered its location yet, and with her keen sight, Charis had already ascertained that there was no scepter to be found where they were. Foolish creatures unable to understand their own surroundings was something that irked the great being that hovered above them.

“Your toy flew away from your grasp when I arrived. I recall seeing it soar in that direction…” Charis idly gestured towards and then peered where she had seen the small golden scepter being tossed towards, while noting that finding it among the endless horde of hands may be a difficult task, even for one such as herself.

“An astute observation, however we are incapable of perceiving which direction you are referring to. Such… negligent assistance you provide…” Kindness impassively remarked, before bumping her head into Curiosity’s and letting out a groan of frustrated pain.

“It’s not a toy! We need it to protect our kin, so please help us retrieve it. You know, you’re to blame for some of this after all, couldn’t you have been less explosive when you came.” The Keeper of Keltra exclaimed, equally frustrated - but Charis could see the tears of grief that the small champion was attempting to hide. All three of the blind girls were struggling to come to terms with their situation and trying to cope with their newfound pain, the six-winged spirit realized.

“I shall remember that profuse sacred power results in blindness, little ones. Now I will help you, lest all the sleeping vessels and the lone infant suffocate.” Charis chimed, and her words were followed by the rush of massive wings which once again buffeted the three exposed champions, almost tossing them from the upright palm. The interior of the keep provided her with only a minimal amount of space to move, but she was able to realign and shift herself enough to better examine the western section which she sought to investigate.

There were thousands of stony appendages containing those that slumbered, creating a labyrinth of scarlet stone and shadows which easily hid the small scepter among itself. Charis twisted and turned her head, letting her brilliant aura shine upon anything that would reflect its light, as opposed to all of the animated structure itself which seemed to only absorb it. Much time passed, and Charis continued her search while listening to Kindness console Curiosity and Pride. The loss of their sister and their sight, along with whatever trials and tribulations the cruelty of the world had thrown at them, had finally taken its toll.

There was a sudden golden glitter as the shadows between hands parted to reveal the powerful relic, and Charis hummed with satisfaction. “I have discovered the whereabouts of your missing scepter. Allow me to guide you towards it… follow my voice.” She held out her giant claw beside the upright palm holding the three champions, letting them slowly cross onto her limb and then swiftly traverse the vast expanse of the keep’s interior with a single motion, Afterwards, the great spirit gently deposited them atop the hand closest to the scepter, and with careful steps, the trio descended to the floor to retrieve the little artifact.

Keltra stirred as Pride grasped her scepter and called upon its strength. Without the ability to perceive the changes made, the small champion solely reshaped the stone she saw through the eyes of the trapped and isolated Courage, and as her sister leapt forth with newfound freedom, Pride continued to restore the keep to its previous shape through her expanded sight. As this happened, Charis pondered the true potential of the connection these sisters shared after observing the unified coordination between them, all while reducing the brightness of her blessed aura plus the repeated rearranging herself to avoid obscuring sections of the keep that Pride was intent upon reshaping.

Courage was actually the first living being to witness the otherworldly majesty of the spirit known as Charis the Red Wing Healing the Faithful, and she stood lost in wonder for an ephemeral moment. The spirit was so large that it barely fit within the interior of the keep, easily twice the size of the colossi outside - and it possessed six gargantuan wings covered in fiery feathers and shimmering scales. It seemed an amalgam of creatures, resembling the serpents, avians, and equines of the world. Two eyes, larger than her entire body, stared back at the champion with an alien intelligence that conveyed only cryptic emotions, and Courage observed that she could fit at least a hundred clones of herself in the jaws of this titanic creature. “Holy Salt… uh, I’m Courage, nice to meet you, ya.”

“I did not realize so many of you would look so similar. How strange… You may call me either Charis or Faith, if you like. Charis replied, and allowed the champion to dash towards her three sisters unhindered. The great spirit watched as over one hundred thousand dormant bodies were swiftly freed from their stone shells, including a baby surrounded by comfy cushions and décor beside the Eternal Fire, and the soldiers imbued with the power of the one that had accompanied her Mother in the world beyond these protective walls. So many tiny creatures, Charis mused to herself.

The four champions of Homura spoke with few words and gestures, and mostly communicated through thoughts and emotions that Charis could not quite discern, but sensed the presence of as their minds interacted with the Eternal Fire. Courage saw that the white luminous scars had manifested upon her sisters as well, and they were adorned with similarly white streaks and splotches. Time passed once again, and there was little conversation aside from assessing the outcome of their sister’s betrayal and Zima’s escape. A few suggestions were made, but the concluding census was an agreement to wait for both Wanderer and the two Divine to return. Charis chose to provide her own guidance as well:

“So long as the Eternal Fire persists, Mother will return. As there are none here that possess the knowledge to restore your eyes, we must be patient. Evil may wreak havoc upon the world, but there is little any of you can do to prevent it in your current state. Keltra is well defended, let us rest longer until we are ready.” She stated, softly soaring in circles against the ceiling of the keep, her silent motion in contrast with her immense size easily bewildering the senses. Even Courage, Kindness, Curiosity, and Pride felt their minds swim through a barely perceptible haze that was the aura of the colossal spirit.

The shifting symbols of the Gnosis continued to spread and recede, in their undulating dance across each sorcerer’s skin, as they all concentrated on their spells. Despite their blindness, the three physical members of the Order of the Phoenix could see, and each moved with the same precise grace they possessed before losing the usage of their eyes. Courage found herself bewildered by the way her sisters were relying upon the Incantation of Seeing to visualize their surroundings within the theater of their minds. Their gathered focus provided them a complete understanding of the keep, but also prevented them from expanding their senses beyond Keltra. The short-haired champion knew how much Pride utilized her sorcery to watch the world, and knew that this limited sight was inducing dread in her little sister, despite how much Pride tried to continually conceal her emotions.

“Fear’s gone, and we let Zima get away…” Courage said with a sigh before continuing, “Two of the Divine are weak and sick, and we’ve no idea where they went… All of us have been weakened as well! This is what the taste of defeat feels like, ya! We knew when we stood up against our Maker that there’d be tough times… and yet we insisted! So listen to me! We’re strong enough to survive this, and press onward, when we fight together. We all want to make the world a better place, but there’s going to be those that seek to trip us. No matter what happens though… we have to always get back up!” Her words were kindling, fuel to ignite the strength and otherworldly power that suffused all of them, and the fortress itself.

“So long as the Eternal Fire persists, we can’t give up!” She shouted with conviction, and set her gaze upon her sisters. Though they were blind, they could see, and the vision of their sister staring at them weighed heavily on their minds, calling upon them to make a choice.

“We must continue on our journey, where I am certain our sister is waiting for us… It would be premature to assume we have lost this war, so I will continue to fight.” Kindness stated, accepting the Blade of Mourning from her sister, and holding the weapon with a tight grip, knowing the burden of what the weapon would represent.

“Hate won’t heal our wounds, we’ve got to help each other. We can’t let go of our dreams that easily! I will continue to protect those I love.” Curiosity reaffirmed, cradling the resting Rowan in her arms, her entirely white eyes now matching the pale white of his hair. Her hands managed to convey the tenderness and compassion that her face currently lacked, as she cared for the baby.

“Yes, we all will! We’re going to get stronger, and find a way to change things. No more pain and being broken - It’s approaching time we walk farther down the Sacred Path than we ever thought possible! We’re the Heralds of Honor after all, and we’ll keep on moving on until our last breath!” Courage proclaimed as she paced back and forth before her sisters with evident resolve in her stride. She stopped and closed her covered hand into a fist, then held the clenched Golden Gauntlet aloft; the simple action was potent enough as it inspired the blinded champions.

It drew upon and ushered a new tune that filled the hall; a gentle humming and the unseen playing of instruments. The runes of the Gnosis glowed with power, and whispered in their ears - another unknown ritual for them to perform. They all began their prayers, kneeling in a circle with their hands clasped in front of them and speaking softly in unison:

King in Heaven, O Radiant Ruler of Reality,
The Undefeated, Invincible, and Unbreakable,
We weep with shame…


With broken and bloody bodies, and tainted souls,
Glory in our hearts, and burning victory on our minds,
Triumph swelling within us, beating fiercely,
We praise thee, and ask for forgiveness…


Forgive us for what we asked in our ignorance,
Forgive us for what we have done in our ignorance,
And forgive us for what we have yet to do…


Mightiest Cosmic Emperor, O Great Lord of the Galbar,
The Unchained, Vigorous, and Undying,
We shed tears of light…


With love and wonder, and sacred songs,
Gratitude in our voices, and ancient reverence as we dance,
The otherworldly melody guides us, softly,
We praise thee, and ask for strength…


The strength to stand against despair,
The strength to lift our limbs and march forward,
And the strength to bring beauty to this world…


We are your loyal servants,
And we wish ever in accordance with your will,
We praise thee, O Creator.


The music within Keltra had reached a heavenly crescendo, and then slowly shifted back to the ambient music that filled the hall prior. The four champions of Homura remained positioned in a ring, still kneeling, but they had unclasped their hands and smiled at each other. Charis found herself amused watching these events transpire, and allowed herself to playfully purr as she languidly continued circling high above.

“It is darkest before the coming of dawn, little ones. However, blessed night need not be frightening for those that understand the sacred nature of darkness. The Divine are both our greatest allies and our greatest foes upon our journey through the unknown, though there are many other threats as well…”

The words of the Phoenix then hung ominously over Keltra, as its inhabitants pondered what awaited them in the future.



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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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Afflicting Circumstances





Zima fell upon her hands and knees into the pond's sandy beach. It sent ripples across its glassy surface, breaking the tension. It was an action that would have killed Fear's own body, had she been in control of it. Her body was, by all accounts, complex yet simple. No mere mortal would have survived having their head caved in and blinded by their own stupidity. But Fear had, because she wasn't just some mere mortal. She was born of clay and stone, her inner fire and water kept her alive and any more spillage would have sent her water out. It would have been a laughable way to die.

As the northern sky lay ablaze with lingering light that turned night to day, Zima shook her head.

Fear was too valuable, at least for now. A bargaining chip perhaps? But more or less a useful, gullible, tool. She already had plans for her, whether Fear was willing or not. But first things first, she would do her small act of kindness for what Fear did to free her and that would be finding her a new body. Or fixing this one. But as Zima looked into stilling water, her reflection made one thing abundantly clear- Fear was not the smartest of her sister’s.

Zima had done what she could, filled the cracks and splinters with her own presence. Crimson smoke poured out those wounds. But more nefarious was how she had stopped the trauma to her head from spreading. It was not Fear’s own eyes that looked back up at them, for she had quite literally smashed them to pieces, but Zima’s. She had filled the gap in Fear’s head with her own, molding it to fit in a vague shape that could have passed for Fear, if it was more tangible and solid. She had even given her some hair back, now streaked with black. It was the only practical decision she had to make, otherwise her vessel would have died.

She pawed at her chest, stone swirling with crimson. Zima grimaced. There was one spot that hadn't been cracked when Fear hit the wall, much to her annoyance. It was where Fear holed herself up from Zima's corrupting influence. Her heart, with a little bit of flame to keep it going. Her presence was weak everywhere else, almost nonexistent but it was there and Zima could not allow it to spread. She needed to break her heart once and for all.

That was the true goal. Bend Fear to her own will and turn her against her sisters.

For now, she would etch away at it. They had all the time in the world after all, for without Zima, Fear would be dead in her exile. All Zima needed to do was search for solutions in this strange new world she found herself in. She had flown far enough away that Keltra was a distant memory or it would be if they didn't come and try to find them with that boat. Her anger boiled just thinking of all those gifts her father gave them. What had she ever gotten?

Abandonment.

Zima punched the water, sending droplets flying. These girls really were coddled. Innocent, doe eyed fawns. Well, even the innocent could fall and they were well on their way. She could break them all by breaking one. That would show them for overstepping their bounds.

She still didn't understand why Fear had gone through all the trouble to break her out. And who even were those others? They had a strangely familiar presence yet something told her there was no way Fear was working with them. Was it all a coincidence?

Zima let out a frustrated sigh. She stood up and gathered her surroundings. This red foliage was beginning to get on her nerves. There was little iteration to it and she had not the strength yet to do anything about it. She unfurled her wings and began to flap them. It was time to keep heading away.

“Still here?” a crackling whistle of a voice abruptly sounded from the treeline behind her. With the corner of an eye, she saw smoke drifting out from among crimson trunks. “The whole land will no doubt be ablaze in no time now. You should keep going until you no longer see red.” The voice hesitated before continuing - or was it another, distinct but identical, following on its heels? “How precious were you to them to stir them so?”

Zima used her wings to turn with a few flaps. She held her broken head high, eyes fixed upon the trees and smoke. She tilted her head ever so slightly, lips turning thin. “Precious-” She began to speak, pausing as the sound of Fear’s voice rang out. “Enough.” she finished. Where once Fear’s voice had been weak and diminutive, now it sounded stronger, more defined but cold and withdrawn. Zima hated it all the same but it would do for now. “And who might you be, hiding in the shadows?” she asked.

“The shadows,” the voice flatly repeated, as though the words were in themselves answer enough. Three red eyes met her look from within the caliginous swirl. “We are what remains when all is stripped from life, down to itself. As are you. As is she, now.” The cloud drifted closer now, and it was three shades, even as those she had seen at Keltra. One of them raised a coiling strand of vapour towards her. “We are Eschatli. Welcome among the rejected, sister.”

Zima stood firm, holding out a hand and allowing the Eschatli's smoke to coil around her pointer finger. So they weren't all alone after all. Wasn't that great, Fear? She drove the thought into her host's sleeping conscious, followed by an image of the Shades before her. "So alike, yet different all the same. Curious..." Zima said to herself. "It was you who came to free me, along with this foolish thing." With her other hand she waved over her vessel. "Why? Do you feel akin to me? We rejected few."

“More than that,” the wraith who had spoken undulated, “One thing was left to you that was denied us.”

“Freedom,” another added, “You don't have to carry the weight of an Eye ever upon you. The favoured playthings of the gods are always bare for you to mar, at your whim and not that of brooding fate.”

“You can do so much more than us,” the third finished, “It were a shame to let you, too, languish in your master’s chains.”

"Ahh," Zima clasped her hands together, "You are enslaved. Such a pity indeed that we few are used so. But you have my thanks, or what's left of it, for helping free me. In fact, I would even go so far to say that I am in your debt. Or we, in this case. If I could break your chains, I would, but some bonds run deep." She next sighed. "Where are my manners? After all you have told me your name… names?" She shrugged it off and gave a slight bow, "I am Zima, this vessel is known as Fear. Soon to change."

“It is a fine enough name, for all her clay could be worth,” one cloud arched overhead like a stretching, drooping slug and glanced down at what remained of the champion’s head, “Pity her, Zima, for she has known our thraldom without our unity, and like us she has but passed from one hand to another.”

“But as long as you have enough, so will she,” another rolled nonchalantly, “Where shall you now, extinguished flame?”

"Do not worry, I feel nothing but pity for this one. She wishes to change me but I think by the end, it will be quite the opposite." Zima mused. "As for now, I shall head as far away from Keltra as I can. I need to fix this body and secure her… Freedom. Many will come to look for me, I shall have to find a good place to hide for a time, I think. What will become of you three?"

“So long as we are Three of Seven, we'll never want for something to waste our time,” swayed the last of them, “Doom knows no rest, so neither must we. You, however…"

She coiled about the revenant, and with the others she spun into a circling ring.

"You should not waste what you have now. What can any do to you that you haven't suffered already? Roam free, defile, despoil. Our spark will be a little warmer just for it."

Zima took them all in, wings folding behind her back. She placed one hand to Fear’s heart. "I will gladly do this for you, sisters. Wherever we go, suffering follows."

"Such is the way of things." The circle swayed. Were the Three still Three? Was there only One left with her? She could not see. "Go now, the world awaits you with its joys."

"To the south, there is an unspoilt garden of peoples, with none but measly leeches picking at it," another voice - or was it the same one? - continued, "To the east, many a divine finger is sunk in one small valley, ripe and vulnerable in its charges. To the north, the Sun's own eye dotes on the futile vehemence of the sand-dwellers. Which will you spite first?"

Zima thought a moment. She wanted to stray clear of any divine influence for the time being. South was the only option.

"I shall take us South and see what might transpire. It has been oh so lovely meeting you. Do take care and break the bonds that hold you." Zima said to them, unfurling her wings.

"Not too loud, now," the Eschatli chuckled in a nimbic crackle as they stretched and broadened their ring, giving way for her to take flight, "Or someone might think you speak in earnest. Travel well, sister, and don't forget what you are in the world."

"Of course." Zima murmured and then she was gone, leaving the Eschatli to return to the shadows. Three eyes followed her umbral trail as it blurred into the sky.

"How long before the underworld changes its mind about her?" asked one.

"If she was lucky, it would forget her," answered another, "But luck is down there now. If she's to defeat the end, she must do it herself."


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Wanderer & Keltra

The Champions of Homura



Wanderer had now been steering Skydancer for the entirety of the night, swiftly flying through the shrouded skies in a north-westward direction, relying upon the enchanted blue gem in her navel which continually guided her towards home, but that had all changed when an immense pillar of celestial light suddenly burst upwards from the horizon and pierced the sky with its blinding radiance. Then a thunderous roar reached the airborne boat only a brief period after its passengers initially witnessed the manifestation of the pillar, and the power behind that force frightened Wanderer, as the blue gem still urged her towards the source of this light. The temporary tranquility of the flight had been broken, now replaced with inescapable dread.

Wanderer lacked crucial information, and could not come up with any assuring explanations for the otherworldly sight, aloud or in her mind, however she still felt the faint connection she shared with her sisters which offered some small relief. At the moment, she still remained too far to tap into their thoughts and memories, but she knew her induced anxiety came not only from herself; she knew her sisters were apprehensive as well - their stress reached her from afar… What could possibly be the cause of this? She questioned in stressed silence, while praying for the safety of her family.

Skydancer soared with incredible speed; the blessed boat bringing its passengers to their destination with graceful haste. Closer and closer to the luminous pillar, it became evident that it was too dangerous to directly approach where Keltra once stood, but Wanderer refused to retreat just because of the risks, and with a few quiet words, she provided the Recusant that traveled with her the option to disembark farther away from the blazing fortress, if they so desired.

With the last cautious arrangements handled and final preparations readied, Wanderer piloted the boat closer to where the massive pillar of light arose from the red coast like a colossal bonfire suffused with immense sacred power, the mute champion moving towards it at a slow and steady pace since she was forced to shield her eyes, lest she be blinded by the close proximity to the otherworldly light - Except Wanderer did not seek to solely see with her own eyes, and instead sought to connect with her sisters. Her shared senses allowed her to view what lay beyond, utilizing the sight of those that stood within Keltra.

She quickly let out a small sigh of relief upon hearing the voices of her sisters call out to her, beckoning her with gentle words that alleviated many of her concerns, however the lack of one voice among them ushered a newfound dread. Fear did not speak, nor did she feel close, and the only obvious answer was that Fear was not in Keltra anymore... Meanwhile, Courage had invited her inside, insisting she pass through the wall of light which was explained to be harmless from within the still standing fortress, and upon hearing her sister’s request, Wanderer steered Skydancer into the pillar. She noted to herself, so much had changed in the short period she had been away.

Now tentatively hovering above the immense outer wall, those aboard Skydancer found they were no longer assailed with the blinding presence of the celestial light. The transition from the darkness of night to the brightness of day was still weird, but Wanderer realized that the workings of the divine would always be as such. While her eyes adjusted to the new and ethereal surroundings, her mind was flooded with the memories of what her sisters had experienced in her absence: The betrayal of Fear who had freed Zima and fled, the intrusion of those afflicted by the touch of Doom, and the arrival of Charis the spirit that had been the one that created the light. Wanderer quickly processed all of this information with the assistance of her sisters, but the mental and emotional burden was still great, and she felt herself seize up and almost stumble as she continued piloting the boat towards the keep.

Red and white bled together all around, the thousands upon thousands of pale sleeping vessels alongside the glowing lacerations in the air and across the structure in stark contrast to the scarlet stone itself. The illuminated interior was warm and comforting by virtue of the Eternal Fire, combined with a second incredibly pleasant aura that Charis exuded, so Wanderer found herself relaxing as Skydancer alighted in the area where her sisters awaited her. Aside from Courage, her three other sisters seemed to reflect the afflicted state of the fortress, as their eyes burned a searing white color, and their bodies were scarred by the same pale cuts akin to their surroundings. There was some consolation in the fact that these slashes inflicted no pain, and everyone else that was previously shielded by the sea of hands had been protected from the aura of Charis.

“Now we’re all mostly here…” Courage began, looking between the gathering of her sisters, minus Fear. The reluctance to completely share their thoughts with each other was evident; there was still too much grief and regret after everything that had happened, but the most brash among them was persistent in uplifting their spirits. “Hey, we’re closer to healing, and I’m feeling better already, ya… You know you missed out on the fun, Wanderer.” She joked, weaving sweetness into the bitter feeling of defeat with her casual demeanor that helped combat the lingering sorrow in all of them. It was difficult for Wanderer to remain in anguish whenever her sister acted so intentionally blithe.

“You need to amend your understanding of fun, sister.” Kindness remarked, and Wanderer allowed herself to quickly acclimate to the slightly disorientating sensation of her blind sisters utilizing her sight in order to see for themselves, as both Kindness and Curiosity were rather clumsy in their traversal of their shared minds. The former was too prone to cloistering her thoughts which only hindered her mental movements in the end, while the latter was too easily distracted by new information and unable to maintain the correct course when navigating consciousness which resulted in sluggish communication and organization.

“I refuse!” Courage countered with a teasing grin in response to her sister’s words, which elicited an annoyed sigh from Kindness and Pride that was such a common sight to the mute champion, as Curiosity simply directed a small smile towards her while cradling Rowan in her arms. Wanderer merely shrugged, allowing herself to fulfill the familiar role in their little performance, but she wished that there wasn’t one missing member of their troupe. She was uncertain about the outcome of any interaction with her family when an integral part of the picture had been removed without warning.

“Let’s get to at least figuring out a plan now, and properly updating our sister on the situation.” Pride interjected, her more childish voice which differed from the rest of her sisters somehow managing to command their attention with ease, and it reminded Wanderer of how truly divergent the smallest champion among them was.

Wanderer felt a paradoxical feeling of anxiety and adoration around her little sister - a feeling she had felt before when she was preparing to depart upon Skydancer with the Recusant. Pride had almost completely immersed herself in the Incantation of Seeing; swimming deeper and deeper into the sea of information as she explored the tapestry through empowered sacred sight. It was actually dangerous for her, and Wanderer was fairly certain that Pride was acutely aware of the potential consequences of acquiring too much knowledge prematurely. Yet her little sister had ventured regardless.

Pride kept her thoughts and memories well hidden and secured, only sharing what she deemed worth sharing, and even that fraction of her mind gifted to her sisters was often overwhelming. Wanderer was repeatedly forced to contemplate what the anointed Keeper of Keltra had become because of her journey across the weave, and wished the concerns she held would wash away, restored to the way it was before. She wished Pride could be more open like the rest of her sisters at least, especially since despite Pride’s ancient mind being alien to those around her, the soft and cute appearance of her sister constantly compelled Wanderer to attempt to cuddle her.

An extra layer of frustration came from the fact that none of them had bothered to address this issue in her absence, even though Wanderer discerned that the majority of her sisters were not content with this dynamic. Even now, with her musings available for all of them to examine, it did not provoke a response or any rise to action. What a weird predicament… Hence the mute champion diverting her gaze towards the colossal spirit in the hall that was currently watching them with eyes larger than all five champions combined.

“This is Charis the Red Wing Healing the Faithful. She was summoned by Mother in answer to our prayers, and has promised to protect Keltra.” Pride explained, fortunately discussing the very thing that Wanderer had chosen to focus on. “She is an Umati; a spirit created by combining the essence of life and death - a fusion of the two hundred thousand souls that were lost during the Calamity, and the bird egg that hatched during Zima’s escape. She is also bound here by the nature of her existence.”

On a nearby table where a sheathed dagger, a wooden staff, and a dark orb all rested upon red cushions or were held in a golden cup, between them were the broken pieces of what was once a large egg. Tuku’s gift to Pride had finally freed itself and became the Phoenix that looked down on them from above. The spirit spoke then, and she spoke with a myriad of voices all at once, yet there was clarity and beauty in the way she shaped words and articulated them. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Wanderer. It is true, Keltra serves as my locus, and I cannot leave unless accompanied by a deity.”

“She’s also a nice spirit! She helped us find Pride’s scepter, and banished the ones that wanted to hurt us!” Curiosity added, which caused the massive six-winged spirit to hum with appreciation. Wanderer had been informed of the bond between Charis and her three blind sisters through their shared memories, and awe continued to touch against her like a rush of unexpected wind, while Curiosity giggled and blissfully swayed with Rowan. The egg becoming such a weird creature, and the offhanded mention of two hundred thousand deaths during the calamity she had just learned about would have been enough for Wanderer to lose herself in isolated contemplation.

Wanderer gave a nod, outwardly satisfied with this aspect of the situation, as the Eternal Fire brought feelings of peace and solace, and Charis seemed to serve as an amplifier for its powers. She mentally shrugged, or at least the equivalent of such a gesture, and mostly to herself, when Courage contemplated whether they could face their Maker as equals in a fight now. Dwelling upon that old encounter only tired the mute champion, and reminded her that patience was required now, as the next step upon the Sacred Path called upon the return of their Maker. Despite the presence of both the Eternal Fire and the Phoenix, Courage, Kindness, and Curiosity were still poisoned by their consumption of the corrupted other, and this taint greatly weakened all of them.

“We’ve made mistakes, but we’ve decided to keep trying. We’ve gained more strength, and can help others like you. Charis has given us this strength; our Mother sent her to us.” Curiosity crooned to Rowan, to herself, and to her sisters, as she seated herself upon her white owl plushie. The inquisitive champion was always happy with her exuberant imagination and daydreams, which would sometimes irk Wanderer whenever she was invited to join in the frivolous fantasies, but invoked a sweet and soothing calm now.

“I’ve had time to think, and I realize that I’m mad at Fear… but I can’t just blame her, ya. I need to understand my own failings too. I need to challenge myself in new ways to find my true potential, and I think that’s what our foolish sister is doing now. She’s still part of the Holy Quintet after all. Hmm… Anyways, I’m going to chat with the Recusant, and figure out what they want.” Courage proclaimed, playfully punching the air a few times and offering one more cheerful grin before she excused herself from the conversation, and so Wanderer wondered whether she would be once again departing on Skydancer soon.

Kindness stepped forward, now beside her and reached out with telepathy, asking Wanderer to follow her. “I require your assistance, sister.” She said aloud in her soft voice, as she strode northward, further into the keep with the certainty that her sister would accompany her. Wanderer walked a short distance behind the reticent champion, observing the irony of the blind individual being the one to lead, as they soon separated themselves from the others and reached the far wall where a few doorways had already reconstructed themselves. Upon reaching their destination, Wanderer realized why they had come this way, and what Kindness was seeking. Strewn on the smooth floor nearby were glittering shards that were left untouched during the prior skirmish.

As Kindness kneeled down to begin collecting the fractured pieces of what was once the upper half of their sister’s head, assisted by the shifting stone that also gathered the scattered shards, Wanderer scrutinized the memories she was provided with upon her return, peering keenly at what Kindness had been experiencing at the time. She saw the discreet moment when her sister dedicated a section of her mind and power to salvaging the abandoned fragments of Fear, and Wanderer silently joined Kindness in picking up the pieces.

“We will find her…” Kindness whispered as she quietly wept, and Wanderer felt her own tears then.




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by WrongEndoftheRainbow
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WrongEndoftheRainbow

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Biluda


Frapnog had been a happy manbjarsk. And he liked to think that he had been a good manbjarsk too.

Well, at least a decent one.

He had wandered the moorlands in a haze of food-related daydreams and had oft glorified now the beet-beer and now the blackberry wine on which he was frequently sloshed. His life, for all the terrible predators that stalked the air (horseflies) and heath (snakes) and puddles (also snakes), was a tuneless hum of docile stupidity. When he hungered, he ate. When he wished after company, his wives shouted him out of the den and told him to come back with something to eat for them too, you lazy git. When work called, he answered it with an idle grunt - none slacked like Frapnog, none belched like him, none chewed their nails, none ground their teeth against the sighing bark like Frapnog when he was bored. All who beheld him knew that he was a mere workman, and certainly not an artisan, a sculptor, or a worshipper. When Frapnog stood he towered above all other bjarska, provided they were below the age of ten, when he moved through a group they generally shoved him out again and told him to make something of himself. And when Frapnog wooed a lassiebjarsk… well, he’d never had any luck with that.

He was a happy bjarsk, was Frapnog, a bjarsk to hide from one’s mother-in-law in rivers with, a bjarsk to down the booze, a bjarsk to laugh at bad jokes for too long beside. He was a decent bjarsk. An okay bjarsk. A not-quite-average bjarsk, but, you know, a pretty much alright bjarsk, generally.

But when he lay, sprawled, bloodied, and alone in an awkward heap with his mouth open and his tongue out, laid out like a mouldy old pelt in the mud of a ditch where he’d been digging clay, Frapnog was not a happy bjarsk or even a conscious bjarsk. He was still Frapnog, obviously. He’d never be anything more than Frapnog. But now, and ever more, he was just a little bit less.

Earlier…

“Git! Get going! Don’t come back or you’ll be sleeping on the floor! Go mooch your beet-beer from some other poor wife!”

Frapnog knew he knew better than his wives, as he was smacked repeatedly with a broom on the behind. So what if he had stumbled face-first into the jar shelf, smashing all of the jars? So what if he had proceeded to then spill his wife’s beet-beer? It was his beet-beer to begin with, and she was just the nagging wife drinking it all! Her job to brew it, his job to drink it!

“I’ll show them,” he mused to no-one in particular, let alone himself, “I’ll get a new wife, with better beet-beer! She’ll kill all the snakes and always have time for me! All my wives will be sorry when they realize what they’re missing out on!” He considered the great opportunities opened by motivating himself to get a better wife, and he decided in but a moment that the first great opportunity he would take advantage of would be the mooching of more beet-beer.

First, new cups were needed; he may have broken all the cups, but his wives probably made him do it. Just another way their nagging sabotaged him. It was time for his monthly hour of work; Frapnog needed more cups if he were to have more beet-beer. With a patter down to the creek, he found a nice patch of clay to dig up. As far as he remembered, he could just shape the clay and have a cup, right? Surely there was no other step to the process.

It was operating under such delusions that Frapnog began to diligently dig up a clay trench, for as hard as it was possible for the Bjarska to actually work. The fact that any other Bjarska, even by their standards, would call it nothing more than a lazy, drunken stupor meant absolutely nothing to Frapnog. Unfortunately, this drunken stupor he classified as hard work also meant that he was completely unaware.

The situation was not improved by the sharp crack on the back of Frapnog’s head. He was still completely unaware, but in an entirely different meaning of the phrase.

Biluda, for their credit, was not entirely aware either; their mind was in a haze, hunger shooting through their mind and body with a kind of desperation only afforded to the truly addicted. The world was red, their peripheral vision nonexistent as they accosted the lone Bjarska before them. Their gloves were moonrock, much tougher than they looked; enough to, with a good swing, knock someone out cold without much effort. Their hand was on the back of the Bjarska’s head before the body had even hit the ground.

Without the aid of a god, Biluda found it significantly harder to sort through the Bjarska’s memories, and the blinding hunger rippling through their system made it hard to resist simply eating whatever they found. But, the Kynikos was not entirely incapable of self-control, and so avoided the temptations until they had found what they were looking for; both the grasp of language and the memory of being hit in the back of the head.

With luck, the others would simply believe Frapnog had passed out in a drunken stupor, and blamed what was missing on that fact alone. Further luck, Biluda hoped, would keep them from making any connection with their own grasp of the Bjarskan language. The hunger subsided as the blue glow emerged from under Biluda’s hand, relief flooding through their system as they succumbed to their addiction.

The memories were tough, difficult to digest. Buried under a lifetime of alcoholism and limited comprehension. They did not go down easily, and the ache and aftertaste would not leave for some time. Nonetheless, Biluda’s hunger was sated, and with a chuff of disgust, they stood and left Frapnog to wake in his own time. It was time to test their grasp of the language they had just subsumed, and for that they needed a conscious Bjarsk.

For all his many, many, many (many) flaws, Frapnog had secured a modest territory over his life, a concretion born in decades of brawling and boozy camaraderie. The only Bjarska nearby for now were his wives and kits. Biluda struck out instead for the far side of the treeless little ridge that was the most solid of Frapnog’s boundaries, and constituted a much bigger obstacle for a muskrat than for the long-legged likes of themself. From there they could spot a little bog. That, of course, was where the next den would be.

Kolp was foraging in the stream feeding his bog when Biluda approached, and had only begun to pry open his little river-clams when he noticed the figure. He was one of the toughs who had come to storm the alien on a frightened Trook’s behalf, and news of Biluda’s absolution by the Sun-Headed Giant had reached him quickly. This was all easy for Biluda to intuit, because they were able to get fairly close without getting shouted at.

Kolp grunted at Biluda, pushing his clams to the far side of the rock they sat on. The body language coincided perfectly with the fresh knowledge in Biluda’s head: “Get yer own, stranger. It’s my supper, this is.”

Biluda kneeled over to reach Kolp’s height, testing their newfound knowledge of the language, “I don’t eat anyways,” they squeaked, their voice scratchy and obviously not ideal for the Bjarskan’s speech, “I figured out your language, and would like to know who I should go to who can speak for everyone here,” a pause, “other than the guardian in the cave.”

The rodent cocked his head in between smacking his lips over the clam meat, glancing left and right and back up at Biluda, looking at them like he might look at a spotted pink alligator. For a moment it looked like all progress had been lost. It was not so. Biluda had simply come to that second great hill of miscomprehension: cultural barriers.

“Well,” Kolp began, “There’s the old bloke Obgob who speaks for Tibbuh and Higg and also his own three sons, except his second son, and Cheb and Gloknik also have friends on the other side of Whistleberry Hill, but Cheb will only listen if you’re on Trook’s good side, and he doesn’t like boggies like meself so you’ll count me out. Wartel has friends in the old Svietla clan but these days they’re so mixed up with Lubov that it’s really an Upper Lubov and Lower Lubov business, except with the Western Lubov who will clan up for anyone who isn’t a Mitsa, unless your name is Yeek, Ghortum, Flobba, Noit or Ubno. If you go all the way up the heath streams to the Chewing Wood you’ll meet Jekka and if you can help him piss off Bikbok then he’ll send a few of the Chewing goons up to do whatever, but there’s a good chance one of them is Wab, who gets Peggel all gloomy, and that’ll turn off Obgob. Then there’s just Turmpo and Wunggolp and they’re both complete cockheads now that Uffy’s dead, but if you kill one the other will probably straighten up once he’s married Gognarp, granted Chebb approves- not Cheb, Chebb, Flobba’s mate’s ex-nephew-in-law. Pretty simple, really.” He slurped out the meat from another clam.

The Kynikos buried their head in their hands in frustration as the explanation wore on, groaning out, once Kolp was finally complete, “I will take that as a firm no to my question.” A pause, then Biluda asked their followup question, their voice still scratchy though considerably more annoyed, “Okay, is there any easy way to gather every one of you close enough for me to speak to all at once?”

“Why, men’s night, of course.” Kolp reply was swift and without hesitation. “First day of the new moon is men’s night. You bring your men’s night jar and you fill it with your men’s night piss, and then we all get pissed up and discuss men’s things. And in the morning our wives drag us home if we’re not dead.”

There was no movement from Biluda for a long while. When they did opt to speak, it was with a defeated tone, “And I take it you will all be pissed long before you gather, correct?” Their mask emerged from their hands as they glanced at Kolp, already cringing as though they knew the answer.

“Well, mostly in summer,” Kolp shrugged, swiftly polishing the last of the greasy mud-animals and looking friendlier now. “Summer comes, we drink to cool down. Winter comes, we drink to warm up. Nights get right proper nippy out here in the moor, blimey. You ever feel cold under that big white blanket? Hope it’s thicker than it looks, or you ain’t enjoying the next three months, I tell you that much.”

The Kynikos stood up, stepping off the rock – they were clearly making a notable effort to avoid the mud – they responded, “Well, I do hope you will be sober at the gathering. I have a proposition to make, and I will make it at the gathering to all of you at once.”

Kolp laughed a deep, hearty laugh (more of a cackling hiss if you weren’t familiar with rodent vocal range). “Really? Bring plenty of piss, stranger, I look forward to it. Tell you what, I might even introduce you. You happen to have a name?”

“Biluda,” the Kynikos answered dryly, continuing to walk away as they continued, “I will see you all at the gathering.”




Winter had not yet come. Small difference that made, in this country where there was, by and large, rain and not snow, fog and not cloud, and not enough trees to pile up a single good heap of leaves. But it did get cold, bitterly cold. And it was getting colder.

The bjarska were huddled together in groups from four to about twelve, facing inwards to the peat fires, their fuzzy brown backs turned to the breeze. Among them were their men’s jars (which were indistinguishable from any other jars, but were for men) and the various snacks they had brought to be their dinner. There was a Speaking Rock, which soaked up sunlight readily and thus, in the colder months, became the Sleeping Rock. There was also a low and marshy Speaking Puddle, which was cool and cold year-round, and thus became the summertime Sleeping Puddle. The reason for this was simple: no one wanted to interrupt the boozing to hear anyone prattle on too long without a bloody good reason, so if a bold muskrat wanted to speak, he would have to do so with his feet roasting hot- or, as the season changed, freezing cold.

Biluda, with feet of moon and leather, was at a distinct advantage.

“Shut ya gobs and open yer ears, you pests!” Kolp, who’d promised not to arrive intoxicated, staggered a bit as he clacked together his mug and pot. It didn’t make much of a difference: they were all staring at the newcomer anyway. “My long friend has words for all of youse!”

Cold blue eyes shimmered from behind Biluda’s mask. Their voice rang out, harshly squeaking as it protested the language, “I am a stranger, new to this land; I bring new ideas and new methods! I have defied one god and been lavished with gifts by another; I have visited the Shattered Gem that hangs above us!”

They paused, to sweep across the crowd, letting their boasts sink in before they continued, “I do not plan to stop until I have discovered all creation has to offer! In time, I will march upon the Imperial Sun in the name of glory! Such a journey is step-by-step, and within you lies my next step.”

Their eyes became unfocused, gazing to the far distance. “Beyond the horizon lies your enemies numerous. Therein lies my offer; should you work to my designs, I will give you armament unimaginable. Hammers that never wear down, knives that never chip. I will give you axes that hew through stone just as easily as wood. I will give you armor that reflects all blows.”

Once more their gaze sharpened in on the crowd, “Do you understand the magnitude of what I offer? Yours will be the envy of all. None could stand against you should you agree.”

A bog-cricket chirruped. Someone belched. A faint voice mumbled, ‘what’s a horizon?’

Then some dull-eyed tough took a deep swig, cracked a twig between his teeth, knocked out his nearest friend with the jar and bellowed: “HAMMERS?”

Yes, hammers! Rock-on-a-stick! Those things! Within seconds, the crowd was roaring with approval, confusion, and laughter, or maybe just roaring in general. Kolp patted Biluda’s shin with a grubby claw and yelled something incomprehensible before staggering out of the ice-cold water of the Speaking Puddle.

BIluda brought their hand up to their mask, groaning in annoyance as the Bjarska firmly refused to comprehend anything more than the simplest of concepts. They brought their boot up, slamming it back down with a heady force into the bottom of the puddle, splashing ice-cold water across the gathering. There was no moonlight to glitter over the cold droplets, and the front row was caught square in the face in the dark, washing the cheers into loud squeaks and grunts and mutters of displeasure. A shout followed, “I will give you instructions, and you will listen!”

At the very suggestion of deference, a good third of the assembled manbjarska turned their backs and went back to their warm peat-fires, but most of the rest held back the worst of their noise and banter with a visibly fragile patience. Another tough, one with perhaps a trickle more than raw animal instinct in his eyes, spoke up. “Aye, we know hammers, stranger. What’s say you should know’em any better?”

Biluda locked their blue, glowing eyes upon the Bjarska who had made the challenge, and outstretched a hand to their side as they said, “Bring me a hammer. I will show you the weaknesses of your hammer.” Once they felt a hammer placed in their gloved hand, they continued, “Your handle is untreated, vulnerable to rot; your stone is unbalanced, and offers insufficient integrity for its weight. The binding is weak and unsuited for impacts. Its limits are easy to find.”

They slammed the hammer into their own chest with a sudden ferocity. A snap and a heady crack filled the air as the stick that moonlighted as a handle broke in half, the stone recoiling off onto the ground in five pieces. There was not so much as a dent on the moon-white frame of Biluda. They looked down at the stick, then to the rock and its pieces, saying in a contemptuous tone, “Behold, the great knowledge of hammers your people possess. Walk a day to the north, and you will find hammers ten times as strong. Sail the sea, a hundred times. Travel to the land of my birth, a thousand times.”

And then there was silence.

Someone pulled a wad of smouldering peat out from one of the fire-circles, and relit it at the side of the puddle with a flint. The light was orange and weak, and reflected a dozen pairs of black rodent eyes as they stared at the shattered schist in the water, at the smooth body of the alien newcomer. There were those they would not fight, their wives, their towering judge, but never before a whisper of something they could not fight. This wouldn’t do. No, this would not do at all.

The broken stick splashed into the puddle next to the broken head of the Bjarskan hammer. Biluda’s index finger sought out the one who had originally issued the challenge, saying with a sense of finality, “So, tell me more about how you do not need my hammers. I could kill you all, and there would be nothing you could do to harm me. I could kill your guardian, with minimal effort. I am not unique, I am not a particularly powerful warrior. All around your moor, there are countless more like me.”

Their hand went down, and they took a long look at each Bjarsk as they spoke, “Do my bidding, and I will give you the weapons and armor you need to compete. Do not, and I will move on, leave you to your inevitable deaths when the larger world grows weary of your existence.”

The rodents bristled, doubtful, insulted, aware of the condescension, and yet still animated by the words in their ears and sight in their hungry night eyes. No longer were they blind to the world beyond the sea, from which Arska himself had been carried by the Singing Maker in the days of creation, the world beyond the little moor that was Bjarskaland. The shell had been broken. Vast dreams of strange moons were unfolding before them.

“Drink with us, then,” croaked an elder, a hoary and battered old thing for which the youths parted like reeds as he staggered forth, leaning on the bone of a muskox. He must have been forty years old, or even older. “Drink in the house of Bjarskaland, where the stars are our roof. Drink with the men of the bog. Tell us your name. Be a stranger no more.” In his claw he offered a cup.

“I am the erstwhile prodigy of the Academician, doom-driven by the Shattered Gem above.” The cup was a simple creation, naught more than crudely-shaped clay. Bumpy and unimaginative. In the hands of the moon-white, elegantly decorated Kynikos, nothing could be more out of place. Such to commemorate an odd alliance of two opposites. With grace, the simple vessel was lifted, the liquids within vanishing into the mask, and finally, the declaration, “I am Biluda, aspect of Yudaiel.”

Many laughed. Some scoffed, even. It was a short laugh, and faded quickly. The magic of those words was undeniable, and their every consonant a glimpse of realms afar. The ocean of civilisation roared silently before them, waiting for a raft.




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Interweavings

The Holy Quintet & The Order of the Phoenix



Without comprehending the nature of time, it was ever difficult to discern whether waiting was arduous or quite easy because a living being only possessed their own thoughts and memories to track the number of events that occurred in the world. Those that dwelled within Keltra relied upon the transition from day into night, as the imperious sun continued along the celestial path which had become a cycle for those that chose to heed such things on the Galbar. However, the presence of those whom shaped reality with their will and wielding tremendous power caused an incredibly potent ripple effect that distorted and divided this shared system, creating defiant lonely isles, like Keltra, with treacherous seas between them - and so mortals risked their limited time whenever they traversed this untamed landscape without the aid offered by the Divine.

Wanderer was wise and immortal, gifted by the divine with the knowledge and tools that allowed her to navigate the world without too much hindrance. She sailed through the open sky upon Skydancer after returning the last of the Recusant to the Garden of Hevel, directing the sacred vessel that had been gifted to the champions of Homura by Chailiss back towards the immense column of celestial light that still blazed beside the shores of Kel-mera. She could safely gaze upon the radiant pillar’s glittering reflection in the shimmering ruby sea, and not be blinded by it despite her close proximity which provided her with the necessary understanding of her surroundings to easily fly. The lingering existence of the Umati’s aura caused Wanderer to consider the relationship between the shelter of the faithful that was Keltra, and the rest of the world outside it. How many days and nights had passed for those that watched from afar? How long would Keltra seem consumed by cosmic fire to those that had not seen the light disperse from within?

Upon soaring through the luminous barrier, Wanderer swiftly steered Skydancer into the massive keep where her sisters had awaited her return. Their thoughts had conveyed their readiness to perform the ritual that would officially initiate Courage and herself as members among the Order of the Phoenix, granting them the power to access and call upon the aura of Charis. It was a strange boon, as Wanderer remained reluctant to capitulate when Courage or Curiosity would tease her about being frightened by the six-winged spirit, especially when Courage herself was refusing to admit she was afraid as well. Kindness and Pride were able to withhold their opinions regarding the newest gigantic denizen in the keep.

Skydancer alighted near the Eternal Fire, this particular area having become the standard landing site, it seemed. Her sisters all stood close by, welcoming her with friendly words through their bond as Wanderer jumped from the stern onto the smooth scarlet floor to join them - quickly summoning the shifting symbols of the Gnosis as she did. Now all within the keep, aside from the little Rowan and the sleeping vessels, were sorcerers that wielded otherworldly power and progressed onward upon the Sacred Path. Her sisters and Charis were all adorned with the enigmatic and esoteric glyphs which embodied the weaving of the tapestry imbued by meaning, and now with Wanderer present, all of the elements for the ritual had been gathered, so they could begin:

The vast hall that was always occupied with the ever ethereal ambient music changed as the subtle melody became focused and adapted to the situation, offering some assistance in their understanding of their graceful motions and true purpose. It was a new dance, a new song, a new aspect of creation that altered the world and added to its beauty. From the colossal spirit, came large crimson feathers that fell akin to dreamlike rain, fading into shadows upon reaching the floor. Wanderer was hesitant, letting uncertainty trap her limbs until Courage and Kindness took hold of her hands and gave her an assuring smile. Their expressions promised peace and joy, so she surrendered herself to them.

Charis began to leisurely fly in circles above, the occasional powerful swoosh of her wings repeatedly suppressing the tune, until it was incorporated into it, akin to a rhythmic beat which was followed with a unified clap accompanied by chiming and rattling unseen instruments from below among all the other orchestral elements. The Holy Quintet twirled and leapt, bending and balancing atop and around invisible threads which they wove with their hands and feet into an intricate spiritual design. Throughout their dance, their five shapes would mingle and combine, passing through each other and flowing into and out of the same step as one. In those times when they were separated, two feathers fell upon and seeped into Courage and Wanderer. Then Charis came to a halt and the music became quiet as the dancers added their voices to the song:

Gales of song, guide me through the storm...

On the wings of a small, simple melody
Words take flight and soar, they carry me
A world we’ll see

Looking for a farewell, I pull the threads
A life without you I cannot accept
I can’t tell that lie, I can’t let go

But now that you’re gone, I have to move on
Seems like everyone, just smile staring at the sun
But what about me? Tell me how I will know where I should go?
Oh gales, you sing and guide me!

I walk alone. There’s more to life I have to know
It’s just me, lost so far away from home, alone I
Shut myself in. Still the wind howl, they call
And their voices lead me, gales of song, guide me through the storm
Let the melody lift me high, I’ll be me.

Gales of song, please stay by my side
Winds of love, breathe into my life...


The music receded and the ritual came to its conclusion, as the Holy Quintet stepped back and felt the addition of another fire burning beside their own. All five of them were connected to the power of Charis, now capable of wielding a fraction of her power for healing. “Yet we remain blind… It seems that the primordial aspects of our bodies were poorly designed, hmm interwoven, by our Mother. She never intended for us to sustain damage after all - our bodies even lack instincts for what to do upon being harmed.” Pride had remarked with a frustrated sigh, as Courage and Wanderer bowed before the Phoenix in order to express their gratitude.

“Our Maker originally intended to prepare for war instead of peace. Evidently our creation came prematurely according to any previously arranged timeline. Humanity awoke in a violent and cruel world where we could so easily perish, as opposed to awaking in paradise.” Kindness answered, imitating the demeanor and tone of Homura to an uncanny degree which elicited an unexpected shivering from Curiosity. All of the champions could recall when the red goddess demanded that they remain in Keltra, and only after a long and arduous fight followed by a horrifying vision, were they permitted their freedom.

“Patience, little ones… Should Mother perish before returning, I promise I shall find a cure to your ailments before I fade away. I am studying a spell that will allow me to change my shape and understand the precise nature of your affliction. It will take time though…” The discordant melodious paradoxical voice of the six-winged spirit sang from above, her assuring words washed over all of them, and alleviated the lingering tension they felt, vehemently banishing the unease with her overwhelming aura. Wanderer allowed her calmed mind to contemplate the benefits and detriments of her forcefully quelled distress, and came to the conclusion that in these strenuous circumstances it would be better to ignore or placate her frantic emotions.

Her sisters were all in agreement as well; after all, they quite often utilized the Eternal Fire for the same effect to a lesser extent. Wanderer realized she had just been frightened by the fact that Charis had this ability as well, and could maneuver it with a much greater force, almost akin to their Maker. The mute champion wished she didn’t feel so insignificant in the presence of the colossal spirit, but the difference in their size and strength was so vast that it felt like overcoming this particular thought would be an infeasible task.

“Um… Wander, would you help me with something?” Curiosity asked, bringing Wanderer out of her cogitation. Her inquisitive sister still held onto Rowan, having earlier announced through their bond that she would be responsible for the infant, and was now looking at her with a thoughtful expression with hints of hope and excitement poorly veiled behind false trepidation. Wanderer merely nodded, knowing that Curiosity would either continue asking while they waited, or would begin pouting which might invite the ire of Courage and Pride.

“I wanted to make something comfortable for Ro to wear, like the garb we gave to Lore!” Curiosity chimed, and Wanderer conceded that her sister’s suggestion was appropriate considering the baby would remain naked otherwise. She nodded again, before walking a few steps behind her sister as they moved to their little area of the keep dedicated to themselves. “I think we should include more colors this time, oh, and what about it being asymmetrical, like, there being no sleeve on the left side, hmm? We can make footwear later because he doesn’t know how to walk yet. I wonder why he is so small, I still don’t get why smaller people come out of larger people…” Curiosity chattered, Wanderer repeatedly nodding or shaking her head in response, occasionally offering a one word answer while they prepared the Incantation of Making.

The spell was much easier to cast, despite requiring more spiritual energy because there were only two of them, as they could share thoughts and ideas efficiently through their shared connection, providing them with a unified sense of the desired outcome. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis manifested on their skin, shimmering and humming with sacred power as a red substance suddenly emerged from nothingness between the duo. The sorcerers internally evoked the words of creations, shaping reality in accordance to their will imposed upon the tapestry, and as a result something new was added to the world. The red substance rippled and contorted, until it became a flattened sheet which opened along three sides. The transformation ended with a flash of brilliant light, and the artifact was completed.

Levitating between them was an elegant dress properly sized for an infant, woven from primarily white glittering thread, and layered with exquisite blue silk beneath golden folds and frills decoratively sewn into the edges. The dress was asymmetrical, lacking a sleeve for the left side, but otherwise appeared similar in shape to their previous work with more subtle scarlet patterns and designs, and enchanted with the same spell that prevented it from being stained. Wanderer was assigned to assist Rowan with donning the dress while Curiosity held him, and when they were both finished, she and her sister stepped back to admire the fruit of their labor.

Rowan was gently placed upon a large cushion that was surrounded by a sea of soft blankets, the baby’s simplistic pale face and features were complemented by the very ornate and vibrant decor that all peacefully guided the eye back towards the baby’s round cheeks, big eyes, and innocent expression. Wanderer and Curiosity could barely contain their delight, overcome with affection as the latter repeatedly described the sight before them as, “So cute!” and after searing the memory into their minds, Curiosity proceeded to lift Rowan, promising to take him on a pleasant stroll around the fortress.

“Remember to stay within Keltra. Do not stray too far.” Pride called out, reminding them of the poison inside Curiosity and the others. The Keeper of Keltra then preoccupied herself with monitoring her environment and the nearby lands with the Incantation of Seeing, sending relevant information and observations to all of their minds so that they would be prepared should something happen suddenly. The effort involved meant that Wanderer and the rest of her sisters were also dividing a section of their mind to the task, navigating not just the current local events, but also events in the past and future. It was fortunate that their stamina and will was constantly replenished by the presence of the Eternal Fire and Charis.

Curiosity casually departed with Rowan to go cheerfully roam the ethereal landscape outside the keep, leaving Wanderer behind. The silent champion then glanced around the interior of the keep, noticing Kindness and Courage quietly converse with each other. It seemed the latter was being dismissed with much disappointment, and Wanderer wondered why Courage could not see that her words were hurting her sister… She saw that Kindness had created a simple satchel to carry the shards of Fear when she was away, and Wanderer remembered the words her grieving sister had spoken before that departure upon Skydancer. “Allow me to meditate in solitude for a time, as I believe I can ascertain a way of aiding Fear in her exile…”

Wanderer had chosen not to interfere or peer into the interaction between her sisters, considering their privilege of privacy, but then Courage came charging towards her with purpose and poorly concealed aggravation in her mind and stride. “Hey Wander, are you free for a bit?” Courage called out telepathically, and then her thoughts came and began washing over Wanderer like waves lapping against the shore, then the brash champion’s reason for approaching became clear. Courage was concerned for those outside the fortress that were innocent witnesses to the earlier events that had transpired, but left in ignorance of what truly happened and what would come next, so her sister was tasking her with assuring the denizens of Kel-Phelena that all was well.

The remaining members of the Holy Quintet had been so preoccupied with discovering the locations of Fear and Homura that it seemed as though they had forgotten their other kin outside the walls. Wanderer felt relieved that Courage could be so considerate despite her commonly casual and reckless attitude, and swiftly subdued the hint of shame that she had allowed that thought to be shared through their bond. Her sister simply ignored these opinions, and spoke aloud her request for the sake of formality, as she did not wish to become too reliant on their telepathy during conversations with others that lacked their connection. While Wanderer did not ever wish to return to a world where she would have to primarily communicate with her sisters in a verbal manner, she understood the predisposition of others towards it.

Wanderer gave a nod, noting that she hardly spoke in most situations anyway, but still conceding to Courage’s want - the result was both immediate and appropriately animated for the most audacious of the champions, as Courage grinned and proceeded to playfully punch her sister in the shoulder. “Thanks sis! Let’s all be heroes, ya.” She had said, before she turned her attention to Pride with a mischievous smirk and left Wanderer to her assigned task at hand. Perhaps their little sister would be more welcoming of Courage’s antics, as the lack of cheer coming from the Keeper of Keltra was evidence enough that she thought the search for their Maker was becoming a more and more futile prospect. Wanderer hoped Courage could provide some hope for all of them, to help stave off the insidious doubts in all of their minds.

Without further words, all within Keltra were striving towards their goals, whatever those were, and so Wanderer silently departed upon Skydancer to begin her flight around the lands close to Keltra to spread assurance of no danger and the eventual return to normalcy, whatever that was. On and on, throughout the day and night, she flew and spoke to the forest in an attempt to alleviate the dark cloud of unease that hung above the land. When they were ready, the Order of the Phoenix would come and banish the blight that had been afflicted some time ago.




Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Aethel


As they lazily drifted and observed the Sea of Dreams, Aethel couldn't help but notice something...interesting. Something that they hadn't intended when they developed the Sea. From their observations of the phenomena this wasn't caused by the introduction of the Fey to the Realm either, since they seemed fairly content flickering around doing their duties and enjoying themselves. In fact, it was because of one of the Fey that this phenomena had been brought to their attention, since one of the dream children had noticed this and requested they investigate since this was beyond the abilities of the Fey to do anything about if something needed to be done at all.

Aethel's intentions when they had designed how Dreams would work was that the bubbles containing the dreamers would be completely self contained; The Dreamer would be influenced by their own mind and nothing more, with nothing slipping into the dream from the outside and the dream staying within the bubble, vanishing once the dreamer awoke.

The reality proved... somewhat different. For the most part it worked as intended... but as Aethel floated there they noticed what the Fey had informed them about. In the event of a strong enough dream or nightmare, the core emotional energy behind it would leak out and influence the Sea around it, tainting the dreams of local dreamers and creating their own currents in the Sea as it spread and influenced other dreams, strengthening it and allowing it to continue on its journey.

Observing it, there wasn't any intelligence behind this. It was simply akin to dropping some ink into a river and it being strengthened by encountering something that could generate more 'ink', but all and all it did seem harmless enough to be ignored since in time it would simply fade away. What couldn't be ignored through was what happened if such a current was pulled towards one of the gateways that now connected the Sea of Dreams to Galbar through.

Once loose upon the mortal world, raw emotional energy tended to cause... issues. The mortal world wasn't really designed to handle raw emotional dream energy floating around and influencing it in such a direct manner and currently there wasn't really a manner to deal with it. That would need to change... but the question of how arose. Aethel didn't want to do it themself and while they could expand the duties of the Fey to enter the mortal realm in order to locate this escaped dream energy, they could already see how that would become... problematic.

What they needed was something attuned to both the mortal and dream worlds, but didn't have enough will of their own to run off and abandon their duties. Something so used to the extremes of emotion that not only would they be suited to tracking it down, but also not be overwhelmed by it as they gathered it up to bring it back.

...Now that they thought about it, there was a place that such things could be found.

Aethel disappeared in a flash.




The place that Aethel reappeared was a place... in-between. Where the darkest, most depraved depths of the Sea of Dreams overlapped with the infernal Ashen Planes; Where the final resting place of damned souls met the dark place in the back of the mortal collective consciousness that whispered that when they died, they would pay dearly for what they had done in life. It was in this place in-between that Aethel would craft the solution to their problem... and possibly answer another problem that the Deity of Souls was going to have to address at some point.

Crafted from the darkest of dreams and filled with some flame borrowed from the Ashen Plane, Aethel crafted a Heart. A dark red glow shone out as it started to beat at a slow, heavy pace. A beat that crossed dimensions into the afterlife, the realm of dreams... and even the mortal world, if one is in the right place and of the right mindset to listen carefully enough. But this was just the first step. The forge and puppeteer behind the curtain to guide the actions of the true performers.

This was why the location was important... because the Ashen Planes would easily provide the raw materials needed. Some souls would come under their own power... others would by pulled by the presence of the Heart itself, while others would be carried and dumped by the denizens of the Ashen Planes themselves in a manner akin to that of an offering of sorts, but all of them shared an aspect; All of them had been broken by the Ashen Planes. Their original personalities had been stripped away, ground into dust by the torments and punishments that the Ashen Planes provided. Inflecting further suffering was pointless for many of them had been on the anvil and struck so many times that even the idea of pleading for release or even just screaming had been snapped off, leaving little more then an empty husk to be cast aside.

It was these husks of broken souls that would be consumed by the Heart made of nightmares, reforged in the dark flames within and given form anew, their wills bound to that of their new master. They would go into the Heart as prisoners of the Ashen Planes, but they would leave it as a brand new kind of Fey of the Sea of Dreams. Ones that could operate on the mortal plane without causing undue harm.

The first of this new breed to leave the Heart and take form would be met by a warm grin from Aethel... as well as a couple of gifts. Not only would they refuse some vigor to empower them beyond their future kin, but over their shoulders and wrapped around their body would be draped a cloak woven from divine will and the essence of the dream world itself. There was a quite moment as this new champion of the Heart looked over themselves... before they offered Aethel a respectful bow that was returned in kind.

No words needed to be exchanged between deity and champion as Aethel left. The avatar of the Heart, it's caretaker and servant understood his role in the grand scheme of things perfectly fine. It was his job to lead his fellows out of the dream and into the mortal world to gather the dream energies that found their way there. His duty to ensure that the energy was returned to the Heart so it could be properly dealt with. The keeper of rituals, the one who directed the performances of others and served as the mouth piece of his master.

He was Grimm... and he had a troupe to form.











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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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Reflections

The Holy Quintet & The Order of the Phoenix



There was a terrible taste in her mouth as she thought upon the tragedies she had witnessed through her little sister’s memories and the Incantation of Seeing: sights filled with so much violence and death for the sake of greed, or out of feeling threatened which beget greater grief and further despair. Courage contemplated the meaning of the phrase ignorance is bliss, and wondered to herself whether it was bravery or foolishness within her that insisted that bliss and joy could never be found without first attaining enlightenment which required growing beyond ignorance. It was probably foolishness after all, as the brash champion knew that in the end, she was stupid, so stupid.

Courage chuckled as she opened herself to the connection between her sisters once more, and joined in their shared thoughts and memories; their combined minds and characteristics which granted them newfound amplified strength and wisdom. Their bond primarily focused on allowing them to efficiently communicate with each other; being able to sense one another’s emotions and hear their voices reverberate directly inside them where every inflection and sound can be dissected and analyzed. Where other people sought to convey their ideas and intentions through words and gestures with varying degrees of difficulty, often struggling and yet so easily withholding a vast quantity of information that they kept solely to themselves, Courage and her sisters found themselves in a reversal of that situation. It was a considerable amount of effort just to refrain from sending everything through their connection and to maintain their secrets.

Her reticent sister, Kindness, had recently scolded her before she showed her scenes… no perspectives from the frustrating skirmish with the wraiths, and Fear’s escape with Zima. While Courage was distracted with facing two foes as Fear fled, she did not hear the exposed mind of their anxious sister that could not focus on flying away, the strain of maintaining a spell, and preserving the private barrier that concealed her inner thoughts. Kindness had heard such thoughts, and revealed them separately to each of her sisters, Courage being the second to know.

Fear had wanted to be like her and Viho, she aspired to be what she deemed as heroic instead of cowardly, she wanted to be the savior instead of the one being saved, or worse the one instigating the harm. Despite the name and her fate chosen upon her birth by their Maker, Fear continually fumbled and fought to defy her predestined nature of being the one that teaches humanity to be afraid. Courage was born to instill valor in her kin, and she knew the roles her sisters were similarly assigned, but she foolishly remained unaware of how much Fear had despised herself… of how envious she had become of the others… of how desperate she had become to change herself.

Regret could not rewrite the past, and Courage realized that Fear was not the only one that had to atone somehow for their grievous mistakes. Now Kindness chose to dedicate herself to finding and assisting Fear in her exile, which brought a paradoxical surge of comfort and distress to Courage which Kindness had elected to ignore as usual. Courage wanted her impassive sister to at least acknowledge these feelings which revolved around her, but it was incredibly irksome how obstinate her sister could be even when directly confronted. Kindness had even refused to allow her to help, demanding solitude for the time being, which only ushered anger in her.

Now she stood before the smallest among the Holy Quintet currently concentrating on a spell, and hoped that she avoided incurring irritation in either of them. Her clumsy attempt to hide that thought was easily detected by Pride, but both knew that had been her intention anyway. Then there was the swift exchange of a few select memories, and thoughts of greetings, all while Courage avoided the meandering musings regarding the necessity of benign conversation - they often chose to speak aloud, after all.

“I’ve been thinking about the world and all the fighting, ya. I’ve now realized we’re too few to help everyone, and that means we’re going to have to choose who we help, and who we abandon…” Courage began, letting the playful grin she commonly wore shift into a more serious expression.

Through their connection, she could sense Pride divide her consciousness between them… one half still focused upon watching over the nearby lands through her spell, and the other half tapping into her mind and nestling itself there. Perhaps it was more appropriate to say that a piece of Pride’s mind was always within her, and being in the presence of the greater whole resulted in the smaller piece awakening. That smaller piece currently spoke, and Courage wondered whether Pride’s physical body actually articulated the words, or if she was imagining her little sister moving her mouth.

“What will we do if Mother should not return? Half of us have been blinded and tainted, so just leaving Keltra itself becomes an arduous task. You’re right, we’re too few and helpless. Hmm… an excellent evaluation of our circumstances.” Pride replied with a strange melding of calm and derision in her tone - the befuddling outcome of dread fused with the soothing aura of both Charis and the Eternal Fire. The irony of smiling when confronted with despair elicited laughter from Courage which seemed to stir forth only more ire from her little sister.

“You know, I’m something of a genius myself. I’m not too fond of picking and choosing who lives and who dies when I want to save as many people as I can. Can you imagine what it would be like if there were more of us?” Courage cheerfully asked, knowing her cheekiness would provoke Pride and prevent the entirety of her thoughts from being seen too early which would prematurely ruin her fun. It was difficult to conceal her excitement regarding the newly born concept in her mind, but surprising her sisters had become a truly pleasurable experience after the creation of their connection nullified her ability to startle them.

“I don’t think my mind could cope with more of you, dearest Courage. I know you’re trying… gah-” Pride’s words were interrupted by Courage wrapping her arms around the small champion’s head, informing the Courage of two things: first, Pride was indulging in her desire to speak by employing the unnecessary element of enunciating her words, and secondly, hugging her little sister will become twice as wonderful if the plan comes to fruition. “Jeez, you’re so annoying. Wait… Oh, so that’s what you’re thinking, hmm..” Pride mumbled into the fabric of Courage’s chest, trapped in her sister’s embrace.

Courage felt a little miffed that she had let slip her idea before she could tease Pride for longer, but now eagerly seek to gauge the other champion’s response. “Remember what our Maker said; if we want to wake them, we must travel farther along the Sacred Path. Then it occurred to me! We don’t have to wake them all at once!” She pressed on, the elated pitch in her voice resonated with her shared thoughts and only grew when Pride nodded her head in favor of the idea. Courage stepped back, and then leapt with joy, letting the childish euphoria overtake her for a brief moment as so many new possibilities were opened now. Then there was the hum of tremendous power gathering in the air, and the champion that was not blind glanced upward.

Charis the Red Wing Healing the Faithful was covered in the shifting symbols of the Gnosis, calling forth the otherworldly power to cast a spell. There was a bright flash of light accompanied by the sibilant sounds of the Tapestry being twisted and woven into a new design according to the six-winged spirit’s will. The transformation was swift, and in the single blink of an eye, there was a strange and towering woman standing nearby Courage and Pride. Her features suggested the shape of her previous form, as curved horns still grew from her head, and she possessed claws instead of hands. Her silvery hair was long and similarly defied the weight of the world akin to her spiritual form, spreading out from her shoulders and lower back in six sections like her wings. Lastly, her scarlet skin was shielded by small areas filled with scales and spiky protrusions which gave her a very frightening visage, Courage concluded.

“Even in this shape… you seem so small. Woe to those that cannot reach high, oh woe to those that cannot die…” Charis chanted in two hundred thousands voices that whispered and wailed, sang and screamed and spoke softly. Even with the appearance of a humanlike creature, Courage felt herself trembling before the one that had been delivered from the afterlife. The spirit had addressed Pride, observing the fact that the Keeper of Keltra was less than half the height of Charis in her humanlike shape.

Courage did not comment upon the seething rage that filled her little sister, and listened as none of that rage manifested in the response that was given. “You’ve successfully casted your spell, so it’s time you quickly remedy your past mistake and cure our blindness. I would like to be able to see again with my own two eyes. Also, with this new form, I’ve come up with a solution to our carrying Charis across the Galbar problem.” Pride pointed to the nearby Skydancer with her small scepter and smiled slightly. “With added spiritual power, Skydancer can lift Charis in her new form, and she can travel that way should we lack the assistance of the Divine.”

“Was it not a god whom gifted you such a vessel?” Charis inquired, peering at Pride with white burning eyes, the radiance of her otherworldly aura only just contained within her much reduced size. It was becoming a strange state of being for Courage, as she repeatedly switched from reading the thoughts and feelings of her sisters to reading the expressions and tones of others during conversations.

Pride merely sighed at the question, and closed her eyes. “Shouldn’t you be thinking of ways to cure our blindness rather than the semantics of what I say?” Yet her words only evoked a euphony of laughter, as the spirit clad in a humanlike skin gracefully bowed.

Courage blinked, lost in the sudden musical manifestation of merriment, and wondered whether waking a few of those that slept would warrant a ritual. Pride then interrupted her thoughts; “Listen, I’m not participating in your idea, I just won’t get in your way. Besides, we need to further enchant Skydancer, and that means gathering spirit.”

Her words immediately lessened a little of Courage’s enthusiasm, as after Lorelei’s departure there had been a significant decrease in little sisters in Keltra which was not good for morale among the Holy Quintet. Courage could feel Pride prepare herself, mentally poised to strike down any rebuttal she might use, and the brash champion was well aware that she didn’t stand much of a chance in a logical spar against her little sister. Emotional appeals were likely not an option either considering how adamant Pride seemed. Courage considered cuddling with her, not because such could change the mind of the Keeper of Keltra, but because she believed the physical interaction would convey both her affection and disappointment in the most poignant way.

“Come near, and I will bury you in stone…” Pride muttered, having easily read the thoughts before Courage had the chance to act upon them.

She snapped her fingers, the metallic fingers of her golden gauntlet defying the fact that skin friction was required to create that specific response and sound, before she stepped back with dramatic dejection. She concealed her hopes that Pride would come around and choose to awaken more of their kin with her at a later time, and began focusing on the task at hand. She approached one of the dormant vessels, its pale and featureless face staring blankly upwards at the ceiling, and felt a hint of hesitation seep into her as she stood beside the slumbering being.

“What’re you doing, Courage?” An inquisitive voice asked.

Courage was surprised by the unexpected and close presence of both Curiosity and Wanderer waiting behind her, the former cradling Rowan in her arms. After a nervous chuckle prior to recovering from her contemplative trance, she swiftly shared her previous thoughts and the short discussion with Pride so that the sneaky duo were informed. The hesitation had become anxiety, and for once, Courage was uncertain whether she should continue with her plan. It was an unwelcome feeling, and reminded her of the internal struggles Fear faced often. However, Curiosity’s gleeful reaction when told the idea managed to alleviate some of her concerns.

“Let’s do this!” Curiosity exclaimed, as she shifted the scarlet stone through her connection to Pride wielding the golden scepter, and gently placed Rowan within an intricate translucent bassinet, filled with soft cushioning conjured by Wanderer.

The silent champion turned her gaze to Courage, and sent a myriad of mental messages through their bond; mostly mentioning the potential danger to both themselves and their sleeping kin, should the spell go awry. More and more warnings of possible hazards and risks were brought forth by Wanderer until Courage felt herself crushed beneath the pressure of an impending hypothetical disaster causing her to sway upon unsteady feet. Wanderer exuded an aura of foretold doom, visibly shrouded in menacing shadows and ominous whispers, or so Courage imagined before her mute sister suddenly shrugged with a small smile.

Bemusement could be a pleasant phenomenon, as Courage was most bemused, indeed most bewildered by these turn of events - Wanderer teasing her instead! Well without further digression and with the advocacy of her two sisters, it was time to awaken those that awaited their sacred touch. Each of the champions possessed memories of their own creation, and were familiar with the acts involved, but there was a mighty difference between the fragment of divine power they wielded, and the profuse power which their Maker held. Surprisingly, the primary difference in this scenario was the just comparison between their innate knowledge of the Gnosis.

The shifting symbols manifested on their skin, and the three sorcerers each stood over a single selected body while silently chanting their spells. Glowing spiritual particles began to leak from their mouths, coalescing into a crimson liquid-like substance that rippled and flowed above the prone vessels before slowly descending onto them. The pale bodies became stained with this ethereal blood, suffusing their form and spreading across the entirety of their shapes. There was a pulse of otherworldly power along with a bright flare of light before the transformation was complete.

The chosen vessels had been changed, and laying on the floor before the trio of champions were three replicas of the champions when they themselves had been created. Three more simulacrums of Homura slowly arose, and then peered at the ones that had awakened them with eerily recognizable expressions to those that beheld them. Courage pointed at her clone, noticeably the most different from herself considering the lack of her golden gauntlet on one hand and the longer hair, but was surprised to find her doppelgänger perfectly synchronized and imitated her every movement.

“You’re me!” They both said simultaneously.

“Did we do something wrong?” Curiosity asked, carefully observing the one she had animated who also reflected her own demeanor. Her newest twin did not repeat her question, but was evidently equally confused by the situation. Chaos temporarily reigned when the newly born copies introduced themselves in a failed attempt to organize what was happening, and Courage could only chuckle as she watched the performance:
“I’m Courage, ya, and these are my sisters; Curiosity and Wanderer! But… we were just awakened, and you three are obviously the older iterations of us… so we’re your Reflections. At least, that’s what my memories are telling me. We’re also lacking a connection with each other…” The clone of Courage said, gesturing to herself and then to the two clones close to her. The three seemed to hesitate now, slowly practicing their own acts of volition as the divisions between themselves and their models grew.

The Reflections of Courage, Curiosity, and Wanderer, all possessed the memories, knowledge, and inclinations of the originals, but lacked their gifts and bindings which resulted in this dissonance between the two groups. Courage was mostly certain that once the Reflections were included in the bond of the Holy Quintet, this dilemma would be remedied. However, for the time being she focused more on what to call the Reflections as sharing the same name could become an issue. Her thoughts were interrupted by her clone announcing that in order to distinguish themselves from the older iterations, they would refer to themselves as the second generation.

Courage II playfully grinned, while Curiosity II voiced her agreement and Wanderer II nodded. Since they seemed content, and Courage sensed that her other sisters also accepted this solution, they could begin planning the next course of action: arranging a system to fully utilize the benefits of a larger population. Before she could comment further, Kindness approached their party and came to a halt as she examined each of them. “Incredible…” She murmured.

“Hey, Kindness!” Courage II and Curiosity II chimed, as Wanderer II waved. It was like looking in a mirror, and yet these Reflections could speak and act independently.

Courage quickly showed Kindness her thoughts and memories, emphasizing the objectives and the next step in this project. She was glad that Kindness immediately responded with approval, and hoped she would receive future praise for her efforts and results from the reserved champion who spoke to the collective: “Hmm… I shall create a Reflection for myself, and then we can perform a ritual to integrate all of them into our bond. Afterwards, we can begin our various quests of helping the world and its peoples. We will transition from the prologue into chapter one soon…”




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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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A Failed Bluff





Soaring across the vast sky flying farther and farther south, the little flame of life within the revenant stirred and spoke softly. “Hmm… I was wondering… how did you receive your name, Zima? Was it gifted to you, or did you choose it? What does it mean? Then I wonder, are you… fond of your name? Zima?” The faint voice of Fear asked, those words now echoing within the confines of her corrupted body with nowhere else to escape to, repeating endlessly, again and again. Fear’s questions were also accompanied by the sudden manifestation of shifting symbols across her scarred skin, as the possessed champion called upon the power of the Gnosis with an unknown purpose upon awakening. Despite the damage inflicted upon her body, mind, and soul - Fear’s flame flickered and danced with defiance.

“I was wondering when you would awake.” Zima’s voice was like a dagger, cutting at the flame that shielded her bit by bit. “What are you doing, Fear? Don’t try anything or you will die. And I mean that quite literally. I am the only thing keeping you alive. Also," She paused, "You should thank me instead of asking stupid questions.” There was a note of bitterness in her voice before the dagger relented it’s icy touch from her flame.

“Hmm… you answered the question with a question, hiding away from really answering it… Avoiding it. I’m not afraid of dying anymore, and I’ve already told you now. You can kill me if you wish… Now I wonder why you’d cage yourself inside my broken body if you’re free like those ghosts said? Is this freedom?” Fear continued to inquire and muse aloud, retaining her impassive tone unchanging even after she was a victim of being verbally lashed with effort. The stigma of sorcery still spread itself across her skin, a myriad of swirling and slithering stains consisting of esoteric shapes and patterns, yet she kept her spell silently still.

"Ah, not afraid of dying anymore are you?" Zima chided, "Is that because you find death easier than having to deal with the reality you have chosen? The one where you betrayed your family to free me, remember?" Her voice grew fiercer, "Please, if you knew what awaited you in the Underworld you would fight for life instead of choosing a coward's way out." Her sorcery began to darken as Zima leached into it.

“I will… face death at some point… indeed, I betrayed those I loved, to free you. I’m going to atone for my sins someday, but I want to see you safe and sound before I go. I’m not going to leave you alone to suffer. You’re my sister, after all.” Uttering those soft spoken words, all of the swirling runes and shimmering spirals of the sustained spell receded into Fear’s broken body, delving into the depths where her fire burned brightly and coalescing into a familiar shield of light. Her quiet voice still passed through the protective aura and resonated throughout her being, and she focused what remained of her willpower into preserving the spell.

“For now, I shall call you Sorrow…” She murmured, seeking another name for the being that she could not comprehend. If she was Fear, then she would travel with the one known as Sorrow, she mournfully thought. She called upon more of her strength, tapping into her memories of Courage and her resilient audacity - embracing that manner of bravery and foolishness.

"And you shall be Annoyance." Sorrow snapped back. "Let us be very clear about something; I am not your sister. I never was and I never will be. I'm not even human or whatever you are." She huffed, probing at the shield of light. "You seem to be under the impression that you are going to walk away from all this and be able to atone, Annoyance. Shall I let you in on a little secret? I am going to break your shield, pierce your heart and drown your flame until you and I are exactly the same. You removed my gifts and for that I shall give you one you may never relinquish." Sorrow assaulted her shield but it held, for now.

“Annoyance… that is my name? Thank you! I shall cherish it! I realize I may have made a mistake… if you’re not my sister, then perhaps you’re my brother? Hmm… it was our Father that removed your gifts, you know. And… I’m not going to walk away, or fly away, or just abandon you. We’re walking this path together - you possessing my body, piercing my heart, and drowning my flame… and I, always choosing to remain with you.” The newly named Annoyance announced with glee while she giggled to herself. Fear was not brave, but perhaps Annoyance could be? Fear would hide and seek shelter in the vain hope that all will be well, but with this change in name, she could be armored against the hurting aches that never ended.

Sorrow's anger welled like a tidal wave of endless dark, threatening to wash over everything. Then it abruptly halted and simmered out. When Sorrow spoke next there was little emotion in her voice, "Very well." Then her body flew downwards in silence before they landed. Sorrow began to walk.

“When you have found better company, I’ll lower the shield, and you can rid yourself of me. Or, you can wait, and I will flicker out anyway. I would rather you had someone beside you though. True suffering is being alone, I think.” Her cheerful voice became tinted with forlorn thoughts and memories, and Annoyance seemed to consider her next words carefully, speaking slowly. Fear was afraid and wanted to lash out, while Annoyance wanted to irritate Sorrow longer with vengeful teasing.

“I am glad we’re together. Black and white. Negative and positive. Like night and day, but different… somehow.” She was fumbling with conveying what she wanted to say, and there was a strange audible noise as her flame bit its own fiery tongue and became silent. Neither Annoyance or Fear were capable of commanding their speech when the other sought to undermine the first.

Suddenly Annoyance found herself looking through an eye. In front of them and the open plain was a strange sort of people gathered around a campfire. With horns on their heads and great steads by their sides. They hadn't noticed them yet, for Sorrow stuck to the shadows at the edge of any mortal vision. She then came to a halt. Her voice sounded inside again, bitter, "How much death will you be able to handle, I wonder?" She asked. "Perhaps they don't have to die, perhaps no one has to die while I occupy you. Just… Give into me. Lower the shield and let us be done with this charade."

Annoyance hummed gently as she answered, knowing that denying Sorrow would bring some pleasure. Fear valiantly attempted and failed to quell this division in her mind between despair and jubilation. “I understand the meaning of my name now, Brother, oh I understand, hehe. Hmm… I will not surrender to you. I’m sorry. I really am. There’s also no need to harm those people either, unless you’re seeking to satiate some other desire, Sorrow?”

"You may act as smug and cheerful as you wish, Annoyance. Just know that for every drop of blood that is spilled from here on out- the blame shall be yours alone. You wanted to be brave once, and courageous, yet now when you can fully save the lives of these people, what do you do? Hide away, Annoyance. At least you're honest with what you are." Sorrow's words bit into the shield but were repulsed. She then began to walk forwards into the creeping light.

“You’re mistaking me for my sisters. I’ve never been able to save anyone aside from myself after all. I can’t even accept the blame for hurting these people I don’t know, because I’ve no hands, no voice, and soon no spirit. Also… those people seem to lack blood, so it will be difficult to spill any, Brother.” Annoyance muttered with a tired sigh before she fell silent once more, merely observing whatever was about to unfold. Fear struggled against herself, despising the fact that there truly seemed to be nothing she could do. Only the lies she told herself and others remained.

"You did save someone. Me. But so be it. Blood or not, you shall hear their screams as I use your body to kill them." Sorrow spoke with malice, before her hand of ice manifested a blade of ice. "May your Maker forgive you." The whisper came from every direction and then Annoyance could see Sorrow leap forth with unnatural clamor to pierce one from behind.

He gave a sucking sound and then fell over dead as the rest exploded with screams and fury. Perhaps if they had tried they'd have been able to understand their language but Sorrow blocked everything out but the pain and fear and drove it into Annoyance's shield as she cut more down. They fought back with sticks and stones and spears but it was pointless. Sorrow, even in her body, was too strong.

She cut down a fleeing woman and as her body dropped a small child fell as well. She cried with her large eyes, pawing at her mother to wake. Sorrow raised her blade high. "Don't do this!" Fear cried out, though she could not shed any tears or tremble with grief. She was trapped and encircled by the insidious and the vicious.

But there was nothing the anxious champion could do as a sealed away spectator, aside from desperately calling outwards and praying she was heard while great despair continually gnawed upon her fracturing mind, akin to a nightmarish beast that howled and clawed its way through shattered glass. Fear had endured terrible pain and torture before, but the sight of such wretched carnage again awoke the lurching ache in her small spirit once more. It seemed as though she would be struck against the crucible of cruelty until she was completely broken.

Now she was confronted with so many conflicting paths; she wished to help others, and yet those she saved birthed more suffering. She sought to become strong and stand up for herself like a beacon of light in the darkness, and yet she repeatedly wished her sisters were here to protect her from the frightening shadows she saw all around. She was told by the one who created her that she would teach humanity, her beloved kin, to be afraid of evil by becoming their fear, and yet she fought to be a hero, to be an inspiration. These internal contradictions and many more within Fear created a chaos that was overwhelming what little willpower she possessed, and Annoyance allowed herself to laugh bitterly at her other self who struggled to speak through her own muted weeping and lamentations.

"Please stop." Fear sobbed, hopelessly pleading with the one that imprisoned her.

"Ahhh, so you do care." The mocking whisper came as carnage lay about. Those who were left alive fled that camp with their lives, those dead did not move. There was no blood but it was still a sickly sight. Both eyes stared at the small child before them, still crying over her mother as Sorrow held her blade high, poised to let it fall at any moment. "Tell me Fear, for I know it's you, what is the value of a life? Is this child's soul lesser than your own? Would you condemn her to die, she who has yet to live, to save yourself? I can stop of course, she can live but, what are you willing to give me if not what I already want?"

Fear barely answered, her voice repeatedly assailed by the cacophony of combative thoughts and feelings seeking to twist and warp her words. “I would… give you love. I’d protect you. Please, you can save all of us.”

Without a moment of hesitation, the blade fell and the child grew silent. Sorrow then dropped the blade to the ground, where it turned to water. “Look what you made us do.” She whispered to Fear. All around them the wind blew and Fear bore witness to the carnage one last time, before Sorrow retook her given eye.

“Let this be a reminder; I am in control. Further defy me and we shall bring more pain and suffering to any we come across. Your love is meaningless. Your protection is meaningless. You’ve already fallen Fear. how long will it take you to realize that?” Zima’s emotionless voice echoed all around her and before long they were moving again.

“I refuse to fall. When will you realize that?” Fear faintly replied while what remained of her spirit swam through light and shadows within her possessed body. She could hear Annoyance muttering to herself, “Idiotic… such foolishness…” and she attempted to suppress the sound, but there was no success, and she suffered both the slow sundering of her mind, and the torture of her revenant jailor.

Zima gave a hollow laugh and to the sky they took off into the unknown.




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Blue Hues and Red Shades


Before Chailiss Saves the Holy Quintet





It was odd for a god to be wracked by uncertainty, but there he was- Uncertain. But Chailiss flew on anyway, having found the spirit bird once more. It was taking him towards the bjorklands, farther and farther away from Zima and the champions. The ones he may have sent to their doom. Some adventure they'd be going on, instead of learning of the land and helping its citizens, now they would be hunting down one of his own. For better or for worse, it had to be done. That's what he had to believe.

All he could hope was that they weren't stupid enough to try anything. If they died because of Zima… Because of him, he would never be able to forgive himself. His sacred promise of protecting life would be dashed along icy rocks, blood would always flow in the north.

Blood…

It was what the spirit bird led him to. It was a great bog of the stuff, spreading into the depths of the earth and across it too. The forests fed on it, the soil was discoloured by it - red-gold in every which way. But the smell was in no ways unpleasant - quite the opposite. The trees here vibrated with life as they greedily absorbed the ichor of gods - the golden fluid gyrated and branched out in great twirls and circles up the length of every tree, down every branch, into every leaf. But for the macabre origins of the stuff it would have been beautiful in its way.

As Chailiss made his way across the bog and through the trees, he finally came to the wellspring of the bloodbog. It had once been a clearing, a grove in the middle of the forest; now it was a lake of pure ichor. In the middle grew a tree whose bark was as ichor, red and gold, and whose curves betrayed a femininity of form that no tree could achieve by natural means. It called to him, throbbed with life that desired nothing more than release.

His expression was one of disbelief and mysticism. Captivated as he was horrified, Chailiss stretched out a hand towards the tree, with all hope in the world that the goddess still lived. His touch sent vibrations through the wood and it held onto him - not physically, but it held onto something in him, breathed him in. Like a child clinging to its mother’s teat, it suckled hungrily and changed before him. The branches retreated and the bark grew into a cloak of red beneath which a white shirt and knee-length pantaloons shaped themselves about skin whose colour - with the welding of gold and red - had become a sun-kissed brown. On her head, leaves transfigured into hair of darkest night on which grew beads of gold, and about her ankles bracelets clattered into being and bangles embraced her wrists. Her eyes were of lightest brown, but seemed - when she looked here or there - to become a pale green, and as consciousness sprung into those eyes a great white snaking line descended from beneath her hair and twirled across her form until she was marked from face to foot with delicate turning patterns that glowed the gentlest white.

She glanced down at her hands - perhaps confused, perhaps curious - and then looked up at Chailiss. Her green-again-brown-again eyes took him in blankly, and then she smiled shyly and placed her hands behind her. “You’re very round,” she giggled.

Chailiss was taken aback at first, further perplexed by this sudden turn of events. He took a step back to properly take the young girl in. ”Who… Who might you be?” he asked her, ignoring her comment and feeling in the very air that she was no goddess. She observed him for a few seconds then took in the lake all around and the trees, and the sky above roiling with snow-white clouds.

“I…” she started, “I don’t know. I’ve always been here, just standing. I grew and grew, and then I started feeling… feeling everything. I felt you long before you saw me. But seeing is new. It’s different from feeling.” She looked down at her feet and paused for a few seconds. “I don’t quite… feel anymore. Not like before, anyway.” She looked back up at him. Whether she felt anything at the disconnect or not, she did not say. “I should probably ask you who you are right? And why you… well. You changed me, right? I felt that - you touched me right here,” she placed a finger on her forehead, “and then everything changed.”

"I am Chailiss," he began slow, folding his arms across his chest. "I… Do not know why you awoke when I reached out. I came here looking for a fellow god. Rosalind was her name. You are not her, are you?"

“Oh, Rosalind. I know her. She used to be,” the girl turned around and gestured to the end of the clearing. A tree stood there with a distinctly humanoid hollow at its base, though the waterline obscured it somewhat, “right there. Someone came and took her not too long ago. It was nice to have her around, we used to chat. She would dance sometimes too - or, well, something would dance. I never quite understood what it was, but it was pretty.” She turned back to Chailiss. “Why are you looking for her?”

He followed her gesture, a small wave of relief washing over him, quickly followed by more worry. "I was told…" he looked back at her, "I was told she needed help but it seems she is gone and now you remain."

“Mmm, yeah. Are you, uh, going to turn me back now?” She looked up at him carefully. “I guess you just needed me so you could know what happened to her,” she gestured behind, “and now you know. Lil ol’ me can go to sleep, right?” She paused. “BUT I WON’T LET YOU!” She turned around with surprising speed and hurtled out of the clearing and off into the forest.

He tilted his head, watching her go for a short time and then followed after. “You are mistaken, child. I’m not going to make you sleep again if that’s not what you wish. Rosalind is gone but you remain and now I must see to you. Now, where are you even going?” he asked, shrinking down in size so he could avoid the lower tree branches.

He found her lying stomach-down on a branch, chin in her palm and feet in the air behind her. “Well, since you’ve given me the power to see and move… I want to use them! I want to see everything. I want to see my bog - it looks so different to how it felt. It’s pretty nice. And I want to see everything beyond it too! Are there other gods? Have they made things other than me? And what about Rosalind? Where’d she go - I’d like to find her and thank her for keeping me company.” She sat up, her feet dangling from the branch as she spread her arms wide. “I want to do everything.”

He could not help but smile at the girl. “You may do so, I assure you. This is the land known as, well, the north by me and my fellow gods. Many of their creations walk upon it, some just like you, if not a bit taller. As for Rosalind,” he shook his head. “I do not know what her fate is or who took her. Let us hope she will be alright and that one day you will be able to see and meet her.” Perhaps this wasn’t such a bad thing. Rosa was gone, yes, but in her place she left a daughter. A mortal he could protect and save. He made to move forward but froze.

Chailiss’ smile faltered when a new voice ushered into that clearing. It came from no source he could see, save his very thoughts, like Viho all that time ago. Her voice was unmistakable and her urgency undeniable.

It was Kindness with a plea for help. He looked to the unnamed girl, remembering how he had left Zima behind and what had become of her. To save Kindness and her sisters, he could not take her with him. That was certain, but to leave her all alone? No…

“You wish to see the world, yes?” he said in a quicker voice, walking swiftly towards her. “You must come with me, there is a danger growing in the west and girls just like you need my help. I will not leave you here alone but I can take you to a place where you can meet others. Please.” he held out a hand. She stared at his hand for a few seconds, then at how he had floated right up to where she was sat in the tree. “Uh… okay… but only if you teach me how to do that,” she pointed at his flying form, “because that is the coolest thing I’ve seen you do.”

He smirked, “Of course, as a daughter of Rosalind, this can be achieved I think but not now. Now we must depart.”

“Daughter of Ro-” she began, but Chailiss grabbed her hand and pulled her into a gentle embrace. Then before she had any time whatsoever to react he was flying and fast. Over the treetops they ascended and then Chailiss flew west. She clung to him and stared below with wide eyes. She cried out in fear and held on for dear life. After a while - when the initial rush of surprise and terror had passed - her cry turned into a whoop and she laughed and let the icy air wash over her and through her long night-black hair. “This is the best!” She declared, though her voice was quickly lost on the wind. She leaned in closer and shouted into what she thought was the god’s ear. “THIS IS THE BEST!” She let him hold her and slowly let go of him, spreading her arms wide and releasing a long whoop. Any other would have struggled to keep a hold on her with all her odd movements and lack of concern for safety, but it was no struggle for the lord of ice and wind. She turned back to him after she had surveyed the world from so far up. “The trees look so different from above - they’re like the clouds, but on the ground. And green!” She smiled with contentment and leaned back into Chailiss - having managed to struggle until his great rotund form was to her back and his arms circled about her stomach - but jumped wide-eyed when a few seagulls swooped by. “They can do it too?” She asked in awe. But somehow she had already known about them and the knowledge settled down in her mind - affirmed rather than learned.

“What did you mean by what you said earlier?” She asked after a while. “How am I a daughter of Rosalind? She was always there, a companion not a parent.”

He was quiet for a time, contemplative. When he spoke, his voice came all around her, never muffled by the wind. “That may be so, that you would see the relationship you had with her as such, but in my own eyes, it’s different. When a god creates living, breathing, thinking life- How could one not call it a child? That place was ripe with her essence and even now I feel it in you. As well as…” He dipped down and began to descend in a large forested area, his words growing quiet . The trees here were even larger than the ones back at the bog. He did not speak again because quite suddenly they came before a large blue fire, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of other people. All turned to Chailiss and the girl he carried in his arms. They touched down near the flame and were met by a quiet chorus of awe-inspired gazes.

“Where is the Firecharmer?” he asked aloud, scanning the crowd for Chilali.

Hushed whispers came, speaking of her absence and not long after a firekeeper came forth. “Spirit Father, the Firecharmer has departed North to settle a dispute. I am Keeper Alona and at your service.”

She gave a small nod and Chailiss gave a sigh of relief. “Alona, I task you with watching this one.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and nudged her forward. “I am needed elsewhere but will return. Answer any and all of her questions, for she is inquisitive. Do this for me and I will be in your debt.”

“Father…” Alona gasped. “Of course! She shall be an honored guest! Uhm, what is your name?” she asked the girl. The girl looked at Alona for a short moment, then glanced at Chailiss.

“I’m, uh,” she looked at the fire, then to the childans gathered around, then to the far off trees, “I’m a tree- I mean, Tr… rruuu… ssaa. Trusa. That’s me. Yep. Definitely.” She glanced at Chailiss. “Right?”

“Hmm, perhaps. Perhaps not. A name is a powerful thing. Search yourself, learn from them and you shall see if Trusa is a fit, or not. For now I must leave but I promise, I will return.” he said, with an intense gaze. She nodded quickly.

“Okay! But if you take too long and I feel like wandering then I won’t wait!” She declared, crossing her arms. “And…” she glanced at Alona and leaned towards Chailiss with a lowered voice, “she’s your daughter?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Not exactly… I will explain when I return. So please, wait for me.” he gave a small smile and a quick nod to Alona then took off. Trusa - as she now called herself - stared after him with a raised eyebrow and huffed.

“Gosh. So mysterious.” She turned back to Alona, “so, are you his daughter?” She gestured behind her to where Chailiss was already disappearing over the horizon. “Because it needs a long explanation, apparently.”




After Chailiss Leaves Keltra


He left Zima behind, the guilt of it wracked him. He never even spoke to her and left his wayward champion at the mercy of Homura. He left, not because he wanted to, but because he needed to. His heart, it was too much to bear and he hated himself for it. Where he went a storm followed, dark and silent as his divinity raced across the sea and into the land. He would have gone straight to the coldest reaches of his realm and drowned himself in sorrow but something stopped him.

A remembrance, a small smile and a promise to return.

So Chailiss halted in his escape and turned back around. Back to the Site of the First Sin, where she waited. His daughter with a goddess he had never even seen. He knew not how it had happened, only that it had and by all accounts, he could not have another fall. It would destroy him utterly.

So he went back with the hope she had remained. He shook his head, for it was not hope that propelled him- but a need. He had to make sure she was alright. For his own sanity, for hers. So he flew and when he arrived in the twilight of the world, all was quiet. Those few sentries looked at him with reverence and others stared. How long had it been since he was last there? Time felt so differently…

“Where is she…?” he asked, his voice forlorn. The sentries looked to one another, silent. Before any of them could speak, however, Trusa exploded from the forest.

“You’re back!” She cried out, “you won’t bel-” she was cut-off as she fell forward and was propelled into Chailiss’ great form before settling on the ground in an untidy heap. “Yachtch,” she muttered into the ground.

Relief washed over him as he bent down to help her up. “It does my heart good to see you again. I am sorry it was not sooner.” She got up gibbering excitedly, then paused and took in his words.

“Oh. It’s okay. I mean, you had important things to be doing. God stuff and all that, very important- and mysterious. You know, I was busy too!” She smiled mischievously and turned around to the thick trees. “Well c’mon! Why are you hiding in there?” There was quiet for a few seconds. The sentries shuffled uneasily. The undergrowth rustled.

“I- uh. I’ve never met-” the dark-haired woman emerged from the dense thicket and stood there looking in all ways disheveled. “I wanted to do it right is all.” She glanced from Trusa to Chailiss, then brought a moonstone hand of a thousand hues of blue and green and black and grey and white to her hair and brushed the twigs and thorns and oddbits from it. Her eyes settled on Chailiss’ great form. “I- uh. I’ve been looking for you a long time, brother. You’re not easy to find- or, well, I guess I’m terrible at finding… stuff.”

Chailiss stepped forward, amiss. “You…” he breathed, “You are Rosalind? And you’ve been looking for me? What for?” he asked, his eyes going between Rosa and Trusa, the resemblance uncanny. More and more Childan began to show up to see the return of him, no doubt. Keeper Alona was there, waiting patiently. He briefly scanned the crowd until he saw a face of the dead… A voiran girl. Quickly he looked away from her inquisitive eyes. Perhaps there was some relief but he seldom brought happy tidings, didn’t he?

The goddess scratched her cheek. “I… I’ve been looking for you for so long that I almost forgot why, actually.” She chuckled sheepishly, and Trusa rolled her eyes.

“Just get to the point, Rosa. Like a spear!” Trusa told her, making a spearing motion with her hand.

“Oh, yeah, like a spear. Well, the thing is- uh.” Rosalind paused. “It doesn’t feel right Trus. Like, just jumping into the whole thing without introductions is a bit weird.” She glanced at Trusa, who was raising an eyebrow at her. Rosalind ignored her. “You- you’ve made something very beautiful here, Chailiss. Even from high up, beyond the sky, it looks beautiful. And now that I’m here I can see that it’s beautiful even from here. I- I guess I should thank you for making something so beautiful.”

“I… Yes. Thank you, Rosalind.” he nodded, with a small smile. “Oh, I cannot take all the credit. Zenia, Goddess of Revelry, helped me create this land and these people,” he pointed to the Childan, “were given as a gift by Homura, Goddess of Honor, and modified by me. But, yes, thank you. You are very kind.” Chailiss blinked rapidly. He felt embarrassed for some reason. Were words always so difficult to say?

Rosalind looked at Trusa and the giant childans. “Pretty as Trus is,” Rosalind grinned cheekily at the other girl, “she was not the reason I came. And neither were the childans, grand and majestic as they are. And it wasn’t even this landmass with all its forests and rivers and teeming life.” She scratched her forehead with a stone finger, then brushed a dark tress from her face. “It was… I don’t know, there was just something soothing about the world being capped with white. And there was the promise of cool… I liked that. I… uh, I was born with a fever of sorts, so the promise of cool struck me as both beautiful and healing. Serene in a way, you know? It brought me relief and steadiness when everything was quite confusing and frightening. So… yeah, it’s not Homura or Zenia I have to thank for that, but you.” She glanced down at her feet. “And… uh… I think… maybe that’s why you can help me.” She looked up and swallowed nervously. “B-but only if you want. You- you don’t have to if you don’t want to. All I said is still true even if you’d rather not. So- uh, don’t feel you have to.”

His eyes became riddled with concern. “I would be honored to help you, Rosalind, even if you had not said such kind words. I…” his voice faltered and he looked around, suddenly aware of all the mortals watching them. “Would you like to take a walk with me?” he asked in a quiet voice. The goddess glanced at the gathered people, then looked back at Chailiss.

“Uh… if you like, yeah.” Rosalind responded. Her eye caught on that of Trusa. “Oh, and can Tr-”

“Obviously I can,” the girl said dismissively, “as if you two can go off and expect me to sit around here.” She wheeled on Chailiss, causing Rosalind to jump, and wagged a finger at him. “I’VE DONE ALL THE SITTING AROUND I’M EVER GOING TO DO. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME DO ANYMORE OF THAT! IF YOU LEAVE WITHOUT ME, I’M GONE!”

Chailiss looked at her and tilted his head. “Ah that may be true but what might Rosa think of that? Leaving her companion by her lonesome.” he shook his head with a smirk. “All the same, Rosalind might feel lost without you at her side. Go on then, take her down that path,” he gestured, “And I will follow right behind you.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Trusa hooked her arm into Rosalind’s and half-dragged the goddess along with her. The goddess stumbled on her shifting feet, lost balance, then managed to right herself with Trusa’s help and walked alongside her with the odd skip or hop or trembling of her feet.

He watched them go for a moment, smile fading before he turned and beckoned to Alona. The Firekeeper came up to him and gave a slight bow. “I trust she was not too much trouble?”

The Firekeeper shook her head. “Nothing we could not handle, Spirit Father.”

“Good, very good. Later, I need to speak to the young Voiran girl there. The smaller girl with white hair. Do not speak of this to her but ensure she has someone close.” he whispered to Alona. She looked at him with steely eyes and nodded. Chailiss patted her on the shoulder, then walked off after Trusa and Rosa.




“Oh! I forgot to tell you. You know Chailiss told me the craziest thing,” Trusa chattered breathlessly as the two eerily similar women walked along, “He told me that you’re my mum!” The goddess paused in surprise and looked back at Chailiss, who was now following close behind, with bemusement.

“Uh- I- I’ve never-” Rosalind flushed crimson then turned back and continued walking. “I’m not a mother, so I don’t see how that could have happened. And, uh, I’ve never had a- a mate.” Trusa looked back at Chailiss, a smug look of affirmation on her face. “But I guess Chailiss would know better. The gods work in strange ways and maybe it did happen… somehow. We do look very much alike.”

“Divine… Creation, as it were, can come in many different shapes. One does not need to mate, in this case.” he said sheepishly. “That’s not to say reproduction couldn’t occur in such a way. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes but perhaps some of our kin have.” he followed quickly. Rosalind considered his words without casting a backward glance, then spoke.

“So… you’re my daughter.” She stopped where they were in the trees and placed her hands on the other woman’s cheeks, causing Trusa to protest and wave her hands away. The goddess sighed. “I- I would have liked to do it properly. To be there for you when you were little and helpless. To watch you grow…” the goddess muttered sentimentally - which Trusa did not like in the slightest.

“What? No! That’s stupid. And not important. I have better things to do than be small and helpless and- and- and cute and all that. Urgh.” She made as if to gag and Rosalind smiled at her antics, though her eyes betrayed a small sadness still.

“So she is my daughter? My… creation? As fatherless as I… as we are motherless?” Rosalind asked, turning her gaze on Chailiss.

He shook his head after a moment of contemplation. “I think all that matters is that she is here now, and you can still be a mother to her. Our creator is not our father in my eyes, but Trusa… she is not fatherless like we. For it was I who awoke her from her slumber and even now a bit of my divinity runs in her blood. Just like yours Rosa.” It took the goddess a few moments to appreciate the implication of Chailiss’ words, but Trusa had no such trouble.

“You’re my dad?!” She exclaimed - not so much shocked as excited. She turned to Rosalind with great animation, took her by the hand, and rushed the few feet to Chailiss. Rosalind let herself be dragged along but otherwise shied from looking at the winter god. “I was wondering why you were being so protective and bossy,” Trusa was laughing, “now it makes sense. Being all paternal and caring, eh?” She half-teased, then lay a hand on one of Chailiss’ great fingers. They were silent for a brief few seconds then, with Trusa grasping both her parents’ hands tightly. Rosalind could only look away shamefacedly and try to keep her feverish feet beneath her from shivering too much. When next she shot a furtive glance at Trusa, she was alarmed to find the white markings on the girl’s body shining brightly.

“Uh-” she looked at Chailiss even as her own feet began to shudder beneath her, “is that normal?”

He said nothing, but grabbed Trusa’s arm for a better look. “What is your aspect, Rosa? Mine is cold, and these markings are not of me. They seem to resonate with her excitement.”

The goddess’ eyes widened with fear. “Th- that’s-” she gulped, “I don’t think that’s my-” it was strange saying it, it had never felt like hers, “my aspect.” She glanced down at her feet, which were now beating against the earth, spasms shooting up her legs. “It’s…” a certain terror spread across her face and guilt wracked her eyes, “it’s the fever.” She tightened her grip on Trusa’s hand as the girl’s feet left the ground and she began ascending, the pure white light now pulsing from her eyes. “Wh- we need to do something,” Rosalind managed.

Chailiss held onto her, concern splayed out on his face. “I… What do we do? What is this Fever, Rosa?” He looked to her.

“It… it feeds on- like.” She had never expressed it before. “On sights, smells, sounds. They create emotions and- and the stronger those are- the stronger the fever gets. It feeds on emotions and then...” the goddess looked at Trusa, “and then it dances.” She gulped, seemed to realise that it did not sound bad at all, and continued. “D- dancing is not good. It’s bad. It’s destructive. We have to stop her.” She glanced down at her own feet; their movements had grown ever more intense. “Oh. Oh.” She released the girl and backed away. “I- I have to go.” She whirled on her feverish feet and half-tripped and half-skipped away. “I-it’s bad.”

“No! No, Rosa. Don’t leave! She needs you! I need you!” Chailiss called after her, his voice becoming frantic as Trusa began to lift ever higher and her form began to waver.

But Rosalind did not pause and her burning feet fizzled across the ground and she disappeared into the trees and was soon little more than an echo on the warming wind of the coming spring. Trusa, however, floated still on that sighing air - her head rocked back, her eyelids fluttered, grew heavy, closed; a long breath left her and then she was beyond breath, flesh, blood and the mundanities of mortal forms. There was nothing of her left but light, a light that danced and fluttered, shimmered and twisted and laughed and coaxed and teased - in every colour of the imagination it turned, as vapour and cloud it swirled. Her name then was exuberance, her name was joy, laughter, spring, hope; all that happiness was thought and imagined to be, she was - she was the child snoozing by the warmth of the flame, she was the mother nesting her newborn on her chest, she was the sapling greeting the resurgent sun, she was the light dancing in the depths of darkest night. She was, in sum, Aurora, and all mortal things looked on her dancing and wept for joyous relief and the purgation of all misery.

All mortals, aye, but not the immortal Chailiss. Chailiss watched on, a mix of horror and surprise etched like a river across his face. The sky danced and his children would rejoice in their long night of solace but at what cost? Why was there always a cost? First Zima… Now this dancing Aurora and even worse… His gaze turned to linger upon the spot where Rosalind had vanished. A terrible feeling came over him then and he looked to Aurora and a quivering whisper escaped his lips, ”I’m… Sorry.” The god of cold then sought to find the dancer.

It was not a difficult endeavour - for the shaking of earth and heaven found him first. There in the distance where land met sky a scene of limitless harmony and calm washed upon the eye. It could best be described as a slow-moving vortex of striking demureness - no sooner looked upon before its gaze retreated in bashfulness. She seemed a thing of air and ice; ten thousand limbs of earth thus splayed, ten thousand others flaring there - above, below, and circling round with curvature, great breadth, and length. It almost seemed (as Chailiss looked) that an artist’s eye had imagined her, his hand had made and breath ensouled. No stillness was in her at all - her movement seemed an afterthought; the world around her spiraled still and was splayed out as far as sight. In all ways she seemed to be a thing beyond the world and corporeal things, beyond earth, rain, wind, and flame - and yet a force she was, and great, with something of world-ending gait.

If horror had been etched upon his face before, now it only deepened into a canyon as he saw the land, its bones, life and all; annihilated in the maelstrom. His heart shattered as if it had been punched and then daggered by a cosmic giant. He felt nothing as the twisting pull of his power leeched outward into his divine form and thus race did he to stop such destruction while he could. As he flew he could only watch as trees became splinters, rock became dust, and the land wrent from existence. At the center of it all was She Who Danced, now more of a dark void - tenebrous hair flung in every which way and form unseen through it - that plunged the world into chaos. He summoned his weapon, the box of calamity and aimed it true, but despite what Rosa was doing, he did not have the strength to use it. Why? He was a stupid God.

He drew closer still and this proved to be a foolish mistake. The bangles around Rosa’s feet glowed as molten as the fiery sun and the final beat of her dance ripped his divine flesh asunder, pulling it from his being in most excruciating agony. There was nothing he could do as the orb that he was became nothing but the faintest blue heart. A pinprick that knew only of self preservation. Another mistake, for as bone and flesh and snow and ice tried to coalesce around that struggling shard- Rosalind’s bangles called forth again in the mightiest of crescendos and thus did Chailiss’ fleeting form break like cracks, pulled off his shard and the void claimed him. Thus the god of cold did fall in shock, now nothing more than that small blue flickering shard.

As for Rosa, the spirals all about her shrank, were nothing as her twirl collapsed - and all that remained to mark the dance was the cleft that would forever mar the world’s white head. Like a leaf - like wind-swept tears - Rosalind fell from her skybound dancing perch and smiled to think that hell was made for such as her; there was justice in the world.

Something did grab her as she fell, for as much agony as he was in, Chailiss was able to create the faintest of impressions to paint himself into the world. Nothing more than a shrouded, blue mist did wrap its arms around the fitting Rosalind. A weeping sigh did escape him as he carried her over a filling void. Where land once was, only ocean would claim. Where the sky once drifted unmarred, now rock danced forevermore. The land was sundered, the west in the North was gone. How long had it all transpired? How long…? How many dead? How many…?

The Aurora was over as he flew back now to mighty cliffs that once marked the entry to the west. Now they were a warning to never venture further. How many drowned in those crushing depths? How many…?

He searched and searched as Rosalind’s fit quieted. He at last found her, drifting in the setting sun, Trusa no more. Silent as a grave but not dead, no. What little relief it brought was held back only now by responsibility. He had failed. He always failed…

He took them to the coldest reaches, past all the green and the rocks and the blues. To the whitest of whites, where cold ruled eternal. Those that survived the calamity would endure, for spring had arrived, with a promise of hope, stifled only by the constant reminder of pain. Chailiss knew only shame and the heavy weight of fatherhood. Not that it mattered…

He set them, sleeping and fair, upon the snow as he raised a single, misty hand. He looked past what he could never become again, to the center of it all. There came from the ice a mighty palace of shimmering crystal. It towered over a towerless land, reigning true forever. Encircled by the mightiest of walls. As the ice formed he walked within, raven-haired damsels in either arm.

It would be a home.

No…

A prison.






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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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Reflections II

The Holy Quintet & The Order of the Phoenix



An ethereal melody spread across all of Keltra as song and spell came together to weave the tapestry anew and suffuse creation with otherworldly power. Courage could feel the enchanting aura of Kindness as her sister called upon the Gnosis to stir forth one of their sleeping kin now, the ever-shifting and swirling marks of sorcery dancing across her scarred skin as though they were ebon serpents entwined and coiling around each other. Courage felt captivated by the sight, watching as Kindness completed the spell with a shimmering burst of light, and an awakened Reflection of the reticent champion arose from the floor.

The one that would be known as Kindness II examined her surroundings briefly, possessing sight which contradicted her memories of being blinded. However, the Reflection was rather quick to regain her senses and functionality. “I am Kindness the second, and you are my antecedent. I suppose I could be considered your progeny… but I digress, there are more pressing matters to attend to.” She said as she introduced herself in her ever soft, yet monotonous voice, and Courage found that she was once again attempting to understand the thoughts behind the familiar dispassionate demeanor of her sister’s replica. She refrained from relying upon her bond with Kindness, relishing the brief challenge this task was while it lasted.

“We should begin the ritual to integrate our Reflections into our bond, and then proceed with integrating them into our connection with Charis as well. Afterwards, Charis shall cure our blindness, and we can begin our various ventures.” The first Kindness impassively declared, and Courage was all too aware of the emotional intensity hidden underneath that deadpan tone. She wondered whether her sister would be so secretly devoted if it had been her that was exiled, and not Fear - these thoughts were ever disregarded though.

“It’s so strange, remembering our shared minds and then being alone in my head again. We’re weaker too, I think.” Curiosity II commented idly, while everyone walked towards where Pride and Charis awaited them by the Eternal Fire. The Keeper of Keltra telepathically communicated to the other members of the Holy Quintet from where she stood, suggesting Curiosity verbally reply to her inquisitive Reflection’s meanderings, offering a swift explanation to use. Courage contemplated why Pride would choose to even intervene when similar remarks aloud from Curiosity were once so common.

“You’ve less spiritual and mental power since our connection combines our sacred flames and allows us to share this power with each other. This shared power weakens the farther apart we are from each other, but we’re still always stronger with it rather than without it, you know.” Curiosity repeated adding a little of her own words, and her Reflection nodded, who only seemed to be half understanding what she was told and was now evidently more preoccupied by playing with Rowan as the original spoke. Curiosity II purred with laughter while she cheerfully held a one-sided conversation with the infant, and Courage chuckled when it was obvious that Curiosity herself wanted to indulge in such blithe behavior.

“I’m pleasantly surprised how this all turned out.” Pride said as they approached her, and the Keeper of Keltra seemed so small beside the much taller Charis. Courage considered the dichotomy of their appearances, the childlike champion and her spirit servant, as even the pigmentation of their skin and hair was reversed, and yet these two held more power than the rest of Keltra’s population combined. Perhaps Wanderer wasn’t completely wrong - being afraid of what Pride has become. Despite often tapping into her thoughts and memories, it was evident that her little sister possessed a much more vast understanding of the workings of the world compared to herself.

Wanderer II was less hesitant than the first iteration, and bravely embraced Pride before stroking the small champion’s hair atop her head. Courage sensed Wanderer’s confusion as they both watched this interaction, and neither could ascertain what caused such a difference. They were as certain as they could be that Wanderer II held the same thoughts and dispositions as her progenitrix, yet she so casually approached Pride who stood next to Charis despite Wanderer being reluctant to do so. Pride fidgeted with a hint of frustration, but did not push away the simulacrum of her sister, and Courage detected something that suggested Pride was aware of what caused the difference.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom…” Charis chanted with her choral voice, and words stirred something within all of those gathered. The connection between the members of the Holy Quintet granted them strength, but it also came with the danger of forgetting the self and becoming lost between the multitude of memories that they all shared. Inviting their reflections into their bond would increase both the power gained and the risks involved, so the spirit clad in human skin had warned them.

“Look, we should start the ritual, ya. I don’t want to waste time when there’s people that need our help after all.” Still undeterred, Courage and Courage II simultaneously smirked at their sisters as they spoke in sync, the two reassuring their familia with their audacious aura and the ever empowering presence of the Eternal Flame. It was amusing hearing herself speak… They were all in agreement, Courage could tell even without a connection that the Reflections had found their resolve as well, so they gathered in a circle and prepared themselves - Rowan now placed in a conjured crib nearby. Fortunately the majority of the Holy Quintet were present, so they could still cast the spell that would unify all of their minds without issue.

The music that filled the hall began to change, a prelude to what was coming as Courage and all of her sisters clasped hands. They began collectively moving in rhythm to the melody, slowly swirling with nigh silent steps as Charis merely observed them. They were slightly clumsy at first which elicited a few giggles and failed attempts to suppress smiles, then they became more enraptured by their dance, as they swiftly shifted into graceful shapes that blurred and blended amongst themselves. They were glittering contours, like radiant streams interweaving with the occasional clear and crystalline human form surfacing from the current and swimming along its circular repetitive path.

Then they manifested their sorcerous power, and became great spirits that celebrated a connection that transcended the limitations of their smaller bodies. Their thoughts and memories became attached to each other, interlocking with sacred threads that passed through all of them, their minds becoming both the universal one and the diverse many, as the interior of the circle became a field of prismatic flames. It was warm and rejuvenating, and so tempting to just become immersed in every emotion like being enveloped in an endless ensemble of enlightenment, such resplendent robes to be worn.

It was too much, and the more malicious thoughts and memories sought to upheave the jubilant tempo with their thrashing and discordant singing, but the Eternal Fire roared louder and quelled the rampaging feelings before they could overwhelm those in the ritual. Calmed by the flames, they allowed themselves to return to their individual selves, separating themselves by their characteristics and recollections. The Reflections which lacked many of their own experiences and feelings had become truly identically merged with their older incarnations. When Courage opened her eyes, she saw automatically through the eyes of Courage II as well, and she knew it was the same for the rest of her sisters and their simulacrums.

They were all covered in the swirling glyphs of the Gnosis, and stood still while remaining in their ring formation. Their inner flames had been returned inside them, and nothing visibly remained of the colorful fire that had burned inside their circle - in the near silence when only faint musical notes persisted, and they could hear each other breathing, there was the sudden burst of noise as Charis became massive and flew overhead. As she beat her six wings, creating a strange shimmering wind, a few large red and white feathers fell and alighted upon the smiling Heralds of Honor and their Reflections.

As the pinions seeped into their bodies, those that were blind became able to see with their eyes, but they were instilled with another gift: The pale glowing scars across Kindness, Curiosity, and Pride vanished, and their white eyes became red once more, however, all of the members of both the Holy Quintet and the Order of the Phoenix felt something change in their eyes. Their sight became more keen, as details from afar became magnified and enhanced, and every subtle motion became even easier to perceive. Courage felt overwhelmed with awe, experiencing her nascent sight.

“You all carry the blessing of the Phoenix, let us heal the faithful with our sacred power, yes.” Charis crooned with pleasure, and Courage realized why Wanderer II was less frightened than her counterpart. Every emotion they felt was heightened when it was cultivated and passed on through each other. Wanderer was experiencing her anxieties multiplied by her bond, and now those concerns had grown more potent. Every aspect of who they were was becoming amplified which caused Courage to understand why Pride was reluctant to create her own Reflection, considering how much she had seen. They would have to become more careful when managing their mental development, lest they exacerbate their flaws.

“Now we can help!” Courage II declared, before she leapt high with joy - as she soared upward, Charis descended and changed back into her smaller humanlike shape. Curiosity and Curiosity II performed a playful dance as they parted, the latter then joining Wanderer and the other Reflections as they strode towards a doorway that swiftly appeared to let them outside the keep. Courage watched them leave, and then glanced at Kindness, knowing the pain the absence of Fear caused would not be healed so easily, and adding Kindness II to the bond had only made that pain more sensitive.

“Listen, we’ll rescue her. I promise you we’ll get her back. We’ve got to focus on what’s in front of us, ya.” She said, and was gladdened by the fact that her words seemed to at least alleviate a little of the grief her sister felt. Kindness did not reply, but there was no hostility in her silence, and she offhandedly chose to join Curiosity as she tended to Rowan, both of them no longer requiring the Incantation of Seeing to look after him. Now only Courage and her Reflection stood nearby Pride and Charis, finishing an unspoken conversation quickly as they turned their attention to Skydancer - Pride failing to hide her smile after regaining her sight.

“It’s finally time we tend to the lands outside our home.” Pride said as she walked, and Courage let excitement course through her fiery veins. They still held onto the otherworldly power of the Gnosis, the two sorcerers preparing to perform another ritual as a massive amount of spiritual particles coalesced around both of them. There was a resurgence of evocative music accompanying their casting of the spell; every sound accentuating a flash of scarlet light and ripple in reality as they wove their will over the tapestry.

Unseen ribbons of divine essence exuded from Skydancer, previously blessed by Chailiss, and now blessed by both Courage and Pride. Then the flying boat was engulfed in silvery flames, burning brightly akin to the Eternal Fire, and they could feel a similar invigorating presence that the boat now exuded. It was a second source of life that should sustain Charis outside of Keltra, so that the phoenix could travel with them on their journeys when necessary.

Courage and her Reflection chuckled aloud when Pride satirically shared memories of Charis having difficulties adapting to her physical body, repeatedly stumbling and complaining, while the two of them watched the shape-shifted spirit dramatically leap onto Skydancer before staring back and down upon them with an imperious gaze. It came as a bit of surprise that her little sister still had some humor, and Courage hoped that the mischievous pipsqueak from the past that instigated a coup against their Maker would perhaps resurface more often. Becoming old and wizened shouldn’t deprive one of the ability to have fun after all, the ironic thought of Pride being considered old and wizened only made both Courages continue to lightly laugh.

“Our part is finished, let’s go.” Pride chimed as Courage II carried her onto Skydancer, huffing angrily when she detected Courage’s amusement at Pride’s difficulty with boarding the boat herself, which led to Courage being unable to stifle her mirth. The brash champion could only shake her head as she steered the vessel towards the doorway the others had passed through. It was a very brief flight from the interior of the keep to the wide walkways atop the outer wall where Wanderer and the remaining Reflections awaited. Courage mused upon the nature of their synergy with what was essentially extensions of themselves, and contemplated the consequences of their separated spirits, especially when they would be divided over a great distance.

“Truth suffers from too much analysis.” Pride remarked, reading her thoughts with ease. Courage casually shrugged, as Courage II moved to take over steering, they came to a halt in the air nearby Wanderer and her group atop the wall. All of the champions with their keen eyes could clearly see the vile site where Iqelis had unleashed the deathly effects of his presence upon the land. This blight brought forth righteous anger in all of them, and now they would defy its evil existence and be rid of it once and for all.

They moved with precision, Pride and Courage disembarked to be replaced with Wanderer, Kindness II, Curiosity II, and Wanderer II - But before they set out, Charis had called out, locking eyes with the Keeper of Keltra. “Hmm… What is thy bidding, my little lady?” The Phoenix regally inquired, adding a touch of quirky formality to the coming conclusion of this quest. Courage looked to see Pride sigh with irritation before the small champion pointed towards the accursed blight, her moment of complaining heard through the telepathic bond before she spoke aloud:

“Cleanse it!”

“With pleasure.” Charis sang, and then the burning comet that was Skydancer soared towards its destination, letting loose the invigorating aura she had been born with. The Umati, Wanderer, and all of the Reflections held out their hands as they hovered above the plain of death, and then plumes of purifying pale flames poured forth from their palms in an immense cleansing inferno. Six streams of healing light like radiant columns descending from the heavens washed over the land and burned away the lingering filth that prevented the renewal of life. Even the polluted stench of sorrow and putrid soil was consumed by their celestial conquest that began when they had seen the horror of needless cruelty and viciousness for the first time on that night long ago.

The flames had remained only within the confines of the blight, avoiding too much interaction with the realms beyond it - as none among the Order of the Phoenix wished to disturb the daily activities of other beings too much. Wanderer had already warned the creatures of Kel-Phelena that this temporary disruption would only consist of a wondrous display of aerial maneuvering and pyrotechnics, describing what happened now; Skydancer flew back and forth like a shooting star until the taint was eventually eradicated. When they were finally finished, the sacred flames dispersed to reveal fertile soil rich with a warmth akin to the majestic sun’s blessed favor.

”I ask myself, why are we doing this if we’re only going to face our demise in the end?” Pride asked, aiming the question at nobody in particular. It was merely one of those questions that remained unanswered until you were hit with an epiphany, and realized how simple the truth had always been.

”Because Pride, with or without our Maker, we will walk farther along the Sacred Path!” Courage proclaimed with a fierce grin.




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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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Restitution





They flew to the south still, farther and farther away from Keltra. Away from the once comfort of sisters and home. Now evermore a bittersweet note to add to the maelstrom of emotions and thoughts churning inside Fear's body, mind and soul. Annoyance still snickered at her, while Sorrow sought to undo her very foundations. Her ordeal had yet to end, when will it end… and so she continued to fight against those that sought to dominate her, to consume her with their vicious mockery and searing presence. Only the otherworldly light she had summoned gave her intervals of peace and quiet when she was capable of immersing herself in its serene luminescence.

Sorrow had demanded she succumb, but Fear refused - repeating those words again and again in her mind until they were firmly etched into her very being, so that she could still resist the terrifying power of the one that imprisoned her. Her spell was sustained by the components involved in the ritual; as long as her body remained intact, the shield will persist until Sorrow eventually overwhelms it, or Fear gathers enough Spirit to dismiss it. The anxious champion could only contemplate how much she must further endure, while she soared across the sky, trapped in her own body.

It went on like that, an ebb and flow, for days. And those days turned to a blur and that blur; into countless passing time. Atleast, she thought. Sorrow would only comment when it suited her but Annoyance was there to keep her company. She was stuck within herself and it became difficult to judge where they were, what they had done or who they had passed. Sorrow did not let her view the world like before, instead she fed her feelings, terrible feelings and lingering visages of what her torturer had done.

More pain, more suffering, more death. She knew not if it was from the present or past, it all blurred in a chorus of screams.

Until, it stopped.

Her vision was restored and Sorrow's voice came alight all around. "We have ventured into a new land, Fear. I wondered why a blistering, salty desert contained it. Now I see. It's far too quiet, don't you think?"

They hovered in the air, overlooking nothing out of the ordinary. It was just a forest, with greenery and flowers and trees. Yet it felt as if the very wind blew silent. Fear fumbled with the thoughts she attempted to arrange in a coherent manner, struggling to answer for a moment. “Begone demon, I see your trickery… You can’t deceive me!” She screamed mentally, in a strenuous effort to overpower the din and discord inside her, her own voice split a thousand times while warring with herself. She could not discern one voice from another, but so many had come together and warned her of the danger in this place Sorrow had shown her.

“You’ve chosen such a poor location, brother. You truly have a terrible sense of direction! Well, what now?” Annoyance asked, as she buried Fear and the other voices deep within their consciousness, allowing her to assert her dominance for a time at least.

The demon snickered in a mocking tone. "Careful now, your cracks are shining through, Fear. But I will admit, for once, there's no trickery. No deception. We had to fly over the ocean to get here. I think there's a reason for that. I shall play along with you Annoyance, until your other personality wishes to show herself. And for your question, I know not but we have only ever pushed forward and so we shall do so now." Sorrow spoke and glided them to the forest floor, underneath the canopy of silent trees.

“You refuse to admit we’re lost… Alas, now the blind are leading the blind through the desert. Dearest Pride says we should leave this place before we find trouble, but I feel like finding some trouble, don’t you?” Annoyance replied with false chagrin, while protruding parts of herself beyond the shimmering barrier to prod Sorrow and see if the demon would lash out.

All she found was a coldness. Something disinterested. "Another personality? My oh my that doesn't sound good." She said absentmindedly as they walked in the shade. Every noise they made felt like a transgression but Sorrow kept going. "You can see, this isn't a desert. We aren't lost either. Perhaps in a lost land but I never did have a destination in mind. As for trouble…" her voice quieted, obviously tired of talking.

So Annoyance happily hummed a simple tune, as she slid her sections of her spirit back and forth through the shimmering shield until she became bored and mused aloud. “Not all those who wander are lost… yet it feels as though we’ve wandered astray. Do you know any songs, Sorrow? Will you sing with me?”

"No." Sorrow stated, holding out a hand to caress a leaf. It turned to a black smoke as she let go, corruptive as her touch was. "This is not a natural quiet." The demon murmured, "At least as how we might know it."

“ Now you’re just confusing me.” Annoyance said with a huff, before turning her attention to their surroundings and seeking amusement. Memories of this land filled her mind as she tapped into the bond she shared with her sisters and called upon their knowledge. There was only a slight hassle as they fought to gain control of the limited space within the barrier, but Annoyance had pushed them back. Now she possessed information and awareness and became curious what they may discover in this abhorrent realm.

The answer to that question became clear enough, from the brush came a beast, a large feline. Their walk was staggering with fangs bared, but the most heinous sight was their form. Through the fur and skin emerged conclaves of mushrooms and fungi, caked in dried blood and surrounded by broken bones, even one of the beast's clouded eyes had been forced to make room for the fungi that seemed to infect it.

The hideous thing bared its teeth, clearly aggressive towards the Interlopers that stood before it now. Yet strangely, not making a single move to attack.

“It seems… I have found my answer.” Sorrow spoke aloud this time. From her hand came a spike of ice and without any hesitation, she flung it at the beast with deathly precision.

With a squelching of flesh she found her mark, piercing the beast through its head, yet it did not fall, it only began to advance, fungi beginning to shake and writhe, ready to burst. Sorrow was unmoving from her position and watched as the creature came. As it neared she summoned another shard of ice with Fear’s hand, this time a pike that pierced the abomination belly first, lifting it into the sky. From that ice came numerous smaller shards that erupted outward. “That’s more like it.” She murmured.

A groan erupted from the beast's lips, and while it continued to writhe, it made no move to free itself from its bonds. Afterall, it didn't need to. In an instant, the fungi erupted in unison, sporocarps giving way to their intended purpose as a thick miasma rapidly grew from the center point of the beast impaled. Converging directly towards Fear's body, seemingly eager, despite merely being a cloud.

With her other hand, Sorrow whipped forth a shroud of darkness that bit into the miasma, decaying it with a lingering touch. She did this several times until she could be sure it was dealt with properly. Then she repeated the same hateful death upon the pinned creature. Ice shattered and decayed, while the very creature became nothing but black smoke. When she was done she looked upon her work. “A parasite. No wonder this land is contained.” she muttered. “It would make an excellent hiding spot, all the same.”

“You seek to hide yourself… So you’re afraid then?” Annoyance asked, as she also observed through the limited lens she was given, and let out a sound of revulsion upon seeing such a grotesque sight, only briefly considering letting Fear resurface just to let her deal with the hideous things to come instead.

“Are you afraid?” Sorrow asked in return, ignoring the question. She began to walk away. “It certainly sounded like it earlier.”

"are you afraid?" Came a voice that sounded like hundreds at once. From the Canopy above a form practically dropped upon them, it was cloaked in tattered white cloth and as it unfurled itself, clawed insectoid arms emerged. It raised its head, revealing only a blackened void, with a twisted smile planted upon it.

"Oh us. What do we have here?" It spoke once more, it's smile fixated upon the Interloper.

Sorrow froze, going rigid as her gaze fell upon the newest being. All attention turned to the newcomer, even what little had been still assaulting their inner flame. Was it finally time for a breath of relief or was this just going to add to their troubles? “Fear…” Sorrow began, “Is beneath me.” With an explosion of force, she drove a wall of ice towards the creature, ripping it from the ground before using the momentum to leap out of its path and to throw a dagger of dark flame at it. “I didn’t realize these monsters could talk…” Annoyance quietly remarked as she watched the encounter unfold.

No movement came from the creature, merely allowing the wall to smash into it. The wall broke around it, not moving them even an inch. It did finally move to dodge the dagger flying towards it, never moving it’s heinous gaze from the interlopers. It spoke once more, "A hunt! Our favorite!" Before leaping towards them with ferocious speed, claws slashing at them.

Sorrow barely had any time to leap out of the way. The tree behind her was sliced in half and as the mighty giant tumbled with such a loud crash, Sorrow took one look at what had unfolded and bolted, running with little fanfare through the underbrush and twisting trees. Behind them, their hunter let out a cackle of buzzing noises, like a hive of eager wasps. Sorrow didn't need to look back to understand they were following behind. In front of them, the forest twisted further, fungi began to emerge from the ground and every plant, taking a hold of everything in their path. But there was no time to appreciate the sights, the cackle was drawing closer and closer as they ran.

“Zima… We have to fly up!” Fear suddenly suggested, hoping her host would listen to her for once, except other voices surfaced as well and drowned her quiet words within a tumultuous sea of commands and directions that clashed and contradicted itself. “Don’t run away!” Courage shouted. “Release us for an advantage in numbers.” Kindness ordered. “Try mentioning Tuku!” Curiosity called. “Hide quickly.” Wanderer murmured. “Pray to the Divine.” Pride proclaimed. “Just let yourself die…” Annoyance offered. They all spoke simultaneously, their voices mingled and melded, their words becoming an amalgam of gibberish and concepts as Fear fought to remain coherent and sane in an orgy of consciousness in order to preserve herself and Sorrow long enough to survive.

Sorrow gritted her teeth, cracking the stone around her lips. “BE QUIET!” She commanded, hammering the shield inside of them with tumultuous force. Outside she kept running, gaining purchase amidst lower tree branches and twisting fungoide masses. Her ascent was nearing the tops of the trees, wings manifesting, cold ledges of ice piercing the wood for the final few steps.

As they ascended, for a brief moment, the cackling stopped. Yet the silence was short, replaced by a cacophonous buzzing as countless bugs swarmed over them, biting and stinging. The swarm did not stay though, it merely moved in front of them, gathering together to fuse back into flesh and bone just atop the tree canopies. Forming the ever grinning form of their hunter.

"Boo."

With a slash the hunter clawed through the tree line towards Sorrow. Aiming not for them directly, but the ethereal wings carrying them up towards the sky and their escape. Sorrow fell as her momentum was cut short. Before she had any further time to react, a wing snapped and she dismissed the other wing with a grunt. They fell further, slamming into the side another large branch, shattering her right shoulder. As darkness flooded the gaps, Sorrow got a hold of herself and spearheaded their fall with her black flame. She pulled at the greenery and devoured it all around them, then pressed her hand down to stop their descent with a billow of flame. It buffered her and she rolled to the side.

“Zima, let me go, and keep going…” Fear tried again, reaching out with her spirit protruding beyond the barrier she had summoned, tentatively touching the tainted sections inside her body around where her inner flame dwelled. “We can fight this monster!” Courage added in assurance. “Let us out, demon.” Kindness growled. “Please stop fighting!” Curiosity cried. “Hide now…” Wanderer repeated. “You can’t win against a god.” Pride proclaimed. “Ahahaha!” Annoyance laughed in hysteria. Fear had become fractured, her mind like a broken mirror that cut itself and seemed precariously close to simply shattering, but it was now completely exposed - vulnerable to Zima’s influence outside the shield of light.

Gaining a semblance of composure, that who was Sorrow, rose to her feet. She turned inward and Zima’s voice whispered, “There will be no going. A mere creature it is not but perhaps a bargain can be met. I told you, Fear, I would fix this vessel. By any means.” Her lingering power wrapped itself around the shield and darkened everything else.

She then spoke aloud, “Come then, hunter. Shall we talk for but a moment, before you have your prey?”

The hunter dropped down, their smile seemingly wider than before. "Well well this is different. Never had prey talk after we hunted them down." They slowly approached, stopping just close enough to jump towards them in case, yet made no move of attack.

"So then, interloper, what did you wish to talk about?"

Zima looked upon it with a neutral expression behind her crimson eyes. “You are a Divine, are you not?” she said aloud, “I have sought for one, long and far, across distant lands and inhospitable places. If you would hear my plea before having your way with me, I would be honored.” She said, crossing a hand over her heart.

The god chuckled "We are divine yes, though our kin would say otherwise. But we see no harm in this plea, we will have our feast regardless. Make it quick, we can get quite hungry."

“Thank you, my divine.” Zima said, “I confess, this vessel would be a most poor meal, perhaps up to your standards but nowhere near enough for your tastes. I can tell that you are one of opportunity and here I am, easy prey. But. What if, instead of being eaten, this vessel could serve you in another way? All I ask is you take a moment to consider this before you make your decision.” She gave a little bow. “Oh, and between you and me, too much stone, not enough sustenance in these limbs of mine.”

"This is true, this, vessel, of yours is fractured." They drew closer, their gaze inspecting all over. "But how could one such as yourself aid us? You clearly had some reason to come to these lands, for surely those other divine would've warned you of our presence." They circled around her body, face mere inches from Zima's. "So tell us dear, what service could you provide to a Divine Cannibal?"

She remained unblinking in the face of a god. “The other divine are cruel. They lie and cast us aside when they are done using us. I was imprisoned by such gods. I tried to rebel against my end but it did not work, so by chance I made an escape and here we are.” Zima finished with lingering malice in her voice, before she took a breath and began again. “You, on the other hand, are at least forthcoming with your intentions. So, I offer you this; This vessel shall complete a task for you, of your choosing. All I ask is you repair the cracks, improve, if you must. I know what it is like to not have useful tools but I assure you, that would not be the case here. If this does not suffice, I can offer but one more thing as a token of appreciation for allowing me to talk for so long in the face of such divinity.”

“You’re a liar…” Fear lamented, as Annoyance mentally shoved her aside, and feebly struck out at Sorrow, akin to a bleeding worm flailing helplessly as she mocked the one that kept her imprisoned and corrupted her: “You grovel before the Divine like the rest of us… what a coward! Ha, you know nothing, Sorrow! Pathetic…” If Sorrow acknowledged them she did not show it.

The cannibal thought for a moment. Their formless void of a face staring deep into the eyes of Sorrow. "Any task? We must admit you do show some promise. We've rarely had a mortal like you fight us, then speak to us hoping we won't tear out their throat." They threw their head back, cackling once more. "But how can we be so sure you will perform this task? You did come here and murder some of our children after all."

Sorrow tilted her head. “An unfortunate consequence of my own judgment.” She next did an odd thing. A blade of cold materialized in her frost-bit hand and in one swift motion, she moved it across herself and cut off her other arm at the shoulder. It fell to the ground with a soft clatter. Sorrow dropped the ice, wherein it melted, and picked up her other arm. She then dipped her head and offered it to the cannibal god. “As restitution for the loss of your children at my hand. I assure you, my resolve is sound, the task will be done.”

The parasite lord grabbed the arm in an instant, devouring it all within their maw in mere seconds. Flesh and stone and bone crunched between their teeth, fuel to their endless hunger. Once done, they turned their attention back to Sorrow. "Very well, we suppose this is perfect restitution. We shall help you, come closer." They moved one of their many hands underneath their mouth, retching and gagging as a white seed, no bigger than a lime, emerged, landing softly into their palm. They held it out towards her. "Eat this."

Sorrow took it in her hand and eyed it with little fanfare. “Don’t eat it… you’ll never escape its grasp then.” Fear warned with what little power her weak voice still possessed, however there was little she could do to prevent Sorrow from consuming the offering. Sorrow spoke inside her, voice growing distant. “Oh Fear, I have already escaped it’s grasp. You on the other hand?” She placed the seed in her mouth before the god. “Consider this my thanks for helping free me.” She swallowed.

Zima’s presence left Fear, all that remained of her was a lingering feeling of doubt and a great deal of space. Her imprisonment was finally over… or was it? The seed descended deeper into her body, until it drew near to her inner flame that sat within. As soon as that warmth was found, it stopped, expanding into a litany of vines that snaked through her body's inner workings. First it found its way to the flame, surrounding it in its vines, a shield- Another prison. Then, white vines and wood began to emerge through her skin, covering holes, reforging flesh and bone, and creating a new arm for the one Sorrow stole. It fused as best as it could, grabbing onto the remnants of her clay and flesh, in order to make the new additions seem as natural as they could. Slowly did the vines adopt the form of Fear’s flesh, though still imperfect if looked at for long.

Yet, there was something more, the seed pulsated, writhing once again.

The god smiled "Very good, our dear spirit. Though we must admit, we are impressed with your willingness to put one of honor up to a task for the god of Parasites." They directed their words towards Zima, who stood close by watching Fear, their smile ever so wide. "So we hope you will see the task completed, we did leave one thing out." They looked towards Fear, pointing towards where the seed sat inside her. "That little thing is a parasite, one of our children. As such, you'll have to feed it. Lies, guilt, and murder. Things we know these honor types love so much. If you fail to feed it, the parasite will take over, leaving your vessel trapped once more, and…" It gave a wet laugh, pointing back to Zima. "And you would be out a vessel. Since you said it would do the task - If that happens, we will consider it a failure for you, spirit, and as such, you would be a vow breaker." They fully turned towards Zima now. "Afterall, you made the promise."

Zima stood, hands folded down as her afterimages pulsed with black shades. Her red eyes gleamed but her thoughts were now indecipherable. She spoke aloud, now with a much richer voice, “So I did and so it shall be don-”

Fear’s body spasmed and convulsed, barely able to remain standing as Fear struggled with it. The parasite did not seize her limbs or prevent her from regaining control either, and even allowed her to feel the contour of her shape and form once more, but her body had become an unfamiliar landscape after suffering Sorrow’s presence for so long, and enduring this newest transformation. Fear was uncertain whether or not it would obey her now, but she found herself instinctively moving the mouth. “Kill me…”

“Pay her no heed.” Zima spoke, floating to stand before the new Fear. “She will come to appreciate your gift and the benevolence shown here today.”

Yesaris drew close to Fear, allowing them a moment to regain their body. For however long it lasted. "Whether it is considered a gift or not does not matter. We care not," they leaned in, whispering to the Homuran, "Fear not, one of honor, you shall do fine. We're sure your siblings will find you soon." They stepped away, searching the forest for something. Finding their item, they plucked a small red orb from one of the nearby fungi, presenting it to Fear. "This is your task, plant this beyond that accursed desert to the north, we do not care the destination, but it must be safe until it's fully grown and able to expand. See it done, and we shall consider you free of this debt."

“It shall be done, your grace.” Fear hesitantly replied, as she felt tears trail down her newly formed cheeks. She accepted the red orb, reminded of her family by its color and the words of Yesaris, but her hope was so faint, she only prayed that she could complete this quest before she succumbed to the insanity that was festering within her. “You could let me do it for you, ya.” Courage offered in exchange for control. “You do not have to do this, let me help you.” Kindness pleaded as well. “Please stop!” Curiosity cried once again before she was mentally murdered by Annoyance and spoke no more. “Hide.” Wanderer repeated, as Pride remained silent, and Annoyance just laughed in the depths where the shadows hid her. Fear bowed before the Lord of Hunger, silently sobbing.

"So shall it be done." Zima reiterated. "Come Fear. We have a ways to travel yet." The shade commanded. Fear felt paralyzed by pain; the phantom pain of her sacrificed arm and shattered skull, the echoing screams of those that perished upon their terrible path that intersected with Sorrow - she still heard their anguish and their wrath and it wreaked havoc upon her. She could feel the pain of crystalized despair that Zima had sown in her chest, and the pain of oppression that lingered on her lips. This was her tormentor that only promised more pain… and yet she followed.

Zima paused before the Lord and tilted her head. "We shall not meet again. A vow breaker I am not." Then with nothing else to say, she walked on with Fear in tow. Back from whence they came.






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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





It had taken a great deal of time, but Raethel stood front and center by the waterside of the docks to observe this historic occasion. Years ago, when they had designed craft out of reeds to travel along the River Rattus they had called them water craft. When they colonized Greenland and started using wood as a building material names had changed, with the reed craft taking the humble name of river craft while their wooden descendants claimed the title of water craft.

This new craft through... it would be the first of the true ocean craft. Yes, the water craft before it had traveled the great waters between the two lands of the Rattus successfully but this... this one was designed to fulfill the mandate that Aethel had handed down last time they had been present amongst the Rattus. While the others were suitable for crossing the water that ran between the connected lands of Greenland and Firstbarrows, this one would sail down south along the coast and into the unknown in search of a land that wasn't connected to their home. Where its crew could set down paws on soil that no Rattus could walk to given enough time.

It wouldn't be setting sail today: At least not for its true grand voyage anyway. Today was simply it leaving the dry-dock and entering the water for the first time. The dry dock had been designed with a simply ramp system in mind for the ocean craft to slide down into the water, but with some minor concerns that the craft might have been a bit too big to properly slide two of the water friends had been reluctantly pulled from their local river homes in order to be harnessed up to the craft in order to pull it along and make sure it reached its destination.

Water friends proved rather willing and able to carry or pull along what would be considered heavy loads to the average Rattus, but they never liked being too far away from a source of water or mud in order to rest and play around in. Along the larger tunnels in Firstbarrows in which such transportation was used to quickly move goods, not only was the air generally cool, but at regular intervals along the passage walls were side rooms designed with pools of water and mud aplenty so that any of the creatures that were feeling uncomfortable for having been away from them for a bit too long could take a break and recover.

The same measures had been taken here, only on the surface level rather then underground. The water friends were currently resting comfortably in their respective mud pools, waiting until they were called upon to stand and start pulling. They had even been given baskets filled with plants they liked in order to snack on as they waited for their big moment and they could return to their territory.

And with a word from their carers, that time came as the great beasts rose from the mud, the substance sticking to them or sloshing off in seemingly equal measure as they moved into position to have lines wrapped around them. Wooden supports preventing the ocean craft were knocked away one by one and the crowd watching seemed to hold its breath as the last of the supports gave way and the massive craft started to move...

The presence of the Water Friends proved vital, but not for their intended purpose. The fears about the ocean craft being too big to properly slide down the ramp proved unfounded; Instead it looked like it was all too eager to touch the water. Too eager in fact. For a terrible moment it looked like it was going way to quickly and possibly damage the craft in the process before it had even floated on water for the first time. The powerful grey beasts proved their worth by being quickly turned around and pulling back in the opposite direction, slowing the decent in a major fashion but not quite stopping it, allowing the ocean craft to gently enter the water for the first time.

With disaster averted and the process successful, the crowd of Rattus watching started to cheer and applaud the event, with Raethel reaching up to place a paw on his chest to try and calm his rapidly beating heart. It had been a concern of his for a while now, through one that he kept quiet about. He knew that he had been getting on in years for some time now and under such circumstances one tended to reflect on their mortality, but the slight scare aside this was not going to be a concern for today. But he would need to enact his plan for the future relatively soon in order to make sure that things would carry on without any trouble once he was gone.

But today... today his eyes gazed enough the first true ocean craft and he beamed with pride at how far his people had come.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Zelios




What to name it, what to name it...

This was a thought that had occupied his mind for far too long.

Then, it came to him.

"Shadulun," the God of Darkness proclaimed quietly to himself.



Despite the new - and what Zelios believed to be unique - aesthetic, the newly-named land of Shadulun seemed rather lacking. There was life, certainly, but it lacked... intelligence. He had nobody to talk to.

Such intelligent life existed to the west, but they were not his creations, and the few he encountered were rather rude toward him. It seemed they resented the fact that the land they voluntarily chose to live on was covered by perpetual night, despite Zelios being quite certain the Ringed Curtain was created long before they settled there, and also despite the fact that they could have chosen to live literally anywhere else.

There was also the species of rat-people he had created with Aethel. But he had done that on a whim, and it had been in an area he had found to be quite unpleasant. He was not eager to return there, even if he probably would at some point.

So he would need to populate this land with a new race. One that was distinctly and entirely his idea.

And so, he began to think.

He decided they would not be too different from some of the intelligent lifeforms which already existed. They would two arms and two legs, and were of similar size. However, Zelios felt compelled to give them certain liberties. Being confined solely to the ground seemed so restricting, so he would give them wings. Feathered wings, as they seemed to be more graceful and aesthetically pleasing.

He then paused and considered the idea further - if he put the wings on the back, they would not be able to fly properly. If he put the wings on the arms, then they might become an obstacle for other tasks. That was an obstacle... so he decided to simply ignore said obstacle. The wings would be placed on the back, but empowered with his own dark energy - they would grant the power to float and fly even when it shouldn't be physically possible. There was a downside to this, however - the power of the wings would be diminished in sunlight. That mattered little, as the sun did not fully shine in this land.

The bodies themselves would possess a natural grace and beauty. If he was to make a race of people, it seemed pointless to design them to be ugly.

He then decided he would instill a number of other darkness-related abilities for good measure. The ability to see in the dark, of course. The ability to turn themselves into incorporeal shadows, though light would become exceedingly harmful to them while doing this. And lastly, the ability to convert shadow into physical tools, weapons, and objects.

Yes, that would do.

The God of Darkness closed his eyes, and touched a hand to the ground. All throughout Shadulun, bits of dirt, stone, sand, clay, and gravel rose from the ground and began to take the shape of the species he envisioned.

Then, suddenly, he leapt to his feet and raised a hand skyward.

Several beams of black energy shot down from the curtain and into his hand, as he drew energy directly from the Ringed Curtain. Then, his hand crackling with power, Zelios punched the earth. A massive shockwave of pure shadow rippled outward, latching onto the artificial constructs he had made and enveloping them. Dirt, sand, and clay became flesh, while wings sprouted from backs and hair sprouted from heads.

All throughout Shadulun, the Zephyrites opened their eyes for the first time, and drew breath.





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Hidden 4 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Homura Returns to Keltra II

The Holy Quintet & The Order of the Phoenix



It was a familiar light blazing brightly upon the horizon as Daybringer returned to the world of the living and announced the coming arrival of Homura treading the long pathway back to home. She came from the eastern sea, where the scarlet water of the shore mingled with the salty waves like spilled blood, and walked towards the towering fortress of Keltra which glittered with a red radiance akin to an immense ruby bathed beneath the majesty of the glorious sun. The world around her began to tremble with anticipation as her divine presence washed over the stretch of land, and subtly invigorated it with sacred otherworldly power.

She stepped upon the walkway of the outer wall where she could perceive the majority of Keltra with her eyes, so she watched as her champions came out of the keep with swift strides onward until they came to a halt and stared upwards at her. Homura remained silent while they stayed still, letting her contemplate the changes she saw; the choices and consequences her creations had come to - the results and rewards for their time away from her. It was evident that they had become stronger and attained greater knowledge of the Gnosis as they continued farther along the Sacred Path, but it was also slightly agitating to see that they had partaken in gluttony and polluted their bodies. The time had come for her to speak with them now.

She stepped forward and alighted with the grace of a goddess before the summoned doorway where they all stood quiet as they awaited whatever she ordained. There were those among them that were afraid of being scolded, and those that sought to defy her with their stoic gaze, but most amusing was the fact that some of these expressions directed towards her were doubled. She had created only six champions, and yet ten now faced her in this moment. Homura simply sighed, and spoke from behind the veil she wore that currently concealed the truth of herself and what she carried.

“My Heralds of Honor, I have come back from the realm of Voi where I donned the veil of death. I must mourn for those that have fallen; for the Galbar is stained with the stigma of annihilation.” She proclaimed, saddened by the sight of her creations being burdened by the weight of the world with her words. They had all been born with great power which demanded great responsibility, lest they succumb to despotism - such she could not allow to ever happen.

“Welcome, Mother.” Pride said, as she and all of her sisters bowed before Homura, completing the traditional greetings they had fallen into the habit of repeating. Each of them acknowledged her then, with a few variations between Mother and Maker, the latter moniker being a mistake she let linger for a reason she could not comprehend, as they addressed her. Homura noted the Umati spirit had found a way to shift its form into one akin to her elementary designs for humanity, yet it did not bother to speak yet.

“Much has happened since I was last among all of you. Tell me of your progress as I cleanse you of your foolishness.” Homura said, as she strode past them into the interior of the keep where she was received by the soothing warmth of the Eternal Fire. Her creations, and their creations, followed her inside as she led them towards the area that had been dedicated to their comfort and relaxation. The collection of cushions and large owl plushies that served as both beds and seats. On a nearby table rests the broken fragments of an egg, a sheathed knife, a wooden staff with intricate carvings, and a smoky orb that reacted to the presence of the Homura.

With hesitation, Courage was the first to approach her and undergo the purification ritual, masking her dread with an aura of casual chagrin. Homura was aware that the brave volunteer had not enjoyed her previous cleansing, and yet she was foolish enough to consume the other once again. “Heh, I’ve already done this before, so I suppose I’ll be the one you begin with, ya.” The most brash among her champions commented as she removed her garb and stood naked before the goddess. Homura tapped into the Gnosis, and reset the ambient music that filled the hall to something more appropriate for the ritual.

“Perhaps I should let the poison deprive you of all strength, as you seem so intent on simply tossing aside concern for that which is sacred.” Homura sternly chastised, as she placed her hand upon Courage’s belly, and began the spell to separate the consumed other from the body in order to grant Courage full control of her body once more. Pollution prevented the inner flames from spreading throughout the limbs, and hindered all passage within the core - removing the pollution therefore will result in greater strength and agility as the champion could better direct the inner flames where they were needed.

“Ah!” Courage gasped in growing agony, as her innards were sundered apart and neatly arranged in a spinning cycle letting Homura easily ascertain when she had completely cleansed her creation. The Goddess of Honor had never intended for humanity to engage in eating each other, so there was no specific way for waste to exit Courage and her sisters, unlike the creations of her kin which were designed to devour and excrete just to survive even if there was no painless path with such a sorry state of existence.

“We went north…” Courage II began, speaking on behalf of her older iteration considering the circumstances. Homura did not interrupt as the Reflection continued the tale, but was left pondering whether the creations of her creations were truly human, or if they were abominations…

“We spoke with Chailiss and our brothers in the north…” Curiosity added, sharing her perspective of their encounter with the Childan and being assigned the task of finding the lost daughter of Chailiss, however Courage interjected halfway as she recovered from the ordeal of the purification ritual and Kindness was cleansed next. “The food was part of the gifts given to us by our brothers, and you said it’s rude to refuse gifts, ya.” The words were followed by both her Reflection and herself being buried beneath a dense layer of scarlet stone as Pride motioned with her scepter, swiftly sealing away her reckless sister before she said something that provoked the ire of the red goddess.

“We were soaring westward…”

Kindness II continued their story, describing what happened when they found Zima and the slaughtered community of Voirans, before she was reminded by Wanderer and her Reflection that there were demons they had fought prior to finding their quarry. With her hands and the occasional charade, Wanderer and Wanderer II regaled the skirmish with these macabre monsters that had nearly slain Courage and Curiosity, and how the Holy Quintet had become responsible for Rowan after his mother had died.

The two mute champions pointed at Curiosity who tenderly held the infant in her arms, and went to carry him while their sister prepared herself. They were gentle as they gathered the serene power of the Eternal Flame and swaddled the baby in it, suppressing the sounds of Kindness when she screamed throughout the ritual. Curiosity II attempted to resume explaining the events that led to Chailiss bringing them to Keltra with the frozen Zima, but found herself having difficulty with words and unable to speak while her suffering sister struggled feebly against Homura’s firm grasp and divine sorcery.

“They came here then…”

Pride took the lead, and told Homura the rest of what transpired in her absence; the betrayal of Fear which resulted in Zima’s escape and the untimely invasion of the wraiths, then the arrival of Charis and the formation of the Order of the Phoenix which led to purging the blight from Kel-Phelena once and for all. During her account, Kindness had swapped with Curiosity, and the ritual proceeded with the last among the Holy Quintet that required cleansing. When the Keeper of Keltra concluded the history of all that had happened in the fortress in the last few days, Homura did not speak for a time - focusing solely upon finishing her task.

When the ritual was complete, and Courage, Kindness, and Curiosity were both freed from pollution and dressed in their red attire once more, Homura announced her proposition for what would come next. “Heed me, children… Know that we will never become trapped by our past or the future! We are the most devout servants to the ideals of love and family, and we shall lead with our loyalty to love! We are His warriors, and we do not accept defeat… We arise from the ashes of our sacrifice! Long live our loyal love! Long live the Galbar!” Her divine voice echoed throughout the fortress of freedom, and banished the despair that had festered for so long. This was her domain, and the Goddess of Honor was adamant that none shall contaminate what she created with cowardice or corruption.

As conviction blossomed in her champions, Homura glanced at her hands hidden beneath ribbons. Thoughts turned at an extreme velocity in her mind as she deeply contemplated what was obscured even to her further along the Sacred Path. She recalled that it was always darkest before the coming of dawn, but such a concept acting as an allegory did not truly offer her any comfort when considering the dangers posed by straying too far and becoming lost in the end. She was thinking by herself, secluded through the manipulation of time around her, yet she reached out to the one that had said nothing all this time.

“Umati, I would hear you speak…”

The undead spirit tilted its head as it looked at her, freed from her touch that suspended the other inhabitants of the keep. It was strange, wondering whether this creature would betray after she had given it so much power, especially after she had carried its inverse flames within her all this time. She wondered whether the being that named itself Charis the Red Wing Healing the Faithful would ever forgive the foolish goddess that had let two hundred thousand innocent children die - now only another abomination added to this twisted tapestry.

“This world seems so cruel… I cannot heal you, Mother.” Charis answered, a myriad of voices ranging from calm to enraged, screeches and whispers, the meek and the brave, all coming melding into one chthonic melody that conveyed the bittersweet love and loss of life that once was beautiful. Charis nonchalantly poked Wanderer while walking around the hall that seemed trapped in eternity, everything else endlessly without motion until Homura suddenly loosened her hold over time and garnered the attention of all those present once again.

“Mother?” Pride asked, after Homura had fumbled and found she was momentarily speechless. The goddess had lost herself in a weird thought looking upon her creations; strangely bemused by the joy she felt when she saw their liveliness… their fiery expressions and their yearning for something none of them could even comprehend, yet inspired them. What compelled this existence, what was the mystery of motivation? She only knew that creations sought to create a better world, and fought with everything they possessed because they heeded her words, and the feelings in their hearts.

“Hmm… Someday I wish I would understood my own creations…” Homura said at last.



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The Palace of Rime





She awoke from a dreamless void. Eyes blinking, mind shrouded in a fog. Dark was her vision and her head spun with a frightful fit. Her hands reached for her head but stopped when they felt something silky soft. Her eyes wandered, even as her head spun, down herself. It seemed she was covered by some warm material, like a gentle embrace. With careful resolve she bested that embrace and scooched herself up upon her strange bed. It was a bed, she knew that, of course. Her head was lessening in its spin, still, she rubbed the bridge of her nose and groaned. What was going on? Where was she?

The dim light proved helpful but obscured any finer details. So she stared at the source; a tall, narrow slit on the far side of the room. She wasn't outside or in a tree, of course. Squirming her way to the side of the bed, she whipped off her warmth and felt the crisp air touch her skin. A gasp escaped her mouth as her feet touched the cool floor. Suddenly the cozy comfort of the bed didn’t seem too bad but she was of an inquisitive sort. Her feet were wobbly as she stood and she leaned upon the bed for several moments as she gathered herself. Then she put one step forward and then another and another until she was upon the narrow slit in earnest. With careful fingers did she reach out to feel the dark silk, like the warmth that had shrouded her on the bed. It moved as she touched it, back and forth, spraying light forth as she moved the fabric back. A smile caught her lips as she became captivated by such a game she had conjured.

Yet she longed to see what lay beyond and thus in one mighty pull, did she open the fabric further, enough to see the other side and it took her breath away. Through a large transparent window of ice, tinged with frost at the edges but clear as she saw the world proper, hung a giant moon in the night sky. She had never seen it so close and in all of its majesty, how it lit the world in a lunar glow! She swore she could reach out and touch it and even still it seemed to call to her…

Feelings blossomed inside her, ones she had felt before. The moon wanted her to dance, say hello to all the stars, play games of chase and laugh. Oh how she wanted that… How she sought to fly, her only want. She touched the ice and a memory gave her pause. She had flown but… She gripped her head as her memories jolted to life. She recoiled and fell to the floor with a soft thud. She remembered now, the feelings in her chest. The excitement and joy of Rosa and Chaliss. How she became…

"Aurora?" Came a voice that startled her to awareness. She had never heard such a voice, like a wind had called out her name. She looked around and saw nothing. Now that the light poured in she could see the room proper. It was large with a high ceiling and columns of crystalline ice that held up another level. She had missed the stairs that would have taken her up. Her bed was nestled at the far end with numerous furs and those silky fabrics piled all around with those soft lumps she laid her head on. Everything was tinged with a light blue, as it looked to her and upon further inspection she could see that indeed, the room was made of the same substance as the columns. It was opaque and dark but it definitely wasn't made of wood. Was this Chailiss' doing?

"Aurora." The voice came again and she followed where it came from, looking directly above her. There, suspended from crystal circles, hung a wispy shape. Like a small, misty cloud. She stared wide eyed, trying to figure out what she was seeing but the cloud descended and coalesced in front of her, becoming a shape that was vaguely childan in appearance but without any defining details. "Hello!" It cheerfully greeted with a voice that echoed.

She screamed and her vision went dark.




When she awoke next in the bed, underneath cozy warmth. More moonlight streamed through the now uncovered windows and she could see the full majesty of the room. But wait! Where on earth had that cloudy thing gone? She craned her neck and looked up at the ceiling to find it empty. She looked around and didn't see it at all. Why had it called her Aurora? Had it been a dream? Probably not since she could fully remember getting up and opening the fabrics at the window. Not to that extent though. She did catch sight of another light, warmer with a soft glow. It came through a door she had not seen before. Maybe it had been closed?

Never one to be down for too long, Trusa tentatively crept forth from her spot, grabbing a folded fur to wrap around herself. She wasn't cold by any means but more layers made her feel… Safe? Yes!

Next she made her way to the open door and peeked her head out. She peered down one way and then the other. Lit by moonlight and the soft glow of small orange lights that sat on icy sticks. How were they not melting? Was it fire? As much as she wanted to observe and unfold its secrets, she had other things to do, like finding out where anyone was! So Trusa took a step into those dimly lit halls, adorned and sculpted in the same material as the room she came from. The detail was precise and etched with patterns, lines and shapes that flowed and seemed to tell a story. She couldn’t decipher it of course, but she followed the path right down another long hallway. There were rooms upon empty rooms, flooded with moonlight even when it didn’t make sense of the moonlight to be there. Eventually she came to a winding set up steps that led both up and down, adorned by a railing of frost.

She quickly found herself being very indecisive. Curling her nose and frowning, Trusa leaned back and forth as she decided which way to go. Going up would mean being higher right? Going down would mean going lower. So… Lower she would go! With a quick step, and she almost slipped, Trusa made her way down the long winding stairs until she arrived at a door made of ice. It was shut, so she pushed on it and with a little force, it began to open. She slipped through and it shut behind her.

Now she found herself at the start of a short hallway. At the end she could see more railings and hanging crystals. Plus… Voices!

Proudly she walked forth, confident as could be. There were finally people and that meant she would have some answers! But as she came to the end of that hallway, she realized two things. She was still high above them, on a balcony overlooking a very spacious room. She hid behind a column for the other thing was; the people talking were having a very heated discussion. She peered out from her hiding spot and saw the strangest sight yet. A large throne of ice, molded and shaped in the same material as everything else, sat upon the far end. It was raised up on a platform, guarded by two statues of… Well she didn’t exactly know what. They looked like childan, but they wore strange shapes, with covered heads the like of which spurted horns on either side and they held large… sticks? With curved bits sat on the floor. They were made of ice as well, but more transparent. Sitting on that throne itself was a large figure shrouded in a black cloak, face obscured by their hood. Before them, upon the ground, there stood a pale figure.

A very small girl.

She couldn’t hear what they were saying but the way the girl moved could only indicate that she wasn’t happy. Or, at least Trusa thought so. The figure on the throne was unmoving. Ever the gossip, Trusa inched forth from her hiding spot and back towards the wall. Once there, she began a slow walk to get closer, careful not to be spotted. Soon enough, she could hear the conversation unfolding.

“...doesn’t make any sense! You proclaim that you will help me but you still refuse to give me her location!” the girl snapped. Hey, that voice sounded familiar…

”It will not help you.” The voice of Chailiss spoke, Trusa knew that, but… It sounded off. Muted? Or, emotionless?

“Why? Why! I don’t care! I want vengeance! Even if it means my death!” The girl practically screamed.

Chailiss didn’t even move. ”You would die and you would accomplish little for your people’s memory. She is far too strong to be stopped by a child. Greater champions already have tried and even they failed. She is contained and awaits trial. There is nothing you can do.” Trusa found herself wincing at his tone. It was so uncaring, unlike how he had spoken to her before.

“You… You don’t get to decide that!” the girl shouted, “I will have vengeance for my people, by whatever means! You and your trial be damned!” She went to spit on the floor but before it ever hit the ground it froze and not just the liquid. It halted in the air and for once in that place, Trusa could see her breath. It became cold and fast. The girl looked as if she had seen a ghost in that fiery expression. It was only then did Trusa realize who she was. Mair!

”Do not defile the sanctity of this place in your attempt to belittle me, little champion.” That time, his voice did change. It was cold, so cold.

In the blink of an eye, those statues guarding the throne came to life and fell upon the floor with loud thuds. They left their sticks behind and advanced on poor Mair with uncanny movement. Far too fast for statues made of just ice. Mair took a defensive position by holding up her arms but they were so much larger than her. Trusa’s heart began to beat and she began to feel lightheaded. Was she about to watch Mair… As a statue reached out towards her, Trusa couldn’t bear to watch it unfold any longer.

“Stop!” she shouted, jumping up from her hiding spot to hang upon the balcony out in the open. ‘Stop this now!”

The hooded Chailiss turned his head towards her and raised a hand. Immediately the statues stilled, and came to a rest far too close for comfort from Mair. The small Voiran girl looked up at her too.

”Aur-” Chailiss began, but Trusa cut him off.

“No! You don’t get to speak right now! Whatever you were about to do to Mair is unthinkable! And and shameful! I have so many questions!” She crossed her arms and huffed. “To think I’ve been gone a day and you’ve lost your head! What even is this place? Where are we? Where is Rosa? What happened, we were in the forest and now,” she gestured vaguely to everything, “Now this!”

There was silence in that vast hall. Her heart pounded and she breathed heavily but what was said, was said. Chailiss let his hand fall and the statues returned to the throne. Trusa took a ragged breath as a wave of fatigue overcame her. She caught the gaze of Mair, steely eyed, grateful, then the pale girl looked away quickly and left the hall.

"A single day it has been not. You've been asleep for many moons, Aurora." Chailiss spoke, his voice less cold but back to how it had been; lifeless.

"How many moons… and why are you calling me Aurora? My name is Trusa." Thought she had to admit, Aurora clicked with her far more than Trusa ever did.

"Today would mark the ninety-first day of your slumber. You are the Aurora, child. Your name came to being when Rosalind's power manifested itself into you. The Aurora you became brought spring to the north." To her ears it was hard to tell how Chailiss even thought about what he was telling her. The lack of any indication was frustrating and she furrowed her brow in response.

"Rosalind sleeps in the highest tower of the Rime Palace. Which is the location we are at now. This will be your home for the foreseeable future, Aurora. Until we may cure the fever that rests within you and your mother. You require more rest, even now I can tell you are not well. Please, let us return to your room?" The God began to rise but Aurora, as her name was now, had other ideas.

"What do you mean the foreseeable future? I can't leave because of what I did? I don't even remember! I was walking and talking and next I know I'm waking up and seeing clouds! You can't keep me here! You promised I'd get to see the world!" Angry tears began to fall down her cheeks as she scrunched her nose in anger, hands balling to fists. She felt weak but she wouldn't fall.

Chailiss' tattered robes barely touched the ground as he stood fully towards her. "I have promised many things to many people but no more. This is not open for discussion Aurora. You are sick and need to be cured. We don't know what you are capable of and it seems it is not something you can even control. I can keep you here and I will." There was a bitter note to his voice as he floated towards her. Aurora huffed, his words were stupid! Maybe Mair did have the right idea.

So, Aurora ran.

At the other end of the balcony, there was another recessed hallway. That was her goal.

"There is nowhere to go, Aurora." Chailiss called after her. "You will see that."

But Aurora wasn't really paying attention and Chailiss didn't seem all that interested in catching her or maybe she was just too fast! Regardless, she made it to the hallway and down it she could see another set of doors. She bounded to them and pushed them open as the God's cold chill ran up her spine. He was in the hallway! With a push and a groan, Aurora made it through the door but her fur got caught as it closed behind her so she ran in her silky gown down a flight of stairs and into a room full of many chairs and tables made of ice. They were far more refined than the ones the Flamekeepers kept.

Ugh, so easily distracted! She had to keep moving and into another door she went, this time coming face to face with more clouds. She froze and they froze as both parties looked at each other. They were… Sculpting?

Then a voice broke the awkward silence. "Hello Aurora!" Said a cloud with the same voice from earlier and she really couldn't tell which one it was. So, this time, she didn't scream or pass out, she just ran. Ran right past them and into another flight of stairs that led down. She opened the last door at the end of that hallway and was met with chill air. Moonlight made her blink but now she could see where she was. It was a room that was half open and half enclosed, columns down the middle. The open side was a balcony that was kept contained with a low wall. The moon hung overhead, beckoning.

Aurora grabbed a column and peered out into the open air. There were so many stars and the moon, ever so perfect, despite all its scars… But what truly took her breath away, as she walked to the railing, was the landscape itself. The Rime Palace, as Chailiss called it, was set before her and beyond that lay an endless expanse of polar white. As far as the eye could see, it was all touched by the moon's gentle light. Shivers went down her spine and goosebumps lined her arms. The way the light refracted off the crystalline-ice rooftops, and how it seemed to shimmer and dance.

It was awe inspiring.

It unlocked something inside her that had been hidden away. She recalled what happened in pieces, forlorn and bursting with joy. She had become something so vast it had covered the very sky itself. She had been so close to the moon, it was no wonder it wanted her back. She was color manifest, spring born anew, a dancer amidst the stars. She could see it so vividly now, splayed out before her eyes as if she was there. As if she had always been. She had laughed and seen all beneath her. Then it had faded to darkness, she lost the touch of the sky and the favor of the celestial bodies up above. She was Trusa, now Aurora born anew. Temptation held at her lips, for she knew, deep down, that fever could turn against her entirely. She could lose herself and never be seen again as she was now.

Would that be so bad?

"Aurora." Chailiss' voice broke her concentration and she spun around to see the god before her. "There is no leaving this place without my blessing. You would succumb to the elements and be lost forevermore. Please, you must understand."

She chose her next words carefully, the time for outbursts was over. For now. "Why keep us here against our will? What will that accomplish besides resentment and fear?"

He looked past her and floated to the railing. "You may come to resent me. I have made peace with that end but I hope it will not be so. I told Rosa I would help her and I would help you, if you allow it. You must realize, Aurora, this is about protecting the world from true ruin." he turned to her and pulled back his hood. She gasped at what remained underneath. A blue skull, blackened in places, exuding an aura of baleful chill. "You were not the only one to have a fever that day. Once you started, Rosalind soon followed. She destroyed the west of the North. Nothing but torn islands and ocean remain. The loss of life was unimaginable. I tried to stop her but you can see how that turned out." he pulled the hood back up.

"Chailiss… I…" She sputtered.

"There is no need to say anything. What happened, happened and now I must ensure it never happens again. For the good of all kinds. Now you see why I forbid you from leaving. Your fever may be benign in appearance but there is no way of knowing. It could become destructive just like your mother's and there has been so much death…" for once, the God did sound sad but Aurora couldn't tell if it was genuine.

"I don't like this. I wanted to see the world and meet new people." Aurora turned and gripped the wall. The cold pricked her fingers. "But… I am willing to stay, at least for now, if you help me understand my fever. So we can know just how dangerous it really is. Does that sound fair?"

"It does. We shall unlock its secrets and find a cure. For you and for your mother." Chailiss agreed.

“Good. Now please tell me, what are those clouds? Where is Mair? And can I see Rosa?”







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Si Vis Pacem…

The Sacred Sextet & The Order of the Phoenix



Homura stood before her champions, and shed the veil of death she wore, revealing her red eyes alight with cosmic fire. There was an intensity in her eyes that conveyed a newfound purpose, as she turned her burning gaze towards the slumbering vessels arranged near the Eternal Flame. It was Pride that spoke first, demurely approaching her mother and coming to a halt only a mere step away from the goddess.

“Isn't it you who grants wishes, Mother?” She murmured softly.

“If only it were so simple, Pride. The more I give, the more the world wants. I continually ask myself, how am I supposed to provide for all of you? What will paradise look like, but of greater importance… What will paradise cost?” Homura began, musing aloud as she slowly strode towards one of the sleeping humans as the Keeper of Keltra followed her. The two of them reached their destination, and the childlike champion watched as her mother held out her hand over the pale vessel, recognizing the act that would awaken another of the dreamers.

“What’s the price you pay? You’re immortal, a goddess, you’ve such power and yet you struggle… and yet you give us your power. I must ask, Is this real? You’d be willing to sacrifice yourself?” Pride persisted, reaching up and grasping the outstretched arm of Homura. “You said you don’t understand us! Why are you doing this?”

“Be not afraid, I offer you a choice. Walk beside me on the Sacred Path, or pursue your own fate by following your own wishes.” Homura replied, before divine essence poured forth from her hand and fell upon the lone chosen vessel which would come alive with her power. “Awaken! My name is Homura and I have created you! Your aspect shall be Desire! You have been blessed by my presence, and have been given the opportunity to fulfill a purpose. Come and aid me now.” The single statue was consumed in a flash of light which then dimmed until it dispersed and revealed another living effigy of the Goddess of Honor - afterward, Homura hid herself once more behind her veil.

Both Homura and Pride stepped back, giving the newly awake champion some space to orient herself. The other champions approached, gathering in a group to watch what comes next with a myriad of expressions; eagerness and nervous excitement as a few grinned because another sister had been added to the family. Even the otherworldly music that filled the vast hall became quiet with anticipation, awaiting the first words of Keltra’s newest inhabitant.

Blinking and looking around, the newly-dubbed Desire took in her surroundings. Rubbing the non-existence from her eyes, she shook her fiery red hair, reveling in creation. “I… hello. I will serve humanity, Mother, as I was created to do.” She inclined her head, showing proper respect for the godly gift she had been given. “I can feel it. The burning aspiration for greatness. I will show humanity the path into the future. Everything can be so much… more.” There was a bright wonder in her voice, a childlike delight befitting her form and the recency of her birth. Like many of the other champions, she shared in her creator’s image.

“Allow me to temporarily guide you then. My kin wreak havoc upon the Galbar, and I will not abandon humanity now. If you wish to survive, you must discover ways to defend yourselves.” Homura stated, circling her gathering of champions as she spoke. Courage and her Reflection came close to Desire, and each placed a hand on their new sister’s shoulder, while the rest of the Holy Quintet glanced back and forth between the trio and the goddess. It seemed as though Homura only accentuated the interaction, as opposed to speaking directly to any of them while Courage and Courage II introduced themselves.

“It’s nice to meet you, ya. That’s Kindness and Kindness the Second. Over there is Curiosity holding Rowan beside Curiosity the Second. Those two are Wanderer and Wanderer the Second, and this pipsqueak is Pride.” The most brash among the champions said before she chuckled in embarrassment, ruffling the Keeper of Keltra’s head of hair. “Oh, and I’m Courage and this is Courage the Second.”

The last of the greetings was interrupted by an immense burst of light followed by the thunderous beating of wings, as above them flew the phoenix in her true form. The massive six-winged spirit reached the ceiling and began circling, defying gravity with the aid of sorcery for there was no other way to describe her flight. It was Pride who spoke then, pointing upwards with an annoyed face. “That’s Charis, my chosen champion.” She said with a sigh.

Desire stared upwards with a look of wonder. “Your champion?” she asked. Looking around at her sisters with an enthusiastic grin, she continued. “Does that mean I have even more sisters I haven’t met yet? I can’t wait to get started and help humanity. I can’t wait to meet everybody! Wait, why are you annoyed, Pride? Charis looks super cool!”

“I wouldn’t indulge her ego too much, and I’m not annoyed.” Pride answered with a slight scowl, before resetting her features as she explained further. “We’re missing one of our kin, but you’ll meet her soon if all goes well, so there’s eleven of us in total now. Hmm, we should begin the rituals that will let you join in our bond with each other and Charis.”

Chastised, she nodded. “Okay, let’s get started, then.” She bounced with excitement, clearly happy just to be included. Glancing to Courage and her Reflection, she waited eagerly to follow them in the ritualistic dance that would strengthen their sisterly bond. It was subtle in the way they all shared glances or moved in honed unison, but the mentioned connection between the members of the Holy Quintet suggested something beyond words. Their movements were accompanied by a shift in the music all around, as Homura continued her ambient narration of what was necessary to save themselves and the people of the world.

Once again, the Holy Quintet tapped into the otherworldly power of the Gnosis, repeating their previous performance of when the Reflections and Pride had joined in their bond. It began as a simple dance, all nine of them with their hands clasped as they formed a connected ring around Desire, and when the music stirred forth enchanting emotions they all became spirits spinning round and round the nascent champion. Their shapes became blurred, as they became faster until it was difficult to discern which one was where in the circle and it seemed as though there were many more than the mere nine of them dancing.

Then the spirits spewed forth prismatic flames which engulfed Desire as Homura chanted over the ceremony: “Alone, we have no future. We must come together and find strength in each other lest we lose our way. Hold onto one another, if you wish to stay afloat. Object if you wish to drown. That is Life and death.” Desire held no physical shape as she swam in a sea of thoughts and memories, and she heard the voices of her sisters speaking all at once. Speaking directly into her mind every word they had ever uttered, every piece of their imagination that painted their reality - it was overwhelming, yet ever enticing for it came with the promise of understanding all of the universe.

They passed through and overlapped each other, like threads being entwined when weaving, and they achieved the awareness of their entirety as many minds came together to process every aspect of their being, like looking through many mirrors at once, while seeing through the eyes of all the reflections staring back. Every angle. Every perspective. When the boundaries between the selves merged, a roaring flame interrupted the ritual as the Eternal Fire suddenly blazed brighter than the sun itself, and enforced a division between all of those involved in the ritual lest they completely fuse into one. There was a disorientating change in the music, but it brought back spatial awareness to all of the champions as they stood still in the positions they had before.

From above, large white and red feathers descended, alighting among the champions. The ethereal pinions seeped into their bodies, and Desire felt another connection formed with the six-winged spirit that flew overhead. Her mind was granted access to the vast power of the phoenix, an overwhelming amount of spiritual energy that would sear necrotic forces and heal the body of even the most lethal of wounds. However, much like the rest of her sisters, the healing power of the phoenix had no effect upon her. Aside from the access to this gift, Desire felt her eyes change, as her sight became more keen, every detail enhanced and clear, even from afar.

Their thoughts were open, and though they remained verbally silent, every sister spoke through the connection they shared. Courage and her Reflection’s enthusiasm, Kindness and her Reflection’s uncertainty, Curiosity and her Reflection’s gentleness, Wanderer and her Reflection’s joy, and Pride’s aloofness - her mind more hidden than the rest. Lastly, there was a far away sensation of another, but where those around Desire seemed to radiate warm light, the distant feeling was dark and painful. Through knowledge passed on through their bond, all of the champions were aware that the shadow in their mind was Fear.

Lingering in the feeling of unity for a long moment, every one of the champions felt their new sister’s passion. A flood of excitement and ambition washed over them, Desire putting the newly created connection to use. She frowned as Fear’s plight became known to her. She had no need to ask of the shadow in their minds’ horizon, and a moment’s hesitation was all it took for her to resolve to find a way to assist the wayward champion.
The brand new champion had more immediate concerns, however. Heartbreaking as it was, the concerns of the many outweighed the concerns of the few. She had a duty to humanity as a whole, not just to her siblings. To the northwest, in Nalusa, a war raged.

“I’m going northwest,” Desire declared. “That’s important and we need someone there. Does anyone want to come with me?” There was a short streak of red as Courage swiftly punched the palm of her golden gauntlet, igniting the air with her motion. She grinned fiercely, letting her fervor and sympathy spread throughout their bond. Her Reflection perfectly conveyed the same feeling, despite only nodding in agreement when Desire spoke. Pride then aimed their collective attention to Homura, as the red goddess suddenly exuded a great aura.

“Our Exalted March does not yet begin, but these buffoons need our assistance, and I will claim the aspect of War. Before you depart, I shall teach you the Incantation of Warding, and a myriad of tranquilizing techniques. We will end this farce of a conflict.” She ordained, raising Daybringer above her head, the golden spear pulsing with celestial light. There was both cheers and dismay in the bond between sisters, as Courage became elated, but Kindness sought to avoid this encounter, more dedicated to helping Fear than others she cared not for.

“Courage, Wanderer, you and your Reflections will accompany Desire, then. Soar towards the battle upon Skydancer, and show them the error of their way. Charis, your presence will be necessary if they are to be successful, so I ask that you go with them. The rest of you will remain here for the time being.” Homura finished, letting the champions ascertain how to proceed on their own, and waiting whether any would refuse her bidding.

“So some training, and then we’re ready to go, ya?” Courage inquired, glancing between Desire, Wanderer, and the Reflections coming with them. A silent nod was the only affirmation the two mute champions gave, while Courage turned her confident gaze to the newest among them. Desire’s reply came in the form of a nod as she grinned fiercely, fiery demeanor matching her complexion.

“Upon birth, you were granted an abundance of sacred power. Sorcery is innate for you, Desire, so despite this being your first lesson with the Gnosis, I know that you are capable of learning this spell.” Homura said, and Charis changed as the goddess spoke, shedding a shroud of pale light and reducing until she became similarly shaped as everyone else. The spirit sheathed in her transformation spell was still visibly different for those around her, standing much taller and possessing horns atop her head. Her skin was the color of blood and her hair was white like snow, as though her colors were improperly arranged when she transformed.

The shifting symbols of the Gnosis manifested upon their bodies as Homura prepared to impart her divine knowledge upon them. Many of the swirling glyphs were incomprehensible, merely strange runes that appeared whenever the champions cast their spells, but suddenly there was the sound of glass shattering and a few of the cryptic symbols became coherent. As they became closer to the divine, walking farther along the Sacred Path, the incantations of sorcery became clear to them: Seeing, Sending, Making, and now Warding.

“You have gleaned how to protect yourselves in the Otherworld now. There are three shaped wards, and you have been taught the ward against harm. No mortal blade or monstrous claw shall hurt you, so long as you concentrate on this spell.” The goddess explained, before she lunged forward and grasped the throat of Courage. “That said, you can be overwhelmed. Tens of thousands will oppose you, and though you are impervious to their weapons, they can drown you, or boil you. You have to know how to fight back!” As she spoke, time was distorted, every champion could only move a fraction as Homura languidly elucidated for her students before the world’s pace resumed and Courage was thrown at an incredible velocity towards her Reflection, whirring through the air until she slammed into the target and both were toppled and sprawled on the floor.

They were defeated by the Goddess of Honor before, but much had changed: Their numbers had swelled, and so had their strength since the last they fought Homura - the rallying cry was repeatedly shouted in their bond as both Courage and Courage II hastily climbed back up to their feet and pointed at their Maker: Attack! Attack! Attack!

Desire, despite being the newest and theoretically least experienced champion, knew from bitter experience that she and her sisters could not best her Maker in a physical confrontation. Regardless, she threw herself into the fray anyway. Joined by both Courage and her Reflection, the three of them attempted to pin Homura so that Wanderer could land a blow, ineffective as it might be.

As Wanderer gathered radiant energy that coalesced into a single arrow for her Bow of Light, her Reflection alongside Kindness and Kindness II focused on acting as a middle bastion, while Curiosity handed little Rowan to her reflection before dedicating herself to protecting Pride - the one wielding the biggest advantage they had in the fight against the goddess.

First and foremost, before they began a battle of terrifying proportions, Curiosity II and Rowan were safely secured beneath a thick shield of scarlet stone that covered both them and all of the sleeping humans. The stone continued to shift and ripple as it came alive and flooded the floor, until it created a second level for the interior of the keep. Now all the participants were safely separated from those that were not involved in the fight.

In the blink of an eye that followed afterward, a great many things happened: Wanderer conjured her arrow and aimed at her target. Curiosity created a bright barrier with large icy stalagmites rising around her and Pride as she activated the Shield of Faith. The remaining six members of the Sacred Sextet surged towards Homura to limit her mobility. The goddess herself was assailed by the floor transforming into pillars that were tilted diagonally and rising towards her, but while she struggled against the fortress trying to pin her, she had yet to ever use her primary weapon against her champions, and so they were unaware of what it was truly capable of.

That lack of knowledge proved a terrible handicap, as the golden spear Homura wielded became thousands of feet long, and she swung the immense shaft across the interior of the keep. The air was set ablaze, and fiery explosions followed the path of the artifact as nothing on the battlefield was safe. Where Pride called forth more pillars to protect her sisters and herself, the spear bent and divided itself into sections connected by chains to unfalteringly strike at all its targets. The first exchange was over in an instant, as scorch marks stained the floor and walls, and all nine of the champions facing Homura had been smashed into the eastern wall.

Miraculously, despite being slammed against a nigh unbreakable surface by a weapon weighing as much as a mountain - they were relatively unharmed. Unfortunately there was very little air in the burning keep, and Pride had sealed the Eternal Fire away on the first floor. Even with their keen sight, none of them could perceive the moment Homura crossed the vast distance from where she stood to where they were strewn about. Pride did not stir; having lost consciousness upon being struck, and Kindness, Wanderer, and both their Reflections barely possessed the strength to stand after sustaining the great blow from Daybringer. Courage looked to Curiosity and their Reflections, realizing they had already lost and that victory was now beyond their reach.

“You are still intact, which means you have successfully learned the Incantation of Warding. I confess, if I was slower… you may have defeated me. However, you must focus on defeating those that seek their own destruction. A very different manner of foe.” Homura retrieved the Scepter of Keltra from Pride, and used its power to reshape the fortress again, lowering all of them until the second floor merged with the first floor, and they were surrounded by the thousands of sleeping humans once more. Curiosity II and Charis stood nearby, but said nothing, as all of the champions became empowered by the presence of the Eternal Flame.

“We were so close!” Courage grumbled, as she helped her sisters back to their feet, the two Wanderers having a quick argument over who should carry Pride to her bed by the bonfire. Kindness simply proceeded to lift the little champion and carry her instead, much to her sister’s ire. “Not as good as last time, though.” Desire remarked, referring to a time before her creation. “What if we did a sneak attack?”

“We could win… She was much more reactive, and utilized Daybringer. That suggests she was pressed at least, but our understanding of sorcery is limited. I imagine she is refraining from sharing all of her secrets.” Kindness mentioned through their bond as she placed Pride upon her Viho shaped bed. “But why would she keep secrets from us?” questioned Desire.

“We all would like to know the answer to that, ya.” Courage and Courage II answered, and there was slight laughter across their minds. Curiosity and her Reflection were more invested in attaining the truth, and repeated the question, but this was something they had all ruminated on before and Homura’s actions and intentions remained rather enigmatic. A thought, like a lonely island in a sea of other ideas and memories, was summoned forth by Wanderer as she recalled the conversation between Homura and Pride right before Desire’s birth.

“She could slay us right now, effortlessly, and yet she shows us how to become stronger. She creates the ones that are capable of defeating her, which is either unmatched idiocy, utterly illogical… or she is deceiving us.” Kindness stated with her impassive tone somehow manifesting even in their mental dialogue where they spoke primarily through feelings and soundless speech. “It is as Pride suspects, the Divine are the greatest threat to our existence.”

“Then why give Desire such a role? Just a joke? I don’t get why she keeps secrets, but we should keep on trusting her. None of us are perfect either, ya.” Courage countered, and in the few brief seconds that entire internal conversation occurred, Homura had prepared their next lesson. The goddess held the Scepter of Keltra, and so she held power over the shape of the fortress - the scarlet stone answering to her.

One hundred thousand statues, armed with stone spears and carrying stone shields, surrounded the champions resting by the bonfire. An army that was prepared to attack them, called forth from the earth by the will of Homura in order to further test her champions. “The enemy will not show you mercy! You must find a way to navigate the wave of weapons coming your way, or be slain. Find the safe path!” Homura shouted as she leapt away and the great horde of sculpted soldiers marched forward.

“I’ll get Skydancer!” Courage II called out, as Curiosity conjured another shield of light and ice to meet the encroaching forces. The statues came in a variety of sizes, some of them were the same height as the champions themselves, while others stood four or five times that, forming a tightly knit wall that offered no passage. “This is madness…” Kindness and her Reflection bemoaned, while the others sought a solution.

“We can’t damage them, we can’t go through, and we can’t go under… so we go over!” Desire called out, leaping atop the head of a statue. She was joined by Wanderer and Wanderer II as the others remained divided between watching Courage and the trio both attempt to overcome their impossible situation. Courage found herself struck multiple times, nearly being trapped again and again, but barely avoided the last attack that would restrain her.

Desire, Wanderer, and Wanderer II jumped upon their foes, dodging dozens of strikes all at once as the statues' weapons all harmlessly passed through each other, letting every single spear nearby surge towards them. The champions realized the futility of their actions, considering that Homura could just completely overwhelm them with a sea of stone crashing upon them, but what other options did they have? After a quick telepathic utterance, they discovered that though Courage had found Skydancer, the flying boat was anchored to the floor and could not be freed.

Through their bond, they were aware that Curiosity’s shield had been bypassed as the floor beneath her feet stole Pride, Rowan, and Charis from them - and the stone statues pressed their attack. It was not long before the shield shattered, and Kindness, Curiosity, and their Reflections leapt up and joined their sisters being assailed from the horde everywhere they alighted. Over and over they were stabbed, but their skin could not be pierced, so the test transformed into simply seeing how long they could endure this torture as opposed to finding an actual solution.

Kindness was the first to stumble one too many times, and the horde took her down and trapped her in a stony prison. Her Reflection was the first to realize that staying near Curiosity made the test easier with the inquisitive champion’s ability to conjure shields of frozen light which temporarily halted the onslaught of attacks. “What now?” Curiosity asked with concern, after an indeterminate amount of time that felt like forever had passed, and it seemed Homura was not intent upon relenting.

“We have to get to the scepter and stop this!” Courage shouted before she left the safety of the shield and renewed her efforts of navigating the sea of spears while being stabbed multiple times. The brash champion had given up on avoiding any attack that would just whack her, and focused on reaching Homura regardless of what lay between her and the goddess, unfortunately being hindered so much made the almost impossible task completely hopeless.

Wanderer and her Reflection elicited a silent laughter, somehow finding mirth in their situation as the shield broke once more and they were forced to begin dodging dozens of thrusts and slashes. “You two are getting pretty good, you know.” Curiosity II commented before being poked in the nose and across the cheek by two spearheads, falling backwards where she dropped into the sea of scarlet stone and was never seen again. Her childish complaints were still heard through their bond, as the Reflection was simply stuck in the floor beneath the horde.

Courage II, who had stayed, watched as her older iteration was subdued and pulled under as well, barely letting out a sigh before she was also taken. Kindness II looked between the remaining members of the Sacred Sextet, and Homura who stood observing them, visible through a narrow window in the wall of statues. “She will not let us go near her, but we lose if we do not retrieve the scepter.” The Reflection observed when all of the champions had another brief period of peace behind Curiosity’s shield. “There has to be a way. There’s always a way. Right?” Desire interjected with a note of desperation.

Even though they were buried, the other champions could still communicate with those that were free, and Courage offered a suggestion. “Can’t we shoot an arrow at her?” Which caused Wanderer to shake her head and Curiosity II to rebuke with, “Wanderer needs time to ready though.” Courage II then added her own input. “You have time right now, ya?” Wanderer noded an affirmative, preparing her bow.

“I have an idea!” Desire interjected suddenly. “I felt through my aspect and… it might just work. All we have to do is get close and I can make her not want to defend herself as much. Maybe. I’m not sure if I’m that strong,” she admitted. “But she has to focus entirely on defense against us. She said as much. So if she’s even a little off her game, we have a chance!”

There were swift glances between themselves as they deliberated, but their options were limited. “Let’s do it!” Curiosity chimed, and Kindness provided them with mental maps of where Homura had positioned herself throughout the encounter, and who had come most near to her. Desire, Wanderer, and Courage were the ones that came the closest to reaching her, but just when the goddess seemed within reach, she would dash away.

“How close do we have to be?” Kindness II asked as the shield was about to fracture, and all of the still-free champions prepared themselves to enact the plan. “I’m not sure. I’ve never done this before. The closer the better, though. Definitely within line of sight.” Desire shot back. Then the protection they had shattered, and they were moving again. All of them had become adjusted to the constant flow of their bodies sliding along and slipping between spears and limbs, swinging on the shafts above them, or jumping off the shoulders beneath their feet - they were never still lest they be overwhelmed. Both Curiosity and Kindness II focused on distracting and herding Homura where they all wanted her, but found themselves caught before they could be helpful. Only three champions remained, but between them, they managed - with difficulty - to guide Homura into a corner as they moved towards her from different angles.

Closer and closer they came, the nearest any of them had come yet; the veiled goddess only a short distance from Wanderer’s outstretched hand before the mute champion was grabbed and pulled away. Desire and Wanderer II however found themselves in a unique dilemma, as Homura called forth a wall that completely obscured her. “Do whatever you’re going to do, Desire!” Courage cried out and all of her sisters joined her in encouraging Desire, as through the eyes of Wanderer, who was trapped in the wall that Homura conjured, all of the champions could see that there was nothing else between the two free champions and their goal.

Desire frantically maneuvered, but try as she might, she couldn’t get over or around the wall. The tide of living statues roiled and churned, blocking passage and disrupting all of her attempts. Eventually, however, a thought occurred. Reaching through her link to use Wanderer’s sight, her aspect brushed against the hardened form of Homura. Grabbing a corner of her creator’s mindspace, she pushed, knocking her will into a slightly different direction - at least for a moment. Doing so, however, distracted her from dodging the gargantuan statue behind her, which promptly knocked her into the sea of crimson stone.

Wanderer II saw an opportunity as Homura moved away from her cover, and the Reflection dashed after the fleeing deity… only to find herself swiftly pinned. Immediately the entire army of statues began sinking back into the floor, and soon after all of the trapped champions were released from their prisons. The stone carried them like a current towards the unobscured Eternal Flame where they were brought together as Homura returned the Scepter of Keltra to the small hands of Pride, who had awoken at the end.

“That was an eternity of torture, Mother… Why did you impose such insanity upon us and your other daughters?” Charis complained with her choral voice, thousands upon thousands of angered voices directed at Homura, but the veiled goddess remained still and silent.

“Did your plan work?” Courage asked through the bond, while aloud she asked another question. “So did we succeed, or were you just venting your frustrations on us?” Under usual circumstances, her sisters would be slightly surprised by the sarcastic tone her sister used when speaking with Homura, but after their ordeal; half of them felt similarly irked, while others just embraced the relief of the test being over.

“I am pleasantly surprised by your capabilities, as I did not think you would endure for as long as you did without understanding the nature of the test. You seem to have stumbled upon the answer, and then proceeded to ignore it in favor of a rather reckless plan to defeat me. Can any of you tell me why I tested you the way I did?” Homura inquired.

“I definitely did something,” Desire muttered in the mindspace. “I wanted to win, though. I thought we had it!” Face twisted into a frustrated scowl, she answered Homura’s question aloud. “To make us feel bad?”

“Did you forget why you’re testing us?” Curiosity innocently asked, and Kindness mentally informed her that their Maker most certainly did not forget the purpose of their test. Wanderer and her Reflection shook their heads, uncertain as well.

Homura thrust forward with Daybringer, aiming the point at Curiosity’s head, but before the weapon could reach its target, the inquisitive champion spun and pirouetted through the air, causing the attack to miss as she battered it away with her small shield. In a sudden burst of speed, Homura lashed out at all of her champions, and each of every one of them found themselves instinctually avoiding the attacks in an incredible display of agility.

“For the last twenty-three days; you have been honing your reflexes under constant assault. You have survived the crucible designed to destroy you, and mastered the technique of evasion. Even one-hundred thousand soldiers of the most professional army could not land a strike against you now.” Homura replied when she became still once again.

“You have ingrained terror in our hearts, it seems.” Kindness remarked, but Homura immediately countered with a firm response. “No, but not even your minds are capable of processing how swiftly you react to potential harm, so I did what I must to imprint upon your limited being the ability to tap into your true potential. Should you ascend to the status of divinity, you will understand. Hmm, there remains one more lesson before you leave…”

The frightening power of the gods remained beyond mortal comprehension, and Homura’s words resonated with both truth and authority. There was still a vast distance that separated their perspectives, their awareness and understanding of the cosmos, but all of the champions were becoming closer to attaining that knowledge. There was hesitation among them at the mention of another lesson, but one by one, they reached for their resolve and found the will to continue.

“What’s next?” Courage and Courage II asked simultaneously, both of them wearing their signature playful grins and exuding bravado. There was a moment of mirth shared between the sisters, as they let themselves become immersed in their own improvements and steadfast camaraderie. It was unspoken, but they allowed themselves to believe that someday even the impossible would be within reach if they were together.

“All living things possess an inner fire that grants them strength. Only the Divine can truly extinguish these flames, though that would be the greatest crime a god could commit. I can teach you how to intercept the fire, temporarily preventing its passage through a body. Through this technique, you can incapacitate any foe.” Homura said, as she gestured for Courage and her Reflection to come close. When the two champions came to a halt within reach of the goddess, she held out her hand and conjured forth a mote of silvery flame. Wielding Daybringer in her other hand, the golden spear becoming much smaller - now akin to a knife, she cut through the center of the flame, and separated it into two. Upon being divided, the upper half dispersed, while the lower half seemed to interact with some invisible barrier that prevented it from returning to its full height.

“You can sense the channels through which your own inner flames flow, but now you have to teach yourselves how to ascertain where these channels can be found in others. Find these channels and strike them with precision, and you will claim victory.” Homura finished, gently placing one hand on Courage’s shoulder, causing the champion to glance down at her arm and realize that the limb had become numb and immobile.

“Such will be simple with our connection to Charis, her aura always directing the inner flames when she heals.” Pride added, and the goddess gave a nod of affirmation. Courage quickly tapped into the power of the phoenix in an attempt to restore strength to her limb, and found that nothing happened, so she shrugged with one arm before lightly flailing with her other limp appendage. Pride proposed then that they imbue themselves with the ability to accurately sense the movements and paths for the inner flames of others through their healing powers, which none of her sisters objected to.

“Now, my champions, as your two holy orders; both devoted to bringing salvation, I task you with bringing peace to those that have lost their way! I will accompany you on this quest, but its resolution will remain in your hands…” Homura proclaimed, and approached Pride before kneeling in front of the Keeper of Keltra. “You shall defend your sleeping kin here, but I require you to release the two colossi imprisoned in the outer wall as I intend to also bring them to this conflict.”

The smallest among the Sacred Sextet answered with a slight smile and wave of her scepter, and the muffled sounds of titanic metallic beasts being freed was heard throughout the vast hall. A large doorway opened on the southern wall, granting the inhabitants of the keep a clear view of the two colossi towering in the desolate fields of Keltra, awaiting the touch of their pilots as Homura’s presence enchanted and compelled them to serve. The veiled goddess strode towards the nearby Skydancer and issued out commands to her champions for their departure:

“Courage and Wanderer will ride upon the two colossi. Their Reflections, Desire, and I shall embark upon Skydancer with Charis. I will return swiftly when we have reached our destination and provide you five with further commands. Homura decreed, and called forth sacred power that she poured forth into the flying boat that would carry them to the battlefields. The divinely crafted vessel shone and glittered with an exuberance of spiritual energy, as a myriad of gemstones sprouted along the hull and railings.

The tradition Lorelei left behind was honored, as Pride, Curiosity, and Curiosity II insisted upon receiving a hug before their Mother left them. Homura then led her entourage onto Skydancer, and the jewel-encrusted boat steered itself out of the keep towards the two immense machines resembling equines. From the crowded deck, Courage and Wanderer stepped onto the prow, and then leapt high into their air before alighting upon the crowned heads of their respective colossi.

There was an ephemeral moment of confusion as they wondered how they would keep pace with the soaring gift of Chailiss, now blessed by two deities, but their predicament was solved by Homura extending Daybringer. The golden spear stretched on and on, endlessly as its wielder directed it wrapped around and through the colossi, creating an immense network of barely perceptible golden wires that lifted even the immense machines as Skydancer ascended, leaving Keltra behind.



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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Zelios




With the Zephyrites created, Zelios now fell into the role of teacher. Already, they had begun to form their own tribes which were scattered throughout Shadulun. He traveled amongst them, bringing them new knowledge or helping to expand on practices they had already begin to discover for themselves. Some of these he had seen during his travels to other lands, while others he had come up with himself using his divine intellect.

He taught them how to make fire, for although both he and they disdained the light, the heat was needed to cook food. He taught them to dig and extract metal and stone from the earth, for use in building. He taught them how to build with both stone and wood. He did not teach all of these things to every single tribe he had encountered, but he had no doubt the knowledge would spread on its own if given enough time. He also advised them on how to clear open spaces from which they could grow their own food, instead of having to forage or hunt out into the wilderness every time they hungered. He taught them how to build round discs - wheels - which they could use in transportation.

There was no need to teach them how to make tools; they were already perfectly capable of doing so from their own shadows.

However, there was one lesson he considered to be more important than any other. The lesson of freedom. Of individuality. Some of the tribes who had banded together already had leadership figures. Some had been elected, while others had seized the position through force. Zelios soon made it clear that the latter method of succession was unacceptable. A leader should have the love and respect of their people; not just the fear. The appointment should be something that the majority should agree on, and the minority should be free to leave if they are so strongly opposed. This tied into what Zelios saw as his new philosophy, and one that he instilled into every single tribe he came across:

"Do as you please, so long as you would not prevent any other Zephyrites from doing the same."

A disproportionately large portion of the tribes had formed around one of the rivers in the southern portion of Shadulun. Which was sensible - it was an easy source of fresh water and some of the tribes had already begun forging spears of shadow to catch the local fish. He considered what he would call this river, for every single tribe had given it a different name. The Sable River, he decided. It was simple, and the Zephyrites he encountered all immediately stopped using their preferred name for the river once they heard Zelios speak his own. So it had to be a good name, right?

He followed this river until he reached the sea. Then, he had a realization. How would his people contact him if they needed him? How would they know where to find him? He could not be everywhere at once, and they had no way of finding him. That needed to be amended.

What he needed was a permanent residence he could spend most of his time in. Something that could be seen from far away. Something so eye-catching, most would feel compelled to visit it. Something that was so impressive, word of it would inevitably spread.

Like a tower.

And so, on a hill overlooking the sea, the White Tower of Zelios rose from the earth. Built from marble inlaid with Obsidian, it was truly vast, with a size that could rival mountains.

And just like that, the God of Darkness had a home.





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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Raethel Norvegicus and Aethel





Raethel took a deep breath as he sat down on the wooden seat, closing his eyes for a moment as he felt some of the pressure on his old bones be eased and letting out a sigh of relief because of it. The scent of the food on the table before him was delicious smelling, but he didn't even think of eating it as he took a deep breath and prepared himself for a conversation that he knew needed to happen, but he had been putting off for some time now.

For the moment he resisted the urge to scratch an inch that had been on his arm for some time now on a patch of skin that had been exposed by the loss of a patch of his paling fur as he breathed deeply again in preparation and spoke aloud to an empty room and an opened door leading to the balcony "Aethel, tender of mana, Raethel Norvegicus the first of the Rattus invites you to discuss a matter of divine relevance over lunch. I hope to see you soon, but I will understand if you are busy."

As far as prayers went it wasn't exactly a great one but the Rattus didn't really pray all that much. Part of Aethel's teachings (and a side effect of having them hang around for an extended period of time) was to only call upon the divine in relation to divine matters. Calling upon them for a matter that could be taken care of by mortal means, even if it was difficult to do so, was just as likely for them to either ignore the plea or be annoyed by mortal laziness as much as they might be inclined to help if you caught them in a good mood.

However, there were benefits for keeping prayer reserved for matters that were truly out of mortal paws and belonged squarely in the paws of the divine. They weren't being distracted by 'lazy' prayers for a start, but they would also take a prayer from the Rattus much more seriously because the matter being brought to their attention was almost certainly worth investigating personally. It also helped to be respectful and offer a meal as the matter was discussed beforehand provided that the situation could afford such a thing (if it couldn't, the meal would be offered afterwards. Basic hospitality was a must after all).

So it was that slightly over a minute after the prayer had been offered and Raethel rested with his eyes closed, Aethel appeared on the balcony in the equine form that they tended to favor around the Rattus, looking around at both the tree that they were going to be meeting in and the settlement around it with an impressed, excited gleam in their eyes. However, before saying anything in regard to that the co-creator of the Rattus stepped into the room and announced "Raethel! It's been a long time and we're not meeting in a desert! You've really gone up in the world, haven't you?" They joked, walking over to take a seat at the table while chuckling softly to themselves.

In fairness, a few chuckles escaped and joined the gods as Raethel's opened eyes gazed back with a smile on his face. "Welcome to the Greenland Dockyard, Master Aethel. We took your challenge to set paw on a landmass that wasn't connected to our homeland seriously and so far settling on Greenland has proven a vital step in relation to that. It's not why I called you, but we're currently giving the ocean craft we intend to complete the challenge with a test voyage from here to the port of Firstbarrows before coming back."

For their part Aethel did look interested in this news, but even as they accepted the offer of a rather tastefully steamed fish with herbs there was a question that needed to be raised. "Wonderful news of course but... why have you asked for my presence? Beyond enjoying this delightful fish I mean."

Raethel... sighed as they finally scratched the itch on their arm. "I am aware that time and age mean little to you Master Aethel, but for a mortal like myself... it catches up to you in the end." Watching as the deity ate their fish, Raethel continued "I am nearing the end of my life. I'm not asking you to change that or anything, but I wanted to discuss with you what would happen to the blessing you gave me back when I first awakened when my time comes. Will it just fade away? Be given to a new Rattus?"

Aethel for their part thought about it until after they had swallowed their mouthful of fish before speaking. "A reasonable concern. The blessing you speak of will not disappear in the event of your death. It will be granted to a new Rattus of my choosing." There was a small, thoughtful pause as the deity considered something... even as they reached up to remove a fish bone from their teeth. "I'll need some time to think of a suitable means of deciding who. Do not worry, your time on this plane of existence isn't as dire as it seems. We will have a successor for your blessing sorted out long before your time comes."

A weight hanging over Raethel's head seemed to lessen at the announcement, relaxing slightly as he reached to start enjoying some of his own fish... before pausing as he requested respectfully "If I might make a suggestion?" Looking at his dining partner, Aethel clearly was eating and wouldn't talk until their mouth was empty again, but with a gesture they made it clear that they would at least hear their champion out. "I would recommend that the next champion in line should be a pup. Young enough to be educated in both their powers and the role they are going to play in society, but old enough not to throw a tantrum and accidentally kill people with the power they have been given. The choice is of course yours, but that is the wisdom I have to offer on the subject."

Aethel chewed silently for a little longer before swallowing, making a thoughtful sound as they slowly nodded. "You make a good argument. I won't promise that it'll play a part in the test itself, but I will try to factor it in." Offering a smile, they quickly changed the subject as they started "Now that the important business has been taken care of for the time being, you will have to introduce me to your cook because I've never tasted anything quite as delicious as this before!"



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