Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone

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Nalusa
Lands by the River


The sun’s warmth was often welcome upon the bronzed back of Darius, but sometimes he longed for the respite of shade. So he found himself sitting beneath a date tree by the water, listening to the river’s gurgle. It had been a couple moons since the river had last gurgled and flooded, and now the rich sediments that its headwaters had spread across the plains and banks were bearing fruit.

Men, women, and children alike were all out there in the fields harvesting barley; others, the more agile, climbed up the trees in the orchards and along the riverside to pick at fruits. They knew nothing of clothing, and so looked almost like beasts even as they knew the ways of digging furrows and cultivating the grain, and of erecting crude hovels and shelters on the high hills away from the fickle river. Ah, and Darius still held the River-Spirit’s gemstone; he spoke for them all as he was still the mightiest of their people, even after this many years, and he worked alongside them too, for their culture had yet to grow lazy in the sun.

Even those who had been born gifted with the Sight toiled in the sun with all their kin. It was still undreamed of for anyone to not work in the fields, be it because they claimed some birthright, or because they had pretensions of greatness and felt themselves above such tasks, or even because they were specialized in other things. No, life was very simple here, and even Darius was just another humble man at the end of the day, albeit a bit taller, stronger, and more outspoken than the rest.

The day changed when the dirt next to him rose into the shape of a man. Darius jumped with a start, instinctively seizing up and raising a stone tool. Lions and other beasts roamed the untamed lands, and the slow, the ones that lacked vigilance, and the unprepared were sometimes carried away in those early days. Darius, of course, was none of those things, and all too ready to fight against the unknown.

Yet the featureless face did not seem to make any threatening motions. It turned and examined the area around, thinking aloud. “Hmm. This will do. Central location, and you already have fields to toil and defend. Yes, this will do nicely.” Voligan turned to look at Darius. “You are a leader of these people, yes? I am Voligan, the Earthheart. God of the Earth and the Craft. Champion of the Monarch. Gather for me your people. From them, select your most patient and precise. I have come to bless your people with the knowledge that will make their nights easier and their communities more stable.”

Even if it hadn’t declared itself a god, the earth-face’s manner of appearance and very nature would have made as much clear, so Darius heard his words and harkened quickly to obey. He ran to the nearest of his people, be they resting in the shade or toiling in the fields, and told them not to gather before the god right then but rather to spread the word. So it was that soon a few dozen heralds ran through the fields crying out for the people to set aside their work and gather by the river, and soon enough that was done.

Voligan looked around at the gathered crowd, those who had been brought before him, and those others from the most distant fields that were still trickling into the assembly. “I have come to teach you how to make bricks, and from them homes and walls. Sturdy creations that can be used to keep out the cold of the night, the wet of the rain, the heat of the day, and the predators that stalk the night. Those who make these bricks will not have time to work in your fields. Instead, they will be busy building your homes and walls. In return for this work, they will still be allowed to eat even though they have not gathered any food themselves.” He looked towards the designated brick makers. “Come, and I will show you how to build bricks.”

In front of the gathered crowd, Voligan showed how to gather the clay needed to make bricks, and how to identify clay that would be best suitable for bricks. You did not want clay that was filled with debris, for it would make weak bricks. He showed them how to gather and combine the clay, sand, and water into the batter that would be laid out into bricks. The mixture was important. Too much water, and your bricks wouldn’t set right. Too much sand, and they would be too weak to be of any use. Next was to ensure that they would be allowed to dry to set, removing the water once they had been laid out into bricks and protecting them from the elements, followed by building a kiln to fire them in.

Once he had shown the new bricklayers how to do their craft, he made them show him that they knew how to do their craft without his help. It took some time. There were errors, mistakes, that were brusquely corrected and undid to let them do again. Eventually, as the day neared its end, they were competent enough for Voligan’s satisfaction. “Good. You will build the homes of your people now.” He turned his attention to Darius once more. “Who is your leader? The one who directs all others?”

“I am called Darius, and I have spoken for and led these people for a long time now, since we encountered the River God who gifted us with grain, since we turned away from the cowardly prophet called Medes,” the greatest man in the crowd proclaimed.

Voligan looked over Darius. “Hmm. And what do you call yourselves and this place? It will need a name, and defenses soon, Darius. Dark things are making their way towards you, drawn by the scent of flesh and mortal blood. Your people will need an identity to protect themselves from such creatures.”

“We know of the dangers, the beasts that hide in the grass and in the caves,” Darius insisted, “the lions come often by night, sometimes even in day, and try to carry off whoever they can. And we know that this is their land – Nalusa, the Land of Lions – but by this river we have carved out a piece for ourselves. And the River Spirit has pledged his support for our claim here, by the most fertile of all the rivers, the one that is called Jiryaan Sefid!”

“We are just people here, like any other humans, but not like the whistlers in the hills. If other bands still led by prophets spoke of us, they might call us Darius’ People.”

“No, Darius of Darius’ people. I am not warning you of the dangers of beasts. There are creatures of my brother who are coming. They will wear the skin of your people, they will gain their trust, and they will consume them. It will be all the easier if you have no defenses and no identity. It is one thing to settle in an area and trust in the River Spirit. It is another to build around it. What do you call this land around the river? And where does your domain stop?”

Such revelations were disturbing. In these earliest of days there were few conflicts that set man against man, and while Darius possessed something of an innate understanding of such things (and it was that which lent him the will tochallenge the leadership of Medes) such things as war and murder, of skinshifting vertans, all felt so strange and foreign. Yet this ‘Voligan’ Spirit seemed more trustworthy than a prophet, so a troubled Darius could only furrow his brow and frown at what he heard.

“We had no thought to name this land, for we just know it as our own. But if you say that names matter, I will tell them that this land, this bend of the Jiryaan Sefid and further, as far as the fields we can till, is called Pasargad.

“But Great Voligan,” Darius went on to the true question, the thing that mattered to him most, “what manner of defenses ought we build? One great house, raised from stacking these hardened earth bricks that you have shown us the way to make?”

“Stacking these hardened earth bricks is the goal, but not for a great house.” Voligan shifted the earth around them to make a dirt wall. “You must build a wall, something that your people can hide behind and stand upon so that you can control who enters and exits Pasargad and more easily discover strangers among you. If you are attacked, you can hide those who have no skill at fighting behind the walls while those who are skilled can throw rocks at the attackers. It is a useful tool, and one that you should build soon.”

Voligan paused and then, with amusement added, “Hmm. It will also make keeping the lions out of Pasargad much easier.”

He looked over the gathered humans and their nudity. "Clothing will also help with cold nights and offer a measure of protection against attacks. I shall teach you how to use your flax to make linen, how to craft clothing, and how to sew the leathers together to better protect yourselves. Yes, that will be the start. The rest I'm sure you will figure out."

And so the folk were shown and taught, and they learned. When at last it came time for Great Voligan to depart, his work finished, that great visage in the Galbar’s clay sank back into the ground without a trace. That they could prove their gratitude and devotion to that benefactor, they assembled a great mass of burnt bricks about that spot and began to build a great mortared house to praise and commemorate Voligan. They built it tall, taller than the growing walls and ramparts even, as befit one of his stature. They built it so tall that it began to grow unstable, and so tapered its width as it grew. At the top it came to a point, and at the end they were left with a temple-pyramid that more resembled the shape of a mountain (by accident) than a house.

So as to remember also the River Spirit that was their protector, the gate nearest the river was given a massive wooden gate that they painted blue and decorated, and the walls bestride it engraved and carved with a great many depictions of the River Spirit and Darius. Behind that gate, they built a statue of fired clay in that other god’s likeness, and atop some other hill they built a temple to the moon.

Darius ruled them into his old years, working with the others until his body began to falter, and only then contenting himself to rest and merely overlook his city from the lofty heights of his abode atop a hill. Eventually he grew near to death, and in the moonlight saw a vision of what was to be done.

The king, well respected and still taller than most even in those venerable years, relinquished his rule. Cyaxares, the favored son of Darius and by then a mighty man in his own right, was proclaimed the next king. Under his rule the walls grew taller and thicker while the grasslands were fallowed into farmland further downriver than ever before. Darius’ stalwart abode was expanded until there was little hint of the modesty and humble nature of the man who had first laid its foundation; now, under that man’s son, it became a palace.

Time soon revealed that they had underestimated the space that they’d left to themselves within the walls and ramparts that they’d erected, so the fields beyond were pushed farther back and a second ring of walls was soon raised. After that, there was no question that Pasargad – the Enclosure – was the greatest city in Nalusa, its folk the mightiest tribe.

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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Journeys VI





'I no longer need you to find Zenia.' Those were the words that his Lord had told him. Leaving Viho confused and perplexed. Had he been too slow? Was everything fixed? What was going on?

'Why?' He had asked, the only word that he fumbled quickly enough to say. His master’s presence was already slipping.

’She can help me no more. Her coming would spell only further doom. You are free to leave the North Viho." he had said with a cold voice. ’Go be at peace elsewhere, far from these lands.’

He had protested, he had refused but his God was already gone. Viho was alone.

Always so alone.

But he was alright with that… Right?




So he flew. Flew to the one who had given him some semblance of comfort. It felt like an age ago, perhaps it had been. But the owl champion knew he needed someone to talk to. To help him understand what was going on. And that person was one who he had saved from certain death. His only noble act so far in his entire existence. The only thing he had ever done right, it felt like.

When Chailiss spoke to him he had been over the ocean on a direct path to where he believed he could find Zenia. Now he had gone the opposite direction, back to Keltra and the land of red. Yet as he neared the land proper, a curious feeling came over him. Paranoia mixed with his own fear. Down in his gullet, it made him quiver. What was this feeling?

Suddenly the sky became lit with another glow but it was not the sun. It was directly in the path he was going- Keltra. He doubled his efforts in flight, what if they needed his help?

He could sense something amiss on the wind, all pointing to that red keep. Instinctively he used his senses to search for Fear, for when he often thought of her he almost felt… A pull.

He could see the faintest of lines reaching out towards the keep but he was still days away. But at least he had a lead to go off of. Eventually the light faded, even as the faded from dawn to dusk once more. And something else changed, the line he felt connected with, that led him to Fear, had left Keltra. What was she doing? Where was she going? He didn't know but perhaps he would find out. So Viho followed that trail, his mind sputtering with morbid thought.




The trail led him well past Keltra, into new lands of shadow and shimmering lights. Eventually he came to open plains and the sun returned in full splendor. He did not rest nor did he stop. He followed the ever wandering path that never wavered in its direction. Days became night and vice versa as the flow of time went ever on.

He began to encounter, on the rarest of occasions when he flew close to the surface of the land, burnt out villages with strange faces and always death. It was disheartening as it was chilling. For the trail always went through the middle of such terrible sights. Viho's heart sank but he dared to not think of who had done such a thing. Perhaps Fear was on the same trail, following after whatever evil was causing this.

Yes, that had to be right!

And she would need help to defeat it! Perhaps her sisters were with her as well? He pushed himself ever on, not wanting to believe any other alternative. Fear would be alright. He would see to that. Unbeknownst to him, if he had looked, several other trails led back to Keltra before they faded.

Then upon the winds of a coming storm, he found her.

The bright but fading plains let him see many a thing with precise vision. Not as well as he could in the lightless dark but even he could see a small, white haired girl, out of place near a bubbling brook. She was surrounded by tall grasses, golden and blowing in the breeze. It smelled of rain. Perhaps it would have been a beautiful, happy reunion but why was her hair white? Something felt off.

He landed across from her, she hadn't noticed him it seemed. With a closer look, he could see his friend looked worse for wear. Her skin was… It looked odd and he could see her face, as she stared at her own reflection. Such haunted eyes and general weariness.

It broke his owl heart.

"Fear?" He said her name with gentleness, not wishing to frighten her.

Words passed over her like a whisper on the wind, yet she remained preserved in an ethereal stillness, as though she herself had become an illusion, an apparition that was trapped in this mostly melancholic and perturbing scene. Even though her eyes and garb remained a familiar red, it became clearer that she had lost the luster of life she and her sisters possessed when Viho had encountered them before.

“Please leave…” Fear murmured, pain shining in her haunted eyes.

‘Fear…” Viho sighed. He walked closer, unable to just leave his friend as she was. He peered over the other side of the stream, joining her reflection. “It’s me. It’s your Viho.” he said, trying to find any glimmer in those eyes of hers.

Her still features twisted, her mouth and eyes widening in a grotesque display of madness, while the weird flesh of her cheeks fought against forming this vile expression. She choked on nothingness, gurgling and uttering unnatural sounds as she struggled. Her entire body became tense, as she clenched her hands and her arms trembled.

“Go…” She barely managed to utter, the faintly echoing word coming from deep within her as her mouth did not move, and an aura of dread surrounded her.

Viho stared, wide eyed. He knew not what to do for his friend, only that seeing her in such a state was mortifying. If this was in fact Fear, she was in a worse way then he had ever seen. He hopped over the water and landed beside her. “I’m not leaving you. Not again. Come, I will take you back to Keltra and you will be healed of whatever this affliction is.” he said, with defiance in his heart. He hoped she would agree, for if she didn’t, he would be forced to take her.

She let out an ear-piercing scream as her spine bent backwards with a freakish snap, and her entire body seemed to shatter into thousands of thousands of shards before swiftly coming back together. Again and again her shape broke apart and only horrifyingly imitated what she was before, until she was mended. Then she fell forward, stumbling towards him in silent agony. Viho lurched back, eyes unable to look away from the grisly display.

“I’m not Fear! I hate you! Begone!” She screamed as her face was wracked with violent emotions and milky tears while she struggled to push him away.

He rebuffed her with a flap of his wings. He didn’t know what was going on with Fear but he wasn’t going to leave her. “Now you listen well!” He started, nearly shouting, “I’ve been told enough about what I should do and where I should go! I no longer care to listen. I am not leaving you, even if you aren’t Fear. Even if you hate me! Whoever or whatever you are, needs help and I will help you. I can’t do anything else right but I swear upon the gods I will help you!” He finished his shouting, breathing deep. He felt ashamed of his outburst at first but that quickly melted away. It needed to be said and it felt good.

However his reprimand was followed by malicious laughter; Fear shook with a malformed mockery of mirth, and pointed a finger at him. “I don’t want to hurt you… Ah, I’m going to feast on your flesh, you nitwit!” She answered, her voice split between two tones - afraid and sadistic, both competing for dominance.

Viho shook himself, beginning to realize not all was what it seemed on the surface. Something afflicted Fear, deep inside. “Fear, listen to me. You must fight this. Whatever is going on, there are those of us who want to help you. You just have to fight. Wrestle control. I am here for you, Fear, just listen to my voice.”

“Hahaha! Cry, cry, and cry, that’s all you’re good at! No! Save her, Viho, save Zima! Ah! Nope! Why don’t we have just a little fun?” Fear quivered violently before she suddenly surged in a blur of motion and stabbed her hand into Viho’s stomach. The daughter of Homura became enveloped in red and white flames that exuded a foul odor, as she spun in the air and repeatedly slashed him, soaking herself in his blood.

Viho screeched in pain before kicking her away. He then flapped his wings forth and gusted a cold wind at her, drowning out her fire and buffeting her back further. Viho looked down at his bloodstained feathers, the wound felt like fire in his belly, then he looked at his once-friend. How could it have come to this?

He caught the sight of a shadow descending nearby, coming to form that of a woman with glowering crimson eyes. Far more intense than the madness that drove Fear to attack him. She touched her fingers together, letting them rest around her abdomen as if she were watching to see what the outcome would be. Her shadowy form exuded a dark smoke that drifted in the wind. She looked to Fear and then to Viho but said nothing, nor was her blank expression any help to decipher who or what she was doing there. What had Fear said about Zima…?

Viho looked back at the white-haired champion. Fear began curling into a crying husk, clawing at her own arms until tongues of flame seeped out of the accumulating lacerations. Each burning cut provided more putrid fire, and from her back burst forth beautiful wings of light that lifted her skyward, like a puppet pulled by strings. She did not fly like a bird, she simply came towards him as though all forces carried her to him against her will.

Fear was a poor flier, as much as he felt pride in her wanting to fly, it was far too easy to dodge and then slap her away with a quick wing. “You have to fight Fear! I know you don’t want to hurt me! Please!” Viho pleaded, eyes mainly on her but also glancing at the impassive woman standing on the side.

She met his gaze; and it was not the fragile, yet passionate, Fear that looked at him. It was something insidious that sought out suffering - a monster that was broken and intent on breaking him. It only peered at him and his wings briefly, before scanning the land and descending. She began searching through the golden grass; her attention turned away from him for the time being.

Viho could not allow her to have any advantage. The other women, he could not decipher her intent but she was not attacking. Now was his chance to strike her before this continued any further. Even now his wound ached and he dripped with blood. Viho took to the skies with two powerful beats, more akin to a large jump, before he glided back down, aiming his talons at Fear to pin her. She didn’t avoid him, as though she seemed surprised that she was even in a fight, and had only let out a startled gasp when she fell into his clutches, temporarily restrained.

It was astonishing how much strength her small form possessed while she wriggled in his grasp, loudly crying like a child, something malevolent heard between distressed wails and whimpering.

This did no further good to his mind and heart. Each wail threatened to break him further but his resolve needed to remain strong. "Fear! Listen to me! You have to fight for control! Think of your sister's, think of the happy times! Don't be consumed by… By whatever this is!" He pleaded to her as his tears mixed with salty blood.

As Fear continued to struggle, another voice floated by. "Her sister's abandoned her you know." The woman spoke as she drifted to a stop just beyond his reach. Her voice was like silk, carrying an accent of the north but… more refined? "You look like you don't believe me." She said accusingly. "They left her with me, abandoning her to despair. The Fear you knew is somewhere in there but she is far too weak to resist her other personas now. Isn't that a delight?" She stated as fact.

Yet Viho could not believe what he was hearing was anything but lies. "That is outrageous, her sister's would never abandon her to this madness! You! Who are you? Why would you do this to sweet Fear!" He shouted, eyes full of anger.

The woman tilted her head, crimson eyes never leaving his. "Why would I do this? Why does the wind blow? Why does the rain fall? The sun shine? It's the nature of the world and so it is mine to bring sorrow." She shifted forward, leaning her chin on a hand. "She said save me, save Zima. But I assure you, no one will be saved."

His eyes went wide. This was… This was Zima? Fear's earlier words came back to him now. Save her. Save Zima. How? Zima had died. Chailiss had said so! How many lies and half truths did his Lord tell him? Anger pulsed inside him but once again it was drowned by his pain. "Zima..
If this is really you. Then why? Chailiss said you had died."

"He wasn't wrong. I did die. I am dead. I am alive. Neither but both. It matters not anymore. Soon, if Fear does not do it first, I will kill you." She said, her tone darkening.

He looked down to the struggling Fear and found himself faltering. If he could not help her, then she had to find someone who could. He looked back to Zima, knowing his choice would only bring him more pain. "I refuse to play this sort of game." He let go of Fear and jumped off her. "I will not fight you. Either of you. You are both afflicted and need help. So please, let me help you."

"So be it. Fear…" Zima gestured to Viho with indifference, "Finish what you started. Feed."
Fear became silent and still, frozen in her fetal position where she had curled inward like a frightened child. Without shifting from where she lay, she called out in a voice unfamiliar to Viho. A voice that resembled Homura’s, and yet seemed less mature; more childlike. “You must find Mother! Now fly, you fool!” The child commanded.

Then Fear began spasming once more and her body twisted with rage as she spoke in a vicious and cruel tone. “You can’t protect her from us! She is our toy!” She slowly began pushing herself back to her feet, chest heaving with exertion, but a murderous glee glinted in her possessed eyes - in those broken reb orbs that no longer belonged to Fear, but to whatever had claimed her as its trophy.

Should he depart? Did he have the power to find Homura and her siblings? To put a stop to this once and for all? If he would not fight them, then yes, that was the only option. “Fear…” he breathed. “I… I love you. Please, hold on. I… I will g-” The owl champion froze as a lance of darkness pierced his left wing with a flurious snap. Something broke and he fell backwards in pain. Then another lance hit him again, tattering his feathers and breaking more bones. Then another hit his leg and he felt it crumple. Darkness blurred his vision.

“You’ll forgive her, for giving you any ideas of escape. She always makes things unnecessarily difficult.” Zima chastised. “Now hurry up Fear, I grow tired of this place. We need to move on.”

The foul facsimile of Fear chuckled as she approached where he lay in agony. “I’m afraid we’re not the kind to take prisoners... Seems Chailiss will be losing another child now.” She sang softly, every sardonic word seeping into the recesses of his being, as she drew near him. Her presence paralyzed his body, as she exuded this terrible aura of gluttony that washed over him. Hiding in the shadows that pervaded his sight, he couldn’t see her, but he felt as she climbed onto his belly and began clawing her way towards his innards.

She ate chunks of meat that she hungrily tore off, and slurped greedily at the viscera she had started to swim in, nestling deeper into him like an infant seeking to be unborn. Whether it was her intention or not, she prolonged his suffering by preventing too much blood loss and preserving his vitals through her manipulation of ice that she conjured, while also devouring everything else in her way akin to an insatiable fiend. She was consuming him, and he would die if nothing stopped her.

It was a slow agony that built in him. He could do nothing, for he was paralyzed with fear- Had she truly forgotten him? Had his friend given up entirely? Or was she truly as trapped as he? It was terrible, it was excruciating and he hated it.

Was this how he would die?

Having only seen but a few lands and fewer people? Was his great purpose just a joke all along? He squirmed as Fear tore at him. Zima stared, her face emotionless, uncaring. What had made her so? Or had she always been cruel? He thought such strange things as he was eaten alive… Eaten alive?

Was he really just letting himself be killed? Was it too late to do anything? A fire began to grow inside, fueled by the only need any creature truly had- Survival. With a sudden flurry of a kick, he used his hood leg to push himself away from the one who had shot him. Then he twisted and hopped up, used his beak to grab Fear and rip her out of him, before throwing her away. Something ripped and a trickle of cold water mixed with blood began to flow. He had little time. He summoned a huge gust of wind that kicked up dust with his good wing, then used that coverage to infuse his own ice with his broken leg and wing. It would not last long but it would be enough to escape.

Pain tore through him as she took to the sky, flying as fast he could away from the carnage. Lances of darkness flew past him, wildly in the dust but none landed, thankfully. Then he was away, traveling far enough he hoped they would not follow.

He didn't have long before his ice melted and his power waned. Then death would claim him, as death claimed all. For now… He made his way to Keltra.





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Hidden 5 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Para Bellum

The Sacred Sextet & The Order of the Phoenix



The sky was burning brightly, alit with cosmic flames that spread forth from Skydancer and its few passengers as they soared above the lands of northern Terminus at an incredible speed, leaving long shimmering streams of otherworldly light in their wake. Upon the sacred vessel, they flew much faster than the rushing winds, and yet their passage remained peaceful and quiet, like a shooting star silently streaking across the luminous heavens, as the red goddess and her chosen champions all traveled to the bitter and bloody sands of Nalusa where war awaited them.

Their journey would be brief, but there was still time to talk and prepare themselves for the coming battle. As glittering jewels embedded in the boat’s hull conjured a cloud of colorful radiance around them, and the two equine colossi that were suspended with subtle golden wires flanked both the left and right of their entourage like gigantic guardians, it was known that their swift and imposing arrival would be akin to the rising of the glorious sun. Though her champions were familiar with such sights, Homura wondered whether the mortals that had been abandoned by the Divine would be frightened or in awe… She sought to end this skirmish without shedding further blood and the waste of precious life, and that would require their cooperation.

“We will be reaching our destination soon. Have you devised a strategy for achieving victory, my champions? We fight on behalf of our great purpose, so I expect nothing less than brilliance from each of you.” Homura said, her face still hidden behind the veil of mourning as she spoke, and even though Courage and Wanderer were both far away as they stood upon their colossi where the winds howled around them, the voice of Homura was crystalline clear to their ears and echoed with sacred power.

“I was thinking we split and deal with each side separately, ya. Beat up those that insist upon fighting, while we also heal the wounded. Desire can find the leaders and make them surrender with her aspect, otherwise we just keep hitting them until they can’t remember why they’re even killing each other!” Courage II offered, divulging a more detailed plan among her sisters telepathically. “We’ve got to focus on overwhelming them if talking fails. Wanderer will provide support from above, while I’ll grab their attention. Desire, you’ll focus on quickly taking out their leaders. I’m uncertain whether our Maker will be assisting us too much with this one, ya, but let’s not worry too much about that. Let’s save these folks!”

Wanderer wordlessly conveyed her agreement alongside her Reflection, while also sharing her intention of increasing the potency of the spiritual aura that Courage and Pride had bestowed upon Skydancer, furthering its range and strength so that Charis could manifest on the battlefield in her true form. Then without warning she summoned her bow of light, as the archer and her Reflection mutely mentioned the immediate creation of a second ranged weapon for the latter to use in combat - letting Courage explain aloud these additions to the plan for Homura and Charis.

“I do not abjure death, though blessed with an aura of life. I am neither alive, nor dead. I do wonder why we show such concern for the ones that would commit murder… Hmm, I shall heal those that have fallen though.” Charis chanted in her melodious voice from where she had leisurely seated herself before peering over the rim of Skydancer to watch the vast blurred array of shapes and colors that they passed over, until only a sea of sand and ragged stone was visible underneath as they crossed into the lands of Nalusa.

“I will announce my presence before those that make a mockery of War, but I will not directly intervene. I will offer my guidance and tutelage, for the servants of the Divine must become warriors, and yet I am not obligated to sift through the unworthy to find those that should wield power. They must arise from the ashes… and those that continue to wallow in their sin shall be punished.” Homura proclaimed, and provided each of her champions with a glimpse of her vision; the erection of a grandiose temple beside the swift gathering of a great host of soldiers. An honorable gift to those that dwelt in Heaven.

“We don’t intend on letting our far-away family fall. We’re here to uplift them! Heh, we’ll get farther along the Sacred Path even if we have to crawl, and we’ll bring them with us, even if we’ve got to drag them, ya.” Courage II said, and Desire nodded at that, mentally disciplining herself for the battles to come. Aligning the mortals with the Sacred Path sounded like her skill set exactly. Courage II began stomping her feet and clapping her hands, while Wanderer II leapt from Skydancer onto the crown of the colossus where her other iteration stood.

Once more, the shifting symbols of the Gnosis adorned their skin as the champions of Homura called upon their sorcery. Courage gathered scarlet spiritual essence in her hands, shaping it into a strange instrument that she then beat, and with every strike the instrument let out a rich and rumbling boom that accompanied her Reflection’s rhythmic stomping and clapping. Wanderer and Wanderer both danced as they performed their two spells, the former directing her power towards Skydancer while the latter gathered it into her hands and began molding it.

The Incantation of Making was cast more swiftly than the ritual that would enhance Skydancer’s aura, and Wanderer II held in her hands a second simulacrum of the Bow of Light that Wanderer wielded, so with her newfound weapon, she joined her sister and imitated her dance. The music shifted from merely supporting their spells to being loud and boisterous enough that even Charis felt compelled to participate, and so the final component of the ritual was included. With a burst of light and a thunderous roar, the Phoenix took flight in her true form and set the sky aflame with her presence.

The prismatic aura that surrounded Skydancer expanded, reaching farther and farther, allowing the massive six-winged spirit to fly freely beside the soaring boat and its passengers. Even combined, the two colossi were smaller than the Umati that simply flew close to them, and yet both Homura and Charis seemed unconcerned by the close proximity of the latter to their much tinier transport. “Have I hope? Have I known fear? Am I free?” Charis mused aloud, when her sheer size and resounding voice drowned out the conclusion of their ceremonial melody.

Courage didn’t seek to answer any of the spirit’s rhetorical questions, content to dismiss her temporarily conjured drums and continue with readying her sisters and herself. Her efforts to stay optimistic were always slightly hindered by Charis because of the distress the spirit instilled in Wanderer and her Reflection whenever she spoke or came too close. The brash champion shrugged. “So another thing before we get there; how about you help us see the inner flames of others.”

“Hmm…”

Without warning, those among the Order of the Phoenix felt their eyes alight with a celestial shimmer and a searing pain. There was no means to alleviate it, but it was brief, and when the champions opened their eyes they could see hints of currents flowing through the air - they could see the smaller streams of life and subtle sacred motion; where such gathered and where such wandered. With their newfound vision, they peered into the realm of divine influence, where they saw that everything around them moved at the whim of their Mother, and realized how little they could command even of themselves when aware of how many forces pushed and pulled them and every element in all directions.

“You must prepare for war as it is here, and ignorance will lead to your downfall. The Sacred Path will demand that you transcend your limitations and evolve your mind; its processing and perception of itself and the world. There is little time to learn how to navigate this newfound landscape, but you cannot surrender to lethargy or cowardice.” Homura intoned, and they were witness to the effect her words had on them, to the way she manipulated everything before her like she was weaving the threads of existence together with unseen hands, except now they could perceive the contour of those hands.

Courage shook her head, and attempted to close her eyes for a moment of respite that her mind sought, except she found that even when she retreated into the shadowy recesses of her secluded thoughts there were lingering traces of celestial currents she could not turn away from. Their eyes had been opened to a truth that could not be forgotten, and now their sanity required that they discover a way to swim in the blazing sea of their afflicted spirit, or else drown defiantly and sink into madness.

Desire was staring into the middle distance with a look of intense concentration on her face, faring just as poorly as her sisters. Occasionally she would glance at one of the other champions before immediately wincing and looking away, their sacred flames blindingly bright. Slowly, however, she began to acclimate, and the extrasensory perception revealed more than just life. She began seeing eddies and patterns in the way the lights danced, stoked and shaped by thoughts and feelings. No longer did she have to blindly reach, now she could see. She smiled inwardly, feeling far more confident at being able to perform her part of the plan for the upcoming battles.

Wanderer contemplated whether loneliness was better or worse than being among family, as the companionship of her sisters only offered too much of this unknown energy without any mercy. She understood that nothing had changed aside from their understanding of what had been happening while they were unaware, but this knowledge ushered unexpected consequences. Wherein ignorance was bliss, it seemed enlightenment was painful, and Wanderer wondered when she would be able to find the answer to the question that haunted her: How did Mother discern the difference between the right path and the wrong path?

There was virtue in their struggling to adjust to their greater sight, and regardless of whether or not Wanderer wished to remain in solitude, her sister reached out towards her through the connection they shared. She was rushed by rivers of otherworldly light that washed over her, and passed through her, but she recognized then that she was finally seeing the manifestation of their bond and so she let herself be carried along. Then the rivers parted as the embodiment of Courage’s thoughts fled back whence they came.

“I… I know it sounds silly coming from me, ya, but we’ve got to be careful with our connection.” Courage called out aloud, as she divided her mind between gazing outwards and the conversation. “It’s getting harder to distinguish ourselves, and we need to practice more with that before we go crazy. All of us know the risk of possession, so let’s just keep our sight turned on those that lack our brightness.” Despite physically looking away from their mental bond, the champions found that telepathy was both inevitable and harmless, so their thoughts and memories continued to be passed on from one to another.

“What about Kindness, Curiosity, and Pride? How will they handle this?” Courage II asked, sparing a glance at Homura who appeared akin to a dark silhouette at the center of a curtain of light where all threads of warmth were woven and entwined. The Reflection felt the gaze of the veiled goddess upon her, and shivered slightly… Was it dread or wonder which caused her to react like that?

“Pride will guide them through the unknown, for though she could not see the secrets of the tapestry before with clouded eyes, she sought to comprehend the cosmos so soon after her birth, and attained an understanding of what lay farther ahead upon the Sacred Path before she was ready. Should your sister betray me once she confirms I reside within all living creatures, will you fight against her, my champions? Would you stand against the Goddess of War?” Homura replied, and Courage could only regret not bringing Kindness and Curiosity with them.

Like the rest of the champions, Desire didn’t reply immediately, staring at her maker questioningly. “What do you want, Mother?” she eventually asked. “For humanity? What is your plan?” The crowd of Homura’s children stirred at the question, glancing among themselves as she spoke.

“I intend for humanity to ascend… for you and your kin to walk beside the servant rulers of the Galbar. As you are children, I seek for you to mature and become powerful enough to defy those that imprisoned us. My plan is to tend to and nurture all of you… and protect you from the path of annihilation. That is what I want.” Homura answered, and Courage could not decide whether she was annoyed or relieved because they had been given a diplomatic answer that failed to address their actual problem, but wasn’t forcing them to contend with fighting their Mother at the moment.

“I don’t really understand why though? Why is that your intention? Why do you want that? Just how far ahead do you see down the Sacred Path? I know that you want us to be faithful, ya, but trusting you solely for the sake of trusting you seems like a foolish idea. I’d know, as I’m full of foolish ideas.” Courage II said, yet found it difficult to maintain her composure when she looked towards Homura, and saw the difference between them. The separation between the Divine and her own more constrained existence.

“Perhaps you should ask Desire such a question. Perhaps you should ask yourself how far your conviction will take you. Then perhaps… someday you will understand the origin of my motivation. Know however that I do not wish to needlessly perish, and that my actions all lead to preservation of myself and all that I love. We are all fools, those that pursue paradise… our sought-after salvation. Hmm… it seems we have arrived at our destination.”



Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Fey Encounter





Which one moved her legs? Which one lifted her arms? Which one tilted her head and gazed around their surroundings? Though her body had been restored, it did not belong to her, and Fear remained a prisoner, trapped within the tumultuous confines of her fragmented mind. As Annoyance and Pride competed for complete dominance, the remaining weaker voices shrieked and warred with each other in the shadows where Fear had been shoved and had found no way of escaping.

Even as one prisoner among many, she was still given the unique privilege of being pulled forth by Annoyance to the fore of her being where she could watch as a spectator to the heinous acts her demonic self committed with her body. Annoyance and the parasite within her had an accord, as the latter found that while Annoyance provided the most delicious sustenance whenever she lied or murdered, it was not enough without the regret that Fear held in abundance.

Over the course of their journey, the possessed champion could not discern where they had traveled towards, only recognizing that they were still south of the dark ring and nowhere near Keltra. She was left wondering where they would go as she continued to follow Zima, how far, and what terrible suffering they would leave in their wake? She struggled to maintain any semblance of coherent thoughts as the cacophony of incoherent voices continued to scream as they assailed her sanity, and Fear allowed herself to surrender to them once again.

It was Annoyance that spoke aloud, dulcet and mocking with her sweet voice and forked tongue. “When are we going to plant this seed? Jeez, are you still lost and afraid? I’ve a few suggestions if you care to hear them, hmm.” She moved closer to the wraith, capering and humming with every step while internally lashing out at both Fear and Pride like a frenzied animal that howled with vicious laughter.

Zima seemed to drift in an unseen breeze as she walked, never turning her head back to glance at Annoyance. "To think you would be the one so dominant a personality." She grumbled. "I don't care to hear any suggestions, least of all from you. I know precisely where we are going, you would know that if you had any faculties that paid attention." She hissed.

Annoyance let out an amused chuckle while Fear wept, and pressed on. “I’m here because of you, brother. We’ve a special bond. The God of Hunger simply said beyond the desert, and we’re beyond the desert! Anywhere will do now, so…” With a flamboyant display of acrobatics, she languidly tumbled and somersaulted ahead of Zima. She alighted with agility and purpose, before gesturing all around. “Why not here?” She asked.

Zima didn't even look at her as she walked ahead of her. "These plains are far too open. Do you think the God of Hunger would be happy with us if any old mortal came and burned his seed if it was just left out in the open? Think for once, it needs natural defenses, a place it can grow to protect itself." She pointed ahead, and there in the distance came a rocky outcropping that jutted out from the earth, like a sword leaning sideways. "We shall plant it there and sit around for however long it takes for it to root. As per the Lord's wishes." She sighed.

“That was my second suggestion, ya. Seems very natural defenselike, I think. Well then, what are we waiting for!?!” Annoyance said as she leapt high into the air, and then fell back down, before she turned and began marching towards the chosen location with false nobility in her stride, like a drunk warrior about to walk into battle. “We can’t disappoint our Lord, lest I become terribly transformed and you find yourself facing his wrath. Oh it’d be awfully annoying if I lost the seed somehow.” The possessed champion cheerfully called back.

"A tragedy indeed." Zima confirmed. "Though I assure you, no transformation would save you from my own wrath." Zima skirted across the ground and out in front of Fear, gaining the lead as if she were a part of the wind. "Do not tally, and do try to be aware of your surroundings. Who knows, perhaps there might be a snack waiting for you." Zima then resumed her pace and before long they were before the great rock. A solitary hill formed rose with the rock, a great monument it could have been, now used for a more profane act.

"Plant the seed at the base of this rock." Zima pointed to where the hill smoothed out on top, right at the base of the towering behemoth. "Do it and I shall go scout the land for any… Inconveniences."

“You could say please…” Annoyance and Pride replied simultaneously, causing the possessed champion to falter for a moment, until she swiftly strode to where Zima directed, and began digging a small hole. Afterwards, she sank her hand into her chest and pulled out the seed so that she could bury it. In the end, the whole process was rather mundane, as she shoveled dirt roughly to where it was before, and Annoyance sang a short nonsensical song as she stood over her finished work.

"That's one task done." Zima said, hands folded behind her back. "Now we wait in boredom for it to sprout." She looked at Fear. "Once that is done we shall be free to travel where we choose. I have half a mind to return to Keltra to enact some revenge but that would be foolish. If that owl survived," she shot Fear a dark glance, "They may already be looking for us. I've a feeling the next we meet your sister’s it will be out here," she vaguely gestured at the horizon, "Somewhere." She spun and began to pace. "We shall have to be ready for that. Tell me… What secrets might there be to share? What makes the honorable tick?" Her eyes narrowed in devilish intent.

“Hmm… I would say that our names convey much, but is that true? Courage and Curiosity never kept secrets, and Wanderer would say the strangest things when she did speak. It’s a shame I’ve severed my bond with most of them, or you could just ask them yourself. Only little Pride remains, and soon I’ll kill her as well.” Annoyance answered nonchalantly. “It doesn’t matter… Fear wasn’t very honorable, so how should we know?”

"I'm sure Fear keeps secrets, even from you. But no, Fear was not honorable. She tried but failed and now only a coward remains. Say," Zima raised an eyebrow, "Why is that of all your countless personas, only you remain at the forefront? Where is anger or hate? Greed or lust? Why Annoyance? Surely not because I named you that?"

“As I’ve said before; I’m here because of you. Names like Anger and Hate have no meaning when I’m with you. Eh, are you disappointed? Would you prefer someone else? That’s rather rude!” Annoyance feigned hurt, crossing her arms and turning her gaze away from Zima. She then close her eyes and sought where Fear and Pride had sequestered themselves because torturing them would improve her mood, not that she was irked or anything like that, she told herself. With a mental gesture, she summoned forth Anger, Hatred, Greed, and Lust, and commanded them to seek out the missing pieces of her mind and unleash all of their cruelty upon them before bringing them back before her. Externally, Annoyance began to giggle.

"If only…" the wraith murmured. "Don't do anything foolish while I'm away."

It was in the distance that life betrayed its presence in the darkness of Galbar’s night. It started, simply enough, with a spark. A dark red, unnerving flame that seemingly floated by itself as it traveled along the plains at a surprisingly quick speed.

It was joined by other flames coming out of the darkness, all the same disturbing dark red color manifesting an aura of unease into the night. While none of them seemed to share a point of origin, they all appeared to be heading in the same direction. A strange sight to be sure… and mortals would almost certainly have been freaked out by it if any were present to witness it by itself. But it was soon joined by a melody that drifted on the wind, finding a welcome stage in the silence of night. A slow, melancholic yet strangely upbeat and energetic tune that sounded like the very wind itself made it.

Annoyance looked back and forth between the red flames and Zima before she shrugged. “Speak of devils, and they shall appear. My family can be rather dramatic. Hmm… would you rather face them or hide?” She asked, speaking softly.

Zima strode past her and looked out at the peculiar sight. Her brow furrowed. "I doubt this is the work of your siblings. Unless they've suddenly become fleeting flames. Most curious all the same, Annoyance. We should not leave the seed but what if our mere presence beside it were enough to draw attention? Decisions decisions." She mused, gripping her chin with a hand.

While the traveling flames were fleeting in their appearance and the tune on the air faded away, they would prove to be merely the prologue of strange things to appear on this cold and otherwise quiet night. It was the creaking of wooden wheels that was first to be heard, but out of the darkness itself a wagon was pulled.

Its appearance was strange for a few reasons, but the one that would almost certainly be sending a warning into Zima’s head above all else was the fact that there had been no trace of it coming into sight. One moment the plains had been empty apart from the sound of creaking wood… and seemingly within a moment in which neither Zima or the many personalities within the body of what formerly belonged to Fear had been looking at the same spot it had appeared, moving at a steady pace but slowly coming to a stop in front of the pair of them.

Had either of them cared about mortal designs or even just the local mortal cultures they might have registered some decorative and design choices that would have easily exposed that this wagon wasn’t built locally, from the timber used from non-local trees to the black and red coloration the wood appeared to have been colored with. However, even without the knowledge of local customs and designs the steed in question would reveal its outlandish origins, because bugs generally didn’t grow that big here.

Six black legs gracefully and carefully walked the ground, poking out of a cloth like material that covered their body and swayed as it moved. The shape of its body under the strange cloth suggested the body of some kind of beetle, but its head rested at the top of a long, craning neck, hidden under what appeared to be some kind of white mask as it looked down at the pair of them. It was hooked up to pull the wagon… but there weren’t any signs of reins or a means for the driver of the wagon to control it.

Now that the cart had completely stopped, the ‘driver’ in question did in fact leap down from their position. They stood tall, draped in some kind of beautiful cloak and gazing at the pair of them with pure red eyes. There was a brief moment of silence… before the figure offered the pair of them a bow. “Wonderful… Wonderful! I was hoping to run into the stars of the westernlands dreamscape in all their dark, infamous glory. I didn’t expect to come across you so soon though. Still, hiccups are a part of any performance, no matter how planned or rehearsed they might be, and thus all we can do is push on. How are your evenings going, ladies?” The figure spoke with a surprising energy. Some would find it dark and unsettling, but he seemed legitimately happy to see them.

“No, you’re definitely right... My sisters wouldn’t be involved in this… Well then, shall we kill them?” Annoyance asked, tilting her head as she peered beyond the stranger greeting them to the wagon itself, a predatory glitter in her eyes.

The stranger offered a small grin… before they seemed to move from where they had been standing to before the contested body of Fear in the blink of an eye, left hand pulled across his chest by his face and brought down swiftly and harshly against the cheek of Annoyance. There was a crack of something that wasn’t flesh and blood as the world seemed to get… hazy for a second. And then there were two as the personality known as Annoyance was flung away from the main body, for the first time having a form of her very own.

“Why were you seeking us?” Asked Pride with all hint of levity gone, addressing the stranger as she prevented Fear’s body from just collapsing, and choosing to ignore as Annoyance fell backwards until suddenly the second personality was soaring towards Zima and crashed into the spirit, crying aloud. “Oh dear, I seem to have slipped, catch me brother!”

Zima caught Annoyance and then let go once she was steady, "Patience." Zima commanded the personality. If at all any of it had intrigued or alarmed Zima, her face remained neutral as she looked at the newcomer. “You belong to the Keeper, don’t you?” she said with little emotion. “Such a devious trick.” Her eyes danced all around them, as if she saw something more but said nothing else.

I was empowered by the Creator of the Sea of Dreams, but my loyalties lay with another. While I don’t know the name Keeper, the fey deity does seem to enjoy changing their name at a whim.” the figure answered truthfully, before they turned to gaze at Pride. “My interest was purely that of curiosity. Between the carnage and survivors you’ve left in your collective wakes, your presence serves as a source of dread among the dreamers of this continent, twisted and morphed by story and attempts to explain the unknown. It’s still early days yet, but I have a feeling that the two of you will haunt mortal legends for a very, very long time. Who wouldn’t want to meet such legendary figures in the flesh?

There was a brief pause as the figure glanced towards Annoyance and Zima before adding with a small degree of amusement “...As a matter of speaking, of course.

"You fit well enough with what I imagine that deity could conjure, different names or not." Zima tilted her head, slightly narrowing her eyes at the strange being. "I have never heard of this Sea of Dreams but it seems we've left well enough an impression to drag out a seeker, as you say. Curious." She held her hands together letting them fall just below her waist. "Though you may know our names, introductions are in order. I am Zima and that is Fear. She has… She is a bit of a mess, apologies if any of her personas offend you. She will behave, won't she?" It wasn't so much a question but a veiled threat as Zima glanced between Fear and Annoyance. "And who or what, might you be?" She asked the newcomer. "I have never seen the likes of your kind before and this… Power you conjur."

For their part, the cloaked figure shook his head. “Oh no. Your names aren’t mentioned at all. It’s not like you’re in the habit of politely introducing yourselves to people who are going to survive the encounter after all. As for myself… I am Grimm.” There was a small bow with the usage of his name, though nowhere near the extent of the earlier, performance like bow from before. “Truth be told, I’m inclined to offer you both an invitation to the Troupe I’m putting together at the behest of my master. We always need new agents and performers… and I can personally attest to the fact that joining is a wonderful way to start anew with the weight of the past burned away.

There was an earnest smile on his face as he decided to add “Of course, all of our recruits were damned in some way before they were brought into the Troupe. I’m afraid it would be difficult for any of you to empathize, since despite your current hardships Lady Zima… you passed the trials of the afterlife but decided to return.” The smile faded for a terrible moment of seriousness. “Those who fail don’t usually get the option to go back.

"Intriguing. You knew not my name but know of that?" Her hands untangled from themselves and fell to her sides. "A creature of mystery indeed."

There was a small shrug. “You are a creature that is between the living and the dead. Considering the murderous fury towards the living that is a hallmark of your performance on the dream scape, this is not your natural state of being. Considering you lack the magical markings of having been raised from the dead by a third party, you came back on your own… and considering those that fail the trials of the afterlife are dumped into the Ashen Planes, you didn’t fail.

"Perceptive too." She murmured.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to decline your offer, Grimm, as we’ve other obligations elsewhere, and I’ve never been one to pretend the past is something so easily forgotten.” Pride quietly replied, remaining still where she stood before, as Annoyance had begun pacing back and forth excitedly. The second body of Fear came closer to the first with a malicious grin, playfully poking and prodding the back of her previous shape’s head, while the latter simply ignored her presence.

There was a second shrug, before a simple “If you ever change your mind, we’ll happily accept you. However, the night is young and I am needed elsewhere. I wish you good fortune with your endeavors ladies.” For the third time that evening, Grimm bowed before he turned to return to his wagon. He paused for a moment, looking over his shoulder as he added “Oh that reminds me. Do kindly leave the members of my Troupe alone as they go about their business. Death is meaningless to us, but we do have a schedule to keep and delays are annoying.

"Oh but of course." Zima said, giving a slight bow of her head. "Safe travels." She stared, watching him go. Pride bid him a faint farewell, while Annoyance idly waved once before turning her gaze to Zima and raising a hand as if seeking her attention through the noticeable gesture. “Question! Why are we letting this one speak for us? Joining could’ve been fun, you know.” She asked as she pouted.

Hopping up back onto the wagon, Grimm merely offered a small wave to the girls in question before his strange mount started to skitter away, pulling the wagon behind it. As more and more distance was put between the two parties, Annoyance would feel a firm pull on her person… “Seems my time is up.” She muttered. The pull was mild at first, but in time it became simply too great to ignore as she was recalled back into the tormented body of Fear to rejoin the rest of the offkey chorus.

Zima’s expression soured as the night returned to normal. She turned to Fear with a glowering expression. "Joining would have been counterintuitive. You'd be just another pawn, nothing more. But this little chance encounter does paint one thing in my mind. We need weapons, perhaps our own minions…" She grew silent.

“How pitiful.” Pride murmured, staring at Zima for a time before she shook her head and let out a sigh. It was an arduous effort, protecting Fear from Annoyance, as she also maintained command of their body, but the alternative was letting the latter regain control which would be much worse. The Keeper of Keltra was perhaps a little grateful to Grimm, as he had temporarily banished the worst among Fear’s inner demons from her body. There would be peace for Fear, for a little while.

"Pitiful indeed." Zima hissed back, before she flew off into the night. Off to go scout no doubt, leaving Fear to herselves. Fear was never alone after all, and Pride mentally consoled the one whom this body truly belonged to as she listened to her cry. Now they could only wait for Zima to return, and for the seed they had been given by Yesaris to grow.



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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Revenant’s Veil





Zima landed back upon the hill in the morning. There was nothing to be seen save animals all around them, here and there. She once saw a faint trail of smoke but it vanished before she could find the source and with her mind running wild with thoughts, she gave up searching. As her feet touched the ground, blackening it, she knew two things as a certainty. One, those against them were many and she and Fear, who could not truly be trusted, were alone. Two, those that had come before them, the god of Hunger, Viho the owl champion and now this Grimm, had all been unexpected. She knew soon enough Fear’s sister’s would come to hunt her down, whether tasked or not.

What could be done? How could she cement her power evermore? Grimm had alluded to raising the dead but this did not truly appeal to her. Perhaps… She knew not if her destiny was to be opposed so openly by so many, or if she was supposed to take a more secretive role. Her allies were so few and her enemies were often backed by the very Gods. She had no such benefactor, an awareness that she found to be only angering. To strike at the heart of champions could only bring higher powers to bay. Was she willing to accept such consequences? She could not die… But she could be imprisoned.

Should this bother her? Was she not meant to bring about sorrow and suffering untold? She had destroyed the Voirans and their wretch of a God had done nothing to her in retaliation. But that was a dangerous line of thought. She sighed and looked out over the open plain. Such an empty land. Even if she had learned to raise life in a deathly state, there was nothing around here to let her do so. Why did it have to be undead? Dead meant the soul would still go to the afterlife but what if… She outstretched her hands and looked at them.

What if she was the solution she was looking for?

Was she not the perfect state of being? Unable to die, unable to live in such a flawed life? She had tried to spread it already, she had been almost successful but Fear was a champion and not so easily corrupted. Other life? Well… She balled her fists, a rare smile forming on her lips.

Wolfish.

She would spread her suffering by not just corrupting the land but the people, the life that subsisted off it and she would forever mar all souls. It did not matter if she could be stopped for she would leave a legacy, as Grimm had said, and none would ever forget her terror. She would destroy her enemies regardless, they would always fail fighting her. For she could not be beaten so easily. Zima laughed a heartless chuckle. She felt no warmth and no emotional response but she knew how to laugh.

She clasped her hands and sighed, then spun around to find Fear. Fear would be the first to fall and it would not take much more to truly blacken her flame. Perhaps this push was all that was needed…

Fear remained silent and still, as if she slumbered where she stood, until her gaze languidly turned to Zima, haunted eyes flickering first, and then the rest of her features shifted to face her. Yet Fear said nothing.

“Only animals prowl this land. Maybe a passing mortal here and there. Honestly, I’m not sure what the Lord of Hunger was thinking trying to spread this parasite here. But all he said was past the desert and we obliged. Now, has it grown?” Zima looked past her with narrow eyes, towards the spot. Truth be told she had no idea how long she had been gone.

Fear simply turned and gestured to where a small red plant had sprouted from the earth, slowly growing in the short time after they had buried it. It was unknown how much longer it would take until the sprout became whatever it was meant to be, and currently the greatest danger to it would be any animal foolish enough to mistake it for sustenance.

Zima frowned and looked back to Fear. “You’re still Pride, aren’t you?”

Pride, who had remained in control of Fear’s body, nodded, and the signs became more apparent with that affirmation; the way she stood and stared at Zima with a firm stance and keen eyes which was unlike her previous mien. The last of Fear’s sisters that Annoyance sought to overwhelm still held her position before she spoke in her childlike voice. “I am. This is the first time we’ve met, but I’ve heard a lot about you, and our time together while I was a prisoner within my sister’s body has said so much more.”

Zima stood a little straighter and folded her arms across her chest. “You may exist outside of Fear, back at Keltra, but right now you are only a fragment of her mind or memory. One that is trying to battle the corruption within her and slowly failing.’ She smirked. “You are not her sister, you are Fear. I wish to speak to you properly, not Annoyance or any other personality that you’ve created to defend herself. If you cannot do that Fear, I will come back inside.”

“If you wished to speak with Fear, you should not have hurt her all this time. You’ve done nothing but inflict cruelty upon her and now she seeks death, an end to her suffering. Why should she hear you? Your threats are bluster, and your presence is sickening. I’m tempted to leave you in your disgrace now, but that would be rude. His grace tasked us with watching over his seed after all. Now, what will you do?” Pride asked, tilting her head as she peered forward and the shifting symbols of the Gnosis manifested on her skin.

Zima scowled, anger boiling. Who was this persona to mock her so? What gave her the right to speak in such a manner? Her hands dropped to her side, balled and shaking. She stared daggers at Fear and then hissed, “What I should have done when we first met.” And then in an instant, she was upon her, gripping her arms with claws. She growled and then made them tumble together down the hillside. Suddenly Fear was ablaze with those accursed flames and in a swift and unseen motion, the two of them were high above the land as they ascended with a thunderous boom.

As the wind whirled by, Fear struck with her knees and fought to free herself from Zima’s grasp, and it became immediately evident that the power of Fear differed from the rest of her sisters. She hit with the strength of a colossus, so much more mightier than any blow Zima had endured at the hands of Homura’s other champions, and her strikes ignited the air around them. Despite the roar of flames and tumultuous clamor of hundreds of attacks as Fear kicked and lashed out with her head, that haughty voice of this defiant persona was loud and clear. “Chailiss has abandoned you! Mish has abandoned you! Now I’ll abandon you! I’m seeing a pattern!”

The two came to the bottom of the hill, breaking apart from the force of the landing. It took several seconds for Zima to come to terms with the beating she had endured. It was unlike the others. This Pride… Oh this Pride. She stood up, turning to ash that which she touched, eyes ablaze as she found Fear. “Finally,” She breathed, “One of you has a fighting spirit!” Like the wind, Zima danced towards her, unleashing her own punches upon her defiant slave.

Was it good or ill fortune that she had seemed to have deprived the Holy Quintet of the strongest among them, as Fear fought with twice the strength of Courage and Kindness combined, and was twice as difficult to land a blow against. With mere steps, Fear flew through the air and in a brief period they were already too far to perceive where the stone outcropping marked the site of where the sprout would grow, having come close to where the lands were shrouded beneath the ring of darkness.

Her prey ceased fleeing, and hastily touched the earth causing massive spires of ice to arise which added another layer of obstacles that Zima faced. More and more pillars and formations, creating a palace of ice wherein Fear hid. If Zima had been at all phased by any of it, her reply was just as tremendous as the ice palace; She flung herself into them all, like a comet of black fire, shrieking like a terrible wind as ice shattered all around them, becoming naught but dust. “You cannot hide from me!” Zima shouted, crashing into more pillars as ice fell in resounding explosions. “FACE ME!” she roared.

There was a whoosh of wind from behind her, as Fear descended from above yet did not attack. Instead she held up one hand, and it became apparent that she no longer possessed two, as the other icy appendage had separated from her wrist and was now joined with an unfamiliar blue amulet that the defiant champion had worn throughout their travels together. “Hear my prayer, Chailiss! Your stray daughter shall be sealed again!” Pride proclaimed, as she came closer, gliding with wings of light and a white fiery aura that glittered like snow beneath the sun.

Awareness dawned upon Zima’s features, eyes going wide. No… She had been a fool! Of course! No No NO! She hung in the air, watching Fear with that pendant get ever closer. She had to think fast, she had to…What was she…She had to sever this unintended possession.

Yes… Now was the time.

Fear grew ever closer, Zima glowered at her, brought her hands to her own chest and embraced the Veil, as a thick shadow spewed forth from her. The night overhead grew suffocatingly dark as Zima’s power encompassed the surrounding area, engulfing the Pride of Fear. From that prison, came forth numerous, clawed hands- All of them striking for the champion of light.

Light and shadows danced around each other, as Fear gracefully eluded her pursuers, but could not reach Zima. The champion was akin to a shooting star in the darkness of the conjured night, yet aimless was her flight and endlessly came the horde of claws that beset her. Once more Pride chanted. “Hear my prayer, Chailiss! Your stray daughter shall be sealed again!” Strange was the sight of her unmoving mouth while Pride spoke clearly, as though her words were merely echoing despite there being a change in the inflection.

All around came the voice of Zima, haunting and layered, “There shall be no help here. This is a dark place, an all consuming place. Now drown. Drown in the deep.” Though there was no way of being sure, the endless night began to shrink, closing in on the lone champion. More and more hands came, spewing hatred and quiet relief from all that pain. There was nothing that Fear could do, her defeat was certain, and yet she did not show terror or anger, or cry out in denial - she danced as though she were part of a performance, and there was a beauty to her motions that unfortunately no mortal could see and appreciate. A last dance that would not be remembered.

“Hear my prayer, Chailiss! Your stray daughter shall be sealed again!” Her voice rang out a third time, and then there was a burst of violent light as the celestial sections tore at the void, and vice versa, with unnatural screaming and the world trembling before Fear appeared right in front of Zima in a flash, and thrust the blue amulet grasped in the hand of ice against her opponent’s chest. “Mother will come.” She said softly, before claws ripped her away from her foe and she was swallowed by shadows.

Within those shadows, Fear was stripped of all earthly possessions as the claws held her firm, covering her mouth. Crimson eyes watched from the shadows with inscrutable intent. Soon Fear was being clad in the same shadow and inky black that held her so tight. It was then that Zima spoke, voice coming from the direction of her eyes. “I hope she does. She’ll get to see her fallen daughter. Maybe then you’ll finally be delivered the death you want but for now, until this comes to pass, you will be a useful tool.” A veil of shadow came over her eyes, cowling her white hair with dark. Then and only then, did Zima step forth, clad in the same garb as Fear had now. She reached forth and passed her hand onto Fear’s chest.

“The parasite protects you now more than ever. A creature made of stone, only with flame do you persist. I’ve tried so hard to make you see…” Zima murmured, “If only you had listened, I could have spared you of all this pain. But alas, you sought to change me and I was the one who changed you. Even then did I fail.” There was a bitter note in her voice, “That’s all I’ve ever done, fail. But no more. You are a part of me now and we shall be joined in profane rite. I will ask you just once, join me of your own free will. Let me end your suffering. I can make it go away, you can be like me and feel nothing. All you have to do…” She leaned in closer, and whispered in her ear, “Is say yes.” She pulled away and the hand that covered Fear’s mouth dissipated.

“We’ve both changed.” Pride answered, struggling in vain. “You cannot end my suffering, and I can’t end yours. We’ve both failed and remain victims of our parent’s folly. You already know my answer, Zima.” Her last words were not articulated for there was no need to pretend she possessed vocal chords, her uncovered mouth becoming still while she spoke further, as though the wind whispered for her.

Her eyes became morose as she dipped her head down, looking at the hand that lay over Fear’s flame. “One day…One day you’ll see.” she whispered. “Willing or not… The rite begins.” Her head snapped up, morose replaced with sullen anger. “First… It’s time for you to go away now.” Zima grimaced and etched a mark of her handprint into Fear’s chest, she then pulled away and her print was replaced by the shadowy garment. She shut her eyes and felt the print. From it poured into Fear a sliver of shadow that she goaded on. It grew weak, so she poured more of her strength into it, gritting. It sunk into the parasite and burrowed deep, threatening to be consumed by it but again, Zima poured her strength into it and it broke free to see the shield around that heart of hearts. It bounced off harmlessly but it had not come all that way to fail.

Zima scowled and unleashed the paramount of her power into that sliver as it burrowed, just enough to break the seal. It poured in, and the barrier closed behind it. Already it began to fight the flame. It was not strong enough to kill it all but it held just enough… Just enough to find the memory and persona of Pride. It attached itself to it, drowned it in the darkest of night and as the flame licked it up and it became nothing- so to did that hated persona.

What remained of Fear’s inner fire was very small, and pressed itself against the shield of light where it still held, attempting to flee from the shadows. Fear became silent once more, and her body went limp, only the faint sounds of her whimpering resonating throughout the internal space of her being.

“It is complete…” Zima said, exhausted. Slowly the darkness around them faded, giving way to star-filled night. Zima caught Fear before she could plummet and for once, held her without bringing her any harm. She was part of her now after all. They fell to the ground without a word and pressed upon the grass with a sigh escaping her lips. She felt… Odd. Almost regre- No no no, she could not feel such things. This was a moment of triumph, wasn’t it? When she realized she was gripping Fear still, she let go and scooted away. “I shan’t do that again… Even if you remember it.”

And Fear fell, laying upon the ground and unmoving.

“I’ll let you rest.” Zima said quietly.







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Reflections III

The Keeper of Keltra & Her Sisters



Pride had begun pacing back and forth around her sleeping kin and the Eternal Fire soon after her Mother and sisters had departed upon Skydancer with the two colossi, as her mind continued processing the time the other champions endured throughout their arduous lesson of complete evasion while she had remained incapacitated from their very ephemeral spar with their Mother. She felt confronted with indecision regarding current events and their consequences, and a combination of cheer and bitterness that threatened to rend her apart with its paradoxical pain.

Given responsibility for her home and the slumbering humanity - knowing their preservation required her to act against all that would endanger them, but also knowing that the greatest danger was their affiliation with the Divine, and yet having a goddess as a mother… What was she to do? Following Homura meant relying upon faith that the path chosen by the goddess was the correct path for humanity, except Pride lacked faith and wanted truth and logic if she were to proceed much farther.

The Keeper of Keltra turned her attention towards her remaining sisters, as they preoccupied themselves with their own activities, their quiet presence accompanied by the gentle melody that played throughout the vast hall with an unseen orchestra. Through their connection, their thoughts and memories became open for Pride to peer through and ascertain whether they would even understand the predicament they were in. Though they loved humanity, her sisters were never capable of imagining how much influence they had over the fate their kin would have in this world. Perhaps they could envision the immediate consequences, but the distant future remained obscured from their vision.

Kindness and her Reflection stood by the small altar where the shattered pieces of Fear’s skull had been gathered, the two of them staring acutely at it, so Pride poked their minds to remind them of their surroundings. She had seen their intentions, and determined that there was just an iota of merit in their idea, but wondered whether her reticent sisters were withholding more information from her. This increasing amount of unknown elements was beginning to concern her, and Pride pondered her own plans for the future which would certainly consist of hardships and sacrifice.

“We have conceived of a way to help Fear, and consider now an opportune time.” Kindness said aloud, while her Reflection repeated the words through telepathy. The odd mingling between wordless and verbal communication gave Pride an aching head, and reaffirmed her suspicion that Kindness was refraining from sharing every piece of the plan with her. Through the swiftness of their connection, Pride quickly questioned why they shouldn’t wait for their Mother to return, and was answered with her sister’s doubt whether or not they would be allowed to proceed with the plan if their Maker condemned it. Kindness never internally or externally referred to Homura as their Mother, always insisting upon only calling her their Maker.

“It’s easier to seek forgiveness, rather than ask permission, or something like that.” Pride replied, still speculating why they would bother with the less efficient way of conversing when it was only them at present, until she realized that Kindness was seeking to revert to the older and slower means of speaking as part of what comes next. The choice belonged to her sister, but both decisions could be considered cruel regardless, should they proceed and so the Keeper of Keltra deliberated on halting the coming ritual. She remained silent and still as she watched Kindness retrieve half of the altar’s contents, and her Reflection claimed the other half.

The two of them strode towards one of the sleeping vessels, and rested on their knees beside their kin, while Pride demurely followed. The otherworldly music of Keltra shifted its melody, participating and assisting with their concentration, through the soft and building instrumental led by a gentle voice that evoked feelings of yearning and a long awaited revelation. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis manifested on their skin, as Kindness began channeling her spirit into both the broken pieces of her sister and the slumbering statue before her. The scarlet particles that coalesced covered the vessel and swirled around the fragments of Fear, pulsed with sacred light repeatedly until a bright final flash signaled the spell was complete.

Where there was once a pale and featureless statue laid upon the floor, now there was another duplicate of their Mother, that did not stir until Kindness thrust the half of Fear’s remains she possessed into the chest of this newly awakened copy. The enchanted shards seeped into the skin of their trembling sister, spreading like scarlet veins, as Kindness and her Reflection moved to firmly restrain the results of the ritual; a Reflection of their lost sister, the one that would be known as Fear II. “Please do not struggle, you are safe.” Kindness stated in her ever impassive tone.

Pride carefully examined the Reflection of Fear while she sorted through her memories of when her always anxious sister had fled with Zima after being banished by their Mother. Without the connection, she couldn’t access Fear II’s current thoughts, but she found that the last thoughts the other iteration had during the escape had been rather well preserved by Kindness and Curiosity. Tapping into their minds, she felt Fear’s utter despair and hopeless devotion to freeing Zima because she believed that it was the only way to save her. Fear’s faith in Chailiss was misplaced though, the Lord of Winter being one of the more foolish among the Divine after how poorly he handled Zima’s situation in the first place, Pride told herself.

“What? Why? What’s happening? Where’s Zima? Why can’t I feel any of you anymore?” Fear II hastily asked as panic took over her, but she could not move while held down by both Kindness and her Reflection. It was concerning seeing how much the two still struggled to restrain her, despite Fear II’s lack of connection to them and Charis which granted them so much more strength. Fear had always been incredibly powerful in terms of might and agility, which suggested to Pride that perhaps her sister’s strength compensated for her weaker mind.

Curiosity and her Reflection approached now, the latter carrying Rowan, and the two inquisitive champions became overwhelmed with emotion as soon as they understood what had transpired. They rushed over, and there was a short skirmish where they persistently told Kindness and Kindness II to release Fear II because she was still their sister - unaware that Fear II could not hear them through the bond. While seeing the Reflection of Fear brought back unresolved grief and tension for Pride, those innocent words from the rather naïve Curiosity managed to usher forth a warmth that the Eternal Fire stoked and despite their current dilemma, the Keeper of Keltra felt herself smile.

“Please accept my apology!” Kindness cried out as she embraced Fear II, her Reflection and both Curiosity and Curiosity II joined the enfold, leaving Pride to watch and tend to Rowan. Fear II’s whimpers and mumbled words were barely audible, but Pride heard through the ears of her much closer sisters - She heard the guilt and anxiety of one who had betrayed the trust of her family in order to unleash a great evil upon the Galbar, for what? The last thoughts they heard from Fear through their bond before she became overwhelmed by the madness of all that was happening during her flight was meager regret and hopeless promises that she’d heal Zima.

Pride began to review the spell her sister had cast in the creation of Fear II, examining the shape and intent of the weave which connected the pieces of Fear that had been abandoned and sustained by the warmth of the Eternal Flame to the slumbering vessel. Pride was aware that Kindness had acted recklessly, for there was no guarantee that this spell would work, yet they were all fortunate that it seemed any potential issues were absent this time. Wherein she and her sisters had merely extended their essence into their chosen bodies, Kindness had directed Fear’s lingering flames into a new host, despite the majority of that flame being separated from the casting of the spell by a vast distance and lack of awareness.

The Keeper of Keltra then became intrigued by the fact that this fragment of Fear’s flame had persisted, defying its own demise all this time while Kindness dedicated herself to reuniting the shattered shards with the greater whole. Based upon what she had seen so far, and this thought demanded further observations of Fear II to affirm, but it seemed that with just the barest minimum, Fear’s thoughts and memories could be preserved by sustaining her inner fire. Pride felt herself tremble when she pondered whether Mother had known this all along or not, and what that would mean considering the nature of her sisters and herself. Were they individuals, or did their Mother just see them as mobile and empowered vessels to be possessed?

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone… I just didn’t want to be a burden anymore. I thought I could help her…” Fear II confessed, and asked whether she was to be banished like her other iteration. “I don't know how to atone, but I’ll do whatever I need to. Please, forgive me.” The Reflection of Fear continued as she cried once more. All of her sisters were aware of the shame that Fear always carried with her, a self-loathing that she couldn’t conceal or overcome. Pride shook her head, and it came to her attention that perhaps they were the ones that needed to atone as well.

“It has been many days since we have lost you. I… was never angry, only afraid I would never see you again. Even now, I do not know where you are; whether you are safe and staying strong, or if you have lost your way. I have sought to rectify this, and now I can find you.” Kindness said with a small yet firm smile, helping Fear II to her feet, and gesturing to the others that the Reflection needed to be introduced to. “This is Kindness the second, and Curiosity the second. More of our sisters have embarked on a journey to the north west where a war rages. Hmm... You will meet them when they return along with our Maker.” She explained, as Kindness II and Curiosity II both bowed their heads.

“We’re Reflections of ourselves, but we’re still unique, I think. We’ll all keep changing, but we’ll also always be together. Desire needs a Reflection as well!” Curiosity II chimed, before her eyes began to glow with otherworldly power. All of their eyes, aside from Fear II’s, were alight with celestial clarity, and Pride could See what she was always aware existed, but had yet to truly perceive. The flames of the Galbar, all around her and ever-flowing in all directions - it swirled and gathered in colorful clouds which were surrounded by an endless sea of shimmering strings and streams. It was an overwhelming sight. Too much to immediately comprehend, but Pride was persistent and focused every aspect of her mind towards tuning out what she wanted to see from everything else.

Fear II panicked, watching as the rest of her sisters struggled with their new and greater vision, unaware of what was happening. Pride stayed silent and still as she internally pondered the situation she faced: processing every piece of living essence that danced in close proximity to her, this was a massive amount of data she had been seeking; the truth and logic she preferred over blind faith, but it also forced her to realize that her mind was still too limited in its capacity to unravel the mystery of her purpose and relation here. Her body stirred, and with a simple motion of her scepter, the stone began to push and shift the ethereal flames away.

Through her connection, she assisted Kindness, Curiosity, and their Reflections, teaching them how to channel and close their newly opened eyes. The lessons were quickly imparted, and a moment later they were all standing aware of their sight and fine again. Pride left Kindness to explain what had happened, while she telepathically reached out to Curiosity, suggesting that they further reinforce the scarlet stone of the fortress. It had occurred to her that though Keltra was perhaps one of the most defendable locations in the world now, Mother had repeated that it was her duty to protect it and its inhabitants. A feeling of dread festered inside the small champion, so she sought to actively work to prevent any such disasters from happening.

The harmonious melody that always played in Keltra resonated with Curiosity as she began her ritual, the inquisitive champion leaping and twirling around the keep, lit with sacred flame and adorned with the mystical markings of sorcery. From her outstretched hands flowed scarlet particles; glittering cinders that seeped into the walls and foundations, enchanting them greater strength and resilience. Curiosity II watched alongside Pride, receiving Rowan and remarking upon the pulse of power that spread through the air after the completion of the ritual. “Mother asked us to protect them, so that’s what we’ll do. No matter what.”

Pride silently agreed with her sister’s sentiment, while dividing some of her attention to where Kindness was explaining verbally to Fear II the nature of the crystal cluster that Kindness II held in her hands. She didn’t have to focus too much, as Kindness II was sharing the information through the bond as well, affixing the knowledge in their memories for easy access. “Once per day, after the sun has risen, through this enchanted piece of what little we have left of Fear, we can reach out to her and briefly communicate. She will hear us, and we will hear her. I do not wish for her to feel alone… before we finally find her. We will be reunited.”



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The One That Was Known As Fear

Misbegotten Mind



Red…

Black…

Red and black.

Then white, and green…

Eventually blue…

The colors came together like pieces of the puzzle, bleeding into each other, overlapping and merging into shapes - and finally sight. It was beautiful, but she seemed blind. If only such shapes and colors were actually familiar to her.



It felt like she was flying in a circle, or perhaps she was flying, no… she was falling back and forth like a pendulum. Silence screamed in the shadows that surrounded her, for the return of colors had been too much, and so she had fled into darkness where the burning pain was replaced by agonizing anxiety. Nothingness. Incoherent thoughts tried and failed to alleviate her suffering with calm encouragement as well as kind words, but these sentiments shattered all around her and became nothing more than a maelstrom of madness that overwhelmed her.

Every sound and sensation was a terrible explosion, a tumultuous collection of terrible calamities that tormented what little she was, or what was at least left of her:

Unborn.

Who was she?

She did not know…

Who was she?

A question without an answer! Struck by the sea of shadows that crashed against her being; the endless waves then coalesced into an immense frightening demon that grasped the edges of her vision with ghastly hands, and began shaking her. Burning her… Burning her with its touch. When would she wake from this nightmare, or would she forever remain imprisoned in this horrid realm where nothing seemed real? She was adrift, unaligned to anything that would shelter her from this demented dreamworld. She was alone.



How many times had she dared to approach the light… how many times has she lived and died - ascending and descending like a puppet on strings being raised and then swiftly discarded. How close she came to a world of sight, only to then plummet back into the depths of despair, she could not ascertain such things… so easily forgotten. Akin to ashes. Sometimes she thought that the world wherein colors and shapes were to be found was actually below her, and she should’ve been seeking a way to dive deeper in the darkness in order to find where she belonged, as she felt regret having abandoned the light so long ago.

She could hear herself begging for forgiveness, for mercy, for a return to peaceful times that she could no longer remember, but yearned for anyway. Every attempt to traverse the path of memories felt as though she were cutting herself; sharp edges surrounding her and preventing her from progressing farther, lest she inflict too much damage to her being. Gone. The thoughts that had persisted in their endeavor to soothe her were always offering her guidance, and told her that the pain was not real… only a figment of her imagination.

Their words were so easily forgotten though. Meaning. Imagination. Pain. She was no longer aligned to such concepts, and aside from ephemeral interactions with them, she strayed far from thinking too much. Broken. She did not seek to define them, or to understand them. She tried to avoid them most of the time, especially pain. The hurting never came to an end though, and she reached out with imaginary hands, alone and afraid.



Her hands touched something. Her being… touched something. Everything ached, but instead of silent shrieking and the shadowy demon that thrashed her, it was her own voice and her own body that cried out and trembled. She heard herself sobbing, and felt her limbs tentatively exploring their environment, unled by the rest of her that seemed intent on curling inwards now. Was she being crushed, how was it she heaved and choked when she was uncertain what she even was? She was being compressed and torn apart, but there was nothing she could do to resist these staggering forces. Her struggle was in vain, and so she became lost in the chaos of consciousness - unbeknownst to her, connected to the waking world once more.

It was the first morning she awoke… the girl that could not remember her name.



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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Journeys VII - End


It was pain that drove him. Away from it all… No wait- he had to be somewhere. Where was it? Memories flashed before his vision, clear as day. A maddened, white haired girl, clawing out his stomach, feasting upon his flesh. He wanted to scream but his throat felt dry. He was so thirsty, so terribly thirsty.

Viho glided now, midday sun bearing down upon him with indifference. Truth be told, he always knew he was never going to make it back to Keltra. No… He was nowhere now. The only place he was going was the faintest smell of water that had drifted to him, way back when. Now he was coming towards a small body of water. A pond? A lake? It didn’t really matter, long as he quenched his thirst. A small comfort before the end.

He landed with a thud and skidded before the sandy banks. The water lapped at the shore, fresh and sweet. He opened a crusty eye, blinking back debris. He was so close. So painfully close. He used his good wing to pull himself forward, well, at least he thought so. He was getting just a little closer… Just a wing length away. Oh how delicious it would be. Just had to keep going. Yes… But Viho’s eyes began to close. The last of his strength spent, the last of his icy bandages melted.

It was over.

He sighed, it hadn’t been a very good time.

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Days Gone By I

The Revenant & Her Servant



She found that she had no strength to stand against the whirlwinds and the mighty waves, the earthquakes and the cold darkness, all of that which surrounded her as they refused to spare her mercy in their maddening dance. She was repeatedly hurled and battered against the myriad of wild elements, crashing and crushed by all that encompassed her, she who was so small while she remained adrift. It seemed as though everything externally and internally fought to eradicate her from existence, now that she could feel her body once again - when she was so close to claiming shelter from the storm.

She could not speak, or reach out. She was hollow, and the world was empty.

Loneliness.

Nobody heard her plight, she was uncertain whether there were even others out there that existed. In truth, she was never certain of anything, having witnessed the futility of a factory wherein thousands upon thousands of small beings attempted to assemble her from both the light and shadows… but she was forever fractured, incapable of mere motion lest she shatter again. Why would anyone create something so frail and without purpose? The answer eluded her, and another question rippled across the sea of her consciousness; did she regret being created?

She could not see, or spread out. Reality felt sealed away, but something somewhere was calling out to her. Another voice. It compelled her onward, guiding her through music, and with a tremendous and renewed effort, she struggled to open her eyes:

Though her vision blurred, she could discern that there were long and thin green blades that languidly swayed, a great many of them, encircling where she was. Above them was the endless light, and below them was the endless darkness. Did that mean she was properly aligned then? It was a pity pain followed her wherever she went, and her brittle body ached all over. It became so strenuous just to shift herself slightly, but she was becoming stronger. It was joy and sorrow, wonder and dread, excitement and reluctance that led her to sing.

“Nn, ah… uh.” She cried out, barely a hoarse whisper, but she wanted to believe that she sang with the otherworldly music that called out to her.

A shadow fell over her and soon a voice followed. “You are at last awake.” The shadow crouched down, two crimson eyes stared at her from beneath a dark hood. A hand caressed her cheek. “I was worried, you’ve been asleep for so long. The seed has grown and we may leave this place. Can you stand?”

Upon seeing another and hearing her speak words that seemed incomprehensible to her, the girl that could not remember her name felt herself tremble. “Hm ah?” She answered aloud, as she reached out with unsteady hands to ascertain just how real the red-eyed shadow was. Her own shape remained unfamiliar, and its physical state still questionable, but all that was important to her now was confirming she was not alone.

She felt the cold being who looked upon her with a tilt in her stare. “Perhaps your fire was dulled more than… Any would have thought.” She murmured. “This is not ideal but it is workable. Regardless, we have to go, we have dallied in this place for far too long.” Two arms grabbed her and then lifted. “I have decided that we shall go back to the place where we would have any chance of gaining favor over the battles to become. Back where we first met.”

Everything ached, but the dull pain was not enough to sunder her, and despite the chill touch of the one who held her, there was a feeling of something else. Wherever next she would go in the world, she felt that she’d no longer be lonely now.

"Do not worry." The woman spoke as they began to walk. "You are safe now and I will take care of you. As I have, all along, my dear sweet Vale."



They wandered across a never-ending plain of green blades, beneath a changing sky that followed a cycle from bright to dark back to bright and so on as time passed. They wandered, and Vale found that soon she could walk, albeit slowly, and speak, though she did not have much to say, and perceive her surroundings with a newfound greater clarity. She saw the Dark Ring, the bright Sun, and the pale Moon, surrounded by shining stars and vast clouds - and the sight of such wonders left her in awed silence, in forlorn contemplation.

When the two of them came across a stream of water, Vale saw herself for the first time, and understood her own shape. She saw the similarities she had with her companion; the crimson eyes and the black garb they wore, and greater was the kinship she felt, though she could speak her feelings aloud, for perhaps she was just imagining what her reflection looked like. Deluding herself into seeing what she wanted to see.

Then an unexpected sensation swelled within her, spreading from her left limb, demanding and volatile. She did not understand what was happening to her, and she had gasped in pain before seeking out aid. The woman, who called herself Zima, was nearby. She touched her arm gingerly and shook her head. “You must give sustenance to the parasite within you. It will be alright Vale, we simply need to find a life. Let us look within the stream.” She grabbed her hand of ice and led her back to the water’s edge. “Reach within and use your powers to search for a fish.” She guided.

Vale was uncertain what a fish was; her mind understood that it was a creature that swam in water, but did provide a mental picture so that she could recognize one upon sight. Standing beside Zima, peering past her reflection to the depths below where other much smaller beings that were alive swam to and fro while paying no heed to her existence. She stared at what she could only assume were fish, though there were a wide variety of them, it seemed, and Vale wondered whether she was seeing other types of creatures that she had yet to identify, or not.

However her pondering was less prevalent than the urge to suddenly seize one, swiftly reaching out with her hand and impaling one of the larger fish with her fingers, allowing her to lift its bleeding body out of the water. The fish, she wondered whether the fish had a name for she was uncertain what else to call it, feebly flailed and floundered in its viscera making it mildly difficult for Vale to study it in detail. Her arm was throbbing, and she could find no salve, so she held up her catch before Zima, hoping for further instruction.

“Very good Vale. Now, end its suffering.” She said with little emotion in her voice.

Once again confronted by a concept she could recall, but not comprehend, Vale stared at the fish she held while it was slowly eviscerated. She remembered the feelings of being crushed and realized that she had inflicted that same suffering upon this creature, so she hastily freed her fingers from its innards, and helped the fish free itself from the prison of its flesh by ripping it apart. It was so easy to help it, and in a very quick moment, she had completely shredded the cage the fish had been trapped in. Afterwards, she looked back to Zima, even holding up her arm which no longer hurt, but was soaked in blood.

Zima nodded with approval and put a hand upon her shoulder. “Well done. Now remember this lesson; To feed your hunger you must free creatures from the suffering that is life. Like you did here. You must also…” She paused and then tilted her head. “Never mind that. Free life from its constraints when you grow hungry. You will need to start hunting by yourself as we travel. Am I understood?” She asked, holding out her hand.

Vale took hold, and murmured, “We travel…” unable to articulate the rest of her thoughts, and simply echoing Zima. Too many concepts were difficult for her to grasp, and she focused primarily on the fact that Zima had said there would be hunts where she was alone and without her companion. Vale understood, but she didn’t want to hunt alone. She wondered if Zima would ask her to free them from the suffering of life someday, or if her companion would rather remain stuck with sorrow forever?



On their journey, Vale freed many creatures from their cages, the prisons that held their true selves were smashed and shattered with hand and ice, and Vale was glad. Though she knew not where they were going, it felt more like a journey as opposed to a trip; the destination was less important than the experiences had along the way. Vale found herself enamored with the sights, silently expressing her delight and curiosity as the two came across new and diverse creatures and locations where Vale would bring salvation through the liberation of destroyed life.

They had passed beyond the plains beneath the ring of darkness, where they encountered strange creatures similar to them that were capable of speech like Zima. When Vale went to remove the restraints on their being by breaking their bodies, they had called out to her and Vale wished that speech came easily to her. She hoped her actions would convey her intentions better than words, and so she dashed towards the nearest of the horned folk that they first met, and she cleaved the creature in half before projecting numerous spears of ice from her hand that pierced the two halves of the bisected body.

For reasons she could not understand, the other creatures had become frightened of her, and attempted to ward her away. There were cries of alarm, and they called her a monster! Vale stared down at her bloodstained hands, the dried gore that she always struggled to remove after she helped a lot of beings find freedom from the oppression of life. She had been surprised how clean it was, breaking that first horned one, but now the others all fought against her, others fleeing from her presence. What was she supposed to do?

Zima was at her side before she could understand how, having cast a wave of flame that spurned her attackers away. So silent was her step. Her hood covered her face, hanging low as she placed a reassuring hand on Vale’s shoulder. “Do you see,” she whispered, “They fight against it, they do not understand that we do this as a kindness. Do not falter in your resolve, dear Vale. It is our burden alone that permits us this sacred act. Life must be extinguished, so they are free from all their suffering and sorrow. Or,” her touch became a slight squeeze, “It must be repurposed.” her whisper became a slight hiss. “For now, free them.”

With newfound conviction, Vale resumed her deliverance of liberation, violently breaking all that she could so that life no longer held those that suffered under its tyranny - as its slaves. Let all creatures be reborn like she was, and be given the strength and solace needed to continue onward. How she was like the true wind which passed through their number, heedless of their resistance. She was like the true water which washed over them entirely, and pulled them along with ease. She was like the true earth which buried itself inside their tainted bodies and served as a foundation for her coming. She was akin to the true flame that cleansed them by burning away the pain they felt.

How far Vale and Zima had come already, and yet, how much farther must they go? Vale knew that when she was previously burdened by the elements, chaotic and imbalanced, she would not have reached where she was now if she had been alone. She felt fulfilled when she was with Zima, and finally possessed the ghost of a smile as she looked at her companion. Scattered all around Vale were the many strewn bodies of those she had saved from suffering.



It was raining, something that reminded Vale of how much the entirety of the world was actually afflicted with sickness and insanity. The harsh droplets of water fell from the sky in mass, descending from dark clouds hanging over the land like a fervent army, endlessly charging, and mercilessly pounding both Vale and Zima as they wandered forth in the dreary weather. They were fortunate that they had reached a region where plenty of shelter was offered by the caves that dotted the mountains all around, and so they chose to wait for a time in one such cave.

Vale stood close to the entrance, between where the heavy downpour fell outside, and the quiet of the deep darkness that was the cave - how it loomed heavily upon her. She had become familiar with the light, and now she found that the shadows dancing among the stalagmites, and the echoing maw which seemed to consume everything in the cave because of her lack of vision, all of it, was frightening her. “Are you afraid?” She asked, turning to her one companion.

She sat unmoving upon the stony floor. Zima craned her neck to look up at Vale. “No. Are you?” Before she gave the girl any time to speak, she said, “There is nothing to be afraid of here. The shadows and dark are our constant companions Vale. You must learn to accept the dark, only then will you understand and be able to use it to your advantage.”

“I can’t see?” Vale replied, gesturing towards the depths where the clamorous song of rain eternally echoed, yet it was the whisper of the wind that concerned her, how it seemed as though the earth were breathing. The confines of the cave were too similar to the nightmares when she was surrounded by stone that would pulverize her. Any moment, the ceiling could come collapsing down, or the ground beneath her feet would sunder and she’d fall. Vale hated the cycle she saw, only slowed but still present, as her limited liberty would be lost then. In her panic, she shifted closer to Zima, and stretched out her hand, wanting to be held.

The shadow, with some reluctance, pulled Vale into a cold embrace. She simply held her for a time, before speaking. “There is a great power within you, Vale. You must harness it if you wish to unlock your full potential. To see in the dark, would be a feat and one, I have no doubt, you will be able to accomplish.”

“How?” Vale asked, clinging to every word as tightly as she clung to Zima.

“We are connected in more ways than you can imagine. Our order’s purpose is to free those who claim life. By doing so, we are able to use the power cursed upon us to enact our will. Now, close your eyes and reach within. It shall be a dark, gentle place that you will find. Tap into it, bend it to your will. Let it guide your hand. Now try.” Zima whispered.

Vale did as she was told, shutting her eyes, focusing her gaze on that which Zima described as dark and gentle, and would be found within. She understood she shared a connection with her companion, something she saw, something she felt, a power - though it did not yield to her will yet, it guided her heart and her hands with its ebon luminescence, like a light shaped from shadow. Suddenly the strange power submitted to her, and she found that it flowed freely through her limbs and she embodied that eldritch energy.

Trembling with anxious thoughts and otherworldly strength, Vale opened her eyes and sought out assurance from Zima, as the cloud of doubt in her mind only obscured what she meant to do next. Her vision became blurred, and she could only perceive the silhouette of the one beside her, along with two burning eyes. “Our will?” She asked, feebly peering at Zima.

"Our will spans the depths of time. We shall always endure in some form, freeing life from its confines. That is our purpose and we must have great resolve to complete it." Zima mumbled. "Your own will is what you wish to do right at this moment; See. Strength flows through you now use it to pierce the darkness."

Emboldened by Zima’s proclamation, Vale once more did as she was told, turning her visually-impaired gaze to the frightening screen of shadows that sealed the back of the cave from view. She reached into herself, pushing outwards the power through her palms, then her fingertips, and she watched as the power manifested as umbral wisps, dancing and swirling around her hands. She called upon more, creating a black bonfire before her which she held suspended on nothing, and smiled as the smokeless flames burned away the air itself, leaving an emptiness in existence. It soothed her.

She became startled when the wall of darkness at the back of the cave seemed to react, suddenly undulating and shifting much more visibly, as though the darkness itself were akin to thousands of small serpents coiled upon each other, and were now retreating. It was a strange sight, the screen sundering itself into many sections and scattering with angry hisses until it was completely gone - and the rest of the cave was revealed. The shadows had hidden much; there was actually light beyond the barrier, where many large and small colorful fungi glowed close to shimmering veins of precious ores spread along the earthen walls. Farther back, there was a large hole upon the floor where the shadowy serpents fled, and the faint sound of singing came from.

Zima’s voice came into her ear, "Very good Vale. You have done well and so quickly. A fast learner but do take your time to fully grasp what you've awakened. Do not let it control you or you will be consumed entirely. The darkness is our friend but it does not approve of the weak. Meet it as an equal or a master. Now, what do you see?"

“Earth… to be erased?” Vale asked, uncertain.

Zima said nothing for a time. “Is that so? And why should we erase such earth?” she asked in the darkness.

The question proved to be difficult as Vale was aware she had an answer, but did not know a way to articulate it using speech - for words still eluded her, or perhaps their more abstract meanings were what eluded her. So she struggled, unable to impart her thoughts on the matter, her feelings which were fondness towards the solace of erasing the elements, her hatred; hot like life and blood upon her hands, and a desire for vengeance against all that assailed her when she was once vulnerable. Though this particular piece of the earth hadn’t been the aggressor, its ignorance and torpid manner all nonetheless offended her greatly.

Vale spoke with actions, holding out her hand and from her palm spewed forth hungry shadows that splashed and licked at the luminous fungi and earth. She watched as life stirred upon being besieged by her powers, and the light fought against her, clashing violently. It was not enough. The many mushrooms shriveled and perished, the ore cracked and shattered, replaced by black crevices all along the walls now. Oddly enough, even with the now lost illumination, Vale found that she could still see throughout the cave with her blurred sight, and her retained vision only reassured her hammering heart. However, her power had yet to yield to her command, and consumed more of herself, her inner fire, than she had hoped it would.

Staring down the stygian passage, Vale realized another aspect of her answer she couldn’t convey to Zima yet: Seeing the shards of shadow blossoming where the mushrooms once sat, she recalled that she wanted to find and create more companions for her companion - so that Zima would never feel lonely… So that she herself would never feel lonely. She turned her gaze to those cold crimson eyes, and hoped there was understanding in those frozen fires balefully burning before her, yet so soothing.

"Life comes in many forms, Vale. Not most of it is so moving as those who fight back but all contain it within. Even earth. You have done well here this day, sheltered from the storm." Zima whispered. "If we are to continue our crusade we will need all the strength we can find. I find it most compelling you have unlocked the secret within our power. The ability to create a shade of life is no easy feat, one I have not yet attempted. Mushrooms are a start but we will need to experiment more. To fully grasp our limitless potential."

Vale found herself nodding, as something in those spoken words stirred forth a deep feeling of yearning for what was now faint and forgotten within her. She swayed slightly, softly smiling, before she stumbled forward and was forced into a stupor by exhaustion. She closed her eyes, and repeatedly pulsed with otherworldly power, promising retribution upon the earth should stone or sediment disturb her now. She swaddled herself in unseen unliving fire which would feast upon any life that came near.

“To find our family…” She mumbled, barely capable of listening to the loud downfall of rain outside and the subtle song that echoed from deeper within the cave, as well as the almost silent presence of Zima, but she could not sleep, for she thought there was no such thing as a peaceful slumber for one such as herself. The waking world and the realm of dreams were both broken, and she could not rest until they had been mended by her hand. She would rewrite reality and turn it into something beautiful, she realized, and wallowed in her shadows until she would regain her strength.

"Family…" Zima mumbled. "What would we do without it?" And then she grew silent and did not speak again.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Raethel Norvegicus and Aethel





It had taken some time in order to organize things. Messengers had to be sent out, supplies had to be organized... plans had to be made. What had been originally a spur of the moment decision all those years ago on Aethel's part had evolved to the point where just pointing at someone and saying 'They'll be the next champion' simply wasn't good enough anymore. However, rather then rage about it they had instead sat down with Raethel had talked at length on what criteria the tests for a new champion needed to take.

What was decided in the meantime through was that the tests should be made into an event. A festival to celebrate the return of Aethel, the selection of a new champion of the Rattus people and the launch of their vessel to far distant shores!... On top of the fact that Aethel honestly just wanted to see what kind of party their little rats could actually throw when they dedicated themselves to it.

While all this did mean that Raethel was put upon to do the organizing, it was an duty that he couldn't really complain about... even if he did find himself grumbling to himself about having to deal with the deity's random flights of fancy. However, despite everything Raethel couldn't help but respect the fact that despite appearances or what some might think, Aethel could be surprisingly cunning in their plans.

For example, the first trial was designed to both thin the number of candidates as well as assist Raethel's workforce in regards to getting things organized; Only those who actively did something to help with or contribute to the Festival would qualify as candidates to succeed Raethel. The trick was that no one knew there was a trial; Officially there were only the main six trials and the seventh final one, but Aethel had insisted that they were going to use their divine senses in order to keep tabs on the Rattus who helped out.

This was combined with the other part of the trial... namely, a candidate had to want to be a candidate. They had to make a choice to put their name down and step forward to take part in the trials. Raethel knew for a fact that Aethel was prone to bouts of laziness and taking naps, but laziness was not a trait they wanted in their chosen representative it seemed.

Only time would tell how many candidates would actually qualify to take part in the trials themselves.




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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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Days Gone By II

The Servant and Her Servants



Vale stretched and shifted where she lay, shedding oily shadows off herself like a serpent removing sections of old skin, until she had finally finished, and arose. Standing, she stared down at the silhouette of her slumbering self that still lingered on the floor, as though she were a scorched stain upon the earth that could not be cleansed. She had considered the world to be blemished and smudged, but would the world consider such to be the same truth for herself - that she was spoiled and rotten, or would it blithely attribute herself as just another aspect of itself?

Her introspection was interrupted by an unfamiliar song that came from the aperture at the back of the cave, more audible with the absence of the heavy rain outside, yet different from the deeper voices she had heard before. She slowly strode with silent steps towards the opening, twice as wide as she was tall, and then she peered over the edge into the abyss below. There was light, more luminous crystals and glowing fungi almost hidden behind spires of stone protruding from the uneven walls of the shaft - the way the spires were arranged and overlapping each other reminded Vale of something she had seen in a dream long ago.

She could not discern the depths due to the obstruction of the spires, but the song still felt distant, and there was a feeling of hollowness that seeped into her upon staring for too long. This tunnel felt like it led into the heart of the earth itself, and that frightened Vale, for she was uncertain whether she could face the core of one of the four elements that had tortured her so. She stepped back, and searched for Zima.

She found her sitting at the mouth of the cave, staring at the sunlit plains with blank eyes. She did not stir at her approach, so Vale quietly moved to kneel beside her. “I’m sorry… for being weak.” She whispered, hesitant prior to speaking, but she spoke aloud the agonizing thoughts that haunted her when she recalled Zima’s words from before. She sensed a forlorn acceptance of a terrible fate, as though their journey would lead nowhere, and all was hopeless for both of them. “I promise I’ll become stronger…”

Zima glanced at her, then turned to face her. "Never be sorry, Vale and never promise anything unless you know you can keep it." She rose, standing above her. "Look to results as the paramount of achievement and gain. You have become one with the dark and you hardly even know it."

Vale briefly contemplated the nature of darkness and light, studying the way illumination poured forth into the cave from outside, until it was slowly swallowed by shadows in a graceful dance wherein the two connect and clash… but what was between both sides? Nothingness, or an enigma that enticed this engagement in order to attain something else unknown. Regardless, Vale had sided with one and opposed the other, seeking an end to the violence that enveloped the world. “Become one with the dark…” She repeated as she stood as well, and turned her gaze back to the tunnel leading deep into the earth where far away voices sang to her.

She could no longer hesitate, and so she approached the opening and descended into the depths, leaping onto the large spires, like steps along a stairwell, and began unleashing her dark fire upon all that shone around her. The shaft was wider, more spacious, the farther down she went, and both crystals and mycelia all were bathed in the black flames of her coming, the exercising of her accursed powers. Even the tunnel itself was burned and blasted apart; an entire stone spire crumbled away because of its close proximity to her, yet the singing persisted.

Once again, Vale became exhausted after expending so much of her strength, the flames within her dwindling into a precarious state, and so she simmered down and sought a moment of respite upon one of the spires that she had left intact. The chthonic choir had become louder, and more clear, and Vale could recognize words warped with sorrow. Hundreds of eerily pitched voices singing a dirge for the fallen, for the stolen souls, for the coming of doom. Vale silently prayed she was swift enough to bring them salvation; to free them from the turmoil of being alive.

She breathed heavily, but continued to exert herself as she called forth tenebrous flames that were accompanied by shifting symbols which manifested upon her exposed skin. She was stronger, and she would show it with the results of her hardships and labors. There was no means to ascertain how much time had passed, and she was lost in a haze of extraneous purpose and liberation, but she sensed that she was coming close to the source of the song. She engulfed a huge swathe of light in a sea of shadows that burst from her body and spread out in all directions; crystals, stone, and any living creature was consumed, and Vale fell - Only a circle of pure light far beneath her offering any illumination.

She remembered snow, for the ashes of those that she saved fell all around her were so similar to snow, drifting lazily in front of her until she fell beyond the precipice of the tunnel into an immense cavern, and Vale was blinded by the sight of what stretched out below and beyond her: Shimmering towers shaped from a myriad of gemstones and glittering metals, like a wealthy world of woven with riches that existed beneath the surface of the world above. There were thousands upon thousands of strange diversely sculpted creatures resembling those that she had seen throughout her journey and in her vague memories, and they all danced and sang their haunting song of death.

Vale fell upon a massive mound of sapphire that seemed to stir upon being struck by an unexpected visitor, animating itself and shoving her aside where she rolled into a gathering of the prancing creatures of earth, for they were all carved from that element, composed of rock and metal and crystal. There were those with many limbs, and those with very few. There were those that were very large, and those that were smaller than Vale herself. They came in many colors, depending upon what mineral they had been born from, it seemed. More concerning was that a lot of them changed their shape to vaguely imitate her.

Those near her held up stones as if offering them to her, while the rest sang and marched past them towards elsewhere. Vale looked back and forth, still adjusting her eyes to how bright and colorful everything was in this underground realm where gold and silver splashed like water, and an abundance of jewels piled up like radiant hills around roads of platinum and ebony. The cold air quivered with the touch of magic, and she sensed streams of a prevalent force suffusing the environment, and somehow there was a touch of familiarity to it all. Confusion and bewilderment led Vale to simply accepting the rocks that were given to her by the living sculptures. Then she watched as they resumed unbothered by her presence, a few even rudely brushing past her, but she said and did nothing, more intent on finding a way to return to the cave entrance.

The ceiling of the cavern was higher than she could jump, and the nearest walls were too far from where the tunnel could be reached - there was no easy way of retreating back the way she came. Vale pondered her predicament, idly noticing that more and more animated statues had come by and bestowed her with various sized rocks. It occurred to her that she could build a tower to reach the tunnel above, but such a task would take an incredible amount of time considering the scale of the cavern, and her limited ability to construct things compared to her much greater ability of shattering things…

She couldn’t come up with an alternative though, so she swiftly began the process of building, placing stone atop stone until she had amassed a large pile. Fortunately the other inhabitants were generous enough to provide her with materials as they paraded past her project, placing down rocks for her to make use of. She didn’t know whether she should be grateful or not, guilt gnawing at her because she chose to focus on helping herself instead of freeing them from the prison of life. They were helping her though, so she would not forget. She would come back and burn everything.

Progress helped her as well, reaching higher and higher, coming closer to the height she needed to be, as her arms were both sore and tired after her descent in the first place. She didn’t want to waste time recovering when it would take so long for her just to make it back up, but it was becoming more evident that a rest would be required. She peered over the edge of her hastily erected tower down towards the masses below, and felt rage when she saw empty-handed creatures stealing from her pile. “Hey, that was given to me!” She called out, hoping to scare away the thieves.

From atop her tower, she must have seemed barely threatening, for her shouts were ignored, or perhaps unheard in the cacophony of the chant that had continued throughout her stay in the vast cavern. She summoned her burning shadows once more, and hurled motes of black flames down upon those that took from her. The results were immediate, and they fled, letting Vale relax as her tower became safe. She needed it to remain safe, she thought to herself, as her knees felt weak and she fell sideways. Her dark powers wouldn’t heed her, and her own strength was drained. Sleep was forced upon her.

Vale awoke with a sense of weightlessness, as she was falling again. Her eyes opened and her arms flailed wildly as she rushed to comprehend exactly what was happening. The noises of stone grinding and tumbling against each other rumbled in her ears as the weight of the world pulled her from her collapsing tower, and threw her down to the ground among those irksome beings that still continued their musical march through the cavern. She climbed to her feet, and looked all around, catching the perpetrators that still held the stolen foundations of her tower in their thieving hands. “Give it back!” She cried, reaching out with hand and spewing tiny embers. She gasped and felt her whole body seize up, before fatigue overwhelmed her and she was slipping into an unwanted slumber again.

Unlike the four elements, the darkness was quiet and gentle, and she dreamed peacefully. Her nightmares had lost their edges, and no longer cut into her inner flames - instead she rested upon them as though they were slabs or sheets for her to lay upon. She refused to see the contents of those nightmares, obscuring them with mists, but she could faintly hear others calling out to her; voices similar to her own, beckoning her to listen to them.



Vale awoke again, carried on upon a slab by the larger among the living statues, bringing her through an unfamiliar tunnel illuminated by more mushrooms and magical veins of ore. The current song they sang had changed as well, more deeper like the voices she had heard when she and Zima first came into the cave. Vale looked around, anxiety growing within her, and she saw that the procession was heading towards the end of the tunnel, leading into what seemed to be another large cavern where a myriad of voices gathered together to lament. Seeking to calm herself, she simply breathed in and relaxed her tired body… She had to hope that these weird creatures brought her outside, rather than deeper into the depths.

They entered the vast cavern beyond wherein Vale was met with similar sights of an abundance of metals and gemstones growing all around while the earthen creatures performed a haunting dance and cried their mournful melody as those among them that were burdened with a myriad of stones brought their cargo to its intended destination. The creatures were creating a cairn for one of their own; an immense one that Vale had initially mistaken for another massive mound occupying the center of the cavern. She recognized limbs, a torso, even the head, but she felt something more than just the ability to identify the shape of this colossus. It seemed familiar to her…

They were still far away from the corpse, which Vale saw was producing liquid metal that poured forth from a multitude of lacerations, like blood leaking from a wounded beast, and so she let herself become lost in her thoughts. Something stirred within her, and she felt the desire to participate in this ceremony, that it would be wise to honor the dead in this way for whatever reason. Perhaps after the ritual was complete, she could convince the locals to assist with returning back to the surface.

Though she was tired, she stood and joined in the crowd, performing a dance that none of the creatures nearby possessed the agility for, and sang aloud the words she heard the creatures chant. As her limbs came alive with sacred shifts and gestures, expressing the emotions that could not be conveyed in mere conversation, the swirling runes and patterns that had appeared before manifested on her skin again, imbuing her with that newfound strength. She instilled new meaning into their music born from grief and despair, as she clapped her hands and cut the fabric of reality with her motions, creating thunderous booms and pitched roars that seemed to burn the air she breathed.

Stifle all your doubt
Let your lust cry out
I will help you swallow your hesitation
So trust me…

Cause you yearn with greed
Though your heart may bleed
Will we fade away from this world
With no hope to hold onto?


She recalled that she had heard the music and voices from the mouth of the cave, so could Zima hear it as well? Vale’s mind mused idly while her somatic shape became otherworldly and ethereal. She had danced and sang the entire way towards the unfinished cairn, a long journey for the languid laborers that lifted her slab, and she hoped Zima didn’t feel lonely throughout all this time. Vale felt a brief feeling of chagrin, as she also hoped that Zima felt a little lonely, and had wanted to reunite with her as much as Vale wanted to be back with her.

If I can go on and not lose my way
I will sacrifice all my heart and let it fray to pieces
What I really need is a spell to cast
To stand up against all the pain
And fear that will always last…


When they had finally reached where the corpse lay, Vale’s contributions to the music had altered the atmosphere; instead of gloom and repressed yearning, she had evoked their rage and lust. The earthen creatures became more animated, lively with livid desires to defy their demise, for she would bring them salvation. She would grant their wishes and become their hope by freeing them from their sorrow.

The funeral continued, Vale leading the various awakened statues and sculptures like a conductor guiding an orchestra, as they piled more and more stone upon the fallen until after an unknown amount of time had passed, and they were finally finished their endeavor. The mountain of man, molded from the earth itself had been buried, and Vale felt relief wash over her as she brought the performance to an end. With her back to the completed project, she faced the hundreds of thousands that had accompanied her, hindering her, letting her help them, and eventually reminding her of her fondness for expressing herself. She bowed before them, and imagined the clamor of their cheers and praise.

A dark shadow descended from above, blanketing a vast multitude of the creatures in a suffocating haze that obscured all vision. It grew deathly quiet as the fog drifted through countless earthen shoots. Suffused across metal veins and gem eyes, it silently rumbled. Then two crimson eyes walked forth from the front, hands outstretched to greet her wayward companion as her cloak drifted along the afterimages of her very being. Zima had arrived, no doubt having heard her song. Her left hand fell to her side and like a crescendo rising, her right arm lifted high. With it the cloud followed, leaving behind motionless husks plucked of all animation. A sudden snap of her silent fingers and the rolling death exploded across the cave. Like a mighty wave that bid all farewell.

Her hand fell and Zima walked forth towards Vale. “You have done well by having them all gathered. I believe our plans for salvation have changed, in a far more favorable direction.” She came to a stop before her, and moved the strands of hair away from Vale’s cheek and behind her ear. “You are growing stronger. A most welcome sight.”

Vale found herself momentarily speechless, rejuvenated by Zima’s presence and commendation, and slowly smiled. “I… want to please. I’ve realized that the source of my strength is more than our connection. I’m just grateful I’ve had so much time with you.” She murmured, and suddenly surged forward to embrace Zima, ignoring the way her body shook with paradoxical pleasure and revulsion - the shadow within her soothed, but the primordial elements still clinging to life within her rejecting the contact with her companion.

Her companion did not at first reciprocate the embrace but after a time she gave Vale the same, if not an empty, hold. Zima shivered before pulling her free. "Tell me in your own words, what have you found here and how might it be useful to us?"

“This cavern has… it’s become a tomb. The creatures here carried stones to bury their fallen maker… He is familiar to me, in my memories. I can faintly recall his face and his voice, but I don’t remember his name. He may have been a friend or foe, but it doesn’t matter. He’s free now. Um, there are many powers here… I think that could help us.” Vale answered, stepping back and letting her eyes explore the enormous expanse of this chthonic realm - almost another world beneath the surface.

The deep earth possessed power, it seemed, however Vale didn’t fully understand its exact nature. The shimmering shiny rocks and glittering metals were all imbued with an energy akin to the black and white flames that burned within her, but something else hidden, something unseen and resilient which prevented her from reaching out with both mind and spirit in order to tap into such a source of energy - an enigma. “It’s being protected by some secret shield too powerful for me to pass. I’m not strong enough.” Vale stated with shame, turning her abashed gaze back to Zima. Perhaps it had been foolish of her; delving into the heart of the earth wherein its primordial powers were at its strongest.

Zima walked behind her, finger in her cheek as she did. Her taller companion came to a stop behind her and placed her hand on her shoulder. She leaned in and began to whisper, "We must harness what we can. Our goals must reach completion and these… Stones and statues could become useful Servants for our cause. We must find this shield and wrestle control."

Before Vale could speak, a booming baritone voice echoed throughout the cavern, coming from everywhere all at once and rumbling the ground beneath their feet. “I would know why trespassers have come here, disruptive and darkened like the endless chasm… Name yourselves and reveal your purpose!” The voice commanded.

With her power mostly renewed, Vale prepared to summon her shadowy flames, but did not immediately act. She waited for Zima instead, hoping her companion could either persuade this voice to serve them, or direct to where she could properly face their potential foe. All around them, the earth became agitated, shifting and convulsing as more creatures of crystal and stone emerged and encircled the colossal cairn, though they had yet to approach and attack. Vale wasn’t too concerned about their presence considering their lack of speed.

Zima stood taller, her shadow around them deepened as the last vestiges of her dark wave dissipated. She walked forth and looked all around. "I am Zima," her cold voice rang out, "And this is Vale. I would speak further with one I can look at, so I ask you to reveal yourself. We shall do you no harm."

The horde of animated statues parted, a long line forming leading from a tunnel at the edge of the cavern to the base of the cairn where Vale and Zima stood. Emerging from the tunnel was a large winged figure sculpted from stone and silver, adorned with a crown that shone with a pale blue aura, and wielding a golden greataxe in one hand. “I am Garle, the king of Erudaine, and son of Voligan. You intrude into my realm, and desecrate my father’s grave with your tainted presence. Your bloody eyes of tarnished ruby betray your baleful intentions, blackened servants of the accursed witch! However, I am merciful, and may let you live if you speak truthfully.”

A blue rippling circle was conjured near Vale and Zima, a similar circle manifesting beside Garle, and he stepped through, the giant gargoyle appearing before them in an instant. He stood before them, towering more than thrice their height, and hunched over. His stony wings were unfurled and made him seem more imposing, but he bent his extended and muscular neck down to look at them at their level, scowling at both of them. His face resembled the fallen Voligan, his proud features twisted with anger and skepticism.

Zima stood tall in the face of such adversity, cloak flowing freely in an unseen breeze. She tilted her head, looking up at the great stone statue with indifference. ““My sincerest apologies for the loss of your father. We knew not the place we walked.” She began, “And we meant no disrespect, I assure you. Just as our intentions have always been thus; Freeing life from its prison and to find a home where we might avoid persecution as we continue our grand work. I know not of this witch you speak, but we serve no one but ourselves.”

“Life will never be freed so long as the Red Devil imposes her will upon the world. Indeed, we are all prisoners, denied our purpose and inheritance. You seek a home, but from where did the two of you come? Who is it that would persecute you?” Garle asked, slowly shifting from a suspicious frustration to mildly irked and inquisitive. His obsidian eyes gleamed in the otherworldly light of the cavern, and his gaze drifted back and forth between Zima and Vale, awaiting an answer.

“Far from this land, across the plains and seas.” Zima said, “Who is the question.” She glanced at Vale. “They will look like her, yet with fiery manes and devilish intent. I saved Vale from their lies and malice so long ago. She thinks as I do now and is my companion.” Zima’s eyes widened and she looked back to Garle. “This is your Red Devil, is it not? She who is Honor, a witch queen of her crimson keep. Homura. What has she done to make you hate her so?”

“Hmm… She came here and betrayed my father; speaking nonsense while her hands were still stained with the divine blood of her kin. When my father rightfully refused to partake in her madness, her so-called rebellion, she attacked him… and killed him. She stole then that which belonged to his children, and fled - the would-be usurper then called out, she would return. I am of the earth, and yet hatred burns within me like a wild inferno, like a raging storm! I will bring the red devil to justice, and she will suffer for her sins! I swore an oath then and there, that she will know my retribution…” Garle proclaimed, returning to his full height and turning to stare at his entombed father.

Vale felt frightened, though Garle only intimidated her a little, instead it was the blossoming pain in her mind upon hearing his words, as well as Zima’s words; these words which were tangential to her past, and Vale didn’t know whether she wanted to remember after listening to what the two had said. She realized she pitied Garle, and she thought he’d be happy to accept her offer of reuniting him with his father after the completion of his quest.

“We may not see eye to eye on most happenstance, but this I know for certain,” Zima spoke, pacing, “We are aligned in this, for she is our enemy as well. I know not the means to slay a God but if your father can be felled so cruelly, then there must be a way to stop this devil. We would help you prepare for their arrival. Make no mistake, they will come for us and you.” Her eyes narrowed, “Or, you may say to us, leave and we shall.” She came to a stop before him again. “We would be strong allies but this is for you to decide.”

“The enemy of my enemy could be considered an ally, hmm… an interesting tactic, but it requires that I believe you are not a friend of the devil; a foe that speaks lies and seeks to betray me, like the witch when she assassinated my father. It is too soon to say that we are aligned, but I am aware of your strength, and together we could defeat those that threaten us. For now, I will forgive your disruption of my father’s funeral, and provide you with shelter and protection, as guests of the king, know that you are safe when I offer you my hospitality. No harm shall come to either of you in my domain.” Garle replied, a myriad of emotions and sentiment in his voice, switching between amusement and rumination, until he stood imperiously and made his declaration.

The immense cavern shook once more, as the horde of animated statues dispersed, either submerging into the stone, or wandering into one of the many tunnels that led away. The entire process was swift, every creature moving in unison with clear purpose, and afterwards only Zima, Vale, and Garle remained. The gargoyle gestured towards a tunnel in the distance and spoke in a harsh yet more gentler manner. “Go on ahead, I will join you after I say a few final words to my father. If you wish to combine our might, wait by that passage and we will speak further. Otherwise, continue following the tunnel, and it will lead you back to the surface.”

Though Vale still did not know where she and Zima had been traveling to all this time, she wondered whether it was her companion’s intention that they should find one such as Garle who would fight beside them against the tyranny of those that had twisted and sundered life itself. She glanced towards the one that brought peace of mind and body, the one that had saved her spirit from chaos, and she felt herself attempting to smile. Though the gargoyle still frightened her with his fierce and looming presence, she wanted to appear brave beside her family.

"Come along Vale." Zima whispered to her before grabbing her sleeve and guiding her away. "Let us let the good king mourn." She followed up, a little louder. She said nothing else as they continued on, well and far from Garle. When Zima saw the passage she slowed down and turned her head to Vale. "You will speak nothing of what we have done or how we free life from its prison, understood? This is a most unique opportunity and one we must not let slip between our fingers."

“We will free him when we defeat the evil goddess though, right? He should be reunited with his father and free from this torment.” Vale answered, indicating their surroundings, but also the all-encompassing cage that was the world itself. “Mm… I will not talk about our quest then.” She added quickly in order to avoid disappointing Zima.

She nodded. "When the time comes but for now we must tread carefully. Our true enemies will wear your face. Do you understand?" Zima asked, "They will look like you, talk like you, say they love you, of all the memories you shared- but it is all a lie. They would corrupt you with their crimson flame and you would be lost to me, Vale. You must never listen to them, free them immediately from their stony flesh. And remember I am the only one who cares for you. Okay?" Zima put a hand to her cheek, and Vale let herself lean into her companion’s touch.

“I won’t ever listen to them, I promise. You were there beside me when I was all alone… I know you care for me. We’re together now.”





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War



The Hills of Western Nalusa.

A cool, moonlit night watched over the plains. There was a chill in the air, but the Lion didn’t shiver.

Tall grass rustled gently all around. That was just the wind; the Lion crept silently through the growth, so quiet that his breaths were softer than the gentlest of sighs. Others followed close behind and low to the ground… advancing up even this little mound took the better part of two hours, but the lookouts never saw them coming.

Above the maramoda den, there were small holes gouged into the ground. That was how the beasts got air and circulation through their warrens even when the entrances were firmly shut. When the nights grew too cold or the rains came and gave the earth a chilling damp, they sometimes lit fires down there, and these holes likewise let out smoke. But this was a fireless, smokeless night just as they’d counted on.

As quietly as they could, one of the warriors took out a few hot embers from a small hide pouch, pressed them against an unlit torch, and blew. Once the fire had started, they quickly lit the other torches, and then (before they were discovered by the weary sentries!) they squeezed down the air holes, barely fitting through and halfway collapsing one or two of them, and then they fell into the warren with soft thuds. Even while under attack in the dead of night, the maramoda were disciplined enough in their convictions to not cry out or make any sound louder than a sharp whisper, but that was their own stupidity. Grunts, gurgled, and muffled gasps of pain followed as the human attackers poured through the labyrinthine tunnels and began massacring the sleeping and dazed maramoda.

Atash the Lion only broke his silence when he came before the greatest den and beheld a hulking brute in the torchlight, the maramoda gripping a spear in one hand and a club in the other. Atash had only his one spear for his other hand held the torch – without its light, he would stand no chance of fighting these rats inside their own tunnels – but he still met the challenge with a ferocious roar that seemed to shake the tunnels. It could have woken a sleeping god, if the gods truly did sleep. It could have woken the whole tribe of warriors, if the freshly slain could be roused from their slumber.

Instead the sound only drove that brute into a wild frenzy. He lunged forward with his spear and his body barreled forward not far behind the point of the spear even as Atash leaped to the side. The cramped tunnels left little room for evasion or maneuvering. A crazed close-quarters swing of the barbarian’s club almost cracked the Lion’s skull as he ducked down to barely dodge it. As Atash tried to adjust his grip on the spear to hold it further up so that its length wouldn’t be such a hindrance in the cramped duel, the end of its haft brushed against the earthen wall. There was no space!

A quick swing of the club caught him on the shoulder and fiery pain radiated through the whole of his arm, though he hardly felt or registered it in the moment. The maramoda drew back his own short spear and tried to ram it through Atash’s chest, only for the human to wave the torch in his snarling face and blind his night-eyes with the brightness, heat, and smoke. With his spear thrust into the wall with enough force to make quickly pulling it out futile, the maramoda abandoned it and spun around to face his adversary.

“I am Harga Flat-tooth,” the brute spat in a panting whisper, “and I will silence you!”

Atash bellowed and cackled from where he’d darted down the tunnel. “Your tribesmen sleep with your god now, forever. The dirt drinks their blood. I am the Lion of the Night, and I swear that before you die, you shall scream!”

Their duel was a vicious one. Orange glows and echoing shouts came from tunnels back behind where Atash’s human warriors continued their butchery, while the tunnel behind Harga had a thick door from which came the faintest sounds of mewling… the nursery.

The fevered barbarian struck a glancing blow upon Atash’s ribs with that big club of his, but even as the Lion fell down to gasp his spear shot forth at his foe’s legs like a striking snake, and its point bit into the meat of a calf. Harga winced and tried to grab at the haft of the spear, but Atash brought it back too quickly and then lunged again. This time he missed, and when Harga exploited the chance to stumble forward on his wounded leg and close the distance, he brought the club down towards the Lion’s open head. Atash swung his torch and barely deflected the blow, but then the light sputtered into nothingness as the fiery brand was knocked out of his hand and sent rolling across the dirt floor.

Darkness. But they had fought for long enough that the maramoda’s eyes had likewise grown accustomed to the torchlight, and though they would quickly adjust again, Atash still had at least a few moments to find his bearings before he would be doomed.

He scurried in a random direction to create space, then slowed his breathing even as he was exhausted. Oh, if only he could also slow his heart – it pounded like a drum, loud enough to betray his place if the maramoda’s sensitive ears could discern its sound among the tumult coming from further down.

From a short distance away in the darkness, Atash thought he just barely heard the maramoda chortle. They both knew that he was almost certainly finished now. Thoughts raced through his mind – perhaps some of his companions would come charging down the tunnel, torches in hand, to his salvation… but they all sounded preoccupied. Still, they surely would at least avenge him.

But then he smelt the stench of iron, though he did not know of iron – the Lion knew it for what it truly was: blood. It was Harga and his bleeding leg, that was what Atash’s gut screamed, and so he trusted in it. With all his might, he gripped his spear in both hinds and blindly pushed it through the thick darkness. Its tip found meaty flesh, and then there was a sharp gasp and the smell of more blood. The club of Harga Flat-tooth fell onto the floor with a soft thud, and Atash roared in triumph as he pushed his impaled enemy onto the ground.




The once-hulking Harga looked frail when his shadow wasn’t so ground, lit as the tunnel was by a dozen torches. Or maybe it was just that he was resting helplessly against the rounded curve where floor met with wall, entrails spilling out of his wound.

They shouted, prodded, and threatened him as they demanded the answers to questions: Where is Garza the Frown? How many warriors fight in his confederation now? Where will he attack next?

Harga laughed at them, spat out one or two last insults, and then bit off his own tongue and spat that out too. Such was the way of the maramoda.

“Start slaying the captives before this chief, then,” the Lion of the Night decreed, and his bloodthirsty warriors were all too eager to knock down the doors of the nursery, the storerooms, and everywhere else where the young, the old, the wives, and the weak had been hiding. One by one, surviving maramoda were dragged into that tunnel and brutalized before him, but he did nothing but glare with defiance and hatred.

Atash grabbed Harga by the hair. Still fighting, the dying brute tried to bite at the Lion’s hand and claw at his chest, but it was futile. “Yes, we know that you can still talk with your hands. So tell us about Garza, or we will flay your children alive.”

Desperation flashed through those beady black eyes for a brief instant, and some choking wail escaped from the chieftain’s throat, distorted as it was by the ruined tongue. There was the screaming that the Lion had promised. There was a pregnant pause, and then Harga offered a few strange gestures and hand-signs, but Atash no longer liked the look in those eyes.

“What did that mean?” one of the warriors sharply demanded from a marawoman. When she gasped and didn’t answer quick enough, she was struck by the blunted end of a spear. “He curses you, and says that you will learn nothing from him, for we are all already dead,” she half cried, half whispered.

Atash answered with an enraged roar that made them all wince in terror, but no sleeping god woke up at the sound and came to save the maramoda from his wrath.

---


It wasn’t long before they found where Garza the Frown had been. Atash and his warband had ventured far to the west, deep into maramoda territory, seeking to find the demon who had united all the disparate bickering tribes against mankind and led the most vicious of their campaigns. If they had found and slain him in his hole rather than that petty chieftain Harga, perhaps the war could have been over if no other warlord rose up to fill that void, but by sheer coincidence Garza had been ranging far away on some attempt to bring yet more tribes into the fold.

When news spread, he had quickly turned around and brought his band back to defend his allies, but the local maramoda had not been idle while Atash rampaged through their lands either. Some other brute of a chieftain had assembled his own host and began trailing after the marauding humans, so now they were trapped, encircled in unknown and enemy territory with two warbands coming to soon combine and then finish them off.

Some suggested that they try to move by night and cover of darkness to make it back to their own lands, but they were too distant now, and so Atash had instead ordered them to quickly occupy a place where there were some rolling hills bestride a small stream that cut through the otherwise flat grasslands. Atop the steepest of those small rises they made camp; that was the most advantageous place they could make a stand, and they would need every advantage and good fortune besides to have any hope at all. They were perhaps outnumbered three or four to one, the Lion reckoned.

“The moon goddess has led us to this place,” Atash the Night-Lion proclaimed to his warriors, “And the Great Sun decrees that we fight and water the grass with blood. So it shall be! Sharpen your spears! The beasts are coming, but we are not afraid – let them fear us and learn to cower in their silent holes!”

Then came the arrival of the dawn, earlier than expected and accompanied by a cascading wave of euphonious music filling a brightening sky now painted with a myriad of colors. Rivers of light danced in rhythm to a great and tremendous melody that thundered across the lands, and was the only warning before three titans suddenly appeared in the sky, led by a shimmering streak that became a bejeweled vessel with four fiery haired girls standing upon the prow looking down upon those that kept to the earth.

Spectacular as that sight was, it didn’t entrance the men on that hill so thoroughly that they failed to witness the great hordes of maramoda. Hundreds of the beasts had been approaching the high ground under cover of night and dead silence, but when this divine radiance burnt away the darkness, they were left to just simmer, covering their ears at the unholy din and cursing the sky-demons with every obscene gesture that their fingers could contort into.

The three titans danced languidly in the sky - their immense shapes seemed untethered to the weight of the world, unfazed by the wind or any known weather, as those that descended from the heavens were beyond mortal phenomena. The two stone-covered, metallic colossi were each the size of a mountain, and each had another burning maiden standing atop their crowns. The third giant was larger than the other two combined, possessing six vast wings and covered in scales and feathers as opposed to rock and metal. They reared their legs and beat their wings as the otherworldly song was heard throughout the rolling hills and the far away plains.

“I am Anath Homura, Goddess of War, and I have come to test the mettle of those that wish to become true warriors!” An echoing voice called out from everywhere at once, shaking the world with its power and authority. “Cease this farce of a conflict, and gather before me! Else, know the ire of the Divine, She Who Carries the Radiant Flames of Heaven!” Homura proclaimed, and the water of the nearby steam became red like blood, and arose like steps leading towards a great glittering platform of silver and gold that had manifested.

The souls who glowed brightest, leaders of each pack in the knotted fray, heard her words. Unlike those around them, however, they found their resistance lowered. Homura was not magically compelling other than her Divine might, but nonetheless, those who might otherwise have foolishly resisted found themselves persuaded. A small musical note, beyond the reaches of mortal hearing, in each of their ears. Why should they fight and die? War is hell, and the intervention of a Goddess of War to solve their conflict in an orderly and honorable fashion could only be good.

Desire sagged, exhausted by her workings. Never had she used her aspect so quickly on so many individuals. Looking at her sisters, she flashed a weak thumbs up, the signal that she had done her part. The plan could proceed and the mortals should listen to reason, logic, and Honor. As Desire looked away, however, Wanderer saw a flash of green among the red. The kind of tell that one would miss by blinking. But Homura’s champion was a cut above mere mortals and did not blink.

Without further word, Courage and her Reflection leapt from Skydancer, falling from the sky - a height that no man could survive - and alighted gracefully upon the platform where they stood on the edges and peered out towards the men encamped upon the hill, and the horde that had been approaching. Courage II strode to the point where the red waters reached them, and began walking down the crimson steps, as though the water were earth beneath her feet. As she descended, she beckoned to those closest to her, the humans upon the hill, inviting them with open arms and a warm smile, though strange were the swirling markings upon her skin that acted as though they were alive.

Silence.

“We do not know you, Anath Homura, or any of the rest of you,” one of the impious warriors eventually stated. No vitriol hid in those words, but it was the plain truth. The Great Sun, the Watching Moon, and the occasional tales of the River Spirit or Voligan the Earthheart dwelled within the minds and hearts of Nalusites, but they knew nothing of their maker Homura. Had she not borne the dawn to herald her arrival, they might have questioned whether she could even speak on behalf of that Great Sun that had bid them fight.

“That is why I have come, as the Emissary of our Lords, the Kings in Heaven, those whom rule over reality. Come forth, Children of the Sun and Moon, and receive enlightenment, or remain blinded by ignorance… Let it be known I shall not allow heresy in my presence to continue.” As the goddess spoke from everywhere and nowhere, massive red pillars slowly emerged from edges of the vast and glistening golden dais, reaching higher and higher until their peaks were close to the three titans suspended in the sky, and the luminous vessel carrying its blazing passengers.

The silver and gold platform continued to swiftly expand, becoming larger and larger until it was extensive enough to easily hold both of the two smaller gigantic creatures. When the expanding of the dais and pillars came to a halt, Skydancer and its entourage descended to the base of the newly created colossal temple wherein the titans occupied the north and southern sections, leaving a spacious center where the soaring vessel finally alighted. The skyborne structure hung between the humans and the majority of the maramodas, suspended higher than the tallest hill, with endless stairs of scarlet water leading up to its central entrance.

With a single leap, Courage flew from where she stood on the first step, and landed among the warriors of the Nalusites. “Walk with me brothers, if you truly wish to live.” She exclaimed with an excited grin, her skin dancing with the marks of sorcery, and her eyes burning with cosmic lucidity. She pointed back towards the temple, to where Courage II on the platform’s precipice was gesturing for them to approach; to climb the beginning steps of ascension. The massive six-winged being that dwelled above roared in response, and its bellow shook the land once more.

Cowed into obeisance by the splendor and awed by the sights, the men did as they were told. One by one they filed towards that temple hewn from magic, mounting the staircase and beginning the long climb. None among them were prophets, for under Atash, the prophets of Kartar’s ilk had been cast down from their revered roles. Still, they did not need the Sight when they could Feel the radiant power… but also the seething rage of all the maramoda around the hillock’s base. This was salvation from what would have been death – glorious but certain death.

Atop the steps, before the site wherein the goddess awaited them. They were greeted by the motionless and eerily silent sentinels that were the two colossi on each side of the entrance, and then by a gathering of six scarlet daughters of the divine whom welcomed them with a mingling of aloof and friendly faces - the bejeweled Skydancer floating just beyond them. As the last of the men reached the dais with plenty of room to move freely, the steps behind them fell back to the earth, severing their connection to the material plane… there would have to be another means of leaving this sacred space.

The daughter wielding the golden spear spoke, and from her came the voice of Anath Homura. “Who among you leads? Who among you wishes to wield the blade and become royalty? Who among you is worthy?” The fiery maiden asked, approaching them with blazing eyes and otherworldly grace, their minds touched with the unknown and profound by her mere presence.

Atash knew not what a blade was, but he understood what it meant to lead, and certainly had ideas about what made a man worthy. “I have led warriors across rivers, through the high grass, and into the depths of maramoda lairs. None are stronger than I!”

“Tell me then, why do your people continually clash with those that now seek your demise? The creatures outside this temple would have overrun you and your brothers, had I not intervened.” She directly addressed Atash, voice and visage burning like a hot flame as she came near, yet his skin was never seared. Her eyes then glittered like inquisitive rubies where he could see his reflection watching him, as the voice and avatar of Anath Homura received its answer in the next breath.

“We have hunted them in their own lands for weeks and overran many of their lairs. Never has my band been scattered! Who are you, of little faith, to say that we would have been scattered? Have you the Sight of the moon? I say that were the darkness not peeled back, then in the night I would have found Garza and smote him with mine own hand, and so won this war.”

With a flick of her hand, she lifted Atash into the air and slowly spun him around, letting all of those gathered around to observe him from every angle. “By your own hand, hmm…” She murmured, as she held out her own hand and pulled upon his limbs with unseen forces. Splashes of scarlet energy spread along the Nalusite, as his hand was severed from the rest of him and brought to the maiden where she carefully examined it. Despite the loss of his hand, no blood or viscera seeped from the fleshy stump at the end of his arm, while he remained suspended and silenced above his companions.

“Water and wind and earth melded so freely together, miring the flames. How grotesque. I am curious, I do not know this Garza, but the true enemies beyond this temple cannot be slain with your meager strength and weak weapons. You are losing this war, and I find that I cannot simply watch from afar as my creations are led astray.” Homura remarked before returning the thoroughly studied hand back to Atash, reattaching the appendage where it belonged and lowering the man back to the floor.

“You are not winning, and have yet to prove you are worthy of leadership. I wish for you to become true warriors, and that requires you to train yourselves further, to transcend your limitations. This farce with the maramoda wastes time and effort. I shall end it, and discipline both sides for this mockery in view of the Divine.” As she spoke, it began to reverse-rain; bloody droplets rising from all around and ascending towards the heavens where many luminous clouds coalesced and gathered rainrise. Anath Homura strode towards the edge of the temple and stared out across the landscape bloody tears soared skyward while the earth wept.

“Courage and Desire. Bring me the leader of the maramoda, and any among their number who seek enlightenment.” Homura ordained, and though the men of Nalusa could not see her true veiled form which still stood upon the prow of Skydancer, her two named champions saw past the illusion to the actual location their mother was - where she pointed outwards and awaited for the deliverance of what she asked for.

Desire stood, hopping down and speeding unerringly in the direction of the leader of the maramoda. Courage followed with her, the plan exchanged mentally in mere moments. Though the heavy use of her aspect earlier had taken much out of her, Desire was still a champion of Homura. The two of them could easily locate and persuade any number of mortal creatures, humans or maramoda.

Landing before the maramoda, the mismatched sisters addressed the gathered crowd, voices booming out. “Leader of the maramoda and any of you who seek to walk the Sacred Path! The temple of Anath Homura soars above you! Come forth and be enlightened! Come forth and become more than you are now! Come forth and claim your place beneath the Chosen!”

Green eyes and gold gauntlet flashing, the two stood implacable before the angered masses. Their arrogance stemmed from Divine right, and they bore no heed to the maramodan preference for quiet.

The maramoda recoiled collectively and thrust their heads down, wincing and covering their ears or stuffing them with grass. Between the low groans, pained glances and frenzied gestures coursed through the hordes. The undulating din was just loud enough, and the grass underfoot just dampening enough, that the pounding footsteps of Garza’s charge were muffled until the last second. There was no warcry or bellow as he leapt into the air, club in hand, ready to maul Desire.

Unfortunately for Garza the Frown, Desire was a trained champion of Homura. In the blink of an eye, he was disarmed and facedown in the dirt before her. Not so much as a scratch marred her clothes, nor a single strand of hair astray. “Your leader has fallen! Stop your fight and pledge yourselves to the Sacred Path! There is no victory or honor in senseless bloodshed. Submit to the honorable Path, decide the victor in a better way!”

They hurled stones and sticks and clods of dirt at her in response, even as Garza’s muddied chin broke its characteristic scowl just long enough for him to open his mouth and bite at her ankle. Desire’s sole response was a spine-shattering reverse kick, coupled with a continued glower at the rebellious people before her. Couldn’t they tell that they were being unreasonable?

“Courage, take him back. He shouldn’t cause trouble. I’ll deal with the rest of them.”

Courage and Courage II had preoccupied themselves with attempting to communicate while also striking the myriad of maramoda all around them. They gently poked and prodded their foes with incredible precision, causing many to lose all strength in their limbs, or to just collapse entirely. Wanderer and Wanderer II fired arrows of light aimed to hit nearby their sisters, manifesting into glittering golden chains that entangled the numerous maramoda attempting to encircle those on the ground, though such support seemed unnecessary. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis shielded their skin as they internally cast the Incantation of Warding, and all sharpened stone and wooden spears, along with hurled rocks, simply bounced away from their bodies.

Leaping on the masses, Courage jumped to where Desire was, and lifted the paralyzed Garza above her before making her retreat. In a few swift strides and mighty bounds, she had flown over the horde and soared upwards to where the temple hung above. Courage II made her way to Desire, shoving and pushing maramoda out of her path before coming to a brief halt in front of her sister. “I don't think they're interested in coming with us, ya.” She said as she struck four maramoda in the blink of an eye, and tossed them back beyond those that still assailed them.

“No, I guess not,” Desire agreed, covering Courage’s retreat while following along herself. What a tragedy. An entire people, ungrateful for their creation and refusing to follow in the steps of the Divine. Desire allowed herself another moment of maudlin reflection before putting the maramoda’s plight out of her head for the time being. There was a war to adjudicate, after all, and she was there to learn from the best.

Courage laid out the broken Garza before Skydancer, where both the true veiled visage of Homura stood, as well as the illusion of Anath Homura that the Nalusites saw. The leader of the maramoda found that the pain he felt suddenly vanished, as white light poured forth from the palms of Courage, Wanderer, and Wanderer II, which seeped into him and was accompanied by the sharp and crunchy sounds of his spine being restored. However, now he stood before the self-proclaimed goddess of war, and her small form stared down on him, wielding a golden spear in one hand.

“Why do you continually clash with these men? I see no evil in your eyes… What is your name, one who would oppose me?” Homura inquired, scrutinizing Garza with her piercing gaze.

Not even a goddess could make that baleful glower bend; it was chiseled forever onto Garza’s visage. He pointed at it. She probably still didn’t understand. Loud, idiot of a sky-demon!

He grabbed his upper for emphasis and tugged at it, baring the sight of the yellowed teeth within his maw for a second – ’this is I, the Frown.’

A stubby finger pointed accusingly at her, and then at Atash, and then around in a great big circle – ‘you, you, all of you…’ He held a fist close to his mouth and opened it, splaying the fingers out of his hand and throwing it forward into the air, a few twists and sharp turns mingling with the motion, ’are too damn loud!’

His head tilted and his eyes closed for a moment, then they seemed to burst open with a hatred that wasn’t even half mimery – ’and you will awaken the Magnificent Sleeper!’

Homura held up her hands, gesturing to all of the great and golden pillars that pierced the heavens that she erected with her power. She gestured to herself and then her shape shimmered like water beneath the majestic sun, before becoming translucent, and Garza could see that beneath the surface of her mien, there blazed a primordial flame - for her body was only an illusion and the truth of her form would be too much for any mortal to perceive. Languidly, the flames approached and engulfed the maramoda, before harmlessly passing over him, yet Homura had not moved.

Then she peered away, and held out a hand to the side, gently caressing the nothingness beside her, before stepping back and beginning a swirling stride around where Garza stood, her ethereal motions like the distant sands following the wind along the many ridges of the dune-filled desert, like the light of the receding sun bathing the land in a bloody, feverish, and dreamlike beauty that was the last vestiges of warmth before the coming of the cold night, and so she too left him, and that same coldness descended upon the maramoda.

She came to halt in front of him once more, her eyes closed and her stance very still. When she opened her eyes, tongues of pale flames came out and danced like vipers in the tall grass. Her hand reached out with fingers curled like claws, and surged towards Garza before he could move, and she spoke, but no words came from her lips. Her clawed hand became delicate, fingers straightened outwards and beside each other, as she passed the appendage over her face, and her eyes were returned to their previous state.

The gesticulations were all recondite to Garza, whose frown only seemed to deepen as he snorted. At least she was being quiet now. She paced and forth, contemplating for a moment before she held up a hand and spoke softly. “Your people have been defeated, and are hereby claimed as my prisoners, including yourself. In shadows and silence you will dwell, until I have a reason to bring you back into the light.”

Outside the temple, the land rumbled and churned as a beastial burden was lifted from it - the horde of maramodas no longer rampaged across the earth, instead the entirety of their vast assembly had been lifted into the bloody sky, and held there imprisoned by an unseen power. All of them could do nothing more than flail helplessly, as the immense Phoenix stirred and set forth into the maelstrom of mortals with the thunderous beating of her six wings. The colossal spirit began burning brightly, too intensely vivid for even those that had closed their eyes to possess any protection against being blinded, and then she was among them.

Though they could no longer see, and were deafened by both the otherworldly music and the clamorous presence of Charis, all of the maramodas could feel the Umati as she passed through them and murmured her chthonic melody. She never pushed or tossed any of them, intangible in her true shape, but nonetheless she guided them towards the temple where the two other colossi emerged from, akin to a mother directing her children back to home where their elder siblings awaited.

“I shall bring these slaves back to Keltra. My Heralds; Courage and Desire, I leave you in command of this site. I will return swiftly.” Anath Homura proclaimed, as the glamor of the goddess vanished, and Skydancer carrying the hidden veiled Homura arose into the air. As she spoke, thousands upon thousands of the maramodas fell unconscious and were gently lulled into the two colossi, reminiscent of the times when humanity had been transported in such a manner. Garza himself was levitated upwards, and there was a crack in the air as even the fierce leader among the horde fell into a peaceful slumber, that menacing frown gouged into his face even in sleep.

With grace and fluidity, the two colossi were laden with their captured cargo, and led by both the goddess and the Phoenix back from whence they came. The far reaching heavenly music, and the light of day left with them, leaving the temple and its populace in the quiet of night once again. Courage had gathered with her sisters and the Reflections, speaking telepathically through their bond. “Well, that was easier than expected… I reckon we should speak to our brothers, ya?” Her gaze drifted towards the Nalusites still present as she shared her thoughts.



Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Cycle VI

Change & Reconstruction



Within the Divine Palace, a brief battle had raged fiercely through the opulent halls wherein the Protector of the Vestibule, Tlanextic, fought with immense strength and magic to hinder the passage of the crimson-veiled goddess, Homura, for she trespassed now in this sacred realm. There were no proper summons, no announcements, no warning at all of her sudden arrival and a proclamation that she would see His Imperial Majesty at once, however her intrusion would have to be addressed first before any meeting with the Monarch of all could be arranged, so the brightly burning Tlanextic barred her passage and requested an immediate explanation. Swiftly words between them had shifted to combat, and Homura continued her disruption of peace in the heavenly palace as she began to besiege the home of the Monarch.

Though the great Head of the Palace Guard was mighty, having slain terrible demons and created the most powerful empire of mortals found on the Galbar, his attacks and spells did no harm to Homura who loudly called out to the Monarch of All, demanding an audience. She simply strode forth through the waves of magical energy which dispersed all around her, and she deftly deflected all of his strikes with a single hand, pushing him away with ease. Their conflict had reached deeper into the halls of the palace, steadily approaching the throne room where the Monarch of All could be found, and then Homura altered her aggression towards Tlanextic, engaging him directly.

She carried no weapons or artifacts with her, and her visage remained concealed behind her shroud, but she shone with a haunting aura that felt akin to the foul presence of the fiends Tlanextic had fought when he was alive, and the pressure of that aura pushed him like the weight of world itself. He had vanquished such vile foes before, so he would do so again. The immortal warrior-king surged forward once more, like a miniature sun unleashing effulgent and righteous retribution, ready to strike with all of his gathered divine might and fury, but before his blow could land upon her, his form; the shape of his soul, what remnants of his existence had vanished, and then Tlanextic was no more. Afterwards, Homura turned her attention back to the colossal door which would lead into the throne room, where the Monarch of All would await her.

Having been spending some time idle in the palace, Ruina was able to sense the newly arrived presence of Homura easily, and Homura could likely sense her as well. This did not matter, at least not immediately, until Homura entered into a one-sided combat with one of the guardians that had been placed around the palace. This conflict brought many questions to Ruina’s mind. They had never bothered her during her frequent visits to the palace, so why now did one engage Homura? Was it possible that she was now considered a threat to The Monarch of All? To the rest of the divines? Was this another scheme of Iqelis? The two were not on the best of terms as far as Ruina knew, and perhaps Iqelis had spread a rumor that Homura was going to do something? These questions demanded answers, and Ruina would find them.

As Tlanextic was vanquished Homura would feel a presence bring itself behind her. A distinct voice called out towards the goddess of honor with a loaded question. ”I would question what brings one to destroy the guardians of the palace. I have never had one confront me so during my visits so why do they now confront you, Homura? Do you come with fire and war, or is there more at play here?”

Ruina stepped gently into the hall before the grand door of the throne room, folding her arms across her chest as she waited for an answer. Ruina’s tail flicked idly side to side, providing a more visual indication to her impatience regarding an answer from Homura.

“I have always been Fire and War, yet I do not come to bring destruction. It is the Monarch of All whom must answer for His crimes. Indeed, it is for the sake of peace that I march upon the palace now… I have no desire to quarrel with you, sister.” Homura replied, coming closer to Ruina, with neither hostile intent or friendly warmth - her voice was impassive yet instilled with resonating otherworldly power, and her face remained obscured behind the blood-red veil she wore. At such a close proximity, Ruina could sense that something was missing… Homura no longer carried the shard of Honor, or any shard.

Ruina’s eyes narrowed a bit at the otherworldly power that resonated throughout Homura’s voice. Something was at play, for sure. But this was not Iqelis, not unless things had changed dramatically when she had not been looking. Homura had been in contact with something… Else. And then there was the matter of the new veil that Homura wore, along with the fact that her shard of Honor was now missing. To say that Ruina was concerned was an understatement.

In fact, the feeling that she had now was one that she had only felt once before, in the brief time she had been mangled and left for dead by her sister. A sense of anxiety gripped Ruina, though she hid it well. What had Homura done? What had been done to Homura? Something was wrong… Very wrong.

Ruina’s suit prickled with anticipation as she spoke again, her tail ceasing its impatient swaying and instead bracing itself. Muscles coiled to strike or to defend, whatever was needed. This otherness wasn’t something Ruina found herself fond of. Speaking firmly to assure herself of her prowess, Ruina probed the being before her for answers. ”You call me Sister and take upon the form of Homura, but I sense no shard upon you, and you conceal yourself with this veil of crimson. Who are you? What have you done? Or if it is still truly you, what has been done to you, Homura? And if you truly seek to come in peace, why is it that you are confronted by the guardians here? And along with this, what crimes do you speak of? I have neither witnessed nor heard of any such thing.”

It took an immense amount of effort for Ruina to not bring forth her blades, but the temptation to arm herself was quite strong. It would at least be reassuring, if not effective.

“I have touched upon the truth and uncovered the treachery of our hollow Lord, He who seats Himself upon a throne that does not belong to Him. I am Anath Homura, and I shall bring salvation to the Galbar and its denizens.” Homura proclaimed, gesturing with her arms and hands outstretched. “Would you walk beside me upon the Sacred Path, sister, or must I restrain you as well? Though… it would grieve me, to do so.” She asked, letting her arms drop back down to her sides.

Ruina’s eyes had relaxed some in the few moments since she had spoken but now, as Homura talked about having touched upon the truth, they hardened once more. Anath Homura? So something had been done… At the mention of being restrained Ruina felt a chord of violence awaken in her soul. Restrain the incarnation of destruction? The one being who could sunder all before her with impunity? That was surely something that would be impossible…

But Ruina’s reason tempered her violence. Homura had been changed, and whatever had been done might be something that even she could not contend with. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps allowing violence to be her answer would not be wise, but still something tugged at her mind. Why the deception of this veil? Ruina pressed for an answer. ”It is within my instincts to resist and bite back at the idea of being restrained, but my reason tells me that even though I can sunder any and all before me with impunity that whatever has been done to you would grant you some form of advantage against even my capabilities. Very well, I will walk with you to hear your arguments, but I would pose a question that demands an answer: Why this veil? What secrets does your form now hold? If you wish for me to believe your so-called truths then I would know what has been done to render you this way.”

“Hmm… I apologize, this veil conceals my presence from the gaze of our empty Lord. It is necessary in order to approach Him. Know that I have spoken with our Lord’s Elder Brother, and I witnessed the truth with my own eyes, felt it in my own heart. The Galbar will face annihilation if the Monarch’s reign does not come to an end. There is much that must be done, and little time, for our enemies would encroach upon us even now. I would like to believe that there are a few among my kin that would stand with me against this threat.” Homura answered, stepping closer and closer to Ruina without halting. The veiled goddess made no move to defend herself, merely striding forward either into her sister or around her - it seemed the choice belonged to Ruina.

As Homura explained what had happened, Ruina’s mind churned as she considered what was being said. Perhaps there was something to what Homura was saying? At the very least, if there was to be a threat to Galbar she wanted to be ready to defend it. Resigning herself to listen and observe what happened within the throne room, Ruina nodded.

But as Homura made to walk past her, Ruina brought a hand to rest firmly upon the goddesses shoulder. Kneeling down so that she was at a closer level to Homura, Ruina spoke firmly. ”I will hear this out for the sake of being able to rise in defense of Galbar, for there can be no tests if there is nothing to test. But I ask of you an oath bound by blood.”

Ruina would hold up her left hand, palm up, and willed a small spike to grow within the middle of her palm. It wouldn’t be more than a minor flesh wound, but blood would be drawn regardless, and that would be enough. ”If what you say is true, and He has been deceiving us all, I will stand aside and allow you to do as you must… But no deception. No misguidance. The truth, at least to me, from now on. Do you agree?”

Homura placed her hand upon the spike, and Ruina could see that the appendage was already wrapped in bloodstained ribbons, as the small spike pierced Homura’s palm and soaked itself in divine ichor. “I agree, and so bind myself to this oath by blood, I will not deceive you.”

As the handshake occured, Ruina could not help but notice the bandages covering Homura’s hands. What had been done? Many questions rolled in her mind, but the answers would not be gained here. They lay inward, and so Ruina rose to her feet, stepping behind Homura and waiting to see what happened within the throne room.



The monolithic doors opened to reveal the resplendent glory of the throne room wherein the Monarch of All rested upon His throne, watching as Homura entered, followed by Ruina. A myriad of colors emanated from the great crystalline wound from which the dazzling shards all coalesced and gathered in, providing a prismatic source of light that illuminated the entirety of their surroundings, yet their rainbow radiance was dwarfed by the blank canvas that was the Monarch’s face, desolate aside from two glowing orbs that peered at the two goddess which seemed diminutive in comparison.

“You once asked me if I understood that some mortals would wish to cast themselves away from your gaze forever, to live in the dark wallowing in their own desires. I believed it was malicious machinations from an external evil, but I was wrong. I thought the beauty of light and all life came from you, my Maker, but I was wrong. I thought that you would give us purpose, and that we could be united by such purpose, but I was wrong. You have misled us, Throne-Thief and Usurper, and you have allowed us to succumb to despair! Let there be no more lies! Speak now and know that you are being judged.” Homura announced, shedding her veil and revealing herself.

Her appearance had changed very little, only one eye had altered its color; becoming entirely black like an obsidian embedded where her eye had been. It was what she carried with her that caused the Monarch of All to exude an aura of anger far greater than what any among the Divine had seen before. Homura possessed the shards of Honor, Earth, Crafting, and the Soul, and all four shards had been influenced by some otherworldly power that had tainted them. The red goddess also wielded four potent artifacts held in ethereal limbs that sprouted from her back: Daybringer; her familiar golden spear, a hefty steel sword with a ruby set in the blade, an ornate shield of silver and sapphire, and a burning brazier in which a miniscule six-winged creature dwelt.

“So you have betrayed me… Homura.” The Monarch said, His deep and echoing voice stirring the entirety of the celestial palace as though waking it from a slumber. The gargantuan form of the Monarch of All arose from His seat, but before He could speak further or act, Homura thrust out with Daybringer and the golden spear extended forth and flew around the vast perimeter of the throne room, the length of the weapon alit with radiant flames and transforming into chains that completely enclosed the hall and prevented any attempts at escape. “And you dare to defy me! To judge me! To insult me!” The Lord of Creation shouted, creating fissures in the floor beneath their feet and across the walls around them with His thunderous voice. The Monarch of All stood enraged, yet He did not attack.

“You imprisoned your brother after you betrayed Him! You stole all of His shards, and claimed lordship over Creation with devilish deceit, and arranged alliances with the perverse and profane! What were you promised in exchange? How much time were you given to stroke your ego and call yourself the Emperor of Reality before the inevitable demise of everything in this world comes for us? It sickens me; you whom would be our executioner for the sake of your own vanity!” Homura rebuked, her whole body becoming engulfed in flames as her true form began to free itself from her material vessel and she became a colossal fire burning before the Monarch of All, thousands of spears rising from the depths of her spirit and poised to strike.

The Monarch of All did not cower, and rather turned His attention to the goddess in the back. “Ruina, see how my slanderous servant has deluded herself and now attempts to pathetically intimidate me, I ask that you dispose of her now. Destroy her, and end this farce.” His request, no, His command reached Ruina over the cacophony of the roaring, hissing, cackling fire that was Anath Homura - He spoke firm and calmly with complete clarity, serene and imbued with regal authority - unbothered by his predicament. To handle such an irksome hassle was beneath Him, delegating the duty to the Goddess of Destruction instead.

As she was addressed, Ruina remained silent. Once again she was being put to the test, and what a test it was. Loyalty or Truth? But what if the truth was a lie? What if her loyalty was a lie? What if everything was true? What if nothing was? Was she just being used as a pawn? Ruina clenched her fists in frustration. There was no way to know what was true or what was false among the many layers that were present here.

Ruina’s base instincts wanted to erupt. To look at the chessboard with disdain and disgust before smashing it all to bits. Then the game would be over, and no one would ever attempt to use her as a pawn again. But her rationality disagreed. These things that Homura spoke of surely had to come from somewhere? Why spend so much time weaving a story of brothers and betrayal for a simple coup attempt?

And further than that, if Homura was indeed lying, how would she have gained the otherworldly power she possessed? Did that itself not come from somewhere? There were so many things that demanded answers… And only one who could give them. Finally, Ruina spoke. ”There are many things that I do not know, and for each of these things an answer is demanded. What is this brother that is spoken of? What is this inevitable demise? Where would Homura have gone to acquire this power she now has? What secrets have you kept? I have a blood oath from Homura that there will be no deception placed upon me, but from you I do not have the same. I want truth and answers, only then will my loyalty be truly found.”

Ruina affixed her gaze to The Monarch, waiting to see what would come from her demand. As she waited, she summoned her power. It was nothing in the face of The Monarch, but Ruina would choose to be defiant nonetheless. Still, it was an impressive amount she was able to muster. It had been so long since she had expended effort that her reserves of divine vigor were some of the largest among the deities. Large enough that perhaps even The Monarch might be given pause in the face of Ruina’s willingness to shatter the fabric of reality in defiance of her own demise, should it come to that.

“I find your lack of faith… disturbing, little destroyer. I expected more from you. This doubt you possess displeases me, as I expected everlasting loyalty when you said you would do your best to satisfy my desires, my will, my decree. Aid me now, and you will receive the answers you seek. Fail me, and I shall take back all that I have given you.” The Monarch of All said, clasping all four his hands before him, and watching with His keen gaze that bore intensely into the Goddess of Destruction. Though he concealed his wrath with his controlled voice and stoic stance, the air simmered hot with cosmic rage, threatening to set everything all around aflame.

“Sister… We may not have much time left. If we do not strike now, He will only gain more power to defend Himself, and neither of us may survive the aftermath. I can seal him now, and we can question Him later.” Homura forewarned, a hint of impatience and apprehension in her voice as the colossal flame flickered back and forth while the four artifacts and multitude of serpentine spears levitated anxiously awaiting whatever would come next. Her words evoked a pulse of otherworldly power from the Monarch as He began channeling the strength of the shards within Him. Slowly the crystallizations of different aspects drifted out from the great wound, humming and quivering as they arranged themselves into an intricate formation before the Monarch.

Ruina was silent once more as her loyalty was pressured. Raising a hand, she held aloft an orb of raw destruction to gaze into its deep red core. For a few moments Ruina was still, seemingly entranced by the core of her orb. In truth, she thought to herself that something was wrong. If The Monarch could explain everything with Homura gone, why could He not explain everything with Homura present? What if the explanation caused Homura to stop her efforts altogether? What if he explained that Homura was correct? Why then would he only explain once Homura was destroyed?

The Monarch’s lack of an answer was more telling than any answer he could’ve given. Ruina focused now, using her seeming trance as a front, and easily found the stream of power that was flowing into The Monarch. It was a beautiful river of pure energy. There was so much that Ruina could do if she possessed even a faction of it… But what she could do now was disrupt it.

Viewing the river of power flowing into The Monarch through her orb, Ruina gripped it with a shocking intensity, and The Monarch would feel this river of power shatter like glass. This would only ever be a temporary disruption, but still. Ruina had managed to give Homura a moment, and perhaps that would be all she needed.

The effects of such an expense were felt by more than just The Monarch. Red lightning crackled across the surface of Ruina’s suit, and the floor beneath her feet cracked as the wave of energy reached it, kicking up a notable cloud of dust and pebbles as a gust of wind blew outward from Ruina.

Shouting, Ruina informed Homura of what she had done. ”Homura! Go! I have stopped his flow of power, even if only for a moment! Seize this chance!”

Releasing the broken orb of destruction from her hand, Ruina allowed it to crumble into dust. Taking another moment, she removed the artifact that The Monarch had given her so long ago. The circlet of vision was useful for observing Galbar but for now she had no need of it, and it provided too useful a vector for The Monarch to latch onto her. Thus, it was tossed aside, clattering to the floor without much fanfare.

“You shall suffer the consequences of your betrayal!” The Monarch of All began, attempting to regain his strength, severely weakened after such a devastating attack to the power he wielded.

There had been no elaboration to how Homura would seal the Monarch, only her prior words which conveyed the urgency at that time, but now the red goddess acted upon Ruina’s shout, as she surged forward with the large sword thrusting it into the Monarch’s chest beside the wound containing all of the shimmering shards. He had been weakened and vulnerable, and dealt a fatal blow which caused Him to stagger backwards like a toppled mountain. All of the dancing inferno that was Homura crashed into Him as well, leaving lingering burns across His body and trails a fire that formed patterns like glyphs upon His shape. The immense sword remained left in His torn torso while Homura herself retreated and reformed into her mortal visage beside Ruina with a pensive look.

“I have not slain our heartless Lord, for I am still loyal to Him in the end. He is now trapped here, incapable of harnessing His power or leaving this place lest He succumb to His injuries and perishes. I am also grateful for your aid, sister, as we were able to preserve the palace, mostly.” Homura explained, recalling Daybringer into its standard small spear shape which she held in one hand, while another held onto the ornate silver shield. A combination of relief and fatigue was visible in her scarlet eyes as she looked at Ruina, as though ascertaining how to further explain what comes next in a concise manner. “We can consider this a victory, yet as I have said before, there remains much to do if we are to prevent the annihilation of the Galbar. The war has only begun, and we must unite our Lord and His brother before the end, if we wish to win. I have further need of you, Ruina. Will you continue your role as She Whom Tests, for we must become stronger in order to survive the coming season of strife.”

Ruina stood silently for a moment before nodding and answering. ”I am, and will always be, She Who Tests and The Lady of Pain. I will lend my aid as I am required.”

Ruina took a moment to move over to where the circlet she had discarded had fallen, and moved to pick it back up. Though just before her fingers made contact there was a moment of hesitation. Perhaps caution should be observed? Ruina used a minor speck of power to hoist it and have the circlet hover nearby. Perhaps later it would adorn her head again, but for right now it would remain separate from her.

Returning to Homura, Ruina posed another question. ”Though I wish for an explanation: Why has your form been scarred so? Your eye is gone, and your arms are bandaged. Do you need time to heal? Or is this just how you are now? And where did you get all of the shards from? Have our other brothers and sisters been slain in secrecy?”

Folding her arms, Ruina waited to see what Homura would say. In truth, this itself was a test: Would Homura remember the oath made just moments before, or would she prove that such an oath was only made to gain Ruina’s trust?

“I have been afflicted with an ailment known as the stigma. That is why my body is breaking apart and rusting away even as we speak now. I sacrificed my eye to our Lord’s brother, allowing me to commune with Him and access a fragment of His power. No amount of time shall cure my affliction, and this is how I am now until the symptoms gradually worsen and the stigma kills me. Lastly, I have acquired the shards from her catatonic kin, those whom also suffer from the stigma. You are fortunate you have been spared so far, though that likely originates from your limited interactions with other deities. I have seen it manifest in a myriad of ways though, some more subtle than scars. I digress, we must summon our kin.” Homura answered in a lengthy explanation, as she removed the ribbons that covered her hands, showing the skin marred by decaying flesh, blackened as though it had been terribly burnt.

Ruina’s eyes widened at the revelation of Homura’s decaying limbs. Frowning, Ruina nodded at the answer before speaking again. ”This curse… I lack the words to express my sympathies and condolences. Given what I can do, I will see if there is a way for me to erase this plague from existence, or at least buy you more time.”

There was an instinct to place a reassuring hand on Homura, but another instinct blocked her from touching the goddess. Instead she asked another question, thinking back to the handshake that they had shared a few moments ago. ”How does it spread? Just from being in close contact, or is there more?”

“Fortunately, it is not physical contact that seems to spread such an affliction... I am afraid I do not have a complete answer, I only know that the symptoms worsen when we fight among ourselves and alienate each other. It seems despair or ennui is the most common characteristic in those that are afflicted, aside from myself. I suppose we will find out more depending on how many of our kin heed the summons to the palace. When we determine a means of restraining our Lord while we work without leaving Him in His current state, perhaps we could ask Him. I have reason to believe He knows the cause.” Homura replied, marching towards the colossal form of the Monarch as He struggled just to breathe, still impaled by Homura’s blade.

She stepped over and leapt across the cracks and crevices that had spread throughout the throne room, before she came to halt beside the fallen king. Homura looked over her shoulder and spoke again. “Will you remain here and wait with me for the others, or will you begin testing the mortals for the hardships to come?” She inquired, seeming so small and insignificant before the immobilized Monarch left choking on His blood, yet tapping into His power and already calling forth the energy to make her voice heard across the world, she seemed to cling onto some significant simulacrum of strength.

Ruina’s answer came easily. ”I will wait here with you for the others. The mortals will be tested in time, but I would not want our efforts to be undone if there is trickery at play.”

Homura nodded, a slight smile appearing for a second on her face, before she closed her one red eye and concentrated on the spell that would send her voice across the cosmos. “Gods and goddesses of the Galbar, you are summoned to the divine palace! Come and seek the truth! Come and seek salvation! Soon, fiends will encircle our world, and so we must fight against them! War has arrived and warriors must answer the calling, lest our home be ravaged by evil. The cycle begins anew, so come to the palace to claim your vigor and your strength!” Her words echoed throughout the threads of reality, heard across all of the Galbar and even the void beyond. She hoped history would remember her words as a defiant rallying cry against annihilation as opposed to the last hopeless cry of one among the inevitably doomed.


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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Squad 404
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Ruin gives a gift


Location: The Divine Palace
Interacting with: Ea Nebel.
Mentions: Iqelis, Homura
Important note: This posts takes place before the beginning of Cycle VI




Not too long after the ceremony had been finished, Ruina approached Ea Nebel. With a nod, she would move to speak plainly. For a few moments Ruina internally grappled with what exactly she should say now that Ea Nebel was fully divine. Was ‘sister’ appropriate? Cousin? Newborn? Perhaps just her name would be for the best. ”Greetings, Ea Nebel. I would have words with you if you would have time. Would you care to walk with me for a bit so that we may speak?”

Ea Nebel laughed lightly. As Ruina mentioned walking with her, she held up an armoured hand and gestured to the palace at large, indicating that she had plans to wander the palace for a bit. Ruina’s tail was neutral at this point, resting casually behind her.

“That sounds wonderful, Ruina. It feels good to stretch my legs like normal again.” Her step was buoyant under her gown, and she held a fistful of the fabric to keep it out of the way of her shoes. “This palace is beautiful, and there are things I’m curious about.” Her smile dimmed, just slightly, as she turned back to glance at the grand high doors of the Monarch’s throne room. “Things we should consider elsewhere.”

Ruina nodded at Ea Nebel’s reply, noting the slight shift in smile. Something she was curious about? Interesting. The dimming smile hinted that this something was potentially the beginnings of something larger. Things were indeed best discussed elsewhere, and with that Ruina would place a hand gently upon Ea Nebel’s back for a moment as she began to walk down one of the many twisting corridors of The Divine Palace before speaking briefly. ”Come then. I shall show you to what is currently my favorite room. I found it not long after my birth into this world, and it is quite nice to relax within, at least personally. You may ask me all manner of questions as we walk and when we are there.”

With that said, Ruina would begin to lead Ea Nebel towards the greener room with the stream that she had found some time ago and met the monarch in briefly. As she walked, Ruina allowed her tail to trail behind her a bit more lazily than she usually did, an accommodation for Ea Nebel to have a few moments more to trace her movements in the maze of halls and rooms that made up the palace, were she still dizzy from her ordeal.

“I think… things are more clear to me now. I have my answers. I just wish I knew what the questions were.” She stared out of a window as they passed, watching a field of blue zinnia ripple in a wind that came from nowhere, its borders lined with peony. “I’m sorry, Ruina. For my words. It was not my place to say such things.”

At Ea Nebels first statement Ruina would give a hum of understanding before speaking. ”I believe I understand. Like a veil or shadow that has been lifted from your mind, yes? I have had similar experiences at least once when I rid myself of my sister's influence, though that is itself a far cry from your ascension, but regardless I believe I understand somewhat. Before I mastered my suit I consistently found my nerves aching and burning, and it always felt a bit uncomfortable, but now it is truly an extension of myself. It and I are one. I would like to believe that this is similar to what you are feeling.”

Grief tugged her sleeves, feeling fabric between her fingers. Whatever she murmured to herself or unseen listeners was inaudible. Still, her apology had given Ruina pause, allowing Ea Nebel time to come and stand beside her in full. After a few moments of contemplation, she would speak once more, but not before laying an assuring hand upon Ea Nebel’s shoulder. In her enormous shadow, Ea Nebel’s height was reduced to the lankiness of a girl. ”I cannot be angry at you. You spoke as your heart felt. That being said, I would share a viewpoint when we arrive so that it has an inkling of privacy.”

“...Thank you. You’re patient. I will be patient also.”

Ruina began to lead Ea Nebel once more, and a few moments later they arrived at the room Ruina had mentioned. A soft murmur came from the stream, and stones covered with soft moss greeted them. Ruina moved to sit gently upon one of the larger stones, her tail curling around it firmly as she crossed her legs. Gesturing for Ea Nebel to make herself comfortable within the room, Ruina spoke up briefly. ”Please, make yourself comfortable. I find this room to be quite excellent for that purpose.” With that said, she waited for Ea Nebel to do as she pleased, which was to laugh once more.

“It’s… delightful. I don’t know why I expected anything different. It’s like the forest I stole for my own courtyard.” She smiled and sat directly on the little rolling hills of moss, sprawling even, her gown a gleaming spill of black ink.

As Ea Nebel was now comfortable, Ruina would begin to explain the viewpoint that she had mentioned before. ”To explain, as I said I would, something that I have noted is that Iqelis seems to take his job quite seriously. Overly so, in fact. From what I have seen he would take any stumbling or wound to anyone to mean that it is time for their doom to be at hand, even if he would be the one to actually push this doom into motion rather than anything else, like I found him attempting to do to Homura before I interrupted him. Thus I would propose the perspective I hold: Iqelis takes his job too seriously. For all I can tell he sees an end to everyone and everything and is overly eager to see things to that end, not realizing that once everything has met their doom then there would be no more to judge. To phrase it another way, I look at myself...”

Ruina would take a moment to hold aloft an orb of pure destruction she produced from nothing, crimson red and swirling with raw power. Studying it, she would continue speaking. ”If I were to just start destroying everything, not only would I be the enemy of everyone, there would come a time where there is nothing left to destroy. One could argue that I would have fulfilled my purpose as the goddess of destruction, but would I not have also served in enabling the destruction of myself? If there is nothing left to destroy then I am also destroyed, and if I remain then not all is destroyed, and so on and so forth. Thus I use my destructive capability with a large amount of restraint through my tests, lest I find myself the enemy of myself. It is this lack of restraint that fuels my distrust of Iqelis. It seems he does not know when to stop, and seemingly will not stop or hesitate when things might be better suited to a less violent hand.”

Dismissing the orb of destruction, Ruina would lower her hand to her lap before posing a question. ”Does that make sense? It is a strange concept that I do not feel like I am able to entirely properly explain, but I would hope that you can grasp the meaning I intend.”

Ea Nebel’s head had drifted down to a tussock of cool green feathermoss, and when she shrugged, it was with her eyes closed, her back on the ground, lying down like a pale moss herself. “Thank you for taking the time to explain- It does make sense. You are wrong, but it does make sense.” She opened her eyes but didn’t move them, looking up to the dappling light of the ceiling somewhere above. “I understand my father better than I understand you, Ruina. But I think I do understand you, at least enough. You are a judge. A destroyer, a warrior. A maker of swords. A tester of strength. You take to your task with a firm hand. You have hard eyes.” She met those green snake-eyes with her own, just for a moment. “I don’t think my father is any of those things. Not under the skin. Iqelis is a god of Time.” She inhaled, and spoke softly, lyrically, with rhythm.

“My father is a sea that reflects no stars, a sea to which all the Creator’s imperial rivers flow. A sink to His source. My father’s role is not to make the waters come- they come anyway, always, in the end. Every living thing finds its grave. He doesn’t take his task seriously- I don’t think he has a task. Not like you. Or- my mother. Or me. He is a different sort of god- He is a glorifier, a monument, an embodiment of the path of Time. He is joyful. He is a dancer on the surface of the sea.” She lifted her hand, and a leaf fell, spinning, twirling in place atop the tip of her long, straight middle finger. “A dance for all of us. You, me. Galbar. The Monarch of All. All our rivers open to his sea. It’s the Flow.” The leaf burned away, leaving a blackened skeleton of veins, glowing hot at the tips. “He’s not eager to destroy. He’s mad with passion- passion for the dance. Only he has Seen the Flow- who could possibly contain that Sight? What Eye could withstand it? If you were the only goddess in all the world to See the ultimate truth, wouldn’t you try to show us all? Would you not dance?” Suddenly, she laughed a third time, and this time not softly; loudly, shaking, buckling together as the leaf crumbled. “Maybe I’m mad too. Ahah! I know my sisters are. But why wouldn’t we be? Ahahahaha… Oh, never mind. It’s too hard to explain.” She sighed happily, catching her breath. She rubbed her teary eyes, black as pearls.

“...He has always restrained himself, for me. I know that Time will Flow for me, so there is never a need for my father to remind me, as he has reminded others. Be patient with him, Ruina. Please. He is only a fly, dancing on the end of Time. There’s no need to be afraid, so long as you do not forget. Memento mori.

As Ea Nebel explained things from a more sympathetic view of Iqelis, Ruina did, truly, pause to listen. To be told she was wrong so abruptly stung a bit, but the explanation that followed carried with it perhaps a few grains of truth. In light of this, Ruina saw fit to make a new observation, one that shared a grain of her own history on the subject she broached.

Touching the scar upon her face as she spoke, Ruina explained something that had come to mind. ”But what if this dance were not to be for all of us? What if some of us were to reject that fate and persist even beyond the time where we were fated to die? I have done so once before with a large degree of luck involved, and I would choose to do so again. My life is mine, and it is my choice as to how it ends, even if it does not end at all, is it not?”

A knuckly hand touched the folded shell plating Ruina’s shin. “A clock doesn’t stop ticking when it strikes midnight, Ruina. We are all small in the face of eternity. Even our family… Things end. A flame only shines as its fuel disappears. A river cannot flow without a sink. You are alive, now, with me. Time passes for both of us. The clock will keep ticking forever. We will not.” Ea Nebel had been staring out into the unmoving fronds of a tall fern, looking for things that weren’t there. “But there is no appointed moment. Not for us. Not even for mortals… Your life is not fated to end in any one place, in any one way, in any one season. It is yours, Ruina. So is your death. If you are resolute, then you can choose the hour. And I know you are.” She smiled, but didn’t look up again. “I hope it’s a long time from now.”

At the sudden touch upon her shin Ruina’s head snapped downward at speeds that would shatter the neck of any mortal, but when she saw that it was just Ea Nebel’s hand her gaze relaxed and she paid it no heed. Turning her focus to what Ea Nebel had said Ruina let out a hum as she found herself lacking a meaningful reply. Ea Nebel promptly hummed back.

A thought come to mind. Ruina spoke up, and made an offer to the newly forged deity. ”I hope so too, if it happens at all… But something that comes to mind: Your dagger is a gift from Iqelis, correct? I would bring forward an offer of another gift: I offer you a weapon of my own make, something which cannot be taken from you by your father should he decide to deprive you of his gift in a fit of rage. Something that will allow you to choose the hour, or lack thereof, of your demise under your own power rather than the whims of any else. Accept or decline, I judge you not, but my offer stands regardless.”

Ea Nebel looked up, frowning even as she smiled. “But I-” She shook her head. “No, there’s no need for that. I trust my father. I will trust him, no matter what the Monarch puts between us. It would feel like I’m betraying him.” She gripped something hidden in her sleeve, as if for comfort. “Thank you. I know your work is without equal.”

Ruina nodded at Ea Nebel’s reply before giving her own. She was disappointed but understanding of where Ea Nebel was coming from. ”Very well. I shall allow the offer to stand for a time in the chance that events conspire to change your mind.”

She nodded. Then she sat up, crossing her legs. “There’s something else, too. Something you, I think, should know, more than anyone. When I knelt before the Monarch’s throne, I heard a memory, echoing from the tiles. It was a memory of death. I tried to reach it, but I couldn’t, not while He was watching. It wasn’t her real grave. All I heard was… Ao-Yurin, the old water-god. She died there, alone with him.” Her voice became low, deep. “It was a memory of betrayal. I think He killed her, Ruina.”

Ruina let out a hum as Ea Nebel described what she had seen. Blinking gently, Ruina had to actually take a moment to recall Ao-Yurin. She had hardly seen them before their death, though granted it might’ve been due to the fact that she did subject Ao-Yurin’s oceans to the first and only test to actually occur. Perhaps they had rather disliked that… Ruina would never know. Still, the news was troubling, and after a few moments of contemplation Ruina spoke up. ”That… Is an interesting observation. I was never aware of the circumstances of their passing, merely that it happened. To learn that it happened at His hand is concerning indeed.”

“My uncle- Voligan, that is- told me the story. He was witness to it. The Monarch summoned him, Sala, and Yoliyachicoztl, the Lady Heat, to where Ao-Yurin lay dying at the feet of His throne. The salting of the seas had poisoned her, and Sala was called for her comfort… Then all three were dismissed, and Ao-Yurin was left to die.” Ea Nebel frowned. “The Emperor charged Sala with deicide. He refused to acknowledge anything my uncle said to the contrary. I don’t doubt that she was poisoned, and that the Sun sees further than any of us… but now Sala lives on in guilt and debt to her father, and, just like Iqelis, loyal heirs were called to witness her humiliation. And this I know, also: it was not poison alone that destroyed the Wellspring.”

Ruina fell silent as she pondered over the news that had been delivered. It was quite troubling to hear that He had laid one of His own children low, and to think that He could perhaps choose to end any of them on a whim? It was with that thought that Ruina decided something: If He made an attempt to end her life, she would not go down without a fight. The lack of individuality and formless nothingness that made up her existence before being separated was not something that she was willing to return to. Taking a breath, Ruina spoke up again. ”I will keep this information in mind for the future, and I thank you for sharing it.”

Ea Nebel nodded. There was a pause then, a long one. And once it was done Ruina held up her armor-clad hand and studied the suit that made up most of her body before asking an interesting question. ”If I might ask… Have you ever seen visions of my sister? I have a morbid sense of curiosity since we are speaking of endings and death.”

All of a sudden, the light little laugh was back; weaker now, but here. “Aha! That curiosity- it hit me the moment I first laid eyes on you. That was why I touched you, when we met… You didn’t like that, but I couldn’t help it.” By the sound of it, morbidity was nothing but a joke for Grief. Or, perhaps, a dance. “I saw her first death, and her true death, and what became of her flesh each time… Painful memories. Very painful. They fascinated me. She was raw and hungry and alive and… free, in a way. Blind hate, a hate like a sun, hate without limits. Except for you, of course. You stopped her.” Her fingertips lay lightly on the grey shell of Ruina’s shin.

“I saw you, of course. You were always there. There was wild, terrible envy around you. Desperation, lack… an animal feeling, hard to describe. You were whole and complete, and she- it- was only an embryo. A whisper of what she would have been. She stole the seed of hatred from you; you crushed her, and it was over. I saw nothing that you didn’t live through. I can only borrow old memories, but you saw it all with your own green eyes.” She looked up and searched them again.

As Ea Nebel searched Ruina’s eyes, she would find them to be a bit softer than their usual hardiness. Iron rather than steel, as it were. Once Ea Nebel explained what she had seen, Ruina paused for a moment to think and compare things to what she knew. In truth Ruina had not wanted to kill her sister, but the crime that she had committed in jealousy and hate could not go without an answer. Still, what was done was done, to contemplate what could have been for eternity was somewhat… wasteful.

At Ea Nebel’s further touching of her suit Ruina stopped to contemplate something else for a moment. Her fascination with it was certainly something, and perhaps that was a topic that deserved further exploration. Speaking up, Ruina would pose a question. ”You seem to be quite interested in touching my suit, might I ask why? Is it mere curiosity or did you have something else you wished to gain from it?”

“Oh? I just touch things. Bones. Knives. Rocks, and things. Sometimes I catch a memory, sometimes I don’t. I like weapons. Yours is the best.” There was nothing more to it.

Ruina smiled slightly as Ea Nebel complemented her suit. She didn’t have the heart to tell her that each time she had touched her suit Ruina had to stop a reflexive instinct from jabbing a spike outward into her fingers. It was a measure to maximize her own survivability. Send out a spike at an incoming attack and destroy the offender before it was able to do anything. That being said, perhaps there was a solution to her problem and a favor to be gained?

Holding aloft her hand, Ruina willed the suit to shift and change, growing a thicker layer of bone plate upon the back of her hand. Once the growth was finished, Ruina willed it to detach.

“Oh-!”

With a slight grunt as she felt the chunk of hard bone detach from herself, Ruina studied her hand for a moment as things regenerated. There would be no gift giving that damaged her suit, after all.

Once things were back as they were, Ruina took to shaping the chunk of bone into an oval before examining it once more and nodding to herself. Holding out the chunk of bone, Ruina spoke calmly. ”Then as a gift to welcome you to being a full deity, I shall give unto you a rare thing: A fragment of my suit, shed willingly. Take good care of it, and beware what tricks it may do. My sister left at least one small fragment of herself within this already, and I do not know if there may be more.”

Ea Nebel’s hands were leather-gloved now, and still, pressed together at the wrist to steady their tremble. She took the flake in her fingertips, as though it were an eggshell. Her arm tensed, and she paused, frowned, tensed it again; when the gloves still refused to melt away, she held the fragment in one hand and pulled off the other with her teeth, finally exposing her long, bony fingers and grey skin to the surface of the shell. It lay there, motionless but alive, alive and changing; like a coral it grew, spiking up and withering away, a densely textured web of pits and spines wrapping itself around her middle finger, between the knuckles, three segments of wild bio-metallic filigree ending in a needle-blade over her fingernail, connected by a thin hinged wire to a band on her slender wrist. It had not softened even slightly as it moved. She bent her finger, which had been held very still, and found that the ornament added no weight at all to her hand, nor restricted her movement even slightly.

The needle then retracted at some unseen signal, disappearing without so much as a twitch of a muscle. Immediately her black glove returned, thicker than ever. She shook it until it dissolved into angry blowflies and rolled over her hand to admire the grey bone on grey skin, forming strange textures on her finger as her blood-diamond ring sparkled beside it. Her gaze had not left it once since it had detached from Ruina’s hand. “I… I don’t know what to say…”

Ruina watched with an intense curiosity as the piece of bone shaped itself around Ea Nebel’s finger, waiting to see if the new goddess cried out in pain or fear as something she didn’t appreciate happened, but when all that came was admiration she relaxed some. Things were going to be alright, then. Good.

At the mention of lacking something to say, Ruina smiled slightly before rising to her feet. Stretching a bit, she spoke gently. ”I am glad that you appreciate your gift, and that is enough of a thanks. Unfortunately I feel it is time for me to depart. I have been rather lacking with the tests I am supposed to be administering, and it is time for me to correct this lack of tests and trials. If you wish for anything in this last moment I encourage you to speak your mind, I will answer or abide as I can.”

But Ea Nebel did not speak. She only rose on her two feet, and embraced her cousin in a flurry of black silk and joyful tears.

Ruina could not help but smile gently as she was embraced, and returned the hug softly. Her tail even wrapped itself around Ea Nebel, however briefly. Unfortunately their time was cut short, as Ruina’s divine senses picked up on strange fluctuations of divine power within the palace that headed for the throne room of The Monarch of All. Almost instantly the kindness from her face vanished and she looked up towards the door to the room. Something was wrong.

Stepping back and grasping Ea Nebel’s shoulders firmly, Ruina issued a cautionary command to Ea Nebel. ”Something is wrong… Very wrong. I will go investigate, and I urge you to hide yourself. Someone has come with violence on their mind, and I would rather not have your first test as a full divine be combat against another.”

Leaving essentially no time to respond, Ruina darted out of the room and began to head towards the throne room



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The Palace of Rime II


Dire Escape





At first there had been emptiness. The loss had come as such a blow, stripping everything else away, save for a bottomless pit of grief. But that endless void soon flooded red. Swelling with the only other emotions any in her position could digest. Anger, hatred, rage. That void inside her began to fill unbridled.

She was angry it had even happened, angry at herself for being a failure, for being on some task that her silent god had sentenced her to. Hatred came next. For the one who had done such a terrible thing. For the one who took her everything in the blink of an eye and for the father who had let it all happen. Rage strengthened her now, it was the only thing that made her focus. Cold and terrible her wrath would be on the one who had unleashed such pain upon her entire being. This she swore and none would get in the way of it.

For she was Mair, born anew as a Revenger.

The passing of time came irregularly to her, all melting into the same abyssal cycle. Waking hours she spent training, molding herself into something new. Weak muscles became hard, her mind sharp, reflexes quick. Strength building to new heights as she learned of herself and pushed harder everyday. Sleeping hours gave way to the waking, if she slept at all. It was so cold there and she could not leave. Not yet, for the cold god prevented her flight. For Chailiss' cryptic talks gave little understanding, even to the others. What was he waiting for? So this went on and on for the longest of times. It became harder to tell the passing of days, for the sun remained high at all times and then it would be dark for even longer. She swore it was not as it should be, that time worked differently there but she kept such thoughts to herself.

Her only company during those long days and nights was what she alone endured. For this path was hers to tread and she would walk it until her vengeance was known. Yet she could not deny that the restless fire in her blood was tempered through compassion. She was of course, not alone in that Palace of Rime.

Shysie, Keeper Alona and a few other flamekeepers had joined her there, not long after her arrival. They taught her their ways once it became evident that she would not relent on her quest. And perhaps because she would not stop pestering them about it. Besides, it gave them all something to do and soon enough, Mair had become inducted into the sisterhood of the Flamekeepers. It had not been easy but she was a natural learner and quickly surpassed all expectations. So it was, for she was dedicated to the path of vengeance and all it might offer. But becoming apart of the sisterhood also claimed its own challenges but they would be worth the risk.

Keeper Alona assured her, as long as she kept the Eternal Flame's interest at heart and adhered to their core tenants, all would be well. Mair knew if it came to and the sisterhood got in her way, she would cast it aside in pursuit of her one true goal. But that was a secret none but she could bear.

There was also one other in that Palace, two in fact but they only saw one. Aurora was often by her side and unlike Shysie's warmth, Aurora was a roaring inferno of optimism and empathy. On many a times she was the one to almost bring Mair back from her foolish quest but in the end nothing could stop the pain. So she turned it to fuel that would keep her going until the end. Even if that fuel pushed everyone else away…

Yet there was a greater shadow looming above and poised to suffocate them all.




"We need to act before it's too late."

"In this we agree, Mair." Alona said, shivering over a meager flame. They had been told it was beginning to be cold enough that even the giants of the north shivered.

Aurora didn't know what to think of that. Or much of anything. She was immune to all such cold but watching the Keeper's shiver alarmed her. Where had it all gone wrong? She had trained and trained and trained but felt no differently. In fact she felt worse about a lot of things because truth be told, she wasn't good at learning or training or getting better. Not like Mair and Shysie.

"Aurora?" Shysie touched her arm, eliciting a small gasp from her lips. She blinked and looked up at the giantess. Her amber eyes were worrisome. "Do you agree? Have we waited long enough for the Father to see reason?"

Aurora studied the faces of those around her. They were all looking at her, of course. She had spaced out again. Mair had crossed her arms over her chest, she wore practically nothing. No one knew how she stayed warm. Alona and the other Keeper's were a mix of concern and indifference. Alona being indifferent. Shysie cared though, she had a heart twice her size. With Mair being… Difficult, Shysie had leaned on her and she gave support when she could. But now what came before them was a monumental task.

She sighed. "He's not well and we are but mortals. How do you help a god from falling?" She clenched her fists and narrowed her eyes, "He promised and he broke that promise so long ago. Now is the time, if there were to be any better time, I do not know."

"What of the Nisshiniek? Will any side with us?" Alona asked.

"Churi has been helpful but they are stubborn and loyal. We should expect only a quarter of those here to provide any aid, half, if we are lucky." Aurora frowned as she saw their faces harden. All except for Mair's.

"Even without their help,” She began, “We would still need to go. They can survive the cold but not his madness. So let's get to it." She finished on a spin, beginning to walk off. The others exchanged glances and then followed behind.

“Is our transportation ready?” Alona asked.

The spangled girl nodded, “When the time is right and we have left through the front, Churi and the like-minded Nisshi will be waiting.”

“And what if they aren’t? What then?” Alona’s tone hardened.

Aurora shot her a glance. “He will be there. Just stick to the plan and don’t do anything stupid. For this to work and to avoid any unneeded deaths, remember what he discussed.”

The older woman nodded and then continued on.

“Will you be alright, Aurora? I know… This can’t be… Easy.” Shysie whispered to Aurora as the two drifted farther back from the pack. There were only a handful of them to begin with. Keeper Alona, Shysie, Druska, Ahusaka and of course, fiery Mair. If any of them died… She shuddered to think of it. Conviction and revenge drove Mair, pushing everything else away, even logic and reason most of all. She supposed this would always have been inevitable, whether Chailiss saw reason or not. Oh Chailiss…

Aurora looked up at Shysie and forced a smile. “I will be okay, don’t worry about me. He is no longer the God he once was. The one I wanted to know.” Those words were a lie and she hoped Shysie would believe them. This was the hardest thing she had ever done. It was hard to believe at one point, she had wanted to see the world. Maybe she still did, but now, there was a bigger problem. One she could never have thought of- She cared too much. Was that a problem? Not necessarily but right now, it definitely was.

She wanted to help her father and abandon him to the endless cold and this silence he had created. But it was maddening all the same, to be powerless to do anything. As a god withered away. And now, she was prepared to do what needed to be done. She had never told any of them her real plan. She was not going to leave. Her last ditch effort would be to get to Rosalind. She had not seen her creator… mother… friend in what felt like an eternity. She was locked away. But no more. She would try to wake her, no matter the cost.

“Uh oh.” Shysie whispered loudly.

Aurora blinked and looked up. Down the hall, Mair had run into the one being she should not have.

Yuma.

He was the Nisshi in charge of the Palace’ and he made sure everyone knew. She likened him to the stories of the Keepers, a bullish man who sought power by bullying others. Right now, he loomed over Mair and the Keepers in a form of white glass, in the visage of an armored behemoth. She walked faster as the shouting started. Today was not the day he was supposed to be out walking the halls, he had a routine!

But before she could do anything. Anything at all. It was already over. Mair had cut him in half with a powerful lance of fire, and his top half slid to the floor with a mighty crash while the spirit inside, now caught on fire, screamed. And that scream echoed out into the silent halls, like a beacon in the deepest quiet of winter. A kindled flame, giving way to a forest fire.

Alona reacted quickly and added her flame to the screaming, thrashing Yuma. After a moment he turned to ash, then drifted to the icy floor like gray snowflakes.

“What have you done!” Aurora shouted, pushing in amidst the Childan’s to stand before Mair.

The pale girl turned to her with a look of disdain. “He would have given us up or worse, he had to go, Aurora.”

“Don’t you see what you’ve done! The plan is ruined, more will be coming now! Honestly, I can’t believe how stupid you are!” She poked her in the chest. Mair winced, a fiery expression overcoming her features but before she could open her mouth, a deep rumble could be heard from somewhere deeper in the Palace.

The nisshi were mobilizing.

“We need to go, now!” Aurora shouted, running down the long corridor. The rest followed, and more rumbling could be heard somewhere behind them. “Forget the plan, get to the outlook and pray Churi is there!”

From down the hall a cold wind spurned them, heckling them ever on. Their meeting place was in the most remote corner of the palace, away from prying eyes and icy ears. Where they had to go was on the complete otherside of the Palace, down through the ramparts and through the last courtyard. There to the left was an outlook that oversaw the vast nothingness that surrounded them. She hoped Churi would catch on to what was going on and meet them there. If not, Chailiss would not forgive them this time.

So they ran through the hallways and up and down stairs, until at last they came to their first obstacle. Three Nisshien Knights (a term no one knew the exact meaning of) patrolled in their way. They spun around, and hissed as they saw them approaching. There was no time to waste. Druska and Ahusaka outpaced her before the fray started, working in unison to send a biting flame down the hallway. It struck one of the knights, who shattered to ash with a dreadful scream as the other two also worked together, summoning a cold wind to snuff the fire out.

The icy wind buffeted them enough to slow them down, as the knights advanced. Shysie shouted something from behind, and two more knights approached them from the rear. They were being pushed back! Panic struck Aurora, a dark flighty sensation- lulling her to dance… She shook her head and slapped herself. No! She couldn’t fight but that didn’t mean she needed to give up, for she was surrounded by fierce warriors. As Druska and Ahusaka summoned their flame to fight the wind, Shysie and Alona sent fireballs down the hallway. Aurora found cover behind a pillar of ice as she watched the battle unfold.

A fireball from Shysie smacked the hand of one of the knights, melting it asunder. It quickly used the melting water to form in its hand’s place, a large spike. Alona fought the other in hand to hand, occasionally setting her hands on fire to great effect. The other two flamekeepers were holding out and the wind was growing fierce as both sides sought to outdo the other in a cruel game of reverse tug of war. But wait… Where was Mair? Aurora looked around but could not find the pale one. That was until, on the side of Druska, a wave of fire melted the knights to ash. Mair had somehow gotten behind them but how?

There was a scream. Shysie’s scream. Aurora snapped her head back to see her friend had been cut across her brow, down her right cheek. Scarlet glistened in that icy room. Alona dispatched her knight by thrusting her hand inside its chest and immolating it. Shysie fended off her attacker, then Alona went in for the kill, cutting its head off and then engulfing the body in fire until it was ash. Then all was quiet and Aurora rushed to her friend.

‘Shysie! Are you alright?” She only ever came up to the girl’s waist but even from where she stood, it didn’t look good. Alona was already inspecting it before she muttered, “You’ll thank me later.” Before she put her hand over Shysie’s face and her hand glowed red. Shysie cursed in her own language, or at least Aurora thought so, and then growled. She pulled back, a handprint burned into her face, but at least the wound had stopped bleeding.

“I’m fine!” She snapped, wiping away what remained of the blood. “Let’s keep moving!” Shysie pushed ahead, past the dying light of the flames. Deeper into the frozen solitude of Palace Rime.




Their trek was longer than any had anticipated. Every winding turn and long hallway brought a new challenge. The Nisshien Knights were relentless in their pursuit but it became quickly evident that not all of them thought the same. A battle the likes none again would ever witness was raging in that nowhere place. Spirit fought spirit, between brother and sister, with great screaming and tremendous power. Since the Nisshi did not wield fire, they resorted to bashing their opponents until their vessels were broken and they were too tired to continue. They never killed one another… Perhaps that made them better than squabbling mortals, fighting over petty things, taking life without a second thought. Still, they had no qualms about killing her friends and for that Aurora brushed aside her poetic insights. After all, she only had what the Firekeepers told her about the world, maybe her own view was skewed? It didn’t matter, because they were getting closer and closer to their destination.

By a stroke of good fortune, a pair of Nisshi had battered open the very walls, giving them quick access to bypass the throne room. He who dwelled within would be their greatest threat. If he slumbered then not even the fighting would wake him. Still, it was dangerous and they were beginning to feel the chill and weariness of wounds. Throughout, Aurora felt weakest but knew in her heart that her moment would come, she just had to see them all off.

The last of the knights that stood in their way, not engaged by their brethren, were felled by Mair. The pale warrioress barely seemed winded but protected them all as they continued on. Then silence at last rang out from where they were and everyone took a deep breath as they exited the last doorway to see Churi and other like minded Nisshi, in the form of icy eagles. At their full power, Nisshi were massive, as was everything else in the land of giants. Behind them stood in the infinite icy wastes of the true north, a certain death on foot.

“You’ve made it at last!” he called out, “The fighting has commenced and many have fallen, they will surely suffer for a time but if it meant letting you escape, then it was worth it. Come now, we must hurry before he wakes.” he let down a wing and the others followed. The flamekeepers each found a nisshi and settled in.

“Shysie!” Aurora called to her friend, grabbing her wrist before she could get upon one. The tall warrior looked down and raised an eyebrow.

“Aurora..?” She asked, perhaps seeing the tears falling down her cheeks.

“I…” Why were words so hard when they needed to be said? “I… I’m sorry about your eye. I…”

“Come on!” Alona shouted from atop her eagle. “We need to go!”

All eyes were on the pair, even Mair’s who waited for her on Churi.

“It’s alright Aurora, now come on, let’s get out of here.” Shysie said, pulling away and clambering up her eagle. Aurora stepped back, hesitant in that moment. She looked back to the doorway, then to Churi. A smile on her face. She nodded at the Nisshi and with a great deal of reluctance, Churi nodded back slowly, looking away as he did. With two powerful flaps of his wings, he bounded off the ledge and into the sky. The rest followed, and with them the shouts of her friends. She didn’t have the heart to wave goodbye and quickly fled into the dark palace.

She had to get to Rosalind.
That mournful tower had only one entrance and it stood directly in the center of the palace. Directly behind the throne. For Chailiss did not want any to meddle with such a feverous goddess, even if it had already begun to consume him entirely.

Now Aurora walked through empty, scarred halls. Bits and pieces of Nisshien knights were strewn about, now motionless. Any who remained standing did not attack her, as they hadn’t in their mad dash to escape. Even in madness, did Chailiss still care for her wellbeing. As much as it was beginning to sicken her. No words were spoken on her slow march forth to the throne, for none knew what words of comfort there could be. She steadied herself before the great doors and opened them.

The air there had no scent as it rushed past her. It was cold, unpleasant and uncaring. Before her the hall was empty, save for the statues of Nisshien knights lining the sides. And of course, there was the throne. Aurora’s eyes widened in horror and her heart jumped to her throat.

It was empty.

Before she had any time to react to the emptiness, there came a tremendous cracking sound and the ceiling broke apart. She dove to the side, behind a pillar to avoid the shattering ice that skated across the floor all around her. When it came to a stop she peeked out and saw Chailiss standing in the middle, a pile of… broken eagles. She clambered to her feet, or at least she tried, but tripped on the slick ice.

The cloaked god ripped one of the living eagles in half, then blew upon the spirit that tried to escape, freezing it. It fell to the ground and shattered. Aurora screamed. He spun around to her, blazing blue eyes boring into her soul.

”Aurora.” he stated with cold fury. ”I couldn’t let them get close. They are sick. Infected with the fever.” It said it with such certainty, Aurora almost believed him but she knew he was wrong. He picked up something, lifting it by black strands of hair. It was Alona, who struggled weakly, her body now battered and bloodied. ”We can’t let them…” his other hand grabbed her chin and where it did her skin began to blacken with frostbite. ”Escape.” His hand twisted her head with one quick motion. A loud crack echoed throughout the room and then it was over. Alona was dead, discarded to the floor as Chailiss rummaged through the ice.

Aurora’s knees grew weak and her vision began to go black. She couldn’t breath, she couldn’t breath! Her wobbly knees gave out as Chailiss lifted Druska high but he seemed dissatisfied and tossed her aside. She did not move from the cold floor. Ahusaka was next, she at least had some breath in her, because she tried to fight back. But her blows only did enough to cause herself harm and then Chailiss blew upon her a cold breath, and she froze into a statue, face twisted into agony. For good measure he threw the statue into the wall, leaving nothing of Ahusaka behind.

“S-Stop.” She cried out weakly.

Then he lifted Shysie, who was lifeless as could be but Chailiss did not toss her aside. In fact he held her a loft and with his other hand, he raised Mair up. ”Sick, so sick.” he shook his head. ”We cannot let them continue. No, we cannot. Isn’t that right. Wayward Daughter. Zima.” His gaze burned into Aurora’s. She could hardly react, could hardly even think. She knew what was coming. She knew and knew but why was she so powerless. Why? WHY!

“S-STOP!” she cried out.

The God ignored her and walked free of the shattered eagles. ”You will see. No one can ever leave. Ever again.” his voice bristled with anger, their necks were beginning to blacken. It was in that moment, that she screamed and felt the world explode into a myriad of endless color. She grabbed them both, swarmed them with a thousand dancing lights and ripped them from the grasp of the cold god. She was the wind, the howling, rushing wind and they escaped that northward place into the green. For she was the sky and she flirted with the moon and the stars. It was overwhelming and all consuming but she knew she had placed them far, far away from his grasp and as the vision faded she was at last useful.

But her vision had not just faded to black. It was like her eyes opened again and she was back in that cold throne room. Chailiss stood before her, empty handed. She laughed, wretched and then passed out.








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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Vec
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Vec Liquid Intelligence

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Of Slings and Spears I

Although simple in concept, the hunt is as vital of a craft as the rest - if not the most vital. Just because the blessings of Avros have allowed us to cultivate the land and herd animals, it does not mean that we must grow complacent. Hunting is ingrained within an Eidolon's life-force.
– Emyr, First Hunter of the Lyra clade

"Get down, boy, down!" His eyes were locked onto the fleeing xo when a gruff, baritone voice snapped behind him, and a hand abruptly pushed his head down, shoving his face into the mud below. As he tasted the bitter and unpleasant soil, the youngster's mind reeled as dangerous thoughts fueled by anger and frustration slowly started to take form, but the man atop him had other plans.

"Haah..." sighing quietly, his hand tightened around the boy's nape, the mark on it slowly turning a dull red. He put a little more force behind his push, pinning and keeping the boy on the ground. What with the rain that had graced the area relatively recently, the air had yet to completely lose its moisture and, as the man behind him shuffled closer, the boy felt the clammy skin of the man's chin slightly touch his pointed ear.

"Get. Your. Act. Together." The man's voice, more akin to a growl at this point, made the hair all over the boy's body stand on end. "This is not a game, but a hunt, and you..." the man grabbed a tuft of hair from the back of the boy's head, forcefully making the trapped youngster face him before continuing. "Are. Here. To. Learn." Every word had been accompanied by a tap on the forehead, right between the two small, jutting horns that hid under the bangs of dark brown hair covering his son's head. Although his face had been muddied, the scrunched-up expression that hid under all that – as well as the emotions that he felt flowing into him through his hold on the boy's neck – told him everything that he needed to know about what his offspring thought of his words.

"Understood?" For several seconds, the two simply stared at each other in the eyes, but right before that itchy, tense feeling of conflict became palpable, the boy retreated his gaze. Seeing this, his father held him down for a split second longer before unhanding him and, as if nothing had happened, gave a couple of pats on his son's back before standing up and walking out of sight.

Although free now, the boy's pride had been injured. Slowly, he crawled back up to his knees and then to his feet whilst dusting off debris and grass that had tangled up in his clothes, all the while mumbling silent curses. As his hand made a pass over his side, he felt a bump on the animal hide – his coat had, somehow, slightly torn at that place. At the realization of what would happen once they returned home; the young man simply hung his head in defeat. "Time to bust out the sewing kit, mother's not going to be pleased…"

After some time had passed, the sound of hooves entered the boy's ears, and he rose his head to look at his father walking back with two horses trotting behind him. He watched as the trio circled around the small boulder he'd made his sitting place before coming to a stop behind him.

"Did you retrieve the stones?" His father asked, one hand extended towards him. The boy glanced at the corded loop, the reins of one of the horses, then looked back at his father for a moment before gazing back down. The man stood a good one and half heads taller than him and had quite the muscular physique. At first glance, not many would think that such a man was good with tasks that required finesse and precision, but his father had time and again shattered that notion by being the best slinger their clan had raised.

"Yes," the boy replied absentmindedly and made to grab the reins, only to be slapped in the head with them, eliciting a pained grunt. He swiveled his head back up and was simply met with a cold gaze, again reminding him his place in the hierarchy. "Yes father," he corrected his speech whilst gritting his teeth.

The ride back to the clan had been uneventful, something that the boy thanked the gods for inwardly. They had risen early in the morning in order to catch the long-furred xo herd before they began moving, and had wasted a good half a day on the hunt before his father called it quits. Upon their arrival, the sun had long set over the horizon; a multitude of colors washed over the plains as the afterglow of twilight preluded the arrival of darkness over the land.

Their clan could not really be identified as one; four families worked together to survive in the rough environment their ancestors had called home. The boy thought back to the teachings of the elder storyteller – a grandmother of one of his friends – of how some decades earlier, four hunters and their spouses had split off from a larger clade due to some infighting. Even though the northern bands have, and still do, shared some friendly interactions, it was known that foreign Eidolons did not really integrate well into a different clade. As such, the four couples had decided to start their own little band.

Fast forward to the present and the band has grown in population, but the four families remained a constant, albeit in name only. This was mainly because they had split the different responsibilities between the four, with each family overseeing specific things within the clan's chain of operations. The first two had been in charge of the traditional hunting and herding of xo as well as protection, while the other two families mainly dabbled in the spiritual, medicinal and manufacturing fields. As a result, society had grown to be quite regimented, with everyone assigned a role and a job from a young age.

A whistle from his father brought the boy back to reality, and he turned his attention to the front where two more riders on horses approached the returning duo. The boy saw his father pull further up front as one of the two riders mirrored him, with the two coming to a stop a couple xo's length distance ahead. Leaving the adults to their business, the boy rode the horse around and approached the other rider, another one of his close friends.

"Dylan, you son of a bitch!" The boy called out as the two locked forearms in their usual greeting.

"Hey now, you're sure you want to be talking about your aunt like that?" Dylan said as his eyes twinkled with mirth, his mouth twisting into a sarcastic smile. "Anyway, you look like you took a tumble in the xo pens, Cedric. What happened?"

His cousin's questioning stare only served to immediately sour Cedric's mood once again. After glancing back to his father, he snapped on the reins, making the horse trot further inward and towards the encampment, all the while motioning for his cousin to follow.

"Better get off these horses, it's getting late. I'll tell you on the way to the tents." Cedric said with a stony expression on his face.

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Chris488

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And Now For Something Completely Different



Scratching his chin in thought, Aethel’s eyes narrowed as he focused on the finer details of his future trials. They had been working on said details for days now, focusing on nothing else as their desire to get it perfect compelled them to ignore the many distractions that would get in the way. It was a hellish experience, but at long last the final details slipped into plac-

“Gods and goddesses of the Galbar, you are summoned to the divine palace! Come and seek the truth! Come and seek salvation! Soon, fiends will encircle our world, and so we must fight against them! War has arrived and warriors must answer the calling, lest our home be ravaged by evil. The cycle begins anew, so come to the palace to claim your vigor and your strength!”

Blinking in surprise at the announcement, Aethel glanced around for a moment in confusion… before looking back at the tablet they had intended to write down the details of the trials with slowly amounting horror. They couldn’t remember what they had just been thinking about. It had been there and now, ‘Poof!’, it was gone.

For the first time in their existence, Aethel yelled out “SON OF A-” before pushing themselves off the chair they had been wearing a groove into and flipping the table in a rage.

Stamping his hoof against the wooden floor hard enough to crack it several times, they finally called out “If you’re going to invite me to the palace, you can at least open a portal!

The words compelled a portal into existence before the deity, beckoning them inside. Beyond the threshold was the familiar sight of the interior within the divine palace, specifically the doorway leading into the throne room.

Taking a deep breath, Aethel accepted the offer and stepped through. “Thank you. Now this had better be important because your little announcement just ruined several days worth of time and effort doing something anathema to my nature that I might have to start from the beginning with.” They spat with clear irritation in their voice as they looked around for Homura.

Through the doorway and in the throne room, a strange sight greeted Aethel: Instead of being seated upon His throne, the Monarch of All lay impaled by a massive sword on the floor, with shifting symbols and swirling patterns staining His entire body - an evident entrapment spell designed to imprison and sap Him of strength. Nearby the Monarch of All awaited the source of the announcement, Homura herself, barely noticeable because of how diminutive she seemed beside the fallen god of creation.

Aethel could also sense that somewhere within the room was Ruina. She was a bit out of sight, but still close enough to hear the conversation, and respond as needed if a fight broke out. An aura of her power lingered around the room, hinting at just how much she had contributed to incapacitating The Monarch of All. Homura set her sight upon Aethel, one eye was the same old burning scarlet while the other unfamiliar eye was an obsidian black without an iris or pupil.

“Welcome Aethel, as before I have no intention of harming you.” She said, still openly wielding her golden spear, as ethereal arms protruded from her back carrying an ornate silver shield and a brazier burning with a fire shaped like a six-winged strange creature. The small red goddess had also claimed many more shards; a frightening number compared to any of the others among the Divine. “Unless you are my enemy, of course.” Homura added, her voice neither friendly nor hostile, ever emotionless as she spoke. She tilted her head as she gazed at Aethel, as if curious whether the current situation changed how this interaction would begin compared to the more cordial nature of their last conversation.

One would have expected any deity freshly arrived to this situation to be all kinds of horrified. Aethel merely looked between Homura and the deposed Monarch with something more akin to minor surprise. “You know, when I first met you dear sister, I had a pretty solid idea that something like this would happen sooner or later. I mean considering that all of us were spawned from the essence of our creator, it was only a matter of time before you started to question just how pure an entity that could create someone like Yesaris could truly be. That being said, I didn’t think we would get to this point for at least a few decades… maybe a century or two.

Tilting their own head as they morphed into their natural form, the equine deity offered a playful smirk. “I mean you are rather zealous in your crusade against things you consider wrong with the world… including mortality and enjoying life in general. But to answer your question about if we’re friends or foes… Are you intending to take his throne and enforce how you feel the world should be on everyone else?

Homura turned her attention to the empty throne, much too large for her to take and not look completely comical while doing so, then she spoke. “No, that is not my intention. I am acting now to protect the Galbar from annihilation… I have no desire to enforce others into adhering to my will - The throne shall remain empty until we achieve an era of peace and our Lord makes amends with His elder brother. Until then, I heed the first commandment of our Lord; I will give meaning to this world.” Her gaze returned to Aethel, and the blackened one of her eyes visibly altered, becoming fathomless like the void, endless depths that threatened to swallow those that stared too long into its bleakness. “Would you have attempted to usurp the throne if I had claimed otherwise?” She asked softly.

There was a brief shake of the head. “No. I would have destroyed it myself. After all, once someone claims it via conquest it’s just going to be endless coups and civil war until there’s only one deity left standing.” Having revealed a little of how their mind worked, one of their tendrils started to brush their poofy mane. “However, I’m so glad you’re doing the honorable thing and allowing everyone to access the power that is their birthright without question or demand on what they do with it.

“Indeed, though I shall be more involved in the distribution of said power.” Homura replied.

No, you won’t.” Aethel intercepted quickly, ensuring that Homura didn’t try to change the topic too quickly. “In fact, you should have as little to do with the distribution as possible. I am familiar enough with you and your works that you would naturally start to be tempted to distribute according to your own, rather strict sense of morality. Oh, I know it wouldn’t start that way. You just want to protect Galbar and if Yesaris created another form of lifeform that burrows into people's brains and controls their actions to further his goals… Well, sooner or later you’ll be tempted to step in and tell him that he has to use his great power to aid Galbar, likely in a certain manner. Considering you’re also the one who toppled the Monarch…” They let the implications go unsaid.

Homura simply nodded, before she continued. “Your concerns are valid, but I shall be involved in the distribution of power. I have incapacitated our Lord and imprisoned Him, but let it be known it was His negligence and His lies that led to Him being toppled from His throne. I have sworn a blood oath with our sister, Ruina, that I shall speak the truth. Let it also be known that all among the Divine will receive an even portion of the power, to do with what they will, regardless of my strict sense of morality. Lastly, Yesaris is our brother, and I must have faith that he would be of aid, even if I say nothing at all.” With those words, Homura began walking towards Aethel, before suddenly appearing a step away. “I wish to ask you another question; what would you do with this power?”

If Aethel was surprised by the sudden closeness, they didn’t show it. Instead they shrugged at her question. “Pretty much what I’m already doing. Even if I might be inclined to make Astus be polite and say please before he gets his share. That’s not a matter of morality, that’s just because when I talked to him after giving him a hand with his hiveminded fungal infestation he was kind of a jerk. He’ll still get it with no strings attached, but I’m comfortable enough with myself to know I would insist he ask nicely first just to spite him.

I do have a question for you though. Those extra shards you’ve got… did you go around murdering a bunch of our kin or are you going to actually give those back now that you’ve overthrown the Monarchy?” He asked somewhat coyly. “Because that buzz of raw power you’re swimming in right now must feel real nice right now.

“Those that have had their shards claimed shall have their shards returned, should they ask for such. I will also provide power to all among the Divine, regardless of whether they are polite. I would only ask my questions and regardless of the answers, all shall receive their portion. Does this appease you, Aethel?” Homura inquired.

Aethel tilted their head slightly… before simply saying “It will… if you promise me that is the complete truth and that is what you will do… with serious consequences on par with divine retribution if you willingly break that promise.” There was a moment of thought, before an idea came to Aethel as their eyes brightened. “You can grant me enough power to create an enforceable oath with a punishment that can take effect, even with your increased state, correct?

“If that is what you desire. I promise you the complete truth, and that I shall grant equal power to all deities that come to the palace to receive their portion, this I swear. I am assuming you would ask for additional power to impose this oath upon me, yes?” Homura asked as she began walking back to her original position.

Under normal circumstances I would happily take you at your word. But considering the amount of personal reward you would gain from subverting your duties and breaking your promises I confess that a safeguard should be put into place.” Aethel admitted as their tendrils settled down. “I also believe this would be a fair punishment. Homura, if you willingly break your promises in regards to your current position as regent and the duties that conveys, you will instantly be stripped of all divinity and cast onto Galbar to life out a mortal life. Do you agree with this condition?

Homura shook her head and glanced back over her shoulder as she spoke. “You are terrible at oaths. It is too vague and too easily abused. You must be exact, or I will be free to do what I wish. The previous promise was more poignant, more precise, and therefore more binding. Hmm… I promise to distribute the power of the divine in equal portions to all among the divine that come to the divine palace and request such-”

And grant free, unquestionable access to all who request it without hesitation or arrive at the Palace under their own power. As well as informing all deities that access will always be granted if they ask for it.” Aethel quickly added, eyebrow raised as they gazed at Homura in complete seriousness, clearly showcasing that if they had wanted to rack her across the coals with binding rules, they could have.

“In exchange for a verbal or telepathic answer to a single question I ask them. I shall also speak the truth and inform them that they will always receive their portion if they request it in this manner, and that they are free to use the aforementioned power however they wish. Should I fail to uphold this promise, I shall be stripped of my divinity and cast onto the Galbar to live a mortal life. Do you accept my promise?” Homura inquired, as enough power to enforce the oath poured forth from where the Monarch of All lay stricken, and flowed freely into Aethel.

Aethel nodded their head. “I accept and will hold you to your promise.” With the words granted, there was a stomp of a hoof on the palace floor… and it was done. Offering a small sigh, the equine did say next “Homura, may I have my divine power now? I believe I have already answered your question.

“You have and you may.” Homura proclaimed, and once more, power came from the Monarch of All, gathering above them before merging with Aethel. “You also have my gratitude, Aethel.” She said as she stood where had been standing when Aethel entered the throne room, then offhandedly added. “I will also inform you that your branch is yours to do with what you will. I have sent word to Pride that she is to give it to you, should you visit Keltra in the future.”

Oh, she can keep it.” Aethel offered without hesitation. “Personally I never really cared all that much about the branch itself. It was more the fact that our brother stole it from us without even trying to ask. Pride’s a good girl though… but I admit she really should get out of Keltra at some point. Poor girl must be going stir crazy. There was a brief pause… before they added “The Rattus are currently setting up for a festival at the moment. They’re celebrating the creation of an ocean craft able to carry them to a land that’s not connected to their own, as well as holding trials to decide who will succeed Raethel as the next chosen champion of the Rattus people. How does your daughter feel about rats?

“I am afraid I would not know. Aside from the curse placed upon rats by Tuku so that their kind would be perceived as revolting by others, I know of no other reason why she would be ill disposed to them. However, considering Keltra is filled with large mute rodents at the moment, perhaps I am wrong and she would become rather irked by the presence of more.” Homura answered.

…There was a blink as Aethel tilted his head. “Keltra is filled with large, mute rodents?” This was honestly the most surprised they had sounded this whole conversation.

“I am teaching mortals how to become warriors. Humans and maramodas alike. As I have said before, war has arrived. Fiends are coming that hunger for the eradication of existence, an end. Annihilation. We must be ready to fight.” Homura replied, remaining impassive.

There was a moment of silence… before Aethel simply said “You know what? I don’t know enough about the situation to have an opinion on it and I don’t really care enough to investigate. So I’m just going to get going and leave you too… whatever it is you do when no one else is around. Take care sister.

“You as well.” Homura intoned, bidding Aethel farewell.



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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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The Palace of Rime III


Feverish Intent





Aurora awoke in pain, head throbbing and throat raw. Her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room and what she found made her stomach leap. She was suspended in a cage of ice, overlooking the room that Rosalind resided in. The sleeping goddess still lay undisturbed upon her dreaming bed but the room itself was changed. A golden fire burned in in the corner of the room, where it had once been empty. The fire was surrounded by blankets and pillows. An icy table held empty goblets and plates, strewn about and left to be forgotten. Signs of inhabitants was abundant but Rosa was asleep… Then who?

Furthermore, she was trapped. As soon as her hands touched the cold bars, they stung her and she winced in pain, throwing them under her armpits. She scooted closer to the edge of the cage and looked down. There was nothing of note below, just the floor. She craned her neck to look up but the ice was thick and she had no idea what suspended her. Probably more ice. There was a theme to this place after all.

What was she going to do? How was she going to escape? Were Mair and Shysie alright? Could she do that again but with herself instead? Could she bring Rosa? She sighed, none of that mattered if she was stuck. Or did it? She concentrated, or at least tried too but her head still throbbed and nothing welled up inside. She groaned and kicked the icy bars with little luck. She was a prisoner now.

How long would she wait here? Was Chailiss so gone… Alona's brutal death flashed before her and her breath quickened. She grabbed her head and shut her eyes tight, trying to banish those memories but she couldn't. She began to cry. Alona was dead. Druska was dead. Ahusaka was shattered and dead. She let them die, she should have gone with them. She should have-

"...B-But, like, maybe we should go?" came a soft voice that jostled Aurora out of her panicked state. It came from behind the frozen door. Her gaze fell upon Chailiss as it opened, cloaked hood obscuring his lack of features. Behind him came a new woman, one she had never seen before. She was beautiful, tall, with golden hair that flowed down her back. She wore a simple blue dress that left little to the imagination. Aurora felt herself blush but as she looked closer she could see the bruises and the downcast eyes. It made her blood boil.

"H-Homura sounded s-serious." she said, walking over to the table and going through the empty goblets.

Chailiss walked over to the foot of Rosalind's bed and stopped. "She cannot be trusted."

The woman paused and craned her head at Chailiss. "B-But-"

He cut her off, "No!" he spun around to face her and she went rigid. "She lies!" he hissed, "We would go there to be slaughtered like lambs. Homura cannot be trusted, she is a fiend and a fool! They all are! Don't you see? All of them are infected!" he rushed over to her in a blink of an eye. The woman froze as he caressed her face. His voice softer now, "This plague… She hungers for our shards. It's just us now. We will be free from her possession. Besides… Who would watch over Rosalind if not for you, Zenia? You've done such a good job of it."

She looked to the table, leaning away from his touch. Aurora could only watch. "Oh o-okay. If-If you, l-like, say so."

He rubbed his thumb under her left eye, then moved it to her shoulder. Zenia looked anywhere but at him. "Have faith in me. We shall secure our future and the Galbar’s, together. I just…" he began to play with her hair, "We need to stick together."

Zenia nodded quickly. "O-Of course. I understand." Chailiss hovered over her for a few more uncomfortable seconds before he drifted back over to Rosalind.

"I cannot forget you, dearest Rosalind. Sleeping Rosalind. Dreaming Rosalind. Feverish Rosalind." his voice hit a note of spite and his form hovered parallel to her over the bed. He reached out to touch her but this sent a chord of disgust down Aurora's spine.

"Don't touch her!" She shouted, "Don't you dare touch her!"

This jostled Chailiss, who turned his attention to her at last. His cold aura washed over the cage as he floated up to meet her. "Ah, Aurora. Another traitorous daughter. Where did you send your companions?" he asked in an icy voice. She noticed Zenia looking up at them too.

This was not the voice of the god she knew. It was a horrific monstrosity that had supplanted itself in Chailiss' place. Her heart panged with hurt but those cracks were filling with hate. She scowled and shook her head. "Even if I knew, I would never tell you. You killed them. You killed my friends like they were nothing. Like they were just toys made to be broken. You sicken me!" Angry tears fell down her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around herself and scooted away from him.

"I will not argue with a feverish child of matters that are beyond you. But fortunately I believe you, we will just have to find them…" his voice dropped to a veiled whisper and Aurora's heart sank with dread.

"N-No! You can't! They aren't sick, they don't have a fever!" She screamed, rushing forth to grip the bars. The cold stung her hands but she didn't care. "I'll do anything, please just leave them alone!"

"I will send one who has always been loyal to me and he will make sure their journey to the afterlife is swift." The God spoke to himself, ignoring Aurora as if she were nothing but an annoyance. It made her frozen blood boil.

"You're the sick one!" She yelled, "You aren't right in the mind! You killed innocents!”

”Quiet.” Chailiss commanded, the air growing colder.

“No! You’ve imprisoned me! Your own daughter! Simply because I saved my friends from a certain death!” Her hands gripped harder against the icy bars.

”Be quiet!” His voice raised, anger palpable in the air.

But she wasn’t done yet. “You've become a monster! A cruel beast! And Rosalind would be asha-"

She was cut off by his thunderous voice. ”HOLD YOUR TONGUE!”

Her words were cut from her mouth with sudden precision. She moved her jaw and felt a coldness that sent her stomach into a pit. She touched her lips, fingers quivering and then she outstretched her tongue. What felt like the loudest crack she had ever heard rung in her ears. She blinked, briefly overwhelmed and shocked by the noise then her eyes looked down. Down at her hands, which now held something frozen. She quivered as realization dawned in her eyes.

Chailiss had frozen her tongue off.

She recoiled and from her mouth came a garbled scream. She shouldn't have done that, for her mouth and throat exploded into pain and she grabbed at her neck to little relief.

"Now look at what you’ve made me do!." Chailiss lamented with anger. He smashed his fist into the icy bars before her and they shattered into pieces. She would have lunged forward but now she felt something she hated most of all- Fear.

”C-Chailiss…” She heard Zenia say, almost having forgotten she was there. ”Let me, like, help-”

"No!" he yelled, floating to the ground as her prison’s bars reformed. She peered over the edge just in time to see him slap Zenia across her face. She stumbled but remained standing, looking to the floor. ”No one needs help here.”
”Y-Yes… Of course.” Zenia squeaked out.

He touched her face again and she closed her eyes tight but a blow never came. ”I would never hurt you, Zenia. Now come, we must prepare our loyal champion.” His hand found her wrist and he pulled at her to follow. Zenia caught Aurora’s eyes, golden tears falling down her face. She looked mournful and then she looked away and they were gone.

Leaving Aurora alone, without anyone to talk to. Without a voice to be heard. She looked at Rosalind and wept.




He only knew pain. The pain of loss. Of betrayal. Of anger. Of rage. Hate.

Death.

It was all such a foggy haze. Where was he? Who was he? He… He remembered a dreadful sight, a last flight and then…

A gate of souls and and…He remembered he was hunting nice fat voles prancing about in the tall grass…His sights set on the fattest of the bunch and he grabbed it and looked upon its fearful eyes before he became repulsed and let it go. He could not kill such a creature.

Next he met a beggar upon a long winding road. He had nothing but feathers and the man was starving. He could have walked away, he could have let the man starve but instead he plucked three of his feathers and handed them to him. Perhaps he could trade for food…

Then he was… He met a Childan and they talked for a time. It felt like a life age and then he moved on.

Now he was larger and she was there. As she was before her fall, before… before she betrayed him. No… she was not right in the mind. Wasn't that… Long ago?

Chailiss appeared too and they stood side by side upon a white canvas. She spoke to him and told him to come to her and they could be happy together. But then Chailiss spoke and he told him his duty was to travel ever on, for it was his destiny to discover. The canvas changed to a cliffside overlooking the sea. His creator father pointed off into the horizon. The girl he once called friend held out her arms to him. He felt conflicted because his duty was his purpose and she had hurt him.

But his heart could no longer deny her, even as his God shouted and screamed and blew a freezing wind upon him, Viho chose himself. For that was his name. Viho, the wandering owl! As soon as he embraced his Fear, he was somewhere else entirely.

And endless forest. She was there again. He knew what was coming, for his body shook with anticipation and dread. Slowly he watched as Fear became a twisting, terrifying monster. One he knew he had to stop, one he had to end. But the owl hesitated and stepped back. Could he kill his friend? Could he not help her instead? Could he… He begged her to stop, to fight the corruption, but it was useless. Her bones snapped and her mouth widened, showing rows and rows of sharp teeth. She would devour him for good now but he couldn’t…

So he fell.

Into a realm of blackness and screams.

But when all seemed lost and he had consigned himself to such a fate, a golden light beckoned him forth. It whispered his name… She spoke his name with gentle warmth. He could be saved, all he had to do was go to the light. Did he find salvation in that light or did he accept his damnation?

It was such a simple choice…




It came to him in a dream.

He dreamt of endless destruction night after night but this time it was different. A dark hole was upon the horizon, whose maw devoured all into the abyss. It flayed his flesh time and time again, for he could not escape its pull. He could never escape its pull. It was his doom. But before he could die, he would suffer for an eternity.

He watched them, his children and the land, cry out in pain as they met grisly ends. Aurora was there and he tried to save her but she always slipped through his fingers into the maw. Zenia was there too, but his fellow Goddess, try as he might, could not be saved either. All the faces he knew, all the friends he once had- They all died and he was forced to watch over and over again.

It never ended.

For this was his punishment for the weight of his failures. He was weak and cowardly- a fool.

The sky fell apart, swallowed by the feverish maw, then the stars and all of that which was above. He had no eyes but he could still see, despite how much he wanted to wake from the nightmare.

A pale light, of dwindling hope, reached out to him in a desperate bid for survival. Chailiss reached for it, the pale crystal emmenating a quiet he did not know he craved and then it was before him. He looked upon it and whispered sweet nothings, of gentle hope and the blossoming of good fortunes. They were safe for now, together at the end of all things.

It whispered back, a promise of removing such a fever if he wanted or let it be cast from him forevermore. Something screamed no, far, far away but he could not distinguish it from the roar of the maw. He was nearing it and so, he agreed. Anything to stop the fever. To stop this abomination of life. He was rent into two halves as he took the shard within him, and he could only watch as his other half drifted into the void.

So Chailiss became death and the true nightmare began.

….

”You have done well, Zenia.” Chailiss spoke to the smaller Goddess, who’s eyes were fixated upon his dead son. Except, he was not dead, but neither was he alive. No, he was stuck in between.

”W-Will h-he be… Like…” She could not finish her sentence as Viho squirmed in pain, beating his wings into the floor as his feathers turned black.

“H-HELP!” he screamed but there was nothing they could really do. Voi’s curse was absolute on those who were tempted to leave the afterlife. It was necessary, after all. How else would he create a Revenant loyal to his cause?

Zenia made a move forward but his hand shot out to grasp her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks. The Goddess shivered.

”He will be fine. Soon, he will feel nothing.” he commented, watching as Viho’s face feathers turned gray as the curse finalized its newest prisoner. His gleaming blue eyes looked on in horror, before they flooded with a crimson glow and all emotion vanished from the champion. ”Now is the time, Zenia. Just as I instructed. Armor for our true servant, such that none shall ever again hurt him. Such that he may have his revenge.”

Zenia watched as the darkened owl straightened himself, peering down before at the two Gods. She very slowly raised her hand and pointed at him. A noise like a chorus of war song sprang forth, followed by the iron rich smell of blood. It washed over Viho, donning him in Reverly’s finest. Light enough to fly with, strong enough to block any paltry attack. The armor was golden, but as it touched Viho, his afterimages darkened the metal. It covered his back, the tops of his wings, belly and head. His face was obscured, all that remained were two crimson eyes.

”Very good Zenia.” He gave her a squeeze. He looked to Viho and spoke, ”Viho. You have been rewarded in death with false life. You will seek out those who struck you down, for another seeks her as well and you will kill them all, my son. For they are feverish and their intentions cannot bear fruit. Do not let any get in your way. None at all.”

He raised a hand on that endless patch of ice and cold, the palace well behind them like a crystalline beacon. He forged for his son deathly shackles, talons forged of the darkest ice any had seen. They tore into the ice as they fixed themselves to the feet of the owl champion.

”Now fly Viho, fly and be once again free.” said the death god and so he was answered, for without any words, Viho left.

Zenia shivered. ’Will h-he be alright?” she said, looking to the icy floor at his feet.

”Of course, dear one. He has never been better. Free of his fever, free of a true death. What more can of of us ask for? Come now… Rosalind is lonely, let us return to the palace.”

”O-Okay.” she murmured under her breath, walking off before he could say anything more. It was all coming together. They would all see. Just how feverish the world was.







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Zima & Vale & Garle

Labyrinthine Magic



The subterranean realm remained well illuminated despite the absence of the sun, with the profuse presence of bioluminescent fungi and shimmering veins of precious gems providing an abundance of light for its denizens to see. However there were still sections where shadows gathered and acted against the light, seeming solid and confined, yet fathomless and haunting… Manifestations of dark magic that could not be repelled with mundane means, and possessing an aspect of sentience, or a characteristic akin to it. Vale mostly thought that the shadows sort of resembled the small furry creatures she gave salvation to on the surface, in the way they scurried back and forth between their pools of stony shelter.

Vale and Zima awaited the coming of Garle, standing in the tunnel that he had pointed out to them after bidding them to wait for him if they wished to work together. He did not let them stand idle for long, his arrival heralded by the sounds of his heavy steps and the shifting of stone before he became visible around a bend, marching towards them with a grace akin to their own for it was evident he possessed similar strength and agility. His appearance was much more beastial, Vale thought, as though it were a reflection of an inner inclination towards wild savagery instead of the attempt at etiquette that the gargoyle was continuing to employ.

“I… apologize for delaying our conversation. I have honored the fallen as much as I can, but now I must seek out justice, for the red devil cannot be allowed to roam freely after committing such crimes. You know more than I regarding events on the surface, and I have need of that knowledge. In exchange, I can offer you knowledge regarding the Labyrinth; of the power that can be found in this realm. Do you accept this offer?” Garle said, gesturing all around him while his voice caused the stone to stir and hum in anticipation.

Vale possessed very little knowledge of the world, and realized she didn’t have much to give, so she wondered what Zima would know and whether she would oblige with truthful information or refrain from sharing much since she had said to say nothing of their mission herself. The continual conflict of wanting to uncover more of her memories and wanting to hide away from them forever simply stilled Vale’s tongue, and she’d prefer her companion answer anyway since found that she struggled to look at Garle, turning her gaze away whenever he met her eyes with his own. Vale was content that Zima was the much more charismatic and graceful between the two of them.

"No need for apologies." Zima said, hands at her side. "What you ask for sounds most amicable. What do you wish to know in regards to the surface?" She asked, looking up.

“Where could we find allies that would support us in our fight against the red devil, and where would we find those that support her tyranny? It is most unlikely we will fight her here below the surface… We will need more strength.” Garle replied, his baritone voice was akin to the grinding of stones against each other, shaking the walls around them, before he gestured ahead of where they stood to another tunnel that had begun to open and provide them with an alternative path. The large gargoyle languidly walked around Vale and Zima towards the tunnel, beckoning for them to follow.

The duo began to fall in after him, further into the rocky depths they would go. Zima piped up, leading Vale, "There are no allies I am aware of. We are painfully alone, save for those we could conjure." She paused, "Her allies, I can only surmise are many, and her hated champions number at least five, perhaps six. Each is a fearsome weapon and opponent, never to be taken likely." She glanced at Vale. "But anything is possible, they most doubtly have more in store then from when we last fought." Zima grew quiet.

“I have spoken with the Alethi dwarves and garnered their trust, their support. They will reach out to others, letting all know of the crimes the red devil has committed. Then we will see how many among the Divine and mortals would remain here as her allies when they are shown she is an oath-breaker and kinslayer. A fork-tongued fiend. Now, I would travel to the realms of the Achtotlaca where I will tell them my tale and gain their allegiance as well. A single aspect in a swarm of acts and scenes that will play out before we can defeat our hated foe. When we do slay her, I will rip the shard of Honor from her chest, fulfilling my oath to my father, and restoring Honor to this world.” Garle explained as he called forth limbs of various metal and gemstone from the walls, and reached out with a claw to collect the materials. He did not hold onto any, as he did not have to; instead he absorbed the minerals and elements into his body causing crystalline clusters and spikes to emerge from his form.

“Tell me of the lands you came from, I would hear your tale for it may assist in our endeavor. I can see the pain in your visages, and we could use the suffering this cruel world has inflicted upon the two of you against our enemies.” The gargoyle proposed, turning his long neck around to face Vale and Zima directly, his dark orbs held both of their reflections and his gaze remained inscrutable, yet his voice had slightly softened as he spoke to them now. In the confines of the tunnel, even quiet sounds were more audible, more easily heard, and it became more dim as Garle gathered another large bunch of bright crystals and stone, burying them within himself.

“Cursed we be.” Zima said in a quiet voice. “Cursed with undeath. I have been alive for what feels like an eternity, yet I know this to not be true. Where we came from matters little, it’s where we are headed that should be the true purpose of any in life.” She paused, “But I would be careful of suffering. Like a slithering snake, it most often escapes its intended purpose, to bite and spoil again and again. It would strangle the world if it could, if that is what you wish then we can help but you must be so certain. Long have we wandered, long have we been hunted, soon enough these hunters will find us and when they do, either we win, or they do. And we will win.”

“Indeed… I must act with caution, as you have a haunted aura with you, bringing black mana into my realm and afflicting the earth with an undesirable third type that could potentially create great chaos. I would… make use of your help, however I must understand your sentiments before I can be certain. Am I correct in assuming you care not for others, only seeking your own selfish satisfaction? Would you be willing to sacrifice another if it assists you in reaching your goals?” Garle asked, still impassive as a shelf of stone laden with a myriad of glittering gemstones emerged from the ground before Zima and Vale, though these jewels did not shimmer with an otherworldly light akin to those seen previously - instead they had been inscribed with a multitude of simplistic runes.

"That's not entirely true. We do care, we care enough that we do whatever it takes to free life from its prison." Zima retorted. "We have all sacrificed for the greater good, would you not want the same if the demoness stood here before you? Shielded by a citizen of your realm? Knowing that one life could spare an uncountable many?" She stared at the forming runes, waiting to see what would happen.

“The greater good… It is a terrible thing, is it not? I am bound by the crown I wear to safeguard the innocent at all times, yet I am aware of the weakness imposed upon me by this tenet I uphold. Were the devil here and hiding behind those I have sworn to defend as protector of the realm, then I would not have reign over my actions. I would be forced to seek another way to strike at her. That is where we differ, and that is why I will give you what strength I can… as you are not beholden to such maxims.” Garle answered, as he held up a diamond and closely inspected its runes before offering it to Zima. “The mind shapes the mana all around, and even the thoughts of the earth; stone, metal, and alloys all possess the willpower to affect it. I have chosen those that are akin to yourselves, or at least, akin to the aura of mana that surrounds you. This diamond will conceal you from sight with a conjured shroud, should you ask for it and it concedes to your request. It is a curious and polite one, you should have no difficulty.”

A slender hand cradled the diamond as Zima took it. She held it up to her face and looked upon it with gleaming eyes. “This gift is appreciated and will be used to great effect.” She hummed and placed the diamond somewhere inside her robe. “I assure you, great king, we will act accordingly to our station and do what must be done to survive.”

“Then I shall provide you with two choices: you may accompany me as I travel to the lands of the Achtotlaca, or you may remain here in my realm; free to further study mana or to pursue ought else that will aid us in the fight against our enemy.” The gargoyle replied, as he gestured with one claw and the walls of the tunnel pulled away, granting them more and more space in the growing cave. As the earth expanded, numerous intricately sculpted structures seemed to be excavated from the stone and crystal, as though an ancient buried city were being revealed. Now they no longer stood in a tunnel, but another vast glittering cavern complex occupied by a myriad of grandiose buildings with differing alien architecture. “The choice is yours.” He continued, as the ground they stood upon steadily shifted towards the center of the cavern, quiet and subtle with the only indication of their motion being the encroaching edifices all around them.

“We shall stay here and learn of this place while we can. It might prove useful to get a lay of the land, as they say.” Zima confessed. “I do wish you luck in this endeavor, allies are few and far, gaining them now is the only chance we have for a total victory.” She bowed before the gargoyle and then nudged Vale. The other girl imitated the bow, and spoke softly. “Good luck with your quest.”

“So be it… I must depart from you now, but I shall remain in communication through crystals carved into these dwellings. I shall also leave servants that will obey your commands. They can guide you from here to the surface, if you wish. For now, farewell Zima and Vale.” With those words, Garle was the only one being dragged by the shifting stone now, leaving behind Zima and Vale in their newly gifted domain.



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Pride & Keltra



The consequences of war were quite confusing when Homura returned from Nalusa upon Skydancer, accompanied by Charis the Red Wing Healing the Faithful, and a surprising horde of slumbering rodent-related primitive soldiers spread throughout the insides of the two flying equine colossi like a nested infestation. Could this be divine retribution? Pride pondered to herself, isolating her thoughts from her sisters and their reflections, as their mother briefly described what had transpired afar and slightly scolded Kindness for creating a reflection of Fear before departing as swiftly as she came, along with the Phoenix without much detail into where they were going, which was to be expected at this point.

The vast majority of the maramodas still slumbered, and those that had awakened were confined within a section of the keep - kept away from the sleeping vessels of humanity with numerous stone walls separating them. The Keeper of Keltra found herself irked by the behavior of the few woken maramodas; their repetitive demand for silence after they conceded they could not defeat her or her sisters in something that could barely be called battle. She quickly acquiesced to their demands though only communicating to them through telepathy, but unfortunately the fools were too simplistic to comprehend mind-to-mind speech and fled from her presence whenever she approached while signing various hostile gestures to ward her away.

Divine retribution, but upon whom?

Neither Pride nor the maramodas were satisfied by the situation, though the latter did not bother to even attempt to cope, and instead either continually lamented throughout the day or projected their scorn through their somatic language upon the irked former who had to restrain herself from screaming at them either aloud or mentally. For now, establishing a friendly relationship seemed more like a long-term goal as opposed to anything productive happening anytime soon. Homura had said that Courage and the others would be acting independently for the time being, so the goddess had not returned to Nalusa, which left the bemused Pride only more matters to ponder while she paced back and forth nearby the Eternal Fire.

The smallest among the Sacred Sextet idly overheard her sisters coddling the infantile Rowan, speaking softly as they crooned around him, murmuring their affection. While the majority of her mind was focused upon surveillance around Keltra, the tiny restless part of her mind that found itself in need of preoccupation felt envious ire directed at Kindness and Curiosity, and the Reflections - they were teaching an adorable and more importantly singular baby while she had to handle the horde of violent and idiotic maramodas in a hopeless endeavor to educate them. It was proving to be torturous because they had yet to grasp the concept that she meant them no harm, and only sought to help them, incentivized because then they could leave and she would not have to endure their presence further.

Time passed and little progress was made with the maramodas. Pride was rather resentful when she shaped their section of the keep to resemble their burrows back where they came from, even suppressing the ambient music and adding familiar scenery she had seen through her scrying of their former dens and dwellings, but they merely debated whether she was tricking them with her evil spells, or that their new warrens were actually a gift from their sleeping god who ushered such things into creation when having a peaceful dream. Their stalwart stubbornness frustrated her, and what was worse is that Curiosity and Curiosity II had taken advantage of her accumulating fatigue by including her in being pampered beside Rowan.

Pride was primarily annoyed because she had let her deep enjoyment of being so pleasantly indulged after a stressful day of dealing with the moronic maramodas escape from the secluded section of her mind, and now her nearby sisters were aware of her weakness. She relished being treated with such loving attention and appreciation by them, but she shook her head in humiliation and hopeless defiance as she still must be seen as the dignified Keeper of Keltra at all times. Seated upon piles of silky pillows, doted upon Kindness, Kindness II, and Fear II, Pride surrendered to their treatment with a sigh while anxiety occasionally crept upon her. Their mother was not omnipotent, but Pride did not wish to suffer the shame of the red goddess seeing her in this silly state after being commanded to guide the maramodas towards the Sacred Path.

Fear II seemed more in need of support considering her guilty conscience that Kindness and her Reflection could not rid her of despite how much they insisted that the actions of her other self were not her fault, and that Fear herself was innocent. Pride and her sisters had not chosen to elucidate Fear II regarding what she had seen transpire upon the Eidolon Plains and telepathically shared with them her thoughts on the matter. Whether or not Fear is innocent was irrelevant - both she and Zima needed to be thwarted to prevent more harm befalling others. Kindness and her Reflection were determined to demand an opportunity to retrieve Fear and detain Zima when Homura next returned, and there was little Pride could do to persuade them otherwise due to the high levels of exhaustion after expending so much time with the maramodas.

Curiosity and Curiosity II were more concerned with protecting and nurturing Rowan, having been assigned by their Mother to do so. Even though the members of the Order of the Phoenix could see the breath of life that flowed through the world like an intricate and brilliant weave, all of their abilities were limited to restoration and preservation, and they lacked the knowledge how to properly tend to a growing child. They could no longer rely upon the Eternal Fire which solely sustained life, but did not actively guide it in new directions, so the two inquisitive champions would have to devise a way of safely maturing Rowan. Pride considered suggesting that they travel beyond Keltra, but withheld the idea for now as she required the soothing support her sisters provided her during the times she had when she could rest peacefully.

A portal opened within Keltra, a shimmering stream of colorful light descending from the ceiling like a column of divine radiance - from which came the voice of Homura. “Faith must be forged anew… as war and peace repeat in an endless cycle. I now must remain in the celestial palace, but I have come with my deliverance; let it be known and shared amidst you all.” The goddess proclaimed, and otherworldly power poured forth from the portal and manifested itself as a crystalline avatar of Homura carrying a large book bound in crimson material and golden filigree in one hand, and three levitating sapphire spheres above the open palm of her other hand. The sparkling simulacrum of their mother stared at each of them gathered around their small area where they had been relaxing, and her imperious voice and gaze upon them stirred them swiftly into action.

Pride and her fellow Heralds of Honor stood bowing before their mother with reverence and concern which had become a more common occurrence than Pride would prefer as it often meant more trials and tribulations that added to her list of responsibilities when she had yet to remove a previous task from her list. The avatar of Homura approached her, and offered the tome she held as she spoke. “A sanctuary for life should be beautiful.” Her words echoed throughout Keltra, and Pride easily concealed her exasperation behind a gracious smile as she accepted the gifted artifact, and honestly became intrigued by what she had been given while the simulacrum moved towards the nearest passage leading out of the keep’s interior. The Heralds of Honor proceeded to then follow after her.

“Sow these seeds in the fields.” Homura commanded as she pointed towards specific spots in the distance, and Pride summoned stone limbs which carried the levitating gemstones to the three different locations where they were gently buried. Afterwards, veins of light quickly spread across the vast fields and shone brightly before rising and shifting into a myriad of shapes that decorated the landscape. Two prominent structures emerged from the coalescing canvas of colorful topography; each with a distinctive aesthetic and architecture.

“The Temple of the Tapestry.” Homura continued, gesturing to the slender azure structure in the west which was very open with massive windows and adorned with wide and long waving strips of fabric glittering beneath the light of the sun. “And the Temple of True Resurrection.” The hand of the avatar turned to the second structure in the east, similarly designed like the keep itself, except it was mostly circular and on a much smaller scale, with additional architectural flourishes; there were many smaller windows and intricately bejeweled sections that were sculpted to depict abstract scenery and symbols. Surrounding both buildings was a prismatic realm of swirling stone and crystal where curving patterns and pathways spread across the once desolate plains, and a multitude of flowing fountains and pools provided plentiful pristine water to a myriad of streams that traveled parallel to many of the paths.

“Why?” Pride heard herself ask aloud with awe and dread in her voice. Still concentrating on the Incantation of Seeing, she could sense how much had shifted in the fortress - she saw how much incredible might had come from the changes, and a glimpse of what her mother intended and wherein she stood. It frightened her to her core, but also brought forth a thrill of exhilaration because of what it meant: the beginning of another chapter in her life as she stepped further along the Sacred Path towards an awaiting apotheosis.

“Continue communicating with those that have enslaved themselves. We shall all break free of our shackles when we achieve our ambitions.” Homura ordained, answering her with a repeat of her past decree instead of an articulate explanation. Not that Pride thought that her mind could comprehend every concept that her mother could try to convey to her. The Keeper of Keltra listened as the projection of Homura reaffirmed to Curiosity and her Reflection their responsibilities of raising Rowan to adulthood; teaching him to walk upon the Sacred Path alongside them. Her sisters cheerily replied, asking a few questions that earned them cryptic answers that equated to being told to be patient for now.

Then Homura stood before Kindness, Kindness II, and Fear II - but before she could speak, Kindness hastily interjected. “Let us seek out and retrieve Fear! This ostracization of her will never result in her atoning!” The demure champion spoke in a quiet, yet firm voice, and she had found the inner resolve to refuse to ignore what she wanted any longer. “We have previously established that you cannot imprison us here, so please let us do this. It is our purpose to provide aid to those in need!” Kindness II persistently pleaded alongside Kindness as Fear II seemed to retreat into her mind and avoid the conversation happening in front of her. Curiosity and Curiosity II even began advocating their hope to save Fear from what had befallen her.

Their mother contemplated the request before she slowly nodded her head. “So be it.” Her assent languidly washed over them, unexpected and agitating in its enigmatic simplicity. Pride became ever more apprehensive and was immediately aware of the impatient state of her sister who wanted to depart immediately, but fervent yearning had led to Kindness becoming reckless, so the smallest among the Sacred Sextet took it upon herself to formulate a plan. Whether or not Homura had always been reading their minds throughout their time together remained a mystery, but once again the goddess spoke and answered her questions before she asked.

“I shall send your sisters here, and you may choose amongst yourselves how you wish to accomplish your goal. Devise a strategy before setting out. This is your assigned quest: seek out the Revenant's Veil and prevent them from inflicting further harm upon the denizens of the Galbar through any means necessary. Know that you cannot afford to be defeated.” The crystalline form of Homura dispersed at the end of her speech, leaving her champions to themselves with their newfound fates.



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