Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Cycle VII

The Season of Strife

Zhongcheng swam through the dark depths of the endless Deep where even the light of the divine could not provide illumination. It was here where the immense serpent was seeking a dreadful presence familiar to its senses, one that it had thought was slain and vanquished from this realm, but it seemed that it was wrong, or that the vile creature had returned. It heard the monstrous voice as it awakened, uttering in a foul language antithetical to existence, but beckoning the blessed hunter onward. Zhongcheng answered with a hostile hiss as it accepted the challenge, and surged towards the undulating shadows wherein it would reveal this misbegotten fiend to the Ruler of the Gods and aid in its defeat once more.

The scars it had acquired the last time it had pursued its prior foe itched, and Zhongcheng was well aware that it could not win alone against such an enemy, so it called outwards to its master. The creature resembling the Pariah with its aura of annihilation; an anathema to all of creation, continued to chant in its profane and grotesque tongue as it found itself approached. Zhongcheng was aware of the attention it had gained; the relentless rage, its eternal hatred, its undying wrath, all of the anger of this demon directed at it because of the blood that suffused its being. The creature would never cease unleashing its malice upon the world, hence it must be halted.

Before allowing such a calamity to happen, the blessed hunter engaged its quarry and the two clashed like continents colliding with each other: The sea shook vehemently as sudden tidal waves crashed against the land, and a multitude of earthquakes occurred at once across the Galbar. Even the sky reacted to their confrontation, as storms gathered above and thundered loudly like an otherworldly orchestra accompanying the deadly duel between the sacred sea serpent and the evil entity that trespassed in the realm of reality. Gaping wounds in the world shifting and shaped like vicious talons reached out and tore at Zhongcheng who retaliated by battering away the miasmic mass with its body, and then biting into the darkness feeling foul flesh be sundered by its teeth.

Gore then tainted the accursed waters, haunted by the death of Ao-Yurin, as gruesome injury after gruesome injury was inflicted upon Zhongcheng who only sought to hinder the second coming of the Pariah before the arrival of the Divine King and salvation. The blessed hunter only had to endure long enough for its master to come, but the awakened demon fought savagely, gaining in strength and resilience the longer the battle between them persisted, and Zhongcheng understood that it would have to retreat again if it wished to survive…

They were entangled with each other; tenebrous tendrils that had lashed out from the fiend and strangled both frontal legs of the blessed hunter. As Zhongcheng crunched and bit through the tendrils constricting one leg, the other tendrils tightened until the trapped flesh and bone fractured, and the sea serpent suddenly lost a limb in an eruption of blood and sinewy fragments. Freed from the grasp of the fierce demon, Zhongcheng swiftly fled with its wings propelling it backwards before it pirouetted and hastily swam out of reach. Then Three spears of a strange metallic substance surged through the bloody water and struck the sea serpent, piercing one of its wings and impaling the end and central sections of its body.

Zhongcheng continued to swim though, twisting and spiraling to avoid any other projectiles that the fiend would shoot, ignoring the grave harm it had sustained in a lingering state of shock and desperation. The presence of the evil became farther and farther, as the sea serpent ascended closer to the surface near the Crown of the Galbar where it would rest and await for its master. Before reaching its destination, when the light of the majestic sun was visible - reflected in the rippling depths like celestial curtains swaying as they shimmered, Zhongcheng felt something insidious manifest beside it. Before it could reach its destination, two gigantic pale reticular claws slashed apart its damaged wing, flailing wildly in search of more to ruin.

Momentum carried Zhongcheng to the surface where it flimsily flew through the air towards the shore. It nearly crushed a mountain upon landing, but it had escaped further attacks from the second assailant and found a last bit of respite in the end. The blessed hunter could now sense what had ambushed it, and felt a combination of zealous fury and undeniable dread for there were two creatures that possessed the same polluted presence of the Pariah. Two demons of terrible power greater than that of their predecessor and evidently would eventually ravage the Galbar unless they were slain. The dying sea serpent, Zhongcheng, called out once more to its master, as the last of its lifeblood flowed from its brutalized body and it perished.

Together, the two demons emerged from the sea and set their eyeless gaze upon the world around them. In their wake, they left a trail of putrid decay behind them, boiling the water before it became a grisly grey that poisoned what remained of the living in the sea between the Crown of the Galbar and Orsus. The pallid demon glanced back towards the corpse of Zhongcheng and raised a disgusting claw. The eastern half of what was once intended to be grounds for divine convocation was engulfed in a white explosion that spewed forth broken chunks of earth in all directions. After the final vestiges of such destruction had mostly faded, the two demons resumed their journey traveling northwards.

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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 VI

Reason’s Departure

The screams were unsettling but they were necessary. They were always necessary. That’s what Chailiss said. She believed him of course, for he was never wrong. No, never, to think any different would have been… Unthinkable. Besides, she was just helping out of course. He needed her help. That was right, that was what she told herself.

She gripped her head and closed her eyes tight, banishing such disruptive thoughts. At least she tried to. She looked over to the girl, Aurora, who sat watching her with such haunted eyes. Chailiss had forbidden her from giving her tongue back, even if she had wanted to. Losing a tongue was rough, for sure but necessary. Nothing could be done about it without upsetting Chailiss. Yes. Aurora tried to motion to her, pleading with her eyes but Zenia knew if Chailiss found out she had even so much as talked to her, she would be punished. She didn’t want that.

Her sister, now more of an object of faith than an actual person, laid upon her bed unmoving. She wished Rosalind would wake, if only so Chailiss had another object of ire. Zenia was unsure of what Chailiss would do to her in the waking world, but it couldn’t be all that bad, right?

She rubbed at the bruise along her arm and wanted to laugh. She was a Goddess, why did she bruise? It didn’t seem very fair but she had been stupid and talked out of line. She shouldn’t be doing that again. More screaming. She was relieved, not because she could stop it, (which she never would have, that would have been stupid) but because it meant he was elsewhere.

Preoccupied. For however long.

Chailiss had gotten paranoid after Viho left and in his wisdom, moved them down into the frozen depths of the glacier. Down were all his experiments were taking place. Where the screams all molded into one chorus of sad suffering. But Chailiss needed help and she would help him, she had to. It meant he wouldn’t be upset with her and hit her, so was most often eager to please.

The door opened, when had the screaming stopped? Her eyes glanced at Chailiss, wearing his dark robe, before they glanced down to the floor at his feet. A red drop landed where she looked, then another. She knew what it was, oh she knew.

”Come Zenia. You are required.” he commanded in a gruff voice. She obeyed, even as Aurora gripped the cage bars, even as her face twisted into rage. Zenia followed, for it was her place to follow.

He led her through the icy halls, brimmed with the glow of a thousand white crystals. Their light gave little warmth to the blue depths of their home. It was not long before they came to another room, whose door was opened. Chailiss drifted through and she followed, stopping in her tracks at what she saw before her. A large table sat in the middle of the room, chained to it was the form of childan woman. Crimson flowed from the top, down the sides and pooled on the floor. Her heart sank a bit at the sight, it was such a sad sight, but why Chailiss had done it was probably for good reason.

The woman groaned a whimper, it seemed she was still alive. Even though her chest cavity had been peeled back and her organs lay fresh upon the table. She looked at Zenia with a gaze that could only convey true pain but it was lost upon the Goddess.

Chailiss came to a stop across from her, on the other side of the table. ”It is as I feared, Zenia. Tala, and by extension, the rest of the Childan, are useless. Their fever has infected them to their very core. If we are to rid the world of this infection, we need another way. We cannot have tools that feel the fits of life.” A blood stained, skeletal hand caressed Tala’s face, while frozen tears fell from her eyes. Zenia watched, fidgeting as she tried to hold his gaze. ”Though it is possible to change them even now, as I will with her, why go through all that trouble when I know where those ready and willing to join us reside? They are untouched, awaiting a sculptor and his vision. The perfect instruments, waiting to be brought to death.”

”Of-of course, my Lord.” She eked out. Her eyes fell further down, at the freezing blood.

”Very good Zenia, I knew you would agree.” he waved his hand over Tala and her eyes fluttered shut. Then Chailiss hovered over the table and wrapped an arm around Zenia, walking her out of the room and further down the hall. She shivered at his touch but kept her head down.

”I have decided,” he began, ”That I shall travel to Keltra. There I shall acquire the remaining, untainted humans and turn them to our will.” Zenia nodded along as they entered a chamber of darkness. It smelled faintly of lingering decay but they came to a stop before a single pedestal. Chailiss raised his hand and from the pedestal rose a frost covered ball, containing a black substance or liquid. ”With this we shall have peace, Zenia.” he let go of her and she relaxed. ”When I find where they rest, I shall break this and usher in a new age. In order for this to work you must also contribute to their creation. Make them revel in blood, Zenia. Make them… Find happiness in such efforts. Do you understand?” he asked, standing before her. He caressed her cheek and lifted her chin up. Zenia did not resist. ”Do this and I shall be truly happy.”

Zenia’s eyes widened and she gave a quick nod. She had no idea what he was really talking about but if it made him happy, it was the least she could do, right? His plans were beyond her, thus she asked no questions. It was better that way, she liked it when he was gentle with her and not… When she said something dumb or spoke without thinking.
”Poor your essence into this power of mine, Zenia.” he prodded, outstretching the ball towards her. Tentatively she touched it with the tips of her fingers and felt a jolt of electrified power, surging through her briefly. Then she did as he asked, pouring her strength into the vessel. He wanted happiness through blood, contentment and revelry through the darkest acts and she obliged, for Zenia was a simple goddess and it was no bother to her. When that was done, she let go and awaited Chailiss.

He retracted the orb and hid it away in his cloak. ”Now I require armor suited for a god and a weapon suited for slaying such gods.”

”A-Are you sure?” she asked, dread in her voice as she realized the question. She felt a slight pressure as Chailiss dug his hand into her shoulder but it abated rather quickly.

”If Homura is there she will attempt to stop us. Any other god still alive is either under her thumb or just as insane as she. We must be prepared for anything if we are to succeed. Now, do as I ask. Just as you did for Viho.”

She nodded and summoned her strength. She envisioned what she gave Viho and then did the same, only this time, she made it in the vision of a humanoid. It started out as gold, the color of her hair, but as it fit itself around the skeletal frame of Chailiss, it twisted and darkened in color. Red black it became, embossed with high ridges, overlapping plates of godmetal, fitting his frame as his black cloak became a long flowing cape with a cowl that obscured his head. It came alive, as he or the armor leaked through a wispy blue smoke. When it was done he flexed his guantled hands and took a step forward. ”Truly our powers have little limits, with this I feel… So invigorated. Well done Zenia. Now…” he outstretched his hand and before him from the very fabric of reality came forth a chain of glowing white that wrapped itself around his forearm.

It was intricately crafted. Each chain link itself, shown bright like a star, reflecting light from a thousand facets. But beauty brought about death, for each of those chains were spiked like the claws of some fierce beast. On both ends the chains became small daggers. One side was as a cutting blade should be but the other was like the mouth of a shark, serrated. He motioned to Zenia and she added her strength to them. The chain became flecked with gold and hummed with newfound power.

Satisfied he turned to Zenia. ”Keep a careful watch upon Rosalind. If any attempt to invade this place, you know what to do.” he pointed at the pendant around her neck. ”I shall return and all shall be well.” And with little more to be said, the god of cold and earth departed, leaving Zenia alone.

It took the Goddess some time to gather her thoughts but when she did, she returned back from whence she came and shut the icy door behind her as she was greeted with the anxious eyes of Aurora. She looked away and went to her chair, where she summoned for herself more wine.
She took a sip.

Everything was going to be okay.

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Hidden 3 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Chris488
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The Return & Departure

Rituals & Potential Consequences

Skydancer alighted in the newly created stratified sculpted fields surrounding the southern sections within Keltra, wherein the few passengers of the soaring vessel swiftly disembarked before they were immediately greeted by their sisters that had emerged from the keep to welcome them. Laughter soon spread throughout the air as Courage and Courage II leapt forward and joyfully embraced each of their sisters that came closer, as thoughts and memories were passed back and forth amongst all of them. There was a melding of emotions while they shared their senses; a burst of affection and apprehension at the sight of Fear II standing awkwardly nearby as they all telepathically communicated in her presence.

Quickly informed of the situation regarding the Reflection of their stray sister; Courage, Wanderer, and their Reflections, all changed their demeanor; switching from mind-speech to sign language and vocalizations. Courage set aside her brief confusion and playfully grinned when Fear II looked at her, while Courage II both mentally and verbally explained what transpired in their most recent encounters with their Mother: Homura had returned to Nalusa with Skydancer before hastily setting out once again while accompanied by Charis. They had been told to stabilize the region and assist both humanity and the remaining maramodas in recovering from the spreading spree of slaughter that plagued the land.

They had been in the middle of their task when a portal opened and an avatar of Homura appeared, suddenly commanding them to return to Keltra with little reason given as to why. Desire was elected to stay behind since she seemed most capable of resolving the predicament in Nalusa while the rest of them came back. Courage II concluded her explanation with a short and simple description of their uneventful flight home. Afterwards, Courage spoke up with a small hint of skepticism in her voice, pointing at Fear II.

“Shouldn’t she be included in our bond? It’s a hassle keeping her out of it, ya know.”

Pride merely sighed in annoyance, as the most brash among them was always blind to how delicate the rest of them were at times. Kindness and Kindness II both bore the shadow of a scowl, barely perceptible. They were the two that had first sought to prevent Fear II from joining the Sacred Septet because they believed that they were being maliciously manipulated by the bond. What had irked the Keeper of Keltra was the origin of their belief; a misbegotten contempt for their Mother that had worsened after she had banished Fear and threatened to imprison them all long ago. Pride was aware of how these acts had left a lingering resentment in Kindness, this simmering bitterness which had been instilled in her Reflection as well.

“We sacrifice our privacy and individualism when we invite others into our connection. Every additional synapse we create, the risk of converging our spirits increases. We have realized now that Fear required a separate internal space for her spirit to preserve itself, and our connection deprived her of one. She suffered as a result, and Fear II will suffer as well. It is a mistake coercing her in this situation.” Kindness and Kindness II retorted, speaking in unison.

“She’s an introvert, ya. Makes sense when you put it like that… but like can’t we just create our own inner rooms where we can be alone for a little while? Even in our minds, it should be possible!” Courage countered with a chuckle when Kindness and Kindness II seemed perplexed by her words, considering the potential solution she suggested.

“With our stronger sight, we can better avoid a convergence, except isn’t that what we’re trying to do anyway?” She continued, glancing around at the rest of her sisters that had yet to speak aloud their sentiments and concerns for the sake of Fear II. Courage proceeded to reinforce her point with this present inefficiency in their conversation, letting her aura of conviction wash over all of them, as she casually approached the subject of their discussion. Even when she conveyed her sincere and reassuring intentions through their connection to them as she stepped closer, Kindness and her Reflection still interposed themselves between her and Fear II.

Courage wondered whether Kindness was even concerned if she was affronted by this distrust, but persevered by mentally reaffirming with fierce conviction that she would not hurt the Reflection of her lost sister. The anger in her mind melded with her words though, causing Kindness and her Reflection to continue to hinder her approach. “The choice belongs to Fear II…” They intoned simultaneously, while Wanderer and Wanderer II strode around them with surprising agility and reached out to Fear II when the others were distracted.

Finding both of her hands held by her two sisters, Fear II recalled the time before so much sorrow had been born in Keltra. Though it had only been Fear and Wanderer then, and instead of warm soft skin like now, her other self had possessed a hand sculpted from ice. She had once been a part of the bond, and could so easily sense the thoughts and support shared by her beloved sister. She reminisced on these memories that belonged to both her and to the one that was banished from her home…

“I’m weaker without the connection. Courage is right, I should be included… even if it means I’ll lose myself, because otherwise I’m only a liability. I… That is my choice.” She softly proclaimed, as anxiety showed clearly on her face despite her best efforts to hide it. Fear II saw how her decision seemed to evoke further tension between Courage and Kindness, but stayed resolute as her heart ached at the sight of her sisters and their frustration with each other. With reluctance, Kindness and her Reflection stepped aside, allowing Courage to stand before Fear II.

“Listen, we’re not going to let you become lost. Kindness and I will make sure that never happens, even if she thinks I’m being reckless right now. Fear isn’t the only one that has to atone. All of us are working towards redemption because we’re walking this path together, ya. When you stumble, we stumble beside you. But, we just have to keep on moving on.” Courage said, as her cheeks turned a shade of pink akin to Pride’s unique streaks in her hair. The brash champion exuded a combination of embarrassment and earnestness that caused Fear II to instinctually chuckle with faint amusement. Courage simply shook her head, and accompanied her sister’s bit of levity with her own mirth, now laughing alongside her.

Pride interjected with a ping in the minds of her sisters, redirecting their attention to the rather prominent changes in their surroundings; the two temples and the lustrous landscape that had been recently created. “Before you become overwhelmed with eagerness, there are two places of power we must visit.” She chimed, gesturing with a tilt of her head towards the slender azure structure known as the Temple of the Tapestry. “Our Mother has bestowed upon us some gifts.” She murmured absently, becoming the most withdrawn among her sisters as she led them onwards through the glittering gardens while the others nonchalantly conversed.

During their walk, the Tome of Artistry was passed amongst all of them, granting each of them an innate knowledge and talent for weaving with the summoned fabric that was found in the temple’s interior. Pride was insistent they prepare themselves for the encounter with Zima, and provided those that would be departing with an abundance of materials and an exquisite loom to work with. “The silk here is enchanted with numerous spells, so each outfit can serve multiple functions, but protection and supplements should be your main focus.” She explained during the brief tour once they were inside, and actively looking at all of the elegant furnishings and tools at their disposal.

Blessed by the book, the Sacred Septet immediately began conducting experiments with a myriad of designs and materials. They bantered back and forth both telepathically and aloud as their imagination was let loose like a wild animal lost in awe and excitement. “It’s occurred to me that it’s rather foolish of us to ask for gifts from the gods when we have really little to give in exchange, so why don’t we work on making them outfits as well, ya!” Courage called out, while she embroidered shimmering shifting blue and green patterns into the back of a red dress. Courage II quietly told Fear II that plans for the future helped all of them hone their minds which would assist in aligning themselves to the world around them. It did seem to help them.

“It’s our connections that make us strong.” Courage remarked, gazing pointedly at Fear II, but announced loud enough for all to hear, though her sisters also mostly ignored her.


“Nice capelets!” Curiosity II cheerfully commented as she examined what Kindness and her Reflection had just created. Nearby, Pride let out a noise of exasperation when she saw what Wanderer’s attire consisted of. “You’re supposed to make something that will protect you, you numpty! Your legs and stomach are all so exposed! Are you asking to be stabbed again?” The Keeper of Keltra protested before she sighed and shook her head with resignation, letting her silent sister do as she wished.

Soon Curiosity handed Rowan over to her Reflection and proceeded to weave for herself a new garb as well. Courage II and Fear II watched from closeby, and the first Reflection remarked that it was a shame that Desire could not be here. “I’ll have to bring her next time!” Courage II declared with a raised fist and fierce grin, as Fear II attempted to match her enthusiasm. Curiosity paused her work and playfully poked her anxious sister, merrily mentioning the modesty of Fear II’s clothing consisting of multiple pretty pieces that were sadly concealing her features. Curiosity then began calling her cute and bashful and sweet - until Fear II hid her face, flushed with embarrassment, causing Courage II and Curiosity to lightheartedly laugh at the demure display, while Kindness and her Reflection came up from behind and bonked the two of them on the back of their heads.

Eventually each of them had fashioned for themselves a new outfit, adhering to the red theme of their home and mother, but incorporating their own special traits as well. Together they were a mixture of exuberant chaos and harmony, however one among them remained in her first attire and had become currently the center of attention. “Pipsqueak, you haven’t touched the loom yet… You need a change in threads too, ya.” Courage said with a grin, as she and her sisters encircled the smallest among them. Within the Temple of the Tapestry, they were relatively safe from the scarlet stone outside, so Pride potentially could not defeat them with her scepter. It was a risk they were willing to take.

There was still some struggling as she tried to flee, but Courage and Fear II valiantly prevented such from happening while the rest of them came up with ideas for Pride’s new regalia. There was screaming, strangling, and strife as sisters bargained and battled for control of the situation with pretentiously fierce conviction and cunning. Pride attempted to use the division to free herself, but there were too many of them, and she remained trapped as they took her measurements and adorned her with frilly gowns and childish costumes against her will. Her complaints came mainly from her sisters pampering her, along with constant cuddling, and Pride wondered whether this behavior originated from their Mother, or if it was something they independently developed. She recalled how their Mother would always pat her head and brush her hair when she visited, and felt a fleeting feeling of despair sink in at the realization.

Pride had been placed in an even more elaborate dress that was primarily white with crimson along the edges and beautiful celestial red and gold motif across it. Her hands held her scepter, the small appendages barely able to free themselves from the long sleeves that trailed behind her while she walked without too much difficulty in the dress. She surmised that she would have to empower the music that spread throughout the keep so that it reached the temples and outer wall as well. She had spent so much time within the keep that she had forgotten how the Silk Song needed euphonious sound in order to grant her prolonged grace and flight. It irked her how much effort she had to put into not tripping with each step now.

Finally they had finished weaving all of their enchanted raiments, and stepped outside of the Temple of the Tapestry. The Keeper of Keltra continued to lead the way as they walked towards the Temple of Resurrection, choosing to turn a deaf ear to the comments about how heart-stoppingly adorable she was as she marched onwards. She remained silent as Courage and Kindness tripped upon a protrusion of crimson stone that had arisen suddenly before receding back into the earth as quickly as it had come. There was a remarkably noticeable lack of commentary regarding her appearance afterwards, though Courage complained that she was no fun at all.

They entered the second immense ornate structure, and discovered it to be quite austere within, as there were no furnishings or embellishment anywhere to be found in the first great chamber, only a lone altar that occupied the center of the space. There was a passage at the back leading to a set of stairs that had steps both ascending and descending to other higher and lower levels of the temple. All of the Heralds of Honor, aside from Pride, recalled a time when the interior of the keep itself felt similarly hollow and ascetic until the twin-birth of the Eternal Fire and their smallest sister had begun a warm change in Keltra.

“This is… the precipice of another transformation, isn’t it?” Courage asked after a lingering pause, now standing at the forefront of her collected sisters, except for Pride who slowly approached the altar and answered though she looked at Kindness as she spoke.

“We are ever-changing as children of the cosmos; every shifting iota of our world is a change.”

“This is different from just choosing something like new clothing! We don’t know what will happen to us afterwards!” Courage shouted, her voice echoing in the cavernous chamber before it faded too soon for the brash champion as she began pacing back and forth. They had all been aware of what lay ahead on the Sacred Path, and yet being confronted with the truth of it had much more of an impact upon them. The consequences of their current choices which would determine whether they strayed from fate and destiny weighed heavily upon them. Though the Temple of the Tapestry was also a sacred space, it did not tap into as much divine power as the temple they stood within now. An otherworldly presence could be felt, watching and waiting for them to make a choice.

“You wonder whether annihilation awaits us?”

“Yes! Except it’s not only that, what about our humanity, ya? Our honor? What if we lose all of what we love along the way? Where’s Mother, because she should be here to help us! Gah, it feels like we’re saying…” Courage replied, but found herself struggling to find the words that meant what she wanted to say.

“Adios. Sayonara. Good-bye.”

“But that’s why we’re walking the Sacred Path! It’s supposed to be that; God be with us, to divinity, to what it will be. But… Doesn’t it feel like this isn’t the Sacred Path? Doesn’t it feel like we’re making a mistake?” Courage and Courage II countered, speaking simultaneously. They reached out through telepathy, and the question was repeated again and again in their minds.

“Are you afraid?”

“No! I’m not afraid!” Courage and her Reflection cried out, and their minds were suddenly clashing with Pride’s, striking with surprising vehemence that shocked themselves. However, Pride had been prepared, and pushed back like a tidal wave of overwhelming thoughts and emotions that crashed against the internal workings of Courage and Courage II, forcing them to continue their retaliation lest they succumb and spiritually drown.

“Please stop fighting!” The voices and sentiments of their sisters were spoken aloud and through their connection. Curiosity, Wanderer, Wanderer II and Fear II held onto Courage and her Reflection, while Kindness and Kindness II reached out to Pride. “You’re frightening him!” Curiosity II called out as she continued to cradle Rowan, murmuring to him when he had begun crying because of the loud voices. It was the sight of his tears that led to all of them externally attempting to calm themselves and soothe the baby, but the argument persisted through telepathy until a hesitant question was heard.

“Um… could I get an explanation of what’s happening? I’m missing some details, but what about this change is the problem? What is this change?” Fear II asked with concern.

“This temple acts as a space where souls and bodies overlap. It could be said that all of us are both alive and dead at the moment, depending upon which doorway we leave through.” Pride explained.

“The ritual will fuse our souls and bodies into something like Charis and Zima. Something neither alive or dead.” Courage and Courage II both added with a shrug, as they calmed down and the pressure slowly abated in their minds. The two of them allowed their chagrin to spread throughout the connection, which caused Pride to let out a familiar groan with a mixture of relief and annoyance.

“To overcome Zima and Fear, you need protection from their powers, and a way to actually aid them. Mother has provided us with the tools we need to save our sisters with this ritual, or did you think punching them would solve any and all problems posed ahead?” Pride inquired with her arms crossed as she stared at Courage and Courage II.

“Accomplishing such a harrowing task will be beyond difficult.” Kindness said with a hint of sorrow as she and her Reflection returned to the rest of their sisters' side. Fear II stared at them and was startled when Courage and Courage II took the hands of Kindness and Kindness II. The two brash champions exuded an aura of levity that even she felt. Then without warning, all aside from Fear II and Pride were faintly chuckling as if a funny joke had been told. Fear II remained confused, but felt a surge of confidence swell within her as well.

“Don’t be scared, Kindness. We’ve been through worse, and we’ve always survived. With all of you here, it’s even easier for me to see what I don’t have. To see what I could be. We’re stronger and closer when we’re connected through our bond. This ritual won’t change that.” Fear II gently declared, but her words seemed to have the effect she wanted in the end. The Sacred Septet seemed prepared for what would come next until Pride interjected.

“Except you’re currently separated from our connection which means this ritual may be more or less dangerous for you. You’re acting as a variable in this ritual, to see if there are any different results from those that can share their minds with each other, and one who cannot.”

“Well… that’s a bit of dampener.” Fear II said with false bravado - glad that her anxiety wasn’t shared as well. “Even so, I’m willing to do this to save my other self and Zima.”

Another swelling of confidence came over her as Courage, Kindness, and their Reflections all gave reaffirming nods to her. Curiosity II placed Rowan within an improvised cradle Pride provided by folding her Silk Song multiple times. The Reflection then joined her sisters along with Curiosity, Wanderer, and Wanderer II. Pride distanced herself from their company, standing with the suspended baby as the rest approached the lonely altar, which caused Fear II to ask why she was separated. Kindness II answered with a whisper; “She is not participating in the ritual since she will not be accompanying us on our mission, and because of the risks involved.”

“Pipsqueak has her own problems she has to deal with.” Courage II commented, and laughed while Pride pouted. Fear II wondered which was the more arduous quest; saving the dangerous Zima and Fear from the terrible curse upon them, or trying to help a horde of fanatical maramodas that hate you turn from their violent tendencies.

“Just do what the rest of us do.” Courage said as she took charge and was the first to place her palm upon the altar. The rest of them followed her lead, and pressed their hands against the small shrine, sensing an otherworldly power that stirred upon the physical contact. Those among them that had yet to summon the shifting symbols of the Gnosis now called upon their knowledge and spirit to further awaken the sacred forces that slept within the temple. The Heralds of Honor stayed still as their souls and bodies began to split from each other, severing the ethereal synapses between them.

Glowing glyphs manifested on the altar, though none of the sorceresses recognized the spell that was being cast. “We should let our souls do what they have to do while we try to move those runes onto our bodies, ya.” Courage suggested, closing her eyes as she concentrated upon internally performing the proper incantation. None of them had practice, but blessings by the divine granted them an innate understanding of what they must do - Aloud, all of them began humming a soft melody. Slowly, the shifting symbols on the altar crawled towards their hands and along their arms. The myriad of swirling markings melded together and there was the sound of glass shattering as reality was rewritten again, indicating the ritual was complete.

Courage stepped back and smiled at her sisters before falling down onto the floor. Courage II, Kindness, Kindness II, Fear II, Curiosity, Curiosity II, Wanderer, and Wanderer II all fell down as well - all of them slumbering peacefully, it seemed.

They awoke, still in the barren space within the Temple of Resurrection, with Pride walking amidst their prone forms. As those that participated in the ritual roused themselves from their drowsiness, they saw that their smallest sister had a collection of blue gems in her hands that gently glowed with a mystical radiance that reminded them of Rowan’s eyes which sometimes turned a beautiful blue without warning. The Gnosis gave the gems Pride held a name that all of the sorcerers innately grasped; Soul Gems.

“Success, I suppose.” Pride proclaimed.

“Those are duplicates of our souls, and we have similar gems that we keep with us, ya?” Courage asked as she brought a hand to the golden soul gem attached to her skin beneath her throat and collar. None of them could sense any alterations to their bodies, but some were bemused by the differing appearances of the gems they carried, and the collection of gems Pride possessed.

“Why is mine not the same color as yours?” Curiosity inquired with confusion, having pulled her lavender soul gem free from her body to better examine it, and noticing the distinctions between her’s and the others. The soul gem of Kindness was red like her eyes, while Wanderer had an orange soul gem. Fear II gazed inquisitively at her bright pink soul gem, and felt relief looking at the cheerful color. The Reflections of Courage, Kindness, Curiosity, and Wanderer, all had identical soul gems as their other selves.

“I cast a spell to change their colors. They were all blue, and difficult to distinguish from each other. I have more copies as well, but I am also keeping some like this to see if I can find another way to discern which one belongs to who.” Pride replied, as she tenderly placed the pile of blue gems before the altar.

“You did not ask for permission.” Kindness remarked.

“Would you rather I didn’t preserve your souls, and further pursue methods of protecting them from harm?”

“Such sass, Pipsqueak!” Courage called out, as she stood and assisted her sisters in rising.

“Coming from you…” Pride sighed, and gestured towards the exit. “Let’s leave this place and return to the keep for the final ritual before your departure.” Her words ushered a swift withdrawal from the temple without any protests, as the Heralds of Honor all walked back to the keep in ruminative silence afterwards. Curiosity had reclaimed Rowan from Pride, allowing the Keeper of Keltra to regain some better mobility with the unburdened Silk Song now assisting her.

They entered the interior of the keep, and idly strolled around the Eternal Fire as its heavenly warmth washed over them. A few more words were spoken; quiet comments upon the changes that had come, and what further changes awaited them, but the presence of the closeby bright bonfire soothed their concerns. The music within the great hall was gentle, guiding them in their trance as they began to dance in a small circle beside the flames. At first, Fear II struggled to match the rhythm and movements, having to rely upon her memories of past performances her other self participated in, along with the assistance of her sisters slowing and adjusting the pace repeatedly for her sake.

As they danced, Fear II felt herself reconnect with the rest of them; all of their emotions which were expressed in a evocative and vivid manner as they let such feelings manifest in transcendent motions. She could perceive their internal intentions and their wishes through their wondrous freedom of forms, as if they were communicating to her through every twirling twist, graceful gesture, and serene step. The sincerity conveyed in their elegant shifting exhibition left the anxious champion crying, the tears shed in a state of overwhelming euphoria and appreciation. Her mind was opened and carried by the music, before it became the music, and the song was her shape. The melody was a cauldron, within which she merged with her sisters as they all danced with an aura of innocence.

Even when the ritual was complete, they continued to sway and swirl, singing and humming without constraint, because the beauty they tapped into and instilled into their hearts was like a story without an end. Tipsy with elated passion and inner revelation, the Heralds of Honor embraced themselves with euphonious compassion and cosmic power. They were connected, and they were truly intent upon walking with the rest of the world upon the Sacred Path. Courage proclaimed that it was time to seek out Zima and Fear, bringing their song and dance to a closure. Though the otherworldly music remained, the champions returned to their previous shapes, with the addition of Fear II in their spiritual bond now.

A little reluctance came over them, but the thought of reuniting with Fear and confronting Zima compelled them into swift action. The Sacred Septet emerged from the keep; Courage and her Reflection retrieving Skydancer while Curiosity and Curiosity II continually bid Rowan a fond farewell, with plenty of promises that they would return. During this time, Wanderer pledged to protect them, while Wanderer II casually requested permission to pilot Skydancer which the rest of her sisters refused to allow - citing the hazards posed by her piloting. Kindness and her Reflection activated the Reuniting Crystal, and whispered to their lost sister, stating that they were coming to her. Fear II mostly wondered how her other self was reacting to the message compared to her own surge of bravery and comfort upon hearing those words.

The flying boat alighted before all of them, and a noticeable detail caused the Sacred Septet to pause as their gaze alternated between the small vessel and amongst themselves. They numbered nine when Skydancer had been built with seats for six, and their number would increase when they brought Zima and Fear back with them. Courage chuckled as she looked at her Reflection, and shared what the two of them were thinking with the others. There was no immediate objection, so Courage and Courage II clasped hands and pressed their heads together as the Gnosis glimmered and swirled upon their skin. Both of them became transparent with only the contours of their bodies and the sacred glyphs remaining easily discernible, though their visible outlines were beginning to merge.

There was a shimmering pulse accompanied by the faint sound of granulating glass, as the two became one and only a single being stood at the helm of Skydancer afterwards. The combined Courage and Courage II looked back at her sisters with a bold smile. “I think it’s time we get going, ya.”

Bolstered by her words, the others performed a fusion with their Reflections as well, resulting in their number being reduced to five - a small enough group for all of them to be comfortably seated on Skydancer. They studied themselves and conducted a few tests, assessing their ability to unmerge their bodies and swap attires, as Curiosity and her Reflection complained that they couldn’t choose what outfit to wear now - leading to Pride teaching them how to intermix their clothing when they were fused. Wanderer silently reassured Fear II that she would also suffer their same conundrums when they rescued Fear. The mute champion then offered to fuse with her as well, eliciting some surprise from all of their sisters - Pride felt compelled to interject.

“Further experimentation later! Let’s not take any more risks, please. Merging with your Reflections is fine, but we don't know what will happen when we merge our bodies in such a way. I’d rather we didn’t invite even stranger things than what we’ve seen so far.”

Her words were muffled by her sisters gathering together to suddenly embrace her. The six of them hugged, and through their bond they felt the joy and affection of each other. They were a family forged by the sacred forces that surrounded them, bonded by a blessed harmony beyond kinship and honor. They had perceived the bonds between the living, undergoing an awareness of the anima all around them, and as a result from this sight and visions glimpsed through the Incantation of Seeing, they thought themselves closer to what they were all seeking. Their compassionate hold of each other may not have been a literal step forward, yet it seemed another step farther upon the Sacred Path.

“Pipsqueak is right!” Courage added swiftly after they separated, as she threw both Wanderer and Fear II onto Skydancer - her two sisters agilely landing beside Kindness who had leapt and soared through the air next to them. Courage and Curiosity jumped aboard as well, and the five of them waved farewell to Pride and Rowan. Skydancer began to ascend as Courage took the helm once more, and guided them out of Keltra towards their destination.

Towards their fateful confrontation with Zima and Fear.

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Cycle VIII


They were a blight upon the land, withering all that they touched upon before the earth itself slowly dissolved into an evil expanse of gurgling grey ooze. Where the forests and lakes were once plentiful in the northern realm, inhabited by a wide variety of large creatures and the many dwellings of the Bjorks - now the woods and the rivers and all of its denizens that were spread across the north had been desiccated and replaced with the putrid presence of fiends and demonic machinations.

The sea of sludge swept over massive sections of the Thousand Lakes region, surging towards and converging upon a specific location; wherein a terrible battle was being fought. The two demons known as Abraxanan and Valac, had besieged the Voga Dam and its clan which was only protected by a single god, Lares. The deity called upon his great power; towering structures erupted from the spreading miasmic tides, providing shelter for the beings within or atop them. Lares summoned smaller buildings that formed limited paths that he could use to navigate the ocean of ooze that poisoned all that came in contact with it.

The God of Houses was enraged, because so much beautiful architecture and wonderful dwellings had been swallowed by the grey sludge and its heralds; two massive and grotesque monstrosities that chanted in their demonic tongue as they caused this calamity to unfold. When they had arrived, Lares had hoped that another member of the pantheon would show up to assist him, but none had come. Now he could only lament what had befallen him and his home that he fought to protect. He had been foolish to believe that he could rely upon the other divine to prevent such evil from ever emerging.

His own form had become weakened, as the deity had found it more and more difficult to change his shape, and found parts of himself transforming into part of furniture or dwellings. It had become difficult to walk at times, but he was content with his life - teaching the bjorks to expand and express themselves through their immediate environment. The art of architecture was something a mortal could spend many cycles lost in the studying and exploring, and yet never become bored, for new inspiring designs and captivating projects were always waiting to be discovered. Lares and many of the bjorks were perhaps lost in their love for the joy and comfort that the creation of so many homes had brought them.

The Voga Dam had been ruptured and ruined, with the community around it barely surviving as so much of the population drowned in the foul flood that had come so suddenly. Too many lives were lost, and too many homes had been wrecked. It was grief that overwhelmed Lares as he fought with all of his strength to defend what was left of the clan that he had grown to care so much for. “Begone villains! I banish you and your heinous presence for eternity!” Fortifications manifested as he spoke; stalwart walls with sharpened spikes built along the battlements, a myriad of complex traps to ensnare and harm the two intruders, and lastly an army of shimmering spirits wielding celestial weapons these repel invaders.

Though the two demons were colossal, they were halted outside the walls and swarmed by the horde of conjured ethereal warriors that were unrelenting in their retaliation even as they were slain in great numbers as they defied their foe. Lares was becoming exhausted - he had swiftly harnessed so much power that it caused him to stagger, but he pressed forward and issued commands to his forces, rallying them with his presence. He dismissed the thought of fleeing regardless of whether or not defeat seemed inevitable. He would not abandon the mortals that had such potential of bringing more beauty into the world, so he stood upon his wall and challenged one of the hulking beasts.

It shrieked back at him, a sound so alien to his ears that he was briefly dazed until he shook his head and bellowed back. “Fire the cannons!” The immense wall stirred, instilled with an immense amount of vigor, and awakening upon hearing the issued order from its creator. It shifted and transformed, openings formed along its outer perimeter from which emerged enchanted artillery that spewed forth blazing blasts of vibrant and violent energy. Each thunderous shot exploded across the flesh of Valac, sundering the pallid skin and burning its innards.

“Fire!” Lares repeated, as another volley unleashed its devastating destruction upon the demon. Bursts of blood and viscera splattered against the wall as the construction shifted again, creating massive pillars atop the battlements with blades along the sides that descended upon the demon like the teeth of a bjork tearing through a tree. Then battering rams abruptly replaced a number of the cannons, and began pulverizing the belly of Valac in brutal fashion.

Lares held up his paws and created a colossal cauldron above his enemy. The God of Houses exerted himself further as he tilted the container filled with an enraged boiling essence, the liquefaction of his loathing for the fiend. Hot hatred cascaded down upon Valac, inflicting more sizzling excruciating burns as the fluids found ways into the entity’s tainted veins, and purged them with divine retribution. There were more eruptions of gore and flesh, then afterwards the demon fell back and staggered. The continually altering configuration of the wall prepared to deal a decisive blow to its fallen foe, but was interrupted by an attack from Abraxanan.

Throughout the clamorous combat, Lares struggled to focus on both fiends, and chose to send the majority of his spiritual soldiers to hinder the second demon while he fought with the first. He chose to sacrifice more of his strength to attempt to separate himself and Valac from Abraxanan by creating another wall between them with the sole purpose of acting as a barricade. Without the interference, his summoned construct delivered the final strike upon Valac, impaling it before completely eviscerating it with an explosion of coalescing weapons that thoroughly ripped it apart.

“You have been slain for your crimes against my hearth and kin.” Lares muttered, gazing down upon the immense corpse from atop one of the nearby towers along the length of the wall. With exhaustion, he nearly stumbled as he dashed towards the barricade that blocked the second demon, gasping in a haggard state as he reached the precipice.
The storm of chaos on the other side was still frightening to behold, even for a deity. Abraxanan had brought forth a heavy acidic rain that dissolved most of his defenses and melted many of his spirits with their screams echoing faintly in the tumultuous weather. A whirlwind of shimmering corpses surrounded the demon as it set its gaze upon him, and pointed a terrible claw at his chest. In response, he conjured more cannons and aimed at it before swiftly firing a barrage of heavenly flames. His living castle unleashed its full might once again, preparing to transform into a myriad of weapons to slaughter the second demon.

Abraxanan flailed wildly under the onslaught of the cannons, its screeches seeming to rip apart reality as lacerations opened in the sky and ebon fluid flowed forth from the gashes like blood. With weariness, Lares created a chair to seat himself, heaving as he watched the horrifying display of disruptive ferocity, and understood the truth of a pyrrhic victory as he looked out across what remained of his home and its people. Fortunately, he had salvaged much of the life here, happy to see that the bjorks and animals and plants had survived this ordeal, safe within the numerous structures he hastily summoned. He sighed, looking forward to the time when he could put this troubling day far behind him.

Upon the verge of being defeated, Abraxanan was restrained by resurrected fortifications emerging around it, preventing its escape by encircling it. The cannons constantly fired upon it, letting there be no rest for the wicked. The noise was so loud that Lares did not hear Valac as the demon loomed behind him - it was the repugnant stench that became even more potent that had warned the deity of the demon, but it was too late. Lares did not have enough strength or time to rise from his chair before the maw of Valac closed around him. Shadows and teeth tore into the Ever-Welcomed Architect, gnashing him until he was no more and the Shard he carried was consumed.

The survivors that remained in the shelters Lares had provided for them would witness the aftermath of the battle, and weep whenever the tale was told or recalled. The devouring of Lares and his Shard resulted in the birth of a third demon - a dark and twisted thing that crawled out of the mouth of Valac and screeched. Then its much smaller form fell from the maw of the other demon, and sank into the murky depths of the sea of sludge. Without further malice, the two demons that brought ruin to this realm departed back to whence they came it seemed, but their lingering miasma stayed and continued to choke the life that was trapped there.

Though the rest of the Galbar has yet to suffer their coming, lesser calamities had befallen upon all that dwelled on the planet, as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions ravaged many parts of the world. Ill omens plague those that dream, and perturbing whispers can be heard on the wind. Visions of an inevitable demise haunt the world, as despair continues to spread like an incurable disease.

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Honor & Revenge

Part I

She had no idea how long it had been since they arrived in that cavernous place. It could have been weeks or months, time seemed to blur together in the infinite gloom of Garle's dark kingdom. Every twisting passage, crook and cranny was like a vein to a beating heart. A heart that flowed continuously without the need for sleep. It was so very easy to get lost and the thought of being so crossed her mind on the occasion but bit by bit they were learning. Zima was more concerned… No, concerned wasn't the right word. She was, she made sure Vale was cautious and sticking close to her at all times.

Her companion still had to feed her parasite and they very discreetly freed life from its prison. They could not overstep a great deal. If the honor champions were coming, they needed all the fodder they had to throw their way. She and Vale trained and sparred, growing her further into a weapon. It was necessary Zima said, for they would try to overpower and defeat. Taking Vale from Zima. After so much time and effort put into her innocent companion, she couldn't bear the thought of losing her. If only because Vale now belonged to her.

So time went on as it always did and they prepared, for there was really nothing else to do. That she wanted or thought prudent enough to try. No, let Garle and the others be slaughtered, let them soften up those foolish homurans and then they could snuff them out for good. Then they wouldn't have to run, they could be free to do whatever they wished without reprise. Perhaps she would make her own kingdom. An amusing thought but…

It struck her like a slap across the face. She clutched the fabric of her chest and stumbled to the side, using her free arm to support herself on the cave wall. She lost sight of where she was for a moment. When her eyes refocused she remembered, she and Vale were at their place of quiet. An almost home, away from the clamor of the deep dwellers. The pain lingered yet, like an overwhelming sense of dread. It was inexplicable and made her mind jump to conclusions.

She turned to Vale and said in a shaky voice, "Did you feel that…? Something has happened… I can't explain what but I feel it, Vale. We must prepare. Yes, they could be coming."

“We’ll win.” Vale replied, hastily collecting crystals from closeby for the fight that would inevitably find them. She moved swiftly, but she could not conceal her accumulating apprehension, as she frequently averted her frightened gaze from her companion. A stygian aura surrounded Vale as she summoned her black flames, and spoke softly. “We have to win because they won’t stop hunting us, will they?”

Zima shook her head, gaze lingering upon Vale. “No. They will never stop as long as they draw breath. As long as their infernal flames keep them alive to corrupt and destroy all that they touch.” She walked over to Vale and grasped her shoulders. Paranoia struck Zima, she felt… No she did not feel. She did not want them to take Vale from her, to awaken what was lost, what she stole from her feeble companion. She did not wish to be alone again. “We shall… We shall stick together and they will be powerless to stop us. Remember, Vale. They will say things that you will not understand and you must not try to give them thought. They will twist us apart if they could, do you understand?”

Vale nodded and held up a few orange and yellow gemstones. “Confuse and blind them before they can speak, or should we wait?” Her hand dropped to her side, lowering the magical topazes and citrines. “Are we going to let Garle fight them first?” She asked, stepping in closer - always in need of close comfort because of her anxiety.

Zima remained firm but her grip relaxed upon Vale. She truly was an anxious being, a carry over from Fear’s persona. Funny how that worked. “When the time comes we must strike fast before they are able to fight back. Garle will do what Garle will do, I doubt even if he engaged them we would be left all alone. A fight will come to us… Just stick beside me and remember your training.”

“I will burn them to ashes.” Vale murmured in response. Zima caressed Vale’s cheek and whispered, “Good girl.” Soon enough they would find out who was to be the victor and who, the loser.


Skydancer slowly drifted down from the sky, alighting upon a section of the land close to the massive mountain range that they knew as the Bones of Fortitude. Though their sister, Pride, was far away from them now, the members of the Sacred Septet that had embarked on this quest still had access to all of her shared knowledge and memories. None amongst their number had ever actually visited this region, but their smaller sister had seen it many times through the Incantation of Seeing, and their surroundings felt familiar at least.

The sacred flying vessel hovered beside an outcropping of rocks while its passengers leapt from it and onto the ground. Four sets of feet became seven as Kindness, Curiosity, and Wanderer split from their Reflections and stood with Fear II - all of them waiting for Courage to come to a decision regarding Skydancer and their sudden predicament: Their means of transportation was not meant to travel underground.

Kindness had repeatedly told her brash sister that it seemed like Fear and Zima would only be found beneath the earth. In the last vision they received of their lost sister and her accursed companion, the two had delved into a cave and have yet to come out since. Afterwards, further efforts at following their journey became futile. Pride provided an explanation at the time, describing the difficulty of attempting to perceive in the deepest parts of the earth where magical and malignant forces reside and obscured the subterranean world with their shroud. The simplest way of seeing the two would be to seek them out.

Dread filled all those that stood on the ground as they watched Courage stubbornly steer Skydancer into the nearby cave, crashing against the stone walls and ceiling multiple times yet refusing to surrender, no matter how often she collided with a stalagmite or trapped herself. Her argument was just valid enough to persuade her sisters to let her be this reckless, as they needed Skydancer to provide them with sustenance and power for the fight and journey home. Fortunately the mouth of the cave and the tunnel that descended into the depths was accommodating enough to allow for Skydancer to haphazardly come along.

Their vessel proved an invaluable asset again as the light from outside the cave was left behind, and the shadows surrounded them. Only the luminous hull of their boat provided them with illumination in the dark shaft they descended, though they observed that a small circle of light could be seen at the bottom. As they continued their quest to find their lost sister and defeat Zima, the Sacred Septet wondered what awaited them.

Zima and Vale had been summoned by Garle at long last. Now they arrived in the most sacred of places, the tomb of Voligan, the same place where all entrances led. They were surrounded by the gargoyle’s subjects, a vast sea of silent statues. Born of rock and stone, molded for few other purposes but one- Battle. They awaited in the grand chamber, high upon a jutting outcrop, waiting for the inevitable.

“The Red Devil has come.” He proclaimed, and his voice reverberated throughout the vast cavern, as the stone rumbled with anticipation. His attention turned to the duo, and he gestured for them to approach. They did so with little apprehension on Zima’s part. When they arrived before the King, Zima fell to one knee and dipped her head before the stone giant, Vale seamlessly imitating her.

“You have no need to join me in battle, if you do not wish for such. Your enemies will haunt you no further after I have vanquished them as well. The choice is yours.” Garle said, glancing at the two of them before turning his solemn gaze to the immense tomb of his father. Zima raised her head to look up at him.

“We shall join you, if only to make sure this task is done. Though you are a great and mighty king, we should not underestimate this foe. We will not know what they have in store for us. If they are smart, they will have learned from our past encounters and adapted to it. However, you shall be the surprise they could not have anticipated. Our success is almost assured I think.”

“The Traitor herself has yet to reveal herself… but her servants shall prove a fitting lure, lest I accidentally break all of them. I will force them to surrender to justice, or be eradicated, for I cannot stand aside and let the wicked ravage the world freely.” The gargoyle shifted as he spoke and stepped past Zima and Vale towards a tunnel that was expanding along one of the edges of the cavern. He raised his golden axe, and began leading the horde of earth elementals from atop a rising bejeweled pillar that traveled towards the now immense tunnel. “Our foes await us!” He called out.

Zima began to walk after Garle but stopped when the same dreadful feeling caught in her chest and overwhelmed her senses. She stumbled, supported quickly by Vale. “That feeling…” She almost whimpered, “It’s back.” She growled, hating the weakness in her voice. Her eyes frantically searched around as the marching stone and Vale’s voice became drowned out by a ringing in her ears. She clutched her chest, scrunching up the fabric until it was wrung tight. What was it? Where was it coming from? Where…

She saw it out of the corner of her eye, something flaming hot coming right towards them. As the ringing faded, Zima acted quickly by shoving Vale back and summoning a shield of smoke from her fabric. The explosion was deafening as the fire screamed around them, hot as it was ferocious. When it ended, Zima dropped the shield and stood, eye pinned on the spot where it had come from. In the dark reaches of that chamber, an intruder had come. Upon the tomb of Voligan, near the top. Of course… No one would tread there!

Before she got a better look at them, another torrent of fire was hurled at them, this time at the side. A different spot! She summoned her smoky shield as the fire licked at them but then it was joined by the first flame and Zima was alarmed at just how strong of a flame it was. Had her foes sneaked past them all? Garle was nowhere in sight, how long had she been out of it?

“Vale…” She gazed at her companion from the corner of her eyes still holding the shield up, “Now begins the end.” She turned back and waited, sitting still was useless now. When the flame at last died, Zima bolted forth. With uncanny agility she ran and lept from stone to stone as the barrage of fire came forth down upon her. With each leap of her powerful bounds, she was quickly nearing her adversaries and soon realized that they were no champions of Homura.

The closest one was a very pale woman with fierce eyes. Her hair was long, tied in a braid and she wore nothing but tattered black cloth around her waist and chest, with ripped bands around her wrists and ankles. She did not flee from Zima’s approach but shot forth with the same tenacity. Why did she look so familiar? The other assailant was obscured by the rocks and was focusing on Vale.

Another blast of fire came at her and Zima threw herself over it, the temperature change only a reminder of what she had left behind. Now she was free and capable of lashing out. From her hands came a long shaft, curved down at the head with a large blade of darkness. She had forged from her power a fitting weapon, a scythe, for she would reap death as those Eidolons had reaped crops. And it would claim its first victim. Before she landed upon her feet, she swung the scythe in an arc, and from the blade came a long line of black flame that shot towards the pale one.

The woman summoned her own fire as a shield and for a moment it looked as if she would fail but it was not to be. As Zima pounced towards another rock, the girl used her fire shield as a weapon, sending it forth in a wave. Zima cut a whole through the fire and it felt the fire as it passed before firing more projectiles at her opponent. Three went for the girl as Zima leaped into the air, avoiding her latest attack. The first black flame arc missed, while the second and third were nullified and she summoned forth three snake-like projectiles to hunt Zima down. She spun her scythe in front of her as the first hit like a boulder, almost toppling her down but Zima was resilient. She grabbed the second snake and corrupted it to her own, sending it back as the third intercepted, causing a giant explosion between them.

Zima used the mayhem to leap at her opponent but where Zima thought she would be confused, the revenant found her waiting. She dodged out of the way as Zima’s scythe cut air and then the woman landed a blow into Zima’s stomach. Or at least she tried. The minute her flesh touched the revenant, Zima’s body began to eat at her and she could only smirk. Zima then backhanded the woman, making her stumble but she quickly recovered and lept back with a powerful explosion of fire.

The fire washed over the revenant and she was unscathed. It was just fire, there was nothing special about it, in the end. Her smirk widened, how foolish she had been, trying to block it. She had thought this life before her was special, when she wasn’t. Now Zima walked forth undaunted as the woman’s stoic complexion began to falter. She threw fireball after fireball at Zima, backing up to the cliff edge all while Zima dodged them or simply let them wash over her.

There was nowhere left to go and so the woman took an offensive stance, arms raised. “You were a fool to think you could harm me.” Zima mocked. “Fire works upon the living and the dead but I am neither. Now you will die.”

“You’re a monster!” The woman snapped back. “And you will pay for what you’ve done to me and my people. I swear it!” She lunged forth but Zima sidestepped her, almost catching her with the scythe but the woman was nimble and narrowly avoided the blade

“Your people?” Zima spoke, taking a good long look at her, as the girl blasted her with fire. Where was it she had seen such pale features? With blue eyes and… White hair… Her own eyes widened and then they grew full of malice. “Ah, I remember your kind. Those foolish Voirans, born of a cruel god. I did them a favor but it seems I left another alive.” Zima’s scythe cut into the ground. The woman’s eyebrow raised as she landed away from the strike. “Oh? Did you believe you were the last?” Zima chided. “No, I’m afraid not. But that child will be. After you join the rest of your people.”

“No…” She whispered. “You can’t. I won’t let you!” The woman attacked again, her fists coming rapidly. Even Zima couldn’t dodge them all but it didn’t matter, all she had to do was wait for her assailant to tire and soon enough she did.

The woman took a defensive stance, arms raised to protect herself as she panted.

‘Can’t I?” Zima asked, before lunging forth. She swung her scythe at the woman, feinted at the last possible moment as the pale girl went to move out of the way and then brought the scythe up, catching the woman across her chest and head. Or, it should have. Before her eyes, the girl transformed into a bird and escaped the attack, much to the annoyance of Zima. She glowered as the bird flew quickly out of reach, becoming two legged once more.

The pale girl wasted no time and from the distance that now separated them, their battle resumed. Fire rained down on Zima who battered it aside, now walking towards her foe. She grew tired of such pointless engagement. It was time to end this, for they were coming, after all.

“Shall I tell you how your people died?” She began, thrusting herself forward with unnatural power before striking the air of where the girl had been moments before. She was fast that one and unrelenting. “I played a trick you see… Upon a girl, they almost believed me but my ruse was had. I thought he would stop me, that voiran man but he was a coward. He ran as I extinguished the light from their eyes.”

The woman’s left eye twitched and she went in with a right hook. It was slow now and Zima moved aside, letting her momentum carry her forward. She then tripped the woman but before she could fall she shifted into the white raven and re-steaded herself out of reach. At least for the moment.

Zima turned to her and smirked. “I tried not to spare any of them. I wanted it to be perfect, something for your cruel god to remember for all time. If you had been there… Perhaps you could have saved them?”

This seemed to unhinge the woman who gritted her teeth and let out a battle cry. She ran forward, fists alight with fire, swinging madly at Zima. The flames hit Zima, once, twice but then it was her turn. Her darkness flowed forth and grabbed the woman just long enough for her to land the blow. She swung her scythe upwards, catching the woman in the chest and over her left head, penetrating deep. The girl gasped, the darkness retreating back to Zima.

“I told you. The child would be the last.” Zima said as the woman crumbled upon the dark stone. There would be no blood, just dark smoke as the black flame corrupted her flesh. Zima stared at the fresh corpse for a time before distant explosions echoed above, causing the tomb to shake. Her gaze caught the battle between Vale and her own opponent. It was time to go see if her companion needed aid.

She hadn’t gotten very far when an explosion of fire rocked her off her feet. She fell to her knees, dropping the scythe. She looked back to see something unexpected, something that had never happened before; Her opponent was alive and she was on fire. A growl escaped Zima’s throat as she watched the wound she had inflicted vanish into a pink scar. The woman snapped her now blazing eyes open and spoke with an all too familiar fury.

“You will never again harm my people or anyone of these lands! I will make sure of it, for all those you have murdered. For my name is Mair and this is our vengeance!” She thrust her arms forth and a wave of fire washed over Zima. Unlike before, this time the fire burned her and she yelped, not in pain but of shock. She quickly summoned a shield to protect herself and grabbed her scythe. The flames were stronger now. Far too strong. Her shield almost gave out before the torrent subsided. The very rock had turned molten and it all began to make sense to Zima.

A Revenger had come, born of Mish-Cheechel and the girl would not leave until her vengeance was had or she was dead.

And Zima would only allow one to pass.

The Sacred Septet descended down the dark shaft until they reached an opening at the bottom wherein they slowly passed through. They found themselves entering an immense cavern filled with glittering gems and shimmering metal; an endless realm of riches that illuminated the subterranean space, though the sound of shifting stone above alerted them. The opening in the ceiling they came through had closed, and the ominous change concerned all of them, but they focused their attention back upon their destination. Meanwhile Courage commented sardonically that it seemed they were getting closer and closer towards trouble.

“You have come now.”

They came to a halt as the powerful baritone voice reached them from afar, and with their keen sight they were able to see its source. A very large hunched and winged figure wielding a golden axe and with a glowing crown atop its head, it seemed like an angelic king of statues, or something to their eyes. It continued to watch them from where it was perched atop a massive pillar, exuding an aura of vehemence that surprised them as well. It had spoken firmly, without the need to shout in order to be heard even from such a great distance.

The Sacred Septet also observed that the figure was not alone, as surrounding the single massive pillar that the intense figure stood upon was a horde of animated stone resembling an army of soldiers and artillery. All of them remembered the recent training session with their maker, and found themselves less than enthused at the sight of such a similar force. Courage couldn’t help herself, and quipped whether it was a just ongoing joke among the divine to torment them using the same methods again and again. Kindness remarked that their Maker had likely foreseen this encounter…

They all sensed their lost sister beyond this obstacle, and knew that they had to bypass it if they were to reach her. They flew closer, cautiously approaching as they sensed the tension all around them. The figure and the horde seemed poised to attack, and the Heralds of Honor clung onto the hope that they could avoid a hostile confrontation now. They did not wish to risk Zima and Fear fleeing, nor did they wish to be weakened before that confrontation either, but the primary reason that they sought a nonviolent interaction was the difference in their strength. With their sacred sight, they could sense that this creature was frighteningly powerful, and that they would not be able to defeat it in battle.

“Sorry about the surprise visit!” Courage called out, though it didn’t seem like their presence had been a surprise. “We’re just looking for our lost sister and another with her. We don’t want to cause any turmoil, ya. I’m Courage, and this Kindness, Fear II, Curiosity, Wanderer, and our Reflections. What’s your name?” Skydancer had reached an appropriate distance for conversation between the two sides, which did little to alleviate the apprehension among the Sacred Septet. The dark gaze of the dangerous creature never left them, and they could detect the anger that seemed to seeth as they approached.

“I am Garle, the King of Erudaine. Son of Voligan. You will not reach Zima and Vale. Instead, I shall use you as a lure for the Red Devil. She will answer for her crimes.” Garle replied, radiating a barely contained rage.

“We didn’t come to fight! We just want to save our sister!” Courage said, holding up her hands in a manner that she prayed suggested her peaceful intent. Curiosity chimed in as well: “Our mother wouldn’t commit any crimes! Please tell us what happened so we don’t hurt each other!”

“Then do not resist and surrender.”

“We will not be your captives either.” Kindness answered with defiance, causing the rest of her sisters to stare at her with a mixture of chagrin and camaraderie.

“Like she said.” Courage reaffirmed with a casual shrug, as she prepared for the unfortunate fight that would surely come after they had refused to surrender. The Sacred Septet were so much fewer in number, and Garle alone was enough of a foe by himself, but they were dedicated to finally reuniting with Fear, regardless of whatever they would have to face along the way.

There was no command issued; only the sudden surging of thousands of earth elementals seeking to overwhelm them. Courage II steered Skydancer to the side, crashing through a wall of numerous stone bodies both big and small, with Curiosity assisting in preventing any damage to themselves or the boat by using her Shield of Faith to create barriers of ice and light. They had already flown far away in a nigh instant, and quickly telepathically devised a strategy. The great distance only afforded them a brief respite, as earth elementals emerged from the floor of the cavern and began hurling stones at them.

Courage shook her head, and chuckled as most of the projectiles missed their target, and those that struck them were simply harmless. “You’re going to have to hit us with something harder than that!” She taunted, then immediately regretted issuing the challenge as their enemies began utilizing explosives. There was no significant damage to Skydancer itself, but none among the Sacred Septet wanted to risk being blown overboard and falling into the horde of hostile statues.

They had come to the conclusion that they needed to split their strength, and accomplish two goals to attain victory: defeat Garle, and find a way to get to Fear. Courage brought her fist into her palm and grinned. The plan was for her to take on the biggest opponent with Kindness, Kindness II, Fear II, Wanderer, and Wanderer II, while the rest searched throughout the tunnels for a safe route to their missing sister. They set their plan into action, changing the direction of their flight - soaring right towards Garle where he still stood atop the lone pillar.

As they came close, he raised his empty hand and unleashed a thunderous pulse of power. He did not throw things at them with his limbs like his soldiers; he gestured and the earth rapidly shot thousands of magical explosive stones faster than sonic speed at them. The unexpected and relentless assault had caught them, and multiple bursts of eldritch fire and shrapnel struck the prow and hull of Skydancer, but the flying vessel endured.

Six of the champions leapt from above and descended upon Garle while the others remained onboard Skydancer and flew around where the number of earth elementals was most concentrated. The entire cavern shook and rumbled with tumultuous bright blasts as stone detonated everywhere - the destructive clamor was deafening, and the Sacred Septet could barely communicate to each other even through their telepathic bond, but they adhered to their strategy. Garle was assailed by those that had disembarked Skydancer, as they slammed their fists into his stony skin, attacking from every angle so that he could defend himself.

Courage, Fear II, Wanderer, and Wanderer II focused on overwhelming their foe, while Kindness and her Reflection prevented more earth elementals from encircling them. The close combat was much more fierce than the previous skirmish, as there was no avoiding the erupting earth and debris that was scattered whenever Garle would fire upon them at such a short range. Everything was eradicated by heedless bombardment. He did not seem even fazed as he was hit by the explosions he caused, as if he were indestructible. Their opponent stood, surrounded by the smoke and fragments of the pillar they had been fighting on, the structure had been reduced to a shattered pile of stone early in the fight.

Their advantage was his inability to match their agility, as he began slashing at them whenever they stepped into his reach, but he could not hit them before they had struck and retreated. As the smoke and debris was dispersed with further exchanged blows, it became evident that their fight had become a battle of attrition that the grounded members of the Sacred Septet were losing. None of their punches or kicks caused any damage to Garle, and they were still suffering from the minor injuries they sustained as the devastating barrage of explosions continued. With reluctance, they began to retreat in an attempt to regroup with their sisters on Skydancer. As they fell back, bounding farther and farther, they heard Garle call out to them.

“There will be no fleeing in this fight.”

The considerable distance they had put between them and him gave them no respite as he was enveloped in blue light which suddenly disappeared before it then coalesced beside them and revealed the gargoyle ready to resume relentlessly attacking them. The swift arrival of their opponent had surprised them, but they quickly recovered and dodged the renewed assault, internally shouting for their sisters to come and provide them with an escape. When Courage suggested that they enact a prolonged temporary retreat, she shook her head with tired mirth as she noted much less resistance to the idea now.

Skydancer blurred by the erupting earth and thunder, halting for an ephemeral moment next to the fight against Garle for a long enough period of time for all of the Sacred Septet to be onboard once again and soaring away. As they flew, their minds came together to formulate a new strategy. They concluded that flying back to the surface would not be helpful since it did not get them any closer to their actual destination, and they determined that flying directly to Fear by passing through the stone would be a foolish idea as well. There was little doubt that Garle would pursue them, and that was a situation none of them wanted to encounter.

“We’re not here to fight you!” Curiosity continued pleading, though whether or not her voice could be heard was difficult to discern.

They lost sight of Garle when he vanished in a flash of blue light, and then attempted an evasive maneuver when he appeared in front of them. Skydancer crashed into the creature that was twice its size, the prow thrusting into the gargoyle’s stomach as he grasped one side of the boat upon being battered. “Why is it; I am not surprised by your cowardice.” He said, as he raised his other hand and hewed the center of the boat with his golden axe, nealy chopping the vessel in half.

Through their connection, all of the Sacred Septet heard Courage II cry out that they were about to collide with a wall. Garle did not receive such a warning, preoccupied with swinging his axe at Courage and Kindness as they endeavored to push him off the boat. All of them slammed into one of the farthest edges of the cavern, causing an immense crater to form as stone and metal ruptured upon impact.

Though their arms and legs were cracked, the Sacred Septet had held onto Skydancer, which was still in the grasp of Garle. With a great bellow, he hurled the boat and its passengers away and called forth more earth elementals, as he examined the large gash in his chest from which molten gold and silver poured forth from. He pointed at where he threw them, and prepared to unleash another bombardment as he saw them recovering from the crash. He could not hear them bolster themselves for another bout, reassuring themselves that they could win.

“Summon your Maker. Pray to the Red Devil, so that she may come and face justice.” He said, as his wound sealed itself and he slowly approached with his soldiers and artillery at the ready. The sight that greeted him as he came near the site of the fallen Skydancer left him very bemused.

Garle did not expect to see the servants of his enemy begin dancing and singing when they were on the verge of defeat. He wondered whether they were attempting to deceive him, or if this was simply the ridiculous way they communed with their maker, but since he would rather they lived long enough to serve as bait for his true foe, he decided to wait and watch instead of prematurely slaying them.

Curiosity and her Reflection hummed a sorrowful melody as her sisters danced together. They did not seek to summon Homura, and they were uncertain whether their mother would even appear considering the last words she had spoken before her departure. They could not allow themselves to be defeated here, so as Curiosity sang and the rest danced, they called upon their combined power and knowledge of the Gnosis to perform a ritual. Fond memories of a time long ago when they had all been clumsy with their movement and communication were shared amongst them through their connection. They recalled the lessons their mother had imparted upon them regarding the nature of sorcery and the Sacred Path, realizing that every experienced struggle granted them newfound strength. Now they fought against a foe that seemed invulnerable, and were forced to tap into the deepest depths of the power within them once again.

“An amusing performance, but I will no longer tolerate this mockery. Call out to the traitor, or suffer the consequences.” Garle declared.

Their ritual came to a conclusion, and they composed themselves for the fight ahead, adopting firm stances. “We’re not giving up, ya. We’re going to save our sister after we overcome you! Let us show you our true power!” Courage rebuked, as she and all of her sisters dashed towards Garle and his horde of earth elementals.

Before they could reach him, hundreds upon hundreds of stone spears and explosive boulders were launched at them, but the barrier of light and ice created by the Shield of Faith protected them from the brunt of it. The champions proceeded to merge with their Reflections, restoring some of their expended energy by fusing together, and Curiosity and Wanderer both moved to the front of their formation. They both held up their forged relics, and chanted together.


The Shield of Faith and the Bow of Light merged into a single armament; a large bejeweled ballista that the champions wielded together. It shimmered with an otherworldly aura as they aimed it directly at Garle and fired a luminous projectile that was followed by a wall of glittering golden chains and ribbons of cold light that materialized in its wake. The shot protected the Sacred Septet from further bombardment while hindering much of the horde and striking its target. An interlocking network of glowing ice and golden chains fell upon Garle and restrained him. Courage, Kindness, and Fear II surged forward, and held their relics as they chanted.


The Golden Gauntlets, The Blade of Mourning, and the Staff of the Wanderer all merged into a single armament; a giant glaive that manifested above where they were, with the three champions now standing on the center of the large blade as it soared towards Garle. Fear remained where she stood, directing the glaive, as Courage leapt down and descended upon the gargoyle’s leg with a kick, while Kindness jumped and alighted upon his head. The three of them struck simultaneously, shoving him backwards and forcing him to kneel on one leg as he resisted their combined assault. The glaive continued its push as Fear II drove it forward, yet it had not pierced his stony flesh. Courage continued to unleash a flurry of blows against his leg, intent on breaking the sturdy limb, but it endured her fierce onslaught. Kindness began attempting to pry the Peculiar Crown from his head, desperate to weaken him, except her strength was not enough to remove it.

Then the restraints shattered, and Fear II found herself flung from the glaive as Garle retaliated with his axe. Courage dodged when he stomped where she had just been, but Kindness stumbled and fell from his head into his hand. “This farce ends now!” He roared, before slamming her into the stone. The middle section of her body was crushed, as her stomach shattered beneath the weight of his hand and her innards began to spill out. Courage let out an enraged cry as she rushed to enact retribution upon the one that had hurt Kindness.

Garle threw his golden axe at her, which she easily dodged, but before she could lash out, more simulacrums of his weapon suddenly appeared and swarmed her. Deprived of her golden gauntlet, she had yet to adjust to her decrease in strength and speed, so she was not swift enough to dodge attacks that she had thought she could avoid. It was a punishing mistake as a glancing blow caused her to stagger and stumble, before Garle slashed her into two halves with his axe. She was hewn from her shoulder to her hip, and bleeding profusely like her mutilated sister. Through their bond, her other sisters could feel her excruciating pain, as the agony of being cut or broken into pieces was shared with them.

Garle lurched forward in pain as well, as he clutched his head with one hand. The Peculiar Crown continually rang akin to a tolling bell as it ruthlessly seared his scalp. Garle groaned as he violently shook his head in a frantic effort to rid himself of the burning relic, before he held onto it tightly and tore it free from its molten seat. With a tormented bellow, he threw the artifact he was no longer attuned with away from him, but struggled just to remain standing. “How did this happen?” He gasped, glancing towards the Sacred Septet with growing fury while steam erupted from numerous lacerations that appeared across his body, as though he were ventilating the excess heat from his inner rage.

Fear II nodded to herself, choosing to act as a distraction while Curiosity and Wanderer retrieved their critically injured sisters. She did not have time to react as Garle launched himself at her, his wings expanding and he flew faster than he had moved before. A multitude of magical gemstones levitated around him, activated, and now enhancing his abilities further. They shone like stars in the night sky with the contrasting darkness of his black wings behind them. Fear II felt her mind become slowed by the presence of the gems, their influence causing her to fail at avoiding his grapple. He held her aloft with one hand as he shouted at her sisters.

“Surrender or I shall sunder her as well! You cannot win.”

The gargoyle tightened his grip to emphasize his point, and Fear II cried in pain. Curiosity and Wanderer came to a halt, faltering at the sight of their apprehended sister, as it seemed the battle had been lost. Courage and Kindness clung onto consciousness, invigorated by the presence of Skydancer and its radiant aura empowering their Phoenix blessing, but they were not capable of healing themselves in time to free Fear II before Garle would break her. They needed more time.

Curiosity slowly stepped forward with trepidation, while Wanderer inclined her head in affirmation. “We’re at your mercy… Please, stop this. We surrender.” She said before she clasped her hands together and bowed to the gargoyle, with Wanderer imitating the gesture as well. The earth finally lessened in its rumbling, as Garle considered their words and the fighting came to an end for a moment. He glanced towards where he tossed the Peculiar Crown, then back towards Sacred Septet.

“Do not resist, or you will all die.” He intoned, as he thrust Fear into the hollow chest of an arisen earth elemental, then ordered more to restrain Curiosity and Wanderer. He examined the cleaved Courage and crushed Kindness, observing the small traces of pale light that were reattaching the damaged pieces. Earth elementals collected them and the damaged Skydancer as well, while Garle peered at the feverish Peculiar Crown that burned his hand when he touched it. He let out a grunt as he lifted it, and paced it back atop his head, despite the fiery pain it caused him. Then he led his procession back to the tomb of his father where he would heal and await the coming of the Red Devil.

Zima’s cloak was tattered. It had numerous holes now, some still orange where the fire smoldered but she wore it all the same. Her battle with Mair was one of attrition at this point but no matter how much she weaved through the fire and danced between its waves, her opponents' ferocity did not subside. She needed a different approach to the situation. Something to turn the tide.

They battled still on the chest of Voligan's tomb, at least she thought so, and now pitted across his surface was slag and molten craters and in some places- crystalline structures and glass. So hot was the heat of Mair's fire, it burned like she was the embodiment of heat itself, only amplified by the vengeance within her.

It was almost a stalemate but Zima still had several tricks she could try. Her own frustrations were mounting, she couldn't even get a hit upon Mair and so she knew what to do. As she had done to the one named Fear so long ago. She pretended to trip, scythe escaping her hands and clambering across the sacred stone at Mair's latest blast. The pale warrior didn't waste a second and was over her, burning hotter than anything she had yet seen in her lifetime.

There were no words between them. Mair simply held up at her hand, palm facing her and Zima saw the flame begin to grow. However, before either could enact their powers on the other, a scream echoed from above. This broke Mair's intense concentration and her eyes grew wide. In an instant she was running up the tomb, using her fire to propel her further. Though Zima was left behind, she could still get there around the same time as Mair, perhaps even faster. So she jumped up, grabbed her scythe and ran after the pale girl.

They both arrived to a rather gruesome sight. It seemed Vale had won her bout, her own assailant was a giant of a woman who towered over them all. Except she was not standing, instead she was clutching the stump of her left arm, cut off at the elbow… Or bit off and she was madly defending herself from Vale, whose face was coated in fresh blood, at the foot of a large rock. Mair roared in anger, "You monster!" Flaming armor growing brighter. Zima reacted quickly and flung herself at the wounded woman as Mair attacked Vale. It was the distraction she needed. For even the giantess flailed and missed her strike upon Zima.

In seconds she had swooped to the side of her and placed the scythe around the woman's neck, poised for the killing blow. The giantess froze, cursing under her breath.

"That's enough!" Zima commanded. "Cease your flailing about or your partner dies."

Mair's eyes narrowed at Zima as she looked at her, guard still up as Vale circled like a vulture "If you dare harm her…" She growled.

"Loose your flames or her pretty throat gets cut." Zima stated. Mair's face contorted into anger but she begrudgingly did as told.

"Mair." The giantess spoke, through a gasp of pain. "I'm sorry."

"Quiet!" Zima hissed, eyes darting to her own companion. "Vale, bring her here." She said in a more normal voice.

Vale languidly strolled towards Mair, peering at the pale Revenger with a cruel curiosity before grabbing her arm and pulling her towards Zima. Multiple mouths manifested along Vale’s limb and her face, opening and revealing rows of jagged teeth as they grinned, the parasite hungering for further pain. The pale warrior recoiled at the sight but kept walking.

"Sit down, Mair." Zima beckoned and Vale shoved her to the floor beside the giantess. It was almost comical the difference in size but Zima didn't laugh anymore. Her scythe never left the woman's neck. She beckoned for Vale. "Are you hurt? Hungry?" She asked.

“The parasite is stirring. It won’t quiet itself.” Vale answered, closing her eyes as her arm twitched and quivered in anticipation. “I’m not hurt, but she is stronger than she seems.” She continued, gesturing at the giantess.

Zima touched the blood upon her face and looked her over. "Fret not, we shall feed the parasite soon enough. Perhaps the King will permit you to slay these ones but we shall wait for him. He will want to see the ones who defaced his father's tomb I think." Zima narrowed her eyes as she glanced at the two. Mair was trying in vain to help the giantess who was growing paler by the second. "That is… If she makes it."

Mair stared at her with daggers but before she could speak a rumbling beckoned their attention away.

"Back so soon…" Zima muttered with a sly smirk.

The wall of the vast cavern opened like a yawning maw, and revealed the horde of earth elementals led by their lord as they marched through the tunnel into the tomb. The stone shifted beneath their feet, carrying them along so that they swiftly traversed the great distance and stood before the revenant and her companion, and the two trespassers.

“I did not expect to find more unwelcome visitors when I returned.” Garle said, as he loomed over the scene and swept his gaze over the injured and the ones that had defeated them. He looked at Zima, and tilted his head. “Are these also servants of the Traitor?” He asked.

She shook her head. "No, just would be assassins come to kill me. They've even defaced your father's tomb. I thought it most suitable that you would utter their punishment." She looked past him and at the flying vessel. "I see you have met our hunters… Did you…?" She asked.

“They have been defeated and imprisoned. However, I must regain my full strength if I am to fight and win against their sinful Maker.” He replied, as he scratched his chest where numerous metallic scars had formed. However the majority of the damage was located at his head, where his horns and skull had been melted in multiple sections giving him a more disfigured visage. He slammed the pommel of his golden axe into the ground. “You have committed grievous crimes in my realm. What will your last words be?” Garle asked as he turned to the small pale one and bleeding bigger one - his voice reverberated throughout the stone and his anger was both heard and felt in the tremors all around.

"Vengeance knows no realms or authority. She slew my entire people and thus she owes her life a thousand times over. I…" The giantess nodded after they shared a look, "We would do it all over but I shall also say this. My condolences to your father. I know such pain." Mair dipped her head, both hands clutching the giant's remaining one.

Zima began to say something but the giantess cut her off, her voice rich and sweet. "Mair speaks true but know this, great chieftain, wherever the demon goes, only sorrow follows."

Zima glowered at them. “Now wa-” She began.

But Garle glanced back at the revenant and she was cut off. “They now claim you committed genocide. Do you deny this?” He questioned, before Vale suddenly fell to the ground and began rapidly convulsing. The contorting of her body brought his attention to her, then she let out a scream as she summoned her black flames.

Zima likewise looked to Vale and took a step towards her. This allowed the giantess to sweep her leg out and trip Zima who fell, her scythe once again clattering across the stone. In moments, Mair had constructed a flaming orb around the two but Zima went to Vale all the same.

"Vale, relax. You'll be alright. Calm. Calm!" She grabbed her by the shoulders. Vale desperately grasped Zima, and held onto her. The Revenant looked uncomfortable for a split second but quickly pushed that aside.

“They’re in my head; like the parasite. I can barely keep them out.” She said, as she winced from the throbbing pressure she felt in her mind.

“You must fight Vale. You must while I…” She looked up to Garle. “Where are they? They must be dealt with if Vale is to overcome them.”

The gargoyle scowled, turning his gaze back to the horde of earth elementals as he spoke. “I should have suspected such trickery from them. I shall break their bones then.” His words were accompanied by his soldiers assembling into several heaps of stone that emitted a slow grinding noise as each shifted and churned. Suddenly emerging from the multiple mouds, the Sacred Septet flew from their prisons and alighted a short distance away from Zima and the others. The hands of the Heralds of Honor were ablaze with celestial light, and the familiar visage of Courage pointed at Garle before she dashed at him. Wanderer stepped through the stone, passing the wall of earth elementals with ease before disappearing among their number. Kindness, Fear II, and Curiosity surged towards the two revenants.

Zima stood with blinding speed and from her hands came claws of blackflame. “So you’ve finally come!” she said, “But you will find no victory here. That I assure you.” Zima then sprang forth, still close to Vale as she assaulted the three. Shadows and light bled all around as black and white fire clashed with each other, Kindness and Curiosity retaliating with shimmering barriers from the latter’s Shield of Faith and the bright burning Blade of Mourning against Zima’s attack as the weapon flew from the horde of earth elementals into the grasp of Kindness. However the last in their trio merely watched them in battle, but did not fight alongside them as the only one amongst them without radiant flames exuding from her hands.

“Neither will you.” Kindness rebuked, as she tapped her dagger against Curiosity’s shield, and both champions shouted. “Connect!” The Shield of Faith and the Blade of Mourning melded into a large upside down vaguely cone-shaped object, with a wheel of blue blades attached to the ring around the flat top upon which Kindness and Curiosity stood. The blades began spinning in a blur of motion, and the strange creation that the two champions rode upon came racing towards Zima as the duo shot flames from its non rotating top.

The revenant danced out of the way of the top and instead focused upon the third member of their party. “I see they made a copy of you, Fear. Do they still call you that?” She said, using the waves of darkness as a barrier around them. It enveloped Vale as well, in some sort of twisted display of fate. ‘Tell me, do you have her memories? Could you fight me? Or would you join me, like she did?”

Fear II shook her head. “I have always fought against you. No, I’ve also always fought for you. I said I would be there with you, and I meant it, but I won't let this sorrow continue to spread.” She stared with defiance at the revenant, refusing to repeat the choices she made in the past.

“Then you, along with all the others, will die.” Zima stated. “I only need one of you anyway.” She then thrust herself at Fear II, swinging her hands with blinding speed at the false Fear. There was a clamorous sundering as darkness peeled back behind the two to reveal Kindness and Curiosity crashing through the barrier. The disruption didn’t distract Fear II as she swiftly moved to defend herself against Zima’s assault, though she lacked the light to protect herself against the entropic powers.

Instead of assisting their sister, the two champions upon their spinning relic slashed into the umbral shield surrounding Vale, ripping it apart with the numerous blades and their white fire. Vale fought back, pushing them away with tenebrous tendrils and her physical strength, but she found herself suddenly surrounded in golden chains as an arrow of light struck from above, shot from Wanderer II who leapt above the conflict.

Fear II, Kindness, and Curiosity all spoke at once. “We’re all in this together, and we will not leave one of us behind!” Their resonating voices echoed before the large spinning blade dispersed in a flash of blinding light and Kindness and Curiosity reappeared as they held onto the restrained Vale, their gaze set upon Zima.

Zima’s eyes grew with malice as she stopped to view them. “That’s rich… Coming from the ones who abandoned precious Vale. She doesn’t want you anymore. She doesn’t even know you.” She reached inside her cloak and smirked at them as she found what she was looking for. “I made sure of it.” The Revenant then vanished.

And a cold laugh echoed all around them.

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Honor & Revenge

Part II

“You should… Go on.” Shysie grunted between the pain. “I’m no good now. Too… Weak.” They had managed to cauterize her wound but she had lost a lot of blood and her voice, despite the pain, was growing weaker.

Mair stood, hands upon either side of her friend’s face as she stood to the side of her. “I am not going to leave you here. That’s not what we do, you know that.” Shyshie nodded, gritting her teeth as a wave of pain washed over her. With her good arm, she grabbed Mair’s shoulder.

“I knew.. You would say that.” She took a breath. “But unless we figure out something.. The minute we step outside these flames… We’re done for. I’m tall but that King is taller.” She chuckled, sighing and looked away.

“What is it?” Mair said, the hurt in her voice apparent, as the woman looked back.

“It’s nothing that can’t be talked about later.” She stated. “Now do you have a plan?”

Mair shook her head and looked to the wall of flame. “I feel strong. Stronger than I have in a long time but right now… I feel a bit powerless. They can wait us out for as long as it takes but… I’m surprised they haven’t tried… That monster…” She recalled what she had asked earlier. “She said something about others. Maybe they are out there? Maybe not.”

“There’s really… Only one way to find out.” Shysie commented. “And I’m with you. Till the end.”

Then a voice reached them from beyond the flames, unfamiliar and yet it felt as if they had both heard it before, a long time ago. “The Childan is hurt, would you let me help?”

"Who was…" Mair began but her friend put her large hand over her face to quiet her. A moment of protest later and the giantess spoke.

"Sounds like the one that took my hand. She sounds… Less fanatical but still. Use caution Mair."

The pale warriorress nodded and scooted closer to the wall of fire. "Who are you? Friend or foe?"

“I am Wanderer, a friend. You would have known my sisters; Courage, Kindness, and Fear when you awoke in the North. We’re the Sacred Septet.” Wanderer replied in a nervous rush, as the ground rumbled along with her words.

Mair looked back at Shysie and the woman nodded. "I… Like smaller flames of the Spirit Mother. Of course. Still, it could be a trick. Ask a trick question. Something only the sane would know."

Mair furrowed her eyebrows. "I don't…" She grumbled and crossed her arms. She didn't really know what to ask. She groaned and rubbed the bridge of her nose before waving her hand over the flame. A narrow slit opened up, just wide enough for one to peek out. She saw the red hair of a different woman and behind her the battle raging on. It was good enough for her.

The wall separated and she pulled this Wanderer in by the straps of her dress, the flaming wall going back up behind them. "You try anything and you'll regret it.” Mair threatened as she let her go.

Wanderer nodded as she reached a hand into her chest, the appendage passing through the skin as though it were an illusion before pulling out a large red feather in her grasp which glowed with a white aura. She pressed her other hand on Shysie’s shoulders, and more ivory flames spread from her palm and along the giantess, healing the blackened burns and wounds in its wake. The feather she held pulsed with power, and white fire burned brighter, its dancing form traveling along the length of Shysie’s arm and creating flesh and bone to replace what was lost. Wanderer spoke softly as she worked. “You should find shelter. This cavern is dangerous.”

"By the spirits." Shysie gasped. Both of the flamekeepers' mouths were agape at the new flesh the giantess flexed. "Thank you." She said, voice full of emotion. "To think a daughter spirit would bless me with a new arm… How How I could weep with joy forever." She tried to sit further up but she was still weak and Mair pushed her back down.

"You must rest Shysie." She said before turning to the Wanderer. "We know how dangerous this place is, we ventured here ourselves on the trail of the murderer. I will not leave until my vengeance is had and it would be wise of you and any others, not to get in my way." She said softly, not intending for the threat to sound so… Final. But she was so close. So close.

She turned back to Shysie. "With any luck we can move the fighting elsewhere. You still need to recover and even trying to fight could be more detrimental to our cause."

Shysie frowned. "As much as I want to disagree with you, it would probably be best if I sit out for a time but… If things go bad… I won't hesitate to join you. Especially if…" her voice carried off.

Mair went and put a touch upon her shoulder. "He won't, he's too cowardly. And like I said, once we’re done here… We shall go back for her. I promise."

Shysie touched Mair's hand with her own and shut her eyes for a moment. Mair blushed at the intensity of the touch but she did not shy away. Shysie then opened her eyes and nodded. "We owe it to her. If this was part of her plan… Well… Keep your promise little raven."

"I will." She turned back to the Wanderer. "If there's anything you need to tell us, now is the time. Already I grow restless, knowing she is right there."

“Could you distract her?” Wanderer asked.

"Distract her?" She said, crossing her arms. "I could but why?"

“Rituals take time to perform, and we cannot let her interrupt us. Give us a little bit, and we can all get through this, ya. We’ll cast a spell that will save us.” Wanderer replied, changing from her more reserved demeanor and now grinning at Mair.

Mair narrowed her eyes but nodded. "A distraction. Sure." She knew in her heart any distraction she could provide would just be seen as that, instead of her earnest attempt to slay the demon. That, she would keep to herself. "Let’s get to it." She turned to Shysie who nodded at her and she nodded back.

She took a deep breath. "Get ready." She said, and then the wall came down.

“You need to calm down!” Courage shouted as she and her Reflection dodged another explosion, and barely avoided being cut in half by the gargoyle slashing wildly at them with his deadly axe. They were harmlessly passing through the brunt of his attacks; those magical bursts and scattering fragments of metal and stone, simply sifting through the majority of it all with their spell, but the blinding flashes still disoriented them, and concealed each of Garle’s incoming strikes. Courage and Courage II felt the fatigue of continually performing evasive maneuvers, and the pain from their prior wounds which had yet to completely heal, but neither of them had the opportunity to mend themselves before they would have to dedicate themselves to hastily eluding death by rampaging royalty.

It was not a battle wherein mighty blows were exchanged between opponents - it was a hunt, and they were the prey, as Garle pursued them throughout the immense cavern. Courage and her Reflection accepted their role of distracting the gargoyle with a little indignance, but if it meant that the rest of her sisters were in a slightly more safe situation, and that they could rescue Fear, then she would be content.

“There is nowhere you can flee or hide from me. Why prolong the inevitable?” Garle asked as he threw his golden axe at her, while copies of the weapon manifested all around him, granting the earthen king both protection and a means of attacking her Reflection that he currently closed in on.

“We’re not finished yet!” Courage II replied, frantically dodging the multiple blades that swung and thrust at her, as she attempted to retreat farther and farther back, yet the distance between her and her foe became shorter. “How about some of your own tactics, ya!” She shouted as she unleashed a blast of pearlescent flames at Garle, aiming for his obsidian eyes. Though it would inflict no harm, it provided her a very brief respite as it temporarily blinded him.

He became still, hovering in the air above his horde of earth elementals as Courage and her Reflection awaited his next assault. “How vexing…” He muttered to himself. “I am surrounded by deceivers and assassins, the truly sinful. I should not be surprised to discover that the servants of the Red Devil are as disgraceful as she. This is a mockery of me and my father… sending little devils such as you to creep into my realm.”

“You’re the one that attacked us! We’re just trying to save our sister! It’s what we’ve been saying the entire time we’ve been down here!” Courage and Courage II called out from where they danced and leapt from earth elemental to earth elemental as each endeavored to capture them.

“Your Maker betrayed my father, and murdered him! She has stolen his shard, and abandoned the sacred earth, just to satiate her endless hunger! I will not rest until she has answered for her sins!” His roar rumbled the entire cavern, a violent earthquake caused by the ferocity in his voice. He flew towards them slowly, ominously approaching at a speed that did not force them into immediately fleeing from him. “You would choose not to heed her crimes, nor accuse her of treachery and tyranny because she has corrupted you… Your minds have been maliciously manipulated into obeying her orders… She has deprived you of choice!”

“We aren’t here on behalf of our Mother, you idiot! We just want our sister back!” Courage combined with her Reflection as she cried out, and surrounded herself in blue flames with green arcing bolts of electricity spreading outwards. She leapt at the gargoyle with a burst of speed, her blurred form appearing directly in front of him before she unleashed hundreds of consecutive punches upon his face. She twisted, rolling in the air before she brought her leg down on his head, and she let out a growl as she prepared her next attack, only to be thrown aside by an array of golden axes that had swiftly hewn into her.

The gargoyle shook his head as he watched her fall back to the floor of the cavern, where she caught herself despite her grievous injuries and fought against his soldiers as they tried to subdue her. “If the Red Devil does not come, then your sacrifice will have been for naught.” He proclaimed somberly, as he descended to bring an end to this foolishness.

“So many lies… All will have to die then…”

The element of surprise was all hers and Zima wasted none of it. With her invisibility she dashed ahead, to where they had Vale captured and slammed her palm into the floor at Herald’s feet. A wave of black flame erupted forth all around them, avoiding only Vale and herself. She broke the chains confining her companion and whispered in her ear, “You must fight or they will win and they will take you away. We would never see each other again, Vale. If they are in your head, then you are in theirs. Now fight!” She was then gone, only to arrive next to Kindness, who she proceeded to strike with her flaming claws. Kindness was enveloped in a flash of light, and where there was one, there now stood two of her. Neither could perceive Zima, but both of them poured forth pale flames from their palms in two wide arcs as their other sister split as well and began creating more cascading walls of fire.

Vale stood unsteady with her mind besieged by her numerous sisters, but summoned floods of shadow that drowned the light nearby her. She staggered forward and pointed at her Reflection of her past self, rage burning in her eyes as she challenged the creature claiming to be her. “I’ll burn you to ashes!” She screamed, and fought back by surging towards her vulnerable doppelganger.

More white fire fell from above as the second Wanderer alighted between Vale and Fear II, and struck at Vale. She wielded her Bow of Light like a spear, now fused with her staff and her Reflection’s second bow, causing the weapon to be coated in shards of glittering ice that she stabbed into her foe. Vale recoiled from the burning touch of the bright ice, before shrieking. “Stay back! I will never be weak again!” Shadows gathered into her hands as she spoke, and solidified into a black and jagged spear which she swiftly thrusted at her two enemies. “I will never be afraid again!” She continued, retaining her shaking stance and retaliating against the two whenever they came near. “I won’t be alone again! Zima wouldn’t ever abandon me!” She said, as she stared in the direction where she thought her companion was fighting Kindness and her doppelganger.

Zima weaved through the fire, having sudden experience with it, as she was besieged on all sides. She propelled herself ever forward, giving away her position as her own flames washed over theirs. Where the two fires met, they danced in a terrible unison. She landed on the stone, away from her fight, having escaped with little effort. She picked up her long discarded weapon and gripped it tight. Now was the time to end this.

Her opponents watched as the scythe was lifted, and seemed to stare at where she stood. Curiosity and her copy began moving towards where Vale defended herself from Wanderer II and the copy of Fear, seeking to switch positions with Wanderer II. At the same time, Kindness pointed with the accursed ice dagger she held, and called out to Zima. “Let us end this.”

“Of course!” Zima shouted back. She tucked back inside her cloak the invisibility gem and once again turned visible. There was no more hiding now. She began to spin the scythe within her hand, channeling a large amount of power within it. The flames around it grew and grew. “Now you shall witness true sorrow!” Zima floated in the air as the unlight of her scythe seemed to swallow all light.

Kindness and her Reflection leapt towards Wanderer II, and tapped the Blade of Mourning against their sister’s combined bow as they all chanted. “Connect!” While their weapons melded, the three Heralds of Honor also fused, and became one champion wielding a crystalline sword shining with celestial light. The three that had become one surged forward with their blade, and slashed at Zima. “We will win against you!” A river of light flowed from the sword they held high, its radiance swiftly rushing towards the revenant.

The wall of unlight greedily lapped up their sword luminance but it was too much, far too quickly. There was a deafening scream as the two lights mixed and then exploded, sending both opponents to the floor. Seconds later, the flaming cocoon fell and thus stepped forth Wanderer and Mair. The pale warrior spotted the downed Zima and wasted little time to go after her. Wanderer dashed towards the fusion of her sisters, and gestured back to where Garle and Courage fought after she reached them. They could see their most brash sister bounding towards them with the vehement gargoyle close behind her.

There was a flash of light as Courage and Courage II ended their fusion while in the process of running from the enraged Garle. Courage joined Wanderer and the amalgamation of her other sisters, while Courage II sprinted towards Skydancer. Magical explosions continued to wrack the immense cavern as the artillery among the horde of earth elementals repeatedly fired upon the Sacred Septet, blasting apart more of the stone and metal that the cairn of the dead god was composed of. In the ruins of the section where Courage, Wanderer, and their fused sisters had been before being bombarded, only a single figure remained.

Garle glared at the five that had become one, flying forward as he hurled his golden axe at them. They chanted together once more, “Connect!” as more of the artifacts they had forged amongst them swiftly melded with the shining sword they wielded. The thrown axe clashed with their blade, eliciting a terrible clamor as magical metal scraped against cosmic radiance, unleashing a sonorous pulse and electric screech simultaneously. The immediate impact pushed the fused sisters back, but they deflected the axe and dodged to the side when Garle came crashing down where they had stood.

His weapon returned to his hand, as copies of it manifested in a hovering circle around him. He slashed at them, but they countered and parried his blows aside, ensuing more thunderous pulsations and screeches that tore apart the cavern as they battled. “This desecration can never be forgiven. I demand the death of you all.” Garle impassively intoned as he brutally lashed out, blinking out of existence in bursts of blue light before reappearing from behind them and attacking.

He could not match their agility, and their seeming ability to predict where he would strike from even when he stepped through portals, or obscured his presence. He had realized that their cowardly Maker would never come to their aid, as she lacked loyalty and conviction, which meant that these irksome pests served no purpose, and he must exterminate them.

They could not match his strength, and endless endurance as he never relented in his assault, never hesitated to strike or pause to regain his stamina, just an onslaught of furious blows without any concern of receiving damage in return. They had realized that they still lacked the power to overcome him, but they were getting closer and closer, except they seemed to be coming closer to their limitation as well. Steam rose from their hands, as the blade they wielded burned their palms, and they could feel their innards begin boiling with the increasing heat of empowered inner flames. None of them knew how much longer they had until they immolated themselves, but they could not let themselves be defeated.

“You are those that defile the land. If you wish to atone, then perish.” Garle continued, ignoring the searing pain that spread across his scalp as the Peculiar Crown defied him once again. He remained certain that his reserved might would be more than enough to overwhelm all of them, as he gained greater speed and power the more he endured as the battle persisted.

“We seek to protect the land! To protect life! You’re the one ravaging it!” They rebuked, as their defense faltered and they sustained more wounds that required too much time to mend in the middle of a fight.

“I am the son of Voligan, and I will unite the mortal tribes in order to protect the earth from your insidious kind. Homura is not divine; she is a demon, and you are her fiendish servants. I must not let you taint others.” The gargoyle muttered, quietly reciting his statement as he slashed at them again and again, until he battered their bright blade out of their grasp and raised his axe high to finally strike them down.

“We’re allies of Voligan!” They cried out, as his weapon chopped through their arm and tore into their shoulder. The combined sisters let out a scream of agony, as Garle pulled the head of his axe free and roared.

“Lies! Enough lies!” He shouted as he brought his axe down again.

Fear II and Curiosity could not step near Vale, as their lost sister summoned an endless tide of burning shadows, and stabbed at them with her stygian spear. However, their pallid sibling could not pierce their protection either, as white fire and shimmering ice guarded the two of them from her assault. They had reached an impasse, until Vale unleashed another wave of darkness that spread in all directions, shielding her from sight briefly. When the darkness was dispersed, Curiosity and Fear II saw that their sister had sheathed herself in umbral armor and began pushing through their defenses with renewed vehemence.

As Fear II persevered in her attempts at prying apart the shadows that warded her mind from fully connecting with her other self, Curiosity reached out with words spoken aloud. “Fear, we’re not here to hurt you! We want to help you and Zima!” The inquisitive champion could barely hear her own voice over the cacophony of cackling flames, but it seemed that Vale had been able to discern what she had said. Curiosity felt dread at the sight of her sister becoming even more enraged, as Vale raised one hand marred by slits that opened to reveal toothy maws, and then pulled forth more tenebrous tendrils that covered the limb entirely.

The shadows solidified into a black gauntlet with serrated edges and beastial mouths engraved upon it. With her spear and armored fist, Vale rapidly ripped through both ice and fire, striding towards the retreating Curiosity and Fear II. “You were never my sisters! You left me! Now you will suffer!” They crouched to avoid her, but she simply adjusted her aim to still eviscerate both, until a radiant blur too fast for any of them to acutely perceive slammed into her.

Skydancer came to a halt, a little ahead of where Curiosity and Fear II stood up before leaping aboard the flying boat. Courage II chuckled at the sight of her concerned sisters, reassuring them as she reversed the direction Skydancer flew. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. This isn't a relief for you two, ya. Come on, let’s go!”

The prow of the soaring vessel turned to face where the rest of their sisters fought back Garle in an intense battle. They could sense through their connection that the fight was becoming too much for their siblings. They could sense the weakening grip of their sisters on the hilt of the luminous sword and the stress upon their bodies from harnessing such a vast amount of sacred power.

The earth elementals had begun firing explosives at them with Vale no longer in the way for collateral damage. Though the magic and shrapnel did little harm to them, the explosions were enough to briefly blind them. As their vision returned after they had evaded another barrage, all of them suddenly cried out as each of them experienced excruciating pain that spread throughout their arm and shoulder. They watched as Garle removed his axe from the now gaping wound inflicted upon their sisters, and surged into action despite the agony they felt.

Skydancer crashed into Garle as the three champions hastily disembarked, the bejeweled boat thrusting into the gargoyle’s chest once more, and bringing him along with it as it soared towards the distant edges of the cavern. “Chailiss is going to be so angry because we broke his gift.” Curiosity morbidly commented as she collected the severed arm of their fused sisters, while Courage II and Fear II staggered towards where they lay bleeding out.

“We must attend to more pressing matters…” They heard Kindness remark, as the Sacred Septet came together to perform one last ritual. “We cannot channel enough energy to attain a victory without suffering self combustion.” Kindness II added without any inflection to indicate her apprehension. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis had completely covered their bodies, as Curiosity and Courage healed their sister, and Fear II watched as Garle sundered Skydancer from afar.

“Well if we don’t make it… it’s been a joy, ya.” Courage said as she and Curiosity were finished, and both of them along with their fusion turned to look at Fear II. They all clasped hands, then began to merge into one as the ritual started.

They all merged, and their single shape ignited in a great column of crimson flames that continued to grow in size and blinding intensity. The explosives that the earth elemental artillery fired merely melted in the air before any reached the inferno itself, but the stone and soldiers that stood close to the fire seemed unaffected by its presence. From the flames came screams that were as reverberating as the rumbling in the cavern and the external roar of the colossal bonfire, yet there was no sight of the Sacred Septet. Their loud-piercing cry was a sound no other creature could create, continually increasing in pitch and potency in an expression of enigmatic suffering beyond comprehension. Then in an ephemeral moment, their voices synchronized and shouted. “Ultimate Fusion: Apotheosis!”

Immediately the flames began to reduce in size, becoming smaller and smaller until the immense bonfire had become a little blazing sphere within which a colorful crystal resided. Cracks appeared on the crystal, and blood seeped forth in swirling streams that hung in the air. Swiftly, the blood coalesced around the crystal into a familiar shape, and simultaneously solidified and acquired coloration. The fusion of all nine champions wore the attire of their goddess, and possessed a prismatic aura that manifested along the contour of her form.

They held out their hand, and summoned a silver spear. The shaft of the ornate weapon was adorned with glittering gemstones and gently glowing glyphs, and its pointed head was a singular scarlet. Instead of facing the incoming Garle, they turned their attention to the battle between Zima and Mair.

Zima and Mair battled in the heavens of that earthy tomb. One of fire, one of darkness- Each vying for total control. For victory. One for vengeance. One for sorrow. There was no better opponent, save perhaps, for the Revenger himself. But Mish-Cheechel was not there and his unbeknownst disciple would have to do. Zima knew her to be the will of a dead people, the vengeance for their souls. As they spun and washed the bejeweled stalactites with waves of fire, Zima recalled that fateful day.

She could feel nothing. But that was a lie. She could feel it all. All the terrible things. All the pain. All the sadness, suffering, sorrow. In that inexplicable moment that she had gotten her revenge, she had held her face in her hands and had wept a single tear. It was the loss of her innocence. That part of her she hated. She knew now if she was to protect the one she made, her companion, the girl she… Felt for… In her selfishness, she had to win.

Mair was fixated on her death but she would not give it to her. She would not let any of them achieve what they had come to that tomb to do. All except herself. For she was Zima and she was the Revenant and she would make them all suffer as she had suffered.

This she knew.

Mair’s body burst alight with stronger flames as she hurled another large fireball at Zima. Her cloak fluttered in the wind as she caught it with her darkness and sent it back. It washed over Mair like water over a smooth rock. No resistance. The flame was her element. Zima needed a new advantage. She glimpsed below at Vale… Who was… Knocked out? Where was Garle? Where was… The screams started and Zima looked to the inferno. The tides of the battle were changing and not in their favor. She had to act quickly.

Then it struck her, quite literally, as a snaking tendril of fire caught her cloak. The flames bit at her before she flung her cloak away and with it, the gem. She cursed under her breath and glowered at the ever focused Mair. No matter… It was time to unveil her greatest trick. Something that no one had seen, save for Vale. Perhaps the Heralds knew of it but… Now or never.

As the Homuran champions screamed and shouted, Zima stopped fleeing from Mair and charged her with scythe in hand. Mair’s fists alighted with white flame and as the two met, Zima exploded into smoke. Mair swung madly but it was far too late. She entered the pale warrior, who’s inner being burned so bright it hurt her. But Zima was determined, even as Mair struggled, beginning to scream as Zima’s tendrils wrapped around her mind.

Her will was strong, so strong… Was it enough? It was too strong. She began to slip, to burn away. No! No! No! This would not do. She began to laugh at the thought of what she had to do. Whilst still inside Mair, Zima called forth all the power of order. She knew what Mair had done, what those Heralds had done as well. Now, now it was their turn.

A dark sigil, a mockery of the glyphs the Homuran champions used, materialized all around Mair and within seconds they absorbed all of the light. Mair’s body went rigid, arms outstretched on either side of her as Zima felt her fire being contained. It was working.

Before long Mair was enslaved to her will and she opened her crimson eyes in the body of a pale goddess. She flexed her hands and felt the strength within. She turned her attention to the Champions of Homura, only then realizing that they wielded a weapon at her.

Only then, for the third time and for the strongest time yet, did that feeling of dread wash over her. It was not the spear that frightened her so, but past that, on the very fringes of her vision.

Two orbs of crimson.

Glowing with hate.

“Release her.” The combined champions called in a voice that did not quite belong to any of them, yet felt familiar nonetheless. Rather than wait for Garle to come to them, they leapt to where Zima stood and stared at the revenant that had possessed Mair, repeating their command.

"I…" She began, blinking. The eyes had vanished. The feeling gone. Had she just imagined it? Her attention went back to the champions and she rolled her eyes as she looked them over. "I won't. You'll have to kill her to kill me." She then attacked them, wielding the power of Mair. Black flames shot forth!

“I did not wish for this… to have to hurt you.” The visage of those that had confronted her so long ago in the Fields of Sorrow said, as they deflected the ebon flames with a swing of their spear that shimmered and rippled while singing through the air. “But I will do what I must.”

The combined champions jumped backwards, ascending higher and higher, soaring to the top of the cavern at an incredible speed. Even from such a great distance, it was easy to discern the smallest details of their shape, as they thrust their silver spear outwards. The sacred weapon expanded, more and more until a sudden mountain of red metal came crashing down near the center of the cavern and crushed all beneath it.

Zima used a shield of flame and her own power to brace for the impact. In the final seconds before it came down, she looked for Vale but did not see her and then all went dark as she strained to avoid such a crushing fate.

The stone beneath her feet was much less resilient than her strength and fire, all of it crumbling and crunching as the weight of the spear pushed down on her from above. There was no means to discern the depths she plummeted as the pressure did not abate, until it finally came to a halt and receded. There was a mixture of grinding and whistling as the spear then excavated itself, leaving an enormous crater where it had struck. One could see with ease that the center of the cavern had doubled its height, by virtue of the huge hole that replaced what was once the floor.

Slowly, yet still tumultuous in its languid motion, the cairn of the dead god was toppled - its gigantic mass sliding into the hole like heaps of dirt used to fill a dug grave. Somewhere unseen, Garle let loose an echoing bellow.

She could hardly believe the strength of the Heralds and all it did was anger her and that anger manifested in a burning aura of shadowy flames. Once the spear was truly well gone Zima made a frantic dash to fly out of the hole. Vaporizing rock and debris as she made her ascent in the landslide. Even the body of the dead god was not spared. But unlike normal stone the earth God's corpse was made of hardy stuff and her flames did little but scorch. It was the closest gap she ever had to eek through and it did not leave her host unscathed. Mair’s arms and shoulders were scratched deep, and her torso was gashed across her belly button. Something smashed into the right side of her head, blinding her eye. Zima felt blood pour from that wound and over her remaining good eye. Then, simultaneously, something smashed into her right side, breaking her arm and crushing her chest. That last blow almost doomed them both but even with a broken body, Zima could endure. Just as she had within Fear.

The angered Revenant made it through the falling debris at last and to freedom as a plume of smoke and dust erupted right after her as the corpse settled. Zima flew down upon the ledge and there she left the body of Mair who instantly yelled out in pain. Or at least she thought she wanted to yell, it more or less came out as a garbled whimper. Zima looked down upon her. Half of the champion's face was caved in, blood gushed from her mouth and her right arm was bent at an odd angle. Numerous cuts bled but Mair, ever the Revenger, looked up at Zima with a fiery eye. Zima took a step back… Something inside of her felt…. No! She did not feel. She… She shook her head before a wash of flame sent her to her knees.

The giantess had come, tears streaming down her angered face.

"It was… Them!" Zima shouted, escaping the fire into the air. The giantess paid her no mind and tended to her friend.

Zima looked back to the Heralds.

Far away, they seemed to have forgotten her, turning their attention to the broken Vale that they had laid upon a horizontal slab of stone. The black armor Vale wore was fractured and sections of it were gone, but it had protected her from the brunt of the attacks she sustained. Her accursed sisters sundered and tore the armor apart with ease, before pressing their hand upon her head. Even from afar, the combined champions exuded visual clarity, the minutiae of their movements and details of their shape were easily discerned; and Zima saw it all as if she stood beside them. She saw their hand sink into the pale flesh of Vale as if she were a vessel of water, and their appendage was simply sifting through liquid in search of something within.

Zima's heart panged. Nervousness welled and she spring forth towards them. "No! No!" She shouted, "Leave her alone! You can't!"

They glanced at her as she rapidly approached, and had the audacity to softly smile as they spoke. “We will be free from this despairing darkness soon.” Their hand was withdrawn from Vale’s body, and they stood up. Their gaze passed from Zima, to the bellowing behemoth behind her that had also begun marching towards them. In a blur of motion, they were gone and already across the distance between them and Garle as the thunderous sounds of battle swiftly reached the revenant. They had abandoned their sister again, and were preoccupied with fighting the enraged gargoyle now.

Zima went over to Vale, ignoring the battle. She bent down, tentative to touch her. "Vale? What did they do to you?" The infection they had instilled slowly revealed itself, buried beneath layers of black flames within Vale’s body, but not hidden from Zima. The warm flickering of flames lost long ago - returned and shielded by celestial light. Vale had yet to awaken, but her mind was clearly burning as the bright barrier and dark fires clashed with each other.

Anger overcame her, yet she did not know what to do. Zima cursed under her breath as rumblings and the earth shook. "This…" She breathed, "Is all thei-" a sharp voice cut in

"Your fault."

Zima looked behind her, to the dull golden shape of the enemy they had once most surely killed. But his glowering crimson eyes, not unlike her own, peered her down with a malice she had never felt before. The same eyes she saw so far away. The same feelings of dread palpated from him. Choked the very air with hatred tinged pain.

It was Viho, the champion of her father and Fear's friend… He had become a Revenant.

Before she could move he had her pinned with a vice-like grip in his talons of black. She attempted to turn into smoke but it didn't work. Her powers were betrayed by the after images of Viho.

"Long did I think how best to take this revenge." He said in a voice as cold as the abyss. "I pondered while I flew. As I always had and I came to the only logical conclusion." He squeezed, Zima felt the confines of her form crack, if that was even possible. She lit herself on fire with her black flame but that fire didn't even touch his talons. It was as if they were compelled away. "It was pointless taking revenge on you in this form. No…" he paused, head moving closer. "I'd have to change you back for it to truly work and I will Zima. For there can only be one of us."

Words caught in her throat but she shook her head nonetheless. She looked to Vale but her companion was still gone.

"Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt her. Not yet. Not until they've purged the corruption away from her. Not until she was who I knew. That way… All your effort is wasted. All those years gone in an instant. All that work… Gone. Only then will I kill her and the rest of them. When you can feel what it's like to die all over again."

"Y-You can't!" Her voice exploded only to be quickly crushed by his weight.

"Can't I?"

Crimson crashed against gold, as copies of Garle’s mighty axe cooperated together to withstand the strength of the silver spear his enemy wielded. He deflected the sudden strike from the combined champions with his weapon, but barely blocked the second stab as the copies of the golden axe formed an improvised shield in front of him. Though the barrier was not penetrated, it was vehemently pushed back and slammed into him with enough force to launch him high, nearly halfway to the cavern ceiling. Fury had obscured his mind, as his body became berserk, trembling with a frenzied anticipation.

His foe flew towards him, thrusting their spear once more with incredible swiftness. The shield composed of copies manifested itself before him again, but the spear shifted as it soared towards its target. It twisted and turned in the air until it had encircled the gargoyle, then lashed out like a deadly serpent. The crimson blade cut through the stone that was his skin, and severed the hand that carried the golden axe, as the surprised Garle watched it all unfold. He had little time to react to the injury before his conjured protection had vanished, and he was unguarded in front of the foul servants of the Red Devil. He activated his magical gemstones, ignoring how little mana was remaining in his possession, and passed through a portal leading to the ground where his hand and weapon had fallen.

He hastily pried the golden axe from the tight grasp of his dismembered appendage, and attuned to the artifact before seeking where his enemy was. “Face me!” He shouted at where he saw the fused champions tending to the two assassins that had encroached in his domain. “Do not mock me, servants of the Red Devil! Little dishonorable demons!” He continued to shout, and he called upon the earth to replenish his supply of magical ammunition and to hinder these trespassers, as he stomped towards his enemy. He halted himself before reaching them, for the earth did not heed his summons and remained silently spectating the battle instead of aiding him. He struggled as even the stone and metal within his body became burdened by an unseen weight and stillness.

The many that were one then stood as they finished healing the wounded assassin, and gazed back at him. “You have committed many sins, child of stone. Do you wish to continue accumulating sins and sorrow by insulting the Divine? You are acting an aggressive fool, blinded by anger and ignorance, but I believe you may potentially atone and make the world a better place. I will repeat myself one last time, I do not wish to fight you. Let us end this needless violence and work together.”

“Never!” His answer was accompanied by him hurling his axe directly at them, but the weapon was deflected with a terrible screech of metal grinding against metal before the axe returned to the sole remaining hand of its infuriated wielder. “You are slaves of the traiterous fiend, and I will avenge my father by slaying all of you!” He tore a large boulder from the ground and threw it at them, then ascended into the air before he also threw his axe at them from above, attempting to overwhelm their defense.

“You have made an unfortunate mistake.” The boulder broke into pieces and transformed into colorful motes of flame, and the axe was parried aside again, as his unobstructed enemy stared at him with anger. “I am Homura II, and it is you who are enslaved by grief and hatred. As a king, you are a disgrace.” The silver spear surged towards him yet she barely shifted, as the rest of the world around him slowed, moving at such a languid pace that he found himself with a painful plentiful amount of time to realize he was witness to his own defeat.

He defended himself, but was tossed back by the force of the blow. He crashed against the ceiling of the cavern, and then began to fall as his wings were left limp and refused to carry him with his body having already surrendered. He was not provided with mercy, as the Reflection of the Red Devil soared towards him, and struck him again. He smashed into the far wall, embedded in the crater his bulk had created, until his enemy pulled him forth from his feeble prison, and threw him across the cavern once more. His strength left him as he heard the voices of the earth weeping as they begged the red demigoddess to have pity and let him live. His inner power swelled within him, and he prepared to meet his demise despite the plea of his home, as his soul demanded he die upholding his honor.

“You have not been forsaken, Garle. Yet you must begin a new journey. Do not be afraid.” The simulacrum of Homura said, as she stood upon his cracked chest with her silver spear poised to strike. The gargoyle could not truly articulate what persuaded him into defying the urge to reach for the lingering vestiges of strength he still had, as he lay still while his limbs protested. The blade penetrated his chest, sinking deep into his core, and then spreading in all directions to cut and pierce every part of his body. Metallic fluids and gemstones seeped from gaping lacerations that formed now and during prior fights, slowly flooding his form.

His enemy leapt from his chest, and quietly observed as he sank into a pool of earthen ichor, buried by his blood. She glanced back at the two mortals that remained in the cavern, and swiftly returned to their side.

“We must leave here soon.”

Viho peered down at Zima, his gaze beneath that golden mask unrelenting. “Let us start by uncovering your very nature. Once a favored daughter of the Cold god, innocent and naive.” The owl spat, releasing some of the pressure on her. Just enough to speak.

“It won’t work. Whatever you're going to do. This is a curse! You can’t break it.” She growled.

“A curse can be lifted. This one is no different. I gleaned many things from our Lord upon my awakening.” Zima’s eyes went wide. “Did I forget to mention…” Viho whispered. “That it was our Lord Father who brought me back… Who donned me… Who turned me into death?”

Zima shook her head. “You lie! He would do no such thing!” The talons squeezed, cutting her voice off with a gasp.

“You should see the destruction… Wrought by feverish hands. The North dies and Chailiss has gone mad. The world ends, Zima. Everything… is wrong.” He chuckled, his black feathers ruffling.

“This is all your fault. All of this. Had these heralds not been occupied with you and Fear, they could have helped. I would still be alive. He would still be sane. Like a pebble starting a rockslide, you Zima, have caused all of this.” The bitterness in his voice was not hidden. But Viho was a fool, it wasn’t her fault. None of it was! They should have just left her alone! Anything that happened to the North now was beyond her grasp. She wasn’t even there and she didn’t believe Chailiss had gone insane. Yet… Doubt flooded into her.

“Now where was I? Ahhh… Sweet and innocent Zima. Slain, sacrificing herself out of some misguided attempt to save her friend. Did you ever stop to think that perhaps he was better off without you? That you brought him only pain? Sorrow? Suffering? Even then…”

“Mish used me like a weapon. The same thing you say Chailiss is doing. Stop this Viho. It won’t work, I am beyond redemption.” Zima’s voice was weak but she carried conviction within it.

“Redemption? Is that what you think this is… No, this is punishment.” he sneered. “I know the truth of your curse, whispered like smoldering coals. Tell me, do you think your suffering is your own? That the Gods said you must suffer, only you, upon the day of your rebirth?” He scoffed. “That twisted mind of yours, unwilling to admit that you were always wrong.”

Zima shook her head, trying to break free, snarling like a mad woman. “No!” she yelled. “The whole world and the gods and you and them, they will all suffer for what they’ve done to me! They all deserve to die!” She had to get out, she had to break free.

“Always the victim. Still a child.” He mocked. “This Revenancy strips us of our former selves, but… I can see the cracks are beginning to fill in, Zima. This anger, this hatred, so strong on the onset of our existence, melds with time, don’t you think.” he stated. “Come now… Do you feel nothing for this one?” His other talon hung over Vale like an ax ready to fall. Zima looked away, while a part of her screamed inside to help the slumbering girl.

“Look at her, Zima. LOOK AT HER!” He boomed.

While reluctant at first, she submitted and looked upon her companion. The one who she had tortured and hated. Despised and manipulated. Who she was jealous of. Who she had pained. Who she was cruel towards. Something else bloomed. Something that should not have.

“You made her suffer. You brought her sorrow. Was it because you sought companionship? A slave? Bah.” Viho settled his foot back down and turned to look at Mair and Shysie as many heralds in one fought Garle somewhere off in the distance. “How many more suffered like she did? Possessed by a creature so bent with hate, she would kill the world. Look at her, broken and bloody. You did that. You, Zima, brought her suffering.”

Zima grew numb, it was the only way to stop him. It was pointless. All had to suffer, she had to remove them from life. She had to get back at Voi!

“If only you realized the simple truth.” She looked back up at Viho. “You are not unique. You aren’t even special. Just an ant in a world dominated by Gods. A vindictive child who thought herself so wronged she would kill everyone. All because she could not see what was right in front of her all this time. Everyone suffers.”

She stared at Viho.

He stared back.

The words of her truth washed over Zima like a slight drizzle at first, growing stronger, until it only poured. She looked away, shut her eyes but it only made it worse. She could not see it. She could not allow herself to understand it.

She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. It drove her mad.It made her sad. She was fine. She wasn’t. Mish killed her. She killed herself. She got revenge. She should have stayed dead. She brought suffering. She suffered. She brought sorrow. She was sorrowful. It was their fault. It was her fault.

The world hated her. She hated herself.

Over and over images flashed in her head. Of death she brought, of the child she murdered. Of the children that followed. Of her cruelty and her hate. It made her head spin. She drowned in it, it consumed her. How had she been so stupid? How had she not seen? She brought suffering when it was already there. The children were thin. Her cruelty was unneeded. Fear was broken.

Fear. Oh Fear.

That was her name. That was always her name. She sought to play God by forging her anew. She only made a monster in her own image. Zima floated in the abyss, eyes wide as her truth splayed out it all and she realized… Viho was right. She was not special. She was not unique. She was just a depressed spirit, too blinded by arrogance to see any different. When it rained, people suffered. When it was too hot, people suffered. When it was too cold, people suffered. When they died, their loved ones suffered. She had added to that suffering like a hungry fish and she would have swallowed the world just to realize that it would never end. There would always be suffering and sorrow. It was unbearable. It was unstoppable.

She should have stayed dead. The world would have been better for it.

That was the easiest path to take. She had died by immolation. She had traversed the trials. She had wanted more than peace. But Zima had been a fool. It was better to be dead than to suffer. Yes… She faded. It was better that way. She wanted to drown, to be done with it all.


For the first time in a long time, she recalled what it was like to laugh. To smile. Mish had laughed. He had smiled. He had kept going. She remembered Fear, pleading with her to go with them to help. How she had saved her, when she should not have. What did she see? What did she… Despite all she had done to her, what had she seen? She did not want either of them to suffer. Or… Her father. How far had he fallen? Was Viho right…?

He was going to… To kill Fear.

She needed to know. Was it because Fear didn’t want to see her suffer? Was it because she was just a big fool? She felt her lips curl into a smile at the thought. A big fool. Who had been… How had she been? Soft? Comforting?

Perhaps… She could help her. Maybe that was why… She was not made to bring suffering.

But… To stop it.

Blue eyes snapped open to meet crimson and the dark owl champion laughed. For his plan had worked.

Zima no longer cared what he thought.

She needed to keep Fear safe.

No matter what.

The horde of earth elementals had divided itself; half of their number dispersing and passing into the stone or through tunnels, while the other half began to build a cairn for their fallen king. The chthonic dirge remained unheard by those that could not hear the voices of the deep earth, but the sorrowful song was also accompanied by rumbling and shaking throughout the entire cavern that was audible to all. The ominous clamor came before the ceiling ruptured across multiple sections, and debris descended from above like chunks of the Moon crashing upon the Galbar. It seemed as though the cavern would collapse in on itself soon.

The silver spear simply sank into the hand of Homura II as she gestured for Mair and Shysie to follow her through the destructive expanse. Shysie did as told, carrying the now unconscious, but healed Mair.

The demigoddess led them to where Skydancer had been tossed aside after being sundered, and she began the process of mending the flying boat as the cacophony of chaos reigned all around them. The fractures in the luminous bejeweled hull began slowly sealing themselves as celestial light poured forth from the palm of Homura II, and cracks beneath their feet formed across the trembling stone, while more large chunks fell from the ceiling.

The falling rocks that descended towards them turned into prismatic flames before reaching them, harmlessly washing over them with a gentle warmth before fading away. As she restored Skydancer, Homura II turned her gaze back to the heart of the cavern, as half of her mind concentrated on her work with a furrowed brow and protecting her two companions, but the other half of her mind reached out to the sister that was left behind. There was little time remaining before this subterranean realm was lost, as the labyrinth began to reshape itself because of the condensed mana becoming unstable when it was no longer commanded. Homura II hoped that it was not too late.

Skydancer was repaired, and Homura II leapt to the helm as she called for Shysie to come aboard with Mair with haste. “Hold on.” She said, as they ascended to where gaping cracks in the ceiling allowed them to fly out of the cavern. Among the shifting and clamorous fissures, the only source of illumination was the radiance of their boat, which shined upon the rippling stone walls, undulating with the occasional burst beside them.

There was no passage that led directly to the land above, so Homura II summoned her spear and created a path. The slightly smooth flight upwards considering their dire situation immediately became a very violent and rugged journey as they forced their way through the stone, eliciting more disruptive bursts and the need for sudden maneuvers to avoid colliding with the walls too much. Higher and higher they flew, though there was no means of truly discerning the direction they traveled, nor ascertaining the distance between them and the surface. As they battled the primordial powers of the earth, Homura hesitated before she touched upon the receding presence of Fear through their connection, and silently prayed for her.

Her mind was in turmoil as a myriad of memories and thoughts rushed her and tore her apart before her scattered fragments melded together into a single entity - this process repeating again and again, until the overwhelming swirling feeling forced her to surrender to the ebb and flow of this broken and then mended existence. Her vision was distorted, as though she were peering through a translucent pane or curtain, but she could see a colorful sky and thousands upon thousands of tiny versions of herself coming together and assembling something she could not quite discern.

She could not feel or see her body, only the miniscule horde of herself as they continued to work, and as an indeterminate amount of time passed, she realized what they were constructing. They were building her body. She could see her limbs and torso, composed of tiny clones linking together by entangling themselves, and slowly sensation came back to her as she started to stir ever so slightly. There was a break in the repeating cycle of being broken, as she stayed complete, long enough to breathe in and out.

She heard music and a gentle voice singing, lulling her into a serene state as she watched the world around her change. She drifted through a suddenly dark passage, before reaching a bright opening, and beyond lay an otherworldly ocean inhabited by strange spirits of the sea. Instead of aimlessly floating, she swam forward, and saw strands of light appear all around her - the presence of these glowing threads ushered a welcome warmth within her, and whispered a word into her ear.

She awoke to shadows and thunderous destruction.
Directly beside her, the blue shape of an ethereal woman struggled in the grasp of… Her eyes followed the tall figure. Legs gave way to feathers, covered in dull gold, swarmed with black smoke. Crimson eyes bore down upon her as she found its head, hidden behind a helmet.

“Fear!” The voice of the woman, so familiar, called out. “You have to run! Please!” She cried.

“There will be no running. No escaping.” The owl craned its head, as the woman struggled in his grasp. “Do you know who I am? Who this is?”

So many memories flooded her being, as she cried out. “Viho, why are you doing this!?!” She was struggling just to stand, yet it became easier as her mind finally found balance when both Fear and Vale within her agreed to an armistice for the sake of Zima and Viho. The internal conflict had come to an end, allowing her to comfortably move and focus herself.

“Ah, so you do remember me.” Viho twisted his head at an angle that would have broken most necks as he looked at her, unblinking. “Is it not obvious? I tried so hard to help you and you killed me. My friend, eating my flesh as if I was nothing. You didn’t even try to stop yourself.” His voice grew angrier. “Somewhere out there my corpse lies rotting. Do you know what it’s like to die all alone? Betrayed by everyone you ever knew? Forgotten? I hate you.”

Her head shook vigorously in response. “You were never forgotten! All this time, the parasite tormented me with memories of hurting you, but I wouldn’t let it win. I promised I would find you, and bring you back if you were alone. You’ve saved me, so shouldn’t I save you now?” She staggered forward despite the warnings she heard, and fell to her knees. “I’m here now, so please don’t hurt Zima. Please, hatred will not heal any of us.”

The world around them fell apart, tumbling into depths of smoky abyss. It was loud but at that moment there were only the three of them. Upon the edge of a god’s grave did they stand, staring at one another, unmoving despite the danger. No one said anything, even as Zima quietly struggled, even as Fear silently begged before the darkness that they had created. It was Viho who broke that deafening silence.

“I lied…” His head returned to a more straight position and he peered down at the spirit between his talons. “You won’t get to watch, Zima.”

Within seconds, he tightened his grip, slammed Zima into the cavern floor and then threw her into the crumbling abyss. Discarded like a plaything, Zima fell without words. He then launched himself at Fear, talons wanting only to rip her apart. She lunged forward, and sank into the stone like a shadow to avoid being struck before she reappeared behind him with her hands filled with gemstones imbued with magic she had intended to use against her sisters. She threw a glowing topaz at him that burst with blinding radiance, and held up a diamond that hid her from sight as she leapt into the darkness in pursuit of her companion.

An explosion of darkness erupted behind her. Despite being blinded and hidden from sight, Viho chased her. “You cannot hide from me! I know your very essence.” He hissed. Far below, a hint of misty blue could be seen through the falling debris.

She briefly lamented the loss of her wings of light, while she frantically aimed herself as she fell. She unfortunately possessed little practice with diving through the sky, and found herself fumbling as she attempted to roll towards a wall or falling debris for something else to jump from. “Zima!” She desperately called out.

There was no response from her companion, so far below, falling without course but Fear was gaining. Viho was right behind her, smashing into the rocks with little care. A talon closed in right behind her as Viho hissed with frustration. Without any choice, she used the single sapphire she carried to create a portal to Zima, leaving her without a means of returning to the cavern above. The echoes of the destruction far above gave her little hope of fleeing anyway.

She passed through the portal and appeared beside the faint swirl of blue mist, calling out to her companion once more as she shed her shroud of invisibility and flailed helplessly. She found out why Zima did not respond, the spirit was unconscious. Shimmering between the vague shape of blue mist and the form of the woman she knew. Loud bangs echoed from below, they were nearing the bottom.

“Wake up! Please!” She begged, reaching out with a chain of shifting runes to protect Zima from the fall. Fear did not know whether a spirit would actually suffer harm from falling such a great height, but she did not want to risk finding out. The spell would protect them from the force of the impact, however there was nothing she could cast or create that would protect Zima or herself from Viho. It was difficult to weep while falling, she realized.

Zima stirred with sudden awareness and in doing so, she stopped falling entirely. As Fear slipped by, Zima gasped and flew after her, becoming a part of the wind itself that wrapped around Fear, stopping her fall. They floated for a time as the world rained ruin around them. “Where’s…” Zima began but before she could even answer, a dark shape rocketed into them, sending them full force into the rocky ground below. Zima sprang forth, setting Fear up on her feet and taking the form of a woman once more. Zima glanced at her but quickly looked ahead as Viho dove down in the dimming light.

Fear prepared to evade as she explained the situation to Zima. “I have no mana left!” She did not have much spiritual energy left either after expending so much to create relics that had been lost. Her black gauntlet was not enough to grant her the strength needed to combat the owl champion in his golden armor and dreadful talons. Vale could not provide her with any of the powers that she once possessed either, as Zima was no longer a revenant, which left Fear with little to nothing at her disposal. “How did you free yourself from your curse?” She asked as she swiftly leapt around in order to avoid being hit.

“Don’t worry!” Zima shouted on the other side of Viho, who had landed and buffeted them with wind. “And uh… I had an epiphany!”

“Do not lie!” Viho hissed again, clawing the ground where Zima had just been. The spirit danced in the air, floating and flying, becoming the wind as she avoided capture. “I freed her,” he proclaimed. “Now she gets to feel everything. All the death and suffering she caused. Knowing what she’s done, knowing she got her dear friend murdered.” Viho swiftly turned his attention back to Fear, swiping at her but a falling boulder hit him, shattering against his armor. This did little but enrage the owl champion, who exploded in darkness. The blast caught Zima in her wind form and she was propelled into a wall.

“Can’t we free you as well!” Fear rebuked, dashing towards Viho and jumping in front of him. Though she had learned the techniques her mother imparted on her other sisters, she did not share their bond with the phoenix, or carry as many relics, and she was aware that dodging attacks would not lead to victory.

He scraped the ground at his feet, wings at his side. “You cannot.” He spat, crouching and then he pounced. His talons glowed, leaving a faint glow of death in their wake. Fear had wondered what lay beyond life ever since she fled from Keltra with Zima long ago, and wondered whether she would ever atone and return to her home. Her beloved friend that had saved her now no longer wished to speak with her, and sought her demise, so she could not even offer her other companion time to recover with a distraction. She mused at how the broken halves of herself, Zima, and Viho, had all intertwined, and accepted her fate with forlorn reluctance.

A cold talon wrapped around Fear before pinning her down. Viho stared at her, eyes ablaze with malice. “Why do you care for her?” he asked. “Why would you leave everyone else? Why did you leave me to die so alone?”

Her wards were crumbling at the mere contact, as necrotic power erased the glyphs from her flesh. “She is family. I-I left because I didn’t want them to hurt her. I didn’t want to hurt you either. It takes two to find love; I couldn’t abandon her. I’m so sorry for leaving you alone. Forgive me, I wasn't what you needed when the parasite possessed me, made me into a monster…” She sobbed, barely clinging onto the relief she had felt when she realized that her sisters had freed her from the tyranny of the parasite, and finally became a goddess that could succeed where she had failed. Now she would endure the punishment for all of her sins.

Viho dipped his head low, brooding. It took several seconds for him to do anything as the rocks fell larger and larger. Then he finally looked up and at her. “You were my only family.” Then in an instant he squeezed, shattering the glyphs of protection. A rock smashed into him, knocking the owl off balance. It didn’t come from above, but from the side. Suddenly Zima was there, wearing the rock as a body. Her form was small but strong as she pried a talon loose enough for Fear to be freed. Viho lifted his other foot and brought down his full weight, which Zima caught and struggled with, they very rock of her form cracking. Worse, where her hands had formed and touched the talons, they grew ashen. “Go,” she gasped, “Get out from there!”

Fear let half of her body pass through the stone beneath her, before she twisted and pulled herself away as if she were swimming through water. She lifted herself from the floor, standing up, and sought a solution to the tragedy unfolding. There were no tunnels to flee through, and far above was the alien sight of a vehement mana storm obliterating what was once the tomb of Voligan. She clasped her hands together and prayed. “Chailiss, Lord of Winter, hear my plea. Aid us now. Save your children.”

“Oh no.” Zima’s form crumbled under Viho’s weight but she flew backwards into Fear and spun around to her. ‘What have you done?” She asked, appalled. Even Viho stiffened.

Reality stilled. Rocks ceased their falling, the storm chilled itself to quiet and the very air turned cold. Zima hovered over Fear, looking in every direction for some unseen threat. And then before them came a tear in the space between spaces. Like a black knife it slit itself apart, revealing a deathly shimmer. Chailiss ushered forth, his armor rippled as if it were alive. Cloak hiding his face as his hand held a weapon that dripped with power.

He tilted his head, looking at them. ”Hello Fear.” His voice was wrong, he was wrong.

”Pride has been waiting for you. Won’t… Come home?” He turned to the side, letting them have a clear view of the portal, which shimmered, becoming transparent. The image revealed Keltra and it was dying.

Chailiss outstretched his hand. ”Come now… Death awaits.” And he pulled them all in as the tomb exploded.

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Death’s Embrace

A cold wind blew down from the north into Keltra. Even with the Eternal Flame, the bitter cold was hard to ignore. A little time had passed since her sisters had departed upon Skydancer and left Pride alone to tend to Keltra and its denizens. She had laid Rowan in his cradle wherein he slept peacefully, as she set out to speak with the maramodas once more. She scoffed halfheartedly to herself when she mused whether she would have made any progress in her undesirable education & rehabilitation program by the time her sisters returned. She doubted it, very much so. She wondered whether they were suffering from insanity or not, and why was it so difficult to cure?

Her current conversation with the maramodas were much like her prior conversation; they insulted and antagonized her despite her plentiful gifts and the promise of peace which they either deluded themselves into thinking that they had been blessed by the Sleeping Maker, or shunned because they thought she was deceiving them traps and trickery. They called her a witch and murderer, claiming that she had slain the rest of their kindred and wanted to bring an end to them as well, which she felt was becoming a truthful temptation as time passed. Pride took her leave of the section of the keep she had dedicated to the maramodas, reassuring its inhabitants that she would bring more of their brethren if they behaved even a little bit better.

She strolled towards her own section, close to the Eternal Fire and away from her troubles, contemplating whether or not she should swiftly go to the Temple of the Tapestry and retrieve her previous attire to finally free her limbs from the restraining regalia she wore now. The Silk Song was weakened beyond the interior, and she struggled to walk outside of the keep, plus the journey was rather far, so she chose to find a means of relaxing instead. The Keeper of Keltra seated herself upon her owl cushion, wrapping herself with its soft and warm feathers, as she listened to the ambient music that accompanied the pleasant dancing of flames.

She felt her face furrow with suspicion as she sensed something seemed wrong, something dreadful had happened. Pride performed the Incantation of Seeing, and sought out from her seat what had ushered the accumulating anxiety that slowly swelled within her. She was aware that the absence of her sisters actually reduced her sight, as she didn’t have the synergy created from their connection that empowered them all when they were close to each other. Alone, she could not gaze upon all of Keltra at once, and she felt vulnerable. She found herself seeking company, only to discover the source of her dread. The infant was not in his cradle.

“But how…” She whispered softly, investigating the scene of the disappearance, and concluding that it was ridiculous to think that Rowan could have climbed out of his cradle. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis rearranged themselves on her skin, as she aimed her spell and searched for the lost child, yet her vision was obscured by an otherworldly shroud. Pride’s persistence did not yield any rewards, and she felt an ache in her chest.

The air seemed to still, there was no breeze, cold or otherwise. Stagnation took root as the sky darkened with heavy clouds. There was no thunder or lightning or even rain. Something or someone was there, inside the keep but their identity was obscured, though it radiated with dread. Then, it began to snow but just over Pride. Thick, white flakes that melted after a second of contact but it did not end.

Her heart burned too hot, and she focused on calming herself as she attempted to cast another spell to gain glimpses of the future. Stressed by concentrating on two spells and the strange situation, she lamented her lack of stamina when she began to sway where she stood. The Keeper of Keltra became frightened when her vision revealed nothing yet again, and the snow continued to fall over her. She amended her unsteady stance, and spoke with as much authority as she could muster. “Reveal yourself, or else remain trespassing and suffer the consequences.”

The snow around her blew away from her and danced around the area. Flirting over the flame as it took the vaguest shape of a girl. It even looked like her and it came close several times, around the tables and the plushies, before it came to an unnatural stop before the flame. It looked to her, shimmering and pointing a finger at Pride. The snow girl walked forward towards Pride but stopped in her tracks, even while walking. Her movements became erratic, as if she was running from something and then like a puppet held with strings, she was ripped into the sky and thrown into the flame.

“I am the Keeper of Keltra, and a daughter of the Divine. I promise not to harm you if you show yourself.” Pride proclaimed, as she swept her gaze over her surroundings and attempted to ascertain the location of the intruder without any success.

“Return the child, and you won’t have to worry about cosmic retribution.” She said as she sacrificed the spell that was meant to grant her visions of what was to come, and cast a spell to protect her from harm. The scepter in her hand did little to soothe her, and Pride found that she was not fond of being afraid so often. However, there were also very few forces on the Galbar that frightened her. She realized the truth of the nature of this trespasser.

“My mother may be rather severe, but she seeks an alliance with all of her family, your Grace. I would welcome you, if you would show yourself.” She continued, hoping to avoid a confrontation.

A dark orb descended from the ominous sky. Like obsidian glass, it was silent and divine in origin. It came to a halt above the eternal flame and then shattered into thousands of pieces in an explosion. None hit Pride or the flame. A circle untouched remained around either. Silence returned but now the air was thick with anticipation,
a smell of something old filtered into the air. Of dread and… Death.

”What is the consequence of life?” A voice whispered into her ear, dark and ominous, yet vaguely familiar. Even more alarming, it came from behind her.

“Paradoxical dichotomy.” She quietly answered, and then slowly turned around.

She stood face to face with a figure cloaked in black, face obscured by a large hood. But what was most undeniable was the swaddled Rowan in the figure's arms. His pale face fast asleep. "Keeper of Keltra. An unwitting prisoner. All alone. Give me your scepter." The threat was implied in his voice as he rocked the baby.

Pride had inherited her mother’s impassive external visage that she employed whenever her sisters or outsiders attempted to coerce her, yet she doubted bluffing or negotiating were even options. She was certain she did not possess the strength to protect herself and the inhabitants of Keltra from a malicious deity, so she succumbed and held out the scepter that commanded the stone.

He took it wordlessly, a gauntleted hand appearing beneath all the fabric. He held Rowan still and spoke again, "You are the wisest of your sisters. No wonder she keeps you here. Now, where are the humans." His voice was cold, uncaring.

She struggled to look at the god, she struggled to speak without stumbling on her words, yet she refused to surrender to despair. “Thank you, your Grace. For your praise. Mother is very sparse with compliments and such. May I… ask that you await her return, so that you could speak with her directly? Unfortunately, she didn't provide instructions regarding the remaining number of humans here. Perhaps she should have delegated the task to me, but she did not.” Pride prayed in her mind that her mother would soon come and peacefully resolve this crisis, so she would keep conversing, keep delaying, until that time hopefully came.

"Your mother's whims mean little to me. There will be no delegations, I require all of them. No doubt you have already prayed to her. Do it again and this child will suffer. Now where are the humans." The cold in his voice briefly gave way to anger but it subsided, for now.

Pride peered at the red floor, and briefly pondered before pointing towards sections of the keep where she had buried the slumbering humans. Everything that she had been afraid of coming to pass was happening, and it hurt to breathe. She despised the Divine and the cruel, often capricious, way of the world; silently cursing Homura, Apostate, Tuku, and Chailiss for their ineptitude. “They are within the stone, sleeping…” The small champion said with sorrow.

Without a word he wielded the scepter and pointed it forth where she had pointed. A vast multitude of stones began to shift, ushering in the sleeping humans by the thousands. As it went on, God looked upon Pride. "If you could slay a god, would you?" he asked as if knowing her very thoughts.

“Hmm… I consider myself precocious, not impertinent. Such a question should refrain from being answered. Such a question should be deemed forbidden. Pure profanity.” She let out an exhausted sigh. “Alas, I would not kill a god. I’m unfortunately undeniably devout, despite constantly begrudging my faith and relationships with the Divine, but what about you? Would you choose to be a murderer?” Pride inquired while she watched her vulnerable kin be raised from their shelter into the sight of this sadistic being beside her.

”Yes.” the god flatly stated. ”The fever runs amok through life’s veins. It must be extinguished before there is more catastrophe. The God’s are the chief culprits among this brewing storm. They gave life to the world and now they will die for this sin.”

“Could you elucidate the symptoms of this fever you speak of?”

He showed the face of Rowan to Pride. Sleeping and at peace. "The fever is life. Life is the fever. Life must die in order for the fever to run its course. So that it cannot hurt any other. She destroys everything that we love. We must deny the fever, life. Emotions, passions, excitement, grief… When all is quiet and cold as stone, will her fits finally be over. Can't you see?" The God said, madness in his voice.

Pride frowned as she tilted her head, looking at the deity. “I see someone I pity. Mother is burdened by a shard, she taught me that all among the Divine are burdened with such. Would you tell me which shard you carry, your Grace?”

He copied the gesture. "Have you forgotten me already…? Like all the others… Gone now. Dead or devoured. Abandoned us to true despair." he lamented. "It simply makes the work easier. In the end." It began to snow around them, just around them, carrying a cold breeze.

The Keeper of Keltra averted her gaze, and muttered angrily. “You choose to mock me. Don’t mock me.”

"Do not speak with anger and look away from a person, less so a Divine. It makes you weak and childish. Are you the wise Keeper of Keltra or a child? Now look at me, Pride." he commanded and the air swelled with snow and bitter cold.

“Let go of little Rowan and leave.” She quietly replied, refraining from simply obeying. There was no truly defying the Divine, but she remained reluctant to allow his hubris and hypocrisy to deceive her, to coerce her with petty insults and intimidation. Regardless of whether it was another unfamiliar god manipulating her, or if Chailiss had become cruel and cynical in the time since she had seen him, she would neither be a coward or a slave.

"I will leave. I promise you that. Whether or not the child is given back is up to you and your cooperation." The god moved forward and watched as the last of the humans were brought forth and the stones stopped shifting. "Is that the last of them? Speak truthful."

“There are no other humans that slumber within Keltra. This is all one-hundred and fifty thousand, eight-hundred and sixty-nine humans that have yet to be awakened.” Pride answered, as she solemnly stared across the vast expanse now laden with her dormant kin. She chose not to dwell on what ill fate awaited them all.

The snow stopped falling and the God removed a dark crystalline orb from the insides of his cloak, swapping it with the scepter. "A gift of death and revelry. A cleansing across the land… Ah but how could I forget." he turned to the Eternal Flame and then glanced at Pride. "Know I do this as a kindness. Worse fates exist." He then walked forth and while still clutching the orb, he pressed a finger into the fire. A flash of blinding power exploded, in turn making both the God and Rowan cry out as he was dropped to the floor and the God recoiled with a mad laugh, part of his cloak burning away to reveal the dread armor underneath as the music all throughout Keltra turned dark and ominous. The Eternal Fire meanwhile, was turning black, burning smaller…


Then the god threw out the orb over the sleeping humans and where it fell it shattered and spewing forth came a vivacious black cloud that quickly began to spread and change her sleeping kin. He was preoccupied for the moment. Rowan was not the only thing on the floor, discarded, for the scepter was as well.

Pride moved to the crying infant, lifting him with her Silk Song before bringing him to her arms. She poured forth healing powers from her palms to sooth him, as her enchanted scarf swaddled him gently. When the child was comforted, she slowly progressed to where her scepter lay, and without interference, collected it as well. Relief came when she held both Rowan and her relic, but the remainder of her kin would still suffer at the hands of the sadistic god, and there was nothing she could do to protect them from his insanity. Without the warmth and sustenance of the Eternal Fire, neither she nor Rowan would endure for long.

In a blinding flash, he turned to her and held up a black hand. On his palm, the same one that had carried the infant, was a medallion. She barely got a good look at it before it began to hum with power, a blue glow emanating from it. ”Keltra’s Pride, now only its Loss. Forgi-” His voice faded and he turned behind him, sparing Pride for the moment. Then quite suddenly he ripped a void in reality and walked through, leaving her alone with the waking and changing humans. And of course, Rowan was with her. The tear was not clear at first but like a spark coming to life, it suddenly was and she could see through to the other side. It was a terrible sight, of falling rocks and destruction. But there, like small figurines, were three people before the mad god. A pale blue woman, a blackened giant owl wearing dull gold, and… Fear.

Before she could interact, the tear vibrated and the god flew back through, coming to a halt before the dying fire. Joining him were the three. The pale blue woman flew back before coming to a stop beside Fear, who was closest to them. The owl halted where the portal once was and dipped his head to the god.

“Is that really you?” The ghostly woman asked the god. “Spirit Father…”

”It’s a shame you are back to normal, Zima. The Revenant I had a use for.” The words cut, as Zima recoiled and seemed to shrink beside Fear, fists balling. ”I was finally in time to save you, Fear.” His cloak gaze fell to her pale sister. ”Now you may witness the beginning of the end.” He waved a hand out over the humans. The black cloud had quickly subsumed them all, or nearly and it obscured all like a thick wall. ”Soon, this world’s fever will be put to rest and we shall have peace.”

Pride felt her mind connect with Fear’s, and was briefly overwhelmed by a surge of thoughts and memories belonging to her sister that had finally returned. More potent than the sudden influx was the pain of finally comprehending all that was happening. She had wanted to believe that it was Iqelis, or another malevolent deity, instead of Chailiss, her compassionate Uncle. It would have been less painful.

Fear spoke aloud, asking the question that Pride wished the tainted god would not answer. “Why?” Pride was weary, preoccupied with processing the information Fear provided her, and attempting to ascertain another solution. It irked her that Chailiss had come when Fear prayed, yet their Mother had yet to appear when she had prayed to her prior. Pride was infuriated by her predicament, and the presence of Fear did little to alleviate her concern, when she recalled the naming convention of their Mother. Pride and her sister awaited an answer from the cold and dreadful god.

The music of Keltra became quiet and forlorn. ”You’ll understand…” he whispered, likely to himself. ”I will save you all. From yourselves. From the fever and her uncontrollable intent. You’ll thank me, I swear it.”

The owl stood quietly by, watching them. Zima stepped forth again however, her voice angrier, “This isn’t you! Please!” she said, gripping her chest. “Please father. Stop this. We can go home. Let me help you? It can be like it was. I’m sorry for not listening… I-I should have stayed. Pl-”

The god growled, cutting her off. ”You are far too late my wayward daughter. Far… Far too late. I am better now, more so than I have ever been. Free from all ills and influence. Now be silent… My true children will never leave me.” Zima looked to the ground.

Pride seethed where she stood, turning her attention to the trio that had accompanied Chailiss out of the portal. She gazed up at the large owl, and shook her head with derision, and Fear tried to prevent her from speaking with little success. “My sisters must’ve had their vision clouded when they looked at you. You’re much uglier than I imagined.”

Viho stared down Pride. “Perhaps I was less so once. You can thank those two for my current appearance. After all, they did murder me. Death tends to alter…”

“I possess all of my sister's memories, and I recall you were rather heroic in the past. I do not believe it was your choice to become this grotesque creature before me. I believe an insidious tainted power has claimed your freedom. It is a shame I will not see your valor now.” Pride proclaimed with disdain, as she glanced at Zima and Fear. “You’ve reaped what you sown, sisters.” She said as she severed the connection with the latter.

"All this pettiness from a child." Chailiss said, "Amusing. But no matter how much time you try to buy, Pride, your mother will not come. If she had cared she would have arrived as swiftly as I claimed these three. Even if she couldn't, she could have sent aid. Honor cares only for herself and her own little schemes. If she had ever cared for life, she would not have made it so they only suffer." he turned around to fully witness his new creations. "Let this be my final act of mercy. Run. Run before you die, little champions."

The Keeper of Keltra walked towards Fear and Zima with sorrowful forbearance as she gave Rowan to her stunned sister that had yet to truly acknowledge all that was happening. She sent a final message through their connection, before separating their minds once again, then turned to glare at the god. She was the smallest amongst her sisters, with the most diminutive supply of stamina and fortitude compared to the rest of them, and she now faced a demented being that possessed the power to rewrite reality and reshape the Galbar. She hoped Fear and Zima would flee swiftly, like they had done in the past. Even with her scepter and command of the scarlet stone, she would never win against Chailiss. She was little more than an annoying plaything to him, posing no threat. At this point, it was just another normal occurrence in her daily life, it seemed.

Pride let out a last sigh. “A generous offer, your Grace. But, I will not leave my home.”

The god raised his head and then looked back at Pride. "So be it." With a flick of his hand, he brought up the medallion, the blue glow emanating with a powerful hum and then he fired it upon the small champion. Pale blue, ice and fire, like a maelstrom of malice condensed into a precise blast that struck Pride and tore her apart, immediately turning her to pale ashes that were swiftly scattered along the floor. Only a frozen scepter with slight fractures remained where she had stood. Fear let out an agonized scream as the sight of her slain sister stayed in her vision and haunted her.

Fear struggled to hold onto Rowan, overwhelmed by sudden grief and the horrific events happening. Zima did not wail, nor did she scream but grief was visible on her features. Yet this didn't stop her from acting quickly. The spirit became like the wind, grabbing Fear with Rowan to make an escape.

Chailiss lowered his hand and nodded to Viho, who quickly took off after the three who were fleeing. He turned back to the dark cloud of smoke, a deathly song emanating not from Keltra anymore but from behind the black wall. Forms began to appear. Lithe but powerful, tall and gaunt, obscured. Like fallen flames, so too did the Eternal Flame finally go out and all grew in twilight.

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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Duty and Forgiveness

Without warning, the rumbling earth suddenly opened and ejected Skydancer as the radiant vessel soared upward with incredible swiftness, yet even though it flew faster than spoken words when carried fast and far with the wind, its journey was rather tranquil immediately upon departing the devastated remnants of the underground magical Labyrinth. Freed from the strangling presence of stone and shadows, now serenely descending to the surface where the voiran and childan awaited, Homura II chose to concentrate on what would come afterwards all of what had just transpired. Even at the apex of her power, as she ascended to becoming half divine, it seemed she still lacked the ability to save those she loved. She felt alone.

The fused relic in her hand sang to her, its ethereal voice alerting her to the absence of Fear beneath the surface and instead guiding her back towards Keltra. The demigoddess concluded that her sister must have discovered a portal that had led her home, and allowed herself to feel relieved, yet her awakened senses refused to ignore the ominous signs in the world. Something malevolent was stirring, and the Galbar was suffering - she could hear it crying in pain, calling to her. There was still much to be done, and so she must return to Keltra as well. Skydancer slowly alighted afore the two mortals, and Homura II spoke, subtly seeking their purpose and names within their minds and bodies as she stared at the two of them. “There is little that lingers here meant for us. I would bring you to Keltra, if you are willing.”

Her authoritative voice awakened Mair, seeping into both the pale warrioress and Shysie, as a surge of strength and cosmic clarity was bestowed upon them. She could not remain idle, and required either their aid or their promise not to interfere. The two would only be a hindrance against the two revenants that haunted her sister, and did not wish for them to needlessly die. She would return them to their homes or wherever they wished after the danger had passed, regardless of their intentions. She felt opposed to her own actions, and how much she was reminded of the strange truth - that she had become a Reflection of her mother.

"Are you well, little bird?" Shysie asked Mair, who was groggy, blinking heavily with dark circles under her eyes.

"I was…" She seemed to realize what the lingering words in her head were and looked to Homura II. "You… Did you kill her? Was it worth it? What she did…” Her voice broke, eyes forlorn. “Tell me it was worth it. Tell me." Her voice ended on a bitter note. Shysie dipped her head and placed a soothing touch upon Mair.

“Come with me, and you will see for yourself.” Homura II answered, before she leapt from Skydancer, and kneeled beside one of the last among the people of Voi. She had received the memories of Fear waking before she became Vale, and Homura II knew that she herself had become something else now. All of the Sacred Septet had continually endured the risk of losing their individual minds and becoming permanently merged ever since they forged their connection long ago. It was terrifying living with the risk of losing the thoughts and memories that formed your identity, and forgetting yourself. An unfortunate fate equivalent to meeting one’s demise. Homura II reached out to soothe Mair, hoping she could alleviate a little of that anxiety, and slowly heal her of the hatred in her heart.

Mair grew tense at her touch, unable to relax or be soothed. “What are you? There were others… More of you, sisters? Where is the Wanderer?”

“I am the Reflection of Homura. Wanderer and her sisters merged into a single being. An ascendant, half-mortal and half-divine. Now I must return to Keltra swiftly, and speak to my remaining sisters. I am inviting you to come with me, as there is a Voiran named Rowan that should be among his kin. We cannot tend to him when we are… this way.” Homura II explained.

Mair looked to Shysie, who gave a slow nod. Mair, now looking both troubled and anxious, spoke to the demigoddess once more. "Very well, we'll go with you. Even if you are less than forthcoming. I need to see him with my own eyes. But…" She rose on unsteady feet. "Are you stuck as one now? How does that even work?"

"Perhaps it is not for us to know, little bird." Shysie said, rising as well. "How far away is this Keltra?"

“I will elaborate more when we are traveling towards our destination. With Skydancer, we will soar very far, very swiftly. Keltra stands on the other side of northern Termina, beyond the Tlacan Sea and below the Szrnelici, it is a sanctuary for the faithful.” The wondrous flying vessel did not sway even when Homura II vaulted aboard and stood at the helm again. The damage it had sustained beneath the surface remained prominently visible, yet such did little to diminish the dazzling beauty and power bestowed upon it as it shimmered in the air. Completely mending Skydancer would require time and energy, but Homura II sensed the urgency in the world, and something apprehensive in the connection with Fear and Pride as well. It was concerning, akin to waiting for an event profuse with unknown elements to occur.

The two shared a pensive look then nodded at Homura II. Shysie helped Mair into the boat by placing her in it, much like a parent would put a child somewhere. This was not lost upon Mair who hung limpy and tried to cover her face in shame. Shysie grinned and then climbed on. Since she was so big, she used the remaining seats, her legs even went to the prow and also forced a blushing Mair to sit on her lap. "We are ready." She said with confidence, hand upon Mair’s head.

Without a word, Skydancer gracefully ascended, sailing higher and higher above the land, yet the wind was gentle and the boat did not wobble at all. Courage was considered adept at piloting the flying vessel, hence she commonly stood at the helm when she and her sisters flew forth from Keltra. Homura II was the majority of the Sacred Septet merged into an amalgam of them all, and so she possessed the same skills and abilities they did, as well as much more. Steering Skydancer towards Keltra and directing it forward at a proper speed was now something she did with ease, and the segments of her that consisted of those that were rather inept at piloting felt a surge of satisfaction. Courage could not have flown through the quaking earth even with the aid of a goddess, and was the only one among her sisters that felt a hint of annoyance as they proceeded onward in their flight back home.

Fear felt as though she were running away again, yet even after her head had shattered and she had been banished by her mother, she did not believe that any of her sisters would suffer for her actions. A piece of her that was what remained of Pride was attempting to reach out and remind her of their responsibility; protecting Rowan from Chailiss and Viho. The Keeper of Keltra had given her stray sister one last thing through their connection, before separating herself again, but Fear barely heeded her own overwhelmed mind, refusing to accept all that had happened and the consequences of her actions. In her distraught state, she was vulnerable and susceptible to becoming a sacrifice to the minds of her sisters. Perhaps she should accept becoming possessed after all - she served little other purpose, it seemed.

She could hear their voices, and sense their emotions, Courage, Kindness, Curiosity, Wanderer, and Pride, and another she had yet to meet known as Desire, along with their Reflections. She heard them simultaneously complain about her cowardice, forgive her, praise her, and yearn to be reunited with her. It was all too much, and Fear sought solace in an internal silence that ever eluded her. She felt confusion when there were differing sentiments from each sister, as she realized the effect including their Reflections into their connection had; allowing the Sacred Septet to express more aspects of themselves when they shared their minds. The strangest, much more bewildering experience was hearing the voice of her own Reflection speaking to her.

“Leave me alone!” She cried out.

The large southern passages that led out of the keep revealed a landscape that was unfamiliar to Fear, as she was helplessly carried along by Zima and still held onto the crying Rowan. Fear did not see, with her vision blurred by tears, but she remembered. Wherein once the fields within the fortress were desolate, there were glittering gardens spread throughout the region, similar in aesthetic to the subterranean domain of Garle, yet smaller in scale and less diverse. There were two towering structures that she recognized as the Temple of the Tapestry and the Temple of Resurrection because of her bond providing her with memories that belonged to her Reflection. In her mind, her sisters told her to go to the shorter, crimson building that resembled a smaller version of the keep with the addition of more windows and ornate decoration.

Her sisters shared with her the secrets of the temple, and explained an adjusted strategy to her with details regarding what she must do to survive and succeed. It was a desperate plan, yet it brought hope. Fear chose to listen to her sisters as she pointed to the temple. “Zima, we need to go there!”

The wind that was the spirit hastily changed course and to the shorter temple they headed. She heard a gentle voice in her ear, despite all the blowing wind. "You must not blame yourself, Fear. I… I want you to know that." And then Zima’s voice was gone but her presence was all around them. She sounded mournful, full of regret.

“I can’t understand why Chailiss is doing this, and why won’t Homura help us…” Fear whispered, incapable of finding any way to soothe the sorrowful Zima and crying Rowan with words or gestures. Her attempts at helping others always went wrong, again and again, until the worst eventually happened - the death of a sister and the Eternal Fire extinguished. Upon the verge of being broken, she struggled even to emotionally weep, with silent trails of tears falling from her somber face as she came closer and closer to the Temple of Resurrection with the tainted Viho pursuing them. She felt only afraid of what was to come.

The open doorway beckoned them, and they flew through it into a vast and mostly vacant chamber with a single passage at the far back. Fear had known the mysteries of the temple, what awaited her within, but the sight of her sister’s soul standing beside the lone altar still surprised her, still left her bereft of bravery and acceptance. Though her body had perished, Pride remained within Keltra and indicated for both Fear and Zima to approach with an angry flick of her ethereal hand. “There is little time left, hurry!”

Fear choked back a sob, as she staggered onwards ridden with grief. She pushed herself to go faster as she gently placed Rowan behind the altar and stepped up beside the spectral remnant of her slain sister. She stared at Zima, and attempted to smile. “I’m not leaving you, no matter what.”

Zima’s wind coalesced into a woman before Fear, who wore a long flowing dress. She did not make eye contact with Pride, her eyes downcast as she glanced away, if not in shock, then out of guilt. She walked over to Fear and stood next to her, placing a hand upon her shoulder. That in of itself seemed to surprise her but she pushed forward. “I could say the same, Fear. I… Will be here, as long as you need me.” She glanced at her and gave a forced smile before she looked to Pride, actually looking at her this time. “My father… He was… I’m sorry for what happened.”

Pride merely shook her head in annoyance, and slightly shrugged. “I have twice been killed by the gods and goddesses of this world, and it’s really irked me, but I don’t blame you. I’m mad you didn’t retrieve my scepter though…” She simply snorted at the loss of the artifact and her demise before turning her attention to Fear, and holding out her hand. “It is time.”

Fear shifted her gaze between Pride and Zima, settling upon the latter with sadness in her eyes. “You’re the one mistake that I’ll never regret. My one miracle…” The anxious champion said to Zima before she grasped hands with the soul of her small sister. The shifting symbols upon Fear’s skin were their usual black, but the Gnostic glyphs on Pride were white instead, yet there was no friction as they fused into one with a blinding flash of light. Standing afore the altar was the amalgam of Fear and Pride, which wielded the bright pale flames of the Phoenix, as she stepped forward. Zima took a step back, a mixture of awe and sadness upon her face.

The combination of Fear and Pride held up her hand, armored with the Black Gauntlet, and tapped into their spiritual power. The relic was sheathed in light and shadows, as it expanded and covered more of her arm until it halted at her shoulder. The light became pearlescent chains coiled around an extension of the Black Gauntlet; a dark vambrace and rerebrace connected to an intricate pauldron. The two that were one chanted together. “Connect!” Then the three relics combined, with the lustrous chains seeping into and adorned the black metal armor. When the ritual was complete, they stood at the entrance in preparation for their foe’s arrival.

Zima stood forth as well. "I made him like this. Only by my hand did he fall. You must not blame yourself for how you had acted, Fear. That too is my fault." She sighed. "I don't know how to break his curse. It must be different than my own and I never knew him like you did, Fear. I don't know if you are the key but we must try else we will be defeated. You've fought me, you know how this works. Be careful, okay?" Zima looked toward the entrance, as a darkness settled in at last.

Three things happened next almost simultaneously. The very foundations of Keltra shook and rumbled. Even where they stood in the temple could they feel it. Next, a roar that made Zima grasp her ears ripped across the air. A screeching agony and of something unnatural. And finally, as the world seemed to break, Viho landed in the entrance, bathed in twilight.

He wasted little time leaping forth and attacking, striking his talons at the two that were one. Zima began to coalesce in wind, that hit him of course. She was like a gale that kept pushing the owl back. That was until Viho put his wings to his side and used his talons to dig into the stone to advance. Step by step as Zima's fury never abated.

With what little time was gained, Pride telepathically uttered to the cold spirit. “Focus on hindering his movements, and we’ll focus on breaking his curse!”

Pride plus Fear dashed forward, and leapt high onto the back of the large owl as they curved through the air around him while riding the wind currents. The combined champion was engulfed in the pale flames of the Phoenix, and held onto the rim of the golden gorget that protected his throat. She stared at the haunting afterimages of Viho emblazoned upon his armor, and felt sorrow thrum in her heart as she attempted to heal him.

“You don’t believe in goodbyes, Viho. Remember the open skies and seas, our time together, and a promise. I am freed from the parasite, and Zima is free from her curse. You can be free too!”

"I can never be free!" He roared, letting go of the floor and opening his wings. The sudden airflow made him spring back into the air, right for the ceiling. He was going to crush Fear and Zima was not going to be fast enough to stop him. The ceiling came closer and closer, and then he collided with the crimson stone above with the sound of the intense impact echoing throughout the empty chamber as something cracked.

“That’s not true!” Fear shouted still intact, as she buried her feet in the fractured ceiling while her hands pushed down against the accursed armor that threatened to pulverize her. She was trapped between both sturdy forces, but endured the weight of the owl champion as she continued to call out to him. “Even dying wouldn’t be enough to imprison you for eternity, so please come back to me! You’re a hero, Viho. You can defy death!”

The owl let out a hiss of frustration as he fell, then flying against the top of the ceiling again once freed from Zima’s wind. The spirit herself tried to do what Pride had commanded of her but was failing with each miss of her wind. "You murdered me, you ate my flesh and let me die! If I was a hero, now I'm only a monster!" The owl raged.

“You are still a hero… that’s what I believe. A monster wouldn’t remember our friendship, or care to remember it! Within you is the one that saved me, and he wouldn’t let himself become like this! It was the parasite that possessed me, and it’s Chailiss that has corrupted you, but our curses can still be broken! You’re not a monster, Viho!” The owl plunged to the ground, turning himself so his back, and by extension Fear, were facing the ground. With a thunderous crash that shook the stones, Viho landed and was on his feet in moments.

“That Viho is gone. You killed him.” Zima, for her part, rocketed forth and struck the Owl, who became off balance. She then whipped around and struck him again, making him tumble. Fear flew towards him like a scarlet comet, leaping onto his helm, and holding onto the visor as she peered into his crimson eyes. Golden metal bent as her armored hand clenched around it.

“Stop spouting lies. He isn’t gone, and I didn’t kill him. That’s not the truth. We’ve found our way home before, we can do it again. Let’s have faith in ourselves.”

“Never.” he whispered and then slammed his head onto the stone. Zima shouted, pestering him with more wind but Viho, with a flick of his wing, a wave of shadow washed over her and Zima went down, squirming as black fire covered her. Viho recovered himself and tried to pin down Fear with his talons. The fused champion evaded as her sister prompted her to hurry with whatever spell or speech she was going to attempt, since their time would eventually expire. In a battle of attrition, without the Eternal Fire, they would not last against a revenant. There were also external forces awaiting them, and neither would wait forever. Fear felt a hint of laughter within her when Pride pointed out the similarities between the enraged owl and herself.

“I’m a little stubborn at times, aren’t I…” Fear admitted, feeling a forlorn smile form as she bound back and forth and dodged each of Viho’s attacks. He was clumsy and lacked experience compared to her, but a single strike from his talons would end the fight, so she dedicated herself to defense until she could devise another strategy with haste. Her strength had yet to fade, but Zima was vulnerable, and Fear couldn’t afford to risk her companion or Rowan. Even now, she sensed the malice outside and the otherworldly presence inside, coming closer to bring an end to this confrontation. The fused champion recalled the words Zima had said in regards to freeing herself from her curse.

“An epiphany…” She muttered. “We are still stuck even if we’re free, as the gods will create more blessings and curses that will continue to trap us. Even so, as long as we're together, the good and bad, love and hatred, it will all come together to create harmony. Perhaps my wish won’t come to be, but Viho; you haven’t died alone, and neither will I!” Fear proclaimed as she separated from Pride and pushed her spectral sister to the back of the temple. She remained behind and no longer sought to evade the deadly talons of the owl champion. There was no calm before the coming storm, but Fear felt an ephemeral peace within her as she arrived at the outcome of her choice.

Somewhere Zima screamed, the shadows closed in and a baby cried. Viho’s aim was true and the owl champion grasped his once-friend and pinned her to the floor with strength enough to break the stone. He looked upon her, as he always had but there was no fondness or love behind his gaze. Now it was just anger and hatred. So great it was that it exuded from his very being like a plague. Dripping in the smoke that clung about him. “Of course you’d give up!” he shouted at her, “Of course you’d think some act of sacrifice was the only way! Of course of course of course!” He lamented. “And now you’re right here, so close under foot and I…” he paused, voice losing its edge. “I failed…” he began, bending his neck low. “My last trial… I plunged into that place of screaming, only to be saved by more suffering. Do you know what it was? My last trial…? You were there, the one I loved. How could I not? But you were a monster… You wanted to kill me and even then I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. So I fell.” His voice grew quieter. “And now? Before me you lay, accepting your fate. And I…I failed.” Viho looked at her again. His chest puffed out, the air swelled around him, grasp tightening and then, with a flap of his wings, he was gone. Leaving them all alone once again.

Inadvertent tears fell Fear’s sorrowful eyes, yet something pushed at her heart without relent. It was the voices of her sisters, shouting at her to stand, to rise and retrieve Rowan, while Pride was the most audible among them, her words both within her mind and outside from further back in the temple. “Flee then! The living can’t linger when a Gate of Nebel has been opened! Find the rest of our family and seek a way to save us, you fool!” While the soul of the Keeper of Keltra spoke, grey mist poured forth from the passage behind her, and the bellowing of chthonic beasts could be heard coming closer. The world of the living and the world of the dead were converging, beckoning souls and spirits from the afterlife to attend this strange spectacle.

Fear was drowning in despair, flailing helplessly in her head as she staggered to her feet and stared at the ghostly phenomenon in front of her. She was being exiled once again, and she sought out any that would not leave her now.

They came first through the mist, like a river of blue cutting through a mountain. All was washed over in their path and the babies coo’s were silenced. The baying of the beasts became muffled, the way was being blocked now as the souls of a people came forth. They were the Voiran’s, pale faced and white haired with eyes of crystal blue. They walked past Fear, a great multitude of them as they headed for who laid further in- Zima. Fear found herself weakened after enduring the presence of a revenant and now without the aid of the Phoenix flames to protect her, but she refused to let the souls of the dead harm her companion.

“Fear, go now!”

She could not see the soul of her shouting sister amidst the sea of other souls, and she had lost sight of Rowan behind the looming lonely altar as well. She could only see Zima, as the haunted visages of the Voirans marched towards her. It was neither warm, nor cold, as the mist filled the hollow chamber of the temple, and Fear fought desperately against the lethargy that hindered her movements.

Zima was grabbed, arms held as she was forced to stay on her knees, though she didn’t seem bothered by what was happening, almost as if she was at peace. Though her facial features told a different story. Haunted but accepting. Soon enough the Voiran presence within the chamber was all consuming. They came to a halt, like silent statues.

Zima’s eyes finally found Fear and she gave a small smile to her. “Fear. Listen to me! You have to go. What happens next, happens to me alone.”

“I won’t leave you! Come with me, please!”

Fear cried out in refusal, but then both she and Pride were grabbed by a multitude of the Voirans and brought opposite to Zima, who went wide eyed. “No! No! Let them go, it was just me! It was just me!” She struggled in their grasp but they were unyielding. A young Voiran girl stepped forth and Zima froze as she looked at her.

“The Daughters of Honor shall bear witness.” She said, her voice stern.

“Don’t hurt them, please. Just me. Just punish me.” Zima begged, looking to the floor.

“Zima.” She pointed at the spirit, “Daughter of the Spirit Father, He Who Claimed Death. You murdered us all and for what? You slaughtered an entire people. Wiped us from the face of the Galbar. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“No… I have nothing of value to say, only that I regret such actions and I will hate myself forever more.” Zima said with a sad sigh, she held her head high now. The Voiran’s faces were still devoid of any emotion but most could not look at her. Or maybe they wouldn’t.

“Then do you accept whatever punishment we deem to give?” The girl asked, stepping forth before her.

“Yes. I do.” Zima nodded, glancing at Fear.

The girl raised her finger again and pointed to the spirit. In the voices of a thousand people, she delivered judgment. “Then, as these champions as our witnesses, this shall be your punishment; Return to the field of our massacre, bury the bodies of us that remain so all may have proper rites and let sorrow bloom into hope.” Zima blinked, she looked shocked but quickly nodded.

“I will. Thank you. All of you.” She said sheepishly. “I do not deserve-”

She was cut off by the girl raising her hand, voice returning to her own. “No. You do not. But long have we come to understand that even those as wayward as you, deserve only pity. It is more likely that you will die trying to stop the Death that runs rampant in the North. Either way, we shall have our recupance.” The girl then turned to Fear and Pride.

“Your Mother stole the shard of Souls and now our god has vanished.” She pointed to Fear. “Return us the shard, even if Death claims you.” She pointed to Fear, “Deliver that message to your kin.” She then looked to Pride, arm falling to rest at her side. “You have received the proper rites of burial, even so cruelly as you were taken. You could linger here forever but know such souls who refuse to go on invite both monsters and pain. To pass on, your trials await. Bar any…” She glanced at Zima, “Unforeseen circumstances.” She then took a step back and all of them were freed. The girl looked to Fear again and tilted her head. “The owl’s soul is not so blackened yet. Only murder deepens the shadow. Look only to his own perceived failures to break what binds him. Forgiveness comes in two forms.” She then turned to leave, the Voirans beginning to dissipate.

“You must leave, the Iqelins grow emboldened and they would claim any lost soul not strong enough to fight back.” She glanced back to Pride. “We can guide you to your first gate, if you wish. Only follow.” She then dipped her head and vanished into the moving mist. An eerie silence descended upon the chamber, muted were the macabre calling from the depths and the thunderous tremors outside, only a continual haunting hiss lingered as a subtle ambient sound. It was dreadfully quiet.

Fear finally reached Zima, and held onto her. Tears gathered and trailed down the weeping champion’s cheeks, as she clung onto her companion. Fear trembled with distraught after the harrowing ordeal. “You, ah! Enough! We’re going together, so no more crying.” She said with a fragile smile that barely held itself. Instead of becoming sobbing she began the process of helping the spirit stand, as Pride stayed silently pensive closeby. Zima followed her up slowly and then, when standing, pressed her hands on either side of Fear’s cheeks.

“Okay, okay.” Her thumb, tentatively rubbed a tear away from Fear’s left eye. The spirit tilted her head, “I told you. I won’t leave you.”

Someone else came into view, another spirit, swadling a cloth bundle. Zima seemed to shrink and went to the side of Fear, looking to the floor as she grabbed a loose fabric that clung to Fear. The spirit that arrived before them was a woman, distraught with grief. She carried Rowan in her arms, reluctance in her posture as more Voiran’s traveled through the gate.

“Thank you.” She spoke to Fear, “For saving my Rowan. Please. Please, “ she begged, hands and arms shaking as she passed him towards her. “Take him. Keep him safe. Now is not the time for him to come with us. Please.”

“Seek Skydancer and our sisters. I will investigate this theft.” Pride added quietly, as Fear received Rowan and nodded her head at his mother with hope that she would rest reassured that her child would be protected. The anxious champion felt uncertain she conveyed such, when she barely felt reassured by anything at the moment with herself. The pressure in her mind became more potent, as the soul of her small sister continued to urge her to leave the temple, and Fear found that she forlornly accepted all that had happened with another slow nod. There was nothing that remained for her here.

The woman glanced at Zima and glowered but she dipped her head in thanks to Fear. “Thank you…” She said, leaning in to kiss Rowan’s brow. The boy cooed gently and then the woman returned to the lingering crowd. They were almost all gone.

Zima stepped forth after a time and called out to the smaller champion. “Pride?”

Pride scoffed when addressed. “Fear has faith in you. I’m lacking such… go on.” She said with annoyance, after Fear attempted to telepathically chastise her through their connection. With a free hand, Fear still held onto Zima.

Zima twirled her pointer fingers as she nervously tried to hold Pride’s scrutinizing gaze. “I… Noted. I just… If you go through with the trials, trust yourself. Go with your… Inner flame.” She then did something very odd. Having seemingly finished her conversation, Zima’s form shrunk into a small, translucent mink that slipped up Fear’s arm, hiding behind her neck and hair. She poked her face out and then said, “That’s all, good luck.” She then vanished again.

Pride tilted her head in response, before looking at Fear. “Farewell sister. Try to be less foolishly stubborn next time.” She said, until she was suddenly rushed and embraced. Fear awkwardly hugged the soul of her sister, with a reminder between them that such was a tradition whenever any of them parted ways, before she stepped back and smiled softly. Fear began her journey outside, stating to her sister that it wasn’t a goodbye while she also recited Viho’s words. Without the Eternal Fire, both she and Rowan would soon perish, but she didn’t stop to lament or lose herself to those thoughts, and carried onwards.

“Everything will be okay, Fear. You’ll see.’ Zima whispered in her ear. “Pride is… Strong. She will succeed in the trials and… Well, a part of me believes her place in this world is not yet over. Take heart, my… Fear. We’ll find a way through this.”

“It’s overwhelming, but I can still breathe when I’m with you. I’m going to help you bury the dead too. It’s always been my intention to go back there…” Fear replied, carefully carrying Rowan in her arms as she passed through the passage leading out of the temple. Zima pulsed, rummaging through Fear’s hair but said nothing.

Keltra had become even more desolate after the coming of the corrupted Chailiss, cold and dark where his presence had tainted the stone and purged the warmth that once emanated from the Eternal Fire. Though it was a disturbing sight, Fear found cruelly ironic fortune in the great gaping wound in the western section of the wall, which would allow her to walk out of the fortress without difficulty. The anxious champion trekked quickly across the bleak fields, averse to entering the interior of the empty keep and bringing forth more pain. She said nothing, as she sensed the departure of her sister’s soul, and felt a solemn silence in the connection they shared.

Zima let out a small sigh. “Such destruction. My father is truly gone then. The God I knew would never have stooped so low. What… What went wrong?” She seemed to ask herself.

“I don’t really know. The Divine can become lost too, so somewhere he stumbled along the way. I want to help him, but I can’t think of anything that will at the moment. Too much thinking, and I’ll burn out. We can look for Mother when we’re safe… she’s a goddess, and closer to him.” Fear said, though she could not find the conviction of her words within her voice.

“I would say some cannot be helped but… That wouldn’t be so true.” Zima murmured. “But I will say, your mother’s recent antics do frighten me as well. We know not her side or why she has done such things but Garle had no reason to lie and the Voirans. We should tread carefully around those that could kill us so easily.”

“It’s funny, I’ve thought of running away from it all so many times. I didn’t want to be used by the Divine, to be what my Mother wanted, to stay forever afraid of myself and everything around me, but what can I do? I can’t hide any longer, because I’ll be weak when it’s my time to stand up for myself. Too weak. Pride says… that Mother will grant us the strength we need, so I’m going to have to look for her, at least for the sake of my sisters.” Without warning, Fear came to a halt. “Um, now that you’re not trying to kill them, maybe we can all be sisters.” She hesitantly said before she resumed her journey towards the sundered wall.

“Sisters? O-Of course.” Zima said in a sheepish voice. “You should not think of such things. I mean, of what you are or what you were meant to be. It does not matter, Fear. We should only rely on ourselves and each other, because that’s what matters. I think at least. Umm, you are honorable, even now. It is something that I… Admire, very much. But I will go with you, wherever you wish. You followed me enough…”

“I’m meandering now. Adrift… My family acts as an anchor, but being close to them means being close to her… Don’t blame yourself for your curse, Zima, because how could you have known what would happen or fought against it?” Fear kept walking, and passed through the threshold of the fortress and proceeded into the forest. “There was a time when Mother didn’t want us to leave Keltra until she deemed the rest of the world was safe for us. My sisters and I disagreed before we discovered the nature of our relationship with our Mother, the one that held such power over us.” Fear gazed upon her hand, and felt the weight of a phantom blade pressed into her palm. “She made me kill Courage, as she killed the others… Trapped in a horrific nightmare. There was not a choice or act I could’ve done to change what happened. It was as if it was pre-written. Meant to be.” She let her hand drop, and let out a sigh as well.

“Do you really believe you don’t deserve forgiveness?” Fear asked.

"Yes…" Zima murmured, poking her small head out. "Fear, what your mother did was awful. What I did to you was awful. What I've done to the world while… That thing…" her voice faded as if she was caught in the moment. "It is not something most can just forgive." She said again, emotion seeping into her voice, "You should hate me, Fear. I abused you. I hurt you. I stole you away. I destroyed your very memories so you would stay with me, like some sort of doll. A servant without your own will. Even if my fate was pre-written, I was still active in my choice. I didn't have to make others hurt. I didn't have to kill or destroy or or…" Her voice broke into small sobs. Zima then pounced from her shoulder and became a young woman again, landing before Fear to stop her from walking. Her features were vaguely ethereal, misty and blue. She stood a little taller than Fear and her hair was frazzled.

Zima's mournful sobs soon became angrier however as she poked Fear in the chest. "Why do you forgive me so easily? If you had told me you never wanted to see me again I would have left. I would have respected that choice. Perhaps I still should. It's only my own selfishness why I stay, me thinking that I can do good by you." She grabbed the dress she wore and flailed her other arm. "You don't need me, Fear. You've never had anything to prove!"

The baby stirred and Zima eyed him, calming herself with a deep breath. Her voice became softer while her arms rested at her sides. "You've simply wanted to live and be free and you have. You are strong, the strongest of your sisters. And your heart is forgiving. Perhaps too much." The spirit gulped, "I… I'm sorry for everything. But I'm not… A victim, Fear. You were. Of cruelty, from both myself and your mother. I will never guilt you into doing anything ever again."

She crossed her arms. "When you told me you wanted to return to the Field of Sorrow, I almost agreed. But I have to do that by myself. You are free of me, Fear. You're free… And I should be dead." She whispered, looking to the ground at their feet.

“I don’t want to be free of you though.” Fear replied, stepping closer to her spiritual companion. “And if you should be dead, then so should I. If I should live, then so should you… That’s kind of what I believe, at least.” She added quietly, as the shifting symbols of the Gnosis manifested over her open hand, before she softly placed her hand upon Zima’s shoulder.

Zima looked to the touch, her lips trembling as she looked to Fear with wide eyes. "Why?" She asked. Even though sustaining the spell exhausted her further, Fear found herself holding onto a small smile as she answered.

“I’m not afraid when I’m with you... You’re a source of joy, excitement, gratitude, and hope for me. I would be incomplete without you. So… I feel like I should thank you.”

Zima took her hand and pushed it away. "Fear… Don't you see how wrong that is? I," she pointed to herself, "I possessed your body. I gave you a parasite that required you to murder innocents. You've barely known me as I am now. There was no joy or excitement or gratitude or hope before. Just sorrow and suffering. You cannot say such things. Do not be thankful for what I did. And certainly don't say you'd be incomplete without me. Are you unable to see what I see? The brave daughter of honor before my eyes. She is already complete."

“I am Fear, the daughter of honor that was born to bring terror into the world. You helped me when you were a revenant, and I was what my mother wanted me to be for a time. It was very painful, and I wish to never feel that way again, but it was something that I had resisted for too long. I have changed, and I’m stronger now because of our terrible actions. Maybe… someday I will be strong enough to defy Mother. You’re not her slave, and it’s like I can see a light whenever I look at you, even when you were shrouded with shadows. It brings me hope… that there is another way. I was more free with you, and we can be more free together.” Her words spilled forth in a rush, as her mind swirled with contradictory thoughts and the voices of her sisters all arguing for or against what she had said. Fear let out a tired sigh, as she released the spell and glanced south-west in the direction she felt her physical sisters were in, so far from Keltra now.

Zima’s stare was downcast as she looked at Fear. She said nothing for several moments before taking another deep breath. "Oh Fear. Perhaps we're both too damaged for our own good. I only feel guilt and you wish to thank me for it. I don't know what else to say to make you see. But I know I wish to help you and you wish to help me, so maybe with time… We can heal and I don't know, try to move on?"

Zima sighed and the corners of her lips turned into a slight smile. "I will stay with you Fear but I swear, if I deem my presence is doing you more harm than good, I will leave. Whether you wish me to or not. Being apart makes us see what we are often blind to. Would you respect my choice if it comes to pass?"

“Would you be willing to stop saying that you should be dead then?” Fear asked.

The spirit smirked. "Yes."

“Then I’ll, um… accept your choice, Zima.”

“We rescued Rowan when we went to find Zima on behalf of Chailiss long ago, and encountered grim and cruel creatures hunting him and his mother. We thought he was the only one among his people that had not been killed by the Revenant, as neither our Mother nor Voi ever sought to reunite him with others like himself.” Homura II explained while Skydancer flew over a sea of clouds that hung over the land. It was less loud at such an altitude, far enough away from the people that lived on the plains so that she did not have to hear them all throughout the journey home. The demigoddess was aware that it was the non-divine half of her that sought to listen to the world with a newfound ability to take notice of all that was the Galbar. Her heightened perception had become both a gift and a hindrance at the moment, it seemed, so she focused on elucidating all that had happened.

“My Lord had to have known I was alive… Why wouldn’t he…” Mair muttered, growing quiet. She looked out at the horizon, growing stoic. Shysie put a hand on her shoulder but even this did not stir her.

“How did you feed him?” Shysie asked Homura II with a raised eyebrow.

“Transmutation. I cannot say for certain what the exact changes to his body were, but he is sustained by the Eternal Fire which acts as a source of energy for life. I can ascertain another way of feeding him when we return to Keltra and have properly observed his body.” She replied, and silently recalled a time when she had eaten the food offered by her brothers among the Childan as the Holy Quintet… resulting in the temporary corruption of the water inside her. She smiled with the realization that in this new form she could eat as much food as she liked, and cleanse her body immediately afterwards.

Shysie let out a large laugh. “I could surely tell you. You nee-” She was cut off by Mair, who snapped back to attention.

“You changed his body? To feed off fire!” She said, anger in her voice. “What else have you done to him?” she demanded.

“Primarily cuddle with him, as well as weave for him a dress. We noted his inner flames were being consumed by the earth and water of his shape, but that is common among most mortals. His shape will change as a consequence of this, but that is again… common among most mortals. He remains akin to an average Voiran child, according to the visions we glimpsed in Pride’s memories. You may verify whether this is true when you see him, I suppose.” Homura II answered.

"What are you even talking about right now?" Mair huffed, crossing her arms. "Inner flames? Earth? Water? Do you even know what we are made of?" She grew angrier, "He better be alright when we get there! He's the only other one who remains and I swear if you've brought harm to him, unknowingly or not I'll fu-"

Shysie put a hand over Mair’s mouth, but it was more her entire face, much to the protest of the Voiran woman. "Calm Mair. Calm. All will be well. They saved us at least, how much could they have done to harm the baby?"

She released her hold over Mair and the pale warrioress began to grumble. "Whatever. As long as he's fine. I can't say I trust them, even if they did help us. They only helped me after they almost killed me. What sort of half divine's solution to undoing a possession is to batter the possessed with rocks? Aren't you a Divine now? Couldn't you have done something else?"

Shysie sighed.

“Hmm… I intended to eradicate your bodies completely, preventing the revenant from possessing others, and afterwards, I would have apprehended her and brought her back to Keltra. Then I would have resurrected you and anyone else that was obliterated as well when the threat was removed. Those were my intentions, yet I am not infallible, and events unfolded differently.” Her voice, so alike her Mother’s now, was ever stern, and the demigoddess pondered the fact that she had so few memories of this specific voice employing a gentle tone. Homura II sensed a hint of anger deep within her, but it felt too far away to ever reach the surface, reduced to being irrelevant in the larger system of her being that constantly interacted with the world. With her greater perception, she noticed her anger grow immensely, yet it still remained insignificant in comparison to everything else. She idly wondered what Mair would do; when she progressed further along the Sacred Path, and joined the Divine as well.

The look of abject horror became apparent on their faces. It was Mair who began to shake with anger. "That's not right…" She began, "How dare you!" She jumped up, charging forth but Shysie grabbed her forearm. "Let me go, let me go!" She screamed, fighting Shysie, who remained calm despite everything. "She doesn't care!" Mair began to cry angry tears, "None of them do! We're all just playthings to them! Useful tools!" She began to stop struggling, going limp as more tears came. "He let everyone die. She would have let everyone die. I hate you."

“Your presence was an unforeseen addition to the equation… it was only meant to be myself, Zima, and Fear. Shysie, please tell me why you thought you two were capable of intervening - why did you involve yourselves when you would have inevitably perished and provided the revenant with more souls to taint? Were there more of you?”

Before the Childan could say anything, Mair snapped back, "Because someone had to put down that demon and by the sound of it, you let her live!"

"Mair please. Relax little bird." Shysie said.

"Don't tell me to relax!" She shouted, Shysie winced but Mair kept going, "She thinks us incapable of doing the very task we set out for. Just to justify her own failures. They have to be right because if they aren't, then someone else gets blamed. There is nothing left inside, just the coldness that all gods exude."

“If the revenant remains, then I will seek her until she is freed from her curse. The cavern was empty when I returned for Fear, and neither of them were powerful enough to endure the manastorm. I currently sense my sister in Keltra, therefore she survived… if the revenant accompanied her, then they will have to contend with Pride who possesses an equal amount of stone to hurl at her target. You should rejoice, as the threat is being removed.” Homura II offered, before she conjured a meal similar to what the Holy Quintet had received, and began eating the contents of the levitating bowls and platters laden with resplendent food from where she stood. She contemplated the frivolous nature of calling upon the Gnosis to create such a strange source of sustenance, but found that she still enjoyed the taste of it all.

“Would you like some as well?” The demigoddess asked.

"Unbelievable." Mair said, smoke beginning to waft from her pores and Shysie, alarmed, let go. Instead of attacking the demigoddess, Mair turned to her giant friend and through gritted teeth said, "Make. Sure. The baby. Is. Safe." And then she was gone, transformed into a white raven and became lost in the wind of Skydancer's wake.

Shysie almost tipped the boat as she tried to move positions to call after her, but her voice was lost in the wind. She grabbed the sides of her head and looked to the demigoddess, tears pooling in her large eyes. "I hope you're happy."

“You should hope Mair finds happiness, as her hatred will not heal her.” Homura II replied halfheartedly, as she glanced between two bowls filled with a mixture of Bjork and Childan cuisine, and deliberated upon which she should consume before the other.

Shysie looked up at the sky, a laugh escaping her lips. "You don't think I know that?" She said, looking back down at the indifferent demigod. "I tried to be there for her, to make sure she wouldn't be alone. I tried to steer her away from vengeance but she is stubborn and can be like a child. Just as you, spirit mother."

Shysie hugged herself and looked to the floor. "I pity the spirits. Especially you. You are everything we are not and more. I only feel as if it blinds you, poisons you. I only hope you know what you are doing. I have seen such good intentions turn cruel."

“I am what I am, regardless of whether or not I am what I wish to be. What I once was is suppressed in the depths of my being, to prevent becoming possessed. What I will be, I have yet to decide. I cannot promise salvation, but I solemnly seek to protect the Galbar and its denizens. I digress, what will you do when we reach our destination?” Homura II asked after finishing her meal, and resumed her motionless stance at the helm again.

"I only wish that you are able to protect us from yourself." She sighed. "I shall ensure the child is safe and return to the north. My people must know what has transpired."

“Tell me, have the men and women of the North reconciled? When the Holy Quintet visited, they spoke with a tribe that dwelled upon the southern shores where all of the Childan first awoke. They heard of the prophecy that Wapeka the Brave foretold; that when the sky danced, the tribes would come together once more.” Homura II felt a yearning to return to the North as she spoke, since she could feast alongside her brothers without concern now. Even though she could not predict the future, and a paramount choice awaited her, her mind repeatedly returned to reminiscing the times when there was less divinity dictating the world around her. She realized with regret that she wanted to enjoy what she would simply call her adolescence again, but she was aware that with great power, came great responsibility.

It was here that the Childan woman briefly smiled before her face dripped into an immeasurable sadness. “The sky danced and with it came spring, like Wapeka foretold. Many came together but with the onset of spring beset a tragedy that we cannot ever forget. You see, our homeland to the west was torn asunder by the dance. We knew not what happened, only that we lost many that day. The Worst was yet to come, for a few of us Keepers were asked to go to the very reaches of the north. There sat a domain inhabited by the Spirit Father yet… He was not the same. He had grown mad. There in that place I was with three other sisters, Mair and a daughter of Chailiss, Aurora. Her mother was Rosalind, so she said and before the dance ripped our land apart, they had been with us. We feared them dead. But now Rosalind sleeps in the highest tower, guarded by Chailiss to keep the fever at bay. We tried to escape when we realized he was gone. The spirits… Some were kind. They would have carried us away but the Father found us and he killed them. My sisters before Aurora whisked us far, far away. I must return, to tell my people and then… I must save Aurora.”

“I would help you on your quest, if you have no qualms with my assistance.” Homura II said, then Skydancer descended beneath the sea of clouds, and the endless waves of golden and silvery mists around them briefly shone with a resplendent radiance as the colorful light of the soaring vessel was reflected before swiftly parting through it all. Shysie was too mesmerized for further talk.

Beneath them now spread the vast crimson forest of Kel-Phelena, sprouting from the southern shores to the northern mountains - and in the distance stood the immense fortress of Keltra, towering over the throng of red trees. They had already traveled from the western edges of Termina to the eastern edge during their limited conversation, and it had been only a short while since they departed their home in search of their stray sister, yet it seemed much had changed since then.

The demigoddess did not steer Skydancer towards the fortress, but instead flew towards the section of the forest directly beneath them. There was no turbulence, nor disruption to their surroundings, as they lowered themselves through the canopy of scarlet leaves, carefully navigating their way through the white branches as they moved closer to the ground, until they alighted before the one they sought. Homura II hid her grimace as she internally strangled and rearranged the flow of thoughts and memories through the connection she shared with Fear, preventing her sister from accessing her mind while she retained all access, as there must be caution with such interactions between mortals and those that had become like her.

Fear was not alone, but Homura II could see and understand what had happened, so she hastily processed both her sorrow and relief as she spoke aloud. “I am Homura II, and I intend neither of you harm.” Her strange yet familiar words were accompanied by a surge of sustaining warmth in her sister and the child that she carried in her arms, as the aura of Skydancer and her own divinity provided for both of them. Slow and steady, she let pieces of her mind reach out to Fear to alleviate any lingering dread that the anxious champion had held after her recent ordeal and the concerns of further consequences for her companion.

“What happened? You’re a Reflection of Mother, but you’re also my sisters? Courage? Kindness? Except you’re not…” Fear questioned quietly, confusion and apprehension shimmering in her eyes. She was the opposite of composed, trembling and on the verge of being overwhelmed as she barely struggled to stay standing, because confronting what was before her and accepting what was behind her, left her feeling deeply lost and lonely. She could hold onto the facsimile of a smile with Zima, but the amalgam of her sisters that had transformed into something too similar to her maker was becoming a source of much stress. Fear reached out to Zima, but her hand passed through her, much to the spirit's dismay.

“Indeed; I am not your sisters.” The demigoddess agreed with an inner reluctance that she refused to show, keeping her impassive visage for her sake, and for Fear. The remnants of the Sacred Septet within her sought to reduce the pain they would inflict upon their sister as much as they could, and that meant cutting themselves away from her sooner rather than later.

More fragments of her thoughts seeped through their choked connection, and Fear was becoming aware of what would come next, but she hadn’t comprehended the entirety yet. She stepped closer to Skydancer, glancing at the Childan she recognized seated upon the hovering boat too small for her size, and Fear recognized that this was the woman she fought in the tomb of Voligan. Vale was hushed by Courage and Kindness, as the lingering persona became angered at the sight of the Childan - and Fear was left hoping that she could make amends and receive forgiveness after what she had done.

Shysie gave them a scrutinizing look, one of true disdain and perhaps more bitter as she looked at Fear and rubbed her new appendage. She glanced at Homura the second before leaning back. "I will take the child.” Shysie said, outholding one of her hands to Fear. “It would be pointless to fight you with her here but give me the baby, so I at least can hold onto something of value.”

“No! I promised to protect him… from Chailiss, and anything else that would hurt him. I… I need to hear you say you won’t hurt him… Then I’ll let you hold him. Otherwise, I’m going to keep Rowan and Zima safe, even from you.” Fear hesitantly replied, her stare switching between Shysie and her melded sisters with desperate resolve, as the truth that she could not defy either of them at the moment was evident in her now painfully tired and reluctant expression.

Shysie’s brow hardened. “My friend is one of the last Voirans, she wanted me to watch over the only hope of her people. I will not have someone who, just before this meeting now, devoured my flesh and who keeps such company.” Her eyes found Zima, the spirit looked to the ground in shame. “I would never hurt him, I couldn’t. But you? You are the ones no one in their right minds should trust, even if you are somehow less inclined to evil acts. Now give him to me.” Her hand grew impatient.

Fear slowly obliged, offering Rowan to the childan before stepping back and imitating Zima’s ashamed stance. Shysie took the small boy and gingerly pulled him in close, inspecting with an inquisitive eye. “We’ve promised to atone.” Fear whispered, then returned her remorseful gaze to the demigoddess. “We’re going to perform burials and funeral rites for the Voirans… They told us to.” The anxious champion explained, as her hands became restless without holding onto anything.

“Hmm… you would not survive the journey without a source to sustain your inner flames, and I wish to see what has befallen the northern lands as well. You have now found Skydancer and the remnants of your sisters, or perhaps it is we who have found you. I digress, I shall accompany you to the cursed fields where the corpses await.” Homura II proclaimed, as Fear averted her eyes and winced.

Zima looked up at Homura II. “It must be an afterthought for now. I’m sure you already know what has befallen Keltra but as it stands, the Spirit Father has gone mad, stealing the remaining sleeping humans. He must be stopped, by any means. He will kill us all and the world in his insanity. Please.” She dipped her head again. “Please, let us make it right. Let us help.”

“We lack the strength to directly oppose Chailiss, but we would seek to protect those that cannot protect themselves. I will not forbid you from choosing to fight. However, I must first find the truth; the world is on the verge of annihilation regardless of our actions, unless I discover the answer to overcome our demise… Precious time is waning, let us depart swiftly.” Her voice remained impassive, but her mind conveyed the implicit urgency to Fear through their connection. Homura II hurried the two that had yet to board the boat, turning Skydancer so its side faced them, and causing the earth beneath Fear’s feet to rise and lift her.

Rather than endure the tight confines of squeezing too many passengers on the small vessel, Homura II channeled her sacred power into Skydancer, swiftly changing its shape and size. Skydancer became slightly wider and further elongated until there was plentiful space for all aboard, with additional rows of seats and an open section in the center - letting Shysie, Fear, and Zima sit comfortably in ruminative silence, as Homura II stood at the helm. Surging forth from the hands of the demigoddess, arcs of red streaked all around followed by the manifestation of glittering golden filigree which decorated the hull and an ornate platinum phoenix figurehead adorning the prow. Then soon afterwards the newly altered ship ascended above the forest of Kel-Phelena before gracefully soaring towards its next destination like a bolt of celestial light taking flight towards its target.

A chill darkness awaited them…

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Hidden 30 days ago Post by Squad 404
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Squad 404

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Ruin creates a champion.

Location: The Celestial Palace.
Interacting with: Homura (@Chris488)
Mentions: None in specific.

Ruina let out a concerned hum as she looked outward from the palace and down at Galbar. Things were going quite poorly, it would seem. Holding aloft the circlet of seeing that she had been given so long ago by The Monarch of All, Ruina still had an amount of hesitance to put it on again. However, she could slightly circumvent that problem by looking through it like a magnifying glass instead of harnessing its full power. It wasn’t ideal, but Ruina didn’t want the vengeful Monarch to have something to lash out at her with.

Even through this limited lens, the devastation that Ruina could see was rather bleak. It was excessive and unrefined. There was no opportunity to rebuild in a better and more refined way, no way to push people to reach beyond the boundaries that they believed themselves to have and attain strength previously thought impossible… Just death and finality. How uncivilized.

Sighing, Ruina spoke to herself gently. ”I suppose that since I am destruction incarnate it rightfully falls to me to see these blights removed, doesn’t it? But I wonder what I alone might do…” Setting aside the circlet of seeing, Ruina began to pace about the plaza as she considered what might be done. It was entirely possible for her to let fly orbs of destruction and coat Galbar with waves of raw destructive power enough to send anything back to the oblivion it came from… But would that then not make her the grand threat? Most likely, so it was off the table.

But to go and challenge these threats herself would likely be equally foolish. She didn’t know how they worked and if they would be vulnerable. What if they just ignored her capabilities entirely? What if they stole her powers from her? What if they stole her suit? These questions and more were left unanswered, and so Ruina resolved that perhaps it should not be her that went down to face them. But it could certainly be something that she made.

Turning to the main body of the plaza, Ruina began to focus. Raising a hand, she slowly traced a circle into the air, causing a glowing ring to appear upon the ground and fill with all manner of lines and runes. It was time for destruction to turn to creation. But as she began to bring the design of her champion into its final stages, she began to realize that she was not entirely alone…

“I had been wondering which path you would wander. So then this is your choice, Ruina?” Anath Homura asked, as she approached and gestured towards the runic ring with Daybringer, and continued impassively. “I confess, I am curious regarding the details of your creation.”

Raising an eyebrow at the sound of Homura’s voice, Ruina looked away from her work for a moment to make sure that it was indeed Homura before nodding and looking back to the circle before speaking up. ”Yes. I am going to attempt to measure just how vulnerable they are to me in order to ascertain just how useful in the coming conflict I will be. But since I do not wish to have my all taken from me, this will be more of a… Remote measurement.”

A pulse of red light came from the circle as bone, cartilage, and muscle began to weave themselves into shape. There was a thick and sickening sound of bones breaking and fusing along with muscle tearing and mending into form. Horrifying method of creation aside, the results were quite efficient, as the champion was stitched together quite firmly from the efforts. As things flowed, Ruina spoke once more. This time it was much quieter, as she was hesitant to deviate her concentration too much. ”My design for my champion is similar to that of my own suit, though hopefully different enough that anything they bring to bear will be less effective if tried against me.”

The forming champion had reached about waist-level by now, with strange digitigrade legs giving way to a surprisingly slim and feminine torso. In silence, Homura languidly strode along the perimeter of the circle, conveying no expression nor offering any comment on the process. She merely observed, neither interrupting nor intruding, yet her presence remained ever visible and closeby.

With little further commentary from Homura, Ruina focused her efforts on the creation of her new champion. With the torso now complete, the arms and head began to take shape. Wings of bone emerged from the beings back, and winglike protrusions of bone emerged from her head. Finally, in stark contrast to the more grotesque muscle and bone construction of the rest of Ruina’s new champion a pair of white feathered wings emerged from behind the wings of bone, being shielded from attacks by their presence, though of course the disturbing nature of the champion carried itself through in the form of a pair of four eyes appearing on the inside of the wings. Whether or not they truly contributed to the vision of the champion wasn’t entirely clear.

Now, at last, the champion moved under her own power. Turning her head side to side and appearing to look around, the being looked to Homura, and then looked to Ruina. Her vocalization came out as a series of almost incomprehensible sounds reminiscent of more organic sounding robotic beeps, but even though she didn’t use words she could still be comprehended through them. ”What is the task I am created for, mother?”

Ruina did not give an immediate answer to the question, instead taking a moment to walk around the champion slowly, nodding a few times at her handiwork. Once her brief inspection was done, she spoke up to answer her question. ”You, my daughter, are going to be the vanguard of the defense of Galbar. But you will not be going unprepared…”

With nothing more to say at the moment, Ruina began to craft something else. A spear of bone, quite similar in appearance to Ruina’s champion, began to take shape in her hands. For now Ruina was quiet, but Ruina’s champion now turned to look at Homura, studying her silently as she waited for whatever gift would be coming next. The red goddess tilted her head as she was staring back, before she spoke. “Have you chosen a name?”

At the question Ruina let out a hum before falling silent again. As the spear was finalized in its construction Ruina held it aloft for a few moments before offering it over to her champion. The champion took it firmly before holding it aloft, measuring its heft before lowering it to a neutral pose and nodding in approval. Now Ruina pointed at the glowing circle beneath the champion’s feet before bringing her finger sharply upwards. Tendrils of crimson energy began to flow into the champion, and Ruina spoke softly to answer Homura’s question. “I dub you Calamitas, my daughter. Bringer of calamity and destruction to the newly appeared foes, and give unto you my last gift.”

Following this, the symbol began to fade as the remaining energy was infused into both Calamitas and their spear. Afterwards, Homura held up her hand as she slowly approached Calamitas. “May I?” She asked, glancing upwards to meet the gaze of the much taller champion of destruction.

Calamitas looked down to Homura, silently weighing a response before gently leaning forward and holding the weapon out for Homura to examine. Shimmering limbs extended from behind the red goddess and accepted the spear, lowering so that it was held out afore Homura as her hands wrapped in ribbons reached out to touch it. Three aspect-shards in her collection began to exude a great aura that was visible to the eyes of the Divine; Honor, War, and Crafting.

“Hmm…” Homura stepped back as she grasped the spear, similar yet different from the weapon she primarily wielded herself. Daybringer receded into an iota of its previous size, sinking into the palm of the red goddess, as she started flourishing and twirling the Spear of Destruction. Time stood still as she began to dance, swirling with graceful serpentine strikes, and lithe pirouettes where she stood. Otherworldly music accompanied her performance, accentuating subtle motions with euphonious rhythms and evocative sounds that swifty summoned the near stars to the Divine Palace. The celestial children sparkled with radiant excitement as they whispered amongst themselves, the more lively amidst their number singing along with the ethereal music. Homura beckoned them with her serene visage and alluring gestures, calling for the one that would be worthy as the melody reached the crescendo. An amethyst came forward, and was accepted as the red goddess respectfully bowed when her performance concluded.

The Spear of Destruction was enveloped in a blinding white light, before sections of the sudden luminosity burned away, and Homura had guided the gemstone towards the weapon. Shifting symbols manifested upon the amethyst as it was set into the bone that comprised the blade, where the three pointed tips came together. The remainder of the light dispersed, and the weapon was as it was prior to the red goddess touching it, with only the addition of the amethyst. The numerous stars departed the Divine Palace, as Homura walked towards Calamitas and returned the Spear of Destruction to the champion. “I give unto you my gift as well.”

Calamitas sat idle as Homura added in her own contribution to the spear, only moving once the spear was offered back to them. Then she moved slowly and with a surprising gentleness to retrieve it from the much smaller Homura. Holding it aloft once more to inspect the amethyst that had been added to the weapon. Nodding in approval Calamitas spoke again, their biological beeps once more translating themselves into words in Homura’s mind. ”You have my thanks for this gift, Homura. I will use it to slay the enemies of Galbar.”

With that particular bit mentioned, Calamitas now looked to Ruina and spoke again, asking a simple yet critical question. ”When does my task begin, mother?” Ruina smiled slightly before speaking up once more. ”Soon. I must discuss with Homura where best it would be to send you. In the meantime, if you wish to practice with your weapon, there are many hundreds of unused rooms within this palace, and any of them would do fine for you to exercise.”

Nodding, Calamitas left to the maze-like interior of the palace to find somewhere to practice. Once she was out of earshot, Ruina turned to Homura to speak once more. ”Speaking of that, where would you like her sent once she familarizes herself with moving around? I would imagine that simply trying to fight the biggest thing out there would not end very well.”

“It would be foolish… I cannot see where our enemies dwell, and I cannot act against them from afar. I am trapped as a spectator to their deranged slaughter, compelled to remain here in order to protect our weakened Lord from predation.” Homura glanced away, one eye flickering with a hint of guilt as she spoke. There was often little the red goddess did to indicate her concerns and anxiety, but it was evident she felt troubled by the dire situation: the necessary sacrifice of many mortals and even their divine kin during this season of strife. “I have sensed three more cuts upon the Tapestry, and shadows obscure my vision over the continent of Orsus, the Tree of Harmony, and the Forge of the World. I am left to assume that the devastation that occurred in the North and Convocation will repeat in those three locations.” There still were words left unspoken, yet Homura became quiet.

Ruina nodded at the information given, taking a few moments to consider where might be the best place to contest. It was plain to see that the situation eroded Homura’s mind, though Ruina unfortunately didn’t have anything that she felt could ease the red goddess… At least not immediately. When considering that Homura said her vision was obscured, Ruina had an idea come to mind. Departing briefly, Ruina returned, hovering the circlet of seeing that The Monarch had given her so long ago above her hand. Holding the ring down towards the red goddess, Ruina explained. ”This is the circlet of seeing. I was given it by Him shortly after my creation in order to scan the surface of Galbar for things to test. After our subduing of Him, I’ve felt a bit of hesitance to wear it in full and truly harness it lest I open myself up to some form of retaliation, but given that you seem to have plenty of ways to subdue His power, I would imagine that you could likely make use of it in full. Perhaps with this you would be able to circumvent your lack of vision?”

“Even the power of prescience is not enough to perceive where the anathematic demons dwell, for they do not exist as we do, it seems. I have gazed into the future, yet they remain hidden until then they reveal themselves to wreak devastation, before vanishing once more. With sorrow, I have realized that the Galbar has become a haunted realm… There is little hope. Alas I appreciate your offer, but I cannot accept such. The sole remedy to my predicament is acquiring more allies; to aid me in battle against the demons and to provide salvation for mortals. We cannot let life be annihilated.” Homura said, then stepped closer, and stared up at Ruina with an ever enigmatic expression. Her hand, small and still laced in ribbons, reached towards Ruina at a sedated pace.

At the declining of the gift for its offered purpose, Ruina let out a hum. That was going to be a bit of a problem, then. Ruina thought carefully about what else she could try and do to aid Homura, but unfortunately things came up blank. Letting the circlet of seeing hover out of reach as Homura stepped forward, Ruina returned her gaze to the red goddess in time to see the rising hand. Curious as to what Homura meant to go do, she merely blinked and allowed the red goddess to reach towards her. Did she, like Ea Nebel, merely find her suit fascinating in this moment? Or was it something more? Was there something Ruina could not see? It was difficult to say for sure, so Ruina opted to merely wait.

“May I give you a gift as well?” Homura asked.

At the question, Ruina could not help but blink again. A gift? She didn’t suppose why not… Normally she would be quite opposed to people tampering with her suit, but with the things that Homura had been gifted and the looming threat to Galbar, perhaps it was time to set aside that usual hesitance. With that in mind, Ruina gave a nod of approval, and braced herself for what might come.

Homura set her hand upon Ruina’s stomach, and began to shimmer. Soon the red goddess subtly pulsated with otherworldly power that flowed forth from her palm and across Ruina’s suit. Only a single shard in her possession was activated, as the aspect of Protection stirred and bestowed its blessing on the armor that was once another deity. Despite the influx of divine energy, there was no danger, nor pain, and Homura’s hand swiftly receded when she had finished further imbuing the suit with strength and resilience. The empowerment manifested as an ethereal emerald where her hand had been, glittering with a gentle glow.

As the flow of divine power entered into her suit, Ruina let a small shudder run through her body as a chill ran through her spine. She and the suit were so closely bonded that modifying one was almost modifying the other, to a degree. As the aspect of Protection stirred and gave its blessing, Ruina felt a rush of energy flow through her nervous system, or what would’ve been her nervous system had she truly possessed internal organs like mortals did. But it felt as if every nerve in her body had a chain of steel wrapped around it, only to then melt and harden into a protective shell as her suits ability to protect her was amplified. Ruina herself could only gasp and stiffen as a sensation of energetic cold ran through her being, and after a few moments she crumpled to the floor, gasping for air.

This, naturally, caused a flurry of motion as Calamitas returned, sliding across the ground as if skating on ice. Her spear raised to strike at Homura, but she froze as if time was stopped when Ruina raised a finger towards her, even her momentum seemingly vanished. Standing up as she caught her breath, Ruina turned to her champion briefly to explain. ”Do not be alarmed. I am well. This was a gift that was offered and accepted… I just did not expect such a feeling.”

Calamitas lowered her spear wordlessly before nodding, and Ruina turned to Homura to explain. ”Apologies, she can sense what happens to me, as I can her. It was something I did in order to amplify our ability to fight together. It… Can have drawbacks, as you have just seen. But the benefits that such a bond can give are numerous enough for me to accept the risks posed.”

As Ruina flexed and moved in order to make sure that everything was working as it should’ve been, she felt the glowing emerald fade, and nodded before speaking again. ”My thanks for this gift, I am sure that it will come in handy at some point.”

“Indeed. My gifts are similar in nature to the bond you two share; as when star stones are whispered to, they may direct your voice to another of their kin. We each carry a star stone, hence we may communicate to each other regardless of the distance between us. Amidst battle, there may be times when I cannot open a portal due to the danger of our Lord being targeted. Now we possess a more efficient means of communicating without risk.” Homura said, motionless akin to a statue and evidently pensive where she stood. The red goddess glanced towards Calamitas, the champion reflected within her sorrowful ruby gaze. “I am opposed to heedless sacrifice… as we are aiming for a way of vigilance and preservation primarily. She should not seek a victory she cannot attain - as a repetition of lost relics and resurrection will lead to our defeat.”

Homura was a combination of concerned rigidness and celestial elegance, yet she continued to speak, returning her one-eyed sight to Ruina. “Hmm… Forgive me as well, sister. It has never been my intention to harm you.” A chorus of otherworldly voices suddenly spoke from the burning brazier held aloft by ethereal limbs behind the red goddess. “Oh, you would feel my wrath then, Mother. Alas, I have yet to receive an apology after you assigned me the tedious treatment of your other victim.” The Phoenix within the brazier had brazenly remarked, like a precocious child complaining about the banality of chores and asking for a reward. Homura said nothing, and simply stared at Ruina.

Ruina nodded, finishing up her stretching routine before speaking up. ”I see. Then it will prove quite useful should I need to get in touch with you, and if need be I can use my own link with Calamitas to ferry messages between you and her.” As Homura spoke of opposing heedless sacrifice, Ruina could only nod in agreement. This move was, interestingly, shared by Calamitas herself. She too, it seemed, was not going to fling herself into death with reckless abandon.

As Homura returned to apologize for what Ruina had felt, Ruina simply shook her head before responding with a slight smile. ”Worry not. My suit and I are… Very closely bound. I should’ve spoken on that particular front a bit more. However, it has passed, and I am all the safer for your gift. Be at ease, no harm has been done.”

In order to further cement her point, and something that Homura probably desperately longed for but would never disclose, Ruina knelt to put herself on a better level with the much shorter Homura, and gently wrapped the red goddess in a hug. Even her tail wrapped gently around Homura, and Ruina spoke softly once Homura was fully bound. ”Treasure this, for I do not give these lightly. You have accepted a weight that none of us ever expected to have to bear, and I am sure that for every trouble you share, there are ten that you do not.”

“It is solely my burden, but I hope that I will never have to carry such a weight alone... and I have sworn to speak the truth, sister. I cherish your company, for it banishes my sorrow.” The impassive voice of Homura emanated from everywhere instead of from the held goddess herself, her small shape simply embracing Ruina. Cosmic warmth exuded from Homura, accompanied by the cackle of flames, as the fire within the red goddess danced vigorously and was burning away the mortal body she wore. Through their close contact, the pain of an illogical internal combustion could be discerned, it could be sensed so near, and it was evident that Homura was hurting her own form.

At the feeling of this internal conflict, Ruina blinked. Concern creased her brow as she leaned backwards to look at Homura in detail. Taking in the wear and tear that her form had undertaken. And now here it was ripping itself apart. Ruina, even though she was half-fused with the corpse of her sister, shuddered slightly at the thought of having herself be torn apart from within. Blinking softly at the statement that her company chased away Homura’s sorrow, Ruina pulled the smaller goddess into a hug once more. ”Then I will say, as often as I am able, you may call upon me at any time. I will take you into my arms as often as you need.”

“In the past, I would clasp hands with others to symbolize our promises. An embrace shall suffice as well. I did not expect to find consolation here, but I have become more and more pessimistic with time… I predicted this disaster long ago.” Homura said, as her swathed hand reached up towards the onyx orb that replaced her right eye, and covered the endless black void found wherein something seemed to watch unseen and unheard within its bleak depths. Residual traces of immense otherworldly power combined with the cosmic might of multiple aspect-shards were more clearly visible upon Homura’s features from such a close view, and it was evident that the red goddess had attempted and failed to heal herself of the stigma that continues to corrodes her arms, as well as whatever it was that had severely scorched one of her eyes. The affliction could be potentially hindered, but it was inevitable that Homura would perish.

“May I call upon you as well, Ruina, O beautiful goddess, to take me into your arms… in my time of need? Even once… would completely rejuvenate myself - without faltering, I could cure the wounds of numerous fallen kings and tainted anarchists…” The nearby Phoenix inquired from her celestial brazier, languidly circling within its confines while nonchalantly tending to the Monarch of All’s injuries to prevent the Lord of Creation’s unintentional death. The chthonic voice of the six-winged spirit stirred Homura into motion, and the red goddess stepped back before she closed her eyes and stood still in contemplative inner silence.

As Homura stepped away Ruina stood, taking a moment to stretch as she did so. Looking at the chatty phoenix she blinked at them once before speaking. ”I would like to observe that if I were to touch you at this very moment it’s entirely likely that your flames would burn me quite severely. Besides, you’ve got a cozy brazier to reside in. Surely that would be better for you than my arms?”

Looking down to Homura once more, Ruina would ask an inevitable question. ”So, Homura… What is the next step of your battle plan? I would want to save up what energy is granted to me to ensure I have it on hand for when the time comes that it needs to be used.”

“I will… replenish our vigor, and we shall strike our foes before they assemble. We are severely outnumbered, and more will come… but we can attempt to divide and defeat each of them. The Forge of the Worlds and the Tree of Harmony should be our first targets.” Homura answered as she swiftly stepped towards the Monarch of All, and ascended - her ethereal limbs extending outwards and lifting her higher up where she stared down upon the incapacitated King of Heaven with ire. It was beyond difficult to discern the difference in their sizes, as both Homura and the Monarch of All seemed to repeatedly alter their dimensions, though the latter always remained much larger than the red goddess.

The nigh-infinite number of edges and points that was Warbreaker were writhing and quivering with anticipation as Homura grasped the twisting hilt of the terrible weapon. There was thinly veiled delight for she who had stabbed Him the with the shifting blade that pierced All, the accursed sword that had spread through each vein and artery of the Monarch until every section of His body had been cut and wounded, and only by slowly shredding all of His flesh could the blade with many edges be unsheathed from His form. Her other hand reached towards her throat, and Homura began to strangle herself until her unusual smile faded and she spoke with seething anger.

“O Imprisoned King of Nothing, Eternal Emperor of the Fathomless Void, Banished Brother of my Maker, grant me mercy and might!”

Homura steadily descended towards the Monarch of All until her smaller form lingered intimately over His head, and she peered into the blank canvas that was His face where only two truly resplendent orbs could be perceived, and those eyes seemed to be staring back at her with incomprehensible divine wrath despite the evident hysterical agony inflicted upon Him. Her open hand caressed His iridescent skin covered in numerous dancing lacerations, and instead of tapping into the power within Him, she suffused the fallen king with an unfamiliar force that felt anathematic to Ruina. The vile energy violently flowed from the scarred palm of Homura, and soon she grimaced too as the otherworldly process continued.

The ribbons that concealed the wounds on her hands all vanished, and the vicious markings of the Stigma afflicting her were immediately visible. The grotesque pigmentation and texture of the vile energy that Homura channeled and the disease she suffered when seen beside each other made it clear that they were similar in their abominable nature. The presence of cascading vitriol triggered a response in the body of the Monarch of All, as He became brighter and brighter with cosmic radiance which retaliated against the evil threatening to completely taint Him. It was akin to when He was preparing to defend Himself against Homura when she first assailed the Divine Palace and challenged Him.

The flesh of her fingers on the hand wielding Warbreaker was peeled away, revealing the light of her scarlet inner flames fighting defiantly. Homura let out a single echoing shriek, as she struggled to remove the hand that touched the head of the Monarch of All, and broke free from the physical contact with an abrupt explosion of prismatic light that threw her back. No further damage had befallen the Divine Palace, and Homura herself recovered from being thrown as she stood in pensive silence once more near the still restrained Monarch of All.

“Ever an enigma, healing and harming, weakening and strengthening, living and dying… akin to a beautiful fire burning brightest before suddenly dwindling, and only ashes remain.” Charis commented, as tongues of pearlescent flames engulfed the Monarch of All and Homura with a salubrious warmth that offered some solace to the second smaller deity. The red goddess was becoming revitalized as the skin on her hands returned and was quickly hidden beneath conjured ribbons to conceal the Stigma. Homura then gestured to the creator of the Divine.

“Our vigor originates from our Lord, but He cannot create it alone… Only through interacting with His imprisoned Elder Brother can further power be produced… Only when the two come together. Perhaps…” Homura said ever-solemnly, as an immense amount of cosmic power poured forth from the wounded chest of the Monarch of All, like a limitless font of sacred water spilling from a majestic celestial fountain forged from the eviscerated being barely clinging to life. The essence of sacrifice, embodied by a god’s suffering.

“A new cycle…” Anath Homura quietly proclaimed, as the world was suffused with divinity once again.

The red goddess gazed at Ruina with a subtle smile, and slightly bowed her head. “Ruina, Goddess of Destruction. Answer my question, and receive your portion of the power that belongs to this pantheon… Sister, will you aid me in sundering the Galbar, for a new world to be born?” Homura asked, as she straightened and stared at Ruina with her mismatched eyes alight with incandescent focus.

As Homura ascended to withdraw more Vigor from The Monarch of All, Ruina watched with a silent curiosity. So this is how it was done? But as the ritual grew more intense and Homura’s already battered form broke itself apart even more, Ruina almost intervened. But then logic stopped her: Homura probably knew what she was doing, and failing that interrupting the process would probably produce disastrous consequences. So Ruina stayed her hand, and beyond that the hand of Calamitas.

Calamitas could sense the urge to intervene from Ruina, and started to move to accomplish such a deed, but a firm hand from Ruina put a stop to that. Shaking her head, Ruina spoke softly as Homura began to scream. ”Patience. She knows what she’s doing.” Indeed as Homura finished the rite Ruina relaxed, and through Ruina, Calamitas also relaxed. As a new cycle was announced, Ruina nodded. But as Homura posed her question Ruina found herself somewhat stunned. Had she heard that right? Subject all of Galbar to raw destructive energy? Looking to Calamitas, Ruina issued an instruction. ”Go and practice, Calamitas. I will summon you when I need you.”

Calamitas nodded, and left. Ruina looked back to Homura and spoke plainly. ”So… You want me to assault Galbar without restriction or remorse? To see all life purged from its surface so that we may begin anew? Or at least as close as we could possibly get to that?” Trailing off for a moment, Ruina considered the logistics of undertaking such an affair. It would certainly be possible… But would it be the right choice? To wipe all of the creations her fellow deities had worked so hard on away was a tall order. But how many of them were even left to defend their creations? So many had vanished without a trace. Perhaps this was the right thing to do, then? And she was the one fit to do it… Blinking and nodding to herself, Ruina spoke again. ”Very well. I will undertake this task. Though I will need a vast amount of energy to accomplish it. To wipe Galbar clean of every creation is… A monumental task, to say the least. But I am the one qualified to do so…”

Perhaps that had been her role from the beginning? Had The Monarch given her life for this purpose alone? Did He know that she would ultimately need to sacrifice everything they had done for victory? Or perhaps, even more frighteningly, was her birth a mistake? To surrender the shard of destruction was to surrender the capability to easily do this Himself, but perhaps The Monarch simply wanted someone to scapegoat? To feel less personally responsible for the destruction of all that everyone had worked so hard on?

Ruina would never know, but she awaited Homura’s answer.

“The Galbar must be purged before our enemies taint every aspect. Our kin do not have the strength to defend this world, and we will not have the strength to defend this world if it becomes corrupted. So we shall enact simultaneous operations; depriving the enemy of things to turn against us through Destruction, while swiftly salvaging what still remains. Know this, we are not alone, and you will hopefully acquire the combined power you need…”

Upholding her oath, Homura raised her hand and the flow of otherworldly power that poured forth from the Monarch of All like a river of divine strength being directed shifted towards Ruina ready to replenish the energy she expended.

As the flow of energy hit Ruina she shivered slightly. The proliferation of Vigor within her being was a rush of energy, and it took a great deal of effort to remain still while Homura worked. But while the energy flowed, Ruina felt limitless. The fabric of reality was at her fingertips, and it felt so delicate and frail to her destructive hands. But as soon as this feeling of limitlessness started, it began to fade, and Ruina felt normal once again. Nodding in thanks, Ruina took a moment to stretch before she spoke again. ”Very well. But for what you ask I will require more energy. But I will not ask you of this for now. Go and rest. Recover what you can. I will maintain watch should the enemy find their way to our gates.”

Not wanting to give Homura an option to protest, Ruina turned on the spot and left to watch over the bridge, allowing the red goddess to remain alone with her thoughts.

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Hidden 24 days ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Growing Cold

The journey north was shorter than any expected. With Skydancer’s enhancement, they were soon enough on the cusp of the giantlands. With bated breath Zima watched it unfold at blinding speed. Dark storm clouds blanketed all in front of them, like moving mountains they encompassed the north like an impenetrable wall. Worse, she could see no end in sight and no direction they could take to avoid them. So they went through and none were prepared for what awaited them.

A fierce gale battered Skydancer, bringing with it bitter cold and biting sleet. The divinity of the boat protected them from the worst of it but Zima could not help but think how any others would fare. Eventually the new Homura dipped the bow of the boat and they flew down. She could hardly see outside of the boat, the wall of white made it seem like they were in a tunnel. It was disorienting to say the least. She had no idea how long this went on for but she found herself moving closer to Fear, even if she was unable to feel her as she was. Zima hated herself for what she had done to her… Was it even right to call her a friend? A companion? Such guilt weighed on her heavily but she had to try and make things amicable. And then…

It was instant. One second the storm consumed them and she felt they would be directionless forever and the next… It was all clear. Well, the wind and snow stopped, the clouds still hung, now higher up in the sky. Yet, something else wasn’t quite right. She stood to get a better bearing and gasped. The northern land was far off yet but they flew over ice. Where once had been the ocean, now a vast sheet of ice stretched before them. She looked back and saw the massive wall of a blizzard grow fainter and somehow wider.

“What’s going on…” She whispered. Zima looked back to where they were heading. Something else caught her eye. The faintest blue light, like a pillar, stretching up into the ominous sky. It lay to the far east and then she looked to the west to see the same. It was almost as if…

“He’s freezing the world!” Zima spun, looking to Fear and then to Homura. “If that storm makes landfall…” She grabbed her head and fell to her knees.

Shysie stirred, Rowan firmly held against her chest. “Many will perish. I told you,” she turned to Homura, “He sees us all as feverish. He wants us dead and he has started with my home.” she lamented.


Zima looked back toward the ever growing shoreline. It was all blanketed with snow, a white expanse upon white, with peaks of green trees shooting up into the sky. The only reminder that at one point there were different colors. The brown of bark. The green of foliage. The blue of water. The yellow, red and purple of wild flowers. It was her home and she was returning to a disaster. All sorts of emotions welled up inside of Zima but the only thing she truly wanted to do was scream.

Fear’s hand inscribed with the shifting symbols of the Gnosis reached for her’s, and Fear spoke softly to her. “I promised to protect Rowan, and I promise I’ll protect you too. Even if I’m afraid, I’ll still stand against those that bring such suffering, so we’re going to cure Viho and Chailiss, and save those that have been lost.”

Zima looked up at Fear, grabbing her hand after a moment of hesitation. "I hope you're right." She whispered, unable to hold her gaze.

“The Childan await us, we must reunite with them first.” Homura II said, as Skydancer swiftly reached the shore and soared over the bleak frozen forest now buried by a cold god.

The snow was so thick in places it covered the ground and rose to the middle of the tall pine trees. Nothing stirred that any could see and all was blanketed in a deafening silence. Only the snow fell, as if the very sky itself wept frozen tears.

They soar past much of the same, just snow covered hills and valleys and plains. Little there was to mark anything, yet Shysie guided them onward by some unknown intuition. She could feel the flame still burning, so she said. And upon twilight did they see a small light on the horizon, endless dark all around it. It was where the flamekeepers kept watch and now perhaps the last safe place any could find in the North.

As they neared it became apparent just how true that was. There were fires everywhere and so many Childans. At the center of it all, the blue flame towered over all and it was where Homura II brought Skydancer down. Immediately they were descended upon with curious gazes and cheers.

"Spirit Mother!" They called.

"She hasn't abandoned us!" They said.

The irony wasn't lost on Zima.

"Shysie!" A taller woman stepped through the crowd as the spirit looked on at what could have been. A people she would have loved but it had not been so. Regret panged her features and she sat down on the boat, hanging her head low.

Shysie stood and held Rowan close. "Chilali!" She exclaimed, clasping the hand of the other childan woman.

"What has happened? Where is Alona and the others? Mair?" She asked, looking towards Zima and Fear with interest. Zima could not hold her gaze.

"Quiet down!" Shysie yelled out. Chilali turned and raised her hands towards the gathering Childan. Both women and men alike looked on, fidgeting with sorrowful faces. Many of the women clutched small bundles at their chests. Death crossed her mind again but she clasped Fear’s hand and tried to banish such thoughts of her own demise.

"The spirit father has gone mad! He has brought this great dying upon us all!" Shysie called out, much to the clamor and outrage of some. "We must prepare for the end! If we do not then our people will be lost forevermore. If you do not believe me then…" She turned to Homura II, "Then listen to the spirit mother!"

“Your father has betrayed you all. He brings this deathly cold to you, and he seeks your demise. Know; winter’s wrath will come.” Homura II proclaimed, standing upon the tip of her silver spear so that she stood over the congregation, and was easily seen by all. There was little comfort to be found in her stoic visage and stern voice.

Homura II held up a hand, and an unseen force passed through those gathered all around, subtle yet felt nonetheless as it evoked warmth and solace akin to the peace found in families gathered by a bonfire during the night. Visions swam through the sea of people, showing them what they had not seen before, and slowly banishing the dreadful sorrow.

“You are not alone, and you have not been abandoned. You have each other, and that connection shall guide you through this calamity. Continue to cooperate, be compassionate, and have faith, and you shall have salvation.” The demigoddess continued to speak with clarity and conviction, as she stepped from where she perched atop her spear onto the whispering wind, and walked upon the balmy breeze.

“Evil is not eternal, and united we shall overcome it. There is hope within all of you; let it light the way ahead. Chailiss desires your despair, for your suffering, for you to eat each other and fend for themselves, but I believe the Childan have virtue in their hearts. Valor and love. Winter will pass. The seasons will change. Spring will come.” Homura II came to a halt after soaring overhead, close to where Skydancer had alighted and she became silent as she stood on the tip of her spear once again. The demigoddess glanced towards Zima and Fear, and tilted her head with an enigmatic expression, as if seeking an answer to an unspoken question in order to understand.

Zima held her gaze for a time before letting it falter. Perhaps there was hope, the slimmest of hopes but it yet endured.

"You see my sisters! My brothers! We have not been abandoned!" Shysie called out. "We will endure as we always have! This is our home and it will be ours again!"

To this the Childan let out whoops and hollers and for once there was joy as children laughed and babies cried in surprise. Zima looked out over all the faces and her own problems seemed to fade. At least a bit. She would help them now, in any way she could.

Homura II held up her hand a second time, and suppressed the sounds of the Childan with an aura of quiet. She spoke, rising higher as her spear extended further, and her voice reached farther. Her next words were instilled with purpose, and urged the Childan to heed them.

“These lands belong to Chailiss, and you will not find sanctity here. Arise, and prepare to depart. You must leave this realm of death, linger too long, and you will be consumed. There is a battle ahead, and I call upon warriors to stand with me now.”

To this came many more murmurs.

“Where will we go?”

“We would abandon our home?”

“We have lost too many.”

To this Shysie and Chilali shared looks and then the taller of the two, Chilali spoke with wisdom and sincerity. “Our mother is right, we cannot stay here! We must not linger in the dark where the cold will bite at us. You must go! For we Flamekeepers can never abandon our watch.” She turned to Homura. “I will spare every Keeper we can.”

“Now hold on!” A male Childan sprain to the front. “We have warriors, we will fight for our home and the women. Let us do this!”

Chilali shook her head. “We cannot have all our braves fight for us, some must go on to protect the others. You must.”

“Please, let us help.” Another man stepped forth and then another. With heads bowed in shame did more add to this plea until at last another woman stepped forth. As tall as a cave bear, wielding a large copper hammer. She donned the pelts of lions, with a mane of white fur upon her shoulders. Her hair was raven dark and her gray eyes were fierce.

“The tragedy of Lansa is the debt of all men. Leave with us three dozen of your best fighters. The rest will go with the women and children. So it is that our short spring fades to the end of all times. Yet smile, for the spring came anyway and with it, a future.” She placed a hand upon her stomach. Though what was underneath was obscured, all knew of what she spoke.

“Wapeka, you are with child. You cannot stay here with us.” Chilali sprang forth to her.

Wapeka eyed the woman, who was a full head shorter than her and chuckled. “Little Chilali. I have always fought for my people. I will not abandon you to such an end.”

It was Shysie who spoke up next. “Wapeka, please see reason. She unwrapped the small bundle to reveal Rowan’s small face. Inquisitive blue eyes stared back at the Childan. Shysie held him up high. “This is the last of the Voiran’s! A people who lived to the west, utterly destroyed when…” She glanced at Zima, who went numb with panic. “When the great whirlwind struck! That is tragedy itself! So please,” She looked at Wapeka and held out the baby to her, “Think of this future and the one that not yet is but could be. There is no greater duty to our people, then carrying the next of our kind.”

Wapeka handed her hammer to Chilali as she took the small baby in her hands. She seemed awkward with him at first, as if she knew not where to grab or hold him but eventually she got him into a position where Rowan could freely move within his bundle. He cooed as Wapeka looked at him and Shysie dismounted from the ship, placing a hand upon the taller woman.

“He will need a mother. You are not abandoning us, brave Wapeka. You are ensuring our people’s survival and of the last Voiran.”

Chilali looked upon Shysie with awe and a smirk upon her face as the great Wapeka nodded, pulling Rowan into the safety and warmth of her pelts. “So it is that little Shysie becomes the newest voice of reason. I shall go, carrying this memory with me in my heart.” She placed her own hand upon Shysie and squeezed.

Zima remarked that the moment was inspiring yet all she could see were the dead faces of all those mortals she had murdered. They had had lives as complex and beautiful as this and she ruined them. She defiled them and they could never be as such again.

All of the Childan’s looked to Homura once again and that was when the screaming started.

Zima froze and then frantically looked at where it was coming from.

Wapeka turned and scowled. “They’ve found us.”

“We must hurry, please Spirit Mother, please!” Chilali turned to Homura as the rest of the Childan broke into a panic.

Alarmed, Zima gave one look to Fear and then she was gone, into the direction of the screams and shouts. She could not allow anyone to die anymore. Not while she could do something!

“Warriors, defend those that cannot fight! Wapeka, lead the others and follow Skydancer.” Homura II swiftly ordained, gesturing to the luminous vessel as it began to turn and face southward, before she strode towards the source of the screams accompanied by Fear.

There came a flurry of activity as all moved to action with their respective tasks. Wapeka barked orders to those who could not fight and those that could, followed after the Spirit Mothers. While a few stayed back to protect the growing convoy. More wood was placed upon the flame as they passed, for it would light their way.

Once the crowd had thinned and they were behind the band of warriors, the screaming had stopped. Now only replaced with a cold wind. There was no sign of Zima, not until a tree somewhere before them cracked and began to fall. There were shouts of alarm as many braced but the tree fell in another direction, with a resounding crash that shook the ground.

They progressed onwards still, before a new noise came into being. Only audible at first to the demigod, then Fear. It was a strange note, almost with a vibrant feel but molded by death. The sounds of a fight came forth and something crashed into the tree next to them. Blackened by frost, it had once been a wolf but now the creature was misshapen with golden eyes. It looked at Fear and then lunged for her throat.

Numerous spears of glittering ice burst forth from underneath it, swiftly impaling the baleful beast until it had been completely eviscerated, as Fear found herself fumbly halting. She had been surprised by the tentative touch of Homura pressing upon her mind through their connection, and suddenly recoiled. “I can fight for myself, so don’t do that…” She muttered both aloud and telepathically as they carried onwards, with Homura II not providing an answer in response.

“Zima!” Fear called out with desperate weariness, already feeling the absence of Skydancer’s aura.

More trees snapped and broke. The warriors with them prepared, arrows nocked and war clubs at the ready. They then came upon a scene of carnage as the broken trees gave way to a horrific view. The bodies of creatures, now blackened with frost like the wolf had been, were strewn about, impaled, torn limb from limbs, skewered and crushed. What once were wolves, lions, bears, eagles and more- now dead. The bodies of a few Childan lay amongst them. A final resting place. The stoic warriors around them said little and touched nothing as all opened up in their formation. In the distance, through the gnawing blizzard, was the vaguest shape of a fight.

Zima fought back a horde of monsters, having taken to the form of ice. She still resembled the same wispy being she was, just much taller and more defined. The ice that composed such a form was more akin to water in how it moved and rippled across her features. She impaled foes with long claws, or impaled and crushed with icicles. Her newest opponent was none other than a Wehniek. The only distinguishing trait was that it held burning eyes instead of a dead gold like all the rest. It fought her, having subsumed the body of a panther. Frozen flesh ripped apart at the seams of fur and sinew, whilst long claws and fangs bit into her ice.
Yet it seemed Zima wasn’t having any of this, and impaled the creature through its abdomen, legs, and finally its head. Then she did it again and again and again until it was forced to abandon its body.

She growled, turning to the others as it flew to another body. Her voice was sharp as she pointed and yelled, “BURN IT!” Before she was again assaulted by the monsters. Somewhere in the violent wind, it sounded as if someone was humming.

Rivers of pale fire poured forth from Homura II’s palm, and with her other hand she proceeded to toss Fear towards Zima before she turned to the Childan. “Return to the others, only enemies remain here. Quickly; go now.” She instructed in a firm voice as she strode backwards with her silver spear extending and dancing around her - into the battle on her way to join Zima and Fear.

The Wehniek was destroyed with a bloodcurdling scream, causing many of the Childan to cover their ears. Confusion followed as many looked unsure of what to do or who to look to. Before any could react to the godling’s command, the humming grew louder, as if what produced it was approaching. Even Zima, who had caught Fear, gave pause as the afflicted animals backed away into the thicker, more obscuring wind. Then it became deadly apparent.

It was a trap.

Black arcs of lightning struck through the trees all around them, with no direction discernable. Their aims were true however, striking many of the Childan down. Even Zima was not spared as a bolt struck her left side. She spun and crashed to her knees, shielding Fear. Childan and Flamekeepers alike fired back with arrows and fire as more sought cover.

“Return to Skydancer!” Homura II shouted as she transformed her silver spear into a towering shield, and summoned numerous luminous barriers of shining ice between the Childan and the cold darkness, creating a lone path where she stood and called to them.

“She’s saying we’ve got to fall back!” Fear cried out, and held onto Zima.

The black lightning struck the shield, creating a strange high pitched whine. But it did allow them enough time to gather themselves. The Childan began to retreat, dragging the wounded with them. Zima’s form fell to the wayside and she created a newer, smaller one, around the same size as Fear. She stood with her and said, “I know what she’s saying! Now come on!” Zima caught Fear’s hand within her own and pulled as they ran to Homura II. The lightning came so fast now there was barely any pause from the arcs hitting the wall. The whine became an unbearably high pitch. One that shattered Zima’s form.

She became like the wind and instead wrapped herself around Fear for an even quicker escape. There was a blur of motion, as Homura II was suddenly beside them, and the demigoddess grasped Fear’s arm again. The Pearlescent Chains that had fused into the anxious champion’s armor were peeled away and fused into the shield Homura II held, before the demigoddess vanished with another surge of speed.

“There must be something we can do!” Fear exclaimed with panic and pain at the sight of the wounded and fleeing. Bright flames coalesced around her as her spirit manifested, and though she moved more swiftly, it was with an almost aimless desperation that hindered her. “We’re always abandoning them…” She muttered in a mix of frustration and sorrow, looking at Zima with a lost expression.

Zima was forced to let go of Fear, having to hold herself up by leaning next to a wall. “Too warm.” She murmured to Fear. “D-Don’t worry. This isn’t your fault. It’s mine. This was… An ambush.” Zima’s head tilted back down the long corridor to see the Childan fleeing. They would be safe, for now but too many had died.

Zima stood as the high pitch never stopped. Now a boom exploded nearby, as if something had slammed into the walls that shielded them. The spirit looked to Fear. “The only thing we can do is fight. We took life, now we must protect it.” Something shattered. “Are you with me?”

Fear nodded.

What came through the chink of armor that was the walls was something unexpected. Zima paused, narrowing her brow, trying to understand just what she was looking at. Beings tall, dark as shadow and fair as the stars strode through with an uncanny step. Their hair, for all of them had hair, was a vibrant gold that seemed to glow softly. They wore nothing, for they had no discernible differences in gender. All of them looked the same, from their height, to their facial features. Unnaturally beautiful but gaunt, with striking electric golden eyes. Something that caught Zima’s eyes were their ears, knife-shaped, pointed. One of them lifted a finger towards the two of them and in a blink, the humming started as they ran with blinding speed towards them. If either of the two had blood pumping within them, their hearts would have been beating to the harmony of a dangerous revel.

A revel of death.

Zima barely had time to react, taking the form of ice again as a clawed hand tore into her ice with a deathly touch. She wanted to scream but instead it was anger that drove her to backhand the figure, or at least she tried to but its reflexes were too fast and it dodged, striking her and then another one descended upon her and did the same. They smiled silently at her, teeth too white and perfect, hungry for her destruction. She glanced at Fear and saw even more attacking her.

Fear was grinning a sadistic smile back at her foes as Veil commanded her body and took delight in the sudden violence. She fought more fiercely, with no qualms in inflicting harm upon others, and took advantage of the restored connection to her sisters as she emulated their techniques and maneuvers. The difference between Fear and the rest of her sisters became apparent once more, as what she lacked in conviction and wisdom, she compensated with her incredible strength and agility.

“I’ll protect you, Zima.” The much more vicious Fear growled, as she fought for her companion.

Zima erupted in spikes, skewering one of her assailants, whilst the other dodged with a spiraling motion backwards. More flooded through the hole as other bits of the wall began to shatter under the onslaught. The Childan sections were still holding but it wouldn’t be long. They had to make a stand where they were. Zima shouted at Fear as she produced a shield and scythe of ice. “Remember not to lose yourself!” and then the fight started, for every handful of blows she received she could only land one on an assailant but it was usually fatal.

She took no joy in it but it was strange. When one of them died, they made no sounds. No screaming, no yelling, no final words. They simply fell, bleeding a dark liquid flaked with gold. They attacked her even when they had no limbs or were almost certainly moments from death. Their humming was a chorus that she wasn’t even certain they were physically causing. It was unnatural and propelled them forward as the bodies began to mount upon that darkening snow.

“I cannot mourn for them.” Fear said, as her Black Gauntlet was thrust through the skull of her foe, and she began using the spasming body as both a bludgeon and shield against her other opponents. Her spiritual flames were fluctuating, flickering weakly before bursting with vehemence, as the cycle repeated again and again. She was smeared in gore, and staggering back and forth like a whirlwind of destruction, tearing apart corpses as she savagely lashed out.

“I cannot mourn for them.” Fear said, and yet visible were the tears that trailed across her bloodstained cheeks as she wept for her slain kin.

“Do not halt! Return to the others, return to Skydancer!” Homura II’s voice echoed throughout the incandescent passage, infused with cosmic clarity that washed over the Childan and temporarily quieted the terrifying hum. The demigoddess appeared sporadically to aid the wounded with her healing powers, and protect those that were pursued by the hostile horde.

As the hum quieted so did their foes grow far slower. It became easier for Zima to combat them, and they were beginning to make real ground back to the others. Then came the monstrous animals, leaping over corpses with little abandon. Worse yet, the very ground shook as great tusked beasts trumpeted like the sounds of a demon. Matted fur was torn asunder, giving way to darkened flesh. They charged forth being ridden by more of the dark ones and along with them came no longer a hum but a quiet and defiant song. The words were meaningless but it was abundantly clear, one of them was singing.

Zima shouted for Fear to come to her as the lethargic dark ones began to animate once again. They were growing close, so close she could see the raging of Flamekeepers as they fought against the same foes. Fire, hot and bright illuminated the world in a red haze.

Fear dashed towards Zima as the remaining flames of her spirit dispersed, and she glanced back and forth between what lay ahead and what loomed behind. Her frightened features revealed it was Fear and not Veil that was in possession of her body, but she spoke with Pride’s voice. “It’s still not enough. We can neither flee nor fight.”

Another voice resonating with divine authority came from the collection of Childan gathered around Skydancer. “Is this what you wish for? Do you not wish for life? Then let the enemy hear the roar of your fiery hearts!” Accompanying the words were streaks of emerald fire that joined the inferno of the Flamekeepers.

Homura II continued to focus on escorting the Childan, as she slowly lingered behind and hindered the baleful beasts and behemoths with obscuring columns of bright fire and towers of radiant ice. “You shall not have them!” She called out to the horde.

“No! We can always fight!” Zima exclaimed to Fear. “Do not give into despair! Remember why we do this, remember why we can’t give up. For them, Fear. For them!” Zima roared, taking the form of ice and growing tall. As tall as the beasts. Her shield became a tower, as thick as the trunks of trees and her scythe became a sword. She met the first behemoth with a ferocious assault of glancing ice and bulky weight but with a quick thrust, she pierced the things head and it slumped over, shaking the ground as it did. The dark ones began to chip away at her feet and Zima cried out for Fear.

Fear lunged towards the nearest enemy that stood between her and Zima, as flames enveloped her again, granting her the strength to sunder them. Before she reached Zima, Homura II intervened as the demigoddess leapt onto the ice spirit’s head, placing her palm upon Zima’s crown. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis spread along Zima’s body, until her frozen form was almost completely covered. The attacks of the dark ones below became harmless as their claws passed through Zima’s feet.

“We cannot surrender to despair.” Homura II affirmed, before she leapt again and fought their foes elsewhere leaving Zima with the limited protection of her spell. Fear continued to clash with those imposed between her and Zima, calling out as she came closer and closer.

It seemed to be working. They were fighting back the endless tide of beast and monster, the two identities fading into one. Zima bashed her shield against the face of another behemoth, shattering its tusks and sending it to the ground, where she dealt the killing blow. But before long the lethargic nature of the dark ones was overcome with a final push of their hauntingly eerie song. Whoever sang, trilled a final note that tore away the dampening of the humming, letting it surge forth like a river after a downpour. Worse, the song did not stop, it added its own melody to the chorus of chaotic revelry.

The dark ones grew more frenzied, smiles growing wide as if in some insane delight overtook them. Worse, even the beasts seemed to fight stronger and harder. More sporadic but just as deadly. Arcs of black lightning began to hit Zima and though the first volley was harmless, the second she began to feel like tiny pricks. Thinking fast, Zima assaulted another behemoth, driving her spear into its head with a sickening crunch of ice upon bone. There she left it and slammed her shield into the ground. She exploded her form, sending shards of ice in every direction except the Childan’s and Fear. Then Zima flew to Fear, grabbed her and went back behind the shield.

"Don't let any past!" She yelled out, slipping to the other side where more behemoths, beasts and dark ones came. She called upon the blizzard itself and those ferocious winds. She became those winds and like a gale of spontaneous power, she blew upon their foes. The effect was immediate, as they slowed even in their unnatural speed as her gusts whipped at them, sending shards of ice and even bodies like a volley towards the shambling horde. The singing and humming were almost silenced at the sheer strength of her wind but maybe that was only because she was nothing else at that moment. She just had to buy time.

She had to.

There was suddenly another intense burst of bright emerald flames, cacophonous and immense as the shimmering storm engulfed the center of where the Childan had encircled Skydancer. A colossal shifting silhouette began to arise from the remnants of the blazing fire until swiftly the undulating shadow that emerged was shaped into an elongated and broad luminous vessel that possessed similar aspects of Skydancer with its ornate and bejeweled aesthetic as it serenely hovered in the air, but with a prominent difference in its functional design. The reforged ship possessed a massive entrance built into the back, accessible via an inclined slope that slowly lowered itself to the ground close to the Childan.

The second divine voice resounded throughout the fields again, suffused with power and haste, before it was combined with the kindred voice of Homura II as the two of them both repeatedly chanted over the battle. “Take shelter in the Ark!”

The Childan obeyed as the world around them crashed into discord. Flamekeepers surged forth, providing walls of flame and projectiles as the battle waged on. More and more behemoths, ridden by the dark ones approached from all directions and those that Zima battered against were still pushing forward, trailed by the dark ones as they used the massive bulk of the creatures as a windbreak. Frustration hit Zima but there was little more she could do. The song being sung was reaching its peak, even the spirit could hear it now. There was no escaping its violent rhythm. And then something happened she thought impossible. As the song reached a crescendo, something exploded from the depths of the far trees and flew against her wind. It was small, so small that only the best sight could have even noticed it. A golden dart that cut through her wind and pricked her form. Zima gasped and pulled it out. As she did it melted into a vile substance and blew away in the wind.

She felt fine but the song was beginning anew, this time different and somehow deeper. She turned to Fear and thrust one last time, sending spikes of ice to skewer the attackers. She then bolted, grabbing Fear and making a mad dash towards the Ark, now protected by a row of Flamekeepers.

“Whatever happens… don’t leave me.” Fear whispered to Zima as she was pulled along, before the two of them reached the throng of remaining Childan still being shepherded by Homura II and the Flamekeepers. Numerous structures and walkways could be seen within the Ark through the entrance as they approached, with the interior being spacious enough for all of them and many more. Standing upon one of the smaller structures close to the entrance was another Herald of Honor wielding the green-fire, and calling out instructions to the Childan.

“I… I wouldn’t.” Zima murmured to Fear as they landed down upon the top of the large ramp. The last of the Childan stragglers arrived on deck and all those that remained were the Flamekeepers and their Eternal Flame. They fought with a brilliance that dazzled Zima. Their conviction in the face of such demise was true bravery but Zima could not help but reel in the face of it all and she knew, deep down, they wouldn’t be coming. She saw Shysie down at the bottom cradling a woman with a deep gash across her chest. With her hand firmly grasping Fear’s she ran down the ramp.

The enemy came further, their speed cutting down more keepers. A sense of urgency overtook Zima and as they arrived before Shysie, they could see who she cradled- Chilali.

“Shysie!” Zima breathed. ‘I’m so sorry. For everything but we have to go now.” An ashen face looked up at them. Her cheeks stained with tears, Shysie lamented, “Then go. I will die with my sisters, as any keeper would.” She touched foreheads with Chilali and rose, turning away.

“But…!” Zima exclaimed as a fiery explosion engulfed the foreground. A keeper had made the ultimate sacrifice.

‘There are no buts, spirit daughter. Go on, keep my people safe. Defeat the death in the north and remember us.” Shysie said, turning her head to face them. Her eyes glowed with a blue fire.

“Shysie…” Zima wanted to cry.

“Tell Mair the child is safe. Tell her… I loved her.” Shysie turned and marched off into the chaos, joining her sisters in battle. Her fire burned hot and true, blazing blue rivulets escaped her fingertips as she hoisted her arms to unleash a powerful torrent of flame, burning a behemoth in its tracks. Zima began to walk forward but the heat gave her pause and she turned to Fear, head low.

“We must honor their sacrifice.” She said in a shaky voice, pulling her back up the ramp and onto the deck.

“We will.” Fear replied quietly afterwards, as the Ark began to ascend when the entrance sealed itself, and the noise of battle could only be faintly heard. “We should find Wapeka and Rowan.” The anxious champion continued, as nearby Homura II started to sort the Childan and tend to the wounded, while the other identical demigoddess gave a brief speech regarding love and support in times of disaster before venturing elsewhere on the ship.

Zima stopped in her step and placed a hand upon the wall, strangely she could touch it but it was quickly lost on her as she felt a wave of fatigue overwhelm her. She clutched the wispy cloth at her chest, letting go of Fear. “Just… Give me a moment, please.” She asked, forcing a smile. She slumped her back against the wall and buried her head in her hands. A few tears came but her thoughts prevented her from thinking about anything else. It was overwhelming and she felt as if her entire world was spinning. Her very chest hurt, she knew not if it was physical or something else. She just felt sick, could she even get sick?

Fear was silent and still, simply standing beside her before she shifted and struggled to speak for a moment. She slowly reached out towards Zima, reluctant to be apart. Zima’s hand found hers, bringing a moment of clarity in an ocean of conflict. Like a rock, she clung desperately to the one she had heart over and over again. It still made her sick, the very fact Fear needed comfort from her and she knew she was so selfish to accept it. But now… Fear was all she had left. Mish was… Somewhere out in the storm. Her father had become a monster and everyone else she had known was dead. Zima buried her face into Fear’s chest and wept.

Fear barely suppressed her sorrow, becoming rigid and letting her own tears trail silently down her cheeks to blend with all of the black and golden blood she was stained with. “Stay with me.” She said as she held onto Zima, after glancing away from the sight of the Childan and Homura II. Her hands quivered, and she clung to Zima tightly.

A distant explosion sounded far away, yet the shockwave hit Skydancer, rocking the ship for a brief moment. It dawned upon them that the last light in the north had faded. The Flamekeepers sacrificed themselves so they could all escape. There was nothing greater than that; the duty for a people. But now the dark had truly come, bringing cold and the end of all things. There seemed to be no hope. Yet, both Zima and Fear took solace in the smallest of truths; They had each other and in that moment, it was all that mattered.

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Hidden 17 days ago Post by Chris488
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The Death In the North

It was a long time before either of the two sought to move from their spot against the wall but Zima knew it could not last forever. So, she mustered up enough strength, relaxed and content as she was in Fear's embrace, to stand. Before she went for Fear's hand, pain flared in her chest and so she instinctively clutched the wispy clothes she wore. It was strange how her attire was basically her body but she knew she had to be strong. For Fear and the others. So she buried it, producing a more careful cut of clothing. Her attire changed from a more open dress to one that confined her features. She then forced a smile and took Fear’s hand within her own, helping her up. Her pain was eased slightly at the touch.

"Come, let us find them." She said to Fear, looping her arm through hers. "So we can lean on each other." She murmured quietly, looking away and down the hall.

They made their way down the newly created hallways, finding the Childan mourning and in shock. Zima could hardly look at any of their faces. It just reminded her of Shysie, running off to die. Her words haunted Zima even then. How was she going to tell Mair? Would she even listen? Would she believe such words coming from the one who murdered her people? Would she even see her again? Shysie sounded sure and she owed it to the warrioress to at least try. No matter how difficult it would be.

Try as they might to find the especially tall childan, Zima and Fear could not. At least, below deck. It took some more searching but they eventually found a ramp that led up to even more hallways and rooms but they were empty. It wasn't long before the sound of wind emanated from down a hall and they found a staircase that led up to a sheer wall of white. Even so high, the blizzard reigned. However, sitting at the base of those steps was the one they were looking for. Wapeka no longer wore all her furs and her downcast eyes stared at the bundle of warmth in her hands. Rowan was sleeping, for he knew not the troubles of the world, nor should he.

She looked up at them, pulling Rowan back into her chest where a strap waited for him to be nestled in. They got a close look at her large bump, she was well on her way. She set a hand on her stomach and the other rocked Rowan gently in his strap. "I once dreamt before we dreamed, that I could walk upon the wind." She began, "Now the dream comes true. With the heavy weight of so much loss. We must still go on." She sighed, "What do I owe the honor of this meeting, my spirits?" She asked them. Zima blinked before nudging Fear, she didn't actually know why she had wanted to seek her out. Perhaps to make sure Rowan was safe?

“I needed to see if Rowan was fine. I promised his people that I’d protect him, but I’m not sure how I’ll do that though…” Fear answered, with her nervous gaze shifting back and forth from Wapeka to the small baby the woman held, before she glanced at Zima with a worried look.

Wapeka leaned back, eyeing Fear with a raised brow. “He is well but you are not. Speak freely with me, what more troubles your heart?”

“I’m afraid. Frightened by so much. How can I be brave?” The anxious champion asked.

“These are frightful times.” Wapeka agreed, leaning forward. “They call me Wapeka the brave, Wapeka the warrior and on and on. You wrestle one bear and fight off a pack of wolves and such things stick.” She smirked but then became thoughtful. “In truth, little mother, I too am afraid.” She rubbed her belly. “I once thought the greatest challenge was to lead my people to victory, to overcome any obstacle, to fight and be brave. But now I am with child and that frightens me. To be a warrior is one thing, to be a mother is another entire.” She sighed, shutting her eyes briefly before looking at Fear. “You don’t have to be brave all the time. Just don’t let the fear overcome you. Be strong for those who cannot. It’s what I will do.”

The words seemed to strike Fear as she turned, almost stumbling, and awkwardly enfolded Zima in a tight embrace, whispering to her. “I wanted that, you know. When we came to the North, we all wanted that. To help others… But now I feel so alone and lost. I can’t find the rest of my family. I’ve only you here with me.” Her voice was weak, and on the verge of being broken like long ago before she succumbed - when she became Veil. Fear clung onto her what little she still had, lest she fall apart again.

Zima didn’t know what to say. Thankfully, when she opened her mouth to speak, Wapeka beat her. “Then you have found who you need to be brave for.” She said, standing tall. “Listen to me, little mother. Listen. Those lost, even found, are seldom saved by anyone but themselves. Now you must focus on what’s before you. Do not let the past cloud your mind. It will only bring great sorrow to you and those you care for.” She knelt down before Fear. “If only you can help one person, then strive for it. It will be enough. Even if it’s yourself. That is how we are brave. Even with all the fear in one’s heart. Help one person, even if it scares you.” Wapeka’s words resonated with Zima as she continued to hold Fear.

Fear found there was initially some difficulty to face Wapeka without letting go of Zima, but with a little rotation, she managed to stare at the tall Childan with a more firm expression. “My foolish sister is saying I should save everyone, but I can’t. I’m uncertain whether I’m even capable of saving so few, but I won’t lose Zima or Rowan. I want to be the mother that Homura never was for me and my sisters.” She said, adjusting herself so she stood before Wapeka with Zima beside her.

Wapeka put a hand upon Fear’s shoulder and smiled. “Were it be that we could save everyone, it would be a different earth we lived on. The grim truth is that not everyone can be saved. You are well to know your own limitations. To go beyond them is to flirt with an end no one can be saved from. Including yourself. I know not the words shared between you, your sisters and mother but remember, the wise take counsel from all sources, even if they wish not to hear it or even act on it. Only the foolish act without thinking. I do not see a foolish one before me. Follow your heart, little mother. I shall see to Rowan, as the wish of Shysie but act as if you were saving him wherever your journey takes you and know he is safe in my arms.”

“Foolish… I think you’d have enjoyed speaking with Kindness and Pride before all of this happened. They agree with you after all.” Fear replied as she bowed slightly, before gently pulling upon Zima. “Thank you for your kind and wise words.” She added softly.

Wapeka nodded and released her grip upon Fear. “You should know something else. I did not only dream of walking upon the wind but also of the dancing sky and one other…” She paused, as if trying to find the right words. “I dreamt of red hair and frozen tears, shattered amongst ice. Of a black crown broken but reforged. Death was there as a grinning skull, whose laugh was terrible to my ears. Gold streaks ran like lightning, piercing death’s very throne before being consumed by a serpent. All faded to the drumming of violence, drowning in an ocean of fiery red.” She grew solemn. “Do with that what you will but be careful.”

“You, umm, be careful too… I’ve lost faith in the Divine, and Homura doesn’t really care whether we live or die. I’ll be praying for all of you though.” Fear said, averting her gaze and pondering in pensive silence afterwards.

Zima coughed awkwardly. "W-What she means is that we will do our best to stop Ch- Death… Whether we succeed or fail, we will at least try. Thank you for your wisdom Wapeka. May your children grow healthy." Zima then gave a small bow to the larger Childan woman.

"I do not know the Spirit Mother as you do." Wapeka said, "But right now we only have faith. Faith and hope. Go now and defeat the monster in the North. He sits at the very center, where nothing but ice dwells. Go and fight, we are all counting on you. Go… and may the spirits be with you, for we shall not meet again in this life, whatever happens." Wapeka leaned back and looked out at the open door. The light captured her in such a way that Zima swore she could have been such a spirit but with a gentle tug from Fear they were gone, leaving the warrior to her solace.

“Zima…” Fear whispered, as the two of them came to halt when Fear suddenly stopped walking after wandering aimlessly through the empty passages of Skydancer. Her stance was rigid, yet there was a subtle indication in her demeanor that suggested she would topple from the slightest shove.

Then she closed her eyes, and let out a long breath as her body ventilated the turmoil within her. Soon afterwards, she opened her eyes, and stared at Zima with uncertainty before she asked the question that tormented her so much. “Should we really face our parents?”

Her spirit companion looked back at her, eyes turning soft. She echoed Wapeka’s words, “What does your heart tell you?”

Fear winced, fragile and trembling.

“I want to fly away… My heart is telling me to find a new home. Somewhere far from those that would hurt me. All I know is I just can’t stay here with them.” She said hesitantly, and found that she could shed no new tears, nor could she proceed forward further towards whatever awaited her. She had been transformed into a statue because of her sorrow, trapped by what seemed a timeless grief. Despite her statement, Fear stayed where she stood, frozen.

Zima walked to her and pulled her into a tight embrace, one hand upon her back and another on her head. The spirit leaned her own head upon her own and sighed, “Look at us. We are a mess, aren’t we?” A small chuckle escaped her. “No.” Zima stated suddenly. “I don’t think we should, to answer your earlier question.’ She ran her hand through Fear’s hair. “They aren’t our parents anymore, Fear. If they ever were. We are simply their creations. I would fly away with you, to a new home. To start over.” She sighed again. “But we must ask ourselves this; If we run, who else will face them? There is no right decision, Fear. One way or another, the past will catch up to us, whether we run or fight.”

Fear convulsed briefly before she shook and swiftly pushed Zima away. “Listen, I want you two to find Mother and confront her, ya. She’s the only one that can win against Chailiss.” Fear said, but it was Courage that spoke through her and continued. “I don’t like running away, but everyone else seems to support it, aside from pipsqueak - so cowards, all of them. The small one is wiser than all of us, and she’s saying there’s nowhere for you to go, so stop being so foolish!”

Courage scowled at Zima, until she gave a cheeky grin and faded back into the depths as Fear resurfaced before stumbling forward with fatigue. Zima caught her and resumed holding her. “It isn’t foolish to wish for something better.” She whispered. “I will follow you, Fear, with whatever you wish to do.” Zima reassured.

Fear’s eyes shimmered as she pleaded, clutching her companion. “Get me out of here.”

“Very well.” Zima cooed, form fading into wind that wrapped all around Fear. In an instant they were flying down hallways, as Zima searched for an exit. It was difficult to discern which direction they were heading after meandering for an extended period of time, but they had only needed to find a window or doorway to escape the confines of the passages and structures.

The Ark itself lacked a ceiling, relying upon otherworldly power to prevent the cold and harsh weather from afflicting the interior and its inhabitants. Though it would be an arduous task to climb the imposing height of the outer walls, flight easily overcame that issue. As Zima soared higher, carrying Fear, there was no sight of the two demigods that could intervene in their departure. They ascended above the walls and flew forth farther until they were outside the shimmering barrier of Skydancer.

The Ark vanished immediately with only a small light visible on the horizon indicating its presence as it left them behind. The transition from traveling at such an incredible speed to a much-more slower pace in comparison caused the two of them to be forcibly carried along by inertia for a period, before there was a time to take in their surroundings.

They hovered above a sea of clouds, beneath the night sky filled with dancing stars, and ahead of the dark storms hailing from the North. The wind was howling all around them, and the warmth that Skydancer offered was gone, leaving Fear with an uncontrollable shivering and emptiness. “We need to find shelter!” She called out, as she flailed helplessly.

Zima descended or at least it seemed like that. But caught in the storm such as that, even she was disorientated. “I don’t know which way is which anymore!” Zima yelled above the howling. “Why don’t we ju-” She was cut off by a very strange sound. Like fabric being torn. A pale light lingered bright before them and then something dark snatched them up. Zima cried out but it sounded muffled and they were pulled into oblivion.

Where once there was an endless blizzard, now there was only white. She thought herself dead for a moment but her hand found the familiar shape of Fear and she sat up. It was then she realized just what had happened. For, sitting upon a throne before them, lording over his cold domain was death himself. Chailiss was still cloaked in a hood of night but his armor was revealed for all to see still. A woman stood next his throne as well, wearing a raggedy dress and striking golden hair. She kept her eyes to the floor.

Perhaps even more alarming was the creature that lay at the foot of his throne. Monstrously twisted, with too many teeth and too many claws and far too many eyes. Its blood stained the ice black and it's very smell fouled the air. Another hung suspended by black chains to a pillar of ice to the right of the throne, dead as well. It was the first time Zima felt a fear she had never known. Primal.

”Welcome to the Palace of Rime.” His voice sounded all around them, from every direction. Dead and emotionless as ever. ”You have survived against all odds and have surmounted the very essence of death. Were it not Viho who told me of his failure, you would have been left very much alone… Daughters.” His fingers snapped. ”I have decided to reward you for your effort. A proper death you will have.”

Something dropped from the ceiling and landed before them. Zima gasped. It was Viho but… He no longer wore a helmet. Instead he wore a crown of ice, reversed so the horns pierced his head. He looked upon them with a lifeless look, like he was no longer even there. ”This time, Viho will not disobey.” Chailiss said and true to his word, The owl champion rushed forth.

“I’m not dying here!” Courage rebuked, as Fear receded inwards. “Come at me, ya.” The brash champion said with a fierce grin as she prepared to fight her foe by adopting a combative stance.

Before she clashed with Viho, she held out her hand and another aspect of her mind telepathically reached out to Zima. “This is not a fight we can win, but Shysie said that Aurora was able to help the others escape. We should seek her out in order to flee.” Pride swiftly explained, with her ethereal words accompanied by the quieter voices of the rest of the Sacred Septet and an even quieter Fear that wept from within the depths of her being.

A talon landed where Zima had been moments before as she jumped backwards. She was scared, anxious but more importantly, she was angry. But less so at her once father or even Viho. As the controlled champion mounted his assault, Zima turned to Fear’s body and yelled. “STOP IT!” She buffeted air at the owl, casting him off balance before she continued on, “Leave her alone! Leave her mind! Let her body be free! You’re not helping here, you’re making everything worse!” Viho slashed out at her. Zima barely had time to come up with a shield of air that once hit, drove her backwards. “Please!” she cried out.

“That’s the plan!” Courage growled back as she focused on maintaining a distance between her and Viho, currently lacking the power to defend herself against the assault of a revenant without any connection to the Phoenix.

“Fear knows how to handle this!” Zima rebounded, flying out of Viho’s way as he flew towards Fear. She flung more wind at him but it glanced off. They had to get that crown off of him. It was the only way to reach who he was underneath. As she gathered more wind to her side, pain flared in her chest again, catching her off guard. She almost stumbled but remained standing, if not for herself, then for her friend.

“Come on, Fear! You can do this! Your family believes in you!” Courage added as she avoided directly engaging Viho, and evaded him until she was beside Zima again. “We never fought beside each other before I died, so I still don’t trust you, but both you and Fear need to survive, ya. Let’s fight together now, one last time.” She said, and offered a supportive hand out, however the gesture was quickly interrupted by the fact that they were involved in a fight.

Viho pulsed, waves of dark energy were unleashed from his being. Zima sent up a wall of ice that began to shatter almost immediately. It was a constant struggle but she gritted her spiritual teeth and said, "Fear. You can do this, okay? Remember…" She let out a breath of frustration as the attack strengthened as Viho grew closer. "Remember Wapeka's words. Remember what the Voiran's said? Believe in yourself!" The ice wall shattered and before she could make another, Viho struck. Or he tried to as Zima now used a wall of air to stop him. Her voice became strained, "I need you… To protect me. Please!" The air grew weaker, it wouldn't be long.

The Black Gauntlet smashed into the side of Viho’s head, as it blazed with the crimson flames of spirit. “I’m going to attempt to translate the mumblings of Fear and protect you!” Courage declared when she fell back to the frigid floor, and then dashed to impose herself between Zima and the cursed owl champion.

“Firstly, Fear wants to say she never meant to hurt you! Saint’s Sixfold Smash!” She shouted at Viho, before she lunged forward and punched him in the chest numerous times, followed by swiftly leaping backwards when he retaliated. Even as she eluded him, the exuded taint of the revenant reached and spread across where she struck him. Her hits would have enough strength to push him temporarily, providing ever so slight some respite, but it was a battle of attrition wherein she would soon be defeated.

“Secondly, she’s saying she can’t save you, but that’s a lie! I think she’s trying to anyway… Five-Fingered Penitent Palm of Peace!” Courage continued charging forward, and thrusting her palm into Viho’s chest again again, with enough force to toss him back into the walls of the palace.

Zima realized two things as Viho hit the wall. His mind was not there, any attempts to break through would be pointless. She also understood what they needed to do. Break the crown. So Zima did the only thing she knew how to do in such times. She forged a shimmering spear from the hard ice and held it, poised to throw. She turned to the Courage Fear and shouted, "Toss me at the crown. It's the only way!" Her fingers let loose the spear, and it sailed not at Viho but at her companion. Before it got too far away, she became the spear by possessing it. Echoes of the past entered her mind, as the same thing had happened with Mish so long ago.

This time would be different.

It had to be.

Viho uprighted himself and began to fly over to them.

Courage surged towards the spear that was her companion, and grasped it firmly, staring at the artifact before turning her gaze to her target. “Try not to break, ya.” She muttered to Zima, as she reached back and then threw the spear with the last of her strength towards the crown while chanting another spell.

“Final Life-Lance of the Fiery Faithful!”

Zima further propelled the spear and it flew faster than any mortal could see. Within seconds she smashed into the crown. There was a sound asking of ice cracking and then an explosion of shattering ice echoed throughout the throne room, shards flying everywhere as both Zima and the crown broke.

For her part she was not on fire this time but she wasn't entirely safe either as she hung in the air, motionless. Everything hurt and the pain in her chest was the worst she had ever felt, throbbing like a pulse of fire. Groggy, she turned to see what had become of Viho.

The revenant was motionless as well, slumped over on the floor. He looked as if he would not stir but a sudden jolt brought him upright and his eyes lingered on Fear.

“I can fight like this forever, so just break your curse and come back, ya.” Courage said, before her body convulsed and her features twisted as the red flames surrounding her dispersed. “Please come back to me, Viho.” Fear whimpered as she fell to her knees, only capable of slowly crawling towards the owl champion.

Viho ruffled his feathers and approached her warily. Zima tried to float closer but she was too weak to really move, less so speak. Her head was beginning to ring something fierce. She could only watch whatever was about to happen and she hated it.

“I’m drowning… Dark… And it was warm, and we were going to fly.” Fear feebly murmured, dragging herself along the frigid floor. “Fly away...” She cried, with one unsteady hand raised, stretched out as if to reach for and touch the too far away Viho - before her limb fell limp and she shivered while quietly sobbing.

Viho came over her now as she cried, a looming shadow of dark. He had said nothing for a long time, even as Zima watched on, every moment of potential dread growing closer. She was inching closer but far too slow.

“It’s… It’s what I wanted too.” Viho said, head dipped low.

Fear struggled to speak and overcome her despair, clenching her hands into quivering fists. Half of her words were conveyed through telepathy as she sniveled and choked too much to be completely coherent. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.”

“You’re… Sorry?” Viho asked in a forlorn voice.

“I only did hurt you in the end, so forgive me.” Fear continued faintly, intoning through a weak mental link as her body remained locked in small spasms of sorrow and agony.

“How can I forgive you… If I can’t forgive myself?” he asked, voice full of grief. “If I had been there… If I hadn’t… If I… If I…”

“It’s not your fault.” Fear reassured him.

“But I…” The revenant paused in thought, then he fell, slumping to the ground again. He spasmed, eyes flickering behind closed lids. He hissed to himself and cried out in all manner of pain and horror. Then he grew deathly still for a long while until his eyes flickered open, revealing them to be blue and luminous.

He stood, shedding his blackened feathers for his true visage. He took a breath of fresh air and looked at Fear with all the admiration in the world. She had done it and it filled Zima with a sense of pride.

“Would you watch over me as I sleep?” Fear asked, her fatigue seeping into her internal voice as well. Though she lacked the strength to move, there was a glimmer of joy as she looked up at the freed owl champion.

“Of course… My lo-” Viho began to say, before what seemed like a quiet beam of blue light washed over him. It was over in a second as a loud roar washed over the room, deafening all before it halted. Where once there had been Viho… Now only ash remained, floating down and onto Fear. The spirit blinked, wondering what had just happened, trying to understand what she had just witnessed. That wasn’t supposed to happen… Zima muffled a scream, covering her mouth as her attention fell upon the dark god upon his throne. She had forgotten just who they were at the mercy of and it had been a fatal mistake.

”A failure in life and in death.” Chailiss’ cold voice washed over them. ”I had hopes he would have been of further use but that has gone on long enough.”

Fear rolled onto her back and sluggishly brought her hands together in silent prayer to the Snow Shepherd, the cold yet compassionate god she was once familiar with. She spoke to Zima, mentally whispering fond words of gratitude and a yearning for more time together - it felt too brief to her.

She sensed her inner flames dwindle, and her red features began to fade, but she could not resist the temptation of slumber for much longer. “I wonder if I’ll become a revenant.” She teased telepathically.

“No!” Zima cried out. “Don’t go! Don’t leave me! You promised, you promised to protect me! Don’t break that promise!” her tears froze as they fell. Her strength was little but the rush of feelings overcame her sense of weariness and she was at Fear’s side in short time. She gripped her friend, moving the hair from her eyes. “Don’t leave me all alone in this place.” she begged.

”Savor the death of it all.” Chailiss rambled, ”Her fever dies with her and that pain will wash over you like an ocean.” Zima paid no attention to his cruel words, even as he began to laugh.

“You’re stuck with me…” Fear said, before the almost hushed voices of her sisters joined in the telepathic conversation, mentioning their desire to say their final words as well. Fear’s eyes opened, and she lethargically adjusted herself. “Zima, could you help me raise my arm and point at him.” One of them asked, presumably Courage based on her tone, though it was difficult since it seemed all of them wanted to speak at once.

Zima dipped her head low and after a few painful seconds of contemplation, she did as asked with ginger tenderness. She got behind Fear and propped her up into her lap, head resting on her chest as one arm wrapped around her waist. The other lifted her arm and they both looked upon the cold god. It was there that something caught her eye. Someone short and pale was sneaking into the room, quiet as a mouse. Zima’s eyes almost went wide but she had to be calm. She could not let her father know for it was their only chance.

Fear spoke as she pointed, her voice barely audible even without the cruel laughter of Chailiss echoing all around. “You’re an asshole… and the greatest fool.”

The god’s laugh stopped, deranged as it was. ”Would you like to know who the biggest fool here is?” he asked without waiting for an answer. ”You and your collective. Homura sought to bring life, unmolested to this material plane. She failed, miserably. She never understood that life was the problem all along. Turmoil, strife, pain, suffering… All needless, all pointless.” he waved his hand in dismissal. ”To protect life is to be part of the disease. Your mission upon the Galbar was doomed from the very start. You, who could never grow or change in any capacity, stuck like children, following a Goddess who only ever cared for her own divine path. Perhaps it is mercy that you should die now, Fear, whilst the others suffer their failures until I come for them.” His laugh began again, maniacal and boisterous. But it was in the hubris that the figure skirted ever closer, now behind the throne, waiting… waiting for what? She briefly stared, long enough to recognize those eyes. Burning blue with vengeance.

It was Mair.

Zima looked away and back at Chailiss. “You’re mind’s gone Chailiss. My father loved and protected life! He was just as sad and angry as I was when the bjork were murdered by Phelenia! You attacked her, you tried to save them! Now you’re only a monster!”

Chailiss stood abruptly, the air even colder, if that was even possible. ”Your father was weak. He lacked the will to see that death was the only solution to this crisis we face. Once this fever is gone… There will only be blissful peace. What I strove for all these eons. If you could see it… You would thank me.” he raised his hand, a glistening pendant shone from the palm of his gauntlet. ”You should have stayed dead.” The words stung but she looked at him with defiance.

“Life doesn’t need… a cure.” Fear whispered, knowing that Chailiss would hear regardless of how faint her voice was, and she simultaneously telepathically shared with Zima: “I’m glad you’re with me.” The words from her mind were suffused with joy, even though she couldn’t stir her body as the flames within her dwindled more and more, and the sentiment was echoed by the quiet voices of her sisters abandoning whatever grudges they had held against Zima.

“I…” Zima’s voice caught in her throat. “I am too.” She bent to kiss Fear’s brow as the pendant’s power stirred.
The dark god said nothing as those last few moments slowed. She briefly looked to Mair, a glimmer of hope in her heart and much to her surprise… She was gone. Had she just imagined it? A small sigh escaped Zima’s lips before it was graced with a smile and she looked at Fear.

Only Fear.

The blue light flew to the side of them, the raw power making her jump. It had… Missed?

Her eyes shot to Chailiss to find that she had not imagined Mair but the woman was a Raven, falling from where Chailiss had been pointing at them. Had she… had she knocked the beam out of the way? In a mad dash, the God swung his arm again and fired, this time at Mair, but she was an apt flier and managed to evade before the room exploded into a thousand different colors. Chailiss stumbled backwards, as if struck or mesmerized and then the light show concentrated itself upon him and with a tremendous rush of air, it thrust itself at his being. Within seconds he had disappeared into a whirlwind… No, a dance of colors! Mair landed next to them and placed a hand upon Fear before Zima could even react. She said nothing but her face became strained as a bit of color, which almost seemed impossible, was lost on her face. Instead, that energy went into Fear. Was she helping her fire?

Before there was anytime to see, the God roared and the colorshow, so impossibly mesmerizing, came to an end. A stranger slid across the ice and almost collided with Mair, until she caught her. She looked… Almost like a Childan but far too exotic with her hair and skin color and she was far too short. She looked even worse then Zima felt but had she truly been the one to have just saved them? Or…

Her head spun to her once-father and she gasped. For he still stood, cloak removed from his head to reveal a terrible sight. A flaming skull of death looked upon them, ringed with black and blue smoke. It was unmoving as it looked upon them, yet his shoulders heaved in anger and he raised his hand again. Except, there was no pendant upon it.

Chailiss seemed to notice and Zima looked to the stranger but both she and Mair were looking in a different direction. Past Chailiss, to the woman she had almost forgotten. The god spun and froze as he saw her pick up the pendant. It slowly became a box in her grasp, a terrible thing.

”Zenia…” he spoke, moving a step forward, arm outstretched. ”Give the box to me.” he commanded, voice growing with anger. Zenia, had she not heard of the one who had also helped make the north? That was her… Wearing the face of a broken woman, who now held a most dangerous object in her grasp. ”Give it to me. Now.” He took another step forward but Zima realized that despite how broken she was, her eyes steeled themselves and she looked upon Chailiss with determination and spite.

Chailiss attempted to dash forth, moving his hand in such a way like he was flicking a pest but it was too late. The box exploded, unleashing the contents of its destruction upon him and it did not stop. It blew a hole into the very wall of the palace, stripped and melted away all the ice in its path. Water became steam and the screams of a god echoed throughout and it kept going even as those screams became weaker and weaker… Until they stopped.

Zima’s eyes began to hurt and she grew uncomfortable at the very heat it produced but then it abruptly ended and silence reigned. She waved her hand, controlling the wind to vanish and once it did, her eyes went wide. A massive crater existed where Chailiss had been, with him now gone, as if he had never existed. A great relief washed over Zima and she went to Zenia to see how she had fared but her heart sank just as quickly…

Zenia was dead. She had been pierced by the other weapon of Chailiss, through her heart and head. The box of calamity, now empty at her feet. She had died, making sure Chailiss went with her. Zima did not know if or even why she had done it but… She was thankful. Her attention then turned to Fear.

It seemed as though Fear had regained some of her strength, enough that she could stand on her own without aid at least, but noticeable was the drastic decrease in the length of her hair that was still stained scarlet by her inner fire. The anxious champion glanced over the strange and harrowing scene before asking aloud with concern. “Are they truly gone?”

Zima joined her. “I… I think so.” She then looked at Mair as she helped the stranger to her feet and supported her. The woman was haggard but smiling.

“And good riddance.” Mair spat.

“How did you… Who is… What happened?” Zima said, a thousand questions running in her mind.

“Well… Zima.” Mair said, eyes narrowing. “Once I jumped ship with her doppelganger,” She pointed at Fear, “I came to rescue Aurora.” The woman waved. “And we came up with a plan… Well. I was going to get her out of here but then we heard the commotion. You provided a wonderful distraction, though… I am sorry about Viho. I never knew him but he seemed noble. Less cursed then you two, at least. But anyways, we came up with the plan. Aurora was supposed to grab the pendant but… It still worked out. Now we need to go. I don’t want to be in this place any longer.”

“You… you aren’t still trying to kill me?” Zima asked, hesitance in her voice.

“That depends…” Mair looked at her with anger. “Did Shysie get to Rowan?”

Words caught in Zima’s throat as a terrible realization dawned upon her. She glanced at Fear, unsure of what to say.

“Rowan is safe with Wapeka the Brave, but Shysie was slain by a horde of monsters created by Chailiss.” Fear answered solemnly.

“She sacrificed herself to save the Childan from a certain doom. She chose to die with her sisters, giving us all time to escape. Mair… She said…” Mair began to shake her head, eyes watering. “She said she loved you. I’m so sorry.”

“No… no no no!” Mair shouted. “Why didn’t you save them! Why didn’t you save her! You’re no better than you were!” She blasted Zima with fire, as Aurora wrestled with her to stop. Zima fell in agony as the flame bit at her.

“You’re a monster! The both of you! We should have let you die!” She screamed, easily overpowering Aurora to stand before Zima and Fear.

Fear endeavored to interpose herself between Zima and the enraged Revenger, holding her hands outwards before she hastefully bowed. “We can still save her, Mair. We can save her together.” She said, retaining her vulnerable stance, so that Mair could easily strike her down should the Voiran wish to do so.

Mair stared Fear down, poised to engulf her in fire. She seemed to be heavily conflicted, her nose flaring with brewing anger. Once again the great silence beckoned to them, as they were once again on the threshold of death. Zima tried to speak but the fire was not the only thing that pained her anymore. She looked down at her chest, to see the glimmering veins of gold pulsing across and within her wispy form. The dart… She realized… The song the dark ones sang was of a slow, painful death and she, their victim. She looked back up at the scene unfolding and realized that Mair was not going to see reason.

The flame around the avenger’s hand grew and raised to thrust it upon Fear but again, they were saved by Aurora, who grabbed Mair’s ankle. In a flash, the angry flamekeeper was carried away by a thousand lights of beautiful colors. Then she was gone and three remained. Aurora smiled weekly and sat up and sighed.

Zima sighed as well, delayed was her end but it was nearing. She struggled to sit up and sought Fear’s help. Neither of them possessed much strength, but by relying upon each other they were not as weak, and so Fear knelt beside her evidently seeking a way to alleviate the pain. “How can I heal you?” She hesitantly asked.

It took Zima a few moments to collect herself. “Just… Just be by my side?” She asked with a small smile, hiding the growing affliction she carried.

Fear replied with a smile as well, sharing one word with her through telepathy; “Always.” Then she turned to look at Aurora and expressed her gratitude with another slight bow. “Thank you for saving us, sister.”

The girl nodded, staring at them for a time, her gaze holding more on Zima than Fear. She said nothing looked back towards the throne. Then she went to stand and beckoned to them to follow. Zima shared a curious look with Fear but likewise began to step after her.

They walked around the giant crater, wherein they crossed the threshold of the throne. Aurora paused to look at Zenia, bending down to close her eyes, and move the hair from her face. She then continued on, walking behind the throne to an icy doorway. She walked through, Zima and Fear following behind. The stairs seemed endless and after a time, Aurora began to slow down, each step a difficult endeavor.

Sensing her discomfort, Zima prodded Fear to hurry and catch her, where Zima wrapped an arm around her, to support her. Aurora looked taken by surprise but nodded in thanks, as sweat crested her brow.

It was a long while later before they finally entered another doorway, this time with a door. Aurora paused before it, letting go of Zima. She pushed on the door and they came into a very odd sight. A room full of odd trinkets, covered in a thin layer of frost. The odd trinkets in the dark interior turned out to be more or less just clutter. Empty bottles of some sort, far too many to count. A large cave lay in a corner, ripped apart. Was that where she had been held captive?

She led them further in, to the opposite end. There they found an even stranger sight. It was a sleeping woman in a bed that was far too large and far too fine, woven in gold and materials Zima could not make out. The pillows did look inviting, she had to note but otherwise, it was a morbid scene. The woman looked like Aurora, so much so it could have been her sister or even her mother. Aurora seemed to slump her shoulders, and then turned around, sitting on the edge of the bed. She looked at them expectantly.

“Why won’t she wake?” Fear asked.

Aurora looked sad at that and twirled her fingers in her palm as if she was dancing. Then the dance ended and her fingers fell quiet. She looked at them again.

"She danced and then fell asleep?" Zima asked.

Aurora nodded her head and then pointed to herself before placing her hand upon the bed.

Zima's brow furrowed. "What do you mean? Can you speak?" She asked.

Aurora shook her head and opened her mouth to reveal pearly teeth and a tongue that had been cut. She then closed her mouth and pointed at herself again before pointing at the ground this time.

Zima was taken aback. Had she been born without a tongue or had… The thought was appalling but there was no depth that monster would not go. She looked to Fear, to see if she knew what she was trying to say.

Fear glanced back, and shook her head. “We can’t save her… I can’t heal wounds like the others. I can translate what she means though.”

Aurora grabbed Fear’s hands with her own and shut her eyes. Zima did not know what was happening but she waited patiently, if not a little nervous either but even that was drowning in her pain.

Fear began to speak, imparting what she was told through telepathy to Zima. “She’s saying thank you for helping her. That she is going to stay here with Rosalind. She’s also offering to send us somewhere safe, away from here.”

"You're staying?" Zima asked with sadness in her voice, "Why would you…?" She shook her head. "Why not come with us? See Mair again? She'll need a friend now more than ever." Aurora nodded.

Fear continued to convey Aurora's answer. “She says she isn’t going to leave Rosalind alone either, and that Mair will heal with enough time. Mair was sent to Skydancer, to be with Rowan. She wishes for us to honor her choice…”

Zima squeezed her chest, a bout of pain hitting her but she remained standing and after a time, nodded. "If that's what she wishes… Then we should honor that choice." She deflated a little. "I know where to go but… It might only be a one way trip." She looked at Fear. "I would not ask you to join me, even now but the choice is yours."

“I’m with you.” Fear replied, attempting a reassuring smile that seemed as paradoxically strong and frail as the anxious champion herself.

Zima did not return her smile but looked to the floor briefly. It scared her, knowing what was to happen there. The pain in her body would only lead to one place…She looked to Fear and nodded. In her heart she knew even now the anxious champion would never have chosen differently. Zima just wished it wasn't so.

Aurora outstretched her hand to her and Zima took it. The spirit found that the girl was cold to the touch but her grip was firm, almost reassuring. The light around them began to spin, growing with colors and intensity.

Fear repeated the last thoughts she heard from Aurora as she and Zima were sent away with a powerful spell, it was like riding a river of colorful light that led to anywhere they wanted to be. “She’s happy that she was able to meet us, especially you Zima. She wants us to remember how happy she was, knowing she saw her older sister as she was, instead of the monster so many thought of her. This is farewell… May we meet again in another life.”

The realization was numbing, to say the least but Zima’s tears fell no more. She was just as happy, in a way but full of regret. As the lights carried them far away, she grabbed Fear’s hand and dreaded what was coming. Before long, like a sudden jolt, they stood in a field of endless sorrow.

Aurora was tired, truth be told, sending Zima and Fear away was the only bit of strength she had left. Groggily, she began to fall, catching the bed as she went down. Her legs had given out and she could only give a small, knowing laugh in return. She sat there for who knows how long, contemplating what had occurred.

Chailiss was gone, slain by one he had abused so often. She was amazed Zenia had not snapped earlier but maybe she had been waiting for an opportunity? No one would know but Aurora liked to think she did care, despite all those times she didn’t.

A sigh escaped her lips. She missed the sound of her voice. Sure, she could still talk but it wasn’t the same. Nothing really was.

Composing herself, she grabbed the sheets on the bed and pulled herself up with a groan. Even that was physically debilitating, but she wasn’t done yet. The girl, who had only mastered her powers through tragedy, nestled herself up to the one she loved the most. It was there, in that silent embrace that she slept at last.

Despite it all, a part of her danced.

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Hidden 15 days ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I lost the game

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Another End

It was a place that she remembered all too well. Stretching out before them a field of ash and pain. Like statues, frozen in time, most of the Voiran’s remained, now more dust than flesh. Images flashed before her eyes and she fell to her knees amidst the ocean of gray. Both torment and her memory assaulted her. She saw their faces. White and pure, happy and content, fearful and horrified. She had destroyed this place out of malintentions and now that she was back, it was no better. The sorrow overwhelmed her. Like she would never see the sun shine ever again, or a clear blue sky after the rain. It was all choked by a dim haze.

Her mind wandered, had she become a revenant again?

“Zima, I’ve no more strength… Can you dispel this curse?” Fear asked, clinging onto her as she similarly struggled to stand against the despair that suffused this site.

Zima blinked as Fear’s presence became present to her again. It was a comfort in such a terrible place of her own making. It gave her focus but even that wasn’t enough. She couldn’t do the entire thing, could she? That realization was grim but she had to try. She held up a hand, palm flat against the air. There she sent forth some of her strength to wrap them in a bubble of protection. She did this the only way that made sense; She took the despair and the sorrow back into herself. For it ultimately came from her.

Once within the bubble, Zima took a few deep breaths and then collapsed. The pain in her chest was spreading, like a hot knife and it was becoming unbearable. Now only coupled by the crippling misery that clung heavy in the air, she felt as if she was both drowning while being burned.

Fear laid next to her, and murmured. “We can take it slowly, one at a time. There’s no rush after all. We’ll bury them all, and then we’ll go wherever the luminous winds take us next, I think.”

"I…" She coughed violently before taking a painful breath. It was somehow funny to her that she thought she needed to breathe at all. "I don't think… I'm going to be able to." She whimpered. "It’s too much. So little time." She winced, stifling a groan. She twirled a finger and her once concealing clothes vanished away into the high cut dress she once wore. Zima sighed and that dispersed as well, to reveal the full extent of her affliction upon her body.

Like veins of gold, it spread through her arms and down into her legs, making it look as if the spirit had blood pumping in her. The worst of it was her chest, darkened from Mair's fire and now tinged with a beating, golden mass. Like a heart. It did not keep her alive like a mortal's would, no, it slowly killed her with its molten fury. She could never escape it. "I was struck by something in our fight with those dark ones. Like fire inside…" A weak smile crossed her lips as her voice strained, "It's a fitting punishment for one who caused so much pain, don't you think?”

“Not at all.” Fear gently rebuked, as she inspected the injury with an evident dreadful apprehension and frustration the longer she looked upon it all. Fear could not smile in return, and averted her gaze as she whispered to Zima. “You don’t deserve this.”

"Maybe…Maybe not." Zima answered in return. "Let’s not dwell upon it. Okay?" A tender hand touched Fear's cheek, "Hey, promise me something? Do not…" She gritted her teeth as the pain flared, "Do not let them control you. Your family… They love you but you have to be… Your own person, with your own thoughts and your own dreams. Too many voices… Not good."

“I understand. I promise.” Fear said as she glanced back at her, and shook her head when she began to cry again. She quickly began brushing the tears away as her other hand hovered over the macabre wound. “You know you’re my family too.” The crying champion added, after her hand retreated and she realized there was nothing she could do to heal the affliction.

A smile formed on Zima's lips. "I… Regret not being kinder to you. That I did not get to know more of you as I am now. It seems so short a time." She rubbed Fear's cheek with her thumb. "You're so strong and brave, Fear. I am honored to know you consider me family. I have… No one left. Mish, oh Mish. I wish him well wherever he may be, my only other friend." Her hand fell down to her side, where she moved it over her chest. She sighed, "I'm sorry, I do not wish to leave you so alone here when I am gone…" Her voice broke.

Fear became quiet for a time, after she seemed to fumble and forget how to speak. She trembled, because it was both cold and so she shivered, but also because she was afraid of what would come soon. “I’ll bury them all like they asked, and then I’ll come find you. You don’t need to say sorry, Zima. I’ve told you before; it’s not your fault.” Fear reassured feebly, as she held onto Zima’s hand and refused to let go.

Zima gave her a reassuring squeeze, golden veins beating faster as they moved up her neck. “No…” She tried to shake her head, “You mustn't find me. Where I go…” her voice faltered, “I’ll be okay.” She lied. In all actuality she knew not if she could even try the trials again… if she even wanted to. “I want you… To live a happy life and I will…” Coughs wracked her chest, a golden fluid escaped the corner of her mouth. “I will make sure it will be comfortable. Do not weep for me, my Fear… Do not be scared. Everything will be okay, you’ll see.” her breaths became more labored as the pain burned even hotter and her skin further dimmed.

“Heh, don’t be… silly. Wherever you go, I’ll seek you out and tell you you’re not alone. Parting ways for a time is just how it is, but we’re family. We’re together even in the end. I’m afraid I’ll have to cry more when you’re gone, but I’ll be happy when you’re back. Everything will be okay.” Fear repeated, her words seeped with sorrowful denial or some truth, while she began caressing her companion with what little time remained.

Zima shut her eyes and smiled. “Always the stubborn one.” her eyes opened, bright blue melding with gold. The veins spread up her face ever further. “Come… Closer.” She murmured.

Fear slowly leaned over her, with hesitation and a question burning in her eyes. Zima looked upon her for a time, just taking in her presence before she, with great effort, lifted her head up to place a kiss on Fear’s lips. Her pain washed away momentarily, as blissful as it was. Her smile did not fade as her head rested itself again.

“Zima… would you connect with me?” Fear asked quietly.

The spirit blinked, but nodded. The few shifting symbols of the Gnosis that lingered upon Fear began to increase in number as she began the ritual she had previously performed twice in the past. Her presence became both intangible and ethereal, as her body seemed to sift through Zima and vice versa. Their minds lingered upon the precipice of merging, with thoughts and memories being shared with each other, and Fear revealed as much of herself as she could in the ephemeral moment they had.

The presence of others could be felt along the edges of their connection, as the remnants of the Sacred Septet distanced themselves and provided the two with a modicum of privacy. Fear found herself tenderly touching upon the experiences and emotions that Zima had accumulated throughout her life, and exchanged all of her joyous encounters and wondrous discoveries, along with love and laughter and excitement she felt throughout her own life. She sought to remember what they were together, in a way so that it would never be forgotten by engraving it upon her being.

“I can never let this go… this love shall remain with me when I am missing you dearly.” Fear expressed as she sang and danced, for words could not quite convey her feelings. There was little need for speech, as they transcended the painful barriers between themselves, and their connection allowed them to be truly intimate with each other. Zima likewise reciprocated all that was given and all that was shared. For a time the pain seemed to fade, lessening its terrible grasp upon her.

She managed to breathe a soft murmur, “Perhaps more than family...” With the slightest of chuckles. Fear reflected that hint of mirth along with Zima herself, as she shared her senses and showed what she saw. The air rippled like liquid laughter, and the world was warmer and seemed brighter because of the spirit, and Zima herself could perceive how she was seen by Fear; beautiful and innocent, freed from darkness as she shined like a brilliant source of light beside the champion who was afraid of being alone. From Fear’s perspective, Zima could see an imaginary version of herself, where she and Fear were with the rest of her family, and had found happiness after living a long life filled with bliss.

Zima partook in the dance with Fear, waltzing around as if on the stars themselves. Then the spirit held her close, taking her all in before she kissed her brow. It could have been a few moments, days, or even years - but that time shared together, as beautiful as it was, was not meant to last forever.

Zima’s breaths became shallower and she was pulled away from Fear's connection with a blink. She found herself longing for it again but she did not want Fear to share in her death. That would be too much, connected. The veins around her skin began to shimmer as the dark heart beat even faster.

Death gripped her now, its poison calling her to sleep forevermore.

"At times," she whispered, her throat raw, "I'd imagine being somewhere else. In another place, in another time. In the deep shade of a lonely tree, a gentle breeze in my ear. Or before a field of flowers greeted by the sunrise. Covered by dew, like little drops of honey.” She let out a longing sigh, “A warm breeze of salty air. The smell of falling leaves just before winter." She squeezed with what little strength she had left, tears falling from the corner of her eyes as she looked at Fear. "But none of those places, none of those times… Ever did compare… To just being with you… My… Love…" Her eyes began to dim, golden veins pulsating.

"Tha…nk… You…" She managed to say. Her smile was faint now but it was there and Zima took her final breath, eyes closing as she became very still, her tender grip upon Fear going limp. The veins in her body froze, the dark heart dying with her, having completed its deathly work.

Zima was gone.

But her duty was not. Her body, in her lover's arms, blew away in a sudden wind. The poison that had killed her, drifting away like golden leaves. It swirled around Fear as the sorrow crept back in like a predator sensing its wounded prey. Except something happened then that should not have been so. The golden leaves turned blue around Fear, a small orb coming into being in front of her. It seemed to pulse before the saddened champion, then flew into her. It became a part of Fear and thereafter, her inner fire reignited, banishing the pain of a diminishing flame.

The leaves around her then became many, shooting up into the sky on a strange wind. Then the leaves exploded above that field of sorrow and it rained, bringing forth a warmth as the cloud and haze overhead began to break up, revealing a brilliant blue sky. Where it rained the land became saturated, green shoots sprouting from the earth. Wherever a voiran had laid, there sprout a strong and sturdy pale oak, whose leaves shimmered with a verdant green upon its white bark. A stream began to flow past Fear, surging forth with life unfettered. It was only when the haze had gone completely was Fear able to see that that field of sorrow was no longer connected to the land itself but had become a floating island when the dance had destroyed the north. But beauty came regardless. All around her sprang up small flowers of spectral blue. Their petals seemed to change shapes, or had it just been her imagination?

When the rain finally stopped and the sky was clear, did at last that sorrow become hope. For even with loss, life could begin again.

Fear had arisen from where she had lay, and stood staring up at the sky for a time, until eventually she would walk among the pale trees, and listen as the leaves sang with the cool breeze. She mourned in serene silence until her hurting heart had healed enough, and she had finally regained most of her strength. Her wandering feet had taken her to the edge of the soaring isle, where she could watch the rest of the world, still mostly frozen, and she wondered what would await her arrival. She glanced back at the sacred grove, and gave another burning prayer that all those that rested here would rest in peace.

She let out a breath, and turned around. “Let’s go.” She said, before she leapt and was away, leaving only a trickle of tears behind her as she departed.

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Hidden 13 days ago Post by Squad 404
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Squad 404

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And Then There Was Silence

Looking down across the bridge of The Divine Palace, Ruina blinked slowly. The planet teemed with demons. Small pockets of resistance could be seen here and there, but ultimately the battle for Galbar had by and large been lost. Not that they didn’t fight, but simply through the fact that for each demon they had put down, two more had taken their place. The simply endless numbers had taxed what resources they had and, in the end, retreat was the only option that ensured survival.

The Galbar had been ravaged by the presence of outsiders, insidious and vile as they tainted each land that they came across in their search of Aspect-Shards to steal and the prison of their monstrous master. Orsus was entrapped by the weavings of a terrible arachnid that unleashed its hungering spawn upon the life there. The Tree of Harmony was poisoned, transforming mana into a deadly plague that eroded all it touched. The seas became toxic sludge and the earth disgorged its filth; mangled corpses and nightmarish monstrosities. More fiends fell from the sky, and the influx of demons spread farther across the Galbar.

Unfortunately, their retreat hadn’t stopped until they left the planet entirely. Now trapped in the one place that could not yet be reached, there was only one strategy left that made sense: Wipe the board clean. To achieve this Ruina had been storing up energy. She would need every ounce of strength for what was asked of her.

A motion behind her drew her attention, and Ruina turned to face Calamitas. For all the power that she had been given, and all the demons her spear had split, not even she had made a dent. Even after thousands of kills. Calamitas regarded Ruina silently, and Ruina spoke softly, unsure of who or what might be listening. ”The time has come. You have been given all of the tools needed to execute our plan. Go. When I join you, Galbar shall be no more.”

Calamitas nodded before turning away. With several strong flaps of her wings, she ascended upward, and soon a more divine aspect took over her flight as she headed towards the inky blackness of space. Ruina watched as she left, making sure that nothing was following. Once several minutes had passed and Ruina was sure there was no pursuit, she turned towards the doors to the throne room of The Divine Palace. It was time.

Walking softly, Ruina entered the throne room. It was there that she saw Homura and the still-imprisoned Monarch of All. Stepping forward, Ruina announced herself. ”I believe it is time, Homura. Are you prepared?”

“No, but we do not possess enough time for me to properly prepare. I believe we have enough strength at our disposal to prevent our enemies from claiming all of our world though. I shall summon my champions now.” Homura answered, shifting her gaze from the fallen Monarch of All to Ruina, concealing the eye that held the sealed Elder Brother behind a black ribbon.

There was a pulse of celestial power, as three portals opened and connected to various locations scattered across the cosmos. The risks were mitigated, considering that the majority of the portals reached realms or sanctuaries away from the threat of the demons, yet there was still ever the danger of an outsider or intruder slithering through undetected. Homura glanced at Ruina with a subtle hint of apprehension, warning her to be ready for whatever stepped through.

Through the smallest portal came a very small figure, adorned in an ornate attire and with many aspects of her appearance resembling Homura. She was not alive however, but a lingering remnant of Voi’s creation: A soul that had come from the afterlife.

Emerging from the other two larger portals were figures much more identical in features akin to Homura; the same face and regalia, with one even wielding a spear similar in design to Daybringer. The nearly indistinguishable duo each wielded divine power, though they both lacked Aspect-Shards that granted them the strength of deity with greater command of the cosmos.

With the arrival of the three, the portals were closed behind them.

The smaller champion refrained from speaking, merely observing her new surroundings with evident awe, but the other twin simulacrums of the red goddess moved closer to each other and wore guarded looks as they stared at both Ruina and Homura. The two demigoddesses each wielded artifacts that were incredibly powerful considering their lesser might, and their cautious demeanor was swiftly becoming more hostile.

“We will fight you, if we must. Let us leave. Let us end this, and there will be no need for bloodshed.” The demigoddess wielding the silver spear stated in a voice exactly like the voice of her maker, and it was as though Homura were merely talking to herself in front of a mirror.

“It’s a… pleasure to see you again, Mother.” The soul of the small champion said hesitantly, as she slowly strode forward and bowed respectfully to both the red goddess and Ruina in an attempt to undo the aggressive atmosphere coming from the other two that were summoned. “Your grace.” She added, with evident reverence to the Goddess of Destruction.

“You have yet to be introduced to each other. Sister, these are my champions; Desire and Harmony - two that have ascended and attained the power of the Divine, though it seems they intend to use it against me. The small one is Pride; my sixth champion and the Keeper of Keltra.” Homura announced, and her words were accompanied by the roar of flames within the brazier that held the Phoenix. Rivers of pearlescent fire surged forth above where the Monarch of All lay, and coalesced into the colossal six-winged spirit.

“I was wondering when I would see you again, little one.” Charis sang as she interrupted, the chorus of otherworldly voices that was her song echoed faintly, before there was the sudden sound of something shattering originating from the chthonic spirit, and then the Phoenix was standing among them clad in a vaguely human visage that she had conjured for herself.

Ruina looked first to the twins that appeared, and frowned slightly as they both proclaimed hostility. Speaking aloud herself, she did her best to quell their bloodlust. ”There will be no fighting, at least if all goes well. Today is different. You will both see, in time.” Ruina then looked to the smaller of the three new arrivals and gave a slight bow in return. It was good to see that even in less-optimal times manners had not died out. That would make things a bit more palatable. Speaking again, she offered a small greeting in return. ”Greetings to you as well. It would be better if we had met under nicer circumstances, but at least we had the opportunity to meet.”

The simulacrum called Desire that currently did not wield a weapon pointed at her maker simply let out a sigh. One of her eyes was noticeably a different color, an emerald green instead of ruby red, and she chose to shrug. “A family reunion, great. We’re not coming back though. That’s not what we desire any longer.”

“Let it be known; we are not your enemies, but we have forsaken you just as you have forsaken us and the Galbar.” The one called Harmony added, without lowering her spear.

Homura sheathed Daybringer within her palm, and then let her hands fall to her sides as she stood exposed. “I mean neither of you harm, but I require your power to protect what remains of our world.”

“You did not protect us when we needed you before… many times… Why should we aid you?” Harmony asked with her bitterness hidden beneath the impassive mask that Homura so commonly employed. It was difficult to discern how obstinate she would be.

“I have done what I must to ensure the survival of as many that could be saved. You do not comprehend the threat of annihilation yet, despite the gift of divinity.” Homura rebuked, as the subtle hints of her anger were felt as a wave of restless heat spread through the throneroom.

“Allow me to make amends for the times I was absent…” She intoned afterwards.

Homura raised a hand wrapped in ribbons, and gestured towards Pride, as divine ichor poured forth from her bleeding palm and washed over the spectral champion. The ethereal essence that was Pride’s soul was once more enveloped in a body, restoring her to what she had been before her demise.

Neither Homura nor the two demigoddesses that opposed her spoke, as Pride expressed both relief and joy upon being given her life back; she breathed in the balmy breeze that passed through the divine palace, and felt the warmth upon her skin. Pride closed her eyes, and smiled slightly as she murmured reluctantly. “I forgive you a little, I suppose. Only a little…”

“You’re going to bribe us?” Desire asked with a hint of ire, that quickly became amusement, which was not a sentiment shared by Harmony.

“If you wish for our cooperation, then do not treat us like children. Explain why we should assist you, and what our assistance will entail.” The second demigoddess demanded.

“To stray from the Sacred Path would lead to our annihilation. You must aid us because there is no other alternative. I would give you greater power, and together we could create a renewed world removed from the danger of demons and despair.” Homura answered, as she began to walk towards Desire and Harmony.

“Stay where you are! Do not come near us, lest we strike you down!” Harmony shouted, and the enigmatic mask she wore was shattered, but Homura did not cease coming closer and closer as she spoke.

“You will not strike me.” Homura proclaimed, as she brushed aside the sharp point of the silver spear and stood before the two demigoddesses. With an unseen yet overwhelmingly potent force, she brought both Desire and Harmony into her arms and embraced them. Neither of them could fight back or resist. Desire only let out a laugh as she joined her sister in uncontrolled tears as they were held against their will, the latter dropping her useless weapon to the floor.

“I am your mother, and you are my daughters.” The words were quiet, though possessive of a firm resonance that enveloped the three of them. Pride demurely glanced towards Charis and Ruina, before rushing to join her mother and sisters, wrapping her arms around Homura’s waist from behind. The strange family exuded a paradoxical aura of love and hatred, as pain and relief melded together.

“Monster… someday we will be free of you…” Harmony whispered with defiance, despite the docile state of submitting she still struggled against.

“Hmm… perhaps.” Homura mused, stroking the heads of both Desire and Harmony with the shadow of a smile.

“How irksome.” Pride muttered joyfully, and ever ironically, content as she was not alone.

They remained entwined in each other's grasp for a time, until Homura described how the Galbar must be sundered to prevent the demons from tainting it further. She did not promise solace or salvation, only an opportunity to begin anew. A chance to create a better world.

“Return to me, and let us be reborn. From great Destruction comes new Creation.” Homura affirmed, stepping back and shifting her one-eyed gaze to Ruina as she awaited an answer from her children.

“As you have said; there is no alternative.” Harmony relented and agreed, aware that Desire and Pride had already decided to align with their manipulative mother.

“Then let us begin.”

It was here that Ruina spoke up to explain what would be done in the coming hours. ”As goddess of destruction, the cleansing of Galbar’s surface falls to me. I have been storing up energy, but it is nowhere near enough. What is going to be requested of everyone here today is that you will all funnel your combined energy through me, and with it I will be able to essentially revert Galbar to its original and unmodified state. Think of it like what a river will do to a rock submerged within it over time, except the time is going to be much shorter than that when water does the work. When I am finished, Galbar will be as a blank sphere once more. With hope, nothing will survive.”

With the plan laid out, Ruina folded her arms and waited to see the reactions from all that were presently gathered.

“The taint has seeped beneath the surface, sister. The core must be destroyed entirely, or else the insidious demons shall take shelter in the depths once again. The origin must be sundered.” Homura impassively remarked, while the others were still processing what they had been told. There was a shifting of worried looks, careful consideration, and somber acceptance of what must be done among the trinity that had chosen to aid in the destruction of the Galbar.

“I have watched and prayed as you began your quest to collect those that could protect themselves across the Galbar. You have rescued so many more mortals, but now we must swiftly retreat and finally conclude this cosmic conflict.” The words from their stoic mother eased a little of the regret and stress exuding from Harmony and Desire, but mere words would not be enough until their task was complete.

“We are ready.” Harmony said, as she and the other two champions of Homura stepped forward and showed their resolve. “Our strength is yours.” The trio proceeded to proclaim, before the influx of their remaining power was halted by their mother when she raised a hand.

“Your mortal halves cannot channel the amount of energy we need. I shall bestow upon you Aspect-Shards, granting you complete status as a deity. Accept these!” Homura declared as she reached within herself and retrieved the shards of War and Protection which she offered to the two demigoddesses.

Desire claimed War, as Harmony received Protection, and upon touching the sacred crystals of the cosmos they were cleansed of their mortality. The two shards sank into their flesh which was no longer merely a molded mingling of primordial materials, but a manifestation of their minds that would allow them to appear before the mortals that could not comprehend the true shapes of the Divine.

Homura remained silent as she observed the two goddesses that were familiarizing themselves with their attained aspects and abilities, until her gaze shifted to Pride who stood alone as a mortal amidst multiple deities. The childlike champion stayed quiet, content with her current position and power, but faltered when her mother approached her. “Your time will come, daughter. I have a separate task for you and Charis…”

Once more, Homura reached within herself and retrieved two of her Aspect-Shards; her Souls and Stars, before bestowing them upon Pride and her Phoenix. The two shards were kept within the brazier that Charis commonly resided inside, as Homura softly added after assigning the two of them an arduous quest. “Stride ever onward upon the Sacred Path.”

Pride simply smiled when she and Charis departed the palace to complete their task, as Homura returned to where she had stood before and addressed all that had been gathered and remained. The one-eyed goddess looked at each of the other deities, before setting her sight upon Ruina. “We would now forge you an artifact that should possess enough strength for you to succeed in sundering all that has been created and all that has been corrupted.” Homura tilted her head with a hint of concern hidden behind curiosity. “As Aethel once said, the power you will wield shall be overwhelming - Are you prepared?”

Ruina stood silently as the shards were handed out. She recalled the time she had watched Ea Nebel take hers, and pondered on where she might’ve gone. Regardless, that was something that couldn’t be dwelled overly on right now. As she was told that she would hold power overwhelming, Ruina nodded before speaking up. ”I am as ready as I shall ever be.”

Taking a moment to stretch and roll her shoulders, Ruina waited to see what would come.

Homura arranged the other two goddesses, asking for all of them to stand in a specific formation as she summoned the shard of Symmetry and manifested a myriad of mirrors between all of them. The red goddess and her simulacrums vanished, however their presence could be sensed just beyond the mirrors that suddenly all shattered and revealed three exact reflections of Ruina herself staring back at her and each other.

“The aspect of Destruction, empowered fourfold.” The Ruina where Homura had stood said as she held her hands outwards, close to each other and palms upraised. The reflected shard of Destruction that she possessed began to stir as it poured immense power into the center of their formation, which slowly coalesced into a vague and shimmering shape. The third and fourth Ruina joined in the ritual, providing more and more of their own strength into what was burgeoning before them. The sacred weapon that would obliterate the Galbar and all those that would taint it. All that remained was the true goddess of Destruction’s contribution and command of it.

As the reflections each contributed their power, Ruina began to feel more and more disconnected from herself. She was still in control, but now it was almost as if she was looking down at herself rather than through her own eyes. Once all of the donated power was in place Ruina turned and began to carefully walk towards the main gate of the palace. Each step left behind a cracked outline of where Ruina’s foot had been, and Ruina herself took a moment to pause. Was she walking too hard? Or was her ability to destroy so profound and incontestable that even something wrought by The Monarch of All was merely dust to her? Still, she needed to see this through.

Making her way to the main gate, Ruina tried to push it open carefully. The wood cracked and splintered at her touch, and the gates were flung open with far more force than Ruina intended. But now she looked down upon Galbar, and slowly raised a hand. As her hand stretched outward, she felt her finger tug against what felt like a film overlaid across her vision. As she saw this film wrinkle slightly at her touch, she saw the warping of space and time around the crease. It was then that she understood. Even the fabric of reality was at her command.

Smoothing out the wrinkle her touch had made to restore things to what they were, Ruina reached out carefully for Galbar. As her hand eclipsed her view of it, a massive shadow overtook the planet. Then Ruina closed her hand. The response was immediate as dust began to spray from between her fingers. When Ruina released her hand, Galbar was cracked and broken, but still recognizable.

Then she brought her hands together, eclipsing the planet in shadow once more. With a thought, a bright red light began to filter through her fingers, and a deafening sound echoed throughout the universe as the once crown jewel of the cosmos ceased to be. But Ruina’s work was not finished. Batting aside the small dust that remained, Ruina turned her attention to the now orphaned moon. It too was crushed and destroyed in much the same way, and it was here that Ruina’s work was done.

But with such devastation finished, Ruina felt the channeled power begin to wane. She had little time left, and there was yet one more thing that she wished to do. Turning now, she looked through the mirrors of herself and at the deities behind them. Stepping forward, she approached the ragged frame of Homura and leaned down.

Planting a platonic kiss upon Homura’s forehead, Ruina unmade her worn and broken form for a brief moment before recomposing it by erasing her non-existence. There Homura would stand, untainted by the actions of containing the brother to The Monarch. Yet for all of Ruina’s efforts, Homura’s eye was still black.

It was here that Ruina felt the last of the power diminish, and now things seemed to shake and reverberate as Ruina began to look through her own eyes again. Blinking as she felt normal once more. She spoke softly. ”It is done. Galbar and its moon are no more. And Homura, I have done what I could to ease your suffering. You are not free of your destiny, but at least you will be able to meet it on your own terms.”

“Patience is ever a virtue, and I appreciate your kind generosity, sister. Yet… there remains only one thing left, and I ask for your aid again.” Homura replied, before gesturing to the incapacitated Monarch of All as she further explained. “He must be imprisoned akin to His ill-brother, until we bring balance back to the world. Our combined power should hopefully contain Him long enough while we work towards this equilibrium.”

Ruina nodded, feeling slightly groggy as normality was restored for her. Raising a hand, she spoke gently in order to try and hide it. ”Very well. Lead the way, I will do what I am able.”

“We shall forge a Locus with our remaining power and Daybringer as a machina. It will be weaker than the cage that holds His brother, but since He is still impaled by Warbreaker, He should not be capable of freeing Himself.” Homura said, as she began directing her celestial spear while it extended forth and intertwined itself repeatedly around the Monarch of All.

Harmony began entrapping the dethroned King in Heaven with her silver spear as well, weaving around the golden sections of Daybring and melding into a singular shifting spear of shimmering white metal. Desire retrieved a large red sword from her palm, and momentarily considered her involvement before joining as her blade surged forward like a sea of rubies splashed against the developing cage, slowly seeping into sections of it which became more reinforced. Unlike Harmony’s artifact which was consumed by the process, Desire’s weapon was returned to her and shrank back into her palm when she was finished. Both goddesses had expended the last of their strength and stepped back afterwards.

It was then that Ruina stepped forward. Placing a hand upon the developing cage she allowed some of her own power to flow into it, causing it to hum as it took on a deep red hue and began to have small arcs of electricity flow across its surface. Nodding to herself, Ruina stepped back before speaking. ”I believe it is finished. And I would caution against touching it.”

“Further tampering will have to wait as we are all too weak to handle any potential consequences. You have my gratitude. All of you.” Homura said, turning to face each of the deities and offering a respectful bow to them. The fatigue she felt could be heard in her voice, still imbued with divine authority, but tired after all that had been done and undone. She addressed Harmony and Desire with a content sigh. “We shall speak later. Return to Skydancer and speak with your sisters. We have gained a respite for now, so enjoy it.”

“We will talk later then?” Harmony repeated with hesitation and evident uncertainty, but composed herself quickly. Desire smiled slightly, and nudged Harmony from behind. The goddess of Protection nodded at her mother, before she and her sister departed for the ark that still soared outside the Divine Palace, leaving Homura and Ruina alone.

“I imagine you shall follow your daughter now. This is farewell then?” The red goddess asked, glancing at Ruina with an enigmatic expression.

Ruina nodded before looking upwards towards the infinite darkness of space for a few moments. Once she had looked back down, she spoke again. ”Yes. I have given her the tools needed to craft a sanctuary outside of perception where I will reside to watch over things. It is not death in a sense, but I will be very hard to reach. So. Yes. This is goodbye. I am sorry if you wished for me to stay, but… You’ve seen what I am capable of if given the opportunity, and I would want to spare whatever new generation of deities comes around from having to witness it should someone revoke mastery of myself from me.”

After a few moments pause Ruina would raise her arms slightly before speaking again. ”I will, however, give you a farewell hug if you wish.”

“I am told it is tradition, hence Honor requires such.” Homura moved to embrace Ruina, and further mentioned, with her incoming words causing the ethereal emerald to glitter as it visibly appeared before concealing itself. “I shall contact you through the star-stones if I have need, and you can contact me through the same method in emergencies, or if you simply wish to return. You will ever be welcome here, sister.”

Ruina nodded softly as she knelt down to properly hug Homura. Her tail even wrapped around the much smaller goddess to enhance the effect. She was silent for a few moments before nodding slightly, but even then she had less fortunate news to share as she leaned back to place her hands on the goddess’s shoulders. ”I am afraid that even that will prove difficult. If you wanted to make the connection, I would have to leave my sanctuary. But fear not, for I will always be watchful.”

Reaching for seemingly nothing, Ruina grasped the circlet that she had been given so long ago. Holding it gently, she spoke again. ”I have taken the time to slowly work His power out of it and replace it with my own, and in so doing I have increased where I am capable of seeing. Thus, what I wish to see, I will. Even when I am hidden away. I will keep tabs on you, and will intervene in the event that things seem dire.”

Releasing the circlet, Ruina would return her hand to Homura’s shoulder before speaking once more. ”So… I will be very difficult to reach. With this in mind, do you want anything else from me before I depart?”

Homura held her gaze, and answered slowly. “I would want you to remain here, but I do not wish to impose myself upon you… so there is no more that I could ask of you. I suppose, pray that we find peace and prosperity, wherever we go… until our paths cross again.”

Ruina nodded a few times before standing up, her tail unfurling from Homura. Speaking softly, she offered an assurance to the goddess. ”Fear not, for I will be watchful. Farewell, and good luck.” With that Ruina’s wings appeared, and she too left. Following the same path that Calamitas had taken earlier Ruina made her way towards the building sanctuary outside of even divine perception, and after a while neither she nor Calamitas could be found.

The red goddess stood alone now.

The pantheon had dwindled to so few still remaining alive after the apocalypse, with a handful among the Divine choosing to leave the Galbar and reside within realms of their creation where outsiders would not hunt them, while others had simply perished during the season of strife either murdered by the many monsters and traitorous siblings or slain by the taint spread by the Stigma. Homura let the silence in the heavenly palace linger as she pondered the troubles abundantly found in the past, and the troubles that would definitely be found in the future, for she sought the wisdom that would be required to proceed farther along the Sacred Path with its many arduous trials and tribulations. Homura sighed to herself.

This ending was just a new beginning as well. The beginning of another life filled with sorrow and joy, both beautiful and brutal in its wondrous way - another story to be told. Time passed, and the Eternal Cycle would continue its journey of endless death and rebirth, and only the secrets discovered in the unknown awaited with an answer that could truly conclude the return of repeating iterations.

Homura began her walk to Skydancer where she intended to speak with her daughters. After all that had happened, she did not wish to be alone anymore.

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