Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Aethel


Having long left Mish and his spiritual companion long behind, Aethel had decided to travel the world a little bit before heading back home to their tree. As far as what generally happened when deities decided to go for a walk across the land, it was actually a rather tame affair; Sure some of the local sentient mortals would never get answers to why the animals nearby their homes decided to randomly either flee in what was clearly terror, suffer a temporary catatonic state or actively find the fastest method they could to end their own lives on mass, but such things made for interesting stories.

It had been as they had been prancing through a forest glade when Aethel came across a sight that hadn't been seen since they first came into being on the Palace Grounds. Granted, it was a circle of different shaped mushrooms rather then the beautiful cascade of flowers that heralded their birth, but as the equine deity stared at it the circle started to give them ideas. They could have easily just blessed the random site and moved on, leaving it for the locals to deal with and most likely forgetting about it soon after making blessing it... but the seed of an idea in Aethel's mind had not only taken root, but proved to be a rather big idea that required following a few different branches before the true scale could be properly appreciated.

It was true that Aethel was fickle and easily distracted at times. Even as they followed the plan for the mushroom circle to the end, the knowledge that it was going to take so much energy that they would likely have to return home and have another sleep had caused their thoughts to branch off into how they might be able to make the act of sleeping more entertaining and interesting for not just themselves, but for everything else as well. Both ideas had their merits, but they would only have enough power to really put one of them into effect at this time.

Deciding that chance might help resolve the dilemma of which project to invest their time and effort into, Aethel calmly walked over to a nearby mushroom that wasn't apart of the circle and pulled its top of, taking a few seconds with the hands of their humanoid form to reshape it into a disc in which one side was the off white of the top of the mushroom and the other was the dark brown of the underneath. Now that there was a flat disc with easily different sides, Aethel flipped it into the air before catching it again... and again... and a third time to complete the best out of three result.

White. Dark Brown. White.

By the rules they had thought up in their head, that meant that the original idea of what to do with the mushroom circle (and other circles like it) had won out... but the more they thought about it, the more that the second, newer idea appealed to their heart. It also didn't hurt that of the two, it was the one more likely to be noticed and respected by their siblings and praise was always nice. So disregarding the results of the disc and casting it aside, Aethel mentally went 'stuff it' and clapped their hands together as they closed their eyes and focused on a surprisingly big project.

Coming to the conclusion that the mind of the individual sleeping would be the best suited to, on a deeper level, decide how best to entertain itself and thus all they needed to do was give it the tools to do so was rather simple. The logistics of exactly how to parcel out this gift was a lot harder. The original idea of just going around and giving it to every individual encountered was discarded fairly quickly because it was both time consuming and boring. Aethel didn't want to put that much effort into this after all.

Bouncing around a few ideas of how to make things work in a timely manner that would cover the most beings in the process, Aethel discarded several ideas... before they found one that they liked. Instead of going out and giving every individual creature the improvement to better enjoy the act of sleeping,, they would create a singular mental landscape in which all things that could sleep would enter whenever they did so; A mental ocean filled with nothing but bubbles, with each bubble being an individual who was asleep at the time, their mind creating the means of entertainment within for the benefit of itself. An ocean filled bubble isolated from the physical world filled with bubbles filled with whatever the mind of the dreamer within came up with.

And so, Aethel poured their energy into it and made it so. There was no noticeable difference made to the world, but deity and mortal alike would feel... something change. As if something that had always existed had come into existence and because it had come into existence, it had now always existed. Mortals of course would likely dismiss this as merely a strange and silly thought that made no sense while even some deities would follow suit... but the Monarch would almost certainly have a grasp on the new situation.

Having brought the ability to dream to the world, Aethel walked over to the circle of mushrooms and laid down in the middle of it to have a well deserved nap... after a brief flick of their tail to ensure that said nap wouldn't be disturbed anytime soon.





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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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The Monarch of All

&
Phelenia


“Soon dears. Soon father will let you live again.” Phelenia said as she ran her hand over some nearby flower buds. They were bursting almost. She so desperately wanted them to bloom. It would’ve taken nothing but a tick. But as she looked up at the air, she saw the dark clouds that hid away her father’s palace. A palace she hadn’t ever seen with her own eyes in fact. Maybe if she had the honors, like Tuku apparently had already. Someday she would have her own moment of recognition.

For now though, she wandered across the Orsus continent. Looking for those points of power Tuku had pointed out to her. She had to be careful though. As to not become a willing puppet to the hunter god. At the same time the points of power were important. Especially now that her father was clearly in such a state. It would be a delicate balance to maintain.

That wasn’t her worry now that she came upon one of such spots. The spot was covered by vegetation. Great trees stood tall, reaching for the darkened skies. Her trees. Her sentinels. She wandered about the place and rested a hand upon the damp moss. Yes, it was here. She could feel it. Like the heart of a lioness. Pulsing power coursed here, deep underneath the earth. For now it would have to be kept dormant. But protected.

She let out an animalistic roar. The birds didn’t fly away. They stayed perfectly still. In fact more began to gather upon the branches around her. Wolves howled in the far distance. A bear appeared in the dark branches. And a deer appeared beside it. Unnatural. A pang of guilt went through Phelenia. She shouldn’t be disturbing natural life like this. Not even for this. But if she didn’t Tuku and the others would lay claim. Natural life would be imperiled. The way she saw it, natural life was already imperiled. More animals gathered around her. They bowed their heads in silent obedience. Yes, they would protect this place against roaming sapience. Against gods, what could they do? She didn’t want them to endanger themselves. Warding off mortals would be more than enough.

She bowed in return, and the bird and the beasts of the land made their leave. They would return to their respectful places in the world. For a few moments in life, prey would not fear predator. By dusk natural balance would be restored again though. And the bear would tear the deer apart.

Phelenia herself sat back against a nearby tree though. The roar had momentarily tired her out. Her strength would return in just a few moments.

But it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t have to return. She was queen of all life, was she not? Did that not involve the beasts in this world? Even the ones she hadn’t made perhaps? They were all part of her domain. But only an emperor could grant a queen’s crown. In an instant Phelenia turned into her green-winged eagle form and flew up through the canopy. Higher and higher she went. Through the clouds. Here, above, the grace of her father shone bright still. And still she went higher. Higher and higher. Emerald light shone from the wings and streaked across the sky upwards. Carrying her upwards.

Until she finally reached the wonderful place that was her father’s palace. Divine wings carried her all the way upon the marble colonnade, where she transformed into her true self. She crossed it, and eventually reached the Palace proper. Though she stopped before the grand doors. There was a moment of doubt. Would he deny her? Would he even recognize her? How could she ever come back if she was not even recognized by her own father?

But a queen had to be strong in resolve. If she stopped here and now, could she ever say she was worthy of calling herself that. So she pushed in. Her resolve strengthened the closer she got to the throne room. When she entered it, she made sure to not forget her place. Queen of Life. Mother of Beasts. Yes. But also a child of the Monarch. “Father.” She said, averting her eyes. “I’ve come with a request.” She bent down on the vines that carried her.

The Monarch of All, in all His resplendent glory gazed upon she who had so brazenly come into His throne room unannounced and making requests at His own expense. He gazed down upon her, two of His hands coming together to form a bridge as He leaned over in the Jade throne, casting an intimidating gaze upon Phelenia. Perhaps, it was due to the interaction with the One God, or due to His own weariness upon the darkness that seemed to be consuming the Galbar, but the Monarch of All’s attention did not seem to be wholly upon the goddess. The gaze of light, it shone not upon her, but passed her, never leaving the Galbar. Yet, after a moment, the silence relented as His voice filled the throne room, His speech echoing upon the walls and columns.

”You have picked an abnormal time to come to me unannounced for a request, child. Before I entertain this request, I would like an apology, nothing more, as you already know your place, Phelenia.”

“I-” Phelenia stopped herself. Of course, he was expecting her brother Tuku. And she brazenly made her attendance. “My deepest respects and apologies to you, great Monarch. I beg forgiveness for my behaviour. I thought- no, think that my request will serve the greater good. Your good.”

”And what is this request, Phelenia?”

“I wish for you to grant me dominion over the animals of Galbar.” Phelenia said. “I have colored the world with plants, and seeded the deep, blue oceans and seas with my children. I may not have made all the animals in the world but I care for them. Every last one of them. I care for them like a goddess should.” And then she dared to look up, and for the first time she saw His glory. “Please.” She pleaded. “I could serve you so much better. With them, I could make Galbar the splendid world you so wish it to be.”

There was a moment of silence after Phelenia had spoken and it seemed that, for once in the conversation, the Monarch of All shifted His gaze to the goddess that kneeled before the Jade Throne. It was a moment of what seemed like deep thought, no tension was to be found in the air that so often tended to follow the Monarch of All and the dealing with other divine beings. Perhaps, it was confusion over why a god would ask for yet more dominion over the aspects that He had given them in their creations. Yet, His response came, slowly and deliberately.

”You are… the first of the divine to ask for another shard of power. It is an ambitious request, young Phelenia. I am tempted to grant this request, but I need proof of your loyalty as some of your siblings dare to go against my will.”

While he spoke slowly and deliberately, the Monarch’s words carved an abyss around the essence of Phelenia. That he could still doubt her devotion. When he bid her and her siblings to beautify the world, did she not paint it with a thousand flowers? When her siblings were slaughtering each other, was she instead not busy seeding the water with life? When he wordlessly declared that none of her beautiful plants would blossom, did she fight him on it? No matter how much she yearned to see the flowers bloom?

He just needed more. She raised her palm up. Above it a black, floating, boiling sludge appeared. Its mere presence sickened Phelenia, and she wished nothing more than to have it vanished. But she couldn’t. She had to prove her fealty. “This… disease will sicken that which I care most about wherever you release it. All plants that it touches will wither and die and I will be powerless against it. Take it and release it should you ever feel like I’ve wronged you.”

The Monarch of All was silenced by this action, the sludge pooling into His vision and the shock of her so willingly making something that would quite literally destroy any plant it touched. In a slow, calculated movement, the Monarch of All washed a hand over the sickness and in that moment, it disappeared from sight. It was not destroyed, but placed away, locked somewhere in the palace away from prying eyes and life of any kind. He was for once in His time of ruling the gods, stunned beyond belief as to the loyalty of his progeny. So, the words had come out, not as a steady stream of thought, but as one recovering from the shock of why she had done.

”Phelenia, I- You would so willingly make that which would destroy that which you care for. Truly, you are the most loyal amongst your peers and for this act, I will grant you your request.”

He reached two fingers into the wound upon His chest and plucked a shard from it, letting out a pained breath as He did so. Then, the Monarch of All allowed the shard to float before gently pushing it towards Phelenia, not once shifting in His throne as He watched yet another part of Himself drift away.

Phelenia willingly took the shard. For a second she simply let it float over her hand where the black sludge disease once floated. In her mind she could hear howls and roars and beautiful bird songs. Many times she had been an animal to run amongst them. But now she would be more than that. So much more. “Thank you, father. Truly, thank you.”

The shard started to glow bright as she accepted its essence. It started to disintegrate into light dust that flew towards and around Phelenia. The goddess felt a rush of power as her form changed with the received essence. Her eyes, once bright green, turned amber and horizontally slit. Horns like that of a deer appeared from underneath her kelp hair as they grew. Fur grew across her back, three tails formed and finally, feathered wings unfurled themselves from her back.

With her transformation complete, Phelenia felt more powerful than ever. Yet she knew her place. Again she kneeled before the Monarch. “My lord. I must beg for my leave now. I am all too aware that with this new charge comes new duties as well.”

”Then go and let my will be done.”



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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Apostate


...gets confused...


&



The gardens that greeted Apostate on his returning detour from his wandering were, true to form, untouched by adversity. Not one stalk of grass had bowed its head, not one flower had yellowed and dipped, not one clump of soil had been blown out of place.

And still, it was very clear that someone had been there, and left traces on the unmoving ground. Streaks of black ash and charcoal dust ran through the green near the edge of the defiant land, at times turning into circles or strange hieroglyphs. Though no worldly flame could have burned that vegetation, acrid refuse had been heaped onto it.

Not even the god's own monument had been spared. Grey cinders had roughly scrawled a grimace on its visor and dusted its height with crumbling stains. Two clouds of inky smoke circled around it, twisting and twirling like things alive.

“Hm.” Apostate stood in the center of the mess. The first thought in his mind was that perhaps he was in the wrong place, but then he figured he was. The second thought was a slight concern about the state of the gardens, most notably that it didn’t quite look like how he described it to Homura, thus jeopardizing his delivery. With that in mind, he hefted his mighty blade and slammed it into the ground.

From the impact, a swirl of sparks erupted into the atmosphere, catching on the hanging air of the gardens and with a powerful blast and ear ringing clap — a fiery explosion engulfed Apostate and his garden. Through the immolation, Apostate nodded with contentment as the immense blast tore the mess away from the land, revealing the yellow flower from before as well as other landmarks he so poetically described to the goddess of honor.

A few more heated seconds passed and with only a plume of smoke remaining, the great fireball that ate his garden had dissipated, leaving it spotless. 

The only foreign traces left after the conflagration were the two drifting smoke clouds, or what was left of them. Their black cloaks had been burned away, revealing hovering pillars of grey flame that writhed and cascaded in the air like columns made of knotted worms. They turned towards Apostate in unison, if indeed they had such things as a back and a fore, and stared at him with the pulsing red orbs that were their single eyes.

"Look at this," one of them spoke in fiery singsong, "Nothing is there we can do that won't be razed by some absurd creature."

"It was aggrieved," the other answered, wholly identical to the first, "We must do this again if it torments someone so."

“A challenger approaches,” Apostate boomed to himself more than anything else, yanking his mighty blade free and leveling it at the flames.

"You?" one of the spirits, impossible to say which, asked almost in disbelief, "You are alone and have a body of heavy earth, while we are two and unmoored flame."

Apostate reached outward with one of his hands, as if grasping the air in front of him. Without a word, he clenched his fist and with a mighty bang, one of the talking flames burst into the same smoke that Apostate named hevel, only to disappear. He pointed his blade at the remaining spectre.

“Your attack is sloppy.”

The flame quivered, spun upon itself, stretched wide and, in a cough of black fumes, tore itself into two halves. Two red eyes looked at the god again, though much diminished.

"Or is yours simply unsporting?" said the first, or perhaps the second wraith, "If we could extinguish you as easily as that, should we call you sloppy also?"

“Yes-” Apostate was interrupted. 

"We could do it to those who crumble so fast under our touch," mused the other. "But who are you, one that burns and extinguishes with a gesture?"

“Apostate,” the smoke replied, “a god.”

"That cannot be," danced the flames, "There is only One God."

“My mistake.” Apostate clenched his hand again, and with a bang one of the flames poofed once again. This time, the remaining one did not split apart, but blew out a shroud of dusty black smoke and disappeared inside it. Only its eye remained visible.

"You should challenge him if you take exception with that," despite everything, its voice seemed unfazed, "We are mere messengers, who carry the words we worship and we hate."

“Then let this be a lesson,” Apostate bellowed. He swung his sword away from the flame and flourished it back into an invisible scabbard. “That a messenger should always speak clearly and openly from the start of the interaction. Speak now, clearly, so that I may...”

The god paused and a deep groan rumbled from within. A puff of smoke shot out from the metal helmet of the god and his voice followed. “Speak quickly.” 

"Keep your lessons to yourself next time," said the spirit, "We are Eschatli. Seven of us there were, seven there must always be. Once we had bodies and warm flames in our hearts, now we only have smoke and cold bale-fire. The One God took away our death and gave us harmony, and so we worship him; he took away our warmth and our eyes and gave us servitude, and so we hate him. We carry his words when he gives them to us, but when we've none we do what pleases us."

“If you hate him,” Apostate reasoned, “then why don’t you simply stop doing what he says and always do what pleases you?”

"Because without him, we would know and fear death, which is the greatest torment of living things," replied the Eschatli as it swelled back to its erstwhile proportions. 

"Hm," Apostate groaned, "what is it that you want?"

"We hate the beauty that we have no eyes to see, and we hate the joy that we have no warmth to feel," said the flame, "These things we want to be undone."

There was a long pause from the god, the smokeborn standing completely still. Eventually, he shifted. "I don't understand. What's the issue? Why have you sought my wisdom? Do you intend to defy your means or not?" 

"We did not seek you," the flame murmured, "We came to deface this garden, which was beautiful and we therefore hated. If you would speak of wisdom, we can call the God, who mayhap might hear such things more gladly than we."

"You are confusing creatures," Apostate admitted, "would you prefer I end your suffering for good?" His voice was sincere, as well as laced with audible misunderstanding. 

"Perhaps we would," the Eschatli said, "But it could not be done unless that authority is wrested from the God, who holds it jealously."

“All worldly things come to an end, know that fact as my wisdom,” Apostate stood up straight (for smoke), “with my power, I can erase you from existence should that be your wish. So I ask again, what is it that you want?”

"We have said it plainly enough," the spirit answered with a crooked chuckle.

Or perhaps not, for it had not been its fiery, melodious voice that laughed, but a hard, cracking one like a shattering gemstone. A tall, angular shadow stretched out behind the cloaked spectre, and though it too had but one eye, it was not red but glaring white.

"They really are strange things, " Iqelis' voice was echoed by the telltale buzzing of flies, who had begun to emerge from who knew where, "I could not tell you myself how much of what this one said was in earnest. Drift along now, little flame."

He clenched a hand through the Eschatli's hazy presence, and without so much as a complaint the spirit unwound into tatters of inky fog.

“Whatever that was,” Apostate grumbled, “it was stupid.”

"As many things are in this world," the One God shook off the last threads of smoke from his hand, "But I have said I would not make these seven too wretched, and they must amuse themselves at times."

Apostate swiveled to meet the new figure that had appeared. He stood in silence for a while, letting the words fall between the two gods until finally he bellowed, “what are you talking about?”

"My Eschatli, of course," the one eye shimmered mockingly, "You are cursed with poor insight even among this sorry divine tribe."

“I mean to say,” Apostate corrected, “why are you talking to me?”

"Then you should have said so clearly," Iqelis crackled, "You have spoken the one truth, and this has pleased me."

“A lesson you should have extended to your measly creations.” Apostate turned fully to the other god. “Return to me when you are worthy of my notice, I will await you then.”

"Wait all you will," the One-Eye swept a hand, "You will come to me in the end, and perhaps you will entertain me again."

He spread his fifty arms wide, and the next moment he was no longer there. Where he had stood, the soil was gouged by his clawed feet.

Apostate swung his blade and planted the tip in the new groove, using it as a convenient holster for his weapon as he leaned against its length. With a puff of smoke, he commented, “stupid.”





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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Double Capybara
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Double Capybara Thank you for releasing me

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Tuku Llantu

&

Pride


The god who walked like the breeze in forests felt himself becoming like a toddler upon first stepping into Keltra. It was just… all so strange. Outside the world was living, always reshaping itself and adapting, even the mightiest of mountains was not an unmoving monolith but something that flowed through the land rising and falling like a wave, one that took eons to move about but still moved nonetheless.

Meanwhile, this keep, Keltra it was called, its very core was permanence, and permanence was unnatural, every tile was filled with strength, but also still like a corpse, all buildings felt like it even his own beloved home no matter how much he worked on that, but this one above all was made like it was meant to shield, resist, defy, all the decay that nature and time declared inevitable. There was some effort to embellish the walls and windows as to not make the building just a series of blocky angles and in these details there was clearly an attempt to regain the beauty of nature to this artificial building, it worked, but… was that good? If someone offered a person a drink that was 98% like water, to some it would suffice, however, would lose control of their mind and become overly focused on those last two percents that just aren’t right, making what was normal become disgusting, become uncanny.

Tuku could guess how his sister Phenelia would react to this and he understood her feelings, yet, the god of the hunt tried to position himself as a learner, if something felt strange perhaps it was not because it was bad, but because he was ignorant, as a non-perfect being that still had much to learn. So, swallowing all criticisms towards the citadel, the god kept walking forward and exploring its halls in search of his sister Homura, as deft as a lost rabbit, the echoing steps irregular and with little balance, sometimes forcing the god to touch the walls to support themselves before quickly letting go as touching the fine masonry of the walls felt “icky” to the masked god.

Thousands upon thousands of humans slept peacefully, scattered throughout the halls and laid upon the floor like collected corpses, but beneath their ashen skin there was still the warmth of life. They breathed in the air through slits where their eyes, noses, and mouths would be, but did not stir even in the presence of the divine. All of them remained entrapped within the realm of dreams, and awaited that which would wake them from their slumber - their pale and featureless forms beckoning an artist to sculpt and paint their bodies.

Deeper within the keep, the cackling dance of a great fire could be heard, as well as a lone set of steps. There had been no other sounds in the strange structure, and there were no other sounds that suggested anything alive along the walls or the fields that the walls encircled.

The fire was like an isle within the home, the most untamed of the elements felt the same within here as it felt in the wilds, making the feeling of alienation and entrapment of the huntsman ease.

With zero sense of decorum the god stepped into the room of this citadel that didn’t belong to them and turned to face the lone figure that walked, the lack of divinity made it clear it was not their sister. ”And who might you be?” the god asked, the visitor turning to stare at the host.

The girl tilted her head as she looked upon the god, and her brows furrowed with annoyance. Her scarlet hair with hints of pink seemed to shimmer, but then her red eyes quivered in apprehensive recognition of what the hunter truly was. She glanced at the sleeping humans arranged around the bright bonfire, to a black orb that rested beside one of them. Slowly she stepped towards it, but kept her eyes locked on the god the entire time.

“It’s rude not to introduce yourself, you know. My name is Pride, Keeper of Keltra, Herald of Homura; the Highest Judge of the Monarch, and a faithful servant of the King in Heaven. I mean you no harm, but I ask that you bring no harm to those that sleep here as well. May I ask your name, my lord?” Pride bent to pick up the black orb, and then stood between the humans that slumbered unaware and the enigmatic masked figure.

The god kept staring, the mask simply hiding any sort of reaction and in general just making social situations very awkward. ”Tuku Llantu, Warden of the Wilds, deity of the hunt. the god then advanced upon Pride, the movement sudden and fast, they extended their arms and then sent them down upon the woman… The grasp wasn’t really hard, it was soft, like a gentle hold, the god just holding Pride in place before quickly retreating.

”I saw some of those… things?” they waved their hands at the direction of the humans. ”Greeting each other like this. So I take this is how people of your goddess greet each other? Nevertheless. Pride, wasn’t it? Or should I call you niece? You are a creation of my sister after all. Tell me, what exactly has your creator been up to? Why are they spreading these peoples across the world? it all happened so quickly and even the words of the god seemed to come out fast, almost as if the god of the hunt was trying to overwhelm Pride.

The small champion blinked in confusion, attempting to comprehend what had just happened, but struggling to make sense of Tuku’s actions and his words. “Eh? I’m sorry, you spoke too fast. Could you not do what you just did, please?” She said, as she seemed to regain some composure, and faintly frowned with meager frustration. She sighed, and shook her head in annoyance.

“Why must everything be difficult? I have been instructed by my maker to inform any of the divine that come here that they’re free to have some of the humans. A gift for all of her siblings. She said that any may take up to ninety-thousand, but that Tuku, the Lord of the Hunt may take more.” Pride watched the god with a discerning gaze, uncertain how he would react to her response.

”Well, that is nice of her, I do plan on seeding a whole continent with these things. However… the god stopped for a moment, pondering, walking around the fire and observing as it flickered, the flames were beautiful as always. ”If these, hmm, humans you called it, were all I wanted, I could very well take my share and be done with it. No. What I desire here more than all is to understand my sister. Homura.

They turned back to face Pride. ”Is she warlike? Does she like to fight? Does she like to see others fighting? I have to say… her actions seem like a mystery to me. She seems to be so good, but why would she do something… so horrible.

Pride considered the questions, but remained quiet for a time. She struggled to keep pace with Tuku as he circled the monument, the hem of her dress hindering her little legs. “Warlike? Fighting? She doesn’t like such things, I think. She told me not to fight any of the divine that came here too. I don’t understand, what has she done?” Pride asked after answering.

The god seemed surprised by the answer, and then nodded. ”Well. This whole concept of gifting them like this, the intentions are good but, hmm, a bit contradictory? If Homura were to tell you Pride, that she will gift you to me, and allow me to command you and re-shape you as I wished, that would be quite horrible to you, despite us both being what I would call good.” they then looked up to the sky. ”But that is an ethical question, and sincerely, it doesn’t matter. What matters is… Have you ever been in the wilds, my dear niece? Have you ever observed how mortal creatures work? When I observe a group of sparrows resting by the grass, they are so beautiful and calming, then, well, one sparrow stands out, maybe it is a bit sick, maybe it was tinted blue by a fruit that fell on it, do you know what these beautiful little birds who enjoy to idly peck at seeds and grasses do when they see that one? They attack it, bully it, shun it. Its irrational but that is just how the animals are.

”But now let's imagine, there are two people, one I will call the red god, one I will call the green god. They both have been gifted a pet sparrow each, and they cherish those little birds very much. They want to give them the best of treatments, but of course, being two different people they give each a very different gift. One gains a red scarf to keep him warm, one gain a green cape so that it may hide among the plants. One day these two birds meet, and what do you think happens? Do they each compliment each other’s gift? See the positives of each other? I would love that but that isn’t quite how it works. Why would one need a scarf? The forest is so warm, you don’t need to be warmer than that and that red just stands out, how obnoxious! Why does one need a cloak to hide? Are they too lazy to fly away from trouble, to fight or are they planning something shady? And so, the two blessed birds fight, perhaps one kills the other, these little birds have such fickle lives after all.

”Then the person returns home, and sees the scene of the murder of their beloved pet, the little animal that despite living for such little time in comparison to them is still so cherished and dear, now gone. In more than righteous fury, the person strikes down the other bird… but that bird was equally loved, equally cherished, and will cause grievance upon the other person. Two grieving persons are two irrational persons, and nothing good can be born from such a thing. And as such the war started by the innocent stupidity of small short lived things moves forward, ascends, to the realm of greater creatures, a war between two good people started by an equally good gift.

The god then nonchalantly coughed. ”Well, that was a lot. Maybe I am a pessimist, but it’s reassuring at least to know such things were never planned ahead. Better foolish than malicious, no? the god said in such a condescending tone, clearly this was someone who believed they would always be right, that once they assumed something that would be the truth no matter what.

“But why’d they kill each other? I’m not the same as my sisters, but we wouldn’t ever want to hurt each other. I was born only yesterday, and I’ve never seen a bird before… I don’t know why animals hurt their kin, but I know I want to protect mine. I never want to see Kindness cry again. I know because I feel it… here.” Pride pointed to the center of her chest, cradling the black orb with her other arm until her strength gave out and she dropped it. “Oops.”

With an anxious look towards Tuku, she slowly kneeled to pick it up once more. She looked into its ebon depths, and wondered what Apostate would say if he had heard his brother’s words. She wondered what her maker would say… “You’re a god though, can’t you keep the birds from fighting? Wouldn’t the King in Heaven say something if these birds killed each other? It seems so cruel to me.” She said softly, uncertain whether or not she wanted to continue listening to the god speak with such a captivating voice, uttering such sorrowful words she could only compare it to a haunting melody she knew she could never forget.

At that Tuku felt… bad? That was a bit surprising to him since he never had an issue telling people some of his “truths” before, but this felt like he was the bird picking at the smaller sparrow. ”Right… Maybe there things are the ones that will make sense later. I focused a bit too much on Homura here, but you are you, you can’t reply for her.” they looked about. ”Protecting isn’t easy, won’t ever be, and sometimes protection is not holding close, but letting it go. I am sure you will learn this all as you live and grow.

They clapped their hands and looked at the humans. ”So… how do I haul these humans across a large distance, Pride?”

“My maker has three massive machines she calls the colossi that have carried all the humans she has given to the other divine. She said she would return in two days, so tomorrow. Hmm… if you wait, she’ll be back and can deliver them wherever you want, I think... with the colossi” Pride answered, still pondering all that the god had said.

She turned her gaze to the bonfire, seeking some small comfort in its warmth and radiance. The small champion could no longer look at Tuku, the motionless mask that concealed the truth of his face had perturbed her, his otherworldly presence and esoteric proclamations were too much, and she wished she was larger, or that her sisters stood by her, but she was alone.

”So you don’t know how to operate these? Hmm. I am a bit short on time… but this is quite important. the god answered, noticing his presence was becoming more and more toxic but not really being able to do much, not like a wooden mask could show a reassuring face.

“I am afraid I don’t know how to awaken my kin. My maker foolishly forgot to mention such. I’m sorry.” Pride turned to look at the wooden feet of the god as she answered. She felt her cheeks become heated with embarrassment, and prayed that the god was looking anywhere else that wasn’t her. The small champion glanced towards the sleeping humans nearby, and recalled the ordeal that was trying to move them closer to the bonfire. Each was almost twice her size, and even heavier than the black orb she carried, it had taken her what felt an eternity to bring them where they lay now.

The good stood still for a moment and then sighed, their eyes were too empty to fully show where they were looking unless they sharply moved their head, to some he always seemed to look away, but to others they always stared. ”And how do we make them gain shape and form? The ones I saw around The Galbar weren’t quite as smooth and featureless.” after throwing this one last question, they started to focus on something in their cape, putting their walking staff to the side and trying to reach for something in his possession.

“To be human is to be shaped by the divine. My maker seeded such a thought inside me, and I know that my kin wish to be woken by the gods and goddesses of this world. Try touching them, and see if that stirs them. They won’t wake when I move them.” The small champion suggested, watching the god with curiosity. She lamented how Homura seemed so foolish by not instructing her further on how to provide the visiting divine with their humans, but there was nothing that could be done now. Pride prayed that Tuku would not become wrathful if her kin did not rise and follow him.

Tuku pondered, and pondered, looking at two of the man-shaped canvas. ”“You know. I envy you a bit. To have people that care about you, that you can connect with. I wish I could repeat the same as what Homura did.” this was the slowest the voice of the hunting god had ever been, they touched the humanoid faces, slowly letting his very essence seep into them, they started to mimic the god’s own secret features, tanned skin with dark brown hair, lithe and agile features, but these were humans. They were a pair, older brother and younger sister. In his mind the god called the girl Griph and the boy Suyai. And yet, with all of their perfect shape, their defined features, they did not stir awake, even though Pride could feel how bright their fire burned after the god blessed them with part of his own essence.

”Yes, sometimes, to protect you must be patient. It is not their time yet to wake up. This world is not yet fit to raise children and I don’t want them to be corrupted by divinity. I will be off to my land Pride, I will give them places to rest, and once mortalkind is spread, they will be found, and will grow not knowing who their father is, until the day comes that they are ready to truly hatch into great birds and rise above the land.” Tuku didn’t know why he explained such a personal plan to a girl he had nothing to do with, but the truth was, despite having bothered her so much, he liked Pride.
”“I will be back in two days to meet Homura, I have something to give her and I still need the other humans.” the god looked back at Pride. ”Before I take them however, here's something for you.” they finally removed the hand from behind the cape and gave a weird object to Pride, it was a white sphere with some sort of pattern or blemish on it. ”It isn’t right for a girl to not know what birds are, so here is one, or rather, an egg, that will one day become one. Consider it a gift.

Pride balanced the egg atop her black orb, and held both in her arms with difficulty, but refused to let either fall. “Thank you, my lord. I will await your return and watch over your children until then.” She could not bow, carrying both the egg and orb together, but she could nod her head respectfully towards the god, so she did so. She smiled at him, and despite the trepidation around the deity, she considered him to be kind.



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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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ZIMA the ZIMMER

&
Mish-Cheechel the Avenger







[Listen or skip to 00:53, then start reading]


I dream of pain
I dream of rivers and a bjorkish band
I walk in rain
I dream revenge as time runs through my hand!

I dream of fire
These crimes that tie
two hearts that just won’t die
I near the flames
And watch the shadows dance to the growl of a bjork’s desire

This fury grows
To the groan of a great-dam promise
Your river flows (Green Murder!)
No riverine dam is sweeter on my tooth than this!

My spear-arm turns
And fells great flames as only do in dreams
This vengeance burns
And I know all’s not as it seems

I dream of pain
I dream of rivers and a bjorkish band
I walk in rain
And dream revenge as time
Runs
Through
My
Hand

I dream in pain
And wonder if I sink or rise above
My heartbeat churns
And knows at last: revenge is sweeter on the heart than love
revenge is sweeter on the heart than love
revenge is sweeter on the heart than love
revenge is sweeter on the heart than love


[Listen until end, or pause, then continue reading.]


Mish-Cheechel awoke. His breath came calm and quiet and his eyes took in the darkness of night. He coughed - his throat was hoarse - and licked his two great teeth with a dry tongue. He needed water. Slowly, he rose, and his bones and muscles groaned as though he had not moved in an age. The night was dark, but he could see the great figure of Bear not too far off. He swallowed. “Djima.” He managed, running a hand over his face as he ascended to his feet. “Water.”

He followed the nearby sound of flowing water and Bear followed after him, and not long after he was lapping from a small rivulet. The cool liquid seemed to tear at his throat and he coughed and sputtered and vomited and snorted water everywhere. He breathed heavily for a good half minute then he shook his head and got up, scratching at his temple and clearing his throat.

It was only then that he thought to glance down at his chest. He was quite certain that the weird, hoofed howler had stabbed him right through the chest - in fact, he knew beyond all doubt that he had died. He felt at his chest, looked around suspiciously, then glanced back at Bear. “Am I dead? Are you dead?” Bear only panted, lolled his tongue out, and stared a the manbjork. “Yeah, dead my tail, you’re not dead you mangy bag of fur.” Putting the thoughts aside he stepped up to the saddled bear and lifted himself onto its back. He looked about with growing concern. “Where the sweet icy-frost is Zima?”

He tapped Bear with his great tail and the creature started moving off, and Mish-Cheechel launched his gaze now across the rivulet and now into the woods in search of her. He did not see her, but after a time he heard clapping and laughter and urged Bear in the direction. He paused just short of a clearing, in which was a small pond. By the pond hovered what looked to be Zima - but, Mish-Cheechel knew, was not. It shimmered a thousand different colours and seemed to be in some kind of communion with a creature in the pond. Quietly, Mish-Cheechel spurred Bear onward and from his high vantage point atop the great cave bear's back he could see that there was an oddly radiant winged creature in the pond, moving with dazzling motion. For a few seconds his breath caught in his throat.

He sat there for some time and watched the strange winged pond-creature and the nishi dance. He did not know how long it went on, but when they stopped dawn was just breaking. The nishi was stirred from its stupor and went floating away, and the fish continued dancing in the tiny pond. Mish-Cheechel descended from Bear’s back then approached and observed the fish, and he wondered how it had gotten there at all. It was not a permanent pond, he could see, but had likely been formed by the heavy rain. Such a fish should not have existed there by any means. As he watched it, however, he felt a great serenity fall upon him.

A serenity that was broken when he smelled a bjork on the air and turned towards the stranger. “Ah, what’s dis noew.” The lassiebjork said, clearly surprised. “Didna ekspect to find anyiun ‘ere.” She carried a spear in her hand and quickly circled round to the other side of the pond and glanced down at the fish.

“Good day to you, lassie. You come here often?” Mish-Cheechel leaned back on his tail.

“Ah cam by yisterday and wouldja believe it, saw dis fish. Well, I didna ave a spear or no’in, but I tol meself I loik it and wanna make soming - real noice like, like ‘at hat dat Phlat mat or soming. So oi wakes up dis mornin real orly loik and grabs Pat’s spear an’ comes a runnin. Now.” She raised the spear and eyed the fish with purpose and focus.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, lassie.” Mish-Cheechel grunted, but he had not finished his words before the spear darted with sudden speed and the lassiebjork raised the fish up in victory. Mish-Cheechel frowned and stared at the dead fish, still glistening beautifully and even its death throes oddly soothing and rhythmic. “Why-” he instinctively gnashed his teeth against each other, “why’d you do that?”

The lassiebjork glanced up at him and waved a dismissive hand. “Oh you wouldna gets it. Anyway I’m goin now.” She paused. “Or aktshilly, I think maybe I cans work on it ‘ere, lemme see now.” Feeling his anger boiling, Mish-Cheechel turned away from the muttering lassiebjork and left the clearing. He found Bear and mounted him, and they went off. But even as they continued, Mish-Cheechel could not shake off the anger he felt. It was just a fish, and it would probably have died anyway when the pond dried up. And yet he felt a certain bitterness towards the lassiebjork, as though she had offended something higher, something beyond his understanding. He tried to shake the feeling off but it plagued him all day. So much did it plague him that when the sun set at last he found himself back at the clearing, staring at the pond.

As darkness settled all around, the nishi came hovering into the clearing. It had no sooner entered, however, before it froze - for there, by the pond, were the fleshy remains of the fish that danced. Its kaleidoscopic scales were gone and the flesh had been hastily discarded - what need had bjorks for flesh, after all? The nishi was frozen there for a long while, although its form looked closer to tears, roiling about itself and struggling to stay afloat. After some time a great whine started to emanate from it, and it approached the dead fish and seemed to weep itself out.

Mish-Cheechel watched it vacantly all night, and when dawn broke again the nishi did not float away or even crawl out of the clearing. What remained of it lay sputtering by the fish and Mish-Cheechel knew that it was dead. He realised then, with sudden clarity, that it was not the fact that this was an affront to something higher that had plagued him all day and was plaguing him even now. Perhaps it was, perhaps it was not - he neither knew nor cared. No, it was the fact that it was an affront to him that had plagued him all day and plagued him even now. He did not understand that either, but he did not need or want to. He had always been a bjork of action.

He moved, then, without much thought. He gathered wood and lit a fire, and he shaped himself a new spear and rolled it slowly over the flames. He rolled it until morn was forgotten and he whispered the gnashing of teeth into it, the gnashing of teeth and rage of vengeance - muttered the cosmic hurt done on goodness and harmony that even now cried out, and wept now, to be righted. When the flame of his fury had grown into an all-consuming forest fire, he rose and allowed his nose to lead him after the lassiebjork. He found her sitting on a small dam, boasting her glistening fish-skin cape to two oohing and aahing lassiebjorks, who had likewise decorated their forms with useless apparel - from the bark of trees they'd plundered, from the otter, mink and river. But Mish-Cheechel had not come today for them, had come only for the one who slew the dance-fish, for the one who slew the nishi. Two lives stolen, two lives he'd reap.

He stood staring at the trio from the darkness of the forest, and in time his scent had grown so strong that none could miss it any longer. Curious bjorks approached and stared at the giant anxiously, and the lassiebjork was among them. “O- it’s you. Yer smellin a lil difrent.” She said nervously.

“I told you not to kill it.” He cut across her coldly.

The lassiebjork swallowed nervously, then glanced at the six other bjorks about her and regained her confidence. “Well, what’s it te yew anehwaey?” She retorted boldly. Mish-Cheechel gnashed his teeth and snarled at her as he took a single step forth, causing all the lassiebjorks to scatter and the menbjork to raise their weapons.

“Ohright yew, off widja, off widja ah sae.” The bigger of the three menbjork warned. Mish-Cheechel did not spare them a glance, but only glowered at the lassiebjork before he turned and disappeared into the trees. The bjorkmen whistled with relief and half-laughed to one another. “Wat an eedjit.” The big one chortled, then turned and looked over at Walat. “Wha d’ya dew te mak ‘im so angry, Wal-” he began, but was quickly cut-off when a massive white bear erupted from the forest and snapped his head clean off. The others screeched and rushed for the dam, but the bear ignored them all and beelined for Walat.

“No!” She cried out, jumping now left and now right in a desperate attempt to flee the wild thing. But she had nothing to fear from the bear, for it was Mish-Cheechel’s spear that felled her. He leapt from the bear’s back and approached where the whimpering Walat had fallen and placed his hand about the spear.

“Ah towl ye- ye shouldna kild eh.” Mish-Cheechel growled with her people's drawl. He pulled the spear from her back and its fire-hardened tip fell, with a terrible crack, through her neck.

There was silence then, and he heard muffled cries from the dam. Leaving the spear, he turned and - suddenly weak - stumbled over to the bear and drew himself into the saddle, and then quickly left. The darkness of the trees was welcoming, and the sounds of the forest drowned out the cries that were long out of earshot but not out of mind.




So that is what he is, Voi thought as he watched the bjork from the trees. Appearing not as bjork or any other sentient but, as a raven. Black as the night and with watchful eyes on Mish-Cheechel. He had been watching him for a while now, flying from tree branch to tree branch and getting a feel on who this bjork was, this one who had brazenly spat and promised, so that all the gods could hear him, his unwavering will to kill a god. And he was a rather curious one; one who happened to be immortal - a clear sign that another god had already given him a blessing for his quest.

The first immortal created by… Aethel, Voi thought unamused. He could sense the tampering with Mish-Cheechel’s soul and Aethel’s mark was all over it. Voi felt a pang of anger over this tampering with Mish-Cheechel’s soul. But despite that flickering flame of anger, he would not change things or tamper. For it was, Voi admitted to himself, a blessing that he might have given Mish-Cheechel himself.

Either way, now was the time for talk, so Voi flew before the bjork. Far enough that he could not be seen by Mish-Cheechel but without a doubt in his way. The god disappeared behind a tree and reemerged as an elderly bjork. There he waited patiently for Mish-Cheechel to pass by and see him.

When the bear-riding manbjork spotted him, he stopped. He stared blankly - though not coldly - at Voi for a few seconds then greeted him. “Well met, stranger. Bjorks often know better than to stand in the way of a bear, but you don’t seem all too bothered now.” He eyed Voi and looked back into the trees for others. When none emerged, he raised an eyebrow. “Alone on the road?”

“Yes, yes I am. And you seem to have that bear under control.” Voi walked slowly towards Mish-Cheechel before stopping right next to him. He looked up at the manbjork with a piercing glare, “I am actually here for a reason, that reason being you. I wish to talk to you about your quest and the Green Murder.” Their eyes bored into each other’s once the words were said and silence hung between them for a while.

At last, however, Mish-Cheechel broke the staring contest and, bringing his left foot over the saddle, dropped from the bear’s back and walked over to a nearby log and sat down. “Speak then, and while you’re at it tell me your name.”

“Call me Anam,” Voi walked over and sat on the other end of the log. Turning his head towards Mish-Cheechel, “I have heard of your call for vengeance against the one called the Green Murder. A god… though I do not know a god that goes by that name or title.” Voi briefly looked away and chose his next words with care. “I wish to learn more about this matter and you as well.” Voi looked back at Mish-Cheechel and stared him square in the eyes. “That is if you wish to speak of this.”

Mish-Cheechel leaned back with a frown, his eyes narrowing. “Has word spread then? Well, it’s good that it should, any bjork worth his honour should rage against this crime. It’s not a crime against me or my family or Clan Rod, it’s a crime against all who call themselves bjorks - the eagle god didn’t care what clan we were, it was the bjorkish way that drew its wrath. So long as the eagle god abides, all bjorks are duty-bound to destroy it. Blood must be paid for in blood, the taking of life with the taking of life, the finger with the finger, the eye with the eye, the tooth with the tooth - equal hurt and equal fury, equal death and equal mauling till the world returns to balance: equal hurts discharged on villains as those hurts they first committed. But look here, you are an old manbjork Anam - I wouldn’t call on you to join me. Does your clan have none who are young and strong? Does your clan have none whose blood boils at this crime? Does your clan have none who will swim and march against the eagle god with me?”

“My clan?” Voi pondered for a moment. “This I imagine would divide my clan, few would support your efforts against this eagle god, most would not attempt this. It is not a small endeavor to try and kill a god. I know what this eagle god did to you and your clan. Though”, Voi paused for a moment before speaking, “I can sense that someone has helped you in a way that I… would not have expected or that I at first approved of.” Voi took the moment to look at Mish-Cheechel’s bear before turning back to the manbjork. “I am unsure what aid I can give since you seem to have gotten some already. Your tamed bear is a rare sight and what I can sense from you…..” Voi then slowly looked ahead, not staring at anything in particular.

“You…” Mish-Cheechel stared at him, “you sensed?” His eyes narrowed in suspicion as realisation dawned. “You are of the god clan?”

“No, oh no…. I am just a concerned party is all,” Voi said, sounding sincere about it. He took a deep breath before continuing, “just concerned and I think I can offer you something. But,” Voi emphasized the but, part. “It will not be ready for some time. When it is done then I can offer it to you.” Then he turned his gaze on Mish-Cheechel, and it was an ice-cold stare. “As long as you do not break any rules or defile it. If so then consider said gift revoked.” Voi then returned to looking at nothing. “Is that clear?”

Mish-Cheechel leaned forward and considered the other manbjork for a few moments. “What rules, oldbjork? And do you think Mish-Cheechel would defile a gift? I’d not dishonour myself so. But sure look: my eye is on my goal and my sight is eagle-keen, I’ll abide by nothing that keeps me from the Green Murder. If that’s good by you then I’ll take whatever aid you offer, but if it doesn’t please you then I’ll waste no more of your time or mine. I’ve no quarrel with you. So there you have it Anam, make of that what you please.” Mish-Cheechel leaned back, reached around until his hand fell on a twig, then brought it to his mouth and slowly tested his teeth’s sharpness on it.

“I do not know what you will do, only wonder what could happen with vengeance being a factor. But, I agree that our business has concluded.” Voi got off the log and gazed one last time at Mish-Cheechel before heading on his way. “Whatever happens, just make sure you do not lose yourself fully to vengeance. You might do something you regret or harm one you have a friendship with.” Without another word, Voi departed the scene. Once out of Mish-Cheechel’s eyesight, he turned into a raven and flew as fast as a god could away from the forest.




Mish-Cheechel reclined on the log and glanced over at Bear. “Concerned party my tail, Bear. If that guy wasn’t from the clan of gods I’ll bite my foot off.” The bear raised his head and stared at him, then wandered off without response. Mish-Cheechel bit at the last of the twig, then flicked and spat it away. Getting up, he went off after the bear. “Now where the frozen river is Zima?”

As if to answer him, there came a great thunderous crash and a tree fell not too far from the pair. Mish-Cheechel watched as some sort of creature made of ice fell over the tree and lay still for several seconds. It slowly rose and he could make out how damaged it looked. Its left arm was missing and its entire body was cracked. It faced away from them, gaze upon the forest, so Mish-Cheechel followed its gaze.

Next thing he knew the icey creature came under the assault of a large black shape and a battle ensued before his eyes! The assailant was a creature so foul - so dark - that when the odor hit them, Bear seemed to shrink. That great dark shape looked like nothing Mish-Cheechel had ever seen before, but the ice… was that not Zima? Whoever it was, it was not faring well. Each blow from the creature of darkness shattered more and more of the ice so that quite soon none of it would remain.

And so a choice had to be made.

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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Chris488
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Jiugui & Homura


Jiugui had retrieved his buzz after waking up from his post-death experience. He had toured the Nalusan lands in a giggling stupor, followed by maramodas who eagerly danced and laughed along with him. Jiugui found that he enjoyed their company very much, and they shared stories around the campfires in the night and choired under the sun during the day. An absolutely lovely bunch were they - Jiugui named them the tribe of Joy, and selected the most joyful among them to be chieftain. He named him Laff Awt-Lout, which he shortened to Lawl. Lawl accepted his name by rolling on the ground in submission, which cracked Jiugui up mightily. Other names followed soon: Lawl’s mate, Raphl; the designated fig schnaps brewer, Kehk; the master huntress, Lemau - the list went on. The tribe of Joy soon numbered 150 named individuals, and Jiugui said onto them:

“Be fruitzful like a good liqueur - no, waiz, be fruizful ‘n muldiply! Spreaz joy all aroun’, ‘n turn this land inno a giand pardy plache!” The maramodas had cheered alongside him, chanting, “Party, party, party!” And then Jiugui had moved on without them, travelling the world once more in solitude, just him and his wine cup.

It took little time before he arrived at the edge of the badlands, and an edge it certainly was. Almost like a border drawn on a map, the Nalusan sands simply stopped, blowing a little inwards but barely a few feet over an endless brown flat of stone and dirt. It was as though the land was an empty slate, hardly worth a thought or a fart in the wind. Jiugui rubbed his eyes with sweaty hands. “Blimey,” he blurted out and took a shot to curb his amazement. He reached out a foot and tested the soil - it was compact at least, perhaps too much so. He placed both legs on the other side of the border and took a deep breath. The ground screamed its horrible, unspeakable lack of purpose. It was yearning, starved for identity - anything! A simple plant, just please, anything!

Jiugui smirked. He wasn’t one to turn down such a request. He pulled up the arms of his robes, but just as he was about to unleash his power, he felt something. The drunk god’s instincts clocked into overdrive as even they weren’t so groggy as to not be able to sense another presence. Something was coming, something powerful. Jiugui took another shot for courage and closed in on the presence in a staggered sneak.

The red goddess strode ahead of a procession consisting of three massive machines vaguely shaped like the horses that roamed the Eidolon Plains, and her presence was similar to the rising sun as it painted the sky with the colors of dawn. She held in her hand a golden spear tipped with prismatic light, and swiftly marched towards the drunken god. Her eyes shone fiercely. Jiugui, slowly realising he maybe - just maybe - had been spotted, cleared his throat way too hard and ended up coughing once or twice before bowing deeply with hands stretched straight out before him and saying, “Hail, honourzed colleague! Wha’z brings you ‘ere at sush high speed?”

She suddenly stopped and arced her spear skyward, signalling to the three titans that followed her. The colossi ceased their march, and the red goddess resumed her brisk walk towards Jiugui with purpose in her stride. Homura came to a halt before the drunken god, respectfully bowing in response to his greetings. “I am Homura. I mean no harm to you, brother, unless you should mean harm to me. I had been following the stench of many grotesque creatures that had traveled to these lands, when I sensed your presence. What is your name?”
The drunk god raised his cup to her and, remaining bowing facing the ground, he conjured forth a second cup and floated it over to her. “Honourzed Lady Hom’ra,” he slurred respectfully, “This hummel servand isz but a lowly goblin’n comparizon wiff yoo - its name isn’ worthzy. Sozzy for thze stink…” he apologised and sniffed for emphasis.

“There is no need to apologize… It is I whom should seek your forgiveness.” She hesitantly took the cup and analyzed its content, the physical manifestation of Jiugui’s aspect, so sweet and tempting, but strange and terrible as well. She did not sip, simply holding onto the drink for the time being, and continued to speak. “I unfortunately have no gifts to offer you, as I have just finished delivering all that I had with me to our sister whom resides upon the moon. Allow me to remedy this, and meet with you again, so that I might offer such gifts as well.”

Jiugui remained bowing and slurred, “Oh, do nozz worry, muh Lady!” Only then he straighten up and smile from ear to ear. “A true giffd iz never giffen wiff the expectashun of anythin’ ‘n return.” He took a sip of his cup. “Pray tzell, wha’s stink you followin’?” He sniffed his pit as discreetly as he thought he could, lifting his arm high up and snorting deeply in the fold of his robe. “Nozz mine, righ’z?”

Homura blinked bemusedly, as if she could not comprehend the words he spoke before shaking her head in answer to his question. “No, your scent is… unique, and a source of… something… sacred. The stench I refer to originates from mortals, and their continual acts of cannibalism which pollute the world. It seems the beasts beyond the sea have come here to spread their sickness. I had hoped the great sea would prevent them from reaching so far.” Her gaze turned to the north, and she sighed with sorrowful regret before her attention shifted back to Jiugui.

“What brings you to this desolate place, brother?” She asked, and shook the wine within her cup, as if curious whether or not the liquid would suddenly react violently to the motion. She peered into its depths and saw her own small reflection staring back at her.

Jiugui thumbed over his shoulder into the far horizon. “Came wessfrom. Nice place, but the sky’z really weirr there fussomreesn.” He squinted and shook his head. “Cannibal morzals, huh… That ain’d very pioush, iszit? Sure ain’d noble!” He made a disapproving ‘prrt’ with his tongue. “Consizer zhem ALL denouncéd,” he declared and threw an arm into the air that undid his balance somewhat. Recuperating slowly, he mumbled, “Wasseylooglige? Mayyyybe I’fe seen’um?”

“Mortals have many shapes, but the most grotesque that I have seen are the bjork. Creatures capable of being what I envisioned for humanity, but disrespectful towards all that is sacred. If their madness is not healed, only death and despair await them, and I cannot allow any of our creations to suffer such a cruel fate. Our brother Chailiss, and I, have sworn to protect them, but there are others among the divine that work against us. This Singing Maker and Green Murder, who bring only strife in their wake. They must be brought to justice.” Homura stands still, as if untouched by the hand of time, while she speaks and her voice resonates with both conviction and otherworldly power. The golden spear she held began to shrink until it seemed to have completely vanished in her palm, and she held out her now empty hand towards Jiugui.

“Brother, let us promise to work together to protect all of creation and prevent its demise. Only together can we truly serve the Monarch of All, and enjoy the greatest of gifts that He has given us.”

Jiugui took her hand humbly and offered her another bow. “Why, thass all I came ‘ere t’doo, muh Lady! This hummel servant of Hish Impeeral Mashesty, urrp! ish noffin’ - NOFFIN’ - if nod a puhtector of all creaashun.” He squeezed his nose with his free hand and rubbed the mucus on his robes. “Ooof, ‘scuse me… Shay…” He looked around and gestured widely. “Why don’ we cuhmemm… Cuhmemorih… Coh-mehm-mo-rate dis occashun by makin’ somethin’, huh? Since you ain’ thirsdy, howbouda treat?”

“Hmm… What do you have in mind? I am afraid I must make haste as I have promised one of our brothers that I would deliver his humans within three days from now, but it seems only proper we honor our first meeting.” After clasping hands, Daybringer regrew in her grasp, and the red goddess silently watched as Jiugui stained his robes with the strange slime that came from his nose. She looked at the cup she held in her hand with a stoic expression, and took a single step back from the drunken god.

“Oh, don’ worrzy, id’ll jush be a lil’ snack-- oop!” As he bent forward to make a table out of the brown ground, he accidentally spilled wine all over the ground. Where the wine dropped, rich, flowery grass spawned and then spread for kilometres in every direction as far as the eye could see. Intermittently, thick bushes of broadleaf forest popped up on the horizon, as well. And then, most importantly, the area filled with wine plants like fruit trees, berry bushes and grape stalks as far as the eye could see. Jiugui blinked at the ground and scratched his head. “You seein’ green or am I havin’ a sztroke?”

“I see, you are Phelenia, father of the forests. Wine which is born from the fruits of your creations, I understand now. You are not what I expected, but your contributions to Galbar are all beautiful.” Homura nodded her head sagely, as she correctly assumed the drunken god’s identity. She slowly wandered the green fields that had grown, her feet left no tracks, nor disturbed a single blade of grass. She looked back at Jiugui and smiled softly, “Your verdant children are perhaps the most beautiful aspects of life that I have seen thus far.”

Jiugui threw himself back up and staggered back some, smiling almost as broadly as he was wide. “Why, zhank you, muh Lady.” He bowed and catapulted himself forward again. “Can’d ‘ave wine wizhout fruitz ‘n creashuns to share ‘zem wiff. Now, le’s see aboud magin’ a lil’ table… ‘N hup!” With that, Jiugui dug his hands into the soil and pulled upwards. However, he very much miscalculated the amount of strength he was putting into it, like when you crush the foot of the wine glass when putting it back on the table sometime around four in the morning. Within the next second, him and Homura stood atop an enormous mountain, their sweet conversation kept professional by a cool breeze and now about a foot of snow. Jiugui hid his face in his hands. “Alash, I am mush too inebriaded for thish, you gozza escoos me…” he wept in drunken shame.

“Why drink until you are like this? Why succumb to its dizzying influence? Could you not abstain from alcohol, or at least moderate your consumption? If you are humiliating yourself without reason, you should stop, brother.” Homura tossed aside the cup, the wine within spilled forth like blood on the snow, and she placed a hand upon Jiugui’s shoulder. “You do not need to ask for my forgiveness, for you have done nothing wrong. However, it does hurt me to see you like this… would you be willing to come with me to Keltra, perhaps I can offer you a place to rest?”

Jiugui suddenly frowned and all his tears dried in a flash. He straightened himself and only staggered minimally and said, "I drzink becoz is my thing - liddle Jiugui was meantta drzink, so drzink he will. I may be inebateded, buzz a zober Jiugui is like an evol Lady Hom'ra: Unnajural." He offered a polite smile, took Homura's hand and squeezed it amicably. "Now, le's head down, shall we? A place like dish isn' one for snacks!" The spherical man trundled around Homura and towards the slope of the mountain.

“I find your words concerning, brother. To indulge in such an addiction and proclaim it is necessary seems so wrong... it is akin to drowning yourself in water, or being buried beneath the earth. Why would anyone advocate such? However, I do not claim to understand the nature of wine as well as you, so perhaps I have failed to see the meaning of this erratic behavior.” Homura followed after Jiugui, continuing to contemplate his words, and leaving behind small shimmering scarlet steps in the snow as she walked. Her gaze had wandered to the three colossi and her champions that awaited her, ascertaining their safety after the massive mountain had manifested so near to them.

Jiugui waved a finger in the air. "Ah, buzz wine's so mush more than jusz the buzz afferwars." He tumbled down the mountainside until he reached the bottom, his wine spilling everywhere. The droplets flew for thousands of kilometres and spread the mountain into chains that spanned the entire region. The snowmelt from all the mountains gathered into great rivers that greened the land even further and poured out into the sea to the north. Jiugui lifted his head out of the snow and shook his head free of frost. "... I'm okay!"

As the earth had surged skyward, thousands upon thousands of spires and peaks piercing the sky above, Homura soared towards the three colossi before the spillage of wine could reach them. Her red radiance shone upon the machines, and seeped into their forms, filling them with ephemeral divine power. The eruption of wine had reached them, and splashed upon the land all around. Great mountains arose from beneath the massive hooves of the colossi and the machines were suddenly carried upwards, though their bodies did not truly touch the summits nor the slopes they now stood upon.

Homura looked where Jiugui had fallen, and swiftly returned to him. Her light receded back into her small form, and she offered her hand helpfully to the drunken god. “Our brother would be impressed with what you have done, I imagine. Though travel between Keltra and the lands of the west will be much more difficult for most mortals now.”

"Will id? Aw, shucks…" The ball of man rolled back up to a seat. "Eh, I'm sure dhey'll be fine…" he brushed some snow and dirt off himself. "Mordals'rrrre smard, they, uh, will find a way."

“Indeed. However, we should be wary of drastically altering the landscape in their presence. They are fragile and require our guidance, not our imprudence or apathy.” The goddess simply stood nearby, watching with an enigmatic expression as Jiugui sat up and cleaned himself. “Will they remain smart when they drink? Will wine help or hinder their progress, I wonder?”

Jiugui shrugged. "Jiugui wouln't know. All my good creashuns 'ave been maye unner influence." He grinned playfully. "I'm sure id'll be fiiiiine." He had another cupful of wine. "Haven' heard anythin' about crazy drzunks yet, anyway." He then looked over at the mountains. "Oh, loog, a goat!"

The greenery and mountains hadn't come alone; the flora was quick to be joined by birds in the mountains and broadleaf trees. In the hills and on the slopes of the great range, goats, lynxes, wolverines and foxes crawled out of holes and caverns in the stone. The broadleaf forests soon were full of insects, deer, elk, owls and wolves. The grass plains filled with bison, rodents and aurochs. Finally, the rivers filled with salmon, trout and amphibians and the snows atop the mountains sported forth lemmings, hares and reindeer.

Jiugui smiled. "How shweet."

Homura turned her gaze upon all of the animals, and she tilted her head in curiosity. “More creatures that roam the earth, fly across the sky, swim through the water, and embellish the great garden that is Galbar. However, they all resemble the beasts I have seen in the north, and I fear their spirits, their minds, and their bodies, all seeking to satiate themselves. Are these creatures considered sacred, Jiugui?” The red goddess asked.

The red-skinned god shrugged again. "Wha's shacrednesh to a goad? To a lemmon? Wha's diff'rent in a worl' where everrone Iive to sashate themselfs and a world whur err'one live to sashate others? In one, you's a hero for helpin' others; in the ozzer, you's a mizer for thinkin' 'bout you's own good. The norf, yeah, I been, but the worl' there's one of hardy creashurs who make the most uvva hard life. Sure, some gozza thing of dhemselfs 'n dheir own, but who elshe will eff nod dem, amiride?" He had another sip. "Whevver dhese creashurs're sacred 'r nod isn' ub to me, I thzink; dhey can decide dat for'emselfs," he said with a small, dismissive wave.

“You claim that you are a protector of all creation, and yet you fail to make a choice. You are a god, Jiugui. You cannot ignore your responsibility…” Homura halted herself, and realization dawned upon her. “You are the Singing Maker. You are the one that has made the bjork, and then abandoned them! Their suffering has spread like fire and will burn more of the world unless it is prevented from persisting farther. You have not guided them. You have not protected them. Why should I believe your words when your actions speak differently?” She seethed with rage, breathing heavily, and struggling to stay still as she spoke. Her eyes blazed with bitter flames, seeking any answer that may ease her aching heart from the seated Jiugui.

Jiugui waved calmingly. "Ogey, it seems I may've upsed you - my deepes' apologies." He bowed deeply. "Bud ash yoshelf, muh Lady - whad cou'd I, lil' Jiugui, teach mordalidy? What good ish my guidanshe when I dun' even rember wherrre I em." His mouth flattened and he offered her a deadpan frown. "His Impeeral Mashesty wouldna wand me tellin' morrals how ta behave; you wouldn' wand that." He nodded understandingly. "Truss me, I agree. Likewishe, I'd prolly cause more death dhen life if I ever swore to protecc, whell, anythin'." He bowed to her again. "Dhis hummel servant ain't made fe' war 'n order; only drinkin' 'n joy."

Homura remained silent, as his slurred words only seemed to beget more sorrow and anger in her. An aura of otherworldly might exuded from her, but she did not move, and did not speak. Jiugui sighed and straightened himself up.

"Deary me… Sheems I may've ruinéd the mood quite udderly," he lamented quietly. Looking around, he picked his nose discreetly and flicked away a booger which, upon contact with the ground, became a blooming, yellow flower. "How'sh aboud we do a lil' raincheck on dat lunch, huh? Wouldn' wunna keep ya if you're in a hurry," he asked with a small smile.

“Hmm… I would like that. You are… always welcome in Keltra. I must make haste, our siblings are waiting, and I do not want to disappoint them.” Homura breathed out, and felt shame sear her skin, burn into her heart, and remain there as she turned to leave. “Until we meet again, my beautiful and broken brother.” She said before she walked back to the three colossi and her champions.

"Alwaysh a pleashur, muh Lady," said the little drunk with yet another bow, safely hiding any reactions to his freshest moniker. "Wish you all a pleasen' journey, 'n say hi from lil' me to whomeverrr you's visidin'!" He waved with a hand that had been drowned in his silken sleeve.


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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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Apostate

...and the Medians.


Setting: The Deep Desert of Nalusa




In the deep desert, even the water seemed coarse and dry. Squint through the sun’s glare, and one could behold the sandy sea, each dune was the crest of a wave, slowly shifting and traveling as the endless winds bore it forth. There were rivers and brooks, also; when the wind was especially sharp, it cut gullies and filled them with streams of sand that flowed in the wind and that could scrape and tear at flesh. The sun was hot, and so it was wise to journey by night. The land was also treacherous, and so it was wise to walk by day lest one lose his way, or fall into a hidden gully or pit. It posed a dilemma that for most there was no winning, but fortunately, the weary band of humans trekking through the waste were guided by one who needed no light to See the way.

By night the air was actually quite crisp in the breeze, and the sharp sand was cool and not so rough upon the cracked and leathery soles of their feet. In such conditions the band wandered from one cave or oasis to the next, stopping rarely for fear of being stranded in the open desert when day broke again. The prophet Medes, their shepherd and guide, promised that the wet river was not far and that even now, he could See it lazily crawling across the land, carrying water that was cooler than nice, sweeter than cactus apples, and pure and unadulterated by sand. In the meantime, they satiated their thirst only with tiny springs where dirty and coarse water welled up from the sandstone.

They were arriving at one such respite now; the herds of wild beasts had found it first, and grateful for the water, the beasts who arrived had begun drinking from it. Before the rare watering holes, all of the wild were equal, and the beasts set aside their petty feuds and were at peace with one another. But a lion was also with them, and even as the approaching noise of Medes’ large band of humans -- who were not of the wild -- made the camels, gazelles, and jackrabbits scatter away, the proud lion bared its teeth and showed no fear. This was what the humans had named Nalusa, after all: the Land of Lions.

A great blast sounded overhead, and through the uniform desert sky, a distant object whistled. The dark form was only there for a blink before slamming into the distant horizon. Another bang came from the impact, deafening the scene with its power and launching a plume of sand into the air.

Before anyone could put together the alien scene, another explosion sounded and yet another figure came cutting through the sky. It crashed into the same spot, shaking the ground and summoning a mushroom of sand. Even at the distance Medes and his people stood at, they could see the glittering of glass falling from the sky overhead, the shockwave nearly toppling them.

To flee was the natural instinct, but this watering hole was the oasis of life, so they held their ground. Medes had Seen that there were no other such havens from thirst for a great distance in any direction. Even as the departing beasts hastened their flight all the more, the lion remained by the wellspring, for it too needed to gorge itself further upon the water and rest in its reinvigorating cool. All eyes turned towards the din and the darkness that had fallen from the sky; lit by the moon, there seemed to be some sort of black smoke rising from the shimmering sands at the center of the blast.

As they watched, a lone figure walked out of the crater and perched a leg up on the lip of the desolation. At this distance, Medes could make out the shape of a human man, posed heroically with a snapping cape and hefting a great weapon over shoulder. An inhuman voice boomed from the otherwise normal-looking man, sounding closer than it should.

"Another victory!"

The prophet Medes squinted, and beheld a god through the darkness and across the sandy dunes. He nodded a head in respect, and yet suddenly felt weary. If this was at all like that last river-god, then this might not be so chance or blessed an encounter… last time, when that brute Darius had seized the chance to take power with demagoguery and bullish fervor, the result had been disastrous. The flock had been split, and woe unto gods and humans alike for that; had they all stayed as one, under his guidance, Medes knew that their destiny would have been that much grander. But perhaps this was a benevolent deity.

“I congratulate you for your triumph,” the naked prophet offered in greeting as he strode forth. His head was tilted, to avert his gaze from the god and to also keep one eye fixed upon the lion by the water; prophet or no, only fools turned their backs to those beasts that were kings of beasts, of desert and of veldt.

"Thank you," Apostate boomed, clearly in a good mood. He let out a single monotone chuckle before continuing. "Who are you, whose sword hangs in the breeze?"

“I am called Medes,” the prophet answered, though his face was quizzical. In those early days, the Nalusites knew nothing of clothes or swords, so the god’s japes escaped them.

"I am Apostate!" The god all but yelled in reply, slamming his blade between the two before leaning on it. He peered over Medes with his human eyes and grinned. "How is your life?"

“We walk, and we are weary and have thirst, but still we walk on, grateful for the night’s cool and the moon’s light.”

Apostate shot a fist between him and Medes, keeping it lingering between the two. He shook it violently. “Defying the elements!”

The prophet contemplated that. “If living and surviving can be called defying the elements, then perhaps,” he conceded, but there was some consternation upon the man’s face. From behind his beard, his lips curled, and he cut to the heart of the matter. “I look into your essence, and see a great storm. What is your purpose, Great Apostate?”

“Let’s find out!” Apostate grinned back, his skin bubbling for just a moment. “What!” The God paused for dramatic effect. “Do you want?”

The prophet peered into the future, unsure if this was some trap, or if he was being offered whatever he could wish for, or if this was some philosophical quandary, or something else, but black smoke defiantly obscured all from his prescience. “We have a dream,” he told the god, “and we know the path to it, too.” Then his head turned to the lion, who still zealously guarded the small watering-hole. “But our throats are parched, and without water this path becomes a perilous one.”

“Then take the water,” Apostate answered simply. He pushed off his blade to stand up straight and in doing so, the handle to the mighty weapon tilted towards Medes. “Do you know how?”

“What is this instrument?” the wisest of them could only ask, not immediately taking up the blade but rather feeling the strangely smooth, cool texture of its blade. Soft and cool, not like the sand or clay underfoot, not like the grass in greener parts they’d seen away from this deep desert, not like the rough bark of the acacia trees, but like the softness of a riverstone weathered smooth by water… or like water itself. The prophet was awestruck, and slowly, some of those behind him advanced forward to similarly gawk at the weapon, Apostate’s question forgotten.

“It’s a sword,” Apostate proudly responded, “it is one of the many ways a person can seize their means from things that otherwise oppress them.” He paused for a moment. “There are many ways to seize your water, I can see them in the air, to defy what stands in your way… but I notice that this way seems to have taken your interest.”

The hand of Medes ran further upon the black metal’s glossy sheen, revelling in the silky smoothness… until it brushed against the razor-sharp edge, and found a new sensation. A small gasp escaped the prophet’s lipsas he beheld the place where flesh had been broken and blood now gushed.

“I understand it now,” he said, intuitively grasping it by the hilt. He tested a sawing motion in the air, stabbing and pulling it back, but found that unnatural — the immense weight of the weapon tossing him along with it. Next he tried a slashing arc, and found that more suitable, even if the weight was still rather unwieldy, forcing him to use both hands and all his strength. The lion only watched and growled in response to this endless din, its eye glued to the throngs of men crowded around Medes and Apostate even as it slowly lapped at the water.

“Is that your water?” Apostate suddenly asked as he split from the group, casually strolling towards the murky oasis.

“No,” Medes admitted after some thought, “but still, we must take it.”

Scuffing his feet in the sand, Aspostate stopped at the bank of the small pond — if it could be called that. He knelt down and dipped a hand in the water, finding it as warm as expected of such a shallow body. This callous disregard to the nearby lion as it growled and bared its fangs seemed to set the beast off guard, but not understanding the nature of the being before it, the king of that desert finally leapt forward with claws extended.

Apostate spun to meet the beast, and as it lingered mid-jump, the god let out a beastly roar that turned the lion’s into a squeak. The immense force of the rage forced the lion to land early in fright, and it backed slowly, eyes never parting from the strange beast that was Apostate. But like the lion before it had been cowed, Medes had also mustered up his courage, and so he had strode forward and was now almost upon the distracted animal. The shuffling of sand about the prophet’s feet suddenly caught the lion’s ear, and it turned its head just in time to witness the savage strike that cleaved into its back and nearly parted it in two.

It let out a different howl then, one of anguish, but began to spasm and go into shock. Medes and the humans could hardly comprehend what was happening; never had they hunted before, instead having lived off the fruits of the land throughout their long journey.

After some moments, Medes began to realize the burden of empathy: he looked into the dying beast’s black eyes, and realized that he should not prolong its suffering anymore. So he wrenched the blade out of the creature’s body, the silky black metal freeing itself with more ease than any mundane blade ought to have had, and without finesse the prophet brought down another savage hacking blow, and then another, and then the lion was in twain.

With a rough tug, Apostate ripped his blade from Medes and swung it over his own shoulder, letting it rest. The expert flourish swiped all the blood free from it before it even touched the god. Apostate idly commented, “It seems you learned a few lessons today.”

Their thirst must have been greater than they had even realized, for the great band of humans surged forward, coming forward in throngs around Apostate and their leader, over and beside the mangled carcass of the lion, to drink deeply from that humble hole filled with sand and mud and water. Medes could not take his eyes away from the lion; though its body was a ruin, the beast’s head still looked majestic, even if its mane would soon be caked with dried blood. It did not seem right, and yet, “Sometimes one’s fortune must come at the expense of another,” he realized aloud.

“Maybe,” Apostate answered, “that’s not what I had in mind, but everyone deciphers the guts of a dead lion differently.”

The god then held out his hand, a large orb of smoky glass present in his palm. “Take this.”

Medes readily accepted it with an air of curiosity. “I plead for your candor, Great Apostate,” he began. “These people look to me for guidance because I am supposedly wise, and yet here I realize that I know so little: what is it that we must do to honor you? What is your lesson and your dogma, and what is the purpose of this stone?”

Apostate let his blade fall into the sand. With both his hands now free he grabbed Medes on each shoulder and lifted him so the tall human form god and the naked prophet were eye to eye — even if that meant Mede’s swollen feet were now dangling in the air, the strange stone-orb having fallen out of his hand. Holding the prophet at arms length but staring deeply into his mortal eyes, Apostate bellowed.

“My lesson? My Dogma? Hear me as I tell you that you are in the most dangerous position a man can be in. You are a leader, and one of the things I do best is kill leaders who forget how to lead,” Apostate started, “so I will tell you the secret of leading without earning my ire, and if you actually remember this, then you’ll have my thanks.”

“Firstly.” Apostate shook Medes to make extra sure he had his attention. “A leader actually follows, and lives among their peers as a friend — ever seeking the best for whoever puts their trust in them. A leader wears the burden of the group, even unto death so long as the others had trusted them. A leader lives by example, showcase your virtues through your actions and your words for the good of those who are looking at you and hearing you. A leader never seeks themself first, but eats last and sleeps last, awaiting the wellbeing of those who trust them. Lastly, a leader only leads those who wish to be led, and encourages the expression of their peers.”

Apostate gave the prophet another vigorous shake. “Understood!?”

Medes nodded vigorously while all the others watched the display gawking. Apostate grinned and set the prophet down.

“Good,” he said, “and if you forget, I’ll cut your balls off.”

Panting, and rather meekly, Medes reclaimed the orb from it had fallen into the sandy ground. “All that, I take to heart. But what of this stone?”

“Oh!” Apostate pinched his chin. “Don’t lose that, for your people’s sake. If it were to be lost, who knows what might happen…”

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Zima the Zimmer


Time: Briefly Before Mish-Cheechel Awoke


Zima waited a long time for Mish-Cheechel to awaken. When the animals returned and galloped past, she waited alongside Bear, thinking of how nice it would be to go about and run with them. When a wind began to blow fiercely, she waited alongside Bear, thinking of how it might be fun to go for a nice soar above the trees. The sun was sinking very slow along the horizon, melting the trees into one long dark shadow. Bathing them in the chilling twilight. How nice might it have been to wander among the stars, but she waited alongside Bear. For Mish-Cheechel was her friend and she would not abandon him despite all of her fanciful thoughts. The Keeper of the Harmony Tree had said he would awake and when he did she had to be there to set things right. To make sure he would be okay because that was what friends were for.

Right?

When the sun began to set at last and bathed their world in darkness did Bear settle down for sleep, but she waited. She didn’t need sleep, after all. The chorus of night would keep her buzzing mind occupied. She tried to guess at the sounds she could hear. The crunching of leaves from small furred critters, to the hooting of night birds up in their trees, hunting for their supper. It was funny how she took things for granted, how she never stopped to listen to the world, always eager to see it, to be with it and apart. But this was… It was nice just to listen.

Then like flames licked out, the noises stopped with an abruptness that Zima did not fully realize until she could only hear the trickle of the running stream. Then the smell hit her. She became alert in an instant as a wave of rancid, putrid odor assaulted her senses. If she had a stomach she would probably have vomited, but thank Papa for that! Instead her eyes began to survey her surroundings. Even Bear was jostled awake! The poor thing shook, as if unsure whether to flee his master or stay and be brave. Was it another Keeper? A… A god? What God could smell so ba- P-P-Parasite! Had he come after all?

Oh no! Panic began to set in as the Keeper said he was worse. What would she do? What would she do? She began to shake herself and looked to Bear for any semblance of help but instead she found Bear looking at her and it dawned upon her. Bear looked up to her! She couldn’t let him or Mish-Cheechel down. She wouldn’t!

“Be brave with me Bear!” She whispered in comfort, yet she was beginning to become even more unsettled. Whatever it was, was getting closer. She could tell that by the smell but worse- the snap of twigs and the crunching of leaves. Instinctively she began to survey her surroundings for a body. Plenty of stones, no ice, no snow, there was a small breeze, would it be enough? Of course! Her eyes snapped to the water. It would be the fastest way for a body but would leave Mish-Cheechel and Bear without protection for a few seconds. Even still she was useless as she was right now. She would have to try, have to-

The snapping and crunching stopped. She could make out something watching them, half hidden behind a tree. It was small and it struggled with breath. They stared at each other, neither moving, waiting for the other to make a move. When it became painfully obvious that it wasn’t going to say anything, Zima spoke instead.

“H-hello?” Her voice came out small, barely a whisper. She cleared her ethereal throat and tried again when it made no reply. “Hello? Can I help you?” She asked.

The thing gave no reply but stood… Growing taller and taller for it was not small, it had only been crouching. It stepped from the shadows into the moonlight and Zima gasped, for the thing was a monster! Her words were caught in her throat, she could neither scream nor move, so frightened she had become. She had no idea how to describe such a thing, like a deer twisted to stand upon two legs, broken apart at every seam, twisted beyond belief. A walking carcass, a carrion made animate.

“Hello…? Can I help you?” It repeated back to her in a voice eerily similar to her own. Her form began to shake. It did not mean those words- it-it was not real. It couldn’t be real!

It groaned, clawing at it’s emaciated stomach, looking past her to… Mish-Cheechel! That was what it had come for. Her friend!

“Y-You!” She shouted, voice growing. “You can not have him! Leave!”

It began to walk forward, it’s arms dragging on the floor as its body and back cracked at a misshapen angle. Her soul beat quickened, the hum inside coming alive with that age old response.

Flight or fight.

“LEAVE NOW!” She boomed but the creature gave her no attention. Its pace quickened and Zima had to act.

At that moment, she did two things. First, she screamed at Bear to take Mish-Cheechel and run. Second, she became the wind and blew a mighty gust upon the creature. It faltered, its upper torso bending like a sapling in a gale but it stayed somewhat upright. It gave her enough time to get to the water. She could hear the large sounds of something heavy crashing through the undergrowth- Bear, and the sickening crunch of bones snapping back into place. It mattered not! Bear and Mish-Cheechel had to get away!

She dove into the water and let it mingle with her essence. In a split second the flow and she had become one. Zima was ready to fight! She burst forth a tendril from the water, acting as a face of sorts to see what was happening. The creature was still after Bear and Mish-Cheechel, breaking into a jog as its bones became less broken. Zima whipped at it with a tendril of water and grabbed hold as it lunged towards Bear.

With a yank, she slammed it to the ground, then she grabbed its leg and pulled. Once she had saved others from drowning but she knew…. She knew this creature could not be saved.

It clawed at the land, leaving deep marks as it fought for a grip and it found one. It managed to get a hold of a tree, sinking a claw deep into the wood. It never took its eyes off Bear and when she saw the white rump at last disappear into the underbrush, did it finally look upon her with malice in those burning green eyes.

She tugged harder and the creature began to slash at her tendril, breaking the connection enough where her hold broke. With uncanny speed it righted itself. Afraid that it might run after Bear, Zima came up on shore and launched her watery mass upon it. Twig, rock and flower were brought into her maelstrom of waves and she collided with the thing. If she could not bring it to the water, then she would bring the water to it.

Her orb of liquid wrapped around the creature and it flailed in a vain attempt to gain footing or attack. She was winning! It would drown! Mish-Cheechel and Bear would be safe! Yet it could not be that easy, could it? No… For the creature began to taint the water that composed her and where it became tainted, it dropped harmlessly to the ground. She was losing water so Zima began to roll away from the direction Mish-Cheechel and Bear were heading. If she could make enough distance she might be able to have the creature only focus on her. So that’s what she did, avoiding areas and anything the creature could get hold of. It was a violent debacle, as she could not spare the land, else her prisoner would flee.

Eventually they reached a valley of sorts, a rocky hill that led down a slope that dropped off into a ravine or valley. She could not tell but it might work. It would hurt but she had to do it. So Zima the Zimmer flung the both of them down it with speed. It only took her twice hitting the rocks for her watery form to dissipate and she was left free forming. She hovered now and watched the deer demon, hoping it would be flung off into oblivion. Instead, she watched it regain itself, clawing into the hillside to stop its momentum right before the drop. Wasting no time, Zima became the rocks and gathered them to her. She could not become the hulking creature of stone that had tamed Bear, but one that could be smaller and lighter to fight the creature but no less deadly.

As soon as her stones were gathered and her sight fixed, the deer slammed into her with a ferocious growl. It ripped into her rocky sinew and yanked away a few stones before Zima clocked it with a rocky fist in the side of its head. That sent the thing sputtering into the rocks. She pressed her advantage and descended upon it, pinning it to the ground with her weight as she pummeled it in the head and chest. Each punched, broke bone and tore at flesh but the creature did not relent, instead it acted as if it simply did not care about the abuse it received. This alarmed Zima but she did not falter, instead she punched harder- Then her punch was caught by a clawed hand, and her own hand was ripped off. Well, she still had an arm but it was just shorter.

This let the creature gain the upper hand and with a strength that betrayed it’s gaunt look, Zima found herself now pinned. It dished out the exact same punishment as she squirmed. Being a creature that did not have an actual head meant she didn’t need to defend herself. So as the creature pummeled her, cracking and chipping stone, Zima formed on her shorter arm a spear of sorts from the rocks. They gathered to a point and then she rammed it into the side of the creature with a sickening squelch. Foul liquid and rancid meat stained her stone and for once the creature screamed.

That had been a mistake on her part.

For the creature punched her central stone so hard, it cracked it into splinters and Zima was sent reeling as the assault continued. Her spear arm was broken, and it tried to pull it free but as her connection left, the stones lost their shape. It was at that moment that Zima knew what had to be done, properly, this time. With her legs, she grappled on to the beast, then with her good arm, pushed them to the side where the tumble to oblivion would await. It tried to get away but she was rock and stone and her grip would not let go.

She was good at that. Not letting go.

As they hit the free air however, its doom was sealed. Zima began to leave the rocks but as she did, something strange occurred. A tendril of green from its chest, just like its burning eyes, grabbed onto her ethereal form and Zima could not escape!

She panicked and the world went dark as she felt something cold embrace her.




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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Phelenia

From a branch Phelenia, in the form of a green eagle, watched over the valley that had been so carefully sculpted near what she considered her favorite land. The valley was filled with these strange Obelisks that warmed the space around them. And around those Obelisks a strange, bipedal species lived. They looked like bald, elongated monkeys. They had not sinned yet, but the seed was within them. Phelenia could almost smell it. For now they had been content to frolic across the hills and sing and dance and be merry.

It would only be a matter of time until they would start creating unnatural dens and wield those dreaded ‘tools’. Phelenia’s first instinct was to fly in and spread her decree. All those who’d refuse her would be dealt with accordingly. Sadly that was out of the question. The Obelisks reeked of divinity. Another god had made them and Phelenia did not want to move so overtly against her own family. Yet.

A while ago she had already found an answer to her conundrum. It was inspired by Tuku, the god of hunt and puppet master.

Nimueh was gathering berries in her hand for the other Zenii of her group. Their Obelisk hadn’t run out of food just yet. In fact they were fairly safe when it came to food. But she didn’t like to take chances. If there was food out there, why not take some of it?

Lately though the edges of the nearby forest were almost picked clean. Which was a shame, but then again she wasn’t the only one gathering for food. She moved deeper and deeper into the forest now. Here, in the shadow of the canopy she felt less secure than at the edges. It felt as if a hundred eyes were looking at her at all times. She saw some critters move around so far, but nothing else. Still, there were stories of Zenii going too deep into forests for food and never getting back.

So she picked her berries carefully, and looked over her back constantly. For the most part she just saw shadows and darkness. And then she saw eyes. A pair of eyes. Eyes that seemingly lit up from the darkness.

She stood up straight like a deer and dropped the berries on the ground. Nimueh blinked once at the eyes. She knew them from a few nights ago. And then ran off. Behind her the wolf’s howl echoed through the forest. Answered by several more from all sides. Nimueh didn’t look back. She just ran through the forest. Jumping over roots or shrubs that were in the way. The wolf was close. She could hear its breathing.

Randomly she turned right. Then left again. She slid down towards a creek and jumped over it with the grace of a doe. They were still hot on her heels. Nimueh dared to turn and look back. Fate turned against her though. Right then her foot caught a root and she fell down backwards.

Once on the ground she turned and looked up. The wolves were close. They were growling and exposing their vicious teeth. This was it for her, Nimueh thought. This is how she would die. But the wolves didn’t move. They stood perfectly still and kept growling towards her, but they didn’t take one step forward.

Nimueh got up and looked behind her. Maybe something was stopping them. She once heard fire held them back. Sometimes. But there was no fire behind her. Only a tree surrounded by sunlight, unobscured by a canopy. Like a halo made around it to honor it. From the tree beautiful and delicious fruits hung. She looked back at the wolves. They didn’t move as she walked towards the tree. They didn’t move as she reached for a fruit. They didn’t even move as she picked one. The fruit was soft under her fingers, and it smelt so sweet!

She took a bite from the fruit. It tasted like the sweetest thing she had ever tasted! The juices ran from the corners of her mouth as she took bite after bite after bite. It was so amazingly delicious!

Half of the fruit was gone when suddenly her stomach started to disagree. At first she thought that she was just overfull and should take a seat. The wolves were already gone. They wouldn’t get their prey today. Then she felt hot in her core. As if whatever she had eaten was warming her up from inside. Not soon after things got worse. Her body tried to expel whatever she had eaten. Nimueh dry heaved again and again. Hoping to force whatever she had swallowed out again. It didn’t. Blackness started to creep in from the edges of her vision. And then, in an instant, she dropped down.

And then she was pulled up again. Her eyes shot open. Hard coughs forced air back into her lungs. Her ears were ringing. Someone was saying something but her vision was blurred. Slowly her senses came back into focus.

“Nimueh. Nimeuh!” She heard as someone shook her.

“What?” She managed to get out as finally her eyes could focus. “Lonam? What happened?” She asked the Zenii man named Lonam, shaking her awake.

“Oh by the Lady you’re awake!” The man said, after which he hugged Nimueh tightly. “We thought you were dead.”

Nimueh blinked a few more times, then looked up and saw the stars. Was it nighttime already? She then looked to the side. The forest was there. “How did I get here?”

“You kind of stumbled out.” Said Rehiar, a female Zenii. “When you didn’t come back when the sun started falling we knew something was wrong. We tried looking for you but you were nowhere to be found. Well, that was until you stumbled out of the forest and collapsed here.”

“I must’ve angered the Beast Queen.” Nimueh said as she held her head in one hand and sat upright. “I just went too deep into her realm.”

The Zenii around her threw some looks around. It was Rehair who spoke up: “The Beast Queen?”

“Yeah. It seems so obvious now. We shouldn’t walk too deep into her realm or she’ll get mad.”

More looks were thrown around amongst the group. This time Nimueh caught them. She looked around and saw only confused faces. “What? Is something wrong with me?” She asked as she looked down at herself. She still had two hands with five fingers each.

“Why are you suddenly talking about this… Beast Queen?” Another Zenii asked. “None of us ever heard of her. But you’re suddenly talking about her.”

“What?” Nimueh joined their confusion. “Of course you guys know of the Beast Queen. She’s the one who rules these forests.” She motioned at the trees and the shrubs and the darker lands beyond behind her.

“You must’ve caught something.” Lonam said as he helped her get up. “Enough about this Beast Queen. You’re probably confusing some strange animal with the Lady. You better hope she won’t be offended.”

“But I know of her. She’s not the Lady! She’s-“

Nimueh was stopped by a hand motion of Lonam. “Enough.” He said curtly. “You’ll go back to the Obelisk and speak none of this Beast Queen. Do you understand?”

Nimueh wanted to speak out against him again. But kept her mouth shut for now. She knew what she knew. Still, she walked back to the Obelisk without further complaint.

Lonam watched her leave and dismissed the others. He remained standing near the edge of the forest though. For a second a brisk, chill wind blew from the forest around him. His body shivered, and he wondered for a moment if there really was a Beast Queen.



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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Astus


The Industrious' Chains


I


Welcome…

Stand by.

Stand by..

Stand by…

ERROR. VITAE UNSTABLE.

Attempting to bring Diagnostics Systems online.

Attempting to bring Diagnostics Systems online..

SUCCESS.

Troubleshooting…

CRITICAL ERROR. FOREIGN OBJECT DETECTED IN CORE CAVITY. ELECTRO-AETHELIC FIELD DISRUPTED. CANNOT CONNECT CORE TO PLATFORM.


Carer’s field of vision flickered on erratically, the noise being phased out little by little. The weird thing was that she hadn’t even tried to activate any of her sensory systems. She tried to move her head and felt her heart skip a beat when it moved the complete opposite way and found herself looking straight at the other two Astalonians beside her - Evoker and Knuckle. Knuckle in particular seemed to have gotten a brand new head, something that hinted at what must have happened after she had been deactivated the night before. For a while there she was forced by her own body to look at her fellow colleagues, until one by one the hum of the Vitae in their conduits started to pick up and the lights behind their visors turned on.

Their bodies jerked a little as they activated themselves, and Carer’s fears were confirmed when they stared straight ahead without a word - Their Father had imprisoned them in their own bodies. Carer carried out a few tests of her own to confirm this, of course, by trying to move each of her limbs or trying to shift her form, but nothing worked.

It wasn’t until what felt like hours later that an excited-looking Astus barged into the room.

“Wow!” He yelled as he nearly tripped on a large wrench that had been laying on the floor. He then banged his shin against a low metal stool and hissed, “Ffffuck!”

It took a few moments of him organizing the workshop before he finally turned towards the three Astalonians, his grin vanishing and replaced by a thoughtful look. He brought a finger up to his chin and tapped it repeatedly.

“Aalright…” Astus muttered, walking up closer to Carer. He stood right in front of her, a full head taller, and looked down at her. Carer would’ve looked back at him, but her body wouldn’t obey her, so instead she looked straight ahead like a lifeless puppet. “No words now, Carer?”

There were words to say, but she couldn’t say them. Right now, the only thing she had any control over was her Core, and even that had been difficult to control lately…

“Even though you were so adamant about saving the tiny lives of the Homurans?”

Carer tried her hardest to move. She sent wave after wave of commands to her body, but none would actually reach her Vitae. Still, she tried.

“Good. You’re called the Industrious for a reason, and the reason is that you’re all supposed to work whenever you’re required and never question my orders. I can repurpose you all just as easily as I created you.” He explained, patted their heads and turned around. For a while, he just resumed tidying up the workshop until finally, he began to walk out. “Oh, feel free to consider what’s about to happen as your punishment for both defying me and not giving your all to work. I know you in particular have an unhealthy amount of ‘feelings’ for the Homurans, Carer, so this will be therapeutic for you. I imagine it will desensitize you to the intended nature of organic-machine interactions.”

And with that he turned off the lights, walked out, and closed the door behind him. Soon after, Carer lost all perception of the world as her body went into stand-by.

II


”GOOOOOD EVENING LITTLE HOMURANS.” A deep, static-filled voice rang out throughout the entire Island of Astalon, reaching every corner of the land. The announcement this time caught everyone as they were making their way home from work, with the exception of the night workers. ”THE ANNOUNCEMENT TONIGHT IS A BIT SPECIAL - I’M SURE YOU’VE ALL BEEN COMFORTABLE LATELY WITH THE RATE OF PROGRESS WE’VE BEEN SEEING, ALL THANKS TO MY HARD WORK. WELL, I’M ANNOYED THAT YOU GUYS NEVER ACTUALLY CARED TO LEARN ANYTHING OF WHAT I DID, SO I’M GOING TO BE GETTING RID OF ALL OUR PROGRESS. OUR ISLAND WILL BECOME A BLANK SLATE UPON WHICH YOU WILL BUILD ONLY WHAT YOU KNOW AND UNDERSTAND. I WILL NOT BE CODDLING YOU ANY LONGER.”

There was silence. Neighbours looked at each other nervously. Kids tugged at their parent’s clothes trying to get an explanation.

”AH, WHOOPS, BEFORE I FORGET - THOSE WHO WISH TO LIVE AND WORK HARD AT THEIR NEW LIVES MUST COME TO THE WORKSHOP. YOU HAVE 30 MINUTES. EVERYONE CAUGHT OUTSIDE DURING THE RESET WILL BE CLEANSED. END OF RECORDING.” And just like that, the transmission ended. For a second, everything was quiet.

Then all hell broke loose.

People rushed to grab whatever belongings they could carry. Some grabbed sentimental stuff while others grabbed valuables. Some even chose not to grab anything, thinking that doing so would garner favour from the Boss. Within the first five minutes, those who were close enough to the Workshop ran to it. Those who were unlucky to live further away instead hitched rides on whatever carriage they could. Many fell from the overloaded carriages and were run over, while others were pushed out into the wilderness by the panicked movements of fellow passengers.

After fifteen minutes, carriages collapsing or crashing had blocked virtually all the roads of the nation, and long lines of carriages had to be abandoned as people got off and tried their hardest to run to the workshop -- though most knew it was a futile endeavor.

After twenty minutes, a family of four split off from one of the large groups of people and headed out into the wilderness in the direction of the coast. Along the way, others joined them. Many of these groups formed as the hopelessness of their salvation became evident. Some of them tried to hole up in places they thought secure, but most headed for the coastal villages, where they hoped to find some remaining boats to use for their escape.

After twenty five minutes, three of the legendary Prime Astalonians were posted up at the front doors of the workshop, and all other entrances were locked and barred off. The machine-persons were each holding a different weapon. Carer had a long blade slung over her hip in its scabbard, Evoker had gauntlets, and Knuckle had her fists. They stared ahead emotionlessly, even as a weeping mother held onto the cloths hanging off of Carer’s form. The woman begged and begged, asking Carer for help carrying her disabled grandmother up the steps to the workshop, and she received no response.

After thirty minutes, the large front doors creaked closed, and even though dozens of people kept banging on them, they didn’t budge.

The Prime Astalonians did, however. Carer unsheathed her sword in time for a shower of warm blood to fall on her - Fountains of the liquid flowing from the cut open necks of the Homurans next to Evoker and Knuckle.

“W-What the fuck?!” Yelled one of the Homurans, and both him and another hid behind Carer, only for the kind machine to mercilessly cut them down, painting herself even further in the blood of her family.

The three machines seemed stunned for a moment, as one last Homuran crawled away from the scene, having fallen backwards from the shock. It was a young girl, wearing a small red ribbon and a humble green and brown dress. She hyperventilated, tears streaming down her face as she stared at both Carer and the form of one of the cut down Homurans. “D-Dad…”

Upon registering the sound, the three visor-covered faces tightened their grips on their weapons and walked off into different directions, with Carer herself making a first stop in front of the girl, her long, thin sword pressing against her throat.




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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Viho the Wandering Owl


In


Journeys I





Long had he flown over his maker’s lands, surveying and gathering all that he could see with his eyes. He saw the vast buffalo grazing upon tundra plains, and the caribou migrating like an ocean over land. Mammoths like moving hills, trampling the land with their sheer bulk and all manner of predator hunting prey. It was life imagined as the creator intended but Viho knew there was more across the vast blue waters. That was the direction he was headed. When he grew tired he slept, when he grew restless he flew. He found no trouble, save for the occasional crow or raven seeing him as a threat but even they yielded to his wings.

Day became night, where he felt most at home underneath the stars and moon. There was peace there, found nowhere else. At least, not that he had found. For his time in the world had been short. His Lord had imparted in him many wisdoms and knowledge but the drive to explore had been the chiefest among them and he was to learn that which his maker knew nothing of. What more honor could be had? What other distinction did he need? The will of the creator was at his back and it would carry him ever on. If there was a land full of peace and quiet then he would find it and change his thoughts accordingly. Yes, Viho did not know everything but he knew enough to know that even he could learn more.

So the days wore on, the landscapes below became vast forests and upon the nights he could see the raging of fires. Only once did he swoop down to get a closer look and when he did, he bore witness to his Lord’s Childan. They whooped and hollered at him, before holding up hands out of reverence or something else. Viho did not know and he was far too busy to find out. There would be plenty of time one day to learn of the inner workings of the two legs but not now.

Eventually he did reach the ocean, never hesitating to leave his birth land behind. It was not long before another mass of land came into view- an island. He flew high enough to make out some sort of structure upon it and made a mental note to remind his Lord of something strange in his lands. Then he was out over the ocean again, with little more to be seen then the water below.

The ocean currents were different then the ones over land. The winds could be harsher, smelling of salt and sea but on clear days it was a jewel in those eyes of his. The sun reflected warmth, radiated it even and the blue skies were cloudless as they were endless. Less savory minds might have gone mad, maybe he was mad but Viho knew he could find land eventually. His lord had promised him that and in the one direction he knew, towards the cataclysm before his times. Surely there had to be land there? Even if there wasn’t, Viho didn’t mind. He could soar upon those currents forever until something came into view. He could even sleep upon the wind if he truly needed to, for though Chailiss had removed the need for drink and water, sleep was a necessity. A few more days and he would see what would prevail.

Reason or madness. It would come as no surprise.




Dark clouds threatened his blue skies. Always something to ruin the mood. But before the darkness had swallowed up his vision, he could make out just the faintest of landscapes. Or was it some sort of trickery? Viho knew not but he let the gizzard in his stomach propel him further on. He had two choices, above or below. To journey up would take him over the storm, to chill air and little vision but he would be safest there. To go below would put him at the storm's mercy. Fierce winds, salty air, thunder, lightning and who knows what else? What a foolish idea to go below!

The only thing Viho had to worry about was death and it would take more than a little storm to kill him. Especially if he played it smart and flew above.

Or so he thought.

The storm was upon him as he was flying up, a small miscalculation on his own part. Or just his addled brain making errors on lack of sleep. Either way, he braced for the worst and got exactly as he feared. The wind currents were all over the place, pushing him down as the struggle to reach higher and higher became downright exhausting and he couldn’t have that. It would be a certain death. One drip into the swirling ocean below and he would be swallowed forever more. So he dove through the clouds, avoiding the tingling of the lightning and the torrential rain. His feathers repelled the water with ease, keeping his down dry and warm. If he became soaked, that too could kill him. It would kill any lesser bird, any other stupid owl or any creature with two wings and half a brain as he.

After some masterful acrobatics fighting the wind, Viho managed to break out from the bulk of the clouds and gave witness below to the full picture splayed out before him. It was dark, storming and the winds were whipping with cold ferocity but he was born in the North, for the North and he would not succumb to such an undeserving storm. He spat at it, shouted out his warcry and buckled in despite all that sought to defeat him.

He was Viho, the owl! Champion to his Lord, Explorer of the world and he would not die this day.

He would not!

So the winged champion flew! With conviction and grace bereft of nothing but his display against the storm. He was defiant, he was strong and even despite the peril, he would preserve.

But that all changed when he saw the faintest bit of red amidst the waves. One second it was there, the next, gone. What had it been? Another wave, another flash of red, before it too, was gone. Curiosity was an alluring beast all its own, wasn’t it? There he was, in the midst of a storm and he wanted to see what had caught his attention.

So he did, turning around mid flight. Even backwards the wind was against him but he beat his wings yet until he saw the red once more, before it gave away to a different color- blue. It was the faintest trace of it amidst the swirling black but it was there. Then he blinked and it wasn’t.

Viho scanned once more despite the roaring of the storm and rain and the wind. Shining objects were rarely seen so deep, so out of the norm. He was in the middle of the storm, what else could it be? He kept looking, flying closer, just above the highest of waves did he circle, or try to, against the winds.

There!

The same blue, sinking fast. He squinted, flying closer still, never taking his eyes off it. He pushed himself further, closer- just a little closer. Despite the waves, he could make out a trace of red and the blue, a small beacon in the deep, sinking lower and lower before he could see… He could see…

His heart dropped. He knew what the small blue was, wrapped in red swirls of hair. He stopped thinking at that moment, put his wings to his side and dove. Not ten heartbeats passed before he unfurled his wings and stretched out his claws, plunging them into the sea. He only had one shot, one desperate chance to do it right. If not…

He felt something in his grasp and tenderly squeezed, before beating his wings like never before. Up up up he went to avoid the next wave and when he was sure the dark abyss couldn’t get him, did he look upon his catch.

Drenched and fractured after being battered by the raging sea, she remained limp in his talons, like a discarded doll after being broken. Seeping from fissures spread across her form, as well as the gaping wound upon her wrist where her hand should have been, scarlet blood mingled with the cold water that coated her body and stained her attire. She was alive, but barely, as the faint pulse of life that desperately called out grew quiet.

Viho acted quickly, and breathed upon her wrist, freezing it to stop the blood loss. He did not care who she was or why she was out in the middle of the ocean. All that mattered was that she needed help. The wind continued to whip at him, a constant struggle with no end in sight. What would he do? What could he do now that he had another life in his clutches? He pushed his sight to the limits, looking for anything that might shelter them but when nothing yet still could be seen he went beyond his restraints and pierced through the darkness. In all directions he looked, and upon his farthest left there was a rock. A rock that he could make it too if he just-

A terrible gust pushed down against Viho, lightning flashed and in that briefest moment before his vision returned to normal, he swore he saw something vast and dark swimming within the ocean below. It frightened him to the core, for the deepest secrets of the ocean were not meant for some eyes, nor did he wish to find out whatever the creature was.

So he took off towards the rock and when he arrived, he found it to be nothing more than craggy, windswept island. Barely high enough to topple the waves that licked at it but it would do. If the girl was to survive, they both would need rest from the storm. So that’s what Viho did, he found a spot where the wind wasn’t so bad against the rocks and he settled in. He looked her over once more, barely breathing, barely living. It was a grisly sight to say the least, especially the loss of her hand. Frustrated at the lack of help he could give, Viho did the one thing he could do. He placed the girl within his downy feathers, where his warmth would bring some meager amount of comfort against the wet and cold. He hoped it would work as the storm boomed and the waves crashed light drums in the deep.

He shut his eyes, crouched down and dipped his head in the elbow of his wing. His thoughts wracked him. What else could he do? He did not know enough, that was one of the reasons he had been sent out after all, to learn. But not even his Lord could have expected such a thing perhaps…

His Lord!

Viho was not one to ask for help without exhausting all other options or being left with no choice. This was one of those times, so, for the first time in his life, he prayed. ‘Lord of Winter, Shepard of the North, hear me please. I need aid. I ask not for myself but for another. A red haired champion, one of Homura’s, lost at sea and dying. She is with me. Please, please my lord. Heal her. Heal her so she does not die.’ he repeated his prayer again and when he was about to start over a familiar presence washed over him. It said nothing but he felt… He felt something happen and then, the presence was gone. He sighed in relief, thanking Chailiss for he knew his prayer had been received. Then Viho settled in, waiting for the storm to end.




The howling wind and tumultuous waves abated after a time, when the sun had risen and yet was obscured by the presence of ominous clouds spread across the sky. When the storm came to an end, she awoke, blanketed in a mass of warmth and feathers.

Fear found that she could not immediately open her eyes, nor move, as though a malignant force had seized her body from her, and left only a senseless and dark abyss for her mind to wander adrift in. Every thought and silent word she attempted to grasp seemed so far away in this sea of shadows, and she struggled to find anything that would offer some sense of stability, some salvation from the nothingness she was lost in.

She began to perceive shapes and sounds around her, a vast undulating mass that reminded her of water… of the endless sea and its mighty song as waves crashed and splashed against each other. Then there was a much smaller shape in the dancing darkness, rising and sinking beneath the surface of the umbral water.

“Fear!!!”

A desperate voice called out from the small shape, struggling to stay atop the waves that attempted to pull it under, over and over again. The shape became more clearly defined, and Fear realized she recognized the shape as her own… but not her own. Something that she held as precious in her heart, she thought.

“Fear! Don’t go!”

Her simulacrum cried, losing against the tide, and Fear could only watch as the one that sought her help sank deeper and deeper into the abyss. She could not move. Even when she could see color, the red hair, her pale sickly skin, the frightened eyes of her sister looking at her as she drowned in the depths of despair.

“Don’t let me die.”

“No… why is this happening? Why?” Fear found her voice, and floated aimlessly atop the sea of shadows after losing Courage again. There was nothing she could do aside from let the currents carry wherever they will. “Was it my fault?” She asked herself in the silence, but there was no answer. Her lonely journey came to an end when the sea of shadows became still, and she slowly sank as well.

Then she opened her eyes to the sight of feathers, like those she had seen on the creatures of the northern realm. At first she did not understand what she was seeing, until she felt its warmth and the beating of another heart. She could hear the breath of life in another, and knew that she was not alone.

“Courage?” She asked with a weak voice as she began to tremble.

There came a ruffling of feathers and she felt herself being shifted around by the weight of something large. Not long after, sunlight pierced the dark and a large blue eye peered in on her between feathers.

“Calm, calm.” A masculine voice said with gentleness. “I mean you no harm little one. You are safe here, you are safe.” It tried to reassure her.

There was no strength in her limbs, no vigor left in her spirit, she simply stared back at the blue eye and struggled to regain her senses. “Where am I? Where is Courage?” She asked again, resisting the temptation to surrender to fatigue, to the sweet embrace of sleep, as her head felt like it was being tossed back and forth, and a swell of nausea almost overwhelmed her.

The blue eye grew softer. “You are safe. I know not where we are, only that we are upon a rock amidst the endless sea. I… I… Do not know where this Courage is.” He said, struggling to get the words out.

“She was with me… in the water. We were together, and we look alike. Please, she was beside me, we were together. Please, you must’ve seen her.” Fear surged upwards, trying to grab at the eye and its voice, despite the protest of her exhausted body. Her hand reached out, frail and unsteady, and the champion could see that instead of her hand extending forth, it was an appendage sculpted from ice, a frozen simulacrum of her hand.

She did not utter another word, it was an agonized wail as she realized what had happened and grief struck like a hurricane. She ignored the sharp pain and dull aching of her body as she sobbed and shook, shedding tears for her lost sister and hand, for the loss of her innocence in a world that would cruelly punish those that were naive.

She choked out a few words, “Please… please… give her back…” and continued to cry.

The eye grew wide as realization dawned and pulled away. “Oh no… She was…” He spoke in a voice of crushing defeat. “I didn’t see her. I didn’t… The storm… It was dark. I-I failed.” He did not say anything for a long time, the only sound was her crying. The eye came back after a time, illuminating her fiery hair.

It was tinged with sadness. “I am sorry.” He began, “I only saw the pendant, that striking blue in a sea of dark. If I knew there was another, I would have saved her. I would have-” His voice caught in his throat before he coughed to clear it. “I cannot give her back to you. I am sorry.” The eye began to retreat out of shame.

With tears staining her cheeks, and each convulsion squeezing her chest, the pain finally reached a crescendo before it began to subside. Her uneven and heavy breathing eased away, and she slowly became quiet and still. She could feel the presence of the voice behind the curtain of feathers, and had watched with silent sorrow as the caring eye receded from out of her vision.

Thoughts of her sisters then filled her mind: she had abandoned Kindness… left her alone. Curiosity and Wanderer did not know what happened. They had failed their maker and their kin. Fear could not face these terrible thoughts, and retreated away from the shadows in her mind. Instead, she reached out to the one that had spoken to her; the one that shielded her from the outside world.

“My name... is Fear. What is your name?” The raspy cadence of her voice broke the silence, and sickened the trepid champion. The sound seemed so much more stark and aberrant to her ears.

A reply came after a while, “My name is Viho.” He said. “Viho the Wanderer, the Explorer... The Failure.” He paused, sounding bitter at himself. “I, uh, sorry. Well met Fear. It is unfortunate that any would meet in such a way but here we are. If there is anything you need, anything I can do to help, please ask.”

“You saved me, how can I ask for anything more? Thank you, Viho.” She spoke with forlorn quietness, afraid of her own voice. Her words seemed hollow, as if she were simply following a script and imitating the motions of conversation. “I have to find my maker; she can help my sisters. I need to find her.” Yet Fear remained still, uncertain, and lost.

“You are… Welcome Fear.” he almost whispered. “Now, where might your maker be?” he asked.

“She said she would return. She would come back and we would continue across the sea. She was going to Keltra, then to the white orb in the sky. I do not know where she is now.” Her gaze drifted over the patterns of Viho’s pinions, his soft and warm plumage, and she allowed herself to pretend that perhaps she could just stay like this, and her maker would find her instead.

“The… The moon?” He said to himself. “Well we can’t get there, unfortunately but perhaps I can take you to this Keltra? Do you know the way?”

Fear shook her head. “We were following the rising sun. Crossing the sea in search of others among the divine. I don’t know where I am, I just want to go home.” She shifted to her side, and curled inwards, trying to find memories of the paths she had taken, and where she went. “There are others that would know; the other gods and goddesses.” She offered.

“It was my Lord, you would know him as Chailiss, who healed you. A simple prayer was all it took. Perhaps, perhaps you could pray to your maker?” He offered.

“I’ve never prayed before. Will I make a mistake? Will I fumble with my words? Would she answer?” Fear contemplated her own questions, and found herself conflicted between hope and despair. Was she worthy of receiving salvation after letting hundreds of the sleeping humans be stolen, and then foolishly risking her life in an attempt to rescue them… would Homura want to hear her prayers?

“Save them… please. I know you can. You would always protect us, so I beg you, please save those that were taken. Please save Courage and Kindness. I will do anything you ask, if you answer this prayer. Just say yes, and don’t let them suffer for my sins.” And Fear could only wonder, would Homura hear her whispers, her desperate plea, or would she remain silent?

Fear waited and waited, clinging to the hope that her maker would unveil the feathers before her, and show her both Courage and Kindness standing behind her. The red goddess would say, “It is safe now, and you do not need to be afraid.” Fear could feel herself smile as she envisioned being uplifted and running to embrace her sisters as the bright sun shone down upon them, and the walls of Keltra stood tall and strong all around them.

She waited and waited.

“...Fear?” Viho called out to her. “Has your maker said anything? The skies are clear, we need to leave while we can, before another storm comes.”

“If we leave, how will she find us? We can’t go! I don’t want to.” She could hear the song of the sea, the dancing waves, and whispering wind. Viho’s feathers only suppressed the noise of the world, and Fear felt too weak to face the music, to confront the cruel outside and continue moving on.

“My maker will come. We were not far from the colossi. Besides, the divine are so powerful, they don’t need us. Why fight when we don’t have to. When we will only fail.” Fear bitterly chuckled, and looked at her frozen hand, seeing her distorted reflection upon its glistening surface.

“Very well, Fear. We shall stay. But I disagree with your assertion.” Viho said, “Yes, the Divine are powerful. But you are wrong, at least in my case. My Lord needs me, for he seldom leaves the North. I am to act as his eyes and ears out in this world. I have to fight, for he will not always be able to save me. Will I fail… Yes. But if I survive such failure, then I will only learn and grow. Perhaps most don’t need us but then ask yourself, why bother even making us in the first place?” He began to rise. “Hold onto me for a moment, I must stretch my legs.”

Her hands found purchase among his pinions, and she clung to the owl champion as he stood. The answer to his question eluded her, and she closed her eyes as she recalled all of the words her maker had spoken. “I don’t know why I was made. I was only happy that I had been made, and that was all I wanted. To be born.” She murmured to herself before opening her eyes and seeing Viho.

“There is nothing wrong with that. If your maker did not ever tell you why she made you, then perhaps it is for you to find out? I cannot say for sure.” He walked around, silently upon the weathered rocks, slow and methodical. “To be born is to be alive. To be alive is to live upon this earth. To breathe its air and smell its aromas. To watch the sun rise and set. To fall in love and grow old. Yes, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be born. As long as you are happy, as long as you live. Least, that’s what I think anyway.”

“She asked for our help. Carrying our sleeping kin to the three colossi that would take them across Galbar. I didn’t think about what would come after, I just wanted to be useful.” Fear listened to the muffled music all around her, and found it lulling her into a tranquil state as she spoke softly in rhythm with its melody.

“Back and forth, we went, until so many were laid upon the three colossi that there was nowhere to walk. We were careless and haphazardly placed all around. Even if the calamity hadn’t struck, I think they would’ve fallen anyway. Our purpose upon birth, rendered pointless in an instant, and I remember struggling to pull Courage out of the water as she leapt in after those that fell. It took us so long to place them, and… there was no possibility that she could grab them all. Sorry, I’m not sure what I’m saying right now. I just remembered that... Courage didn’t hesitate, she just leapt. I wish I had feathers like you.” Fear nuzzled into his wings, and felt the shadow of a smile touch her lips. Pain and joy pushing against each other, like night and day competing across the sky.

“There is no need to apologize. You are safe in those feathers of mine and safety beckons the type of talk that we seldom say. I am honored by it.” Viho said, carrying them close to the edge of the island. “She asked and you helped, there is no nobler purpose than that. Even when tragedy struck, you tried your best but even we have limitations. Some can be overcome, some cannot. There is no shame in admitting this. Only that we strive to be better.” He walked them back to the center of the island. “Sometimes even flying can be scary, with or without feathers and wings. To be afraid is natural, to meet it head on is often necessity- Courage, if you will. There are many types of Courage, from the bravest of feats, to the most simple, like, helping another out of the water or confiding in a strange bird. That, to me, is often the bravest thing a person can do. Make themselves vulnerable. It is hard to do, I think but so worth it, in the end.” Viho settled back down.

She did not speak, nor stir, when he seated himself. She was quiet, as she slept peacefully while keeping hold of the owl champion.

Viho stayed guard for a time, then yawned himself, gave a small hoot and shut his eyes too. A good sleep was a good idea.


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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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"Hold on!"

"I'm holding!"

Darkness. Cold. Sprays of brine stinging their scratches. Wood splintering under the force of gale and storm.

The roar of lightning threw the panic on their faces into nightmarish light.

Darkness.

"Lu? Lu!"

"I'm- I'm holding-"

"Svietla!"

"She's heavy!"

"Hold on, Lu! I've got you!"

The world dipped and tossed, throwing them sideways, against the wood, against one another. Black water heaved and swallowed them. They emerged with their nails sunk deeply into the wood, gasping for breath.

"Hold on-"


Mamang.

XII


Strange encounters had been had in the cool waters of the north and central sea. The whale had grown mostly accustomed to being just about the longest thing in the ocean, excepting the cows of its own kind, whose usual quietness veiled that they were noticeably larger than the bulls that guarded and pursued them. Their presence was familiar, their soft calls warm in the whale's heart. There were also the loners, the giant rorquals of the north, who with their mere presence reminded the wandering bull that it had been a young bull once, timid amongst its uncles.

Yet something had cast a shadow upon the whales. It had come and gone, slow of pace and still possessed of a terrific speed, and the whale had watched it walk. Its shadow was wider and darker than any cloud, and a sonorous moan accompanied the lift and fall of its movement. Three gargantuan striders dipped their feet into the sea and raised them up once more, landing on a plane of brilliant red, like stirred rocks might land on the seafloor.

By this time, the whale had been exposed to quite enough sorcery. The sound of bending limbs scratched the inside of its skull, bleeding in memories of the foul curse at the south end of the world. To fly and walk and not swim was in defiance of good water and good gravity, and the whale reviled the alien...

Yet the glow of red was calming, and the sound of the colossi was smooth and paced, like whalesong. Watching the feet plunge and rise on their sorcerous bridge, heaving out bubbles as they descended and raining down rivers as they rose, the bull's trepidation was soothed, as it had been on that long ago day, when red light on the shore marked the end of the blood and noise and chaos...

Some whales followed the striders, rushing to keep pace for a while, singing back to the sound. They even dived under the very shadow of those beings, turning on their side to admire the glow, like an even cloud of sunlit krill, yet also harder than rock. The wandering bull did not join them long. It had seen plenty of wonders in its wanders. This was not its first taste of magic, and its memories were painful.

But sweet was the sight of the Arbiter's light, and welcome was her presence. The travellers passed one another in peace: one party unknowing, the other well at ease.

...

(Shortly afterward, the wandering bull swallowed a sardine run the distracted whales had been pursuing for two days.)

XIII


Scrsh, scrch, krunrungrunsh. A hook nose rummaged in the silt.

Mahm, mähm, mahm, mahm, mähm, mahm, mahm... ... ..?

The bottom-feeder hucked back a throatful of muddy garbage and beheld the familiar silhouette with a louse-bitten eye.

Bmp mp. ... ... ... ... Bmp bmp bmp nn np.

Friend!

The pockmarked and barnacle-laden cow was an ancient, now, veteran of many summers and well satisfied, though her life was reaching its ebb. The whale had found her along much the same shores it had met her long ago, where the seas had recovered and bloomed and subsided, and her offspring now roamed alone. There was no longer any need for it to scrounge the seabed for a meal, only another hard and welcomed memory of rare company in its most difficult hour.

Still, they parted ways shortly, and were not fated to meet again. Our story turns once more to strange encounters.

The coasts of Galbar- a certain well-planned continent naturally exempted- were touched at their birth by the hand of Chance, and hide many secrets, uncovered often by the diligent and certainly by the lucky. White beaches and black cliffs, sea-arches, columns, hidden reefs and huge caves...

Sea-caves and blue holes deep enough to hide whales. Coves wave-carved with sea tunnels that stretch far enough to hide many things indeed.

It was in such a cove that the whale was first met by the hand of Royalty. It had heard sounds, there, while skimming, of a whale acting oddly, rubbing about among the rocks without making a call. Sometimes it went quiet. Sometimes it was silent altogether.

Shadows in the distance. Something veiled by blue.

The whale turned its one keen ear to the motion, and still heard no song. It only saw the shape. One shape, or many, flapping, writhing, scrounging, seeking...

The motion stopped. The thing that was not a whale went still, then began to rise. The whale fled. Somewhere behind it, a heavy splash, then a rain. For a moment, nothing- then a shape that blot out the sun, falling like a hawk, folding its wings- crash of water- vast weight diving- giant claws-

Thrashing its gargantuan tail with terrible force, the whale was as helpless as a fish in the talons of a hawk before the hound of the Monarch. The thing that had once been a serpent stared down upon it, into it, its black predator eyes facing directly forwards at its prey. Its tail swept from side to side, groping the whale with its tendrils. A steady stream of water pumped from its gills-slits.

Then the pressure was released, and the leviathan spread its wings once more. With the force of an eel-like tail behind it, it surged back up to the surface and beat its heavy wet wings in the sun, returning once more to its hunt. For that was what it was, and the whale recognised it now- the swim, scrounge, sniff, swim, scrounge, the relentless pattern of movement it had seen before in sleepsharks and dire wolf-eels.

The hound of Royalty had no time to waste on such trifles. Not today.

Bleeding from rows of deep scratches, the whale gasped fresh air from the surface and fled, and did not stop or call until it was free in the open ocean, well out of sight of shore. Its brain tumbled in its head as if drunk. Every part of its body was violated, squeezed and cast down and gripped and hunted in ways no rorqual should be hunted. A horrible tension had crawled under its skin, into its blood, and taken hold of its muscles.

It had survived. Cast aside by some unnatural intelligence under divine command, it had survived.

And still the sea grew stranger.

XIV


"Lu..."

"Nothing, Mitsa. Just salt." Mitsa lay her head and closed her eyes again. Svietla, roused a little by the motion, only turned to look at the endless ocean.

They were dying of thirst.

With Tykhom lost to the storm, Arska was the only manbjork of the remaining four, and had taken to letting his whole lower body lay in the water, resting his head and shoulders on the edge of the raft. Occasionally there were sharks. There had been yelling and crying the first time he'd done it, and those savage wildfish had appeared shortly after, drawn by the smell of blood and despair. A pike or a gar could take lethal bites from an unwary bjork, and these fish were much bigger. Even now, the three wifebjorks still preferred to wait out the heat of the day under the crude shelter they had rebuilt at the back of the raft.

As their wounds healed and their thirst grew, Arska Snaketail had ceased to fear.

"Perhaps we should swim," he said. "We could each head a different direction- north, south, east..."

Svietla met his eyes, and he fell quiet. "If we do swim," she said, softly, "we will swim together." And that meant: I will not let you die alone.

Arska closed his eyes and turned away. He did everything alone. Svietla chewed a twig from the bundled supplies in her dry, dry mouth.

"I see something!"

All four were awake in a flash, staring at the ocean, staring at Lu. Lubov's young eyes were wide, her hand straining as she pointed out into the distance. "Smoke!"

"...It's steam," said Svietla, squinting. "Where'd it come from...?" None of them had an answer. The steam blew away, and they stared in hope and terror. Loud cries rose from the raft as the steam plume came again.

"We should swim-"

"Arska..."

"Arska can take the risk-"

"Svietla? Svietla!"

Without a word, the eldest wifebjork had submerged herself in the infinite blue. Gripping the sides of the raft, she took a deep breath, then followed her deepest instincts: head dipping, using all her muscles, raising her tail, and- slap!

In those still and empty waters, the sound felt as small as a leaf falling into a puddle. They said nothing to one another.

Crash!

Lubov pressed her hands to her mouth. There in the distance, in the near distance, the unmistakeable flick and slap of a gargantuan tail.

"It heard us." Arska frowned an exhausted frown. His tail was no good for slapping. "Do it again... Svietla..."

"Don't tell me what to do." Svietla was already steeling herself for another try. Everything about her was tired. She was the biggest, and had shared the last of her portion of water with Lubov. She slapped, and once again, the giant fish slapped back. This time it was noticeably closer.

"Pray," she commanded, or begged, and they did. Whether any god had answered, they knew not. Only the fish answered. Soon it was beside them, a shadow in the water.

"It could swallow us whole..."

"It doesn't care," said Arska, whose odd body carried odd instincts. "We're too small for it. Like a bear chasing a beetle."

"Bears... will eat anything..." Svietla shushed Mitsa and stroked the fur at the top of her head. Lubov stared at the shadow, completely transfixed.

"Is it... humming?"

XV


From then on the whale followed them. It was sometimes close by them, sometimes apart, visible as an occasional plume of breath in the distance, and sometimes gone altogether, to feed, Arska said. Sometimes it fed right below them, gulping down a little mouthful of shoaling fish which the bjorks had barely seen, circling in the shadow of their big raft. They watched the pleats of its throat stretch as it filled itself with water.

Sometimes the whale would nudge them along with its fin, or push them, almost carrying them, with its upper back. It did not push them far. Their condition did not really improve. The bundle of food disappeared, and they were reduced to gnawing on the wood of their own raft. A light burst of rain in the early morning was their only moisture, and they sucked from each other's fur, then from the wood itself. Their bones were visible even under their pelts.

Still they watched the whale, and still the whale sang. No more sharks came upon them then. They rested their bodies in the cool ocean water, and watched rainbows form in its spouted plumes. It gave them nothing but hope, and hope was all they asked. As long as the whale was there, the ocean was not so lonely. Its salt had lost its sting. They watched the whale breach, and forgot about their thirst.

And at night, under a spectacular blanket of stars, they would pray.

Land was sighted after thirty-nine days. Yelling goodbyes to the whale, they fled the raft and swam to shore with every last bit of their strength, sharks and pikes be damned, Svietla pushing Lubov ahead of her as she swam. When they washed up on the brown and silty beach, they found themselves by the mouth of a small river, and didn't even notice until after they had stuffed their bellies with grass and thistle and every bit of prickly green they found within arms reach. They slaked their thirst, the sun grew low, and in the orange light of dusk found themselves alone again.

"This land has few trees," said Mitsa, combing a sleepy Lu with her nails. She was looking better with her feet on dry land. Svietla was lighting a fire with grass and scraps of a stunted bush, Arska rummaging in the stream. "We won't have much of a lodge." Svietla met her eyes. They both knew that the real concern was food.

"Then we must live as the water-voles do, and eat what we can find." Arska returned from the stream with a struggling crayfish in his paws, stuck through with a twisted little stick. Mitsa gasped as he lowered the little animal into the flames.

"You cruel-"

"We will be like hunters who were taught by the Masked One. Like the giants, the hairless beings from the west. We will be like them. But we will waste nothing. Not even the offering of flesh- not even blood. That is how the Masked One spoke to his followers. Kill with purpose. Do not waste." Arska's tail glinted in the firelight. It was long, thin, flattened the wrong way, a deformity unlike any bjork that had been seen yet. He could neither slap nor pat down mud with it, but it had never slowed him down. "I've been to the top of the hill, Mitsa. There aren't enough trees here for one single clan. It will only turn our stomachs for a while, and we can't live on reeds alone. There is no old matriarch to judge. Who will stop us?"

Arska pulled the cray from the flames and took a crunching bite. He cringed, stretched his cheeks, made to spit, but held himself back. He swallowed. "Who will stop us! Hasn't the Singing Maker himself, or one of his daughters, appeared to us as a fish and saved us? We were meant to live!" He took another bite, smaller. "I'm not scared of salt water any more. I don't need a forest to hide in. So we'll have to build our homes out of mud and reeds- so what? Have you forgotten that these are the last days of the autumn? This land is warm! We need no lodge. We'll sharpen our nails and harden our hearts. Maybe we've found what we were looking for after all- a place for ourselves, far in the south. A place where no one can cast us out any more."

Mitsa looked down to the fire, then to the eldest. "Svietla..."

Svietla said nothing for a while. She could not reject Arska Snaketail, not after they had come this far together. She wondered if she could even pull rank on him any more. She had always been the little future matriarch of their little future clan, and everyone had quietly accepted that. But maidbjork cannot be without manbjork. The new world would have new rules. Nothing, now, was beyond question, not even Arska's odd instincts, held in his odd body. She spoke, and answered nothing.

"The spirit-whale has returned to the waters. Old-Bjork we have left behind far in the north. Perhaps for the better- they say strange things happen in his lands these days, strange dreams. Perhaps the Master of the Hunt will bless us, or the Lady Heat, in these warm lands. For now, we have no gods among us."

But she was wrong.

For beyond the hill, in the cool air of night, an eyeless giant with a head of bright brass was striding towards them, and its heart rang with the will of its dead master: Life, will, and the strength to persevere, strength it knew lay in the hearts of the mortals beyond...




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AdorableSaucer Based and RPilled

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The Journals of Thessemalitha

Dear journal,
Thank you for lending me your stone in this place where good clay and decent paper are in such demand. I wish to introduce myself to you formally before our cooperationship commences. Many souls in this world may see you as nothing but slabs of rock, but my kind knows well the sapience and emotions of what others may consider ‘inanimate objects’. I wish to greet you therefore, dear journal, with the same respect and humility I would offer any of my colleagues.

I am Thessemalitha, named so of my own choosing. In the first year of Our Rector, I came into this world as the majority of our kin, the Kynikos, did. Not long after my birth, I was swept up in the finest silks, fashioned by the Rector Himself, and I was shown to the libraries on the fourth floor of the Academy. Here, I was tasked with compiling volumes on the properties of stone - see? I know your kin quite well, dear journal.

It was worthy work, certainly, but in frankness, dear journal, I always believed I was destined for greater things. Pray do not undress my outer facade to any of my later readers, for I do not wish to blaspheme - the Academy is a most holy place, and to study in the Rector’s halls has been nothing short of paradise. And yet, when the ranger Biluda convinced the Rector to open the gates and usher forth the Grand Expeditions, I was ecstatic.

How fortunate that I would live to see all these sights, learn all this knowledge.

I joined a force calling itself the Southern Expedition. Our leader, Shirvaaz, dreams one day of journeying to the very south of this world - rumours say a great source of magic hides there beyond the edges of all land. Apart from Shirvaaz, we have Muulthas and Cylonthieus, our two guardians, and the ranger Hami. Like me, Shirvaaz is a scholar, and has been helping me order my notes and will provide feedback to my work.

It is with this greeting that I would like to initiate our cooperative relationship, dear journal. I thank you for lending me your stone pages, and hope that you will thank me for using them to immortalise my findings. We leave for the south tomorrow.




Entry One

Dear journal,

I should have made more of an effort to journal our travels across the seas. Yet as it turns out, even stonewriting magic, which comes so naturally to us scholars, is not as easy to control when crossing a stormy ocean. Perhaps it was a joke by the gods, for I pondered forth a good name for the sea between these two landmasses, but had no time to write it down. It made me quite frustrated, for I have not been able to recall it since. Though then again, if it was so easily forgettable, perhaps it is better to leave the naming to future generations.

The storm tossed off quite a bit off course, unfortunately, and Hami speculates that we have landed much further west than we initially intended. The Rector’s notes told us there would be land here, too, but it seems they, as blasphemic as it may sound, could be slightly outdated.

For now that we have finally reached land, we have come to green and mountainous soil. Hairy quadrupeds not too unlike those that roam the coast beyond Academy Island are plentiful here; they are much smaller, though, and it is almost a shame to leave here so soon when there are clearly so many unanswered questions in this region. So much to explore!

We will spend the day resting here. I will hike some distance from the camp - see what I find.

Entry Two

Dear journal,

I did it. I managed to convince Shirvaaz that this region still has too much undiscovered potential to be left unstudied. He agreed - though reluctantly - and has sent Hami and Muulthas into the woods to gather building materials to set up a research camp. Meanwhile I have been sketching my observations and studying their behaviours. I encountered this strange species which I have yet to have observed in the Far North:


Terminusian hill elk.


The behaviour of the Terminusian hill elk is not so different from the Northern elk in that they both consume biotic material and assume movement using four legs, also fashioned from biotic material, though neither here is it the same material as they eat. I am partial to Baldhazzahar’s writings on the lifestyles of bio-feeders for explaining how biotic feed is turned into living flesh and weave, but I will not delve into what Baldhazzar’s theory entails here. I can only say that I see no deviations from his hypotheses yet.

That will be all for this entry. I will be roaming these hills some more in search of more to study!



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ZIMA the ZIMMER

&
Mish-Cheechel the Avenger



-v.-
The Dread Wehniek of the Northlands






Time: Present


Mish-Cheechel gripped his spear wordlessly and charged. He did not think, only charged. He did not pay much heed to the voice at the back of his mind that screamed at him to turn tail and get the flying fuck out of there - he only charged. He did not even bother to give off some brave warcry or wail promises or spit curses. Mish-Cheechel the Avenger only charged. Though a choice had stood before him, he had not seen it - he did not charge because he chose, he did not charge because he thought, he only charged.

Past the breaking zimmer’s form he charged, spear in hand, teeth set - he charged - silently he charged, with white breath painting the frozen air - he charged, he charged! And with all the force his speed could grant him, with all the might of his giant bjork form, he plunged the spear into the deer-horror’s black face - threw all himself into that great leap, and all his fury and all his madness - he only charged, like madness charged. Mad, perhaps, was that Mish-Cheechel - but not as mad, nowhere as mad, as the clan of the gods. And as his spear plunged into the dead deer’s face he knew that whatever had made this thing was madder - the gods were mad, the world was mad, everything was mad.

And, by all things, it made Mish-Cheechel mad. It was only right that he be mad!

The demon stumbled back, allowing the Zima’s body of ice to fall to its knees, and it threw Mish-Cheechel off as it pulled at the spear planted firmly in its face. The manbjork landed next to the icey zimmer. She looked up at him with a blank face, blue swirling within and leaking from the cracks.

“Mish!” Zima’s voice emanated from her new form, tired but full of joy. “You are alive! Good to see. Now… run.”

Her icy gaze fell upon the deer demon and they watched as it wrenched the spear free and flung it to the ground. The crazed creature was wounded beyond repair, or at least it looked that way. Most of its body was held together only by the same glowing fire that lit up its one eye. It screamed at them, then lunged upon Mish-Cheechel. Zima flung herself in front of him and the two titans fell to the earth fighting and punching for dominance.

The manbjork swept his spear from the ground then leapt forth, ignoring Zima’s order - or rather, he had not heard it at all. Even as he looked at Zima, he saw through her and into the wailing eye of the beast. Rushing forth, he jumped onto Zima’s back, leapt further up - balanced himself with his tail - then found himself atop what passed for her head. Steadying himself as she wrestled with the monster, he took one glance down, held his spear firmly, and fell upon the monster’s antlered head and rammed the spear at the top of its skull. Time froze for the briefest second and the manbjork hung in the air, his spear a whisker’s span from its mark.

There came a mighty crack as the beast pushed down upon Zima’s torso, shattering it and pushing them both down. Mish-Cheechel grazed the top of the creature's head and flew over it. Zima grunted, then punched the deer in the face, snapping an antler as it fell off her.

Landing with a grunt, Mish-Cheechel pushed off awkwardly with his tail, leapt - stumbled - and turned, then continued his steel-eyed charge. When he was less than a few feet from the creature’s back, he leapt - adding extra push with a slap of his tail against the earth - and so swept up towards the demon’s bared back, spear drawn for the strike. It landed with a splurge of viscera and grimy ink at the base of the neck before the creature buckled and flung him off with a terrible shudder.

Even without a lower half, Zima managed to grapple the creature again and stab it repeatedly with an icy spear arm in its side. Her assault was ferocious but uncalculated and soon after her icy form broke down in its entirety. Zima became formless once again and rushed over to Mish-Cheechel as the demon deer lay silent, black ink, rancid guts and other unsavory bits leaking from it like a small stream.

“M-Mish.” Zima gasped. “You do not listen well.”

The manbjork, breathing heavily and somewhat battered, but elsewise unharmed, kept his eyes on the deer demon. “Is it dead?” He asked, even as he began to stride forward. “Best put it down for good before it gets back up.”

“No!” Zima shouted at him, rushing to obscure his vision. “It plays tricks! It does not die! I know this!” She took a raspy breath, despite not needing to breathe. She hovered before of Mish-Cheechel again. “Look at me! We must leave! Now!” There was fear in her voice.

The manbjork paused and at last looked into Zima’s ethereal form. After a second of thought he almost turned, but something stopped him, and his eyes of oak - once warm and joyous - stared like ice darts at the creature. “And has running from it done you any good until now, Zima?” He strode forth towards the demon once more. “Think how many others a creature such as this has killed - think how many it will kill after it’s done with us. Leave, Zima? I won’t leave until it lies on the ground for good!” He gripped his spear in two strong hands, took two swift strides, then leapt with a thunderous crack of his tail against the frozen earth and plunged towards the demon again.

Zima only shouted, trying to stop him in vain but it was too late. His spear landed true, piercing the creature in the torso. It did not move, however, and it seemed that for once Zima’s fears had been unfounded. Tentatively she approached. “Is-is really dead?” she asked, never taking her eyes off it. Mish-Cheechel only shrugged and continued to thrust the sharpened point of his spear into the deer’s form - now into what passed for its torso, now in its skull, its neck, its stomach. It squelched in and sent sprays of ink and gore over his form.

At last, when the putrid stench had grown too much for either of them, he retreated, wiping his feet on the ground to get what passed for its blood and the stomach-churning odour off his feet. Before he could take one step more, however, something - a clawed hand - grabbed his tail.

Zima screamed.

Something echoed her scream right back, but dark and twisted, and the next thing Mish-Cheechel knew he was flying. Flying straight for a tree.

The manbjork rolled and twisted in the air and just about managed to brace himself and protect his head. His great form cracked against the tree and air whooshed out of him. He landed stunned. It was only brief, however, and with one quick gasp his breath had returned. His back had received the worst of the blow, but still he rose - with a grimace - and clutched at his fallen spear. “Let’s kill this fucker, Zima.” He growled, beating his tail against the ground and hopping lithely forward.

But Zima did not respond. She kept shifting her form between a bjork kit and a small mink. She was paralyzed with fear as the corpse demon shambled on broken limbs towards her. Sickly green vapor drifted where bone and flesh should have been. It was propelled by this unnatural force, moving as if it no longer knew how to walk. It mimicked her scream, with a deeper, more sinister laugh, and its head twisted in half circles that no living creature could have managed; its wide mouth dripped black ink.

Before it reached Zima, however, a great shadow rose up behind the morphing nishi and a great growl was loosed. Bear, eyes wide with fear and fury, leapt over its paralysed friend and, rearing on its hind legs, swept its great claws across the demon deer’s head with strikes that would fell trees and bites that would crush rock. The deer demon was flung into oblivion with each crushing blow. Like a twig being bent in a great wind, it was pummeled into the earth. Zima was finally shaken out of her daze and began to cheer Bear on as the demon was dashed into a growing cloud of dust. Bear was relentless, stomping the demon into black vileness, then obscurity. When the air grew silent, Zima blew it away with a gust of wind, sending the aroma of decay and death away from them. Bear stood over a visceral pile of mush, one that would have made any with a weak stomach gag.

The giant began to meander over them, with deep ragged breaths and the sound of exhaustion. But it was a relieved exhaustion, the exhaustion of victory well-earned. The relief of-

Bear bellowed, then a dark spike tore through his chest and up towards the tree canopy and the dark heavens above. It sent the saddle flying up in the air, an inky, green tendril, like a foul weed rearing its ugly head. The demon deer, or what was left of the skull- a simple bone plate with an eye socket, peered down upon them as it sloughed flesh and blood. It smacked Bear in the head with its own, and a giant crack rang out to affirm with a finality that now it was over.

Bear was dead.

But it was only over for Bear. The demon was an abomination, and before Bear’s blood was cold- before he had even fallen over with a great thud, the demon dropped its mortal guise and revealed to them its true form. A flaming green mass of darkness that laughed terribly before sinking into their friend like water soaking into mud.

Bear stilled, then his bones began to break with sickening cracks and pops as Zima wailed something terrible. Something mournful. Then Mish-Cheechel was beside her, his brown eyes verging on red and his pupils as pinpricks. He watched without a hint of emotion as the bear’s form rose and slowly turned on them. Mish-Cheechel’s teeth scraped against each other, his visage contorted with a terrible fury and his grip on his spear caused the wood to groan and cry out for mercy. His throat was parched and thirsted now for revenge, his red eyes did not seem red - they were red, for the fires of vengeance were alight within them.

“Zima!” His voice was thunder. “On me!” And he took one step, one step only, and hefted his spear above his head as what once was Bear - but was no more - took a shambling step towards them.

Zima however, was unmoving. Like before she was paralyzed now with fear. Her form had settled upon the bjork kit and her small hands gripped either side of her head, eyes wide with terror as she trembled uncontrollably.

"B-Bear…? N-No no no no." She said over and over again, shaking her head back and forth, eyes tightly squeezed shut. "Bear'll wake up now. Bear'll wake up. Zima is afraid. Bear is brave." Her breath quickened. "P-Papa please save Bear. Please." She gasped with fright and did not see one of Mish-Cheechel’s flame eyes fall on the image of his son. The fire in them vanished. His brown eyes were as black coals and there was silence.

The bear demon reared up before him, liquid ink painting the coldness of dusk and a great sweeping arm tipped with obsidian claws savaging the air. The black eyes of Mish-Cheechel fell on the now-green eyes of the white bear, and even as it swept its arm he too swept. A terrible explosion of heat rippled through the world around him as he moved, and what flames had darted in his eyes before were suddenly on his arm, his spear, his face. His form had become half firestorm, and the demon had no escape from his rage.

The spear’s collision with paw brought silence, then an explosion of fire caused the bear to burst alight. It screamed in a voice at once like that of Zima and Bear, and it was terrible to behold. And then a great inferno swept it up and the demon turned and fled, screaming in agony as it went, and long after they could see it no more they could hear it going still until the only sounds were Zima’s sobs.

Mish-Cheechel watched the darkness where the demon had been with his extinguished coal eyes, the right side of his form still smoking and burns lining his face and body. He did not turn even when the sound of the creature was long out of earshot, and he seemed set on following it. But something about Zima’s sobbing gave him pause, and he dropped his spear and turned to her at last. He did not say anything, but picked up the saddle in one hand, gritting his teeth as leather rubbed fresh burn. He tried to take the small kit that was Zima in the other but his grasp passed right through her. She sobbed some more, blinking open her eyes to gaze upon Mish-Cheechel, then took in his burns. There was silence and peace, as though she had closed her eyes on one world and opened them on another. Wordlessly, then, she darted to the discarded ice chunks she had worn earlier and formed up into a small shape, roughly the size of a kit.

“For…” She sniffled in a small voice, "for your burns." Mish-Cheechel shifted the saddle onto his good shoulder, the burns sighing with relief as the leather was lifted. He picked her up then, her form bringing an icy chill to his hot wounds as he brought her close to his chest, tucking her in the small of his arm like a mother would a newborn. He glanced at her peaceful kit’s face, took in a long breath, then walked silently from that wrestling pit and its odours and memories of death.

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Eidolon Plains - Unity and Division


Marshal Elena rode along the river, eventually returning to a group of hunters all armed with spears. It was unsettling being away from her band for so long, however it would not be long before another marshal took her watch. This was important work. Her band would be among three to graze these pastures next season. In order to support to their combined herd, the fields needed time to replenish and so they needed to repel wild grazing animals, especially the gluttonous long-fur xo.

She approached the hunters gathered around a small fire for cooking meat. The hunters were telling stories, mostly about the close encounters with intruders. One of the hunters told the story about how their band meet the shroud maid. Elena would have doubted the story, had she not been wearing woolen garments. The Edgar band had been placed in a fortunate situation by their meeting with a spirit, many sheep-herder bands such as her gathered to them to learn their spirit taught secrets. While the belligerent xo herders like to call them Wool-eyes, the proper name is the Sun-Sworn Clade. She had heard that they were beginning to unify under a spirit-touched marshal named Sophia, but it seemed like the other bands refused to accept them as their leader.

The hunters eventually looked to her and interrupted her thoughts, asking if she had a story to tell. Elena thought for a moment and told the story about how she wandered several days into Dusk Wall on horse-back. It was suppose to be a test of courage and resourcefulness before she could be accepted as marshal. While she didn't tell the others, she praised the Almighty Sun when she was told that tradition would end upon joining the clade. The journey was uneventful, except on the final day, she saw figures out in the distant. Thinking that they might be other eidolon, she approached. They were creatures of stone and dirt. The perpetual darkness made it hard to tell what they were doing, but it looks like they were taking stone and dirt and constructing it to various shapes. When asked what she did next, she told them that she turned around and left, leaving the strange spirits to their task.

---

After being blessed by the spirit and returning to her band, Sophia immediately gained support due to having a horse. Mateo would not surrender as easily, but was pressured into a fight. Even without using her weapons, the match was highly uneven. Mateo's laziness had caused his strength to atrophy. While he pretended his defeat meant nothing, it was enough to sway the rest of the band. He and his lackeys were then sent off to other bands heading far away.

As a marshal, she abolished the position of story-teller. She would permit those to remember stories in their own time, however if they wanted food from the group, they would need to do real work. She permitted those who gathered or hunted to have first pick among what they gathered. She also had more slings created based upon her own, and had several members of her band practice using it.

However she remembered the wise spirit's words regarding oppression. She would help other bands improved as her band did, and occasionally that meant beating up an incompetent leader or two. Through this, she became aligned with many of the local xo-herd bands. Those that didn't ally themselves tended to find themselves poorly treated. Sophia said anything of the sort, but she never discouraged this behavior either. She had heard other marshals mention that she be given status of high marshal, however she was loathed to follow in the example of the wool-eyes.

The wool-eyes started to call them the four-horns, after the four horns that xo have. However, Sophia liked the name and they started calling the group the Four Horn Culture. Culture seemed like the right word, they were a group bound by common ideas. They didn't need one leader to tell everyone else how they should manage their herds.

In one particularly heated meeting of Four-Horn marshals, Sophia was convinced to try to reason with the wool-eyes. She wasn't the only one opposed to the idea, but she was in the minority. It was eventually agreed that if they shared some of their wool product, they would not graze in the areas that they asked. Sophia didn't want wool, but she eventually saw how much the others did. She probably could have stopped it, but doing so would mean that she would be high marshal in all but name. It also didn't feel right to keep others from what they wanted.

However, after she became invested in ensuring the happiness of her fellow four-horns, negotiations quickly began to fall through. The wool-eyes saw no reason to share their product for something they thought themselves entitled to. When asked what they would accept as trade, there reply was insulting. They would need a spear to surrender a simple wool garment. Did they think that they were so poor that they could not clothe all of their people and so would be that desperate for warmth?

After meeting with other marshals to discuss this issue further, Sophia walked away at one point to let go of her anger. She used her sling to slay a bird, and was noticed by other bands. The band that had originally owned the weapon was among those heading east, and so everyone but her band was unfamiliar with it. Having a devious idea, she started to teach other bands how to use the weapon.

While no band wanted to pay the ransom that the wool-eyes requested, they couldn't agree how to approach the situation. Gathering even most of the marshals became more and more difficult as their numbers grew and the grass grew thinner. Eventually, they decided to have a small group of marshals and a handful of their bandmates remain in the area while they sent their herds away.

Sophia felt an odd surge of relief when she had someone else take over handling the herd. While she rode a horse, she was still a hunter at heart. Even before taking up the sling, she was never good at watching xo and was a gatherer. She honestly didn't entirely know how to handle the wool-eye situation either, but she did know that she wasn't going to let them oppress her.





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The hunt of the Pariah


thwack thwack thwack

One after another the logs were split in half, added to the pile which would be later used to feed the fire. Some people would question why a god would bother with such a repetitive menial task, the word to describe such people was “idiot”. Someone wouldn’t be a hunter if they could just weave their hand and have the meat and fur show up neatly separated, no, Tuku’s domain was an ephemeral one, and perhaps because of that the god enjoyed meeting their needs through proper effort and craft even in tasks quite distant from hunting. It was relaxing, or rather, it felt like without these little routines they would be at best stressed and at worst slowly going mad.

However, today Tuku’s heart wouldn’t be properly attended to because out of nowhere, they heard a voice. It was not a rat this time, possibly the opposite of it, it was the voice of their progenitor. He had made announcements, the booming voice wasn’t surprising, but the hushed message that came after was completely new and gave the masked god some pause.

”Tuku, my Master of the Hunt, I require your aid.”

It was chilling, the soft cold wind that carried the message, the bloody implication of it all, nothing good could require the father of all gods to require a hunter, this was no request born out of a cherished ring or shirt becoming lost among the many rooms of the palace.

No point in theorizing, however, that was foolishness incarnate, the god of the hunt merely moved up the mountains and upon reaching the peak, looked at the sun, making it clear to their father that they had heard their summon and were ready to move back to the palace. Yet, the Divine Palace was almost blocked from sight by the dark clouds that seemed to stretch on and on, going past the seas and into the horizon. After a moment of inspection, a rift opened in front of the hunter, revealing the patron of the gods sitting upon His throne.

He extended a hand, beckoning for Tuku to enter His palace, off of Galbar and away from the ever consuming darkness of the clouds that cast its baleful touch across the world. He leaned forwards in the Jade Throne, His gaze cast firmly upon the Gods of the Hunt, an unnerving and unrelenting gaze.

”Come, Tuku, we have much to do and such short time.”

The god of the hunt found themselves impressed, an era of living in the wilds boasting about their independence and yet as soon as they came face to face with the progenitor god their body almost forced to reposition, taking a far more polite stance than they had taken for any sibling, it was bothersome but not something they could afford to grumble about at the moment.

“I see. Well. I am at your service then father.” by now they were already inside the palace, looking back as the rift closed. ”What is it that needs to be so urgently hunt…” the phrase didn’t complete itself in their mind and the mask almost betrayed a shock, a cold shiver ran down their spine as for a moment a terrible possibility showed itself up, that they would be requested to hunt a sibling. They didn’t appreciate them, and hated a few, and desired to hunt one for sport but it was all in good fun, at least in their mind it was, nothing close to kinslaying.

”A god-killer.”

The Monarch of All’s statement resonated throughout the chamber, the weight of the words seeming to convey the prospect of hunting a sibling. Yet, the tone of those words did not signify the same weight, cast without anything other than dire seriousness that wrought all the attention in the world. Then, He rose from His throne, towering over Tuku and looking to the Galbar that was in perfect view of the Jade Throne. All that could be seen, all that was focused upon, was the dark clouds that consumed Termina and the oceans around it. The Monarch of All would speak again, the weight of His words unchanging as His gaze continued to pierce the very heart of the Galbar, a hatred becoming clear.

”A beast beyond all reckoning that would seek to undo all that I have built.”

There was a difference between scary words and words that you feared, Tuku loved one and hated the other, this was the type they enjoyed. Their posture relaxed and one hand touched rubbed behind their neck, right by the side of that bow that was almost as old as they were. ”Well, that is something I didn't know existed, but as it turns out, there are many unexpected things in this world. I like it that way however.”

”But Father… Which god? Or even, gods? I sensed the deaths, my domain is more delicate than one would guess, that no rabbit has ever been lucky again to escape an arrow I was sure would hit, that the movements of the sea creatures changed as the flow of the sea went from vigorous to flabby. I want to know the name we will avenge today.”

The Monarch of All turned to look at Tuku before His voice echoed an answer, naming the one who had been brought so low but the likes of a mere beast that had escaped its cage. He motioned to the great seas of His realm, making the answer clearer and clearer with each passing moment.

”Ao-Yurin. Surely, you have felt that the seas obey none anymore.”

The god of the hunt nodded, and pulled over an arrow. The seas then. No use for my bow down there, tried once, the waters fight against the movement more than the wind, now that it’s a corpse it fights even more, or rather, it doesn’t, stands there. they shrugged and pressed against the arrow, the metal tip and the shaft fused into one, the shape changed, stretching, until what the god of the hunt held was a harpoon.

”This fits better, travels faster, hits harder and sticks to prey. I imagine a god-killing beast will have too thick of a hide but we can figure it out as we go.”

”It can bleed. I am sure your weapon will be more than enough.”

The Monarch of All before the rift opened behind Tuku, this time leading to the oceans, where no land was in sight and the darkness consumed all. A solitary stream of blue, luminescent lights surged through the water, a great beast to be sure, but not Tuku’s query. There was no divine power coming from the massive beast and the Monarch of All stepped past the hunter, stepping onto the water as the great beast raised its head to greet its master. The Ruler of Divinity, raised a hand to set upon its head, a scar blemished the face of the mountainous serpent, running from snout to one of the great fins that extended a hills length down. The Monarch of All let out a sigh of annoyance, speaking to the serpent for a mere moment in a chastising manner.

”I told you to wait, Zhongcheng, not to try and fight it.”

Turning back to Tuku, He spoke once more, his tone serious as to the weight of their hunt, the powerful query that was no doubt waiting for them in the waters that surrounded them. The Monarch of All, threw a leg over the serpent as he spoke, taking the great tendrils on Zhongcheng’s neck as if they were reigns.

”Know that should we fail in killing the creature, it could spell the end of life on this world.”

The blank face of the masked god stared and then nodded slowly. ”It will fall. Everything does eventually, but this one shall meet its fate today.” they turned and looked at Zhongcheng ”Cool pet by the way.” and with that they swam forward, trying to get the first glimpses at the hunting ground where apparently the fate of the world would be decided. All that could be spotted below was darkness, impenetrable darkness of the depths of the deepest parts of the seas. It was an open ocean, and yet, the pitch black layers of the ocean still bared life, strange life that knew no light or warmth, save for those that huddled around heat vents. The floor was flat, for the most part, the only change in terrain being even further drops that led into trenches truly devoid of any life, the pressure of the water being broken great for mortals of any kind.

The god of the hunt has personally never gone so far deep down, it was new ground, but the god was quick to adapt, to learn the senses that were useful and the ones that became meaningless this deep down. Raising their staff, they started to survey the land for tracks and hints of where this beast could be, unlike in the surface where the staff was kept aloft, this time the god gently struck it against the sea floor producing a humming clink sound that traversed the dark still waters. In lands so still, the smallest vibration of the sound denounced all the shapes within range, from the smallest shells and the small animals that hid within it to the crevices and failures of the stone. This rhythm produced a response, one that matched the vibration that Tuku produced with each jab.

The trench, there was a digging, a tunneling of something massive trying to burrow its way further and further into the Galbar. The vibrations themselves seemed malevolent, opposed to the water that had been created by a shard of the Monarch of All. That was it, the beast, the terrible pariah that had shown its face not too long ago.

Tuku stopped and analysed the situation, pondering over the creature and its massive size, he had expected something big but this was greater still than his imagination could construct. The god sighed. ”The creature is entrenching itself into Galbar, like a scared rodent. the god commented. ”We could try to deprive it of water, close the opening, drain the water with a rift, let the trench turn into a cave. Is such a thing possible?” the god questioned, it was clearly beyond his capabilities, but the Monarch of All was way beyond his own limits.

”That would do little to it. It’s not dependent upon the water, besides that would not stop it from merely tunneling away. I take it that you have found it?”

The Monarch of All’s answer produced no vibration, not that Tuku would feel it as the Monarch of All had not followed so deeply into the oceans, content to let the hunter god do their work. The voice of the Almighty was radiating within Tuku’s soul, providing a deep warmth as the light graced the hunter’s mind.

The god nodded. ”Aye. Down there. Going deeper and deeper. Not many options of approach that are not obvious. Good side, once in there, no way out until either it or us are dead.”

”Indeed. But, that does mean it will fight with everything that it will have to survive. Are you ready for such a fight?”

The god stopped and walked around a bit as if bothered by something, while their movements themselves were unbothered by the water. ”Realistically? No idea. A creature that makes you cautious should make me fear for my life. But on the other side, there are many new things in this world this creature has never experienced, blind spots and such. Well, enough speculation, let us go into the practice of this hunt.”

And so the Hunt began to reach its zenith; with Zhongcheng circled above and the Monarch of All slowly descending further into the ocean in order to do battle with the beast. Yet, as the Monarch of All sank, Tuku felt an essence float from the trench, one that stank of anathema to all that was the Supreme’s creation. There was silence, the motions that the beast had made came to a complete halt as the ichor floated upwards until it was well clear of the trench. Then, as if commanded, the ichor became a solid form, a blade, that shot itself towards the Monarch of All at speeds incomprehensible to mortalkind. The water behind it parted behind it only to collapse back and send out shock waves and vibrations that became deafening in the water.

It was clear, the Pariah could sense the holy light of the Monarch of All and honed upon it as a shark to blood.

The masked god cursed at himself for having not fully noticed the issue before it was too late, god to god combat was new. But the god quickly adapted, not bothering with helping the monarch as they reasoned the ancient one would be able to deflect a simple blade, they took no time to set eye upon their prey. Though all senses now failed him, the vibrations bliding the last one that seemed to work well in the depths, memory still was active and they had observed all of the ravine to know where the beast last was.

Clawing at stone and ferociously diving deeper into the ravine the god took out their bow, the ancient weapon was able to shoot arrows past continents and the atmosphere, a small storm within a cave was relatively tame, of course, no simple projectile would make it to the beast, but it had showed its hand too early with that surprise attack, it gave the hunter an insight with how it worked and why the monarch had been unable to easily destroy it, the anathema essence, was destructive to both, simply conjuring arrows with their divine power would not be enough as that was drawn from the same fountain as the Monarch’s power.

So the hunter brought forth all the particles spread on the water, the silicates and carbon, the iron dust spread from the destructive path of the beast, and from that quickly crafted arrows and enchanted them, making sure to cut off all loose ends of their own divinite when imbuing the power, trying their best to neutralize it, making it common ground, the boundary between the light of the monarch and whatever this beast yielded.

Three of the grey metallic spears were launched by Tuku among the turmoil of water, and it would reveal the location of the hunter. Tuku was aware of that and jumped across the cave, not giving the beast time to react just yet nor verifying if any of the arrows were actually hitting, merely launching them where the beast was supposed to be. A few more, and the god’s pattern would start to get noticeable, plus they themselves were starting to become tired from the barrage of attacks at high speeds.

Although they desired to keep it a secret from their own father, they saw no option but to reveal their hand or risk being slain by the beast’s fury. With a sidestep, the god brought forth a small knife of divine energy, cutting at nothing before… vanishing. The god had long discovered the fissures in the structure of the world, and with the rat they had tested travel through such “locations”, if they could be called that. The appearance was that of a void traversed by sparse root-like structures, the warped and blurred image of the ocean not too far from where the hunter landed, quickly vanishing in the void darkness as the cut he made “healed”. Nevertheless, with his staff and knife, the god was not lost but merely a skip from returning to Galbar proper, reappearing to the side of the Monarch of All, feeling exhausted.

As Tuku had predicted, the Monarch of All had flung away the ichor that had propelled itself at Him, but the God-Maker did not seem to give Tuku any inclination as to having appeared next to Him. The Monarch of All seemed content diving headfirst towards the pariah, hatred emanating from His almighty form, and the glow of His light casting away the darkness of the deep sea. A shriek filled the seas as Tuku’s spears all met their mark as the creature had little room to move its form. Yet, it did not seem deterred to launch itself at the Monarch of All. With light cast from the Supreme One’s form, Tuku could see the form of the query now, the smoky layer that coalesced around a terrible beast that reached its claws out, one of the spears jutting out from its arm.

The Pariah and the Monarch of All met once more in a blinding melee, each one clawing and slamming at the other in a primal death match.

Tuku wished they could have been a distant neutral spectator at this awe inspiring fight, but he was not, one side wanted to destroy all of creation and without that it was incredibly hard to find good spots to hunt. Taking a moment to focus, the god would once again advance, getting themselves involved in the fight of the gods hands on, hovering right over the beast and aiming a close range shot, to let the full strength be carried by each arrow, making that the main source of damage. The shots were slower, not only because the god was becoming tired but also because they were forming a plan. Raising their hand and fully focusing, the god repeated the process they used to create the spear, aiming for the same atom-perfect metal alloy they had created, but this time they did not make a simple set of arrow for themselves but a massive trident too big for the god to use, but of the right size for their father to wield against the beast.

Monarch. Take it!” the god declared as the trident finished forming right above them, the hunting god releasing a volley of arrows at the head of the beast to distract them.

Almost seamlessly, as the pariah recoiled and reared its head back from the arrows, the Monarch of All allowed one of His hands to grasp the monumental trident. Yet, it took little time for the pariah to realize what had happened, recovering from the volley to continue its assault upon the Monarch of All, only for it to be repelled by the trident. Pushed away, the Supreme One turned the assaily on the beast, stabbing and slashing as the tendrils of the loyal hound making their way down to aid its master.

Although it was impossible to discern as the mask showed no eyes, Tuku had stopped observing the cornered beast and instead turned their focus to the ichor that pooled as it was wounded. It had tried it's trick once and the god was weary now that it was losing the advantage it would try again. One or two arrows would still be shot so as to not make their intentions too obvious. Again, just as Tuku had predicted, the ichor once more began to float in the waters around them and their shapes, again, began to become those of blades pointed upon the light of the Monarch of All.

The god could not lie, he held a grudge against anything that managed to catch him by surprise, the memory of that cowardly hidden blade repeated in their mind over and over. Now they would be ready. Letting go of the bow, they instead formed knives in their hand from the arrows within his quiver, each one twin to a congealed piece of ichor that was readying up to strike. Mimicking the beast’s previous fast strike that caused the water around it to collapse, the god would strike down the forming blades wherever they formed, learning its pattern and becoming more efficient at it, hitting them sooner and sooner, neutralizing this facet of the beast’s power.

The pariah let out a cry of surprise seeing the hunter god destroy the forming ichor and now it had little else to do than fight on. It fought as a being with nothing else to live for, sinking blow after blow into the Monarch of All’s form before the trident was stabbed into the beast's chest and raised aloft. The two raced to the surface with divine speed, the holy light of the Monarch of All growing brighter and brighter before it reached all that it could touch. The pariah’s smoky form was burned away, scorching the true form of the beast until there was nothing and, for a moment, it seemed as if a Str had been birthed upon Galbar. Only after a brief few moments did the light subside and reveal that the beast was no more and it’s poisons exhumed from the reality that had been crafted by its true ruler.

Then, the Monarch of All fell to His knees upon the water’s surface, wrapping the multicolored cloak around Himself to hide the punishment that the pariah had gifted to the primordial being. His body appeared as if He were breathing heavily though, as his gaze went from Zhongcheng to Tuku, He could not help but let out a sigh of relief.

”It is done.”

The expressionless mask seemed to smirk for once ”Good hunt.” the god whispered. ”Was lucky that I did not get hit, I am afraid the strikes that have wounded you would have likely split me in half.” then they relaxed and walked to their father. ”Damn rude creature though, all of this trouble and yet it didn’t leave even a bone for me to hang among other prizes on my wall.”

”You have better than a trophy, Tuku. You have the honor of having aided in the slaying of a great beast. For that, you shall be venerated for.”

”Ah. Indeed. Sorry if I did not sound grateful for this chance. My mind is still somewhat hazy.” the god calmly approached Zhongcheng and patted its side. ”This one also did a very good job. Bought us a lot of much needed time. Again. Cool pet.”

The huntsman took a deep breath. ”It seems we three need rest though. I’d invite you two to my hut for a victory party but the ceiling is too low and the tables too small. The trident is a gift, I did not name it because that is just something I am not good at. It could be useful if another thing capable of repelling your light ever shows up but let’s hope that never comes to pass.”

”It shall make a fine weapon, Tuku. Yet, my duties as the Monarch of All never end, I must beg your leave.”


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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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The Laektears, and Mamang.

XVI


The isle-of-air that guarded the confluence of the gods was smaller than its kin in the open seas beyond the walls of Termina and Orsus. It was the first of the greater basins to come under assault, yet in a way it was the only one to escape unscathed: by fate or foresight, the Earthheart’s mountains had already marked with blessed stone the limit of the waters beyond that sacred isle, and the well-salted sea began to crack its fearsome enchantment not with an all-covering flood, but in a ring of towering waterfalls roaring through the gaps in the wall. Their clamour rose and fell with the tide, and caked the once-seabed far below with thick salt, thinly clothed with vast pools of shallow brine.

In those days, the vast ocean was alight with colour. Every crashing air-wall that shook Galbar with its fall left behind innumerable swarms of godfish, lighting the blue darkness with clouds of swirling embers as bright as the dawn. Fattened by the curse-breaking feast, the godfish had spawned, filling the sea with billions of their fry even as the last of the ruinous chasms were wholly consumed. The juvenile swarms scattered wide, scrounging for fresh godlight, scavenging for the least scrap of heavenly sustenance. Their beaks were toothed lances, and their glowing tangerine bodies were fiery darts, raining down a starved and desperate assault on any magic they could find.

They invaded the wall of the Tlacan Sea, chewing away its lethargic ooze, leaving radial chasms of clear blue in their wake, and dying in heaps, unable to stomach the teeth of time. When they reached the seething coast of the Hivelands, they fed well, for a time, chewing and tearing at stray tendrils of divine hyphae that infested every living alg and polyp on the shore, only to find their needle bones and blessed scales useless against the ravenous vermin that crawled in their veins and consumed their tender brains and guts.

They gawped and gulped at the cloud of muck that billowed from the groaning curse of the machine lord, and even survived, leading short and miserable lives at the edge of that marine wasteland, cleansing the waters around them long enough to be snapped up in the end by some other creature from bluer waters. Some broke through, and were lost in the chaos of the waters beyond- who knows what became of those godfish, ripped up by the elemental storms of Harmony even as they warred to calm its power?

Most didn’t make it nearly so far: the lush seas that starved them simply swallowed them whole.

The wandering whale journeyed at leisure across the Inner Ocean, where whole schools of the over-populated godfish were breaking their teeth on the wave-weathered rock of the Dancing Isles. Silver flashes shot them to pieces, packs of tuna and mackerel biting them apart and spitting out the chunks, swallowing anything soft enough to swallow. Clusters of amphipods and shrimp gnawed anything left to drift. Where the godfish spasmed and faltered, too exhausted by their futile attack on the enchanted stone to swim straight, crabs stretched up in squabbling crowds to grab them from the rock, picking the luminous meat off their bones without a care.

There were few birds in the southern chain of the islands, for the stone sank and rose every day. Fierce rivers of seawater poured down the flank of the island as it rose, washing away any grit and shell that may otherwise have been ground into sand, and the rock was soon carved into spectacular chasms, tunnels, pools and blades. The whole island was green with smooth, curly algae, and in its ten-thousand perfect blue pools were bright anemones, limpets, and tight clusters of tiny white winkles. In the caves and kelp, the clever arms of a big octopus teased after crabs and over-confident fish caught in pools by the tide.

The whale had already had its fill. For weeks its veins had been almost glowing with the fire of recycled godlight, its monstrous gut churning a heavy mass of glittering metal bones. Much the same was true of every other great shark and sailfish that prowled the open ocean, at least until the damage wrought on their bellies by those thorny skeletons became too much to bear. But the whale- ah! It had not felt this healthy in decades!

Sore memory led it to avoid that place where the curse of ruin had nearly slain it, but the new generation weaned on this sudden glut would never learn the danger of the isle-of-air, or need to. In the coming centuries silt would bury even the tumbled ring of bones that marked where each wall had been broken.

It would be, perhaps, the last great wave of calving that Galbar would ever see. The sea was fertile, but the whales spawned in the north were vast, far beyond the scale of their natural prey, and their number had swiftly peaked. Now came the age of hunger.

Hunger and fear.

XVII

With @Kho


In those days, the vast ocean was alight with colour.

The wandering whale had come upon a war.

That swirling blaze of pulsing turquoise-yellow-violet had been familiar once. The whale had taken them, sometimes whole schools, much as it would take lampfish and squid; they were too clever and fast for most whales, and so perfect prey for a beast of its speed. They had been familiar once, but no more. The dance of the dancerfish was fierce and frenetic, their mass flickering lightspeed signals within itself as it flexed, swirled, twisted, and burst apart, their sleek groups leaving behind bitter angry streaks of divine light, like tears.

Bolts of fire blasted apart the dancer battalions. Here, finally, the strongest of godfish had found fitting prey. The fiercest among them had bullied and cannibalised their path to maturity among their over-spawned sisters, and spat out their teeth, revealing themselves for what they had been long ago, when their maker had bled them dry of the weak blood of mortality: swordfish- huge thin marlins- clad in opaline armour, formed like javelins.

The whale’s presence disturbed the laektear formation only for a moment. In that time the godfish had drawn fresh blood, slashing scales into the water with their needle-point skulls before escaping the wings of the larger dancerfish, those sinuous adults who might hope to tear bites from their fins in defense of their tiny brethren.

The bodies were left to sink. The jaws of the godfish were atrophying. Destruction alone was their fill, as they had been commanded.

The wandering whale circled this unending dance of violence with its good ear, observing fire and rhythm. It could not draw blood of its own, for a wide-winged laektear of good size might choke it, and an adult godfish would be even worse. It watched the scene with such fascination that its stalker had no difficulty drawing near. Deaf on one side, by the time the whale noticed a stir in the waters, it was far too close.

A nudge- just a nudge.

The laektear giant re-ignited its darkened lights as the whale panicked and made distance, flicking its tail up to beat the water with a sudden crash. Its gills fanned calmly. Its teeth, sated for now on a long banquet of mummified shark and whale carcasses, had been worn down by huge bones, and would soon shed. For a while it would feed solely on the catch of its gill-rakers, those neat rows of featherlike filaments that were its own kind of baleen. And then…

The whale observed the laektear, and the laektear observed the war. Like the bull, it could not swallow that chaos without destroying its own, and it had grown too vast to easily pick off even the adult godfish. An orca might be more its size, if it took the mood to hunt- or a flipper of something larger.

The bull’s black pupils met again with its huge, shining turquoise eyes. They twinkled lustrously and the golden-red birthmark on its forehead seemed to vacillate between motion and stillness, and even that great hungering dancer seemed to vacillate between the motion of the strike and the stillness of observation. Its radiance grew and its colours multiplied as it watched, and the motion of the strike became a swirling cadence. It flowed with the invisible tides, its great fins swooshed and cut through them, redirected them in unseen transient whirlpools. Its tail flickered, its body twisted - its head rose as its tail fell, its fins spread out like wings and its eyes grew bright then dimmed. It now sped up, then slowly let up; when it had slowed to almost stillness it abruptly jolted and caused the depths to surge and thrash with the sudden great pace and when the motion had reached impossible crescendos it paused suddenly, frozen for breathless seconds as though captured in a painting, before flowing slowly once more. It was after this had gone on for a while and no strike seemed imminent that the whale understood: it danced, did the laektear-mother.

Not fleeing, yet always moving away from it, the whale held a certain distance from the laektear, arcing around it, never towards it. Tensing as the dancer surged, relaxing as it drifted, rising to breathe when the dancer dived, hiding in the depths as it whirled the surface. In the darkening midnight waters, the whale knew, without a word or a thought, that no matter how long they circled and chased the distance between them would never truly close, nor would it widen. The quarry was not the target, nor was the laektear its stalker. There was a focal point, but it did not lie in one another. The laektear led the dance. The center lay between them.

Blue water darkened to midnight-black, and the laektear’s wings grew ever brighter, alone and sovereign like the sun in an empty sky, in which the whale was but a lightless cloud. The waters around it rushed like wind as it whirled, and both beasts were silent within it. In that long silence, the whale’s heart began to yearn for a familiar passion- there was something absent, yet still here, somehow- a pattern- a pace- a rhythm- a voice-

As the whale watched, the laektear-mother thrashed theatrically and turned on its back, and its body went limp and bubbles trailed upward from its mouth - like tears. And those tears danced as the laektear-mother sank limply - only its tail moved and trembled. And once it had sunk a far enough distance, once again it rose before him - slow though, its motions not of laektear but resembling, oddly, whale - and it opened its great mouth so that the water before it was displaced all at once and surged in. It closed its mouth for the briefest seconds then once more unlatched the vastness of that dire, chasmal maw.

If of the lion tribe it had been,
surely it would have been roaring.
If of the clan of wolf or canine,
its bark, surely, would fell mountains.
But if whale, a glorious giant,
then its song of beauty splendid
would have matched its dance of sunset;
would have matched its dance of drowning,
dance of weeping,
dance of birthing
.

In the dark, forgotten records
of the waters and the fishes -
which no mortal mind remembers,
which no mortal mind has written -
danced the weeper of the laektears
to the song of whales unknowing -
to the song, that is, of the bull,
whose great whalesong, as time passes,
more and more becomes the sound that
echoes all across the oceans:
is the singing of the oceans,
is the music of the waters.

Aye it would have been forgotten,
never spoken, danced, or sung of -
but for one awed, silent witness:
yes, that giant of the waters,
yes, that mother of the laektears.
So that all the world may witness
and the whales and fish, in great bliss,
may arise in enthralled union
and proclaim one great truth, which is:
song and dance were made for water,
made for bulls and cows of water,
made for fishes in whose cadence
are thus woven motions born of
divine tears and god’s emotions.
They who dance in the above-world,
they who sing through air, not water,
are the infants of the songcraft,
are as fry - or less - to motion.
This the great truth and conviction,
this the wisdom in the fish-dance,
this the tale that is remembered
only by the laektear mother -
by the laektear mother and, now,
by the half-deaf whale that wandered.


To all this, and more yet, was he - was the half-deaf whale - a witness. The whale knew not from where the knowing came, nor where nor how it rested in its heart. The whale knew not knowing. The whale knew only seeing, and truly it had seen, and in that memory of seeing lay the story, fixed in beauty ‘til the whale’s final day.

Yea, in the long course of that night it had seen, and would not forget, how meaning could erupt from movements only - only motions!

And the motions made a pattern
And the pattern had a pace!
And the pace carried a rhythm
And that rhythm was a dance!
And the dance was born of music
And with light that music shone!
And the light lit up the waters
And the waters filled with song!

‘twas the pulsing beat that echoed
Through the waters of the world
That remembered what was witnessed
As the laektear-mother twirled

And the dark forgotten records
Were illumined by the dawn
In the eyes of one old whale
On that solemn, silent morn

For the Truth was everlasting
And their memory was long
The whale and the laektear
Sharing dance and sharing song

That song of birthing-waters
Song of drowning, song like tears
The story of a goddess
Falling down into her fears

Where fevered feet were kicking
Where the footless dancers swam
And whalesong rang loudly
Beating, mahm-mahm-mahm-mahm-mahm

And the memory of sadness
Washed away by fins and light
Had become a tidal ballad
In the waters of the night

Thus the Truth of water-cadence
In that twirling, shining tail
Taught the music of the ocean
To a humble half-deaf whale.




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Eidolon Plains - Strife


The negotiations between the Four-horns and Sun-sworn soured. One side would push an unreasonable demand upon the other, causing the other to make their demands less reasonable in return. Sophia eventually ordered her band graze on a river that the wool-eyes had claimed, sending a group of slingers to support them. She had intended to go with them, but the other Four-horn marshals were able to gather at that time and they insisted that she involved in the inner-band discussions. The other marshals supported the idea, but they all wanted someone else bands to take the first step.

Nobody knows who struck first, but chaos quickly erupted afterwards. Sophia's band was eventually forced to retreat, the enemy had superior numbers and wielded a great amount of spears, while the slingers were still lacking in aim. There was few causalities, but even those few deaths changed both the Sun-sworn Clade and Four-horn Culture.

Shortly after that first skirmish, the Sun-sworn sent a small group. They returned the untampered bodies of the fallen, establishing a precedent that neither side wished to break lest their own allies called them blasphemous. They also said that any further attempt to graze Sun-sworn territory would be meet with force. The messengers were allowed to leave in peace.

The small camp that they had originally established to continue negotiations grew and changed. It had became a war encampment. Both sides believed that they had stronger claim to the land than the other, and both sides believed that they needed the land if they were to flourish.

Overall, the Sun-sworn were stronger, however their defenses were spread thin across the entire territory that they wished to claim. The conflict started to develop its own tempo. The Four-horns would find a weakness in the Sun-sworn defense, and take some grazing land on the fringe of their claimed territory. Eventually, the band would graze until they need to find fresher pastures or the Sun-sworn mustered their force and drove them out. And then the Four-horns would find another weakness, and so the cycle continued.

Sophia was mediating a particular fierce talk between two marshals about trading salt and spears for a foal. It was interrupted by a slinger warning the marshals about a wool-eye attack force. This was not the first time the encampment had been attacked, but this was the largest force that has been sent against it. It was reported that at least three marshals spotted rallying the attackers. It was rare for marshals to be apart of attacking forces, due to the value placed upon the horse and the leadership they provide.

Sophia and the marshals quickly mounted their horses and prepared for the assault. It was not long after the wool-eyes began charging at the encampment. The chaos of battle quickly ensued as they were meet with a volley of rocks. None had matched Sophia's accuracy, however several were beginning to get close.

The adversaries frontline consisted entirely of knife-men, their clothing padded with wool to help cushion them against attacks. However, it provided little protection against the brute force of the slings. Most who where who hit were forced to retreat, however those hit in the head were not as lucky.

The Sun-sworn knifemen who managed to pass through the storm of stone engaged with the Four-horn knifemen. The Four-horns had the advantage as they had far more experience in combat. However behind them were the Sun-sworn spearman, who had superior arms and some where equally experienced.

With the two armies clashing, the slingers were no longer able to wildly aim or else they might hurt one of their own allies. Many put there slingers on their belt and drew a dagger, while the most accurate among them attempted to keep the spearman at bay. Without projectiles raining from the sky, the Sun-sworn marshals were able to ride in with their spears.

There was in truth four opposing marshals to the four-horns three. However a stray stone flew over the heads of the knifemen and spearmen and threw one of the marshals from his horse. The only one with that accuracy was Sophia. She had slain that Eidolon with the same stone she had killed the bird on the ancestor-led encounter. Afterwards she returned her sling to her belt and one of her attendants handed her spear to her. It was light in her hands, and she knew that meant she had the war spirit's favor.

Sophia knew that many Eidolon would met their ancestors in the shroud today. She assisted one of the sun-sworn spearman on that journey, driving her spear through his chest. The Eidolon were still learning about the ways of warfare, and didn't have a strong formations. However as Sophia approached, a wall of knifemen formed to both of her sides. Knifemen had protected the other marshals as they entered the fray, but not as fervently.

While Sophia held the center, the Sun-sworn began to retreat. She had learned that wool-eye knifemen became distracted by something, allowing one of their knifeman to drive his dagger right into one of their marshal's horses. She had our force stand at guard in case they regroup or sent another wave. Eventually the sun began to set, and Sophia ordered her troops to gather up the fallen and their possessions. The next day, a lone wool-eye marshal arrived and discussed about how their fallen and there worldly items would be returned. There was some disagreement about taking from the dead, however they would not want their band's heirlooms lost to the enemy and nor would they wish to upset the shroud maid.

After that, a service was held for the Four-horns who died in combat. They were first brought some distance away from the camp to not attract predators to it. It had became sadly routine. The salters at the encampment would extract and clean their cores, which would be returned to their respective bands. Their bodies covered in pelts, before the pelts were coated with blood. Distinct from regular graves, desa berries were placed around them. Only after the bodies were tended to did the people at encampment all gather around to eat and tell stories about the fallen.




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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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Sailor Zenia


&






On an ordinary day, it would be a rare event to see a shooting star. To see a star moving upwards into the sky was no doubt impossible, even to the primitive societies making their home on the Galbar. Yet despite such impossibility, it was just such an impossible movement that could be gleaned in the sky. A golden comet burned bright through the upper limits of the atmosphere, before finally breaking loose of all resistance and no longer being visible to the untrained eye.

It wasn't a comet in the typical sense, of course, but rather a hurrying golden-haired goddess with no sense for the safety of birds nor the ridicule of watchers below as they'd eventually try to convince their friends what they'd seen. Zenia was on a schedule, or so she had convinced herself, and that imagined schedule allowed for no more lazy sight-seeing. She would nip to the moon and back, just to be able to answer honestly about what it was like. Then she could get back to what she was doing, whatever it was that she was doing. In the heat of the moment, she struggled to recall more than how weird it had felt to utter her decree.

Zenia could not focus on that either, as the satellite orbiting the Galbar dominated ever more of her vision and took up her attention. She marveled over its imposing size, and stared at it curiously, even as she felt that it was staring back at her. That big formation looked like an eye, but she wasn't sure it had always been like that. What if the moon itself had been the mysterious speaker she had heard and felt back then? How would she greet the moon?

Her question went unanswered as the distracted goddess crashed headlong into the surface of the moon itself, kicking up dust and gravel like a digging animal. A flattened vague imprint of her dented the middle of a new crater, and Zenia quickly rose to her feet to dust herself off after her arguably successful landing.

This was a cold, airless, and altogether eerie world. Though most were not so easily seen from the Galbar, the moon had too many scars to count; they spotted the surface like little pockmarks. Most of the lesser craters had been gouged by the ejecta of that first colossal impact that had set the moon into its dance, but there also were great chasms and rifts sprawled across the surface thanks to Iqelis’ work.

The afterglow of the many ruinous powers that had shaped the surface muddled with the vast amounts of exotic mana in the crust, as well as with the even more alien and mind-altering magic that had come as a byproduct of Epsilon’s brief presence and subsequent explosive departure. But there was something more, something not so easily seen or accounted for:She who is Ever at the Shoulder.

The Reverberation’s vastness dwarfed even Voligan’s towering body, and even now her nebulous sea of consciousness rolled across the moon. The invisible tides surged towards Zenia at the speed of thought, prepared to welcome a guest or destroy an interloper -- there was no telling, and there was likewise no stopping it. The imperceptible clouds wrapped all about her in a bubble, and it was suddenly as though she stood within the eye of a great cyclonic storm. It was only a single probing tendril that extended out from Yudaiel’s immensity to touch Zenia.

Spring erupted, and where there had been lifeless and blanched stone underfoot now blossomed grass and wildflowers. The soothing hum of bees, the homely scent of nectar, the lazy eddies of wind, and the warm sun bid her welcome.

But then something strange came: a shooting star descended, and where its fiery descent met with the ground came a great smoldering crater. Dirt was flung into the air, cherry trees were incinerated or blasted into splinters, and the grass was burnt black all around this horrific wound to the perfect garden.

The sun darted like a hare across the sky, chased by stampeding masses of clouds that soared faster than any clouds ought to have moved. Time passed rapidly, but the grass did not regrow, for now it was autumn and everything was brown and withering. And then from the sky fell a single ominous portent.




The golden-haired goddess' attention span was rivaled only by that of the speckled bark sparrow, which future zenii bestiaries would conclude never existed. As such, though her initial usually implacable smile shifted to worry for a brief time on partaking in these visions, it was swiftly replaced by a confident and almost sly expression.

"The cold is, you know, nothing to be scared of. There are tons of fun things to be, like, done with the snow and stuff too." Zenia spoke to the presence. To prove her point, she conjured the same miniature ball of ice and snow that she had made to resemble Chailiss, and held it up to show its harmless nature. "Things will always change, but that's, like, no reason to be scared. There will always be time to, like, appreciate life."

This breezy confidence did not manage to last either, as somewhere deep inside the goddess a niggling doubt took root and dared to analyze her experience further. To look beyond the surface of the message and make a basic attempt at interpretation. However her subconscious handled such a task, the Zenia on the surface did not like the result, and her smile faltered again to give room for a thoughtful, distracted frown.

"Are you who I heard?" Zenia asked to distract herself from further analysis. Further suggestion that responsibility and planning was something that became her in the slightest. Still, a dent had been made.

A moon shoved aside a swathe of grey cumulonimbus clouds, but it was definitely not the Galbar’s moon. She had already landed on that moon, after all, and this one was alight with a brazen gaze… vast volcanic eruptions made its surface swirl with ash, even as an infernal glow came from an ocean of magma in the middle of its face. The distant volcanoes erupted with renewed fury, and even through the void of space, their rumble was audible and felt. It was the sound of the land being sundered apart, or mountains being ground to dust and gods suddenly looking like mere flies as they were incinerated by inordinate and incomprehensible forces. That evil moon was the speaker and the source of these strange sights.

Even as Zenia remained still, the land marched underfoot, and now waves of cold snow danced overhead as they fell. The hills and glades stampeded all around as the horizon sprinted ever closer, until suddenly Zenia was somewhere very familiar.

There were all the obelisks that she had left to sustain and care for the Zenii, and yet there was no sign of life. Compelled by something that she didn’t understand, she approached one of the black pillars and stooped down to brush aside a layer of snow. The stuff was soft and fluffy, and it tickled, almost like fuzz… beneath the snow, her hands had brushed against a head of hair matted with hoarfrost. The snow came alive and threw itself off of the frozen body as easily as any other blanket, and then she was met with the grim sight of Masol. His face was anemic yet his extremities, where the blood had pooled, were gross shades of black, blue, and purple.


Zenia was stirred by something deep and primal, a fearful recognition of oblivion and the stillness of death. Her eyes were wide, as distraught over her obelisk's failure to ward away the chilling frost as she was the horrific sight of her bloated mortal trustee. Her fists clenched, her only security at first, trying to reconcile what she experienced with her view of existence itself. Of course, there was no celebration to be found in such a bleak vision. Only dread, and it took a visible toll on the golden-haired goddess expression as she struggled to contain herself.

"Wh-Why would you show me this?" she accused with shaky conviction. "What good can, can come from… this sort of darkness?"

The air grew palpably hotter, though Zenia might not have noticed.

Zenia did not remain idle after her accusation. Her feet squared and buried themselves in a firm stance on the cold surface where she stood. Her expression now permanently tainted to a worried frown. She bid her eyes closed several times to sort reality from vision. To a deity, was there a difference? That question was beyond her ken.

Yudaiel saw that her threat seemed to have gone entirely over her head; whatever emotion that the ideabstracted projected having done little to guide Zenia’s bubbly, vapid thoughts.

Zenia’s consciousness and perspective were wrenched free of whatever ephemeral body they’d been arbitrarily confined to in that dreamscape. From an omniscient perspective, the goddess saw a beautiful marbly palace as it was shattered and set aflame by some brazen star that fell from the sky. Fury guided her to investigate the damage, but when she came upon the smoking crater that had once been a thousand rooms, she saw herself laughing in the center.

But then she suddenly saw herself standing among the Zenii from that same bird’s eye view. Masol and the others had been restored to life, she noticed, and much needless worry and ache was lifted from her by that. She tried to push aside those momentary horrific visions of them dead in the cold, to consign those memories to oblivion and forget them forever, but the she heard a clamor among the Zenii and looked up: the auspicious moon was ten times larger than it ought to have been, and it was growing larger fast.

It was falling right out of the sky and it was going to crush them all.

Some Zenii fled in terror, taking to the forest and vainly thinking that they might stand a chance at making it some safe distance away. Others sat catatonically, accepting the end of times as readily as they might accept the rain. But far more of them flocked all about her as they begged and pleaded for salvation. But Zenia had her gaze locked upon the moon, and she felt strangely slow, weak, and powerless -- frozen, in a word.

Reflexively she raised her hands up above her head in the last moment as the moon tore through the sky with a hellishly bright glow, and then when the ground and half of Galbar was instantly obliterated, those hands were the only thing that kept the horrible eye of that pupil from pressing itself against her face.

But then the nightmare ended.


Zenia was left standing with her arms raised protectively, something akin to a reflexive fighting stance. The dread that suffused her being now - an incoherent jumble of confusion, worry, fear and frustration - was apparent on her features; how she crouched together to protect zenii that were no longer there, how her typical lazy smile could not find its way back through labyrinthine worry-lines and anguished, deep-set frowns. The experience was visibly making the goddess reevaluate her haphazard approach to meeting others. Despite still being stood in an impact crater of her own making however, it grew increasingly unlikely that she would ever recognize her faults.

Then a miracle occured, borne either out of desperation or frustration, or perhaps due to some measure of both. Zenia squared her shoulders and shouted at the threatening presence - at Yudaiel. "Look," she began like an angry barfly boiling over. "Whatever, like, made you this way, I'm sorry. I just came up here to, like, check on the voice I heard. Out of kindness, you know?"

Despite her lackluster apology, Zenia appeared in no way apologetic. As a matter of fact, her features had warped to an annoyed frown; the antithesis of her typical existence. "I come here to, like, help out, and you're making me feel all kinds of, like, gnarly stuff. Not okay." She lectured, raising an accusatory finger towards nowhere in particular. "You could do with some fun, like, seriously. You need it more than Homura, you know! And that's, like, no small feat."

The wispy tendril that had touched Zenia’s mind withdrew. She remained within a bubble of sorts, a void surrounded by the whirling storm of the moon goddess’ unseen essence. The sphere all about Zenia grew thicker; no longer content to merely reach over from her place in the moon’s socket, Yudaiel brought her entire form to bear. The storm grew wilder, and motes of lunar dust were animated by latent, barely restrained, telekinetic potential.

And the dome of the invisible sphere that enclosed Zenia suddenly turned inside out, and the sensation of a pupil’s fiery gaze boring into her was manifest; no longer merely within the eye of some storm, now she was inside of an eyeball of sorts. And the eye was still angry!

So much heat radiated from the glowering eye that the regolith beneath Zenia’s toes began to soften and melt. The puddle bubbled, and with a spurt, belched up a thousand tiny sparks and droplets. The tiny things began to drift back down slowly in the moon’s gravity, like a strange sort of glowing rain, like falling sparkles. By the time they were reunited with the ground, they had been reforged into tiny diamonds. Most of the jewels were just the size of grains of sand, some were most like motes of dust, or even too small to see.

The poetry of ideabstractions evidently incapable of imparting any real understanding in this one’s mind, Yudaiel was made to stoop down to crude and primitive speech in the way of sound-sending. Just the thought that this one made her debase herself in this manner was enough to incense Yudaiel even more.

A thought was all that it took to telekinetically gather up a powdery cloud of the fine jewels, and then ram it into Zenia’s ear. The diamonds were sharp and they cut and tore, but moreover, they resonated, and from their guided vibrations came the sound of a voice. It was odd and disorientating and uneven, that tiny whisper that came only from one ear,

”I have watched you from afar. Never did I deign to strike, but I C̴̗̮͛̊̿Ǫ̸̰̟̰̒Ǔ̸͈L̷̺̲̲̭̀̂̐̂D̷̡͖̔͜,” the voice mused, the last word made deafening and punctuated with just a hint of telepathy; it evoked the ugly memory of Masol’s frozen corpse.

”I do not need more enemies,” Yudaiel suddenly realized aloud, ”but how am I to react to this RUIN you have wrought upon my moon? To these insults you level? Your idea of ‘fun’ might not be my own.”

Zenia had barely shown she was listening, even though hearing Yudaiel's furious message rumble in her mind was hardly optional. Her ignorance continued instead in a physical act of defiance, more intent on digging her finger into her ear in some skewed attempt to nurse the pain and fish out the intruding motes - an impossible and futile feat. To her meagre credit, Zenia did not appear particularly intimidated by the imposing psychic storm surrounding her, nor did she seem to reconsider at hearing the venom transmitted into her ear. Despite failing to engage with the threatening visions, they had by far rattled her the most.

When the goddess of revelry gave up on spelunking in her own ear with a few bitter hisses of pain, she glanced upwards with a firm, unyielding expression. "How can you know if you don't, like, try?" she challenged with a shout. The firmness in her stance suggested she was aware of the threat even if she didn't acknowledge it. "If you think I, uhm, ruined something, I guess I'll just fix it. No need to, like, be such a clod about it. What sort of things do you like? I'll, you know, make you something nice. Flowers?"

The rattling and churning inside her ear canal ceased and offered a brief respite; the demon who lived on this barren world seemed to be thinking for a moment. Maybe it’d finally gotten where she was, like, coming from..?

”I can See, and so I know,” the voice declared with infuriating certainty muddled with a hint of smug superiority and consternation. ”My forgiveness would come at a price -- just a measly thing, for this SCAR upon my work could be undone. You should surrender gladly what I ask, anyways; you are not fit to guide them.”

And a tendril of consciousness shot forth from the storm to lance Zenia through the temple of her head, and this cryptic ‘price’ was shown as clear as crystal:

The familiar homeland of the zenii was made to recrudesce. It was night that looked cold, and there were some snowdrifts that smelt of dreams. In the gloom the shadows were long and the sky an otherworldly lilac as the moon glowed bright behind a half-cover of clouds.



The zenii appeared, each and every one of them. They did not move and seemed almost ghostly, as though weaved from fog, but the tailor that worked clouds into people seemed to have taken great care to portray them exactly right. Every one of these dreamy zenii had a living equivalent somewhere down on the Galbar, and every living zenii had an immaculate simulacrum in its likeness to represent it there. A select four hundred of the assembled mass were suddenly alight with argent light, while the moon’s harsh rays dispersed the cloudy forms of all the others.

Zenia watched with care, eyes shifting greedily over the scene and wheels turning in her head. The fortitude with which she applied herself now implied she could have done so prior, but it seemed that only now had Yudaiel garnered enough attention to make the golden-haired goddess partake properly of this dreamlike vision. Indeed, much as her previously undaunted self, the demand for four-hundred of her zenii did not particularly seem to bother her, even though her gaze flitted over each of the incorporeal simulacra. If she recognized particular zenii among the chosen she did not show it or remark upon it.

”With a lead-up like that, I thought you were going to, like, demand something way more wicked. They’re yours, of course, I don’t, like, mind.” Zenia concluded matter-of-factly. She assumed a rough approximation of Homura’s voice and tone, straightening herself out in idle mockery. ”I am loathe to gift you these people after such aggression.” she bobbed her head left and right in negation, as if she imagined the goddess of honour would ever do such a thing. ”To seal our deal, you must swear never to harm my children as you threatened. You shall not lay your own hand ‘pon their skin or mind.” Zenia finished with a lecturing shake of her finger, then cleared her throat and glanced up nowhere in particular at the psychic storm.

Telekinetic power tore into the ground before Zenia, hewing out a slab of stone The next pulses of psychic energy came faster than the eye could follow: bits of stone were blasted away or vaporized as a precise will chiseled it into a new shape, polished it perfectly, and finally saw that it was vitrified by a searing heat. The end product was a hollow vessel with a handle on either end, and its pale surface was impossibly smooth and lustrous. The ewer radiated palpable divine power, too. Yudaiel had been silent and swift throughout the work; it hadn’t taken her long, but the pregnant pause was still enough to make Zenia squirm.

”That’s only, like, fair, isn’t it? It would be a total bummer for me, you know, if, like, I gave you my kin and then you, like, hurt the others.” Zenia added with what she thought was impeccable logic. It was clear by the smug expression of her face, which came with the hint of her original smile. She was answered by another wave of vivid imagery.

A familiar one of the zenii stood in a clearing: Curious Medaka she’d first been dubbed by Zenia -- the goddess remembered at least that one, and she also recalled naming her for her festive and thirsty spirit on meeting the goddess. Andromeda was what she had taken to calling herself, though, for reasons Zenia could not fathom.



Andromeda stood before a great assembly of other zenii arranged into a crescent. With her included, they numbered twenty score. She held in her hands the ewer, that thingie that had just been made, and before a gawking crowd she lifted it above her head. A ray of moonlight danced inside the open vessel’s burnished interior. For an instant the silvered mouth of the decanter scintillated and gleamed like a prismatic jewel, but then the moonlight was distilled into a mystical fluid suffused with light and magic.

Before them all, Andromeda overturned the ewer and showered her face and body of anagogic water and moonlight. She and her dress were drenched, but she looked only nobler for it somehow, and did not shiver in the night’s cold. Baptized, she finally spoke, but not to the throngs of zenii assembled. Instead, she turned around to face Zenia. The goddess was invisible, formless, just a disembodied and dreaming viewer, and yet somehow Andromeda Saw her. And when she spoke, Zenia wasn’t sure whose voice she heard.

“The others are safe from the goddess. We are her faithful chosen and enact her will upon this world, for her hands are bound to another, higher plane,” the high priestess, for that was what Andromeda was, spoke in soft, gentle words that nonetheless echoed like thunder. Some discordant power gave weight to each syllable, and the words carried more than sound -- a kaleidoscope of color flashed to the tune of each word; Zenia Saw all of that through the lens of a third eye that she hadn’t ever known she had.


The eerie show captivated Zenia enough to leave her staring dumbly for a time - perhaps finally thinking each experience and expression through properly. She touched her forehead briefly, as if to feel for a change. The smile was gone again, but it was not worry that replaced it, but a thinned and firm concentration. Eyebrows digging deep into an intense, thoughtful frown.

"So be it." Zenia affirmed at last, with no alteration to her voice or added pomp. Again she turned away from the vision in front of her as if Yudaiel was wherever she directed her vision. The vision of gathered zenii did not appear to keep her attention, despite her urge to keep them safe both from the Moon and each other. Perhaps she had already made up her mind. "Now, what's, like, your idea of fun? Since you, you know, said it's not like mine."

Dimensionality and the shape of everything became oddly distorted. Mighty pines became specks of dust, and the zenii were in one moment lanky and in the next they were so horizontally compressed and vertically taut that they resembled strings of spidersilk, so narrow as to be nearly invisible. And they were all tangled into one sprawling, discordant web. There were no horizons, for the web was infinitely vast and it sprawled here to infinity and there back to the dark beginning of time, and still a ways further back from there. Great twin looming shadows stood menacingly in the direction of either end; they seemed distant, but also were near impossibly large, such that there was no perceiving just how near or far they were. But an unbreakable will mandated Zenia not examine them too closely, and so she could only see them out of the corner of a corner of her third eye; some parts of the spiderweb were not meant to be seen.

Aside from that foreboding mystery, everything was pretty in a sort of way that made your head hurt.

In some places, the spiderweb was fixed and petrified, all the colors immutable like dried paint. In others, the webs were ephemeral and not even truly there, and somewhere between were all the spiders, some tiny and some incomprehensibly vast. There was one big one skittering about wildly that Zenia suspected to represent herself, but that was a very odd thought. Not because she could not see herself as a spider, but because viewing herself in any capacity brought about a strange sensation niggling in the back of her mind and rushing down her spine. It was enough for her to seek focus elsewhere.

Occasionally the spiders made some particularly hideous configuring of strands, and a helpful moon (it existed somewhere both inside of and above the web; Zenia didn’t know how she hadn’t noticed it at once!) danced into perspective and righted the shape into something more palatable.


Zenia tapped her chin in thought, viewing this vast and nigh endless web, following the correcting moon with due diligence. Her observation this time around indeed suggested that the golden-haired goddess possessed the ability to pay attention when it suited her, for now there was enough movement and dizzying detail for her ever-bored mind to satiate itself with imagery both shallow and deep. She attempted to reach out and probe the illusory web with a finger, out of curiosity more than anything else, but thought better of it before she ever touched anything. Perhaps she did not dare confirm the nagging thought that this was more than a simple representation deep in her mind.

”You-.. Like, look at what goes on and, like, jump in to change things when you need it?” Zenia professed as much to herself as to Yudaiel, as if speaking the words aloud made it real and tangible, and possibly correct. Zenia tilted her head, her previously unknown third eye still following the skittering spiders wherever they went. Except that which might be her own. And the shapes at either end. ”That’s pretty exciting, I guess.” she continued with a barely enthused tone. ”I mean, I can, like, see how it would be kind of exciting to, like, you know, follow events and see what happens and stuff. Seems kind of hectic, though, you know?”

Her own words inspired a rush of excitement in the goddess, and Zenia whipped around with grand reverie as though Yudaiel would be standing directly behind her. “I know! If you ever get tired of this sort of fun, I’ll make sure to, like, mix it up for you! Just let me know and I’ll uhm, rattle some threads! Yep! Make sure it’s all, like, exciting and unpredictable and compelling.” Zenia put her hands to her sides confidently. This was a good idea, she surely thought to herself. A good idea and a generous and kind gesture. Such was apparent in her expression, a smug self-serving smile lacking any and all deeper consideration.

A monstrous gadfly buzzed loudly into the plane. It was bigger than most of the spiders, much bigger; in a perversion of the natural order of things, the fly preyed upon the spiders. It tore through webs as it went, sending wild ripples through the whole web and leaving gaping voids, sowing chaos as it snatched up and consumed tiny spider after spider. Muddled with the fly’s buzzing was the sound of rushing water, of a great black tide surging forth to drown the world. The fly buzzed closer to Zenia, and seemed to grow larger as it did -- she saw curious details like one of its eyes missing. And when it was right in her face, trying to bite -- she could not swat it, for it was too agile -- its mandibles opened and dark, poisoned spittle Flowed out.

Mercifully, the cyclopean fly shrieked as a sudden beam of moonlight impaled it. Its wings were torn off by unseen hands, and then it was slowly, cruelly, crushed into a pulp.


Zenia stood quiet for a time, staring at the remnants of this unpleasant appearance. Like a doe captivated by a distant flame, it wasn't so much that she was frightened or worried as simply stuck in place. Her thought process was almost visible from the outside as she mentally decoded what she experienced.

"Oh, I get it!" Zenia exclaimed excitedly soon after she finally blinked. Whatever revelation she had reached it appeared to please her greatly, judging by the constant that was her reappearing happy expression. "You are, like, devoted to fighting evil, just like me!" This guess seemed to excite her enough to box against the shadows, as if to contribute to destroying the unknown. "To be honest, I had a feeling. Don't worry, I am, like, totally devoted. I made a promise to Homura to, like, fight for good. You know? You can count on me. We've made, like, a big trade and everything. Just call if you need help, and I'll, like, strike down the bad… uhm… flies." Zenia rambled on, apparently deciding that Yudaiel was worthy of sharing with based on her own assumptions.

If leaving meant assent, Yudaiel seemingly agreed. Or perhaps she had grown too exasperated instead. The ideabstractions collapsed to make way for Reality’s return, and the swirling clouds of consciousness that had encased Zenia and animated the lunar stone and dust seemed to be retreating back to that one vast crater from whence they’d come. Zenia was left alone once again on the surface that cold, barren, alien world. The jewel looked pretty from afar, but perhaps less so in person. The Galbar was suspended overhead, a much more welcoming sapphire of deep blues and greens, with a few wispy white clouds and one icecap. At least the diamonds had finally, like, dislodged themselves from her ear canal -- that was sort of, like, a goodbye, right? Oh, and there was a parting gift too! The resplendent Moonstone Ewer remained on the ground just before the goddess where it’d been set, but, like, she couldn’t even keep it for herself or she’d be stealing!

Zenia frowned and scratched at her temple as she made ready to return and give the pretty bauble to that Andromeda girl. She dreaded having to fly around and look for one zenii in the crowd. But a promise was a promise, right? With that thought lingering, the goddess of revelry leapt spacewards and thus left the bleak and alien landscape with the same burst of speed as she had arrived. Fortunately, it did not damage the moon… much.



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Voligan


And

The Monarch of All


Voligan stood at the top of the Earthheart mountain, looking up towards the Palace. He turned into his true form and raised his voice to the heavens. “Lord of Creation! I, the Great Bearer of Lands, have come to request something of you. I have noticed the storm that haunts Galbar’s skies. I have seen the devastation and grief wrought by the attacks of my siblings on their own flesh and blood. I wish to prevent such crimes from happening again, and to fight with you against the battle that is coming. The bones of Galbar strain and groan with the rising tension of the conflict to come. I wish to be your Champion against whatever darkness plagues our canvas.” Voligan waited in his kneeling position with his head bowed, for the Monarch of All to respond. There came no voice, though; there was no grand statement from the Monarch of All, but the bridge to the Palace of the Divine extended itself to Voligan, opening the heaven so that one of His spawn may return.

Voligan entered the palace, turning his form to that of a humanoid made of shining silver, reflecting the red of the palace. He arrived before the Monarch of All, getting down on one knee and bowing his head towards this creator. It was always better to seem as humble and deferential as possible when one was requesting gifts from their creator. And creator was a far more fitting title for the Monarch than Father. The elder god was too distant, too overbearing, too demanding to be any paternal figure.

“With your blessing, and as your champion I would protect the canvas you have charged us with and ensure that no more of my siblings commit such gruesome crimes as familicide. I will be our shield against the darkness inside of my family, and your sword against the darkness that the earth of Galbar warns all of us of.” Voligan spoke calmly and clearly, head still bowed towards the Monarch of All.

The Monarch of All’s eyes went to Voligan, burning in his soul before the Monarch slumped back within the Jade Throne allowing the ruse of royal strength to fade as He had little to give at that time. The Almighty let out a pain groan, taking the time to think of an answer for the earth god as the pain radiated outwards, almost palpable to even Voligan. The hallowed form of the Ruler was battered from a previous fight, scars slowly receding into His form were noticeable all across His body. There was a sigh as the pain withdrew and the Monarch of All gazed upon Voligan once more, before His pained voice manifested itself weaker than it normally was.

”And what makes you worthy of being such a champion? Worthy of warring upon my behalf against those that wish to oppose my will?”

"I am the strongest of all my siblings." The statement was spoken matter-of-factly, without a boast or a hint of pride. He could feel the pain of his creator, the Monarch's battered form just at the edge of his vision.

"My siblings relied on my strength to raise the lands they now paint. When Ao-Yurin's sea water remnant attacked Rosalind, it was I who defeated her. When Aletheseus attempted to kill Rosalind, daring to question the power of your shackles, I was the one who defeated him. I have raised mighty mountain ranges to and islands that connect the two main lands, all without my strength faltering."

"I possess the self-control and wisdom to carry out your will without resorting to killing those that you do not wish to be killed. Much like the justice you meted out to Yudaiel, I am capable of bringing your will to bear without killing. Of course, my strength is more than capable of destroying whomever you deem deserves such a fate. My strength would be yours to direct, with the trust that it would not require your constant oversight."

There was silence as the Monarch of All’s gaze continued to wash over Voligan before He motioned a hand for the gods to rise. It was only until the great Supreme One let out a light, cruel chuckle that He would allow yet more words to callously move their way to the earth god. They seemed to be taunting in nature, almost looking for a reaction from Voligan as they swarmed into his mind with a dark, infectious hold.

”Would you say such things had you heard about my judgement upon your niece, Ea Nebel? How she is to endure four trials or die?”

If Voligan’s form had possessed any features, there would have been a twitch. A small crack in his deferential facade. As it was, there was the most fleeting of emotions from the now standing Earth god. Worry and anger appeared and were covered by the same calm confidence as before so quickly that any other being would have wondered if they had been felt at all.

“She is strong. She possesses the fire of her mother and the will of her father. She will take on these trials and not only survive them but grow from the experience. She will prove herself to you and all others that may be watching. And if not…” Voligan shrugged, almost pulling it off as a careless gesture. “Her father made her promise to not flee her doom.”

“Your judgement is unquestionable, your word is law. I would, and will as your champion, continue to enforce that even if I had been there for your judgement of Ea Nebel.”

”Your words convey unquestioning loyalty, yet, you wavered. I felt it.”

The cruel inflection of the voice had dropped itself, giving way to far more neutral one as the Monarch of All had responded to Voligan’s loyal words. However, He was able to detect the brief anger that the earth god had felt despite his best efforts to hide such feeling from the One. Voligan did not deny the claim but simply stood, awaiting the next words from his lord.

It was a tense few moments before the Monarch of All arose from His throne and continued His wordless gaze on Voligan, light reflecting off the form and decorating the walls. The Monarch of All spread two of his hands wide, outstretching them to either side of His form as His will manifested into cold words once more.

”There are beasts and monsters far more powerful than you that roam beyond and within the veil. I have faced such beasts, as has Tuku, we have slain the great Pariah. Could you accomplish such feats through strength alone? Could you face down death with unbroken will?”

“If my strength alone was not enough and my death was not required for victory, either right then or later, I would retreat and create weapons to increase my power. I have a talent for crafting, I have discovered. It is an aspect I would like to claim to further my skills as your champion and to more easily create whatever is needed to enact your will.”

Voligan looked up at the Monarch of All. Storing away the tidbit of information that he had been given. Things stronger than the gods? Strong enough that the Monarch needed help to slay them? That was something to be considered later. “I do not fear death, Lord of Creation. My will is my strength, and my strength is my will. If my death is required to protect my siblings, yourself, or the canvas you have created I will do so gladly.”

”You have proven to be loyal, to be a protector of family and the weak. Then let it be so, Voligan, Great Bearer of Lands, that you shall become my champion. You shall be my sword, arbitrator of my will, and protector of the Divine Palace and Galbar.”

As the Monarch of All spoke, power flooded into Voligan’s very soul as he was branded the Champion of the Monarch of All and imbued thusly imbued with the power that such a position held. The two hands that had sat at the ruler’s sides reached out and laid themselves to rest upon the shoulders of Voligan, their weight heavy but uplifting. His gaze met that of the earth god and it brought untold warmth to his soul, as the power continued to course through him until it fell away and became one with Voligan. The Earthheart was surprised by the weight, bracing himself as he received both the power of the Monarch and the weight of His gaze. Voligan’s silver form began to shine with an inner glow as he received the gift of the Monarch.

Once more would He speak, His voice presiding over the newly dubbed Champion of the Monarch.

”To this end, breaking the covenant that is being my champion will strip you of this power and you might not ever be able to regain it until proven worthy once more.”

Voligan nodded his understanding. With the title came responsibility, and if he neglected those responsibilities he would lose his title. It was only fair.

“I will be the sword and the shield, Lord of Creation. And I will not fail in those duties. To further your will and my duties, may I have the Aspect of Crafting, so that I may forge monuments and artifacts to honor you and help Galbar. ”

In a brief moment of consideration, the Monarch of All withdrew His hands, tucking them together as He sat upon the Jade Throne and looking past Voligan for a time, as if His gaze was wandering all over the planet. With a huff, He absentmindedly plucked yet another shard from His chest, loosing a curse of pain as He did so, before allowing the shard to slowly float to the earth god.

”So young and eager for yet more power than has already been gifted to you. Ambition can be a curse if not tended to properly. Do not disappoint me, Great Bearer of Lands.”

Voligan took the shard within himself, gasping as he felt his divine essence be irrevocably changed. His form, once only vaguely humanoid and ill-defined, sharpened into focus like a carved statue as lines of divine power spread all throughout him. His face remained featureless, but he was no longer a crudely shaped god. “My ambition is only borne of my desire to protect our family and paint your canvas as you have demanded, Lord of Creation.” He knelt before the Monarch again, as much out of respect as to catch his breath. The process of receiving a shard was more tiring than expected.

“I thank you for your trust and your gift. Unless you have a specific decree for me, Lord, I will take my leave and continue creating.”

”As a matter of fact, I do have a decree for you Voligan. I will give you this one order, make weapons and armor fit for use by those who would defend the palace. I will require an army’s worth for what I have planned.”

"As you say my Lord. I request to know what I will be making these weapons and armor for. As you are aware, weapons and armor for a Bjork are going to be different than the weapons and armor for a human."

The Monarch of All inclined His head, pondering the thought for a brief few moments before His voice dictated the answer to the champion in a more amused tone.

“Form will not matter. They will be molded into their armor.”

"Understood. Any specific requests for these weapons and armor?"

Gesturing to His body, the scars and wounds left behind by the pariah not so long ago, His voice split the air in a vindictive manner and filled the air with malice and anger. Wrought with a need for further revenge, His claws dug into the sides of His throne carving out the image of the Monarch of All skewering the great pariah upon the trident.

”Let them be powerful enough to fight the beasts that had done this to me.”



No Vigor spent.
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