Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by ActRaiserTheReturned
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ActRaiserTheReturned

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Brey
The wizard god would now cast a single spell. A spell to guard his library. Those who came into the library would be blinded if they came with bad intentions. Intentions to steal or destroy, or otherwise harm anything in the library, for example, including people. Muttering a quick but strong spell under his breath, Brey unleashed this enchantment on the library. "The library needs tighter security. Even this is a little limp wristed of me if I just decided to rest on this as the only security measure." He explained to the library's security staff. "Okay, so, you all keep guard of this library. Eventually I will have to leave."

Brey then returned to eating his dinner, honeyed venison. After enjoying his meal he retired to the library and simply read everything in it. There still wasn't very much there, including the spell books. However, he gave a slight grin. "There is so much work to be done." His mind wandered to the other gods. "There is soooo much work to be done."
"I wonder how Asvarad is doing." He would have to make sure to check on his snake neighbor, soon. It was enjoyable to not be alone. He hoped that he had not been harmed or otherwise slain in the God's War.


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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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The search for the axe hadn't taken long, but it and the walk to the nearest settlement had provided Vatarr with some time to think. The unnamed deity in question that had originally owned the axe had proven to be rather... unstable, but they were still a deity; By the time a mortal managed to catch with the bugger, not only would they had liked replaced their weapon with a new one, but odds were good that the unstable god would lash out and murder them to reclaim the axe without actually hearing them out first and thus missing the fact that they were offering it back to him freely.

Vatarr could of course make the run himself, but between the whole having to pin the bastard down to actually get him to stop shitting himself and trying to flee and the fact that Vatarr had other things to do, he didn't really want too. He also didn't want to keep the axe because... well, Life and Death were better companions by far.

So instead, once he arrived at the nearest settlement, he had bartered for the services of a messenger. In exchange for one of the members of the settlement running both a tablet and the axe northwest into the realm of the deity Brey in order to deliver both items to him, he would teach the settlement how to better construct their buildings to be more comfortable, warm and sturdy. The bargain was struck and after a clay tablet was brought forth and written upon, a young man was selected on the grounds that he was physically up to the task, but not so strong as to the vital to their survival for the few weeks he would be gone.

As per his own end of the bargain, Vatarr spent the rest of the week in the settlement, educating the mortals present on a number of different subjects. While construction was the primary topic most of the time, those who were able to take the time to attend in-between the daily chores of survival and life found that there were other lessons sprinkled within the deities' words. Ideas that by themselves meant little... but when combined with another idea or something that Vatarr had been talking about before, started to take brand new, interesting forms.

So it was that when Vatarr finally departed the settlement, they were already in the process of a few new projects as they worked to refine the knowledge that they had gleamed. As was the nature of humanity, these ideas would soon spread to other settlements and tribes within the Fungal Marshes and the future would seem just that little bit brighter for the humans that had traveled south so as not to bow to the whims of a deity.

Vatarr turned south east. To Node 27.




The nature of the chaotic wastes outside of the stabilized nodes hadn't fundamentally changed from the original journey to Node 26. The raw, chaotic pathways of possibility striving to exist all at once at the same time. Devoid of life because while potential is an almost limitless source of energy, few things can survive the onslaught for long. Those that could were entities worthy of legend, awe and dread.

The battle for Node 27 started the moment Vatarr crossed the border between it and the Fungal Marshes. A chimeric mass of horrific mishmash fangs, stingers, claws, spikes, clubs and tendrils burst from ground, sky and everywhere in-between in a flurry of near mindless hate and fury as they lashed out towards the deity in their midst. Vatarr in turn was a blur of motion as Life and Death swung in an unending counter barrage, melting away the unnatural flesh and bone while healing what blows their master actually sustained as they shattered whatever they made contact with without cruelty or mercy.

The battle raged for days with neither side backing down. Even as limbs and tendrils of the creature were broken or dissolved new ones would spring up to take their place to continue the onslaught, but Vatarr returned in kind as they kept moving forwards regardless of any injury he may have taken along the way. It was a battle of attrition in every sense of the word with both sides prepared for it.

What should have been a three day trip was dragged into a week and a half of unending, vicious bloodshed and battle... but in the end, Vatarr pushed his way to the node at the center of the region and pressed his hand against it for merely a second. The stabilization of reality proved a more decisive, mortal blow then all the destroyed limbs of the battle prior; As all but one reality ceased to exist, those limbs that had been extended and exposed in the combat were shivered from the source, dissolving into a sickly goo before disappearing altogether while an unspeakable roar of pain and fury and anguish faded into an echo.

In its place was a land lightly coated in ash as the molten blood of the world found places close to the surface to bubble and burst. Several minor volcanoes were scattered around the region, providing both mountains rich with ores and fertile ash covered planes in which plants could grow. Water was plentiful, through some of it was acidic to the point of being deadly to anything that tried to swim in it, let alone drink it... the scent of sulfur and the ring of barren ground or dead plant life serving as a warning. Life native to the region would be well equipped to read and respond to its dangers... and while the rewards for settling here were many, those seeking to come in from outside would have to learn quickly or perish trying.







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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Frettzo Summary Lover

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Best Friends


The town stood silent. A dark grey had taken the sky and hollow wind blew between the hovels of the settlement. The usual guards of the palisade and tower were gone, in fact no one was outside, except for the savior of the town. Standing in front of the town, without an ounce of worry or concern on her face was Benea. She stood as if she were waiting for a letter, or perhaps expecting a loaf of bread to rise. Her arms were crossed, stuffing her ivory staff into the crook of her arm. Completely encircling her were eight fully armored paladins.

Copper glinted, reflecting the glory of Benea off their sheen. Shaggy fur plumed wherever the segmented metal stopped and experienced eyes peered from behind visors. At the fore was the largest of the eight paladins, Jermane. He stood holding a round shield as sturdy and imposing as him in his left hand and an equally large shield in his right, both armed with a long spike protruding from the center bosses.

“Well well well, who do we have here?” A familiar, raspy, somewhat muffled voice echoed from the woods, followed by the heavy footsteps of an armour-clad warrior. The first thing that Benea saw coming from the direction of the voice was a glint of light reflected off a metal helmet that she’d seen before plus the vague shapes of dozens of oversized beasts, all stalking through the overgrowth and keeping out of direct sight, though the stalking did nothing to hide their growling and foaming mouths. “If it isn’t the Hydra-lover, along with her boyfriend and many consorts.” Declared the armoured Goddess, coming out of the woods to stand a few meters in front of the group and taking the moment to toss her dented helmet away and regard Benea with a raised eyebrow. “You are here to cover for the humans, I take it? You should be ready to make yourself a new dress if that’s the case, cause the one you’re wearing is going to get wrecked, princess.”

A half-crescent grin curled on Benea’s lips. “I have no idea who you are, darling.”

While Jermane seemed to seize up defensively, Benea kept her usual aloofness about how she stood, with no inclination that she was either in danger or prepared for anything physical, let alone a battle. After her words left her mouth she pinched her chin in a fake curiosity. “Unless of course you all might be the rabble-rousers who have been harassing the gentle people of this town. In which case I do insist on relocating. It’s nothing personal, dear.”

"Ah! You said the word yourself, 'gentle'. The people here are too gentle! All they can do to protect themselves is throw stones, so I'm giving them a push in the right direction." Eleanna nodded in satisfaction at her own words, and proceeded to point her finger at Benea. "Now princess, get out of my way. I admire your guts but you're outmatched and although your beefcake boyfriend looks strong, I doubt he can take on many of my wild friends."

“Again, dear, I have no idea what you’re spouting about.” Benea tapped her cheek in wonder. “I don't suppose you’d prefer to have a pleasant talk about whatever it is that ails you over a nice meal? Perhaps after a bath…” She paused and sniffed. “A very thorough bath.”

The warrior scoffed, “Ah yes, the scent of hard continuous work, how offensive to the senses!” Eleanna declared with a roll of her eyes. “If you want to say something, say it. I have no time for gossip, nice meals or baths. I’d rather we fight it out to be honest…” She trailed off, impatiently starting to tap a foot on the gravel.

“I’m just saying, dear, a little lavender might go very far in your case. Oh! Have you ever tried mixing it with the milk of a coconut?” Benea clasped her hands, getting a few looks from the townspeople peeking out from their hiding places — the paladins on the other hand seemed forever focused, or perhaps desensitized.

Eleanna sighed and deflated a bit. “No. No, I haven’t.”

“Well that’s it, you absolutely must come with me!” Benea flashed a wide, white smile. She took a few steps away from the entire ordeal, the paladins keeping pace. “Come on, dear!”

Eleanna gave a few hand signals to the beasts in the woods and then groaned and followed Benea, pretty much dragging her spear along the ground.

Before Eleanna knew it, Benea was at her side, spouting an endless stream of confessions and ideas. “You know,” she started. “You really are an autumn, but I was wondering what a spring look on you might do for your demeanor. Of course such a change should match your fragrance, dear, so perhaps something with daisies…”

“My lady,” Karlene piped up from behind Benea.

“Yes, darling?”

“There still is the matter of the beasts.”

The goddess perked up and looked at Eleanna, who suddenly looked a lot livelier. “Oh dear, that’s right. Shall they be joining us?”

“Well, who knows! Maybe your waiting staff should go out and find them, otherwise they might miss the party.” Eleanna said with a smirk.

Benea let loose a loud, high-note laugh before grinning at Eleanna. “Oh you silly little scamp, I like to think I’m host enough to go and invite my own guests.” Benea’s hand squeezed Eleanna’s shoulder before turning them both completely around to walk back to the woods. “Come on, then. In the thickets, yes?”

”God damn.” Eleanna cursed under her breath. “They’re very busy. Training, shaving, taking baths. Whatever. Let’s get our thing over with.”

“They… shave in the woods?” Benea offered Eleanna an arched brow. “Well that explains your wardrobe, dear. Don’t worry, Benea is here for you.” She said while Eleanna huffed and crossed her arms, Benea practically dragged her along at that point.

A soft and playful hum vibrated from the goddess’ throat as she came to a stop before the thicket of woods and underbrush. She put one hand on Eleanna’s shoulder and the other she gently stamped her staff into the ground, putting her weight onto it.

“Now where could they be?”

Eleanna slapped Benea’s hand off her shoulder and squared up to her, staring daggers. “That’s none of your business, princess. I mean it when I say this, stop wasting my time. We’re either fighting or you’re getting out of my way and letting me do my job. I don’t have time for any tea, or any biz-quits, and definitely none of your lava coconut shampew or whatever.” As Eleanna finished her rant, more than a dozen beasts rushed out of the woods and surrounded the pair of goddesses, with another dozen growling and hissing and barking at the paladins to keep them away. Their salivating mouths, bloodshot eyes, and twitching muscles betrayed their lust for blood.

Benea cackled. “No need to be so frustrated, darling, it’s all in good fun — here, I’ll show you.”

Before Benea’s sentence could even finish, a powerful white flash overtook the scene. Everything was swallowed by the nothingness and while all senses shut down, Benea’s were alert — and her voice permeated through the veil. “I think I’m going to indeed try the coconut lavender idea first, dear. What do you think?”

Of course there was no way Eleanna could respond as all went white.




Sluggishly, Eleanna awoke and found her feet. She groaned, just now feeling the way her body ached. It was that familiar way that she felt each morning, after waking up from a long night of sleeping on the ground… The only difference being, of course, the fact that she couldn’t really think that well.

Sand shifted somewhere behind her – Footsteps. She shot around, or at least tried to, and found herself tripping on something and falling face-down into the hot sand mid-turn.

A familiar half-baked chuckle reached her ears. She twitched and pulled herself together, feeling a full face blush starting to build.

“You look… cute?” It sounded more like a question than a statement. Eleanna looked up with a raised eyebrow to see her ex-boyfriend, Sun, sitting on the sand right in front of her. His sharp teeth glinted in the sunshine, and his carefully groomed coat of short silver hair seemed to glow with the heat of the desert.

As she processed what he had said, Eleanna felt her heart skip a beat, but for entirely the wrong reasons. He said she looked ‘cute’, which was wrong. She wasn’t supposed to look ‘cute’! She was supposed to be fearsome and awe-inspiring! As the Bronzed Bloom of the Daman Lands, she had a very specific image to uphold! Cute just wouldn’t cut it.

“Hah.” Eleanna faked a chuckle, looking away from Sun. He was just messing with her, like always… She hadn’t changed her clothes in months, so she was anything but cute…

A spark went off in her head as soon as she noticed a pair of were-humans nearby, happily sniffing each other and wagging their canine tails. Their coats looked clean and brushed and shiny, and their scars were no longer visible. They looked more like regular pet dogs than war beasts.

“No way…”

Following that, she noticed some hissing and saw a pair of anaconda-like were-beasts admiring each other’s heads, or more specifically, the massive red bows tied around their heads. They, too, looked rested and clean and nothing like the wild beasts that they were supposed to be.

“No, no, no…” Eleanna’s breath came quickly as she rushed back up onto her feet and examined the area around her and Sun. All the were-beasts that she and Were-Taker spent months training now looked like snobby pets and showed no sign of wanting to taste even a small drop of human blood.

Once more since waking up, Eleanna dropped to her knees, shaking.

She tried to get her breathing under control, but it did no good. Her chest felt tight, her nose started to run a little, and the final straw was when she noticed that her outfit felt much lighter than usual. No longer was she wearing her layers upon layers of leathers and chainmail, but a dangerously light, long white dress with a disgustingly fancy pleated hem and equally ridiculous green floral pattern cut around the waist.

Sun walked up to her, carrying something in his right hand and using his left to pat her on the head.

“There, there, dummy. You do look good, you know.” He said, in a tone that made Eleanna look up into his eyes, her own eyes wide and teary. Deliberately, he knelt in front of her and grabbed a lock of her hair and sniffed it, nodding to himself after doing so. “You also smell good. First time for you, huh?”

The bronzed warrior gasped as soon as she noticed the state of her hair and the silver flowers weaved in with it, plus the lavender-coconut scent it gave off, and bawled.

“Oh, and that’s not all, by the way.”

“H-How?! I’ve been h-humilliated, Sun! I… I didn’t even get to throw a punch!” Eleanna said in between sobs.

“Well, at least she gave you a farewell gift. Look.” He said and placed a moderately sized woven basket in front of Eleanna just as she began to calm down. The contents were just dozens upon dozens of small blocks of lavender-coloured blocks. “They don’t taste too bad.” He admitted, pointing at one with a large piece missing.

“Food…? You ate food an enemy gave us.” She wiped at her eyes, a small sob wracking her body as she picked that same half-eaten block and gave it a bite as well, cringing at the extremely strange texture and astringent taste. She spat it out, with Sun laughing at her scrunched up face. “It sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.” Sun said in between laughs, finally patting her on the head again and standing up, offering her a hand which she took. “I do mean it when I say you look and smell good though, as it stands I could even take you to the Festival of the Bronzed Bloom.”

“What? Really? But I thought-”

“That was a lie, the truth is that women have to wear ceremonial dresses to attend the Festival, and I knew you would have flipped out if I tried to force you into one, Anna.” Sun sighed and picked up the gift basket with one hand and held Eleanna’s hand with the other.

“So the reason you broke up with me…” Eleanna asked demurely, looking away and allowing Sun to lead the way.

“Was because you ignore all our customs. You like to think you’re the ‘Bronzed Bloom’ or whatever, but in reality no one really likes it when you crash into our festivities and change everything. I broke up with you to get you to travel and see reality. Being a Goddess won’t automatically mean that you’re going to be in the right or have the power to be victorious every time, dummy.”

Eleanna was silent for a long time, and throughout that time the couple walked through the desert, leaving behind the reformed were-humans and now heading for the heart of the Daman Lands once again.

After an hour or so of walking, Eleanna spoke again.

“My armour is gone… And my spear…” She whispered sadly.

“Yeah, maybe now you’ll get to wear real clothes and stop tying trophies to your spear like a freak.”

“Why are you so mean to me, aren’t boyfriends supposed to be the opposite of mean?”

“Aren’t girlfriends supposed to bathe and wash their clothes at least once a week?”

Eleanna sighed and kept walking.




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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Double Capybara
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Double Capybara Thank you for releasing me

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The Lamps and Shadows of Telum'velik


The sun shone bright, piercing past the window and conquering the room. The goddess almost felt like using her cape of divine power as a simple curtain, if it would help to make the room more comfortable.

She had been trying not to hold a single drop of bitterness in her heart, towards a friend and an ally, but Benea had bound her to a regrettable position.

"My goddess." a guard said as he entered the room. "We have another guest. A mayor..."

The goddess simply waved her hand, signalling for him to let the man pass. Soon the man who called himself the leader of a nearby village entered the room, nodding before sitting on the chair, a finery imported from the Twilight Swamp.

"Hello, your ladyship." he started. "Uhm... I came here today, to this audience, to request your help in protection, and maybe if possible, propose a trade of our resources?"

"W...What?" a dusklander woman by the goddess' side gasped in indignation. "You and your village denied helping us, said we were freaks with the hair of rats, and told us to crawl back into the shadows. Now YOU come here asking for help?"

"Hatzur, that will be enough, let us not dwell in the past."

Indeed, from the wording of the goddess, the group of her people who crossed south expected to be received as peacekeepers and friends, instead, they found nothing but hostility, from beginning to end. First villagers refused to house them, then some bandits were given free rein to harass the group, finally, in the capital Telum'velik, the goddess had to activate her cape's protective powers to walk to the Node, repelling all the stones and dirt being thrown at the group.

Thus began Dzallitsuny's reign on Node 13. Unlike the initial plan, they did not make a base at Tillume Villahke, as the dusklanders called Telum'velik, but something closer to Node 8, Dzalli's own Mirror Marches. This position was advantageous for there was a river that ran from the north all the way down to the sea, not only were her people master at river navigation but rivers and boats were such delicate things that the goddess of dusk could manipulate the situation with minimal divine actions.

The goddess did not want to bring an army to impose her will upon these people, but the truth was that the condition was rigged, the side of the shadows had a goddess, and the side of the lamp was lacking its creator. A lightning strike to a warehouse here, an inopportune rain or hail at the wrong time, and the path for the domination of the river route by Dzallitsunya was cleared. The moral of it was questionable, but the goddess took a pragmatic approach, it was best this way, chaos would retake this land without her leadership, and surely no other god would be as gentle.

With the river taken, the goods of the twilight swamp then flowed in, as bribes or gifts, what was important was introducing them to the wider public, to get the locals "hooked". Silver and platinum, gemstones and amber, clothes, oils and salts for enduring and exotic lamps, dried up tea leaves and spices, cocoa fruit and coca leaves, even many types of mushrooms, the normal and dream-inducing types. Soon the goods of the Mirror Marches would also flow in, Croll had been exploring uses for the many new things that had been found there, from grapes, nuts, and apples in the green valleys to the black cotton-like flowers of the salt flats, the peculiar spiders that seemed to craft webs of crystalline strings or the many bees that existed both on Node 7 and Node 8, suspiciously close to the centre of the nodes, producing very distinct types of honey and wax on each area.

Finally, the third pillar of the goddess's presence in Node 13 was her army. Well kept and always fed thanks to the goddess' blessings and ultimately protected by the goddess herself, who had no qualms about fighting with her people. This group was not meant to conquer cities, but they were not there for just defence either. Bandits and criminals started to increase their presence due to the crisis of faith and the lack of divine leadership, and to the East rumours of beast-like men cannibalising entire villages were spreading, awful but useful.

With all that in mind, she turned to the pleading mayor.

"It is about the recent wave of refugees isn't it? Leaving the east after a village was burned..." she added. "I can lend the boats to move the food to feed them, and help them resettle with my own materials and my people's expertise. I can protect your village but your actual leaders in Tillume Villahke will complain, won't they? Such a troublesome lot, if not for their threat of having my 'embassy' raided I would have moved east already to properly scout and eliminate these raiders."

The mayor gulped at the clear implications of the goddess' words. "We will have a council meeting in Telum'Velik soon. To address some issues... I can put my word for you there. If that helps..." this was the fourth mayor of a local village saying this, it would help indeed. "And about the trade... I visited another village and I saw the silver pendant you gave them, so I was thinking..."

"I do not trade. But friends to my realm will receive pleasant gifts with a formal agreement on some basic rules. After that, you can put requests for resources and goods, and I will see if am able to provide you with them." the goddess added, smiling. "For a start, have this. If you ever see trouble nearing your village, burn his oil in the village's bonfire, it will rise a bright flare that can be seen from afar, that will signal me and my soldiers that you are in need of help."




One of the dusklander guards observed the salad that had been among the produces gifted by the mayor, cabbages, onions and some sort of white round thing with a yellow core. Without thinking much, he took a handful of it and started chewing, trying to identify what the hell the third ingredient was.

One of the other guards looked startled at that. "Dude... that is like, chicken egg." he said, waving his head.

Immediately the salad eater froze, tilting his head. "W...what?"

"Ayup. It's an egg, from a chicken, popped out straight from their rears. They clean and boil it but like it's any better but it's still, you know, messed up man. It's like the lady bird's baby-making stuff, and they eat it." the guard added, smirking.

"No way what..." the other guard coughed the now chewed up salad out, narrowly avoiding vomiting onto the floor. "This is sickening. What is wrong with these people? Don't they have enough food? Why would they eat eggs?"

A female guard nodded at those words. "They also drink milk here, from those large things... uhh... cows yeah?"

"They drink it straight from the tit I hear, as if they were little baby calves." another person said with a laugh. "Sun-landers are messed up in the head man, all this sunlight cooks their brains."

The guard shook his head. "Now you are just making stuff up." he sighed. "I really hope we can go back to the swamps soon."

"Not lying man, ask Zillike when he is back from scouting." then he blinked. "Wait, what are you doing here? Weren't you meant to be in the north?"

"Right. Trouble in the mirror marches, I have a message to send to the goddess."




Telum'velik was of all cities one of the oldest and one of the largest. Being so close to node 18, where all humans had been created, had given it potential, and said the potential was later fully realised by Anak'thas, though without his leadership issues of corruption and slums had started to spread it was still one of the jewels of the world, as far the current level of metropolitan cultures went.

Zillike had been a scout since the start, rarely in the swamp, often in the barren plains and beyond. Unlike most dusklanders, he had maintained a healthy sun-kissed appearance. He could easily blend in with the crowd, and not be called out as one who came from Dzallitsunya's lands. As such, he had been their primary ear in the region, keeping the goddess' embassy informed of any developments.

He noticed a crowd and went to check on them, but it was merely a group of children around a story-telling priest. Something about siblings, a girl and a boy, the girl made many small little lights, represented by a jar of fireflies, one of the goods imported from the swamps, while the boy would make a greater light that dwarfed all others, represented by an oil lamp, a traditional local one. The girl would then live in jealousy of the boy or something, he stopped paying attention when the theme became clear, it was a mockery of his goddess and a declaration of her inferiority to Anak.

These days these types of stories were almost all one could hear, Dzallitsunya leaving and letting the cities be independent had made for some time without much hate for her, but now it had all been rekindled. Something was off, Zillike could tell, so today he decided he would be bold, and try to spy on the council of the city.

Wearing black garbs and given the cover of the night, the young scout climbed up and sneaked past the few gate guards, going to the temple near the node. Since what he was doing was unusual, security in most places was quite weak, Dzallitsunya, in the time she took to claim the node, had also surveyed the central building, even loosening some stones or casting tunnels on the ground to help her future spy once she left. With his skills and such blessings, he was quickly within ear range of the council meeting.

"And this is what the usurper goddess has said to me. She gave me this oil that would turn any fire into a beacon of light, and she would march with her soldiers to its location." said the mayor that had just arrived after visiting the goddess.

"Great! we could lure them in, prepare a trap! If we join all our forces, even a god should fall." answered another.

"At what cost? Half of our adult population? And then what? Wait to be raided by another god, or those animals to the east?"

"So long as she sticks to the river and doesn't try to take cities, I think we can tolerate her."

"I don't feel comfortable making my village the centre of a trap. Not while the goddess is here."

"We could lure her east, she did say that she would go deal with the werebeasts if she was not worried about our forces, we give her our word, and act while she is away."

"All of you are too eager." Spoke Perfek Tilus Tilum’Velik, the governor of Tilum'Velik in the absence of Anak'thas. "Our Lord has returned, it is what everyone in the east says. He is biding his time, creating an army powerful unlike any ever seen, and soon he will march and cast out all usurpers. The word of our brothers is that he has recruited soldiers capable of performing miracles. The plan to lure the invaders is good, but it is not yet the time for confrontation."

This caused the spy's eyes to widen. If he was to be believed, the imprisoned mad god had returned. Zillike felt the pressure upon him now, this was crucial information that he had to tell his goddess. Yet, as soon as he stood up, his heart froze, he was no longer alone in the dark chamber he had been using to eavesdrop upon the council, in front of him, three guards were smirking.

"Didn't I tell you I had heard of a rat scurrying around?" the leader of the guards told, readying his weapon, the dusklander did the same, though he had just a knife, he was not about to just go down without a fight.




The wind blew gently upon the wheat fields nearby Tilum'Velik, under a tall oak tree a single torch was lit.

Perfek Tilus Tilum’Velik stared at the torch and at the bloodied young man fallen on the ground, clearing his throat as soon as he felt a chill of cold wind up his spine. "You are late."

"Have mercy, I am with child." Dzallitsunya smirked, offering the governor a cup of fire tea. "Oh, seems like you have caught Zellike."

"My guards were a bit rough. He lost a few fingers in the sword fight. I am sure you can re-attach them with godly magic. As you did to the assassins we sent against you."

"Any news on Anak'thas?"

"No further contact since the news of his escape."

"I expect he will act soon. When the time comes, try to not make big announcements about where Tilum'Velik will stand..."

"It would be unreasonable to expect us to not side with our creator."

"Yes, but you do not have to say that. Let the people go and fight as you please, but if you announce it, the city will be part of a possible conflict, with enemies in all directions. I would recommend waiting until the safety of the city is guaranteed, until then, at least pretend you will be neutral."

"So you think there will be a heavenly war."

"It is not impossible." she sighed. "So. The brigands to the northeast, near the hills, are they...?"

"Not ours. I would guess it's people fleeing east and going desperate. We have our peace deal Dzallitsunya, and so far it serves our people well."

"On my side, I do not see movements from any other god, the beastmen also seems to have stopped, probably by Benea's actions"

"Right, speaking of that threat, you should do better than to trust every mayor who comes asking for help. That fire you gave today was almost used for a trap."

"That was not for him, that was for you. I will need to leave the region for a few days. If there is any emergency, be it a god or an existential threat to the city, light it up and I will know there is trouble."

"Leave for the north huh?" the governor stroked his beard. "Some sort of trouble up there."

The goddess rolled her eyes, wouldn't he like to know. "No, I am merely incredibly lonely and I want to kiss my husband." she said in an annoyed tone. "Just make sure nobody has funny ideas in the little time I will be away, nothing that would test the patience of a pregnant woman, yes?"

"A conflict with you as we stand now is not of the interest of the people, even if few realise that. Now, did you bring me the goods that I requested?"

"Here. Two disks of gold, and a vial of the poison of the most venomous snake in the swamp. Have fun I guess?" she smirked. "Now, if you excuse me, I need to heal my spy."

As he left, turning off the torch and vanishing into the field of moonlit golden wheat, the goddess sighed in annoyance. "Its trouble after trouble. I really hope Croll did not do anything stupid."



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Angels & Devils



Since the time that the little band Monica had met had set off, the 12th realm had changed once again. Short aqueducts and water wheels dotted its rivers to water and grind its crops, while sturdy bronze plows were drawn by horses are large sail finned lizards, carving furrows into the rich earth. Tall sailed ships with many oars plied the waters, bringing stone, wood, ores and more from the edges of the realm to its center, where the capital and (so far) only city of the realm sat upon the southern bank of a grand lake, beneath the shadow of a volcano on the northern shore.

Smoke billowed from new, better, forges while freshly laid roads bearing just as freshly built carts wove haphazardly among the houses. All of it spiraled inwards to, or rather outwards from, the temple that housed the region’s node. The sprawling complex and its large garden were walled off from the rest of the city by sturdy fortifications who’s gates had never been barred, a steady stream of humans moving in and out through them, the flow lightly managed by bronze armored guards armed with blunt staves and obsidian knives.

Monica soared above, across a clear sky, enjoying the view of all that had been created after she had left however long ago, and attempting to ascertain an appropriate location to alight as she dearly did not wish to disrupt the daily lives of the mortals too much by her presence. She considered her circumstances for another moment, before arriving at the conclusion that perhaps a little celebration was in order, so she chose to descend somewhere in the city that was neither vacant, nor crowded, where she could land with ease. She wanted to greet the locals and spend time with them before she would travel to the gates and visit the temple wherein she hoped she could find Xavior. With a demure demeanor, she approached the first among humanity that was the most nearby and introduced herself with polite words and a soft smile.

Everyone, of course, knew who she was, or as close to as such that the babes and recent arrivals could be excluded as exceptions to the rule. Still, it was one thing to have seen a goddess, it was quite another to meet one in the flesh out of the blue. Their reaction was much the same as the travelers she had met, though in this more comfortable and familiar of environments, there was no latent fear or caution to be found at first. Only amazement, awe, excitement. The only thing bringing the mood down was just a touch of set upon awkwardness from those she first met, which rapidly resolved itself as word spread and the moderately occupied street quickly swelled with crowds as people came to see what all the fuss was about. Soon enough a sea of humanity were clogging the streets and clambering on rooftops to catch a glimpse of the goddess.

Noise swelled and it quickly became quite difficult to hear what anyone was saying or asking due to ambient noise alone until a figure, accompanied by a quartet of bronze clad guards, pushed her way through the crowd “Ok people back it up a little, give the goddess a bit of personal space!” the horned woman with brass skin and dark hair clad in a dark peplos insisted as she got the guards to try and push the greater part of crowd back enough that the goddess would have space to breath.

Once she had a bit of space, the priestess gave a short bow and said, “Greetings goddess Monica. I am Annie, and on behalf of the city and our patron, I welcome you to Eunomia” before standing, smiling warmly and explaining “Xavior sent me to bring you to the temple. Once you're ready to go, that is. If you want a tour, or have anywhere else you’d like to go first, I’d be delighted to show you around”

“I thank you for your very hospitable welcome - this city is such a wonderful place, inhabited by wonderful people. Hmm… I look forward to the opportunity of speaking with many of its denizens, but first I must speak with my brother. Please, lead the way.” Monica quietly answered after an awkward moment of silence had lingered for too long wherein she once again considered her circumstances and contemplated the choices she was given. An evident wistfulness seemed to cast a sunken shade over her shimmering sight; her forlorn and withdrawn gaze which passed over the gathered crowd and cityscape, as though its beauty brought forth reserved sorrow instead of delight. It was difficult to discern truthfully whether Monica wished to explore Eunomia, or hastefully flee from it.

Though the guards had needed to push through the throng of people to reach the lone deity, there was no such need for Monica to take her leave, as something subtle and otherworldly touched upon the minds of all the mortals in the vicinity; an awareness of the world around them beyond the ability of the mundane senses they possessed. An understanding. Instilled with this ephemeral and ethereal cosmic clarity, the comprehensive crowd created an easy path for the procession of guards, the priestess, and the goddess to depart. A physical path easy to traverse lay ahead, but as the sacred energy in the air began to disperse, Monica became more bothered by the spiritual path she saw in her mind: the unknown steps and art of alignment. She hid these steps as she gracefully walked forward and gestured for Annie to take her to Xavior.

The priestess assented without comment and led the way back the way she had come, leading the goddess and her unneeded honor guard through the parting crowd, their little procession smothering the burgeoning celebratory mood as it traveled towards the heart of the city. Physically, wherever it passed, and ahead, as word of this mood reached Xavior and he hastily unorganized the hastily organized reception he had prepared for her.

As such when she swept through the gates and into the temple grounds she found Xavior standing alone on one of the winding garden paths, clad in a flowing dark cloak that left the right of his chest exposed to the air, its edges embroidered with silver and purple patterns. Gold ornamentation had been molded around the outer edges of his horns, creating the semblance of a crown or halo.

The god stepped forwards upon seeing her and, after nodding to dismiss her entourage, greeted her warmly.

“It is good to see you again, though from what I have heard you seem… troubled? Come, walk with me and I will lend you my ear should you wish it. I’m sure we have much to speak of either way” he said, sweeping a hand behind him to the gardens “or if you wish to rest, I will see that you are found a place within these halls post haste.”

“Troubled?” She queried as she slowly strode forth to stand beside him before they began to walk along the paths in a leisurely manner. “I apologize for my morose manner… it was never my intention to appear so, but grim have been my encounters of late. I hope to alleviate your cause for concern though.” She said, attempting another faint facsimile of a smile, as her attention split between the conversation and the sight of the pleasant flora all around. It was easy to distract herself from her dour thoughts with the blissful aroma that wafted over her, yet the longer she delayed, the more her dread continued to creep upon her. With intrusive urgency she switched her gaze back to Xavior and fought to articulate the words that lay heavy upon her heart.

“I… I would like to hear how you have been, brother. It feels like a long time has passed since we have spoken, and this would be the first time we have shared words in such peaceful surroundings. You have created a lovely home.” Monica murmured, hiding the disdain for herself and instead embracing the yearning within her to simply immerse herself in a much more serene moment rather than lamenting that which troubled her so visibly.

The god frowned and pursed his lips with concern for a moment before the expression was wiped away and replaced by a smile that was only slightly put upon. “Most kind of you to say so, though I can hardly take all the credit. Much of this was arranged by a man called Galvin who has quite the knack for the artistic” he said regarding the garden, taking a moment to admire it all over again for himself, before continuing “Mortal hands can create such wonders and beauty, so I like to surround myself with their works as much as I can afford”

“Their existence is ever precious, temporarily ablaze with radiant flames before being extinguished, but burning so bright and alive in the brief time they are given. I think I would like to surround myself with such as well, and attempt to understand them in order to better understand my own nature.” Monica replied, as she sensed the vastness of the immaterial world which separated the immortals from mortality. She found herself bemused by the fact that though she was ageless, she did not stand at the edge of that spectrum, and neither did humanity - both stood relatively far apart, but not at opposite ends. The answers she sought seemed to elude her for now, but she would not remain eternally helpless. She would continue to seek the truth.

“Then… I will encourage mortals to continue creating such beauty in order to bring salvation to the Crucible.” Monica proclaimed, clinging onto the conviction that quietly resonated in her voice. The lingering traces of shade over her eyes vanished, and was replaced with a renewed strength shining similarly to the stars in the night sky. She had been uncertain when she was first born in this world without direction, but now she felt closer to discovering her will, her vision, her purpose. She shut her eyes and walked slowly in silence, no longer adrift as she aimed herself through her hearing and tapping into Sylphrena’s power. Without warning, she walked into Xavior, and mumbled another soft-spoken apology.

“I never meant to disappoint all of you; forgive me for my sins and let me atone. Let me protect this precious world and its people.” She whispered with hope and regret battling for dominance within her. Remnants of her realm; painful memories and a cruel cold manifested around her, as she let her knowledge of Maelite out and offered it to Xavior.

Surprise flashed across the god’s face for half a second, then he shivered and and gasped as the knowledge flowed into him unbidden. He knew desolation and darkness, knew what inhospitable dread the gods could forge through an accident. Of the swarms of hostile alien beings even now skittering across the 12th realm’s north western border.

None of what he learned stopped him from wrapping his arms around her in a comforting hug. and reassured her that “Dear sister, know that you are already forgiven, and that your return is all the repayment I could ever ask for.”

Monica kept her eyes closed as she spoke, barely audible above the whispering wind. “Your mercy and compassion simultaneously both brings comfort and sorrow upon me. I am primarily… pleased to be reunited with you and the rest of the world, however envious thoughts taint me now. I feel fractured still; such divided feelings pulled apart by emotion, lost and afraid. I want your generosity and I want your ostracization. Why would I want to be banished by you, I wonder…” Though she kept her eyes shut while embraced, more manifested upon the pinions of her wide wings, dark and detailed depictions of numerous pairs of unnatural eyes keenly watching both deities as though they were windows for unseen spectators hungry for something strange and sinister to happen to view through.

“I would never” Xavior replied, before reassuring her that “You will always have a home here, trust me in this” despite his clear confusion and discomfort at being the subject of those eyes.

“However, I can understand the weight a debt can have, and you do have one. An obligation to the world and its people to set right what went wrong” it told her, loosening his embrace so that he could look down at her as he said “It would do you as much good as it will the world to repay it, I think.”

“What would you have me do?” She asked, and the eyes upon her wings vanished as her own opened and peered upwards at Xavior. He could not see his own reflection in her silver orbs, rather he was greeted by the sight of Monica herself, fractal and infinite, becoming smaller in scale with every increased amount of repeated iterations. The endless number of her began to drift away, becoming distant until the familiar shape of the map provided by the first node came into view. “Where would you have me go?” She asked, as the silvery map was consumed by prismatic flames and its ashes scattered before being replaced with fathomless shadow and dancing darkness. The echoes of Maelite and its malice reverberated in the haunting void that was her sight, the gruesome cry of vicious conflict coming from within the depths of the goddess. “When will you have me too?” She asked, as she slowly ascended and her abyssal gaze came nearer and nearer, languidly yawning open like the maw of a monster about to feast.

The god was wide eyed for a few long moments as he beheld this, almost transfixed as the hungering void came closer and closer till it was a breath away. Only then did he gently but firmly pushed her back via a firm hand on her shoulder as told her that all he needed was for her to “For you to decide that for yourself”

“I am constrained by choice… yet freed from fate. A shame I cannot linger here for too long. Where there is light, I bring darkness. Where there are shadows, I shall provide illumination. Xavior, forgive me. We are aligned, but I have become your foe. I intend to return to the first node, to find more in need of stabilization afterward. I will provide you with command of one, and open a nexus… should you open a nexus here. Even though there is hatred in my heart for you, there is love as well, and I hope to live long enough to see the beautiful world you and the others create, so will you continue to walk beside me as I continue to walk alongside you?” Monica questioned with obsidian tears trailing down from her glittering eyes that seemed on the verge of shattering, the faint sound of cracks and crevices forming upon her face.

The god started and took a step back, his expression a war of sorrow, anger and betrayal as he asked “You would break your word so easily? You, the only one who really gave it? Sister, please, I beg you to reconsider, or at least say why would you ask me to stand by as this treachery unfolds!”

“If you desire my death, then you know what must be done. I will uphold peace by becoming its foundation, the substance beneath it, the shadow of war. I cannot be healed of my hatred, but I find meaning in setting the path for my own demise. In the end, it is something. Know that I cannot harm you, brother - I would never wish for such, so I must flee from your presence. Will you open a nexus, or will you seek my death so soon?” Monica continued, as wind gathered and lifted her up until she hovered beyond his reach. She was neither resolute, nor uncertain, though it was evident she lamented having to leave as she outstretched her hand and attempted to grasp at something that was not there. She shook her head, ridding herself of the black tears before she inhaled a breath of the fresh air found in this pleasant garden. Back and forth, she shook her head to rid herself of both the fond memories and sorrow she had found here, before she became still and waited for an answer from the horned god.

He looked upon her distraught as his garments fluttered around him in the wind. He covered his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, then finally tossed aside his own tears and stood firm as he declared “Whatever madness has gripped you since you formed those misbegotten lands, whatever has driven you to this treachery, know I will have no part in it. I do not know what occurred to you there, but I do know this self destruction is not a solution to it. So I shall not play a part in that either. If what you wanted was my hate, my enmity, know that you do not have it. Only my disappointment and sorrow for the loss of what could have been.”

“If one day should your senses return, I will welcome you back with open arms.” his stern anger softened for just a moment to say, before his expression hardened once more as he finished by saying “For now, however, please get out of my sight. I have a sister to mourn”

“Farewell.” She said, then Monica let the wind carry her away, soaring skyward before beginning her flight south and out of sight. The god watched her go for the longest time, ignoring the questions of the mortals who approached as he watched her go.

The god’s three day seclusion following the betrayal of his sister ended when a green mote arrived and drove the god livid with fury.



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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Crispy Octopus
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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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Turev

The Traveller


They left in groups of tens and twenties, the first peoples of a world spreading out across its face. Turev had watched them depart idly. Most trailed after one of the strange creatures that’d been gathered around the odd stone at the valley’s centre before they’d started recruiting. The bearded man, garbed in little more than a few wide leaves strung together with their own stems, had caught bits and pieces of the ‘gods’ speeches and hadn’t yet been keen on sticking around to follow any of them. He didn’t doubt there was bounty beyond the chaos the self proclaimed gods cut into and dispelled for their followers, but what of it?

Turev had seen the edges of the world shiver and crumble. He’d borne witness to grassy meadows and towering peaks erupting from the face of nothingness itself. Each time it happened he thought of only one thing: how glad he was to still be here and to not be caught up in such upheaval. Still, Turev was a man. A tree could stand sentinel over this valley for its whole life, but a man? His mind wandered, his curiosity grew, and when the last of the eye watering chaos in the far south crumbled into familiar order Turev made his decision.

This valley was one place among many, now, and he figured he’d like to see them all. Besides, he couldn’t get a lick of good sleep as long as that hideous multi-headed thing was around and liable to get bored if it spent much longer pacing around the black stone its creators had fussed about. The last person who’d gotten close had been chewed up and spit out. Turev counted his blessings and turned his back on the beast and its charge. Some had come into being with families, charges, reasons they might stay and brave the danger or risk it all and follow a supposed god into the end of reality itself for a chance at something more.

He’d opened his eyes and found himself alone on the same hill where he now stood. Turev felt no need to risk his life, not when it was all he had in this growing world. Thankfully, he didn’t need to. Another enormous creature, one among the ‘gods’, had carved a trail into the world days past and in the time since many had followed the path. Turev figured that was as good a place to start seeing this new world as any and started the journey from the hilltop he’d called home. Uncalloused soles felt the tickle of virgin grass as yet untrod upon and Turev grinned.

He wondered if he’d ever stop walking.

- - -


Twelve days later, he stepped on another damn rock and decided he’d had enough, “Trail my ass! This is just loose dirt and jagged rocks. Aena just give me damn a pair of those wooden things with the straps already? Aena?”

Turev looked over at the woman he’d run into a few days back. As clever as she was unhelpful, Anea had already solved the walking all day problem. She’d also refused to even consider furnishing her travelling companion with a pair of the makeshift shoes after Turev laughed at the idea and disparaged their practicality when she’d first shown him.

The diminutive blonde woman snorted and voiced her reply without even bothering to glance in Turev’s direction, “I don’t know Turev, what about your feet? How will you valiantly carry me off if you’ve also got, what was it? ‘A half dozen bloody splinters in each heel’?”

Turev groaned and jogged up to her, his eyes set on the rocky ground in front of him. He complained, “I’m still not sure I won’t, but it’d beat this. Show some mercy Aena!”

“How about you show some humility, you big idiot.” Aena retorted as she tossed something she’d been fiddling with over her shoulder and straight at Turev’s face. With eyes set on the trail he didn’t notice until the wooden shoes made a meaty THUNK upon colliding with his nose and sending him to the ground.

Aena turned with a hint of concern, but mostly a barely suppressed grin, just in time to hear Turev start cursing, “Chaos itself woman! Watch your aim, I’m bleeding!”

He wiped at his nose fruitlessly, only managing to bloody his already dirt-caked fingers to the point that Aena withdrew a hand she’d outstretched to help Turev up. She shook her head and made her way to the edge of the trail where she pulled a handful of leaves off a tree. “Don’t be such a baby,” She chided as she handed the makeshift rag to Turev, “You’re two weeks old already, at least.”

“Ha ha ha,” Turev deadpanned as he wiped his hands and face off as best he could while pinching his nose. Leaves being what they were, he felt he didn’t really do more than spread the blood thin before he gave up and reached for the pair of shoes Aena had made for him. He donned the pair awkwardly, one hand still stuck to his nose, and stood with a groan. He shook his head and returned his travel companions ‘humour’, “You might be the only Human alive to attack people with the secret gifts you make for them, Aena.”

“Guess I'm unique. Just like you’re uniquely bad at catching Turev.” She retorted with a smirk.

He just glared at her and started walking, this time taking the lead. They passed the next hours of the trip in relative silence, occasionally debating stepping off the trail like others had, but neither had an idea where they were and two wasn’t an encouraging number to start a settlement with. By the time they struck camp night had fallen and they had a fire going courtesy of Aena’s wits and Turev’s now sore arms.

It was then they saw a group coming up the trail, the first of the strangers calling out as they saw the fires light, “Greetings friends! Might we share your fire?”

Aena squinted into the darkness uncertainly, but Turev waved back at them and shouted his reply, “My fire is open to all! Come, come!”

Aena rolled her eyes and hissed at him, “They might be thieves Turev! Other travellers warned us about the people coming back up the trail.”

“And what will they steal Aena, our shoes? The leaves on our backs?” Turev scratched his beard and went on, “Besides, they might have some food. Or information. Mostly uh, food though.”

As if on cue the man's stomach rumbled, and Aena’s wasn’t more than a moment behind his. Without another word in edgewise Aena nodded begrudgingly before setting a cautious eye on the group now making their way over to the fire in earnest.

The first of them, a man dressed in woven fabric and furs, set himself down with a grateful sigh as he explained, “Ah. That’s it, a warm fire and moment to rest. Ostan and I have been on the Serpent’s Trail all day, hoping to reach Brey’s Library. What about you? Making your way to the Serpent’s Crown?”

“The what?” Turev asked blankly.

Aena groaned and the second stranger, Ostan, laughed heartily as he sat down besides the first. He rebuked his fellow, “They’re on their way from the Birthland Erren. Not everyone was as excited to abandon safety for a little path through chaos as us. I doubt they’ve heard more than rumours of where they’re headed since they first set out, right?”

“That’s true,” Aena conceded, “I take it the Serpent’s crown is where that snake god settled down at the end of the trail?”

“That it is!” Erren chimed happily, “A place where the rains are warm as the streams and there’s plenty for everyone if you’re willing to work for it. More than that, it’s where we’ll save the world.”

“Didn’t know it was in danger,” Turev commented idly before adding empathically, “But a land of plenty you say? You lot wouldn’t have any food on hand, by chance?”

“Of course,” Ostan pulled a little satchel off of his shoulder and fished out what looked like dried meat. He passed the strips around until everyone had one, and only then spoke, “And it might be. Erren gets ahead of himself, but the Great Serpent Asvarad tends to provoke that in people. It seems that the god who created this world, now dead from what the Serpent says, spent his last moments propheizing its end.”

“Men.” Aena mumbled sardonically as she chewed.

Turev and Erren reddened, but Ostan just chuckled and agreed, “At least we know where we get it from! But it is what it is. Asvarad is looking for a solution, and he’s asked anyone coming to his lands to help out. If that worries you I’ll say it's not an unfair bargain. Food, real clothing, homes, everything we need is ready for us there and the Serpent has been working on teaching the cleverer ones more about the world.”

“So they can save it?” Aena asked skeptically.

“Catastrophe must be averted,” Erren intoned, “It might seem too good to be true, but Asvarad really is on all of our sides. Truly! If we can’t save the world with the Great Serpent then it can't be saved!”

Turev raised an eyebrow but only shrugged as he spoke, “Seems like as good a place as any. Aena?”

“Seems like,” She agreed, “How far off are we?”

Ostan scratched at the dark stubble on his chin and guessed, “A day or two? The pass isn’t far from here, you’ll be able to spot it and the mountains after you get out of this forest.”

“Not much farther than we have left to travel ourselves!” Erren added gleefully, “We’re heading to Brey’s library. Have you heard much of it? The few who’ve seen it say it’s a place beyond imagining, like a hut but ten, no! A hundred times as large!”

“Can’t say I know what a hut is,” Turev shrugged and added, “Thought I saw a weirdly round mountain off in the distance a couple of days back though, didn’t I Aena?”

Aena glared at him and asked sarcastically, “Before or after you saw another monster with a dozen heads?”

Turev waved her off and answered, “Before I think. Anyways, I might've seen it? You’d be walking more than a couple days to get there, I’d think.”

“Ah,” Erren deflated as he spoke, “Well, I suppose we’ll make do. Right Ostan?”

“That we will,” The older man answered, “A few more days won’t hurt you Erren. It’ll do you good if we have to hunt our own meat.”

Erren reddened and hurried to finish the last of his meat in silence. Ostan shared a smirk with Aena at the younger man's expense, but the conversation waned as the fire dimmed. When they were left with a smouldering pile Aena stood up and announced she’d take the first watch and Turev the second. At that he complained until she threatened to singe his beard off with a burning ember.

Before long though he was curling up on a softer patch of ground. Ostan and Erren did likewise and at last Aena was left alone with the stars and the soft snoring of tired men.

She never took her eyes off of them.




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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Fixing Things (and People)


I


Eleanna wasn’t crazy. Or at least, not too crazy. After her last debacle weeks ago, she realised that perhaps she had been approaching things a little bit too haphazardly, and that perhaps she had gotten a little too comfortable and started to ignore her own teachings. If putting herself in mortals’ shoes was difficult to her, then she had to do it. If keeping her appearance up to snuff was annoying to her, then she had to do it. If randomly striking out on adventures and leaving a trail of mutilated people came easy to her, then perhaps she should think twice before doing it.

She was, after all, the Bronzed Bloom. The living symbol of the Grand Struggle, a role model to everyone whose dreams were ambitious and nearly impossible, and most importantly she was the one responsible for the quality of the lives of the people whom she had already led astray and turned into beastmen and menbeasts.

Her thoughts slowly drifted back to the time when she battled the Chaos, the very moment when she laid there between the rocky ground and the gigantic metallic paw of a monster. Even now, years later, she could replay the moment vividly in her head. She could hear the visceral grinding, popping and snapping of her bones and could taste the bile and blood that spewed from her mouth. She could feel the ghostly echoes of the pain, and she could also feel the echoes of her excitement at being on the verge of death.

A wistful smile snuck its way onto her face as she looked out the window of her chamber in the Temple of the Bronzed Bloom and at the growing city all around.

Excitement, fear, pain, defiance, desperation. All those emotions that she had felt, overshadowed by the relief that washed over her when she heard the war cries of the then-tribal Daman Peoples… Her rescuers.

She frowned. She’d never really thought to catch up with the ones who personally risked their lives to save hers. Even though they lost parts of their body doing so…

Shame filled her core. How was she supposed to be the embodiment of the Bronzed Bloom if she couldn’t even reward her people for struggling so desperately?

With a couple quick breaths, she stood up off her ornate sandstone stool and walking into the maze-like hallways of her Temple.

II


Eleanna could hardly believe her eyes as she stood in one of the dirtiest, darkest alleyways she’d ever seen in New Dama. The sandstone buildings to either side towered over them and cast a deep shadow on a figure lying prone on the sludge-covered flagstone pavement. His chest rose and fell with each shallow breath, a curious whistle accompanying each exhalation. His cloak, made long ago to fulfill the requirements of the Crow Spirit, laid tattered atop him while barely managing to hide the distinct lack of, well, stuff where his left leg should have been.

The wolf-man’s cheeks were sunken, his fur patchy and dry, and dark circles surrounded his sickly eyes.

He was Bow-Eater, one of the brave warriors who had become her saviours all those years back. Known for his unnatural skill with a dagger, he had once been the champion of the Crow Tribe and lacked for nothing. But now…

Eleanna didn’t feel pity. No, she felt disgusted. Disgusted that such a prominent figure had allowed himself to fall as low as he had… That he had allowed a missing limb to destroy his life in the way it did.

She felt no pity, but she did feel responsible. Not just because he had exchanged a life of fame and power in order to save her life, but because she had forsaken him and hadn’t given him any guidance or tools that he could have used to overcome his plight.

That was about to change.

Eleanna straightened her back and lifted a hand and a moment later, two beastmen came rushing into the alleyway. Metal footsteps and the shuffling of leathers echoed as they grabbed Bow-Eater, unconscious as he was, and took him away. Left alone in the alleyway, Eleanna only stared at the spot where Bow-Eater had been just a moment ago and picked up the one item that he had in his hand. A small golden sphere, with intricate carvings all over it. It was tarnished and scratched, but even in that state she could tell he had taken great care of it for years.

She played with the sphere for a moment, twisting it this and that way, until she learned its mechanism and got it to spring into its true shape–A rose-like flower made out of gold.

“You never lost faith, did you Bow?” Eleanna asked to herself with a sigh, her cloak obscuring her face.

III


Project Artifice was ambitious if nothing else.

Following her initial encounter with Bow-Eater, Eleanna had gone on to gather all the survivors of the Hunt for New Dama in the Temple of the Bronzed Bloom, where they were all nursed back to health and given a place to sleep and food to eat. While that was going on, she also set out to gather master craftsmen from all over the Daman Lands and ended up with one or two from every major clan. In particular, she was excited about the craftsmen from the Shrubs, as they had recently developed a kind of textile fibre that made the entire project possible to begin with.

So, after months of constant 24/7 R&D work and dealing with the bickering of the many clans, they were able to finish their first prototype – An Ambroisen Leg. An extremely complex limb crafted out of carefully carved, lacquered and hardened wood with Ambroisen fibres weaved through each piece and imbued with the intended user’s blood.

It was the night before the Festival of the Bronzed Bloom that the first ever Ambroisen Prosthetic was installed, giving Bow-Eater a fully functional leg after years of having to use a crutch to get around..

The project was a resounding success and the months of hard work and estranged clan relationships paid off. Suddenly everyone was motivated to work even harder and soon enough, craftsmen teams had managed to cut down the time needed to create one Ambroisen prosthetic from months down to a single week.

It didn’t even take a year to return full mobility to all the 23 Heroes of the First Hunt, and by that time the Shrubs Craftsmen had begun to experiment even more with their prized Ambroisen Fibres, unlocking a whole new industry in the usage of Ambroisen Fibres inside of tools, weapons and devices.

The Daman Lands, under the guidance and funding of The Bronzed Bloom, soon became a world leader in the creation of quality prosthetics and smart tools. The Dawn of Artificing and Grafting was here.



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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Just a kiss of chamomile


The townspeople stared at Benea with wide eyes. The sun was high in the sky, the summer wind was carrying heat through the grass and the insects were buzzing along the son of birds. An azure blue stretched behind fluffy clouds and not a single thing seemed out of place, except for Benea and what she had just done.

Benea was sitting on a simple wooden chair with a knotted and arced back and plump cushioned rear with knob pattern legs. She had one of her own legs crossed so that she could rest an elbow on her knee, but instead of doing such a thing she sat straight up, her elbows nearly as high as her shoulders while she sipped on a porcelain cup.

“Did you just?” An elderly woman droned in astonisment. Every single townsperson ringed the goddess and if not for the intervention of the paladins, they might have even swarmed her as she sat in the meadows, uncaring.

“Oh please speak plainly, sweetness.” Benea chastized over her steaming cup of tea. “If you mean to ask if I had solved your problem of invaders, then yes I have. Quite refeshing isn’t it?”

A pause.

“You know what?” Benea placed her tea on it’s plate and retired it to a spot right above her lap. Everyone leaned in. “Oh nevermind, it slipped my mind.”

A sharp nasally laught. “Silly me.”

Everyone leaned out.

“Oh wait!”

Leaned in.

“Oh no…”

“What manner of divine are you?” A rough young man suddenly asked, Benea’s chamomile eyes snapping to him so quick he fell on his ass. Benea flicked her wrist and the cup and plate she was holding burst into fine dust which then disolved in the breeze. Standing up, the chair under Benea unraveled itself until it was nothing.

Taking her time, Benea walked over to the man who was now staring up at her from his fallen position, mouth agape and a linger look of fear on his face. Benea curled the sweetest grin, but somehow it only deepend the fearful lines on the man’s visage. Clasping her hands by her waist and ensuring her shadow completely devoured the man, the goddess finally spoke.
“I’m none other than Benea, a goddess who asked nothing of you and yet have already done so much. Isn’t it grand? Knowing I’m out there, working for you in the wake of all that has happened and will happen. I stand for true order, not whatever selfish dribble was spilled into the ears of your countrymen. I ask nothing of you.”

Sharp stares met Benea’s words and a trilling laugh came from the goddess once again. “Oh come now, even if you don’t agree with me, you can at least find a shrivel of joy in knowing you won’t be the chew toy of some strange man-eating weasels and their grizzly leader.”

A soft chorus of agreement, only to be interupted by a young boy just entering his fuzz years pushing to the fore. All eyes snapped on the boy as he ran towards Benea, only to stop at her feet and look up with anxiety. Benea looked back down at the boy, an unamused glare turning into a polite smile. “Oh?” Was all she offered.

“I have a confession.” The boy huffed.

Silence overtook the people and Benea raised a brow.

“Boy…” someone warned.

“A few of us… well not many of us.”

“Boy!” The warning came again.

“Go on, dear,” Benea’s stare blocked the sun itself.

“Set out to free Anak’thas. Not just us too, but some other villages…. I-”

The boy’s words were silenced when Benea put a hand on his shoulder. Everyone stood still, no one breathed. A sense of dread overcame the townspeople, but Benea’s grin did not faulter. Time grinded down to hour long seconds as Benea leaned down towards the boy and then all at once it happened.

Benea placed the smallest, gentlest kiss upon the boy’s forehead, a small mark of pinkish red stamping in the spot of the kiss. Straightening out, Benea spoke. “Thank you for your bravery, little one.” Everyone exhaled.

Meek, the boy wrung his hands. “You aren’t mad?”

“How could I be? You’ve all been fed so many lies and led to self-destruction. I cannot blame you for your mistakes. Though now I can only assume if the maddened god was released that he will soon come to take his node back and with it he will likely bring war. Do you know what that means, dear?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“It means a lot of people will be slaughtered in the cross-fire, of course,” Benea answered matter-of-factly. “Especially if I take a strong stand right here, but do you know what?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“I’m not a maddened god. I’ll instead prepare safe-passage west for those who want to flee the oncoming slaughter. The siblings of the orderly alliance reign in the west, and with them is peace. Take my kiss upon your heads, and heed the other villages. No one need be here when war hits. I bless you with the speed to do so and thank you for your honesty.”




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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by DracoLunaris
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DracoLunaris Multiverse tourist

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& Demons


The temple around the 12th node held the council chambers of Eunomia, the blossoming city that surrounded it. In this room well dressed men and women crowded round a large rectangular table covered in crude maps and reports regarding their city, the 12th realm, and the lands beyond. From here they drafted decrees, proclamations and requests that reached far and wide and were addressed to gods and mortals alike.

It was not these affairs that concerned them today. No it was the empty chair among their mists. It was a stylish chair, but no more so than any of the rest. It's only prominence was its place at the table’s head, and the fact that despite the fact that she was standing in for its owner, the horned priest Annie did not take Xavior’s seat as she argued with several of the council members over her god’s absence.

“This is absurd. It has been three days!” Argus, a muscled man who represented lumbering and quarrying settlements around stone lake, was saying “Three days since he last appeared. A period of isolation is understandable, I’m sure, when faced with such a betrayal but it has been long enough! The people are disquieted by the events around Monica’s brief visit and especially the idea that she and he are to be enemies! Now is not a time for uncertainty, or hiding behind closed doors, it is a time for clear communication and action!”

There was a murmur of agreement from around the table. All were concerned by the god’s absence when he had been so integral and engaged in their affairs since they had arrived at the 12th node.

“You want action, yet aren't you all empowered to act in his name? Don’t you have influence and support to enact action yourselves?” Annie retorted, standing firm and with a hand place on the back of Xavior’s chair as she spoke

“We are the voices of the people, and we can speak for and direct them, yes, but this is an issue of the gods”

“Yesterday you directed a missive to Brey, a god, didn’t you?” Annie replied with a smile

“A matter of trade. Not this game of gods. What, exactly, does Monica being our resident devine’s foe mean? Should we expect to be invaded by swarms of her broken realm’s insects? To stand aside as they engage in a duel to the death and then bow to her mad will should she win? If he matches out and a god comes here are we to stand in their way and be slaughtered or stand aside and allow our fates to be dictated by others? We don’t know the rules, or the moves we can and should make, yet we are all parts of the game anyway, blind without his wisdom”

“We have been told all of what Monica said before she departed, so we are just as in the dark as to her true intentions as Xavior is” the disciple replied “As for what we should do should a god come, I’m sure he would say that is all down to us to make our own choices”

“You’re sure are you? Well now, that is the problem isn't it. His silence means we can only assume what he would say, let alone what is even possible. Can we even stand up to a god? Beings who defy chaos and fly though the air faster than any Tonnikala? Without him that is a question we can only answer with a deadly gamble” the hard man replied leaning across the table

“Patience, I am completely sure our god has just shut himself away to think long and hard on the issue facing us. He will return to us with grace and order soon enough” Annie replied calmly in the face of the angry man, keeping control on her urge to just punch him for the sake of her god’s appearance. Then a few moments later the door to the room slammed open and Xavior stamped into the room.

Smoke wafted off of the god, as he tossed the message he had moments ago received from Benea via a glowing mote, which had caused the still fuming rage, onto the central table without comment.

As the counselors shouted questions and read the message (which led to more questions) Xavior ignored them all and instead took a shocked Annie’s hand and asked “My first and most loyal disciple. I have boon and burden both for you, if you will have them”

“I… or course. What is it you need from me?”

“I need you to follow me, and then I need you to burn bright”




The god led his disciple, and more or less the entire council despite having not invited them, out of the temple.

“I have been complacent. If gods are to declare me an enemy, if they are to go mad with power or detain others on false pretenses, if they are willing to so casually toss aside their words regarding our first pack and ask me to do the same, then I cannot sit idle in this land. Yet neither can I trust nor even ask people to use bow and spear and mundane morality against insane gods. So. Power. We need power, and power beyond just what my hands can produce”

He explained as he sent ahead orders. Orders which meant that when they reached their destination (which the humans found it to be the city’s main lumber store, where wood from the wolf woods had been floated downriver and then stashed in the open air to be allowed to dry) they found it had had several hearts of goats herded into it.

“What is power really but energy conveyed over time. We can produce energy, so all we need to do is put it into a mortal” He explained, vaguely, before asking Annie to step forwards into a circle of metal runes he created on the ground at the center of the lumber store with a flick of a finger

“What kind of energy?” she asked even as she complied and stood at the ready.

“In its simplest and purest form” the god replied as he snapped his fingers and formed a single glowing mote on the tip of his index finger “fire”




The lumber store burned, the roar of the flames that could be seen from miles around joined by the screaming of goats as they burned in the inferno. Over this cacophony Argus raged at the eerily calm god within whose eyes a reflection of the flames danced and played “The work from hundreds of people went into all that! Good honest working people. And you're reducing it to ashes!”

“I will pay for every splinter, I assure you, and besides. I’m sure you will agree it is worth it when you see it”

“See what? All I’m seeing is a colossal waste of time and money!”

“This” the god said, as the blaze intensified a thousandfold for a few moments as everything inside burned all at once, producing for just a heartbeat enough power to rival a sun. Yet the energy did not burst outwards and neither light nor heat flashed forth to incinerate the city. Instead it all swirled inwards to a hungering void, a blackhole that devoured the energy and then just as soon as the feeding had begun the flames died and all that was left was ash, and the first of demon kind.

While Xavior grinned Argus gasped as he looked up. And up. At a towering woman twice his height. Amazonian muscles bulged under blue skin as great draconic wings furled out on either side of the giant, who looked down with amber slitted eyes sat beneath a crown of horns.

Annie blinked, her vision returning after it had been scoured by the blinding inferno around her. She looked down at her arms for a moment, examining them and the slight claws that had formed at their ends. Then she flexed and it felt right. She glanced behind herself and found wings and a long slender tail ending in a spade like tip. Grinned. And then with a single flap took to the skies, kicking up a storm of ash in her departure.

The demoness flow higher and higher, soaring up impossibly on her new wings. She swooped, soared, laughing at the freedom and then a few minutes later slammed back down among the ashes before the amazed mortals, a struggling horse sized Tonnikala, those absurd flying fish the god had wrought on a whim, struggling under her arm.

She would be the first in the world to find what one tasted like, and that was only the beginning of the impact Xavior’s reckless innovation would have. As the first demon laughed and invited her god to join her for dinner the council members, voices of the people, first among equals, looked up and saw one of their kind who now was far beyond them.

And it worried them greatly








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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by ActRaiserTheReturned
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Brey
Before receiving Xarion's plea for a trade of technology and magic, he had decided to make his way towards Node 23. He would need to protect his people. This was his chance to do work that would make it easier to do so. The old man god thought of his life among the mortals. He was their friend. Sure, he was smarter and stronger, and more powerful in general, but that didn't mean that he was better. He knew his own arrogance. Sometimes he did have a superior, smug attitude, but maybe he could work on it. His memories moved to the time he made his brightest student wear a pointed dunce cap in order to denote him as mentally deficient compared to the others.

He made amends with Duncan, but the deed was done. He shouldn't have taken his frustration out on others so often. It made him look like a fool.


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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Capturing Nodes

Part 1

I


Ah, the refreshing feeling of an adventure! Eleanna took a long, loud whiff of the smoky chaos that made up the atmosphere in still-unclaimed node 5.

True, node 5 was in the opposite direction of where the divine hotspot was, but she had bigger and better things to focus on than squabbling with dainty, pretty goddesses or looking for a scrap against lantern guys. Yes, indeed, she had better things to do, as unbelievable as that sounded!

And the first of those things was to claim the unclaimed areas to the east and north of node 10, those being node 5 and 4 respectively, and she was to do that with the help of her 23 companions. All of them sported brand new Ambroisen prosthetics and had spent the last few months honing their skills which meant that with everyone back in their top shapes, one could say the 23 Heroes of the Bronzed Bloom had finally come out of early retirement.

She smiled, loving the encumbering feeling that her many layers of newly made armour gave her. Like her old armour, this set was mainly made of leathers and even though it had no chainmail or metal helmet to go along with it, it was still thick enough that she could barely feel Sun’s kicks when he helped her test it.

Eleanna snapped back to the present as she heard a single footstep behind her, so she turned her head to look at her visitor, seeing a small cloud of dark material just settling around the beastwoman’s boots.

“Yenna, I take it you were careful with your claws last night?” Eleanna asked the beastwoman. Yenna the Midnight Claw frowned for a moment, then her eyes widened and she struggled to stammer out her words.

“W-Wha- So y- You- Were…!”

Eleanna chuckled, “I’m a Goddess, I can hear really well. I couldn’t sleep last night cause of you two you know… Not that I mind that, obviously.”

Yenna groaned and sighed, then stood straight and patted her own cheeks lightly. “Whatever, perv. We found the Node. It’s about 6 K’s to the northeast. Also…” Yenna trailed off, looking distressed.

“Bad news?” Eleanna asked, fully turning to face the lithe Hyena-morph. Yenna nodded, making eye contact with the much taller Eleanna.

“It’s guarded by two Chaos Guardians.”

II


“Holy crap, you were not lying guys.” Eleanna gasped at the sight. There, merely a few hundred metres away, were two Chaos Guardians. She couldn’t really make out what they looked like due to the nature of Chaos itself, but she could see their auras and… The way they intertwined with each other? “You don’t think that-” Eleanna began, only to be cut off by Bow-Eater the Midnight Blade, who was prone right next to her, bumping shoulders while looking through a hollow tree branch at the auras.

“I do not think so. They move to and fro.” He rhymed in a sing-song fashion with a straight face. Eleanna spared a moment to look at him with a raised eyebrow. He ignored her.

“Anyway, if they’re doing that then there have to be baby chaos guardians around. Wanna find them and tame them? I know a guy…”

“You speak of the Were-Taker. His skills are good, but only on paper.”

Eleanna rolled her eyes, “Care to elaborate?”

“The Were-Taker hunts the vulnerable and ascetic. He beats and shames them… I am not sympathetic. ”

“Huh.” Eleanna looked back at the two ‘mating’ Chaos Guardians next to the Node and after a while nodded to herself “Alright, they may be two, but we can beat them for sure. May need to use the Everloom, though.”

“This time, refrain from reckless rushing. We may not save you from a crushing.” He said, a smirk forming on his lips. The first bit of playfulness she’d seen on his face since they set out. Eleanna smirked back as she stood up and started to head back to camp.

“No promises.”





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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Anak'thas

The Lantern-God walked alone through the hellscape that was Node 15. A tempest of ash raged here, blotting out most of the sun. Rivers of molten stone flowed through the scared, broken land. Before Anak’thas had walked through the chaotic lands with curiosity. His mind used to be consumed with a design for the future. He saw his folly now. He was so focused on the future that he failed to look beside him. Maybe he would’ve seen the greedy vultures come then. Benea had taken Node 14 from him. As much as he wanted to reclaim it then and there, it would usher in a war of which the honest people of Node 14 would be the victims. Anak’thas’ followers were farmers. He could not expect all of them to fight for him. At least not for now.

What surprised him was to feel his grip over Node 13 fade as well. Benea had gone north-east according to the Lantern-God’s followers, so someone else must’ve claimed First Haven. Who could it be? Would it be his sweet sister Sunya perhaps? Surely not. Xavior? The horned god did have great ambitions and did create a thorn of a border between his and Anak’thas’ lands. Whoever stole Telum’Velik, Anak’thas would claim it back from them. He did not see a need for an army before. Not when so many would die in the face of a Chaos Beast. Even if they were blessed with the Silver Faith. But now mortal pawns were moving as well.

With those thoughts roiling through his mind, Anak’thas made his way to the central node. After two days he could finally see it. He also saw the strange moving, ashen cloud hanging above it. It was roiling just as much as his own thoughts. He saw it as the sign that it was. “Come out.” Anak’thas hissed. His own mote floated as his forehead began to light up like a lighthouse. A direct challenge towards the beast that hid in the fires and shadows.

The beast roared at the Lantern-God. The ashen cloud glowed red in heat. “Come out so I can slay you. So I can tame chaos again.” Anak’thas yelled. He did not back down. Instead even the motes of golden divinity in his Laws began to glow. Again the beast roared and this time the very land roared with it. The black, volcanic earth cracked and great geysers shot up molten stone in the air. Sparks rained down all around the god but he remained unflinching as geomantic shapes of golden light began to form all around him. One more roar echoed through the land, and the whole ash-choked cloud hanging over the node rushed forward.
~

Anak’thas stood victorious over the beast. He was towering over its form with a golden spear in his right hand piercing down through the monster below him. His left side was heavily burned. Should a mortal have suffered his grievous wounds, they would’ve died ten times over already. But Anak’thas was a god and one not a stranger to fighting himself. As he gave the monstrous chaos below him its finishing strike, he wondered how it would feel to cast down a divine in the same way. After everything they did to him, would he be able to slay his siblings in the same manner? Did he even want to? No. Despite their failings, they were still his siblings.

With a half-burned form Anak’thas made his way towards Node 15. The spear of light had faded the second he released his grip over it. He placed one hand upon the node and claimed it for him. His senses, for a second, reached across the land and he could feel that rush of primordial power of creation again. For a moment his perception reached far across the horizon. Up north he felt and saw the greater, cooling river that battled the immense heat of the realm in a war it could not win. West of it were the great trees of a forest that kept getting its seeds burned. These additions were incorporated into the realm Anak’thas had designed in his mind.

The grand river was allowed to flow down south through Node 15. It’s waters were used to create a grand lake in the middle of it. In the middle of that lake would be the island that housed the node. On the west of the island would be the self-same fertile land that Anak’thas had gifted to his people in Node 13 and 14. To the east of the great river he allowed the forest to reign nearly supreme. Thick trees instantly spouted here. But by divine decree three paths would run through the forest from west to east. Allowing mortals – in the future – safe passage through the woodlands.

The creating power soon again fled the god again, to enact his will. But he did so dearly miss it. When he was done and the realm reshaped itself in quite a violent manner, Anak’thas was content to take a moment to sit down upon a throne he summoned in front of the node.


For several days Anak’thas sat on his throne, pondering what he should do in preparation for his reconquest. He would need an army, of course. That was his first mistake, to not have as many armed forces around him as he should have had. Then again, what could they have done against Benea? Perhaps he needed something else. A weapon that would tip the odds in his own favor. Something so overpowering nobody else would dare to stand up against him. Or perhaps he should fashion a bastion around the node he just claimed. The only node he had.

He weighed each option separately. Though none came out as a clear winner. And then something happened that made him forget all other options. He saw women and children that fled Node 14 for their beloved god. They came here, abandoning a comfortable life he had assured them before. And what did he greet them with? Nothing but empty fields that need to be tended and stones that have yet to be stacked in houses. Anak’thas felt ashamed. His reconquest had made him forget what was truly important.

He rushed forwards towards the banks of the Insea. Where he greeted his people. Then he got to work. With the slight connection that still remained with the node he called upon the creating powers stored within. With one hand he ushered stone to come forth and assemble itself. And so it did. A magnificent hall constructed itself right in front of the god but that was not all. Divine power poured through it, embedding itself into the very walls and tapping into the power in the ground. Anak’thas bid his people enter. After all, he made the Hall of Plenty for them alone. Inside the people found cauldrons filled with soul, benches filled with freshly baked bread and smoked fishes hanging from a rack. There were steamed vegetables and cooked poultry. The food inside wasn’t luxurious in any sense of the word but it provided more food than the refugees could possibly eat. And that was the beauty of it.

Anak’thas watched as his people ate a hearty meal after fleeing for a week. It was the least he could do really, as he was going to ask some of them to die for him tomorrow.



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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Double Capybara
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Double Capybara Thank you for releasing me

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Corpus and Gala


A small tickle of rain made the world glisten, the air was cool and pleasant and the sounds of chirping animals and water droplets falling made for a calming soundscape.

And yet, the goddess felt increasingly more uncomfortable in this comfortable setting, having been forced to travel all the way back to her node because of unclear news. When she met the scouts and hunters inhabiting one of the many frontier lodges, she did not waste time with simple questions.

What happened? Where is Croll?

The group in front of her was Bedjo's hunting party, some could even say his tribe, though only a small core group of four was truly close to their leader. Croll's son himself was not around, instead, the second in command answered for him.

"We discovered a smuggling operation of local goods with foreigners from the lands west. They seemed to have intensified while you were away, my goddess." the woman explained with a gentle and cordial expression.

"And?" Dzallitsunya's words were quick to the point and caught the woman by surprise, it was far from what she expected and it took her some time to know what to answer.

"Well, that is bad... right? A crime, of course. So we, uh, us four and Bedjo, started to approach and try to dissuade them from fighting."

The goddess sighed and turned. "To the point."

"Well, a fight broke off, some people were wounded, Croll's group harmed us and we harmed them back, some died, Croll fled."

The goddess froze in place, her rage impossible to hide. "Who gave you the permission to become agents of the law? Who gave you the permission to even think about harming another citizen without asking me about it first? HMMM? Look at this mess that you have created. Look at how much I will need to fix."

"B...but goddess. We were just upholding what you established and..."

"Do you think I was not aware of Croll doing some under the table negotiations? It did not matter I was giving him a chance and you idiots stuck your nose where it did not belong, I never asked for your help with this, you overstepped and you caused me great harm."

The mortals recoiled at the sudden rage of a typically quiet goddess and in a sense Dzallitsunya felt bad, she could not blame them. She opened up her arms and made movement with her open palms to silence and calm all those around before clapping.

"Nevertheless, what is done is done, I will track Bedjo and Croll before the situation worsens"

And with that she turned, starting to leave the shelter, observing one last time the wounded few frontiersmen who now stared at the floor nervously. She noted their wounds.

Then she froze again.

She turned and started to approach another one of Bedjo's confidants, she got awfully close, almost pressing the man between the wall and herself. With a quick move, she took his own dagger, the man now sobbing in a nervous breakdown, and with his dagger, she compared it to the wound in his own belly. She made a few movements in the air with the knife at different angles, until one matched the wound in his belly.

"Goddess?" the second in command tried to distract her but her approach now just resulted in her hand being grabbed by the goddess, the sleeves being pulled down to allow her a better look at the wounds in the scout's arms. They looked closer to clawing and nail marks against it, not like anything she had ever seen in combat before.

As the dots connected, they formed a disgusting image.

"What have you done..." this was not a question to them, it was almost a lament.




The arrival was not the typical cold wind and ringing bells, but a strike like silent thunder. Bedjo was now facing the goddess, the loyal man gasping at the sudden arrival but holding his ground where many would fall back or trip down.

"Why have you done this to me? What have you done to your father?" there was no context but the man immediately knew what she was talking about.

"I found it necessary to strike at evil where it stood. My father was never going to listen to me. He would continue committing crimes, undermining your rule, he had been since you made Zed your husband, perhaps even before!"

"That... was... calculated! I understood what he would do, it did not matter! I had got Zed married to me, his sister would only take up the leadership of the clan in his name, that is the cities under my control, then your father Croll would slowly move out, because he wanted space for his business, and become less of a clan and more of an entity that holds the outer realm and its resources. It was perfect, perfect and ruined it."

The man stopped. "But, he would use that power for crime. I am sure of it, he was smuggling. He wanted to get enough power to strong-arm you into a position of his liking."

"That bloody past tense, you already did it, didn't you? Murdered him. Your mother too? Where are the corpses? Every divine action costs me some power that would be better spent somewhere else but if its to bring back a brilliant mind like his I am willing to take that sacrifice."

"The... sulfur pit. It was done weeks ago, in a moment of rage, when he... insulted your intelligence. My goddess. Please. Whatever I did, I did out of love for you. I believe in your views of the world, I believe in gentle nights for all. He... he was lured by the ways of those who dwell in sunny lands, he wanted personal riches and..."

The goddess hadn't been listening, she had been calculating, the sulfur would have melted the bodies, how hard would it be... too much, it was too unnatural to turn back now. "Who truly insulted me here is you. Who acted in my name without my person. Who assumed I was not aware of how Croll saw me. He was a smart man, perhaps greedy, but also driven. I was allowing him leeway, to see if his ideas could work or if the troubles I had with it would come true. He was a good man, if the troubles appeared I was sure we could agree to stop them."

She turned, staring at the boy. "You, meanwhile, you are worthless to me. Your greatest act was using your human chaotic nature to have your little potential strike at someone with far more. Congratulations for that." he tried to speak but was immediately cut off. "And speaking of that, how can I know you are not even worse than a fool. You and your father, there was little time between you and him. Very few years. If your father ruled the clan to 70, how old would you be? 52? 55? I can see why you would want to speed it up and coup at his domain."

He stood still, before shaking his head vehemently. "Of course not! I would... never. I just... felt like, what he was doing was wrong. I thought I was helping everyone...."

The goddess shook her head. "Sincerely. At this point. I don't want to even think about it. You are not worth the trouble. I do not care if you were foolish or greedy. The damage is done. How much effort and brute force it will take to make up for all that was lost? Just too much. I cannot even be angry at you. I am just exhausted. You deserved to be punished, to wish for death over having to repay your kin-slaying sin, but that would require thought, and there is no space in my mind for that."

The world moved slowly and he could not quite follow, but the image was not good. "My friends, they just helped me to hide the bodies, you shouldn't... ack" he clawed at his neck as a quick and rapid slash had cut halfway through it. He fell in front of the goddess' feet, strength quickly leaving him, darkness approaching, and then, a consuming whiteness, true nothingness.

The goddess stood a moment staring at the now lifeless body. Mortals were truly terrible at times. Zealous devotion had just caused her problems suspicion and greed had not. And yet the little zealot had died lying to her face, because she had seen the wounds his friend had, some were indeed made up to make up a fake fight, but those clawing of hands at the arm, that was the result of someone strangling someone unarmed, who that was? Had the mother got involved as he tried to hide the body of Croll, resulting in his friends killing her? Was it some assistant, or a helper? An innocent civilian? Had they conducted a purge of those Croll-aligned?

The sheer possibility of damage was just too great, so many of her most useful subjects and even personal friends could be among the dead now. She whispered names in silence while overthinking, from Marana, to Turillo, to Kadja, and many others. A prayer for them to be safe, a foolish act she recognised, for in these lands there were no gods but her.




She loved humans, she really did, and she wanted them to be safe and free, she did not want to impose a will and stifle their creativity. That was a valid mindset.

On the other, it was absurdly irresponsible to fall back and not exercise her full power as a god, no other god did that, and whenever a mortal had power, one could be certain they would use that power for whatever whim they had.

There was, after all, no garden without a gardener, the flowers had to be selected, the plants nourished, and the weeds to be cleansed. To avoid such responsibility was not noble but cowardly, to pass the sin of poor decision making to the mortals and leaders.

And so, she had decided, she needed to expand herself. If the node expanded her will to the realm on a spiritual level, it was time to do the same in a more physical manner, to acquire the knowledge and decision making power and speed necessary for these trying times.

"Greetings." she finally acknowledged the crowd that had formed in the currently empty central temple of the city. People she had picked for a variety of reasons, some she trusted, some who were skilled, and finally, those who had never been blinded.

Those born in the cave, Zed's tribe, had never seen the sun until they left, some did not even after because they were shielded by the Shadow Petal all the way to the Twilight Swamps, after that, they still had not seen the orb of fire, by never leaving the fog and mostly being awake at night. Just looking at a bright light was enough to make one unable to see well in shadows for a long while, so it became the belief that those who never saw the overwhelming solar light were obviously unblinded. The goddess did not initially believe in this myth of the cave dwellers, but, not only she was becoming partial to the unhealthy factors of sunlight, but the sheer respect these people had was also quite useful for her purposes.

"In the last days I have seen more of the world, met more people, talked with other gods and saw how the world really works out there. We, our way of life, may seem steadfast and secure, but even the strongest rocks can be broken by the constant flow of water. Troubles within and outside are endless, my initial belief that the gods would tame the chaos and bring about something good was wrong. Man-eating beasts, corrupt agents of intrigue and much worse."

The crowd was quiet until now, merely listening to the goddess, there was some anxiety and tension considering the size and secrecy of this meeting but so far they already had assumed all she spoke about.

"Knowing these troubles, I believe we must adapt. I wanted to create a country of full honesty and transparency, I thought being among mortals was enough, that I could lead by example. As unfortunate as it is, that was foolish. There is a time for everything, a time for cold when you must warm-up and a time of heat when you must cool yourself. Similarly, simple honesty and consensus while useful in general may become worthless at times. It is something harsh, but still true, there are times when mortals do not know what is best for themselves. It must be scary to hear someone say that, but it is what it is, the best vases aren't made by asking the opinions of a whole village on it, but by the firm hands of a skilled potter."

This brought up some murmur among the crowd, speculation on just what the goddess was aiming for was wild.

"I will be reforming the way this land is run. The clan system, the family arrangements, even the hunting bands, all will be disbanded. In its place, this lands and all other of the duskland will be ruled by an able government body, it will have clear rules, clear limitations and clear freedoms. To do that, I will need to dwell beyond the realm of the honest and direct, the world of intrigues and whims, of deception and hiding the truth, it too must be part of the state. It makes no sense to ignore that realm, we cannot destroy it, but we can tame it, and make sure these things are done for the benefit of our people."

"For that purpose, I will need a system. In your body, you have a nervous system that collects and transmit information, imagine how weak you would be if your skin could not immediately inform through pain that there is a leech in your leg, by the time the issue is noticed even the people with the most vitality could end up sick. My issues with the land are the same, and so, if I am to rule, I need the information to know if I am ruling effectively. I need a bureaucracy to know which granaries are full and which are empty, which lands are losing people or receiving immigrants. if there is a drought or if there is a flood, or even a new illness. I need to know where all the bridges are, who and what crosses them, I want to know how well the roads are kept, what passages the hunters and travellers are using, I want to know what opinions the people whisper while drinking tea or wine. I want a name for every face, I want every death and pregnancy to be reported. I need the agents to act if foreign forces try to lure people into system that smell like perfume but are in truth a pit of decadence, I need the agents to dissuade a citizen from doing something foolish way before that happens."

"And you, who I invited here, are those who may become this system. What I offer you is not the role of clan leaders or kings, you will be handling data and protocols, and, if necessary, sometimes you may act to protect the order and the land. I will need your full devotion if you accept, with the blessings will also come obligations. Your mind will be fully exposed to me and unlike most work, you will never be allowed personal material gains from this. To accept this offer it will mean to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the rule and the people, for all of your life and beyond that. I will perfectly understand if some of you do not accept it, to those who do, step forth, for now you will be one of my Moonbound Magistrates."



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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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What is a Calla Lily?


It didn’t feel right, not at first. With war on the horizon it felt wrong to simply leave node 14, but it was just for now — and thankfully the usual entourage of paladins had felt the blessing of speed so the trip away and back would be sooner than anyone could muster and march an army or so Benea hoped.

The goddess kept her lips pursed as she cut through node 13, noting Dzallitsunya’s work, and then she kept her eyes down as she sped through node 7, not ready yet. She would return shortly and touch base with her beloved Dzallitsunya, but not now. Benea kept her head north as she thought of Xavior; he too would need her soon, if not to shake a fist at, but to embrace. Maelite’s chill lingered on Benea’s left cheek, but she cast Monica from her mind (though not her heart).

Node 6 was next, and it was glorious. Benea’s thoughts melted away when she saw it. The meadows were brimming with life and the paladins she left behind were marching in blocks, seeing the citizens happy and safe. Bronze from Xavior had reached this far north and barter was slowly being bought out by the use of the demon god’s coins. Houses of grey stock and thick thatch dotted the dirt roads of the node, laying claim to endless farms and happy faces.

A choke caught Benea’s throat when she saw the mountains in the distance, only to threaten wet eyes when she saw the castle that they had built around her node. Passing citizens and gregarious paladins excitingly explained that her white gazebo still stood in the central courtyard, waiting for her.

“Welcome home, my Queen.” Jermane muttered.

“I’m more home than you know, my sweet,” Benea answered without taking her eyes off the mountain range. “Let us meet with the commander.”




“So what exactly is a calla lily?” Paladin Raunbalden asked with an eye squinted with curiosity. The man was standing guard outside the massive floor to ceiling doors that enclosed the meeting room of the Pristine Castle. He was on guard with six others, two on his side of the door with him, the Janitor in the center and three on the opposite end. His question was targeted at one of the nine Elite Paladins that once followed Benea around node 14 and back, now only to sit on red cushions and wait for her to return (except Jermane of course).

Karlene blinked. “It’s a lily.”

“No it isn’t.” Renault shook his head. “Don’t you know?”

Karlene pushed, “It is a lily.”

“Nah,” Renault answered again. “Frederick?”

Frederick, a tall and broad man dressed in rigid armor curled a finger under his lip. “It isn’t, not really. It’s a false lily.”

Karlene made a face. “How can you even tell?”

“That’s why it’s called a calla lily,” Renault explained (without much substance). “Because it looks like a lily.”

“Then what the hell is the point in calling yourself the Cala Lily Goddess?” Karlene cursed. Before anyone could answer, the doors to the meeting room were swung open. The janitor himself had his hand outstretched as if he was about to be the one to do so — but instead Jermane stood in the center of the open doors, stoic eyes under the pink kiss on his forehead.

Benea, the Cala Lily Goddess, stood behind him, her hands folded at her waist and a soft smile on her lips. She stood like a lily, in the sense that her dress perfectly matched the flow of the white pedals, with the difference being a golden crown rung around her head.

“Recruiters far and wide will bring new bravery to the ranks,” The Queen said to no one in particular. “A special branch shall be garrisoned on the Road of Light, maintaining it and the safety of its travelers. Incumbent paladins will train hard in our lands and on the road, and in the same turn, they will train retainers. We have an order to upkeep.”

Everybody in the foyer bent forward with respect. “My Queen.”





Two things happened after that. Two very important things that should have taken longer, but a certain fever had overtaken Benea, anyone could see that. First, she took node 2. She took it easily. A Chameleon of chaos and destruction owned the tainted lands, but even so it was no match for Benea’s paladins. Jermane and Larissa held it in place while Frederick and Karlene gutted it. The node was quickly turned into a land of white winter, fit with fjords and valleys. Some paladins were sent there to train their endurance. A mountain range in the northwest connected the mountains of node 6 to the ocean.

Second, Benea made her way to the first node, Node 1. There, a pack of strange beasts challenged her, but she didn’t pay them any mind. By this point, she had more than her original surviving 9 paladins with her, and the enemy was held back while she stared at the node. She stared at it with a wrinkled brow, her hand hovering just out of reach from the black material. With a final breath, she pushed herself to touch it, and so a land littered with alpine mountains and peaks that broke the clouds was born. A small meadow pooled where the opening to node 6 was, but other than that, it was all alpine.

Hidden in the mass of mountains was the node, and around it Benea built fifteen chairs — each by hand. Her followers were confused to see her use her hands let alone work, but as she said, just this once she would. Tiny drops of black bled from her palms whenever she cut herself on the blades, and callousses would form and disappear as she sanded the pine wood. When she was finished, she cast everyone away from her so she could be alone. Not even Jermane stood beside her this time.

Alpine winds blew over her face and caught her hair as she stood by the chairs. Clouds danced below the peaks and edges of the mountain, and a small meadow had formed in the dew above. Even still, her dress didn’t soak up any of the moisture, and yet she stood defeated. Her usual smirk was gone and her brow had fallen.

She rubbed her thumb over the grain of the closest chair, feeling the carving of a lily underneath. Her other hand reached out to grab the chair that sat next to it. This one had two backs and a double seat, as if two adults were supposed to sit on it, side by side.

“I could really use you right now,” She muttered. “You, always brave and you, always fearful — one brazen, one cautious.” She let out a puff of mountain air. “I need you both.”

Benea let herself sink to her knees, cold grass bending under her dress as she laid her chin on the arm of the chair, almost like a lost puppy. She felt the hard wood under her jaw as she spoke to herself. “Come, darling, you haven’t much choice.”

The Calla lily Goddess closed her eyes, and slowly an aching heart mixed with the nostalgic wind of the mountains took her away. She spiraled into a dream…




A blood curdling scream threw Jermane backwards. He had been sitting on a log, but now he was staring up at the blue sky, his heart smacking the roof of his mouth. The scream sounded again and this time Jermane ripped his shields from their resting place and jumped to his feet. He knew that voice.

“My Queen?” He bellowed, his body turning into a blur as he sped to the ring of chairs where he left her. Cold air bit his eyes as he ran, but his blood was hot and his determination sent puffs of air through his nostrils.

Jermane burst through thickets of pine boughs and spilled onto the scene. Benea was on her side, propped by one hand. Her other held her heart, eyes wide with fear and lips trembling. Without thinking, Jermane dove to her side and held her upright. His eyes scanned her for any sign of injury, but there was none as she held the shaking Goddess.

“My Queen!?” Jermane called anxiously. Benea closed her eyes and sucked in a large shaking breath. Gently, she tapped Jermane’s hand and released herself from his grip. Keeping her eyes closed, she cleared her throat.

“I’m alright, dear.” She slowly rose to her feet, Jermane scrambling to his.

“I heard screaming?”

A soft smirk found Benea’s lips and she held her hands by her waist. “A silly dream is all, darling, don’t you worry too much about it. We have a Dusky Goddess to convene with I think, or shall we first confer with our horned brother?”

Jermane tilted his head.

“My Queen?”

“Our tasks, dear!” Benea snapped a finger. “We have a maddened god to stop and orderly cousins to keep word with, do we not?”

“Yes, my Queen!”

“Good!” Benea stretched a wide smile. “Then let’s get on with it, dear.”



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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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What makes a Ruler?


The walk back across the Ashen Planes to the Fungal Marshes was nowhere near as long as the endless slog of a battle that had been the journey across the chaotic wasteland that had been there before, alongside its inhabitant. For his part, Vatarr had only remained at the node of the Ashen Planes to ensure that if anyone else came to mess with his control of the region that he would be alerted to the fact.

There was a part of him that wanted to push on; To simply continue to tame chaotic nodes until the majority of the southern lands were under his control... But he resisted the urge to do so. A more power hungry or militant deity might have done so, pushing mortals loyal to them to colonize new lands as they were presented to them... and if some of the stories that visitors from the northern lands brought with them were to be believed, even before those lands had been safely calmed down. Already he had passed by or seen humans from the Marsh traveling into the Ashen Planes, likely to explore what this new land had to offer without needing his instruction or command to do so.

Some of the mortals of the Fungal Marshes had asked him before why he hadn't followed the examples of his divine kin and install himself as their leader, uniting the various clans and tribes under his banner. He had always answered that to do so would betray the very people who had faith in him. To date none had ever truly understood what he meant by that answer and he refused to explain further.




By the time Vatarr returned to his throne at the Node of the Fungal Marshes, he was surprised to find a supplicant waiting for him. Such had never happened before, since mortals generally were content to give him a berth and handle their own affairs. And yet, the young woman waiting for his arrival had clearly set up camp and been waiting for a few days for his return. The woman was pretty in her own way, but her raven colored hair was somewhat offset by the fact that her skin had a shine to it that put Vatarr in mind a little of a fish or some kind of small lizard. Her attire was made of local resources, simple but practical... and while her ears were decorated with more traditional copper, he could easily tell that some of them were of alternative metals to create and interesting display.

Taking a seat on his throne, Vatarr gazed directly at the woman as he politely gestured and said "Good morning. If I had known someone had been waiting to greet me I would have taken a quicker pace. Forgive me, but who am I speaking with at the moment and why are you visiting today?"

The woman in question offered a small bow before answering "My name is Oxana. I am here because I wish to be the mother of your child."

To say that there was a moment of silence... or at least as silent as the grove around the throne truly got, would be an understatement. But suddenly Vatarr laughed louder then they could remember before answering "Okay, I wasn't expecting to hear that." The good humor in Vatarr's voice easily betrayed their amusement as they rested their elbow on the arm of the throne before pressing their deer skull against a closed fist as he gazed directly at Oxana. "May I ask what has inspired this request? I admit to not being used to visitors, but I cannot help but feel it is a strange request all the same."

For her part, Oxana looked... rather bashful as she shuffled her feet against the ground. "I... I recently finished the final of the tablets you gave to the tribes back when we settled here and... I think I understand." Pausing to acknowledge that her statement was rather vague, she continued "I think I understand you... or at least the forces you represent. By extension, why you never tried to create a kingdom or be the leader of my people. It's because if you did, you would have to let it rot and fall at some point. You don't wish to betray your followers with this false idea of an eternal kingdom under your rule."

There was another moment of silence... before Vatarr chuckled. Lifting his head off of his hand, he offered a small clap as he answered "You're correct. It is simple to preach about the balance of life and death. However, when the time comes not to sow a new crop and to let the bounties that life offers to the harsher decay and rot of death few are willing to actually carry out the act. Nor is it really something I expect mortals to do. However, forgive me if I'm not seeing why this means I should father a child with you." The deity offered somewhat playfully.

For her part, Oxana didn't answer right away. She wanted to make sure that her words were just right before speaking. "I want to unite the various tribes of humans in your domain together into one kingdom. Missionaries from up north keep showing up, trying to lure people away with the promises of other gods and while no one has followed them that I know of, I fear it might just be a matter of time before some outside force tries to play us against each other when we need to be united."

"If I give birth to your child, not only would that mean that I've been given your blessing and thus be considered a legitament ruler of my people but when our child is of age they will naturally be a rallying point for our kingdom because of their connection to you. However because they would only have divine blood rather then be fully divine, they would still be mortal. The cycle would be appeased, your lands would be united and respect you enough to listen to your council and you wouldn't have to betray anyone when the day comes that our child's line dies out and the kingdom they forged falls and another kingdom or family takes over."

Once again there was silence in the grove... before with a small chuckle Vatarr rose from his throne. "In that case Oxana, I accept your request."





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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Frettzo
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Capturing Nodes

Part 2

I


Unlike her first time claiming a Node back from Chaos, this time Eleanna was prepared. With the help of her 23 Companions, the Hunt was successful with no casualties. First, Bow-Eater and Yenna set many traps in the area around the Node, and then the group split up into two squads. The first squad, led by Bow-Eater, had the youngest Companion run up to the beasts and then run off into the chaotic lands, towards a small canyon where the second group, led by Eleanna, ambushed the beast that had fallen behind, taking it down mostly silently as a dozen spears and picks severed its spine. Without noticing that its mate had fallen behind, the bigger of the beasts kept chasing the young Companion, only to trigger a tripwire trap and have a big Ambroisen-weave net fall on top of it. Hundreds of copper spikes which dug deep into the smoky flesh of the beast lined the inside of the net, connecting its body directly to the Ambroisen weave and making it so that every time it tried to rip the net apart, an incapacitating shock of pain was sent through its entire nervous system.

As Eleanna’s group caught up to the trapped Beast, she whistled at the way it kept struggling through the pain, trying to break free and grinned as Obann the Crescent Sun brought his gigantic axe down upon its neck, a wet gurgle being the last thing that came out of the beast’s snout before dissipating into a cloud of black smoke.

Eleanna congratulated everyone and promised them a keg of Silver Wine each, then ran off to claim Node 5. The moment that she touched the node, Eleanna felt a rush of power flow through her, and she used it to reshape the land as she saw fit. Node 5 became a massive, sweltering, insect-ridden land of rainforests and swamps with valleys, canyons, tepuis, and vast cavern systems dotted throughout. It was a wild land, one that quickly saw an influx of migrants from the now-overcrowded rainforest to the east of node 10. These migrants quickly became a hardened sort of folk, used to having to adapt and survive in a variety of environments, as well as developing an unique sort of creativity when it came to discovering treatments for the endless kinds of diseases that such a land could bestow on living beings.

Up in Node 4, things were a lot calmer. There was no real noteworthy beast guarding the node, other than some small nuisances all of which were quickly dispatched by Eleanna and her Companions. Upon claiming Node 4, Eleanna turned it into a land overflowing with water. Great lakes, great rivers (both overground and underground), great waterfalls, great rainstorms, etc, were all present in the land, all flowing from its heart, the World Spring Mountain range which ran in between Node 5 and Node 4’s border and barely touched the northeastern edge of Node 10. Node 4 became settled even quicker than Node 5, becoming an absolute paradise to all the kinds of aquatic demi-humans that had previously been restricted to the watery north of Node 10. The land became a hotspot for culture, known for its beautiful sights and for the hospitality of its denizens, and also a proper powerhouse behind the exportation of seafood and famous chefs, such as the Unbeatable Ramsea.





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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Bigfrigginpp
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His First Encounter

“I am positively hideous.” Grym gawked at a reflection of himself through the surface of a great lake that spanned most of node 18’s northern hemisphere. Akky snorted and shook her head, acknowledging the consensus. The two had ventured out from the cave for a late-night drink. Akky did not require water, though it was still refreshing to indulge, and her partner enjoyed the sight of a mirrored starry sky cast over the water. Out of all the things he’d observed in this mortal world during the last several weeks, it was the sky and the stars that continued to demand his utmost admiration. They remained a perfect example of a realm outside divinity’s reach. It was their very nature that made him question the destiny of all “Gods.” If the stars and the sky could exist without the intervention or guidance of beings like him, then there was no need for pretense; no promise to keep.

“Peninal-... Dad, you were wrong.” Grym spoke aloud. “It wasn’t cowardice to avoid your imposed destiny. Whatever we are, we aren't Gods. The stars shine themselves, without us. This world too does not need us once the nodes are stable. So I will act selfishly and without remorse to make sure that all others can do the same in a world unabated by any singular prevailing power.”

Grym reveres the cosmos with open arms and bellows, “I will capture every bit of land and sea underneath this Godless sky and throw it all away. To show you that this is already enough. It’s perfect.”

Perhaps it was too early in his lifespan to say so, but Grym was not the type for grandiose dramatics. This exception was a sort of proper goodbye to his predecessor in the form of a declaration. So with that Grym let out an exasperated sigh and let his shoulders slouch. Akky met his side and stooped low so that Grym could saddle himself properly before embarking on a journey back toward the node.

The map that denoted all other nodes had been the object of interest Grym hadn’t been able to inspect during his chaotic ascent. The stone guardian had returned to its disheveled post atop an almost ruined tomb and the hydra slumbered around the node yet still, probably unsure of what else to do now that the node was captured and its master was nowhere to be seen. Akky made her dissent toward the pedestal housing the map like that of an owl’s; graceful and silent.

Grym had to hold his skeletal jaw still to prevent it from chattering with excitement. The map contained far more information than he’d ever anticipated. It relayed in real-time the layout of every node and who controlled which ones. This would prove to be an invaluable resource for keeping track of events as they unfold. It was lucky nobody else had the foresight to trace back and capture this node.

And as if purposely timed, Grym felt the presence of another divine cross into his threshold. The truth is he’d been staring at the map for roughly an hour trying to decide whether to go north or south first, so this broke the stalemate in his mind at least. Aboard Akky he made his way back up north toward the lake where he was sure to run into whichever divine had returned home.

The sun was brimming just below the horizon now and it only occurred to him mid-flight that he hadn’t cleaned up the place or gotten ready a ‘welcome home’ gift. Frantically he tried to think of a simple, yet cordial gift. Rays of emerging sunlight revealed the approach of a female figure gliding in from across the northern shore. Grym reached out ahead holding a large fruit and announced his bone-faced greeting.

“I am Grym. Please accept this welcome home watermelon.”

The pale winged-woman came to a halt before him, held aloft with magically influenced winds softly whirling around her and granting her the grace of flight. She hesitated before speaking, an anxious expression affixed to her face as she introduced herself. “I am Monica. Hmm, thank you… for your generosity, Grym.”

She slowly flew closer; her forward movement more akin to walking across an unseen bridge hovering in the sky as opposed to natural flight, though considering the impractical placement of the wings upon her back on a shape that was evidently not designed to fly, the strange sight was as sensical as any other means of otherworldly magical motion. Her hands were hidden beneath wide white sleeves, but even so she still managed to grasp the watermelon and held onto it securely afterwards while wearing a small smile during the exchange.

“I am afraid I have nothing like this watermelon to give to you, so please forgive me for my unintentional rudeness.” She murmured with a mixture of forlorn melancholy and bashfulness which contrasted with her immediate close proximity - close enough for Grym to easily hear her quiet voice almost whispering into where his ears would be, close enough to feel the ethereal warmth of her presence where both the pristine and the putrefied skin still clung to his form. She seemed utterly unfazed by his decaying and rusted visage, until she realized how she was imposing herself upon him in her current position and flew back a short distance.

Grym cocked his head and thoughtfully clinched the part of his jaw where a chin would normally be. Then with a gasp he remembered and waggled a pointed finger in her direction. “Yes, yes.. Monica, the goody good girl. You were given quite the runaround during our little birthday bash. By the clever one; Benea was it? From the look on your face, you must have realized by now.”

He arrested his gaze from her and turned toward the sunrise climbing over the water’s horizon. There was much he needed to know that the map couldn’t tell him. At least Monica might be able to fill in the blanks and perhaps he might have a lasting effect on her indecisive nature. The silence broken by a single clap, summoning a checkered sheet into existence. It fell evenly upon the loose dirt of the lake’s shore, where Grym wasted no time sprawling lazily on a portion of the blanket.

“You should sit, Monica. We’ll have melon and you can indulge some of my questions; then I, yours. I’m sure you’re curious why I know such things after all, and why I knew of your arrival in the central node. I’m a great deal curious as well.” He spoke plainly. Whatever Monica might think, there was no obvious angle to his inquiry; no intimation of intent for which to gauge him.

“If that is what you would like then…” Monica alighted upon the blanket, folding her knees underneath her and resting beside Grym. “Ask your questions, and I shall answer.” She said in a demure manner as she caressed the watermelon and continued to watch him with a studious shimmer in her eyes. Though it was not difficult to discern her troubled thoughts and innocent intentions based upon her words and actions, the difficulty lay in experiencing the cold pressure of her complete attention which was akin to being peered at by the many heads of the serpentine monster that idled around the 18th node. She possessed the eyes of a predator, prepared for violence.

In another mundane act of creation Grym conjured a crude knife with which to split the melon, quartering it evenly for the both of them. He offered a wedge to Monica before taking one for himself. Each bite he took let loose chunks of sweet melon. Some of which sat in the cavity of his jaw while others spattered over the face of his skull and the rest of his armor. Notably, none of it appeared to find its way into his actual body. Nothing connected the swiveling skull to its host, after all. The mess being made was certainly obvious, but Grym finished “eating” all the same. Whatever sense of ominous surveillance Monica had brought with her, the man she met was not concerned.

“Thank you, dear. I knew you’d oblige.” Grym mimicked Benea’s demeanor for a moment, deliberately so to see if it provoked her. It may have been incorrect before to say that he wasn’t at all concerned with whatever baggage Monica had brought with her. Grym was particularly less concerned with her potential ire and, in fact, would aim to push her over the precipice of whatever crossroads she found herself. In a way, her flagrant display of turmoil provided an irresistible opportunity for Grym to stir the pot. He couldn’t resist poking a cornered beast.

“Let’s start with the basics then. How about you tell ol’ Grym the details of your adventure with Benea and company? All of it that lead you alone back to my humble home. ”
Unlike Grym, Monica did not deign to eat her slices of watermelon, only momentarily inspecting a single slice before causing it to regrow its cleaved sections and form into a whole watermelon once more. She then laid the fruit closeby and closed her eyes as she regaled Grym with what happened throughout her journey alongside Benea and Xavior, and their eventual separation. She spoke with little inflection, lifelessly sharing her story of claiming her node and the creation of Maelite, where she awoke to find a world filled with death and darkness, at which point after a lingering silence has passed in her telling she offered to share a vision to truly let Grym comprehend the nightmare that was her realm, should he wish for the details that no description could convey.

During Monica’s retelling of events Grym gave his full attention in digesting it all, though one could be mistaken in thinking him distracted as his sight had been fixed upon the melon she’d regrown. Like an apparatus for which the purpose was not yet known, it was evident that a great many instruments were moving internally; the gears ever turning in the elongated stillness toward an end Grym would know when he reached it. With a sharp exhale he broke the silence and returned his physical attention to Monica, meeting her eye to socket.

“You know, Momo, I am confused. Outwardly, you act purely and avoid confrontation. However, your mannerisms clearly display a sort of dissonance with this behavior. But most importantly, you didn’t eat my melon. You.. “fixed” it instead. I think you’re a confused sort, Momo. You saw your realm and maybe you were so afraid that it came from you, that it shook your conviction to the core.”

Grym stood up and approached the base of the shore, close enough that water would wash over his boots when the tide rolled in. The sunlight cast an imposing shadow over his silhouette and he cocked his head halfway around to address Monica once again.

“What I dislike about you is your indecision. You won’t indulge yourself, nor can you truly commit to another’s cause. You’re clearly in anguish and still, you continue to put on a facade of neutrality. But I’ve got plans, Momo; plans to free the sun and the stars. For those plans, I’ll need help. Now I don’t care what you decide, but if you can’t pick a side right now I think I may try killing you to see what happens.”

“Will you answer my questions before you resort to murder?” Monica impassionately inquired.

"Well of course. I promised, so ask away dear girl." Grym clasped his hands behind his back in eager anticipation for her questions. Hopefully her questions were interesting.

“Hmm… You say I fixed your melon, but what does that mean and why do you consider it most important that I did not eat it? I confess, I was curious how it seemed to be continually changing before you cut it, and I was going to eat it after enjoying a thorough analysis to better grasp… what a watermelon is… Lastly, I should mention that I was preoccupied with providing the details of my travels alongside Benea and Xavior, making it an arduous task to simultaneously eat as well. Now, allow me to reiterate, it was never my intention to be rude.” Monica asked and added afterwards, holding the aforementioned fruit aloft with one hand as though it were a trophy she had claimed, or perhaps a piece of evidence in a mystery she sought to uncover.

Grym turned to face her again, scratching his scalp in a contemplative manner.

"Why is the melon important?" The way he phrased this reiteration was as if he was not quite sure either. Gusts from over the lake swept through to fill a brief pause before he piped up to answer his own question.

"Because it's a delicious summer fruit that ought to be eaten when offered. A snack is too much of a task to endure during a simple conversation, yet you allow Benea to tell you your worth and how to act. You're missing the point, Momo. You came back to the central node alone and brooding, you entertain a stranger's confrontation with a facetious courtesy when you've evidently brought baggage, and you've given almost no reaction when threatened with violence."

Akky once again emerged from his shadow with wings outspread and the full face of the sun cast a great shadow toward where Monica sat.

"I want to know who you are, Monica. As you are now, you're boring. Just a ball of pent-up passive aggression with no will of her own. Not a selfish bone in you and it's infuriating."

Grym saddles himself to Akky and idly strokes her mane. "But, as I said, I'm a busy man. If you're willing to take a chance, indulge your own desire for once, then come with me. I ask only for your company, not your subservience nor your loyalty."

Akky begins her ascension and Grym reaches out a hand toward Monica for her to follow him if it suits her. He was headed back to the node again. He'd already dallied too long here and there was something he needed to do before the other Gods catch wind of the central node's capture.

Monica remained rather reticent; refraining from divulging whether she would take the chance and accompany him, yet she still silently traveled with him to the node while carrying the watermelon.

He clasped his hands and nodded. “A step in the right direction!”




A Step in the Right Direction

With that, the two made their way toward Grym’s sole node. When the two drew near he motioned for Monica to tread cautiously, for the hydra still lingered warily by it. It was anyone’s guess how the guardian would react to Grym’s presence as well, now that it belonged to him. Luckily they both could remain at an altitude high enough that they wouldn’t be bothered.

“Your realm of darkness,” Grym remarked, seemingly out of the blue. “It doesn’t define you, Momo. You could simply change it if it bothers you; that is obviously within your power. This world is here for us to shape, apparently. I disagree with many of the things Pops said to us, namely our destiny to bring the nodes under a single banner, but I do agree with one thing-”

Grym levied a sudden break mid-speech, allowing a low rumbling from below the node to grow until it completely consumed the silence he’d left. Shrieking earth broke from all around the node, forcing dirt and dust in an upward current while the panicked Hydra clung tightly to the pillar. A brilliant crimson glow gleaned from the depths below, the same hue of energy that surrounded Grym’s body. The Hydra disappeared in the mess and the tomb buried, destroyed beyond repair now. An oppositional rasp boomed in contrast to the symphony of sundered earth.. Tendrils of a sickly yellow-green slithered up from the bowels and spread outward far as the eye could see, more and more of them until the epicenter of the mass had conglomerated into this colossal hive enveloping the protruding part of the node. Contact with the node caused the node itself to resonate as well and this continued even as the node became surrounded by the indeterminate organic mass that had sprouted into being. Tunnels and pathways became apparent as the mass grew and from above one would be able to tell that it rounded out into the shape of a hemisphere once reaching its monumental peak. Once it had finished growing it, the totality of this thing was comparable in size to a small town and resembled a nest. The cries of unnameable creatures echoed from within its walls while puttering blisters scattered its surface. There were most definitely creatures residing inside this hive, but perhaps more frighteningly the hive itself was alive and sentient.

Just when it seemed Grym was going to make his point after creating such a monstrosity, he didn’t yet. There was still something he was waiting for, the icing on the cake. First the Hydra burst out from inside the hive, but it was distracted and in indescribable agony. The same blisters that plagued the hive had appeared all over its body and the observant eye would be able to see its skin bubbling as if something had invaded the creature’s body. Before long the creature’s wailing ceased and it collapsed, though minutes went by and it rose again; this time seemingly unafflicted and calm. Its body remained covered in puss and blisters and its scales had dulled in color. At this, Grym didn’t bat an eye. Instead he held his gaze on a particular cavity within the hive, anticipative of another surprise. A silhouette took shape in the void, becoming clearer as it exited the recesses of the hive, and Grym eagerly leaned forward on Akky to see it properly. From the hive walked a familiar figure plagued by the same ailment as the Hydra, albeit headless. Despite the oddity, Grym was then satisfied.

“We are free to decide and shape the world as we see fit.” He continued. “You see him down there? Dear ol’ pops, the one who told us who we are and what to do. Look at’im now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not his fault. His mistakes are what allowed me to understand the truth, that none of us deserve the entire world to ourselves. I will free every node and oust every God from their post. Then, I will rest as well in the world that thrives without Gods.”

Monica glanced at Grym, with a furrowed brow after she studied the scene below, then spoke softly. [b]“Your creation obscures the map of the Crucible, may I move it aside to view which nodes have been claimed and which ones have not, please?”[/i] She asked, tilting her head with curiosity.

Grym ponders the question for a moment. “You might lie, but I’ll ask regardless. What will you do with this information, Momo?”

“Ah, well Maelite is lonely, so I must sing and dance in the shadows and darkness again. I would know where I should go once I have acquired the knowledge I seek here.” Monica answered, and a faint smile appeared as though she thought that proclaiming she would aim for another node would appease him.

“I’ll give you one thing, Momo. You aren’t as easy to bully as I’d anticipated. Whatever you do, decide for yourself. It’s less boring that way.” Grym lurched his head toward where the map is generally located. “Now, go see the map and be on your way. The Cradle won’t attack you unless I will it. Just remember this courtesy is a one time deal. That is, unless you properly share a ripe melon with me. Then I’ll consider being nice.” He snickered to himself in that tacky “I know I’m not funny” kind of way.

“Thank you for your kind words. I wish you good fortune in your endeavors, and await our next encounter with sorrow and joy in my heart. Farewell, Grym.” She said, before she descended into the section of the hive where Grym had gestured towards.

“Live selfishly, Momo.” Grym lamented as he watched Monica fly toward the map. He’d remain close enough to monitor her should she do anything too ambitious, but he wasn’t particularly concerned right now. With the hydra now under the will of the Cradle, as well as Peninal as his vanguard, things had begun to shift. Grym used the remainder of his reservoir to replace Peninal’s missing face with a new one and armed him with a flashy swordspear.




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Monica IV



She flew swiftly, soaring across the sky and above the sea towards the smaller southern landmass where three nodes remained unclaimed and awaited the arrival of herself, and perhaps the coming of her two companions as well should they choose to continue helping her create a peaceful world, should they choose to let her help them in the end even after she had announced that they were to be enemies now.

Her foreboding thoughts turned from that which she left behind her to that which lay ahead of her; an endless chaotic canvas of frenzied and enraged elements manifesting as malignant maelstroms underneath her unleashing numerous electric limbs reaching outward to claw at anything closeby, along with whirling jagged stones that arose from the far and fractured earth only to violently explode, sending shattered sharpened pieces in all directions. The node was waiting for her at the deepest depths within the clamorous mayhem, and Monica momentarily contemplated the difficulties she encountered during her last venture into the madness of an unstable node.

Instead of haste, she was slow and steady, and she readily approached the storm as she summoned her own whirlwind to combat it, before conjuring an ethereal shield to prevent the grasping streams of lighting from reaching her. Monica struggled as her mind was strained by the exertion of her power, but not burdened by the fears that if she did not rush to the node there would be the potential loss of life. Instead this simplicity of fighting for survival versus protecting innocent mortals from the inevitable pain and demise that awaited them left her longing for death.

The tumultuous sundering of volatile stone and erupting earth echoed in her ears, as fragments passed her protection and whistled through the air. While she progressed through the pandemonium, Monica acquired a collection of cuts and puncturing wounds across her body, but she hastily healed such; her blood becoming a silvery salve as she quickly imbued it with a spell. As she sought a brief respite to tend to more accumulated gouges, she recalled the way animals would always slaughter each other for the sake of sustenance, then she mused whether this meant that the chaos and the turmoil thought of her as its predator or its prey. She wondered whether she should begrudge it for seeking to slay her then.

Even at a languidly measured pace, she moved much more swiftly than a herd of humans, and already had broken the last barrier preventing her from reaching the node. She tenderly touched the squat black pillar, and tapped into its power - allowing her to stabilize and shape the region according to her will. This time there was no agonized slumber, she remained in her awakened state, as she recreated the realm of Maelite with changes that would allow her to better navigate its landscape. The blinding profuse presence of umbrium returned, but was also accompanied by the occasional clearing filled with the gentle glow of light emanating from ivory trees, like luminous isles spread across a sea of shadows.

Though there were no means of discerning distance as ambient umbrium in the air and earth obscured all above and all below, and the equivalent of a dark and opaque fog lingered patiently at the edges of the various illuminated clearings. Monica made certain that the vicious creatures akin to those she had unintentionally created before were all thoroughly separated in order to prevent them from skirmishing with each other, and added another type to the ecosystem for her own benefit; shimmering snails that left luminous trails for her to follow throughout the realm, protected by their scintillating shells that the other aggressive lifeforms found utterly repelling.

She touched the node once more, dreading either outcome that would follow her next action, clinging onto her gifted watermelon that would likely consume later on. The contradictory feelings of love and hatred that continued to war within her resulted in an inability to embrace her choice. There would be regret and despair, but perhaps there would also be hope and joy, so Monica channeled her might and performed two acts; the first granting Xavior permission to access the power of the node, and the second was the creation of a Nexus. Afterwards, she felt fatigue and shame grasp her being, causing unwanted tears to spill forth from her eyes, and Monica cried while she waited for another to make a choice.



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Aena

The Tinkerer


For the first time in a week the sun’s light broke through the canopy above and washed over Aena. She shut her eyes as she basked in the warmth and let her feet guide her along the Serpent’s Trail, a trick her traveling companion hadn’t been able to match and something that annoyed him to no end. Already she expected his face was contorting in familiar frustration seeing it again, but Aena wasn’t about to explain that all it involved was actually paying attention. Well, at least not until it’d be funny.

As if on cue she heard Turev curse, and a quick look confirmed he’d tried copying her and sent himself tumbling. Again. Maybe it’d be kinder to just forget about that one. For a man easygoing enough to not even think of bathing until Aena pushed him into a stream, Turev was almost comically bad at going with the flow. She turned back and held out a hand, chatting as Turev pulled himself up with a curse, “If you break those shoes you’re not getting new ones, you know. Two pairs are enough for someone who didn’t want any to begin with.”

“As if I’m to blame for that,” Turev scoffed as he dusted himself off, “Who cuts a trail without even thinking to build a bridge over the rivers they run into? Even I could do better than that! Some ‘god’.”

Aena rolled her eyes and continued the thought, “You’d also think that when the person who made you your shoes takes them off and tells you yours will get stuck in the mud they’re not lying. Some ‘man’.”

“And maybe you’d think that someone clever enough to make us clothes after seeing them once wouldn’t jump into my arms because a fish brushed against their leg,” Turev teased back.

Aena reached down to pull off her wooden sandal and hurl it at him but stopped halfway as she turned a bend and finally glimpsed the Serpent's Crown. Turev almost walked into her, more focused on her throwing arm than his surroundings, but even he caught himself at the view of the mountains stretching out across the horizon. Directly before them lay a misty pass, but elsewhere?

Peaks so high that the clouds could only cling to their wise bases. It was a mystery how the trees and hills of this hinterland could ever hide them even distant as they were, and from a glance Aena could tell they were at least a day's journey away. She couldn’t help but to mutter, “Wow.”

Turev didn’t have much to add to that, and for the next day they watched the towering stones jutting from the earth near until they seemed like a wall holding back the world itself. Steep slopes climbed into the sky from each edge of the pass and as Aena and Turev made their way through she began to question the suspicion she’d shown the group they’d met days past.

If there was a place where the world would be saved… Of course, she wasn’t really sure she believed it was in danger. Humans were already robbing each other on the road, and what made gods so much different? Anyone could lie. Well, other than Turev, but only because he was terrible at it. That in mind, Aena asked him a question as they trod into the mountain's long shadow, “What kind of work do you think they’ll want, for all they’re offering? If they ask me for help gutting anything I’m turning around with or without you, Turev.”

The man scoffed and eyed the fur clothing on Aena’s back as he answered, “What, you leave that to underlings like me? If you’d believe our friends then I’m sure they’ll have you barking orders in a day, and me gutting in an hour.”

Aena started to bark a retort before catching herself, “I- What?”

She looked at Truev with an expression of genuine confusion, and the man laughed and prodded her to keep moving while he spoke, “Didn’t one of those two say they’re gathering all the clever people and having their snake tutor 'em? Wouldn’t say I’d prefer that to gutting from what I saw of this Asvarad back in the Birthland though. Real freaky looking.”

Before Aena could respond to that they both heard the telltale beginnings of an argument on the wind. Frustrated words giving way to distant shouts had Aena and Turev go dead silent. With a shared nod they slowly made their way off the trail and up the nearest hill until they spotted the source of the quarrel. Just down the slope, ahead of them on the trail, a number of men and women carrying long sticks were fiercely arguing with a man in nicer clothing than even Aena could imagine fashioning.

What she and Turev heard most clearly was the finely dressed man wailing indignantly, “You stu- I mean to say your stupendous people, they deserve to know what's happening in the north! There are generous go-.”

He didn’t get much farther before one of the men wielding what Aena could finally tell was a sharpened rock lashed to his stick handed off the weapon and took the richly dressed traveller in both hands before screaming in his face, “WE ARE NOT INTERESTED! WE HAVE EVERYTHING WE NEED! GO AWAY.”

Even from her distance Aena had to wince at the violence with which the traveller was being shaken. She backed up, but Turev’s arm caught her and swept her up into a jog towards the belligerents to whom he called out, “Afternoon! Hey, is that one of those freaky zealots? One of them preached to me while I was taking a piss, can you believe that?”

Aena nearly shrieked as Turev thrust them into center stage. Her bearded companion reached out and slapped the rattled missionary on the back as he approached the befuddled others. He went on as if they were old friends, “Say uh, you wouldn’t happen to know an eh, ehm, Aena what was his name? The smart one? Os… Something?”

“Ostan,” she all but whimpered before Turev plowed ahead.

“Ostan that’s it! Say, you wouldn’t happen to know Ostan? We shared a meal with him and his little partner on the road. Said you folks were offering food and shelter for work?”

The armed men and women, each one dressed in furs and woven fabrics like the pair Aena and Turev had met on the road, seemed to drop their hackles at the familiar name. The one who’d given up his weapon gestured for it back and jabbed the still stunned missionary in the bottocks with its blunt end to get him moving while he answered Turev, “I know him. And we have food and shelter enough for everyone despite what these freaks like to say. I take it you met them on the trail? They’ve been showing up for the last few days and we’re already out of patience with them.”

“Hah! Freaks, you’ve got that right.” Turev agreed while Aena’s eyes bugged out. If there was anything Aena was sure of, it was that Turev had never met a missionary in his short, ridiculous, life. Nevertheless, he forged ahead with the locals, “We met them oh, a few days or so ago didn’t we Aena?”

He looked back at her, and at once she found herself choked for words. Aena nodded and hoped they didn’t see her coiling a lock of blonde hair with her finger tightly enough that it hurt. Turev just kept talking, “Just wouldn’t leave us alone. I’m Turev, and this here is Aena, by the way.”

“Orwon,” The man named himself and turned to speak to his group, “And I’ve got these ones. Keep scouting ahead on the road, ok?”

The armed group muttered a smattering of affirmations and set out while Orwon addressed Turev and Aena, “Well count me as glad they didn’t discourage you from coming south. We’ll use all the help we can get. I figure if you met Ostan he told you the word?”

“That the world is in danger?” Aena found herself blurting half-skeptically.

Orwon met her eyes and nodded seriously as he answered, “Catastrophe must be averted. If you’ve heard and you’re here to help, then you’re friends of mine. Come, I’ll bring you to the settlement and you’ll be assigned a task after you’ve had a chance to rest from your journey.”

He gestured for them to follow and set off down the trail. Aena found herself glaring at Turev as they made their way towards the center of the Serpent’s Crown. Orwon was too close to permit her more than a scowl and the occasional misstep into Turev’s heels, but she took the effort to let her companion know exactly how she felt about his methods. Turev just took it with all the smugness Aena imagined he had in his body.

Eventually, at Orwon’s prodding, they started to speak up again. Enough had happened on the Serpent’s Trail to provide the pair, mostly Turev, with a few tall tales to burn the time, but invariably the subject drifted back to where they were going instead of where they were from. For a while Orwon just told them to be patient and that they’d see.

Aena was about to Turev to gut their guide in annoyance at the non answer when they emerged from the craggy stone of the pass and into air suddenly thick with humidity. Then she saw and understood their laconic guide as they tread over the rolling hills and eyed many-hued steaming streams of node twenty one. It was art, and she could tell at once. Node eighteen had been comfortable, but it was dull compared to this place.

Far below, in the distance, Aena saw wide fields along the bank of a vast freshwater lake. Above it all towered the node, vastly higher than what any Human had seen of node eighteen's strange monolith. Orwon watched them take it all in and led them down the trail with a grin. He helped them through groves of wide gnarled trees and finally told them how things had been here since the first Humans had begun to reach the end of Asvarad’s trail.

Apparently, in the beginning, it had been touch and go. The serpent was decidedly unfriendly and wasn’t, by virtue of what he was, easy to approach for most humans. Thankfully enough had had the courage to communicate with the enormous creature and before long they’d been led to sown fields and forests rich in wild berries.

Asvarad had offered all of it to them, but not freely. He’d told them of the world's end, prophesied at its beginning, and asked for their help in preventing it. That was all. Not one of those first Humans had refused the serpent’s offer and before long Asvarad had even begun selecting ones among their number for schooling.

Aena asked Orwon more about that, but the man didn’t know much. It seemed Asvarad didn’t do much beyond teach. Almost everything else had been organized by those first arrivals and those who’d migrated in the days since. At that Turev had seemed to brighten and almost at once was boasting of things he’d supposedly done or accomplished to an increasingly skeptical Orwon.

Aena didn’t feel like digging him out of that hole, even if it did end up with Turev spreading dung on fields. So, she let him dig it for what ended up being the next day and a half. When they finally arrived at the wide cleared ground that was the local’s settlement’s center, where the dark bulk of the serpent Asvarad sat coiled devouring the afternoon sun, Turev had spun at least fifteen stories Aena thought had to be almost entirely imaginary.

Then again, seeing what she was seeing now, maybe not. Just about every living creature in the Serpent’s Crown was rapt as Asvarad, this land’s namesake, rose and spoke in their presence for the first time seemingly unbidden, “Worthless cur!"

Asvarad

The Great Serpent


The ground around Asvarad trembled in an echo of his fury as he shouted, spade like teeth bared in a snarl at someone only he could see. He glared at his servant with all six eyes as they nervously retorted with their own thoughts, “Hey hey hey! You didn’t tell me where to put the skull so maybe I chucked it in a stream when I got here, whoops, your bad. You made me!”

Asvarad felt his muscled tense and his vision narrow. Though he hated what he was, clumsy and limited, he was more than a match for a misbegotten wretch like this. His servant seemed to realize it and their fine scales lost some colour as they raised their hands, backed up, and amended the statement, “Ok maybe I uh, I didn’t follow the spirit of the request, but that thing is bad news ok? You made me enjoy crushing awful nippy maggots with my bare hands, which is just- I mean so- It’s seriously messed up, but I still hated carrying that thing!"

The great serpent pushed against his own instincts as hard as he could, through the addling haze that had clouded his vision and driven him to the edge of incandescent rage, and thought back with a cold chill that left his Servant shivering, “Go and find it. When you have it- Give it to me.”

Asvarad turned away from the source of his frustration and towards the increasingly agitated crowd of Humans. The rage contracted in the great serpent’s chest as an idea blossomed in his mind and he pulled himself together to address the gathering, “There has been an… Incident. I must ask for the aid of everyone here, those I have… Taught especially. There is a skull that holds the key to the world before this one, and it has been lost. I will reward whoever finds it.”

Odd as the request was, none questioned it. Almost at once his people began to organize and fan out, the serpent not issuing a single command beyond his speech. It was gratifying to not need a speech for every occasion, but as Asvarad watched even newcomers he’d never seen before joining the search he pondered the last time he’d needed to give one.

When he’d first met the Humans and given them his offer. Then hardly even a third of his audience had managed to come up with a question about this world’s true nature when prompted. Most didn’t even know how. On one side the event had allowed a smaller group to assert itself and organize the others without his interference, but on the other it was beyond discouraging to see so many struggle with what Asvarad knew they could understand. They just needed help.

And he knew he only needed the power of the nodes to help them. The very thing he’d wanted to avoid as much as possible until he understood what it was, if the knowledge Peninal had imparted on him was to be trusted at all, could help Asvarad and the Human’s alike grasp concepts they had no understanding of.

There was risk. With the nodes, there was always risk. They would surely only teach him and his Humans what they were supposed to know. Worse than that? He would have to claim more and more nodes just to access that information. Asvarad recalled the experience and shuddered at the thought, as much in anticipation as terror. It would be dangerous, and to more than his body.

Yet, the reward. He and his people needed more than knowledge and there was no resource like an unclaimed node. It was a perfect incentive, and it made the great serpent leery. He needed much, but what if he was playing too heavily into the game? What if the end began when chaos was banished? Asvarad crushed the thoughts as they came.

He would leave a bastion for chaos until he was sure, but he needed what he needed now. His people most of all.

- - -


His departure had been greeted with some uncertainty, but none had doubted Asvarad’s claim that it was necessary. Now though, it was he that doubted again. The swirling, flicking, madness of chaos stretched out before Asvarad as he approached the twenty fifth node and hesitated. He feared that he saw worlds ending beyond any counting in the infinite uncertainty. He knew that he saw his own.

Asvarad hated this world for the prison he feared it was, but after the hideous insubordination of his Servant he found that he was capable of yet greater anger. And he loathed the idea of all that was, him included, being washed away because he was unwilling to do what he had to. With a growl he did as he had done once before and set course for a vacant node, slithering across the unmade world.

But this time was different. He did not see what had changed, but he tasted the bitterness of charred metal and felt unseen sickness claw at his insides. Darkness that seemed to contract and flex around Asvarad obscured his sight as he searched for the danger that had left him coughing up bright blood from pained lungs.

He was being killed and could not see his attacker. The realization struck the weakened serpent like fire, and without reservation he poured his power into a wish to buy him time. The center of one wide tooth began to glow in Asvarad’s mouth as enamel turned to azure crystal that shined faintly at first but then more intensely with every passing moment. The taste of metal and blood vanished as Azvarad’s invisible wound healed, but the danger had not passed.

The brightening glow from the great serpent’s tooth served as warning, something was getting closer. It was that movement which gave the beast, the vast titan of chaos treading through unreality, away. It was invisible but for the air around it glowing and cracking with sickly colour that Asvarad had mistaken for distant lightning and not the madness that it was. Something had been born in chaos. To look at it, to be near it, was to suffer. If Asvarad had ever doubted his fears as to this world’s nature, then he did no longer.

The great serpent beheld not a guardian or defender, nor a soldier or warrior. He saw malice given form by evil. For the moment he was protected, his defenses proof against the monster’s unseen poison, but with every motion it made to approach him Asvarad felt the gem in his tooth vibrating as it burned with light, and he knew he was still in danger.

Panic overtook him and he all but leapt at the distant node. The serpent’s muscles burned as he raced towards the monolith as fast as his body would allow him, but his pursuer had not been taken unawares. Where before it had been content to slowly poison Asvarad, now it screamed.

The great serpent listened and regretted having ears to hear at all. Every living scream of terror or inanimate shriek rang out in a dissonant harmony, but only for Asvarad. The gem in his tooth began to hurt and he knew he was not faster than his pursuer, but he could tell it made no difference. Chaos manifest had not realized Asvarad was protected until it was too late to stop the serpent from getting what he wanted.

He reached the node and threw his momentum into coiling around it, clinging to the obelisk desperately. The power of the node rushed through him and as he turned to face his pursuer the flickering world froze and the beast was fleeing. Asvarad felt an ocean of power buoying him that he willed to violence. Nature twisted and the vastness of a mountain was flung at the apparition that’d nearly claimed the serpent’s life, but the great plume of dust and rubble that erupted from the impact obscured any certainty of victory.

Somehow, he knew it wasn’t enough. But with no sign of the beast Asvarad put the monster out of his mind and focused on the task before him. He took hold of the power running through him and willed the dark ground around the node to sprout trees whose roots reached greedily into the world’s heart and pulled up every treasure that they found was there for the taking. Dull bark spotted with dull metals or shimmering gems defined the trees at first, but they were feeble. In the face of such horror as he’d witnessed Asvarad could not help but demand they be more.

They grew, and they grasped ever more tightly at the world's bounty. The largest were a thousand men tall, and they stretched out above a canopy of ‘lesser’ cousins no less than half the giant's height. Their bark abandoned pretense, growing thick and metallic. Some few turned to great spikes of crystal as the jewels they'd gouged from the depths of the world grew alongside them. The trees dominated the land but were not alone on it.

Flowering vines wrapped around the living towers and all manner of birds and bees swarmed them. On the ground odd yellow mosses and lichens thrived in the relative darkness under the vast canopy alongside the curious reptiles that trod on and ate the peculiar foliage. Everywhere Asvarad looked to create what his people would need, resources, food, and stability.

He pushed and pushed until once more the task lay finished. The node lay claimed, the knowledge he sought secured, and the creature that had nearly taken his life banished. Then, for the first time in his short life, Asvarad felt he could no longer hold any one of his six eyelids open and began to buckle under his own weight. He was so tired. His body, and his mind, finally crumbled under the strain as the serpent passed out.

Asvarad dreamed he had someone else to take on the weight, wished for it, and thus empowered a sapling just born thought it would be so. A little knight. The odd moving tree, not so different from a man in shape, rose and watched as its creator slumber in a deserved sleep.

It, the Forest’s Sentinel, would do its best to live up to the promise it’d made.



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