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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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The brushing of tall grass in the wind hissed a calming white noise. The clearest blue day beside the grey wall of the ironheart mountains was at peace but for the bleat of a goat. And then the sound of swift footsteps. And then a peal of childish laughter.

A single goat leapt across the uneven ground, leading five more behind him. Ran as they might, the iridescent bronze girl chasing behind them had not tired for the several minutes that she had remained running. She simply kept giggling as if catching her breath was something to be left for tomorrow.

“Conata!” A kind voice bellowed. “Conata! Leave the poor goats alone! They will be exhausted if you keep running them around.”

The bronze child jumped. Her legs threw her further than their short stature suggested possible. With her arms outstretched, she flopped onto half of one of the goats’ backs, dragging it to the dirt. It bleated in surprise and struggled in her grip. “Got you, big billy,” Conata said with a grin.

Conata stood up and dusted off her rawhide smock while the beleaguered goat carefully clambered back onto its hooves. A few crunching, grassy footsteps cast two large shadows over the two of them, causing Conata to look up and smile. A long, thin crook reached out and caught the goat by the neck before it could run off again. Even if it could have, it was too tired to try.

“Conata, my little gem, I would thank you for catching the goat that I was to trade to Rokyut here, but you do not have to chase every one of them throughout the day.” Choukkud chuckled and leant down to ruffle Conata’s copper hair with his thumb. Conata giggled and cringed, turning slightly silver. Another Tedar with a large leather hood tightly covering his head and keeping his ears free looked on with a smile and crossed arms.

“But daddy, it’s fun to chase them,” Conata said in her defence.

“Right, but you’ve been running for hours, haven’t you?” Choukkud’s sharp-toothed grin gleamed against the afternoon. “Have you put your mind to something again, little gem? You never do stop once that happens, we all know it. How full of energy you are!”

Conata knew she wasn’t in trouble, but averted her eyes coyly anyway. “I just wanted to catch all of the goats. I did it, though! The big billy was the last one!”

The hooded Tedar chose to speak up at this point. “This is your blessed daughter, Choukkud?” He said with the corner of his mouth. “She’s a cute little lump, aren’t ya?”

Choukkud turned his head to the hooded figure. “The most blessed gift we could ever have, Rokyut. Conata, say hello.”

With a routine childish droll, Conata recited. “Hello mister Rokyut.”

“Hello Conata,” Rokyut said endearingly, bowing his head.

“Rokyut is from a clan further south.” Choukkud continued. “He has come to trade a couple of fine breeding nannies for our big billy here. Come here you…” Choukkud pulled the still trapped goat towards the two Tedar before he outright reached out with his other hand and scooped the goat off the ground. The goat bleated and struggled, but Choukkud didn’t react with anything more than to put the beast under one arm and turn to leave. Rokyut was not far behind. “Come along, Conata. You will be taking your oath tonight with the prophet. You will have to get ready soon.”

Conata followed along, but let out a whine. “Aw! Do I have to? I don’t want a red mark on my wrist! And Sularn’s grumpy and clean…”

“It’s very important, little gem. Everyone must do it.” Choukkud turned his head such that his eye glinted. “You can still play with the goblins afterwards.”

The excitement that Conata held for that was hidden behind a silent pout, but she was still bronze enough that Choukkud could tell otherwise.

“So, Choukkud,” Rokyut began a conversation as they walked with Conata in tow. “Your daughter. Is she human or rovaick? She looks human.”

Choukkud answered without giving Conata so much as a glance. “She may look human, but she is not either. She still my daughter. Wutni and I are raising her as one of us.”

Conata peered her eyes up with a frown at the backs of the two Tedar.

“But…she’s human? She’s not rovaick.”

“It does not matter, Rokyut. We accept her.”

Three crunching paces passed.

“Do the others accept her? I have heard of her powers.”

Conata looked on blankly at the nearby flying ants.

Four crunching steps brought Choukkud’s head low. He sighed. “Yes,” he said firmly.

The conversation was culled by awkwardness all the way back to the edge of the field.



Splat! Conata scooped up another lump of clay from the large puddle and dunked it onto the circle of clay behind her, another goblin squat down to do the same. The clay made everyone filthy, not least of which the normally lustrous metal girl among the gaggle of goblins that was helping her. The amount on one of her hands alone almost covered up the bright red symbols on the back of it. It nevertheless was fun for everyone involved.

Conata giggled at the sound the clay made, as well as the eventual mud fight that broke out between her easily distracted helpers. No matter, she could build it herself. The others tended to get tired faster anyway.

“Iz you sure da mud’ll help make da fire hotta, forgefingaz?” Fradk asked. She was one of the goblins with more self-control, and hadn’t joined the mud-slinging contest so quickly.

Not pausing her efforts, Conata grinned. “Maybe. The clay doesn’t burn and it stays hot, so maybe it will keep the heat in.” Splat went another lump of clay. Conata pat it down securely with her small hands.

Up the clay dome rose, taking another hour or so to complete without it falling apart. Their determination was rewarded with success before the end of the day. Even though she was still small, Conata had to be the one to reach up and close the ceiling of the little clay oven. She had grown taller than all of the goblins over the years. She laid her entire front up against the dome and reached with one arm, whining in a struggle. Splat! “Done!” She exclaimed. Another couple of secure pats sealed the dome but for the small port at its base.

Before climbing down, Conata waved with her other arm, prompting a little copper disc to slide out from the front of her smock. It hovered around in the air like it had a mind of its own before settling down on the freshly placed clay. Conata then closed her fingers in the air and the clay underneath the disc hissed and bubbled. By the time the disk started smoking red hot, Conata willed it up again and cooled it, revealing dry clay underneath, just as dry as the rest of the surface. The disk slipped back under Conata’s smock where it belonged as she put her hands to the dome to push herself straight. Whatever details of her front that had not been rendered filthy were now so thoroughly covered that it almost looked like she was made from muddy clay.

“Wot now?” One of the goblins asked.

Some of the goblins were distracted again, this time by the passing patrol of troll guards. The trolls wore white pelts with red symbols on them, as was becoming a custom for good luck amongst the warriors.

Conata smiled and threw up her arms in excitement that had not faded at all through the day. “Now we light wood in the opening in the base with some of the sleeping metal rocks and see if we can wake the metal up!”

The trolls, overhearing this, stopped and began to chuckle to themselves. The fear that the rovaick had of Conata initially had turned on her after about a month after she first woke up in the clan. Her gentle impression as a little girl made her projects the butt of a few jokes.

Turning to a copper complexion and letting her arms lower, Conata’s smile faded. She lowered her brow in defiance at the trolls. “What’s so funny?” she demanded.

One of the trolls raised a fist holding his stone club and pointed to Sularn’s oath written upon the back of his hand. “Little forgefingers, this symbol is for improving yourself, remember?” He put a fist on his hip and pointed to Conata’s little oven project. “If you keep doing silly things like this, your oath might fade. You’re wasting time! Clay? You’ll just stifle the flames!”

With that, both of the trolls began to bellow out in louder laughter.

Conata’s face twisted in anger and her hair began to bristle. Her previously copper skin turned into dull iron. The nearer goblins stepped back. Conata clenched her fists, hunched her shoulders and began steaming as the clay stuck to her skin hissed, dried, and flaked. “Shut up! You’re stupid!” she shouted in her high, girlish peal. “It’ll work! Just you wait, poo heads!”

The trolls only laughed more, but one nudged the other and nodded his head towards their destination. “Come on, Youkus, let the metal human waste her time with the goblins. It’s not like she’s got much else.”

At that last comment, the rust on Conata’s skin began to spread and her wire hair smoothed out. As the trolls walked off, Rubok, one of the goblins who had known Conata the longest, put a hand on her arm.

“Hey, uh, forgefingaz?” Rubok asked, internally thankful that he had not burnt his hand by touching her, looked up with some hope. “Dey’re dumb trollz. Letz dem go and we’z can try ligh’in’ da fire now.” The other goblins offered encouraging smiles to Conata as well. They may not have been the brightest creatures, but they had experience with trolls picking on them.

Conata’s rust and iron soon gave way to bright bronze again. She sniffed and smiled. “Yeah, let’s do it.”

The next morning had the offending troll Youkus wake up to see a pair of small bronze hands above his head holding up a dirty, charred, fist-sized lump of shiny…clunk! “Ow!”

A familiar voice sounded out, albeit croaky enough to suggest a full night of work. “Good morning, poo head.”



The bead of tin hovered in front of Conata’s red eyes. With a pair of fingers, she waved and the bead glowed orange and split into two equal drops. From where she was, laying prone on her bed with her heels kicking the air behind her, Conata was relaxed enough to do this with little concentration at all. She had found such fine manipulation tricky before, but that was before she even had her ninth birthday. She was twelve now. Things had changed.

“Conata!” Mother’s voice echoed off the stone. “Your friends are here!”

Conata’s eyes lit up, as did the reflections on her bronze skin. Without so much as a gesture, the beads of tin fused and flew up onto a fine wooden shelf built into the stone. The beads, in turn, fused with a cylinder of tin that stood upright on the wood. The tin was lined up between the copper and the zinc cylinders, amongst about seven others in the row. Conata was sitting up by the time her guests arrived.

“Forgefingaz!” “Hoy!” A pair of grinning goblins walked into view with a peculiar object carried between them. Conata craned her head down and raised an eyebrow. It was a long tusk-like shape, but despite its dull grey appearance and dirty patches, Conata could feel from where she sat that it was pure metal. This was strange for a number of reasons; normally the goblins would bring new kinds of rocks to see what metal was inside them and normally they weren’t too different from the ingots already on Conata’s shelf. This was neither an ore nor anything she had felt before.

“What is that?” Conata asked.

The goblins dropped the tusk onto the floor. “Iz giantb-argh!” The first goblin was knocked with a haymaker by the other. “Shuddup! You givez away da story!” The first rubbed the back of his head, though the strike did not seriously damage anything, such were goblin skulls.

“Did you say giants, Bogg? You mean like white giants? What’s the story, Olub?”

“Wull…yeah…” The second goblin, Olub, seemed slightly disappointed that the big discovery was ruined, but he continued anyway. “We’z foundz it cheap from da hainy-bone traderz. Say dey can’t use it for much.” Olub raised one hand, then the other. “Bendz outta shape too eazy, meltz ‘fore y’can ‘ammer it, doezn’t stay sharp like bronze. Dey waz tryin’a get rid’v it. So we’z traded one brick o’ coppa for dis much!”

“Pick it up! Look!” Bogg got too excited to stay silent for too long. He got another smack over the head for his troubles.

Conata had known these two for long enough to be used to their behaviour. She slid down from her bedding and scooped up the tusk in both hands. She overcompensated lifting it up and almost hit herself with it. Her eyes were wide. “It’s so light! I have never seen anything like it.”

“You’z never would guess where dey foundz it, dough.” Olub grinned from ear to ear.

With a stifled laugh, Conata replied. “I’m guessing something to do with giants?”

“Bah…” Olub waved a hand and looked away. “Roight, iz no fun now.” His pout looked like it was holding back a swarm of bees. “Dey foundz it in a hole in da dirt. Lotz’a bitz of porcelain. Lotz’a dis stuff. Lotz’a ro’en meat. Waz a dead…white…giant…” Olub enunciated better than he had in his entire life. He pointed to the tusk. “Iz a rib, forgefingaz.”

Conata swallowed. “So this is…a giant bone? Their bones are made of metal?”

“Giant bone!” Bogg shouted out. “Is wot dey callz it! Iz wot I sayz before!”

This time, the goblin grin crept onto Conata’s lips. Her hair began to bristle. “Amazing! We’ll have to try it with the other metals!”

A chunk of the rib was immediately sheared off and shaped into another cylinder for the shelf. Conata was amazed at the ease she had in shaping the giant bone. It was as if it wanted to be shaped and moved.

Thereon, the experiments went on for the entire afternoon. With the amount of metals Conata already had, she could investigate how this ‘giant bone’ mixed and matched with the rest of them for months, perhaps even a year. That day was merely scratching the surface. Normally, the most they could agree on as a team was naming new metals and alloys, but this one did not get much time. Mostly because it was already known as giant bone. However, Conata liked how it sounded in the hain traders’ language; the translation of ‘Giant’s bone’ came out to be alyum nayam. The goblins could never get such pronunciations correct.

Conata bid farewell to Olub and Bogg with enough ideas in her head to keep her up all night. Her parent’s had taught her a sleeping discipline that was normally tested by events such as today. She should have been excited. She was normally happier than anything.

Although, when she was left alone this time, Conata’s lustre was dulled to the point of roughness. She sat upon her bed and she held her head forward. The bronze of her skin fell into copper, and then slowly faded into a dull grey lead.

She sighed to herself.

“Oh, gemstone…” a gentle voice murmured.

Conata didn’t look up, but she felt her mother Wutni’s body heat radiate as the Tedar woman settled herself seated beside Conata.

“They are the last ones who come to visit, aren’t they?” Wutni asked. She put a large, oath-inscribed hand around Conata’s entire side and gently held her in a sideways embrace.

Conata reflected more light upon being touched, but was still leaden. She nodded after hesitation.

“You know, any other goblins would be willing to be your friends as well, I am sure,” Wutni offered. “You worked out how to make and forge metal. They respect you to the point of worship.”

“They’re not…” Conata sighed again. “They’re not like the others. The other goblins all just want to know things and leave. My friends…they wanted to discover things like I do. Then they…” There was a sniff from Conata and she moved her head to lean against Wutni as well. Her voice started lashing quietly. “They either stopped to raise children, went travelling, or died. Olub and Bogg are the only ones left. The new goblins know nothing. They’re all babies, like I was.”

Wutni ran a thumb over Conata’s hair. “Now-now, there’s no need to be angry at them. I understand. I am sorry that you’re beginning to outlive your friends. It’s not been getting easier, I know.” Wutni tilted her head, making her bone jewellery clackle for a moment. “You have been growing up a lot, haven’t you little gemstone? Perhaps it’s time you started looking for some new friends anyway? Some tedar children, or trolls. Closer to your age.”

Conata was silent. She looked to the opposite wall with her red eyes gleaming against the grey lead around them. She drew in a breath to speak and let it out through her nose. She tried again. “I…” She sniffed and held her breath, but try as she might to hold back, she let out a muffled sob against Wutni.

“Oh, Conata, what’s wrong?”

“I’m not like them!” She whined. Her voice became louder as she continued. “I’m just a silly, weak little human! I’m not goblin, or troll, or azibo, or even a tedar! I’m not rovaick! They all hate me!”

Wutni was silent for a moment. She let Conata cry against her for a short while longer.

“Even so, I’m not human! I’m different! I’ll never fit anywhere now!” The escalation only made Conata’s sobbing more profuse. “They all hate me!”

“Conata, dearest…” Wutni whispered, “That’s not true.” Wutni continued to stroke Conata’s hair. “Some people might have picked on you when you were younger, but you’re growing up strong. People respect you now, don’t you know it? You have been raised with us, know our ways. You are hardly as different as you think.”

Though Conata’s sobbing slowed, she shook her head against Wutni. “I’m in a human shape, made of metal, with ugly greyish and red eyes, and everyone is afraid. I don’t believe you.”

Wutni gave a nod and looked away to think. Her answer came more easily than Conata had predicted. “Well, Conata, if you don’t believe me, you should probably look for yourself. I know you never give up on something you set your mind to, so why not try with meeting people? Be sure of yourself. I know you can do it.”

Conata didn’t have an answer for that.



A precarious tower of bronze ingots looked over the heads of the clan’s sparsely crowded main cave. An older Conata walked beneath them. Her body had grown taller over the past two years and she was well into an adolescent form. However, she was not an adult yet.

She was in high spirits, polished and smiling. Trying to balance the stack of yellow metal in one hand was a new little challenge. A bag over her shoulder tinkled softly with its weight of yet more metal as she made her way to her personal forge.

There were always things to repair and make. Though few wanted to stay for long, everyone was willing to give food, ore, or any appropriate payment for her services. Sometimes her goblin ‘followers’ just came to watch. While she still had a soft spot for goblins, she ignored them. Their nattering tended to grate on her these days.

The stack in her hand was seven ingots high so far. Close to a record. Without taking her eyes off the wobbling tower, Conata willed another ingot to slide out of her bag and slowly ascend up to the top. It slid into place with a soft scrape and Conata grinned in triumph. Her slow walk went on. The footsteps coming towards her were not thought of as a hazard until the feeling of a wool-dressed body shoved her backwards.

“Oof!”

Conata’s mass was always more than people expected, so whoever it was that shoved her only succeeded in making her stumble back slightly. The stack in her hand did not fare so well. Four of the ingots clanged out a cacophony as they bounced on the stone. Conata went wide-eyed and her hair sprang up in shock. She spread her hands either side and four of the ingots froze in the air. The remaining four were heavy enough to settle to a stop on the ground. “Ah! Sorry! Sorry!” Conata willed the ingots she had caught back into her bag and outstretched her hands to will the others back to her. She held those floor ingots in her arms against her chest by the time she even thought to focus on the one that had collided with her. Her hair settled.

“…Ow” A realtively smooth-skinned green azibo was on his back on the ground in front of Conata. In fact, it was the first young azibo she had ever seen. His hand nursed a blow on his head, while his face clenched in pain. A few inscribed clay tablets were scattered over the ground around him. Thankfully, the only damage they had sustained was a chip from a corner here and there.

Conata leaned forward with magnesium pitting her skin, as equally worried as she was curious. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry, I should have been looking where I was going.”

The azibo used his other hand to wave dismissively. “No, it was I that should have been paying attention.” He tried to get up and paused to wince. “I think one of those metal lumps hit me in the head.”

Another azibo voice rang out a short distance away. This one was higher pitched – clearly a female – though just as young. “Damn it, brother! You see what happens when you run around in a rush? There’s no point running here!” Conata looked up to see that the female had enough facial similarities to back up her claim to being a sibling of the one on the ground. There was also a third young azibo behind her, chuckling to himself, though he did not appear to be part of the family.

“Shut your maw, Polia,” the brother said, opening his eyes and getting up to his feet. He faced his sister first and foremost. The tiny cut on his head was already forming a painful lump underneath. “We’re already late for our teachings. We should not be tarrying!”

Conata looked down at the neglected tablets again. They were covered with simplified Tounic calligraphy. She gently let her arms open and let the ingots float down. They assumed the shapes of small clamps, before they closed carefully around each tablet and brought them up individually.

Polia had not noticed Conata’s movements. Her response to her brother was amused, more than anything. “What? So you can break the clay that the master lent us? Don’t be an idiot, Ruvac.”

The siblings continued arguing in oblivion as Conata made her clamps arrange the tablets in a neat pile.

“Idiot? You were the one who suggested breakfast in the first place! We did not have time!”

“You know I can’t concentrate on an empty stomach. Why do you have to be so uptight?”

“Um…” the third azibo had a face as if he was hallucinating at Conata’s powers.

“Maybe if you spent less time sleeping in and more time studying, you would think more as I do!”

The third azibo raised a finger. “My friends…” He cut off again.

“Come now, Ruvac. The main reason we slept in was because we were up too late studying in the first place.”

“Hey!” The third azibo clenched his fists. His shout had silenced the siblings.

Polia blinked and tilted her head. “Hm? What is it, Gio?”

Rather than show anger, the third young azibo, Gio, merely gestured to Conata with a flat hand and flicked his eyes between the two. In a synchronised movement, the siblings turned their heads towards Conata. They were struck still. Their confused frowns exacerbated their eyes darting between the tablets floating in front of them and Conata giving a tense look back at them.

Conata raised a hand and a small smile. “Good morning,” she said. “Um, your tablets are fine.”

Ruvac cautiously extended his arms and took the tablets, upon which time the bronze clamps released and flew back into Conata’s bag in the shape of ingots again. Ruvac held the tablets closely to his chest. “Um, you have my thanks. I apologise for running into you.”

Conata shook her head. “Oh, I’m fine. Don’t worry.” She clasped her hands together and shot the trio curious red eyes. “Where were you three headed? You looked like you were in a hurry?”

Ruvac brought one hand up to the back of his neck, but quickly snapped it back around the tablets before one of the smoother ones could slide onto to the floor again. “Uh, we were attempting to locate the ritual chamber. The one with the Perfect One’s statue and the calligraphy? Our teacher was going to give us a lesson there.” Ruvac looked down the hall. “But, by now, we are so late it shan’t matter whether we arrive sooner or later,” he huffed cynically.

The uncertainty Ruvac displayed was put in contrast with Polia’s reaction. She had one eye squinted as if sizing Conata up. “Say, you’re Conata, aren’t you? The metal human they call forgefingers? I’ve heard about you.”

Conata’s smile faded and she feigned fanfare in her voice. “Well…that’s me.” Conata looked down and let out a small sigh. “What did you hear?”

“Not much, really.” Polia shrugged and shifted her weight, putting a hand on her hip. “Well, to be fair, saying that you can shape any metal and you invented almost all the techniques used for working metal is a bit much to call ‘not much.’ I’ve been interested to see how you work ever since I heard.”

Conata tilted her head and gave a small, sceptical grin. “Really? Wow, uh, most people are too scared. I have a hard enough time making friends that aren’t peaceful old folks. Well, them and a couple of cranky goblins.” Conata’s eyes wandered to one side and she tightened her lips. “Even if people always have metalwork for me to do.”

Polia blew a raspberry. “Ungrateful idiots. Well, we may be new here, but we’re azibo. We’re meant to be the smart ones. Let the other rovaick be scared.”

It was at this point that Gio stepped in again. “Hey, I am sorry to interrupt, but we should talk while moving. You would not mind directing us to the ritual chamber, would you Conata? I’m Gio, by the way. These are the twins, Polia and Ruvac.”

“I figured as much,” Conata laughed. She released her hands and half-turned. These were strange people. She normally suffered about five different insults by this point. “Come with me, it’s not too far away.”

The three began to walk. Smalltalk passed between them, revealing the three azibo to be magical scholars of sorts. Beginners at best. Astartian magic was stronger in other clans, but they had come to learn of Tounic calligraphy. They were barely older than Conata in years. Conata was inwardly amazed that these individuals did not seem to judge her like others did. She reciprocated with a description her own work and sharing a few of the more amusing anecdotes of goblin behaviour.

As they were nearing the ritual chamber, Conata immediately realised that she might not run into the three if she didn’t take a risk. Her mother Wutni’s advice repeated in her mind to steel her resolve. Only a few pits of magnesium showed on her skin.

“Look, seeing as you three are new, maybe after your lesson I could show you around?” Conata had her back to the three. As least she could hide her nerves from her voice. She did so better than with her face.

“That would be most appreciated, Conata,” Ruvac responded.

Polia laughed. “For once, I can agree with Ruvac there. That’s really kind of you, Connie.”

Gio hummed in agreement.

“Maybe you could show us your forge later,” Polia said. “I would love to see your magic at work.”

“…Sure! Sure.” Conata kept looking ahead as a giddy grin had crept up to her face. Her persistence may have been met with blind luck in the end, but she could accept friends if it only took her two years to find them.



It was hard enough to tell the time of day within the dark confines of Conata’s forge. Her current – and not particularly effective – system was to go to bed when she was tired. She often took one project or another all the way to the morning.

“Just a little while longer,” She mumbled to herself. Hunched over her anvil, she hovered her hands over a large bronze spearhead. The traces of giantbone might have been one of the easiest things to shape, but spreading them evenly through the metal was a far greater challenge than stacking ingots. She tried to ignore that many little whiles had already passed since she was meant to be heading to bed.

The soft sweeping of large footsteps brushed on behind Conata. She didn’t turn around, but she had come to recognise her father’s stride. He was always considerate not to break her concentration when she was busy. “You always did have a hard time leaving things unfinished, didn’t you, child?”

Whatever colours could be discerned in the dim light showed Conata’s skin brightening a little.

Choukkud stepped closer. He hummed curiously when he got near enough. “You don’t normally spend this much time on a simple spear.”

Conata stopped for a moment to give Choukkud a fleeting look. “I just thought I might try making it a little lighter.”

After pacing around the iron block that served as Conata’s anvil, Choukkud squat down until his hands reached the floor. It was a slow process to lower his wide buttocks onto the stone, but now he was facing Conata comfortably. “The last time you spent this long on something simple, it was because a group of young trolls called you a freak when you tried to make friends with them.” Choukkud’s humorous look gave way to a sympathetic smile. “Is something troubling you, gemstone?”

Conata picked up the spearhead in both her hands and inspected it. It was sized for a tedar, so it was more like a short sword to her size. Sighing, she tossed it lazily over her shoulder. The spearhead flipped in the air and landed perfectly on an upright pole with a clunk. Conata, still not turning around, flicked up a hand up. A straight rivet of bronze flew up and through a hole on the base of the spearhead. It hissed and glowed with red heat as it flattened shut in a second. The spear was reassembled in its rack, probably as well as it could have been hours ago.

“…Father, where did I come from?” Conata looked up at Choukkud’s eyes.

Choukkud put a hand on his knee and held his other hand out to one side. “Well, as myself and your mother have said, you were not a natural birth. You were dug out of the stone, sleeping like a baby in the womb. Sularn knew that we…”

“No, father…” Conata leaned both her hands upon her anvil and took on a tin complexion. She looked pleadingly. “I mean…where did I come from? I have asked every different trader that comes to visit us. They have never seen any other metal humans like me.” Conata held a hand out flat to one side. “I thought I felt out of place because I didn’t have many friends, but even after knowing Gio, Polia, and Ruvac for months, I…” Conata trailed off, lifting her eyes to the ceiling and letting her hand lower to her side.

Choukkud shifted to sit with one leg flat and one knee raised. His smile had lowered. “You have always been one of us.”

Running a hand over her wiry hair, Conata sighed through her nose in mild frustration. “That’s just it. I’ve always been here, but I never felt as though I belonged. There’s…” Conata bowed her head and closed her eyes. She leaned her fists on her anvil as she looked up again. She was frowning. “I’ve been having these dreams lately. They’re weird. They feel so real, but I don’t know where they’ve come from.”

“Dreams?” Choukkud craned his head forward. “What sorts of dreams?”

“I’m always small, younger, in a white dress, and I’m flying. Flying above the clouds. I can see further than I’ve ever seen.”

Choukkud asked slowly. “Are you alone in these dreams?”

Conata lowered her eyes to the iron beneath her. “Well…I never feel alone in my dreams. There’s always this…I feel like I’m being watched by this woman that I never see but…” Conata shook her head once and waved a hand dismissively. “That’s not it for these ones. There are always two people flying with me. A goblin and a…human with four arms.” Conata’s complexion flashed silver through the tin for a silent instant when she paused. She did not look up from her anvil. “They look at me and…I feel close to them for some reason. They make me feel like I belong. Like…like I’m at home. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt so sure of it. But when I wake up…” Conata looked sideways to the floor. “I can never remember their faces.”

A long breath outward from Choukkud laced the air with the smell of his roasted goat dinner. He bowed his head. “I see.”

Conata raised her brow and looked up again, surprised. “You know what it means?”

Choukkud lifted his eyes from his bowed head to look sadly at Conata. “My child, do make sure to keep your mother and me informed about these dreams.” He slowly started to stand up.

“Wait.” Conata stood up straight and gave her father a stern look. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”

They caught each other in a staring contest. Choukkud was not afraid of Conata, but he knew her to be stubborn. After a few seconds half-standing still, Choukkud stood up completely and looked over at the spearhead behind Conata. “Tell me first, Conata. What did you get in return for working on that spear over there?”

Conata’s look softened and she turned her head to glance at it. “I did not ask for anything in return,” she explained. “It belongs to Dawu, the huntress. Some of her hounds have been sick and she’s not been able to get a good catch in the lower mountains for a while. She hasn’t got anything to pay me, so I just decided to help her.” Conata’s head turned back to Choukkud and she squinted in curiosity at what she saw.

The dim light made Choukkud’s smile hard enough to see as he stared at the spear. Conata could just make out a wet glaze around his eyes. “That is well,” he said. “You are growing the heart of a tedar, Conata.”

Conata blinked. “Well, thanks…” She turned her head slightly while looking at Choukkud. “but you still owe me an explanation.”

Choukkud broke out in a tight chuckle and wiped his eyes with his huge thumb and forefinger. “Oh, gemstone. There will be a day when things become clearer for you. Know now that we made a promise to someone very special. When that promise is fulfilled, Wutni and I will tell you everything. The full truth.” He began to walk to the door. “Do keep us informed about your dreams.”

“That’s it? You’re not going to tell me?” Conata stomped her foot. “Father!?” she shouted in a mix of anger and sadness.

Once again, Choukkud stopped. “Your seventeenth birthday.” He did not turn around. “That’s a promise to you, my daughter.”

Conata’s mouth hung open and her brow knitted. “But…”

Choukkud had already walked out. “Goodnight, Conata. Try to get to sleep soon.” He would not argue.

“Ugh!” Conata spun and sat abruptly on the floor against her anvil, arms wrapped around her raised knees. She was outwardly angry, but it was not hot iron covering her skin. It was a creeping brown rust. It wasn’t fair.

She hung her head and a short, constricted breath sucked into her lungs. She went leaden. It wasn’t fair.



The sight before Conata and Polia was one they had seen plenty of times before. The sun setting into the distant shine of the ocean made for a beautiful sight on clear evenings like this. Especially while perched high on the large rock that overlooked much of the terraced rice fields. The friends sat side by side, basking in the last warmth of the day. They had it to themselves with Gio and Ruvac off on some short journey to a rovaick clan in the north with Gio’s father.

“…So anyway, when I told them, my parents said that I am not allowed to go out travelling until I finish my studies.” Polia recounted. “That won’t be any less than a decade, really. I might end up getting stuck here, being roped into an arranged marriage with some crocodoggle mage from down south.” She lifted her upper lip in disgust. “I pity whomever that should be. I’ll drag him along with me if he tries to stop me seeing the world.”

“I don’t doubt it.” A bronze Conata was leaned back on her hands, sitting cross-legged. “You’ve had plenty of practice with your twin brother.”

Polia glanced to Conata and flashed her teeth. “Oh, come now. Ruvac and I bicker for fun, you know that. It’s a far more even competition.”

Letting out an amused hiss, Conata returned the glance. The twins certainly made it look like there was animosity between them.

Polia shifted her weight to one side. “What about you? Do you ever want to go travelling? Leave this peaceful, boring place?”

Conata leaned her head back and looked to the rings in the sky. “I don’t know…I guess I’d like to keep helping out father with his herds for a while. And I’ve always got new things to do with the metal the goblins find. I still don’t know how to smelt or work most of the things in my collection without using my powers. And…” Conata slowly breathed in while she decided whether to continue. “I’m going to stay until I’m seventeen, in any case.”

“Why seventeen?” Polia tilted her large head.

Conata pulled her head up straight. She leaned her elbows forward onto her spread knees and continued looking at the horizon. “It’s going to sound strange.”

Polia snorted and guffawed. “Try me, metal girl.”

“Point taken.” Conata wished that made it easier to admit. She picked up a twig and began snapping it in her fingers. “All my life, I’ve been told that I was just found in the mountain rock. No one knows who or what I am. Hardly anyone even remembers about the day I was found except mother and father. I don’t remember anything about before I woke up.” Conata’s copper faded to patches of lead. “For as long as I’ve been here, I thought mother and father didn’t know anything else about me, but…about a year ago, father told me that he did.”

Polia frowned and listened intently.

“He promised he would tell me when I was seventeen. I was angry for about a week, angry that they had lied. But…I had doubts.” Conata sent her eyes down to the trolls working the fields below. “I mean, I loved them still. And they love me. They wouldn’t have kept that information from me if they didn’t have a good reason. It makes me a little scared to even know what it is.”

“Wow…if it’s got you scared, it must be daunting,” Polia said. “So, do you even want to know?”

Conata looked at Polia and nodded firmly. “Yeah, definitely.” She looked ahead again and lifted up her knees. “It’s all I’ve got of myself. I like it here, I like the rovaick…the ones that don’t treat me badly…but still. I want to know where I came from and what I am.”

“That’s fair. I couldn’t imagine…” The darkening sky was lit up from their right. Polia stopped to look.

“What is it?”

Both the girls looked on for a moment. “Might be the Muse making a show in the sky again,” Polia guessed. “This could be a special night. The story of Phantasmagoria is always fascinating when I hear it.”

Conata’s eyes were drawn to white streaks in the growing night sky. “Um…”

“Oh, look, shooting stars.”

“Polia? I don’t think those are shooting stars.” Conata kept her eyes fixed on the streaks and stood to her feet.

Polia stood up too. They didn’t disappear in an instant. They were curling off. They were growing. “What are they? Some kind of djinn?”

A warm breeze blew by. One of the glowing shapes grew so bright that it lit what the sun was receding from like a new day. It was flying in their direction. The pair were dumbstruck. It had to be some sort of creature. It was banking to something on the coast. It slowed as it began to circle like a vulture.

“There are hain down there! That’s their village!”

Dots of light sharded from the shape towards the ground. They hit the ground in huge blasting fires. They could feel the heat from where they stood. Smoke billowed in a great black column.

Polia threw her hands over her mouth and looked on with shock. “By the gods…”

And there was more than one. They were no mere djinn, they were sure. The others were streaking through the sky still, but another broke off. It turned in a wide arc until it aligned with both the girls.

“We have to get inside! Quick!”

The two jumped from the large rock. Their feet landed with thuds. They immediately made for the nearest cave entrance. “Run! Run! Get inside!” Polia shouted to the trolls. Most had seen the light in the distance themselves and were more than willing to obey.

Panic spread across the mountainside. Shouts and screams rang out. Conata ran behind Polia on the trail to the main cave entrance. It was mostly downhill, so she couldn’t run much faster than Polia if she wanted to without stumbling and falling. “The godz is ending da world!” Goblins ran in confusion. “Yilu! Child! Where are you!?” A troll called out. Conata turned her head and took on all of their panic.

“Keep running, Conata!” Polia shouted.

Conata wanted to help. She had to keep running.

More shouts. “Get out there. Stand, you dogs! Stand and fight!” The guards started to form up ahead to respond to the threat. Conata saw her hands take on a pure magnesium finish. She had to keep running.

“We’re almost there!” Polia was losing her breath.

“Gods, no…” Conata’s voice quavered. She was watching her shadow sharpen and shrink along the ground. Everything else was being bathed in a hot white light. It was all behind her. The back of Conata’s smock was singed by the radiant heat alone.

There was a gaseous roar. A chorus of primal screams rang out. Another roar. This was closer. More screaming. Conata felt like she had left reality a long time ago.

Conata was about to pass the final guard to make it out. It was a massive tedar with a huge bronze mace. He slowed to a stand before he was passed, looking up at the bright light. His eyes were nearly popping out and his mouth was slightly open. Conata reached him in time to hear his mace fall from his fingers. She ran past. It made a ping on the rocky ground. Conata did not want to know what the tedar had seen. Another roar. The tedar screamed.

A white powder began blowing forth with the hot wind, propelling Conata and Polia on. It was ash and smoking cinders.

Polia and Conata were almost the last to get to the cave mouth. There was a crush to get inside. Conata pat Polia on the back and stepped back. “Get inside with everyone! I can seal the entrance behind us!”

“Conata! Don’t stay here!” Polia cried.

“GO!” Conata turned around as Polia’s weeping faded in to the rest of the screams.

The fields were gone. So were the sparse trees. Fires burned into the air from small, still-flammable spots. Everything dry had disintegrated. Everything else was smoke. Most flames were on bodies, Conata could smell them as well as she saw them. They were people of the clan. Sularn’s Oath was meant to protect them.

She took a step back, and another. The few survivors of the original barrage, many still steaming and wailing from horrid burns, had finished filing into the cave. Conata turned to check on them. There was space. She ran in and slid to a stop by the wall a short distance in.

She turned around again, breathing quickly. Her hand slapped onto the wall. Her eyes were fixed on the mouth of the cave. The walls began to heat and glow. She just needed a little longer.

A sharp light was cast onto one of the walls at the cave mouth.

Don’t you dare. Conata slowly shook her head.

The light grew. It crept up the wall at the speed of a small wave.

Conata could feel its heat. The walls needed to be a little hotter.

The light reached Conata. Black flecks of a human figure stepped out in front of the cave. A severe stone face fixed the expression of the bright entity. Shining wings flanked its shoulders. Conata’s smock began to smoke. It was too bright. Conata’s knees began to quiver.

There was something else about it.

It raised one arm.

It was going to kill her. Nothing had successfully burned her before, but nothing burned like this creature. She might just melt.

The wings.

They were metal.

“Stop!” Conata shrieked and threw her free hand forward. The sound of metal taking a screaming bend suppressed the creature’s light, casting the cave into darkness but for the soft red of the heating walls. Conata had bent the creature’s wings around itself, trapping it.

Just a little longer.

The tears were drying before they could fall down Conata’s cheeks. Her smock was leaping with flames now. Conata clawed her hand and the metal Closed tighter. The metal that Conata tried to contain the creature with shrieked and began to glow itself. It wasn’t strong enough. Jets of fire shot from any gap in the makeshift cocoon.

A fist punched through the glowing metal as if it was made from ice. Blackened shards broke onto the ground. The creature angrily thrashed and tore the metal apart.

Just a little longer.

The creature fixed its eyeless gaze upon Conata and raised its hand again.

She closed her eyes.

“These are not yours to slay, servant of order!” A deep voice made Conata open her eyes just in time.

The light of the creature was shadowed by the shaft of a long hammer. It crashed into the creature’s side, pinning it against the cave wall. An armoured figure holding the hammer, more than twice as tall as Conata herself, cast a shadow into the cave. It did not so much as give a puff of vapour to the heat.

“Fade!” The deep voiced giant shouted. The sound resonated throughout the cave in spite of the roaring flames. There was a snap and a crack. With a jolt, the hammer crunched through the creature’s chest, collapsing it. The hammer went deeper, as if into the wall. Glossy spikes erupted from the bright creature’s figure in places around its body, cracking and ruining more of its patchy shell. The light faded as the flames inside the creature petered out. The pieces of shell remaining crumbled to the ground in pieces. Everything seemed so dark now.

The giant warrior retracted its hammer, made a quarter turn and slammed the haft of its hammer into the floor. Its all-covering plates of armour were a complete glossy white, if with a slight flickering yellow tinge from the fires outside. It had no face, merely a helmet that twisted to look at Conata.

She realised that she was paralysed with shock.

The giant turned its body and started to stride toward Conata with large, dry clay strides.

Conata tried to step back while looking up at the giant. She almost began running backwards until her back found a wall.

The giant stopped, planted the haft of its hammer in the ground again, and knelt face Conata directly. “Demigoddess.”

The fear on Conata’s face was disturbed by a sudden, shaky inward breath.

“Are you hurt?” The giant was still as a statue.

Conata slowly began shaking her head. “What…what did you call me?”

“I must speak with the azibo Sularn. Where is he?”

“He is inside, but I have to seal the cave! There are more of them out there!” Conata shouted in the giant’s face. It had saved her life, it had to understand.

“The realta here have been destroyed. By your father and me.” The giant stood to its feet. “I am here to protect against any more that might arrive.” It began walking further into the cave.

“My father!?” Conata ran after it. “Wait! What even are you!?”

“I am Majus. The greater hand of the porcelain sire.”

“Toun!?” So many questions flew through Conata’s mind. “Well…what are those fiery things? Those…realta, you called them?”

“They are servants of Logos. The god-king of order has returned to punish Galbar in a blinding purge.”

Logos. Why did that name sound familiar? Why is he punishing us? That answer just brought up more questions. What had they done wrong? Conata stammered and waved her hands for a moment before settling on the most close issue to herself. “Why did you call me ‘demigoddess’?!”

“I do not know your given name, though I can detect your divine soul. You are a demigoddess. You should not hide it when you do not know how to.”

Conata took in another breath, but she didn’t speak. They had just stepped into the first main chamber of the cave.

There were survivors here. It made Conata feel nauseous.

She walked behind Majus’ large strides and tried not to look at those around her. Rovaick left and right looked up at the walking porcelain figure with unblinking eyes. Some were hopeful, others were crying out in lamentation or pain. Water was being rushed to deal with the multitude injuries. Flesh was burnt to the bone. Some limbs had sloughed off. Skin melted into grotesque forms. Many clutched loved ones. Some simply dragged themselves along the ground, wailing.

Conata knew a few of them. She had spoken with many. She averted her eyes entirely and tried to focus on Majus’ back. Too late.

It reeked of cooked meat. The echoing cries and shrieks were overwhelming. Conata couldn’t look to any direction from Majus’ back or else see melted flesh and agonised faces.

She could feel the iron in the blood streaking the floor.

She could escape if only she just kept walking. If she kept walking, she wouldn’t see anyone else she knew.

Too late. She stopped. Majus walked on, with his heavy footfalls clinking deeper into the cave.

Conata stared on at the scene in front of her. Bogg was sitting against a wall with a blank face, staring into space. He didn’t even notice her. He had Olub in his arms, cradling the goblin like a child. He was limp and lifeless. Bogg shifted slightly and Olub’s head lolled to reveal the other half of his face. The skin had been burnt to the skull.

“Conata!”

Conata did not move. A pair of huge arms wrapped around her. The smell of charred meat gave way to the familiar smell of Wutni’s embrace. Conata felt her legs and abdomen give out. Choukkud scooped her up and began to take her somewhere deeper in the caves, away from the casualties. She held her eyes shut. She could still hear everyone.

A memory flashed in her head. Gio and Ruvac were meant to head to that hain village as a rest stop.

Olub was going to bring her a new kind of rock today.

She broke down. If it weren’t for her sobs holding her back, she was screaming into Choukkud’s chest. Choukkud held her tighter.

For a demigoddess, she had never felt more powerless in her entire life.
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Lifprasil, Falas, Loth, Belvast

The relevant people


And then whenceforth two leaders and their segmented armies made their approach to one's city, riding upon a mountain pass less travelled by men, more or less armies. This path, carved into the jagged edges tearing themselves away from the flesh of the world was known only as 'Occam's Steppes'. Lifprasil rode upon Oevadia, of whom scaled passes ahead of his army with relative ease, the nightmarish creature - yet retaining a sense of eldritch regalia - twisted and crawled upon the trail manifested by Occam; and the Alefprian warriors who left the Valley of Peace trailed close behind.

The height of Occam's Steppes varied, and on ocassion one would catch a glimpse of strange wooden creatures that had perished building this pass, molded and malformed from residing in patches of woodland greenery; strange, colorful fauna grew from their core.

"These were created by Illunabar and her Muses - Mannequins that helped build Alefpria, however mindlessly." Lifprasil stated loudly, over the wind that battled against the lush, otherworldly fauna that relished in the extreme height of the mountains. He pressed forward still, leading his men, and Falas', to a gap in the path that opened to a tremendous stone fortress. The walls were fresh stone, reinforced by brilliant silver tapestry, and colors of dim reds, yellows, and limes that created patterns amongst the large blocks that formed the U shaped frontal wall of the fortress. Three gates made from thick Alefprian wood were the only points that made entrance feasible within the massive, impenetrable structure guarding the only path into Alefpria, past Illunabar's mirrors.

When the largest, central gate opened, Falas and her Angels could see an army smaller in bulk to the one that confronted the Horde of Chaos, but still equipped in weapons beyond their time. Glimmering metal covered the footsoldiers in formation along the path through their station, flanked by wooden horses draped in thick tarp, topped by regalia upon their ornate heads. These were cavalrymen, trained by the old Lifprasilian outriders of Alefpria's frontier.

Behind them were a caste of humans equipped with bows and arrows, each one was covered from head to toe in a strange uniform; wrapped in leather and cloth in a tight bundle that gave each unidentified person an air of mystery and allure to themselves. These were archers, trained by the Warrior Huntress Susa herself.

Ala A Alefpria!

Chanted the soldiers, saluting in volition to their Immortal Emperor's arrival. The guards here were much more diverse than the force that battled Grot, each one ranged from the height of a smaller Hain, to that of a hulking Lifprasilian; but every man and woman stood as equals. The sight was truly spectacular, a fleet of Alefprian citizens threw flowers into the path of the parade, cheering and yelling in glee at the return of their triumphant comrades; but also staring in awe at the sight of the winged angels. This carried on through the narrow fortress, ten minutes at least, until the tapering line of troops came upon the other side, and were greeted by a relief of Alefpria itself.

It was a tremendous city, wreathed in sunlight straining through the mountains to Falas' right, but cascading like water through the ocean to her left. Alefpria was as if a paradise upon this blighted world, the streets streamed with healthy people, and the military still extended down a much wider path, a ramp of stone, down into the widest street of the city; that which cut into the cityscape like a dazzling knife of white brick.

There was a tremendous gathering of people down below, but Lifprasil took pause, and looked back to Falas.

"What do you think?" he questioned, over the distant sound of instruments and cheering.

Falas and her Angels were seeing sights that were new to them as they floated along. Having spent most, if not all, their lives in the Valley of Peace, they were left staring in wonder at the world the Gods had created. The Mannequins were completely unheard of, leaving a few Angels wondering what they could have been building. Eventually, though, they reached Alefpria. Upon seeing the massive, colorful walls and the army behind the gate, the Angels were very much culture shocked. There was nothing that could have prepared them for what they would see and hear from this city. The soldiers wearing suits of metal as if it were merely casual wear, the walkways and buildings made of stone, everything was completely alien to them.

Even for Falas, this was no exception. She had never seen anything like it. The sight of it was just so.... daunting. "Remember what I've told you. Don't look too amazed. Keep your composure in check," Loth said as he walked next to Falas. Falas certainly tried, but the curiosity and wonder was evident on her face. As Lifprasil turned to address Falas, she turned to him and said, "It's... incredible! Everything here is just so... different from the Valley of Peace. How did all of this get built?"

Lifprasil smiled.

Petals flew through the air, swirling to greater and greater heights to meet Oevadia - of whom sputtered upon meeting them.

"I inspired the people, I gave them something to believe in, and aside from the creatures of living deadwood - the mortals built all this upon their own volition: to supply for family, to supply for self, and most of all, to supply for the greater good." Lifprasil explained dilligently, looking down upon his city with a sense of what could best be described as pride.

He raised a hand, as if he held something within it, and all that were beneath him returned the gesture, curling their free arms close to their collective hearts. They all began to chant, and the instruments changed their intensity to match the cheering of the crowd.

"Ala A Alefpria! Ala A Alefpria! Ala A Alefpria! Ala A Alefpria! Ala A Alefpria!"

Yelled the crowd in scattered unison as Lifprasil descended the steppes into the city upon Oevadia, of whom seemed mildly overwhelmed by the wall of noise it slinked into. Lifprasil was sure to keep the creature under his calmer tenure, and soon it pressed forward, tall and regal, with its master upon a high seat. "Prosit!" Lifprasil shouted to his subjects. Consequently, the rumbling cries of his people turned into a triumphant roar so loud, that maybe even the Gods heard the invincible cries of such a fragile collectivity.

Lifprasil motioned for Falas to follow, once he had finished his greeting, "Come come - the parade is almost over." he stated, leading into the streets of Alefpria, that which yielded to a circular square, punctuated by what appeared to be a statue of an Alefprian in the middle. The parade seemed to cease here, and manifested into a square of commerce and exotic fruits and vegetables, some more dizzingly vibrant than others. Here, Lifprasil dismissed Oevadia, of whom jettisoned away to an unknown perch, leaving Falas, Loth, and the two parties' guard to speak away from the now distant celebration.

And so the parade ended. The few Angels that had accompanied Falas began to chatter about what they had just experienced and how they were going to tell everyone else back at home. Falas, meanwhile, began to relax a bit, sighing. The journey to Alefpria had taken a while, and Falas was feeling quite tired now. Loth was also beginning to feel the same way, but showed little sign of it. However, Loth did think that perhaps a rest would be a good idea, and so decided to turn to Lifprasil and ask, "Excuse me, are there any lodgings for the Angels? It would be good to know where they are."

Lifprasil nodded to Falas' inquiry "Of course - you will all be staying in my palace, built by the Muses four," he explained, motioning to the architectural marvel over-looking the vast city. He then dismissed his guards, of whom returned to attend the festivities that persisted still. "Follow." he said, simply, glowing with happiness - Lifprasil's spirits had been rejuvinated by the pure emotional power resonating off of the immense parade; which began to evolve into a party within a tight cluster of the town.

Lifprasil guided them through emptying streets - he had none to fear, as a Demi-God leading a hero and her angels. "So - do you have any interest in establishing a connection between the valley and Alefpria? I'm sure a permanent residence can bet set up for the Angels." Lifprasil began, pacing, and navigating through winding streets as if he had overseen their construction in their entirety.

As the Angels followed Lifprasil, Falas turned to Loth and gave him a smile of appreciation. As Lifprasil asked about a premanent residence, Falas appeared thoughtful. "I can't say I'm not interested, but I'm not entirely sure. I'd like to speak with the Angels in the Valley of Peace first before I can make a decision," Falas finally replied.

"That is probably for the best," Loth added, nodding. "From what I remember about the Angels, they mostly spend their time lounging around wherever they pleased. Not much work to do when just about everything you need is already provided in the land." Loth placed a hand on his chin, thinking back in the early days of the Angels. "From what I can tell now, that part of them has not changed very much, or at least, if they have changed, most are already reverting back. It's a pity. Angels have the potential to be so much, yet they squander the gifts Mother Niciel has granted us."

Elsewhere...

Oevadia soared happily to newer heights, skirting clouds just above the shimmering ocean beneath her. In her head, she had already mapped the circumference of the planet she had explored - which was quite vast, and Oevadia considered it their obligation to fly around her territory every day, looking for strange bits and tokens. Within any respectable definition of the term, Oevadia was euphoric in her plight. She found shells from dead Hain, skeletons from dead everything, and even a White Giant she had fun playing with; those were the rarest of the bright things within her proximity.

She also had fun sifting through sand with her pointy beak, along gravel and dirt, to find rocks that contrasted with her gray skin. This was fun, in the jet powered beast's mind, but she couldn't help but notice that most of the other creatures that shared the skies with her all but ebbed away from her powerful speed. It made her quite a bit sad, not having friends to fly with - she wanted to pick up people and make them fly with her, as they all but chose to just walk around on the ground like so. It was very boring.

However!

Lifprasil told her: "No making people fly - that's bad!", Oevadia didn't quite understand why it was so bad, she just assumed all things flew, but she had a responsibility to obey her master, of whom she loved very much. However, on this day, she saw something interesting: things that did fly, and were flying right toward her. How exciting!

She decided to meet them halfway, these friends, geometric, glittering creatures that flew almost as high as she could.

Suddenly, contact, and Oevadia spun around when they began their assault, these three creatures, they all began to stab at her, spit cleansing fire at her, so she ran away faster than they could give chase. However, they remained dilligent in their chase, and proceeded onward. Oevadia, in her panic, retreated to her home in Alepfria - and the Realta were following behind her, growing from three to eight strong.

Loth was about to say more, while Falas was ready to interrupt and berate him, but then they stopped. The Angels who had listened to Loth, who also could not argue against his words due to how close they hit home, were brimming with silent rage. One was about to make a scathing remark, but Falas held up a hand to silence him.

Alefpria was brimming with activity now, that which deafened the sounds of Oevadia's retreat. The returning army rejoiced with family and friends, and the momentous triumph against Grot was reason enough to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of the sea stained air of Alepfira. Guards that had stayed behind dotted the crowd, particularly near the bay, after a lookout named Gestun spotted the darkened form of Oevadia rocketing across the blue sky.

He, and his backup, both went to retrieve the Bay Guard's Commander, one of four that Lakshmi had appointed to protect sections of the beautiful city. His name was Commander Pingertian, of whom was a chubby Lifprasilian man, who owned a small house that occupied a small space just at the cusp of Alefpria's beaches. He sat in the rectangular center of his two story home, armor resting within the arms of an idle Mannequin. Despite the noise, he felt peaceful as he sat at his tiny circular table, reviewing what appeared to be catalogues and statistics that needed to be filled. He organized wooden figures to represent the alotted resources for his Bay Guard - and in this activity he was happy.

Suddenly, the lazy atmosphere of Pingertian's work was interrupted by the lookout that had not only spotted Oevadia - but glimmering shapes just over the horizon.

"Commander Pingertian! Sir!" he saluted in a similar fashion to those that greeted the parade.

Pingertian flinched when the newly painted door behind his lookout swung shut, shaking in its frame.

"What is it, Gestun? I'm quite busy here, you know.

Replied Pingertian in a deep, humbling voice, of whom reluctantly added an 'at ease' to his response.

"It seems that Emperor Lifprasil's throne has returned from its travels, but strange figures follow it in the distance, riding the wind almost as fast as his lord's mount." Gestun explained.

Pingertian was still in a drowsy state, but perked up regardless, knocking his stool over as he stood to his immense, full height. The wood had clattered onto the floor when the Commander approached his servant, and relinquished his supplies from its care.

"Go retrieve a dispatch of one hundred warriors, forty archers, and a group of ten cavalrymen to push the crowd away from the Bay. I'm confident that you can do this with haste." ordered Commander Pingertian, now wearing his illustrous purple armor, and a large hat that fit snugly at the base of his horns, and did a pleasant job at blocking out the sun.

These orders were fulfilled within twenty minutes - and soon the audience to the Bay Guard's mobilization was being pressed deeper into the city, the festivities continued as they were moved, however confused the people at the cusp of the crowd were. The job at quarantine was sloppy at best, but luckily the crowd had been diminished to a cluster of inquisitive civilians. The shapes now lazily approached within a proper distance, and the growing group of guards could see they rode upon wings much like their visiting party - but different, in some critical way. It was as if the organic, soft nature of the Angels had been sucked away, leaving strange husks that soared silently.

There was a tense moment of silence as Gestun approached Pingertian, who now held an ornamental sword. He pointed the blade toward the sky, his belly hardly noticeable under the thick garment he wore now. The large Commander had been sounding off warnings, demanding in any language he had learned in his four hundred years of life that the Realta turn around.

Gestun was about to say something to his higher up, when the onslaught suddenly began, a series of eight cutting lines of light bit into the formation of soldiers in a rhythmic fashion, Bay Commander Pingertian yelled in surprise when one passed him by, cleaving the soldiers to his left in half, leaving Gestun to his right.

Already the small group of Bay Guards' numbers had been cut in half, and Pingertain angrily cried out.

"Fire! Spread out!" he exclaimed, causing the formerly tight formation to relax. Gestun was following his Commander's orders when his foot caught on the severed leg of a fellow archer, and he fell over on his side, crushing his own bow under his arm.

The Realta then landed as suddenly as they fired, advancing in a line and fearlessly leaping into the face of the Alefprian resistance. They spun in regimented whirlwinds of death, cutting into flesh, and breaking soldiers under their relentless march towards Alefpria. Gestun spun his head left and right, unable to make sense of the spectacle before him. The Bay Commander, however, was aggressively engaging in a fight with one Realta, using his barbaric strength to effectively battle the apocalyptic monster.

He tired each time he and the Realta's blades crossed paths, and the mechanical creature had no intent to stop its invested onslaught. However, he couldn't give up - he knew that if he fell, his men's morale would falter underneath the seemingly invincible invaders; and he had no intention to let this breach continue under his watchful blade.

While warriors fell around him, Gestun unsheathed the unused blade of an infantryman beside him, and sank it into the back of the centermost Realta on a knee. Its attack of Commander Pingertian stopped for just a moment to acknowledge Gestun's blade, which allowed the Lifprasilian to cleave it in half.

The stunned lookout behind the apparently slain Realta removed his hood in despair, and used this little victory to return his breath to normalcy, watching as the ten cavalrymen that had been dispatched earlier charged in to engage the seven remaining Realta.

A shocking sight befell his eyes as one managed to cease the charge of a mannequin horse, throwing it overhead, and crushing its rider underneath. It pivoted around, firing another projectile into two riders, while the others shifted their attention to the wooden horses of Illunabar's creation. Gestun's comrades had been utterly destroyed, the Realta were littered with arrows, one of which was even skewered by a cavalryman's javeline, but they persisted still, having wittled the force meant to stop them down to twenty men.

There was only one man on horseback now, but he was pulled off his horse by a gap in his stomach caused by a Realta's vengeful fist soon after Commander Pingertian turned to deliver orders to him. Now, the surviving twenty two Alefprians were surrounded by the seven Realta, all of which ceased their advance to only reinforce the air of dread surrounding the trapped guardsmen. The air was heavy with dust from stone buildings that had been structurally compromised from the Realta's destructive force, and the drone of the festivities beyond ceased. The white and gray caking the ground was only contrasted by the bright crimson flow of blood from mutilated Alefprian guards beneath Gestun's feet, who held his blade tight in anticipation for his demise.

A sudden pale blue glow shimmered off the blood of the fallen guards, as the Alefprians, living and dead, found themselves falling into the swirling energy of a rather familiar portal that would open only for a moment, dragging them in and then closing its magical maw. Within a split second after that, a much smaller gate formed just behind the neck of one of the encircled Realta, as an arrow loosed at a tremendous velocity shot through, aimed at the small of its neck. The portal would close the moment the arrow itself entered the area, leaving no traces.

Panting as he sat, bow in his hands, Belvast looked out to the guards he had saved, who were placed onto the grass beside him. "Is...is there any injured? We need to treat them before they begin searching again." he asked, his childish voice full of concern for the men and their dead. Once again, he was late...the Demigod who could be anywhere at any time, showed up late.

All the remaining soldiers patted themselves, feeling limb and body for any injuries - but none had any. It seems the Realta left none injured.

"No!" they all began to reply, scattered responses echoing off the trees.

The Commander amongst the flock stood, and saluted Belvast.

"Sir - we need to get back in there and alert the remaining guardsmen, if we harry too long the six attackers will reach the crowd and our losses will only increase." he explained to the Demi-God.

"Understood," the demicat said before the Commander and his flock of guardsmen would find themselves immediately dumped towards the closest and largest guard squadron nearby, while the demicat opted to distract the Realta, having confidence in his newfound sword training. Getting to train with the son of chaos himself was a pretty good learning experience.

Unsheathing his sword, Belvast flung himself into a portal that was positioned directly atop a Realta, giving him the drop on it figuratively and literally. This time, he'd do a good deed with no promise of reward. It was about time that he did something for no good reason. Just like the good old days.

The soldiers all ran to their barracks positioned just a mile away, but the Bay Commander had other plans for Gestun and three other warriors. They were ordered by him to help Belvast, and they did so with a reluctant leap into the portal after him. Gestun was the last in, luckily, because the first man suffered a knockout blow to the head, and the second barely dodged a ray attack from one of the five remaining Realta.

Gestun saw that in the extremely short time they had taken away from the Realta attackers, they had already cleaved their way into the city, demolishing a number of buildings in their wake, and killing whatever hapless Alefprians that got in their way. There was screaming now, innocent people cried out in panic, or in mourning for those massacered, and Gestun was in the middle of it. He raised his sword to fight alongside Belvast, the other Warrior already doing so.

Belvast was far from a perfected swordsman, but his divine abilities combined with his speed more than made up for that. As Belvast's shortsword, gleaming in the sunlight cut through the wing of one and grounding it, while Belvast's tails curled around his packed quiver and bow resting over his shoulder, showing unbelievable dexterity as the bow was plucked from his shoulder and an arrow following it, both grasped within his tails as he let a shot fly loose into a Realta's shoulder. It wasn't the best way to shoot, but it definitely meant that he could cover himself from behind.

Taking note of the soldiers who had scarcely avoided death, Belvast opened a portal as a Realta attempted to break towards the civilians, forcing it to simply crash into another of its kind. He had to keep them focused on him. Otherwise, these men would be slaughtered.

As the Realta that had collided began to recover and rise from the collision, a giant lance of Holy energy came crashing down onto them, piercing through both of them and extinguishing them. More lances and beams soon followed, quickly decimating the remaining Realta. Falas, Loth, and the other Angels descended from the sky and turned to face Belvast and the other soldiers and civilains. "Is everyone alright?" Falas asked them. Meanwhile, Loth looked down at what remained of the Realta in curiosity. Kneeling down and picking up what looked like a hand of sorts, Loth muttered to himself, "Very interesting. What on Galbar are you?"

Gestun spun around to face the newcomers, the flaps of wings aggrivated him, scared him, even, after seeing what the Realta had done. He relaxed, however, when he saw they had more familiarity to themselves - they lacked the inorganic coldness of whatever attacked him.

"Uh - yes! Yes we are." Gestun replied to the heavenly hero, before falling to a kneeling bow at the approach of Lifprasil.

The Demi-God moved wordlessly past, towards the corpses lining the street.

"What happened here?" Lifprasil asked Belvast, simply, he couldn't muster anything else - his pride had turned to a deep sadness as he lowered himself to press a hand to the lifeless body of what was a person. Now a still thing, the slain woman's own life streamed out of a deep laceration in her shoulder.

Gestun was shocked - seeing the Emperor he had thought of as a living god loom over something as small as one person out of the thousands he had under his charge.

Belvast gulped and scratched the back of his right ear. "I-I was in the fields, and I...I just...felt a voice telling me to come to the city as soon as I could. When I got here, these...things were attacking your soldiers. What ARE they?" the demicat said, poking at one of the Realta's corpses with his shortsword. One paw was closed over the crystal dangling from his neck. What DID tell him to come here...It was more like a feeling.

Lifprasil inhaled deeply, and stood like a specter over the bodies of fallen soldiers, and just innocent people. This was far too much, such mindless slaughter. His sadness began to boil, what little emotion in his cocktail of a soul evaporating into unhinged anger. He saw it, in the back of his head, the owl, and the name came to him.

"Logos." Lifprasil breathed, the looming grayness now being cut away by hundreds of guardsmen, all of which began to scan up and down the decimated streets for survivors.

"They were chasing your steed, my lord, but when they landed, they began attacking our fiberling mounts with vicious animosity. My lord." Gestun explained and reiterated, still bent on a shaking knee.

"I see. You may go, brave Gestun." dismissed the Emperor of Alefpria, using his senses to learn of the man's name. And go Gestun did, away from the horrors of what had just unfolded.

Lifprasil looked back now, to Falas and Belvast, a blank expression on his almost emotionless facsimile of a face.

"I believe more will come - these eight already decimated the men and women that I thought were capable in my stead, but I would presume more will come, and we must be ready." he said, lowly, as if suggesting something.

"Then we'll be ready for them. We'll stop them for sure," Falas promised. Turning to her Angels, Falas ordered, "Everyone, heal the wounded. Make sure those who are still breathing keep breathing." The Angels quickly rushed over and began using Purity magic, repairing the wounds the Realta had inflicted. Falas then turned to Loth and asked, "Loth, what are these creatures?" By now, Loth had stopped examining the Realta and returned to Falas' side. "I don't know. In all my time spent traveling, I have never come across these beings before. I have a feeling that Lifprasil has an idea, though," Loth answered, staring at Lifprasil.

Lifprasil paused again, mulling over what he felt from these creatures. "Cold, lifeless beings created by the thing known as 'Logos', they have naught but malice within whatever mills itself as a replacement for a soul," Lifprasil said in response. "These beings were created by very powerful means, not something just one god residing on this planet can do, and neither I, my heroes, or my stock of mortal soldiers would be able to fight off a larger number of these creatures if they amassed an army. Nor can I manifest beasts like this on my own volition." he then continued, delivering a crushing explanation.

"Belvast, would you think it wise to call gods we're familiar with to Alefpria for assistance?" Lifprasil asked the small cat, trusting in his tiny wisdom.

Belvast looked up at Lifprasil and nodded. "I think its in everybody's interest that we stop these...things. I could get in touch with Illunabar, and maybe Astarte...though I think I may have to do something for her to be willing to meet with us." the demicat stated, all the while clutching the small blue crystal hung across his neck. A familiar warmth that he felt made him feel at ease, his ears flattening out against his head.

A name...Vowzra said it would tell him its name in due time. Whatever the stone was, Belvast was certain it was good. If it weren't for it, so many more soldiers would have died. Tucking the crystal beneath his silk armor, Belvast silently wondered if maybe...maybe it was time to visit his father's grave.

"Help from Mother Niciel would not be unwelcome, I would think," Loth added. "Falas and I can certainly convince her to aid us as well, assuming she is not already aware of the attack." Falas nodded solemnly, and promised, "This 'Logos' being will pay for his crime against Galbar. None of these Realta will survive."

Lifprasil processed the options ascertained before him, he knew something had to be done, and the resounding animousity of the Realta only made such things more obvious.

"They will not, these Realta," started the angered Demi-God, already he transmissed his broiling displeasure within conjuction of his words. "I will build an army so profound, so fantastic, that the sovereignty of Galbar will be assured for a thousand years. They will be defenders against the transgressions of the harsh universe that Galbar is submerged within - they will be called: the Cosmic Knights." Lifprasil announced through the fibrous interlacings of the universe.

These were the gods he hailed:

Jvan, to be the molder of flesh,

Vestec, to thus spark this destructive flame,

Astarte, to give it fuel,

Niciel, to meter it

And finally Illunabar, of whom he so trusted,


These would be the mothers and fathers of the Cosmic Knights.

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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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In the art of cultivating living things, it is a sound premise that propagating cut samples is more efficient than assembling specimens of the same kind from scratch.

Thus, old skin-stitch prepared to perform the most weighted gamble of its long list of recent exploits.

Scant cloud cover provided its only shelter. Conserving energy, the vehicle it piloted was neatly folded into a smooth resting shape upon a small disc. Not quite symmetrical- A third limb had been grafted to its side for the occasion.

The disc itself whirred motionless on six near-silent wings, their beats misaligned just enough to camouflage the sound between wind distortion. Fortuitously gentle breezes kept the clouds motionless. The day was warm, azure. Not too far east, Alefprians would be enjoying the sea that glittered below. They wouldn't be the only ones.

First one, then the other, two titanic shapes descended into view, trailing wisps of the cumuli they passed through. Only cues remained to tell what they once were. Glowing domes on the back of Father Dominus. Folds where his arms were being fused into his tail. Mother Suprema was, as always, faster. A once sinuous form had filled into smoothly curved bulk, and flicking fins hardened into wings that left contrail ribbons as they passed.

Heartworm observed.

For hours the Diaphanes played at hunting in the water, far-wandering streaks of colour. It counted twenty-six adults between three packs. Another generation of safety and there would be two hundred. Enough to explode into the thousands once the change-eaters were unleashed on Galbar's elemental spirits. Not long from now.

As it was, the sorority did not stray more than two miles out from the shadow of the Arks. A few body lengths of the Arks themselves, in other words. Even now they were still growing. Jvan had likely seen to assigning them a crew as they matured, and the change-eaters would have risen to the role of piloting them eventually as their mental architecture changed. Two things Heartworm would soon confirm for itself.

It wondered if the diaphanes knew what was happening to their Mother and Father. From the depths of their artificial minds, love had flourished for the daughters. No doubt the circuit that ferried them down from Lex to play had been maintained at all costs while the rest of the infrastructure required for consciousness crumbled and metamorphosed along with everything else. No doubt it would be the last fragment of sentience to be digested. It would not have been difficult to hide the significance of the procedures to the change-eaters, even as they slowly came to pilot what had once been a conscious being. All too easy to project anthropomorphism onto a vehicle, or a home.

Then again, automated defense systems were no less dangerous.

The molten-iron light of Mother Suprema's forward engines signalled the packs to finish the djinn they were toying with and return. Father Dominus, never the favoured ship, was already ascending.

Heartworm chose its moment and leapt from the disc with a blast of smoke, its tentacles flung out like shredded tail feathers behind it. Father Dominus immediately started to bank, curving aside from the perceived threat, which doggedly levered its advantage. At Heartworm's side, its new limb stretched to full length, unsheathing a slotted scythe that did not fit into the reality around it.

At the end of its dive the blade met skin. Heartworm skimmed the surface of the Ark, letting sparks fly as it stripped a thin ribbon of surface tissue from the Father's hide. The sample ended on a hook at the base of scythe and whipped behind it. The avatar broke its remaining momentum on the ship's back and rolled on to the base of a fin where it knew an airlock waited.

Its weapon could only do so much. Scratching the Ark did not amount to piercing it. Even if it wanted to, the Emaciator would be wasting absurd energy to try and infiltrate it by force. Conveniently, Jvan had secured the ships from everything but itself. Heartworm left Father Dominus in seconds, trailing an interior tissue sample, and severed tendrils from two of its guileless crew. It had been particularly lucky today.

Mother Suprema could have ascended by now were it not protecting a sisterhood that had yet to return. Inky tails of light streaked the air towards it, their elemental prey abandoned to survive. Heartworm took its chances and leapt for the closest pack. Shrieks later, a spined feather joined the other ornaments spiked onto its sampling knife.

The pursuit given by the change-eaters drove it off course and Heartworm did not dare fight them. Mother Suprema obligingly ploughed between the escaping and pursuing parties; It could feel the heat of the Ark's prow. A pulse from jets that had blessedly yet to overheat left Heartworm latched onto Suprema's side with its blade.

Perhaps the Diaphanes had finally boarded. As the avatar worked to carve out another strip of tissue from the Ark's enormous outer hide, it tipped and dove into the glittering ocean, faster than anything but the Leviathan itself had a right to move in water. Fighting a tremendous current, Heartworm dragged at its skin until the strip separated, and let go. As the Ark moved on and edged him ever closer to the boiling light of its engines, the Avatar hacked wildly into the space before it.

Fortune smiled on its efforts, and Heartworm exploded into the Submaterium of Mirus followed by tonnes of sizzling water.

"Were we successful?"

Behind it, someone had forced shut the temporary portal, and was lighting the tunnel floor with a hearth-like glow. Heartworm recovered its balance as best it could, and displayed the scythe onto which six ribbons of tissue were hooked.

"Excellent. We may begin as soon as you are ready." The God of Chance nodded, and spared a green-and-blue gaze to the flooded tunnel's architecture as he waited.

* * * * *


A ghostly apparition of Vestec strolled into existence around Heartworm. “My, my. This is a quite the fall from the Avatar of Jvan. Cowering in the woods, all alone, hunted by the metal killers of Logos as they eradicate your precious followers and creations. I could make it quick for you, if you like?” A ball of Chaos fire shone brightly in his hand.

A blur of movement, and the gleaming vessel in the fog vanished below the waters. Much good that would do it, but Heartworm took what it would get.

“Or, I could protect you, some of your creations, and some of your followers for certain. I can’t protect them all for certain, but I can promise that I will defend them against the encroachment of the Realta. Of course, if you’d rather wait for them to find you, that’s an option as well...Unless you have other favors to trade?”

“Nothing finds me,” and the thing resurfaced on Vestec’s far side, and further back. “By chance. Snuff that. Then we talk.”

Vestec snuffed out the flame, giggling. “I can protect you and some of your creations. Or you can be hunted down like insects and snuffed out. And before you say ‘I can hide from them.’ This entire grove is a festering hive of Jvanic creations and the Realta will burn it to the ground. You could run to a place that doesn’t reek of Jvan, but Logos will eventually find you. Assuming he doesn’t kill Jvan first and end you in a two for one fell swoop. I can stop that. If you agree to a favor for a favor.”

“All correct. Acceptable offer.” Heartworm was not one to deny truths, or argue needlessly. This was, after all, exactly what it had expected when it signalled Vestec. With that in mind... “Do not assume you have trust. May not sulk or grudge, but there are terms.”

“My my. You’re much more reasonable than Jvan.” Vestec mused, awaiting these terms.

With each point, it cut a new mark into the bark it stood on. “Vestec will defend no more and no less than Heartworm and its laboratory. Vestec will not speak the location of that laboratory once disclosed. Vestec will understand that Heartworm creates. Not destroys. Not creates to destroy. Vestec will swear this with the Adjudicator as his witness. And Vestec will answer Heartworm this.” The talon closed on its perch.

“Where is the Adversary?”

“What, no bleeding heart for your creations? You are a part of Jvan afterall. So the Sculptors and plants and Urtelem and of them are your creations as well. Much more of the practical type aren’t you?” Vestec tilted his head. “I swear on Amul’s title, may he smite me for not heeding my word, that I will protect you and your creatures, and not speak the location of your precious lab... As for creating, sure. We all create something. Usually with one purpose or another in mind. But all our creations end up destroying something. It’s how mortals survive and improve.”

This statement passed its audience like a tiring desert breath.

Vestec giggled, wagging a finger. “Tsk, tsk. You’re stepping over your bounds with that last bit. Protection for a favor, sure! You want to say what I protect and who I can tell of I protect, no problem! But information for free? That’s not how this works, Hearty my boy. I’ll make a trade though. I’ll tell you where the Adversary is, I’ll show you even, and you show me where Logos has been hiding out for a few hundred years. I know he has to have been making something. Something that doesn’t know the graceful and loving touch of Chaos.”

That, on the other hand, bore weight. Old skin-stitch deliberately made its lanky vehicle crouch. Body language: ‘I’m thinking.’

Given Vestec continued to do as Vestec does, the avatar calculated, this may be a game of inevitabilities. How long could Logos hide his headquarters, given that the Gods of Beauty already knew its place? Both had been secretive, true, but until now, Logos had returned the favour. Until now.

Of course, to sell out a beautiful world of intelligent life to the Devil himself was… Something.

“Regrettably fair.” Heartworm stood tall. “Do not presume there is pleasure in it. Logos will defend. Alone. You and he. Find the balance in that, Vestec. I know you will.” It wasn’t a threat, or even really a request. Just the last line of a calculation. “Condition accepted.”

“Balance is ever my purpose.” Vestec replied with a sweeping bow. A portal opened to the Realm of Madness. “Step right through Hearty. Meet the Adversary himself. Then you’ll take me to Logos’ pet project, and I’ll protect your precious Lab.”

Through the portal, something was squirming. It grew on the ground like grass, but glowed like a fiery coal between black rocks. Heartworm cautiously leaned forwards, unwilling to risk being pushed in by the apparition, no matter how unlikely that seemed. A cleaved mountain rose in the distance, its slopes lined with devillish pilgrims.

When it neared, something soft grew on the demonic meadow, and sprouted a white flower untouched by the heat- A thornapple. Heartworm plucked it and raised it to its faceplate. “Sufficient.” Its gaze seemed to turn back to Vestec. “Intriguing place. Mammon did well.”

Vestec tsked again, stepping through the portal and holding back the gibbering monstrosities that tried to force themselves through while the more sensible demons watched and waited. “Wrong again, Hearty. I made this place. Mammon just added a little of his own touch.” He made a sweeping gesture to the demons. “These lovely beings are his little touch.” He looked at the avatar, giggling. “Have you figured it out yet?”

“When I saw the empty throne.” The walker’s carapace slid open, and a delicate tongue gripped the flower. It was still growing. “He’s not as dead as you think.” Heartworm swallowed the thornapple, and with the hoof of its still-raised claw, sharply kicked the edge of the portal. It snapped shut.

“Enough. Observe.”

For a moment the avatar stepped down, close to the surface of the water, its vehicle still open, and drank. The air grew a little clearer, and Heartworm fainter, duller, as if it had stolen some of the Mangrove’s aura of invisibility. It rose again, balanced on one leg, and, stretching the other, the lopsided scribe tore a thin line in the air. Through it shone black, white, blue, and green. “Arcon.”

“That’s very nice Hearty. A pretty word. I like what you did with the writing too. Unfortunately, the name gives me nothing. There could be a hundred stars out there called ‘Arcon’ I need a location. A place to visit.” Vestec leaned forward. A certain..hunger, seemed to radiate off of him. “A place untouched by true Chaos. A location, Hearty.”

“Then observe.

Heartworm’s scalpel-edge nails dug into the letters again, pulling them out of shape. Air began to hiss into them. The source of their colour took on a visible form as more and more was revealed through the written portal. A cloud-coated sphere of a planet, drifting in the light of a small white star.

Vestec laughed. It was far from his normal cheerful giggle. A sound of pure madness and malice, echoing through the mangrove. “Perfect Hearty my boy. Perfect. A world untouched by true Chaos. Something I need to visit soon.” He looked over at the avatar, who already seemed resigned to the consequences of what it had done. “Before I do, you have to show me your lab so I can defend it.”

“Mirus. North plateau. Eleven kilometres subsurface, furthest reaches extending to the polar valley.” It was, all in all, not the most secluded place in Galbar’s locality, but it was lonely enough. No hand had touched that moon since before there were mortals to count its phases. “Here.”

A tiny chunk of wood was sliced effortlessly from the roots and swiftly whittled into a sphere with faint nicks in its surface. Heartworm stabbed it with a hidden needle and held out the little replica of Mirus. The wood was cold and clammy; It wouldn’t burn in a campfire. “It lives. If it chars, come. Will be repaid in equal measure.”

Vestec bowed again, taking the piece of wood and teleporting it to his actual body. “You call and I will answer. Hide in the Realm of Madness Hearty. It’s the safest place in the Universe right now.” The Apparition disappeared.

Doubt it, thought Heartworm passively to itself, listening for the distant sound of blazing plasma.

* * * * *


Sheer scale was all that saved the Mangrove, and even that was a rapidly depleting bastion of safety for the ecosystem. Lines of white were passing over the cloud forest. A final fog that hid smoke at its heart, left in its wake nothing more than filthy ashen water. Acrid rain drizzled from the smog.

Maybe one day it would be resurrected. For now, its Lord could not afford to mourn the cataclysm.

Beneath the last untouched enclave of growth in the wetland, Heartworm lay naked in the water before the yawning, sucking maw of the Blood Well. Its vehicle, draped in mistletoe and painted with ochre, walked semi-autonomously into the chasm and sank, limp, blind. Stark whiteness dissolved it, a masterwork sacrificed.

An unclean thing performing an unclean act, the Emaciator's worm-eyes had been painted with khol, grey rags tied around its tail. Around the lip of the submarine pit, where fronds of algae did not dare to grow, pyres of cedar burned. An ancient censer smouldered with the scent of thornberry, its psychedelic vapour hanging in the brine, illuminated by the impossible flame. A thing that had once been a spirit pounded a drum with its hands of mud. The sound was shortened, dampened by the water.

There was a voice, singing to that beat. Too pure for the heathen light.

"Sanád asrer ad shin, shin,
List ashok istam ïssun."


Eight pyres, seven of them alight. One each for the moons that still shone in Galbar's sky. Lex's pyre was in two halves. At the base of the seven each lay a membranous bubble, the outline of limbs and overgrown umbilicus faintly visible through the pink.

Heartworm slithered counter-clockwise around the pit thrice, prostrate, starting from true east. It finished at the base of a lit pyre, unzipped its mouth and stretched impossibly long, thin hands and eyestalks. One of those hands gripped a bone knife that lay amongst the cedar, and birthed the sleeping figure from its amnion.

A human, male. When its body disappeared into the pit, the pyre extinguished itself abruptly, expelling its smoke into a writhing cloud above the blood well.

Five times Heartworm repeated the process, offering six more lives, quenching seven pyres. Cogitare, Vigilate and Scitis, Auricolour, Periditus, Lex, Mirus. Human, hain, urtelem, angel, goblin, ogre, insidie.

"Inod thak, onol urol.
Inod thak, oram urol."


The smoke above the well had coagulated into a vast viscous mass, so thick it was no longer truly fluid. As Heartworm watched, the oily murk drooped, as if weighed down, and began to drip. Tar flowed back down into the pit in copious sheets, draining from the shape that curled inside. First the starved outline of horn and bone. As more and more rolled from the thing, its outlines became those of sculpted muscle. A winged man with the head and hooves of a goat.

No blood had bought this demon. The slaughter was only part of the test. Heartworm had proved itself, not in sacrifice, but in the ways of ritual. The ability to learn a science not its own. It was no master. It had simply taken on the first meagre step of the initiate.

From the depths of the pit, a long dead voice whispered an inaudible, inarticulate thought.

T̏̅̆̍ͦ͘͏̲̼̭̪͉̰͓̤̦̦̰̬̹̼̣̦͖̳͢h̨͉̖̙̰͙̻͙͕̣͇͎̀ͧ̓̌ͩ͛͆ͤ̔́̕̕͢r̸̶̸̢̦̯̞̖̗̯̣̮̱͓̻ͥ̾ͪͭ̆͊̄͊̾ͣ̋̓͌̃ͨ̎͢e̡̹̻̹͍̗̻ͨ̃ͪ́ͨ̃̽͐̓̀ͨ̓͊ͥ͢s̢̢͉̪̮͍̀͗͋̂̾ͧͩ̎͗͐̉̚̕h̸̗̖͖̥̻̺̤͒̅ͯ̔̉̏̽̈́ ̶̨̻̘̖̠̜̙̝͒̒̉͊̿ͥ̀ͪ͊ͪ̊̚͡ͅt͒̿̎͊̅͊̅͌҉͙̦͕̺̯̝͓̘̪̳̬͓̗̫͈͓̰͍̥h̍̑͒ͪ̓̄̾͐̏͗҉̫͇̘̺̤̝̥͙͉͍͞ȩ̶̎ͧ̊͏̝̙̙̠͇͈̼̹m̷̵̧̲͇̺̯͚̞̱̰̖̭͙͉̱ͨ͛̔̒ͤ̒́̇̓ͯ̏ͮ̀ͤ̀,̵̛͈̥̻̥̀ͦͯͦͪ̋ͨͨ̏̀͒̾̿ͦͩ̚̚ ̘͚͓̠̮̳̺̩͇̼ͩ͊̿̏̏̌ͩ͢͜͜m̓͗ͨͩ̏ͮ̆̊͐͋ͦ̇̌̊̈́ͦ̆̚͏͏͙̤͕̠̬̘͕͕̞̞̜̳̼̗ÿ̴̢̟̲̙͔̲̪͛̈́̓͂̿ͥ̾̐͂̓̀͂̓̎̇ͭ̊́̚͟͠ ̶̶̥͉̜̤͚͖̳̱̩̗̘̞͇̭̍́͂ͤ̋̓͗̊͝ͅb̷̵̛͖͕͈͇̱̮͉̩̫̽̓͒̚ͅr̶̨̞̹̺͈̟̺̠̣̫̳͈͛̓̐̊̅ͩ̂̽ͧ͛̀͘ớ͉̹͙͔̹̗̰̹͔̊̽̎ͣ͛̑ͥ͟t̶̉ͨ̽̃ͦ̈́ͧͩ̎ͥ͒̈́̐̀̇̍̈́͛͏͈̠̼̯͚̭̜̦̖̗̘̹͎͘͢͡h̷͎̯̲̳̹̫̺͑͌̋̔̈ͫ̋̇̐̃ͭ̓̽͟͜͞e̢̧̡̜̰͈̣̫̺̩͕͕̠͈̝͔̥̯͊ͥ͒͑ͭ̀͘ͅͅrͫͤͨ̄ͯ̒̚͏̛̲̳̝̯̙̟͍̣̼̣̦̫̖͇͜.̛̛͔̙̼̟͎̓ͭͪ̊̓ͮ͐ͣ̀ͅͅ[

And the last embers of the ancient censer died.

...

In the still water, Heartworm sedated the demon, and dragged it to itself, knocking apart one of the soaked pyres, shedding the rags it had worn for the ceremony. Its spindly limbs were far stronger than they should be, and Heartworm quickly stowed its prize away in the hidden laboratory. The silt Sculptor rapidly followed it through the portal.

The Realta were nearing, and time was growing ever more precious. Despite everything, the singing Sculptor, Sel Na Uo Na Tay, was voicing one final verse above the water. Heartworm waited for him to follow. In those seconds, it found itself echoing the lull.

"Umom-lol, Umom-lol nåzom.
Nåzom, nåzom Umom-lol."


The Dark One, the Dark One dreams.
Dream, dream on, Dark One.


* * * * *


From the start of the Arksynth Project, the Submaterium of Mirus had been working at capacity.

Even before the wyrms had finished constructing the labyrinth laboratory, Heartworm was there in the corridors, orchestrating designs for a labour force not yet born. Vakarlon attempted to plan alongside the avatar, as he could, until he realised that he was only a resource. From then on he relegated himself to assistance while he could. This was not the trickster's scheme. It only required him. And his death.

For all this, Vakarlon was still the most significant of the three deities who were to be harnessed, and the only one truly aware of what was going on. Jvan would not know until the work was done. Mammon was past conscious thought. So as Vakarlon rolled up his sleeves, fuelled and assembled swathes of the complex built for him with the eclectic bag of tricks that was his uniquely divine right, he kept an eye on the elusive avatar and its workers, and adjusted certain things to his liking.

Gravity, for one.

Heavy footsteps snapped back and forth, followed occasionally by lighter, faster ones. Locomotion had eased greatly since the technicians had stopped weighing less than a tenth of what they had on Galbar. Some ninety Sculptors had been offered salvation in Mirus, their telepathic link to Jvan surgically destroyed. Most had started to accumulate other equipment in its place. The size of the lab made communication by sound difficult, and while the sweethearts were diligent errand-runners, they could only move so quickly.

Sweetheart pods had been opened and samples had been cloned; About four hundred now fluted and piped their way through the labyrinth. Technicians en masse had learned how to whistle to them. That sense of initiative was what separated the two classes of workers. No matter what the cultists had grafted onto themselves, their tools remained far inferior to the sweethearts, and the sweethearts were useless without them.

The crucial thing, of course, was that only Heartworm was able to attach this or that exotic appendage. It had always been quick, and now it was a veritably omnipresent nuisance, albeit a quiet and practical one. Since the horrific extent of the acalya scourge became visible, a second project had silently appeared in the laboratory's far wings. Vats of clones, bobbing in shallow baths. Between the two ambitions, it never stopped working. Even after disappearing into the mangrove with Sel Na Uo Na Tay and returning with a partially dissected demon, it had still yet to construct a replacement vehicle, and rode on sweetheart heads and Sculptor shoulders. To see a minor deity so overworked it had to be carried between rooms was curiously humbling.

Humility was necessary. What the technicians tested was no less than the clay of gods.

The early Arksynth prototypes were nearly inert, the compounds required to achieve desirable forms far too esoteric for use by mortals at their current level. That changed when demonic tissue began circulating among the synthesis feedstock. A touch of occult magic caused the reactivity of Arksynth to explode in bizarre patterns. Reagents that stimulated viable growth became commonplace, and universally anomalous. Mundane compounds could to undergo processes so unlikely in natural conditions as to be almost arbitrary in order to become stimuli. Only the countless number of these redundant absurdities made discovering any one viable.

Scarcity fought eccentricity in a dilemma that soon characterised the project. At least both extremes resulted in a substance with quantifiable behaviour.

Testing the properties of Arksynth that did not stem from Jvan or Mammon was nightmarish. At best. The very nature of the traits being researched meant that predictable response patterns indicated failure. Qualitative examination of anomalies became the only remotely reliable means by which the Arksynth's effectiveness could be judged. Against all scientific precepts, the technicians were gradually granted absolute freedom to experiment by emotion and intuition. Ninety-seven Sculptor souls rejoiced.

Initial works were little more than tiny physical or chemical mechanisms- Kicking tendons strung on a rack, dishes that bubbled hydrogen in bright light. Divine intervention shunted these tinkerings far beyond what mortals could discover in the time they had. Headless Arksynth constructs began roaming the Submaterium, following simple contraction algorithms. Soft analogue calculators sprouted from walls like mushrooms, and strange fragrances wafted from things that wriggled in corridor puddles, some of them toxic. A once-human technician with nine eyes designed a fire lung that operated at the pull of a trigger.

There came a point where Help designed a prosthetic shoulder for miners whose arms had been stunted by childhood labour, driven neither by scientific imperative, nor artistic genius. They did it simply because, in Arksynth, the resource to do so had become available to them. Heartworm knew then that it was enough.

Silently it signalled Vakarlon to prepare for the end.

* * * * *




Over the life of the project, Heartworm had accumulated many samples. It stored them here.

Not so long ago, when the Emaciator lived in a holy mangle of eyes and tongues, it had kept its slumbering prizes close. Even now, having given up such an ungainly vessel, it stayed on guard. None of the Sculptors could access the tubes. They stood, glowing pillars in white tinted with green and pink, humming slightly, aligned according to what they contained.

Humanoids, rovaick and hain, and all the rest of Galbar's sapient species. Heraktati in all their lithe, wild glory. Things from the Deepwood, things from the Flowerbed, and drops from the last puddles left by the now absent Venomweald Writhe. Nocti, gaia and imagen, the kingdoms of Lex. Demons dissected. Djinni of the four elements. Clay from Chronos. Three ribbons of skin from the Arks.

And beyond this, the most precious specimen of all: Vakarlon.

The final mechanism occupied a room all its own, and no small one. Like a pipe organ, hundreds of perfectly vertical pipes in tight formation rose from the device, increasing in height towards the center, forming a mountain-shape. Every single fluted mouth displayed an identical readout of coloured pixels, the only touch of hue in a damp grey hall. Where a keyboard might have rested, there was only a cavity of hollow knives, inwards-facing, leading into a nest of tubes. Just large enough for a child.

"Promise me that you will not cease to administer painkillers to them when I am gone." Vakarlon hadn't turned. His black curls still faced the specimen vault behind. He was looking into the bed of nails that awaited him.

"Done." There was no point in going through the effort of removing the infrastructure he had insisted on anyway. "Are you ready?" Such mundane words, coming from anyone but Heartworm, spoken any time but now.

"If you do encounter Keriss," continued the trickster, "Tell her to learn always, as her mother did. To remember the right side of the fight. I will be forever with her in any way I am able." Careful, final words. "A binding oath, please. And for the tanks as well." So he had learned something about Heartworm. Somewhere between their plans, his short-lived attempts to joke, Vakarlon had realised what he was dealing with.

Too late to back out now. Heartworm tapped a slender proboscis to its head. "Adjudicator as witness." The young man nodded, and at last turned to catch the avatar in a mismatched stare that betrayed no fear. "Then I am indeed ready."

Vakarlon stepped down into the cavity, and his shirt vanished. His executioner obligingly skimmed over, and began to flay his back into strips, stretching each one and piercing them on one of the hooked knives. There was some flinching. The god was deliberately holding himself into a visceral form, and despite the pain that fleshly fragility brought, it did not waver as Vakarlon's blood dripped into the machine. No analgesics were strong enough for a god, and Ilunabar's draughts were far away. He spoke to focus his concentration.

"If Serandor does awaken, leave this place. I still have enough in me for one last mental battle."

"If Serandor wakes up, I'll be gone in the blink of an eye," reminded the coward, slowly grafting him deeper into the Arksynth device one shred at a time. This was a delicate work, an art, and Vakarlon's acceptance was a gift. A few more peels exposed the back of his ribs. Heartworm fell into the rhythm of levering them out of the spine one by one and plugging wires into the gaps, sensing the huge metal organ thrum with energy as it fed.

The illusion broke.

Everything was dark, and had been so for some time. The light nodes had come apart from the walls, leaving only the red of the tube readouts, each one flickering its failure spasmodically, too dim to illuminate anything. Vakarlon's dissected cadaver had melted all over the knives and long since dripped from his wired skeleton to a pool on the floor.

No hum of life from the arcane machinery and its tilted, fallen pipes. Alone, Heartworm stared into the silence. Something cast a shadow. A sinuous tongue of flame, all too real, snaked its way over the floor from the corner of vision. Followed lazily by another. More shadows began to splay across the walls as the room heated.

Heartworm slipped to the ground and began silently spewing a glistening black river of spindly limbs. They sprawled like a fungus, pushing it back against the side of the machine.

"Hiding from me? Come now, Heartworm. You knew very well that you would find me here. Whatever happened to 'I'll be gone in the blink of an eye'?"

Latching on to the toppled pipes, the black river forced its source further up the device, the only place it could hide from the fire that crawled below. The brightest streams were forcing a shadow up the wall, indistinct but singular. A human figure.

"Of course, you have never been much for talk. An admirable attitude. Shall we cut to the chase, then?"

The shadow crouched and leapt, and the seething mass of arms hurled itself from the top of the organ as something unseen collided with it and flung it down into the roaring inferno-

The illusion broke, and there was no blaze, only a vast charcoal lion that stood over Heartworm and snarled its iron grin. Serandor roared, igniting a crimson mane that lit the hall, and he pounced, and his claws gouged apart the pipes as the hairlike stream of tendrils fled and left behind cut limbs writhing like worms. And the Vengeful One laughed, and faced its cornered prey, and it leapt, and the mass of arms tensed and swung down into Serandor like a wave, grabbing, biting, fighting, rending-

The illusion broke.

Everything was dark, and had been so for some time. Gravity had weakened by an order of magnitude. Heartworm lay on the ground in a forest of its own distended tongues, and gagged as it swallowed them. The red strips of the tube readouts were still flickering in toppled disarray. One of the pipes slipped from its precarious balance and clanged onto a power conduit. A light snapped on, a single whiteness echoing in the ruin.

There was no sign of Serandor's claws on the machine, nor of fire, nor the limbs Heartworm knew it was missing. Vakarlon's body had vanished without a chip of bone or drop of blood remaining. Nothing more than a mirage, as it had always been.

Heartworm skimmed over to the toppled tube, its monitor still glowing a faint, dead red. Liquefied by the shock of the fall, the puddle of arksynth had reacted to the current between two damaged nodes and coagulated into a limp conductive cable. Just a stroke of luck. The grace of the glitch, capricious and undeserved. A trick of the light, when light was needed most.

Just a chance.

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Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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The Tale of the Fallen


Upon the rock old Mora sat, a bear as old as Time itself and greatest of the Victors. In times before he had been known as Morarom Oramomaro, but the traditions of the Treeminds had eroded from him - for the eons and the ages erode great mountains, and they erode the most dearly held habits also, and even one's culture and ways, with none around to preserve them, go the way all things must finally go. Why, even their mighty god, who had sat upon the altar of Time and read it to all, had at last been grinded by that never-ceasing grinder. For it was not the Jvanic Flesh which had caused Vowzra to be slain, but Time itself which had willed and caused. That Jvanic Entity had been naught more than a vessel, and through it did the mysterious hand of Time seize the Lord of Time.

'You ask me about the Fallen,' the great bear finally said, looking down from where he sat, on that antique rock, upon the Victors who sat below, and the lay people of New Chronos, and the curious children who huddled close to their parents and stared at the great bear. And among them were Lifprasilians, and among them were Pronobii, and there were humans and there were hain, and there were ogres also and Treeminds, but no djinn. And to the side two other ancient bears stood, warrioresses unmatched, Zina and Sali who had, eons and ages ago, ascended with Mora to Chronos, and here had they all become Victors.

'It happened - and who can tell exactly how long ago it was - when the Celestial Above was yet amongst us. And it happened that a certain demigod was a deemed a foe by the Celestial Above. And it happened that the Celestial Above gathered the Victors, and our master the Bard also. And it happened that we were commanded to rid Galbar of the fiend. And it happened that we obeyed.

'And we struck at the heart of Sin, brought low its greatest commanders and priests, laid bare the great halls of state it had filled, and we brought the fiend here. And within the Cube did the Celestial Above seal it, and it was deemed that therein shall the fiend forever remain. And the Celestial Above willed. And Fate willed. And the will of Fate was made Supreme. And the fiend broke free and for long rampaged throughout the land - but its power could do nothing here on Chronos.

'The spiders whisper of how it broke into the holiest of their caves and attempted to seize the life of their queen mother. Yet upon trying to do so its violence was put down by the might of Chronos and the will of the other gods - and the fiend fell unconscious. And it shook and spasmed there for long, and some thirty spiders were commanded to remove the creature from the cave. And those thirty never returned, for the corruption of the being seeped into them and dominated their individual minds.

'For you see, alone we are weak and susceptible to the temptations and corruptions of the universe. Together, with the Celestial Above-made-manifest-in-Chronos at our backs, we are invincible. As an old Victor saying goes: Alone; a youthful branch, Together; an unyielding stick. So it was that the fiend continued his rampage across the land, and though he could not corrupt the land and earth, he corrupted those who strode upon it and relied not upon the power of the Celestial Above-made-manifest-in-Chronos, but thought themselves self-sufficient and mighty. Such pride is not the way of the Victors. Such pride is what led them astray.

'For they came to me, those proud ones, and they told me of their anger at the passing of the Celestial Above. And they told me of the vengeance they wished to wreak upon the Jvanic Flesh. And they bid me command them march against it. But I commanded them stay and in silence and simmering resentment they walked away. And the seed of anger was planted, and with it a bloated pride. And when the snake came a-whispering, it was not into a vacuum that it whispered - for it found fertile ground. Time and again they would come to me, and time and again would I command them to remember all they had been taught. But weak were their hearts, and the whispers of the fiend grew within their breasts till they could hear nothing else. And they went away with it in the night, and they fell a most reprehensible fall.

'And in that way did the Fallen fall, in that way were the prideful followers of the fiend born. Little!- little do they realise that without the Celestial Above they are as nothing - their powers are but shadows of the truth, their strength but a humiliated glimmer of a true Victor's.'
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Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by Vec
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Vec Liquid Intelligence

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A Wolf's Descent

Luna, the Twilight Queen
Level 5 Hero
30 Khookies

&
Ommok, the Sorcerer King
Level ? Hero
?? Khookies


Two pawed feet stirred the sand beneath them as they walked towards the north, following the river upstream. "Damned they be..." Luna murmured as she took one step at a time. It was good that Ventus had the courtesy to drop her off somewhere near a water source otherwise, she was sure to have gone crazy due to dehydration. When she looked back at her meeting with the djinn lord, she could only sigh.

"If master's weapon wasn't so important for my survival, I would have readily shared the information with them. But..." Luna's thoughts trailed off as she pondered the consequences. She was alone in this foreign land, with no friends or allies to help her. She knew nothing about the terrain or wildlife inhabiting the planet, something that had come back to haunt her not long after she had landed for the second time...


Luna watched the earth below her move closer and closer as Ventus' wind carried her towards an unknown place. "I hope he doesn't leave me in some random place to die..." she shuddered at the thought. The clouds parted and Luna was left breathless by the view.

A desert spanning the whole area beneath her and throughout all four directions, with a giant river passing through it and extending all the way from north to south, appeared before her in all of its exotic beauty. The sharp contrast between the barren desert filled with nothing but sand and the flourishing flora in the immediate surroundings of the river was unlike anything Luna had ever seen before.

She landed on a sand dune near the riverbank as Ventus' gale dissipated, displacing a few sand particles on its way. "What is this place..." she could only mutter.

Dust rose in the distance, and there came a faint sound like that of rolling thunder. "Huh? What now?!" She exclaimed. It wasn't even ten minutes after she had landed and her ears were picking up strange sounds. Her ears perked and she turned her head towards the direction the strange sound originated from.

"What is this?" Her augmented eyes zoomed in, but the dust and sand particles didn't exactly make it easy for her to discern the origin. Luna, however, had heard a similar sound before. "...Horses?"

Indeed it was the sound of hooves that she heard, and soon there came within sight a band of Horse People. Were it not for the felt cloths that they draped over their horses' backs, they might have appeared to be one with the beings for how effortlessly they rode. At a steady pace, the warband made south towards Luna on their journey towards the rich hinterlands of the Vetruvians.

As the marauders neared Luna, the sight of her piqued their curiosity and they quickly urged their horses into a gallop. They barked out speech to one another in a tongue like none she would have heard before, and quickly moved to encircle her. Each warrior had a stone-tipped lance and a bow, and all pointed their weapons toward their prize.

Luna was taken aback by the sudden appearance of these strange creatures. She cocked her head to the side as she looked at them, analyzing them. They were sitting on top of horses and seemed like they were actually able to tame them. That, however, was not the strangest thing. What really made Luna curious was the fact that they covered their bodies with animal furs! "Eek! It stinks! Ugh, why do they do this? Their furs are not enough to protect them?!" Luna's sensitive nose was attacked by all kinds of foul smells, but she persevered.

As thoughts like those passed through her mind and Luna very much wanted to have them answered, she surprisingly found herself unable to understand their speech. The pointy sticks they thrust in front of her also did not help in figuring out their intentions and on the contrary, made her go on the defensive. Luna clenched and raised her hands in front of her head in a stance most suited for defense. "Seems like rashness is not unique to only those djinn from before..."

The riders circled closer and closer, leering at this strange creature. At last, one of them advanced to roughly seize her, brandishing the blunt shaft of his spear in case she proved defiant. Luna growled once menacingly, warning the man to not come closer, as her nails slowly started extending.

The horse whinnied at her growl and was off-put, but with a jab of his heel, he urged it onward. Seeing as the man was intent on advancing, Luna didn't wait for him to reach her and instead took the initiative. She extended her hand towards the shaft of the man's wooden stick and coiled her arm around it, tightly locking it between her armpit and elbow. With a loud shout, she exerted her strength through the spear with a dragging motion, resolved to throw the rider off his horse.

Although taken aback by Luna's strength, the rider was quick enough to release his grasp of the spear before he fell off his horse. Quickly, before she had the chance to impale him, he kicked his horse and reared it back. The riders from behind Luna quickly surged forward in hopes of taking her unaware; the Horse People were coordinated in their attempts, a result of them obviously taking many captives in past raids. Unfortunately for them, Luna's sense of hearing was on a different level than what they could imagine and had detected the horses' movement the moment they surged forward. Taking advantage of the wooden rod in her hands, she knelt down and made a sweeping motion towards the incoming horses' hooves.

The shaft of the spear slapped against one horse's legs, and with a defiant snort, it raised a hoof to bring down upon Luna. To her saving grace the rider cursed and pulled his horse back, for they still wanted to take her alive and it would not due to have their prize trampled! Another one of the horsemen grew impatient and drew from his side a wooden club, and with it, he advanced to finally knock her unconscious since she seemed intent on fighting.

Luna smiled comically as the nervous rider pulled hard on the horses' mane. "These bipedal creatures are not actually that intelligent, are they?" She joked to herself before swiftly lowering her body. The muscles on her legs bulged and countless little veins were engorged with blood, making them look like earthworms burrowing deep into her legs.

A second of silence followed before Luna shot upward, doing a backflip in the air and landing a few meters away from the group. "It seems like they won't back off... let's see if this will make them rethink that decision..."

What she was about to do had been one of the gifts Ull'Yang had given to her back when they first met. The first time... Luna couldn't describe it for she knew not the words that could effectively portray it, or even if such words existed in the first place.

She just let go.

Bestial growls that soon turned into howling were let out by Luna as she rapidly started gaining mass. Her muscles rippled under her furred skin as they multiplied, coiling around her ever-growing skeleton that had soon reached the height double that of a regular humanoid. Once the dreary transformation ended, her lower body and extremities did not appear to have changed much apart from the extra muscle.

Her skull, however, had taken on a completely different form. Gone were her previous humanoid characteristics, replaced by a more bestial, wolf-like visage. A long snout sniffed the air and when she opened her mouth, a tongue the length of a human hand rolled out, dripping with saliva. Her four large canine teeth along with countless incisors and even more teeth, hidden deeper inside her mouth, gave her a frightening appearance.

Fur now covered her completely, from head to toe, much resembling the kind of fur she had prior to meeting Ull'Yang, albeit now giving her a much effective protection due to his divine influence.

Two eyes darted from rider to rider as Luna gave out a crude smile before letting out a deafening howl. She fell down on all fours and started to slowly approach the riders.

Without another thought, they fled. Their horses already were panicked, and so at an unmatched gallop, they retreated from the horrific monster that had been hiding inside such an innocuous form.

Luna let out a few more howls as the riders fled with their tails between their legs. She didn't really want to kill those strange creatures. Being alone and having almost zero information about her surroundings, she didn't dare kill anything that remotely resembled intelligent life. Who knew? Maybe they had some terrifying existence backing them up that, once finding out that she killed some of their own, might come after her.

As the riders faded into the horizon, Luna looked around. She quickly spotted the giant river from before, flowing a few kilometers to the east of her and thus, made her way towards it.


Luna snapped out of her trance-like state and returned to the present as her brain finally registered what her eyes were seeing; faint hints of light yellow, different from the sand's deep-gold, dotting the horizon in front of her. Luna rubbed her eyes in half disbelief and half excitement, wondering if she was being tricked by one of the many mirages deserts presented the weary traveler with from time to time. "Is... Is that grass?!" Luna thought inwardly and started taking longer and faster steps. Soon enough, she had broken into full on sprint, running towards the grasslands of the Golden Barrens.

She followed the river all the way up north until she had finally reached the edge of the dreaded desert. Happy that she'd finally escaped, she glanced at the seemingly boundless grassland of the Golden Barrens in front of her. "Heh, you think you did a number on me, Ventus? You haven't seen nothing yet!" she smirked and with renewed determination, started walking deeper into the Barrens.

However, she'd walked not even a few meters when suddenly a faint sound echoed in her mind. Different than what she'd heard back when those horse riders attacked her, this sound was more akin to a faint, yet rhythmic thrumming. She turned her head towards the river and to the thick forest that laid on the other side of it. "Master's weapon!" Luna's eyes opened wide as she gave a toothy grin. She immediately started running towards the river.

Although the turbulent waters of the Mahd would certainly prove to be fatal to anyone striving to cross it, Luna did not have to worry about that at all. She gathered her strength in her legs and jumped once more, soaring over the river below and landing on the other side of the riverbank. Not wasting a second, she proceeded to enter the forested areas at the edge of the Venomweald.



Deep within the jungle's depths, few beings stirred. Death loomed in the air, ready to descend upon the slightest movement. But there was a heavy tramping, and this creature extruded a terror and aura of domination so strong that the jungle itself contorted to allow his unimpeded passage.

Ommok walked through the dark understory, holding his Stone high as if it were a torch. His power had only grown with time, and with that thing as a conduit to his magic, few could resist him. It was child's play to break the mind of any but the staunchest of ogres, and plants and mindless beasts were hardly any more resilient.

So he forced the vines and carnivorous plants to twist out of his way and offer him a dark passage into the wood. Many strange artifacts were strewn across Galbar, and those that found their way into the Venomweald were rarely claimed. The jungle had holes within holes, and even if one had the patience to search its depths, they rarely had the bravery or wit to survive.

Ommok, however, was lord of this hell on Galbar. Since becoming attuned to magic, he had managed to detect one artifact in particular that radiated a power. Like a moth to a flame, such power called to the greedy king; it would be his. It was only a matter of finding the signal's source.

Patiently, he walked. The immortal king had made many such journeys before, though usually, they ended in a place more dignified than a mere hole in the ground. A cave, however, was where he eventually found himself as he neared the source of the power that he had sensed from so far away.



Once she had locked on to the Sunderer's signal, Luna had brought it up a notch and wasted no time with carefully traversing the Venomweald. She ran through the thick canopy with ease, leaping over fallen logs and boulders and passing by thousand-year-old trees that had grown to triple her height when transformed.

Dense, forested areas like the Venomweald were basically her home turf; having spent the majority of her life, prior to meeting Ull'Yang, hunting in the forest had made her especially deft in navigating said terrain, even a forest which she had never seen before like the Venomweald.

Granted, the forest seemed especially dangerous. There were times when she had to stop and take the long way around certain areas. At one instance, as she ran she suddenly came across a huge pool filled with green viscous liquid. All sorts of poisonous gasses lingered above the pool. Although she knew she had some resistance against poisons, she obviously had no knowledge of this specific poison and its potency. Luna carefully turned back, took another path and continued on her journey.

There was also a time where she was met with a group of plant-like creatures and had almost fallen prey to them. If not for her quickly activating Ull'Yang's symbol, causing the plants to burn and wither away, she would have probably been digested by them by now.

As she ran through the rainforest, Sunderer's signal kept getting stronger and stronger. "I'm almost there!" Luna thought with a smile and ran even faster. She climbed up the tall trees and started leaping from branch to branch, her weight pressing on the fragile tree appendages for only a moment before she had leaped to another one. If she cared to look back, she would be surprised to see some of the branches magically coming to life, coiling around as if trying to grab something.



The ogre king's corpulent form loomed over the entrance to the cavity, and he cast a shadow upon the darkness within. His greedy eyes stared into the recesses for a moment. He was huge, even by ogre standards, and so a task so simple as entering the cave and taking the artifact within was suddenly made complicated.

Without hesitation, Ommok stepped inwards or rather crawled. What would have been comfortable for the average humanoid was horrifically claustrophobic for him, and so he, at last, came upon a passage too narrow for him to squeeze through. With a roar of frustration, he willed the walls of stone to crumble before him and make way. Yield to his might they did, yet he quickly realized that the cave system was more expansive than it had appeared. He would be using magic to bludgeon his way through an entire labyrinth of tunnels, and already the effort had fatigued him. Who knew how much longer it might take?

He sighed and rested within the depths. Time meant nothing. Even if it took ten years, he would work tirelessly to dig his way to the artifact.

When Luna finally reached her destination, the dark veil of the night had enveloped the whole of the Venomweald, not that it made much of a difference since the thick canopy blocked much of the sunlight anyway, giving the forest a perpetual eerie feeling to it.

The Twilight Queen leaped off the last branch and landed on the ground next to the cave silently, making sure to not disturb any creatures that might live near the place. "So this is the cave..." Luna murmured as she stood before the entrance. She looked into the dark depths and could only shudder when a cold wind rushed outwards.

However, she could practically smell her master's other body, along with the aura that Sunderer exuded.

Something was outside; he sensed it. It was entering the cave, for some reason or another. He reached out with his magic and felt the thing's breathing. Heard its heartbeat.

A solution had presented itself! How could he have not seen it earlier? He would simply have this one retrieve the prize for him, for he knew already that this being had a much smaller physique than his own. He rose at once, and slowly lumbered through the darkness towards the mouth of the cave.

As she was about to enter deeper inside the cave, though, Luna was stopped in her tracks. To her surprise, she detected a foreign presence coming from within the cave. "This... This doesn't feel like master's residual essence..." The werewolf, although uncertain of this new variable that had just presented itself, decided to continue walking deeper inside the cave. She knew perfectly well that the Sunderer was her key to survival and she hadn't exactly come all this way just to chicken out at the most crucial moment...

Yet, she wasn't exactly ready for what she encountered after going deeper inside the cave. Instead of her master's weapon, she was met with a hulking mass shrouded in darkness. Myriads of thoughts passed through her mind but she was too flustered to think clear enough. The last thing she saw was the shadowy figure raising a giant spherical object above its head before her mind was brutally assaulted by an unknown force. Luna bled from all of her seven facial orifices before falling on the ground, unconscious.
≈≈≈≈≈

The cool morning breeze carried a shroud of fog over the sickly green canopy of the jungle, but even from within that haze there were eyes peering down upon Luna. How hapless she was! As if completely oblivious to all the predators below that eyed her in the trees and even some of the carnivorous trees that might have devoured her, she pressed on. Fortune favored her or she had a wit that was not so easy to see, for she somehow avoided all danger as she traversed the Venomweald.

Synnefos swept through the air at a quick pace to keep up, but none batted an eye when they saw a small patch of fog drifting along. She had piqued the djinni's curiosity, to be sure; what item could she possibly be searching for in this untamed wild? The Vizier had been right to have him shadow her journey.

There, at last, came a point where she descended down from the canopy and into the understory below. Synnefos darted after her through the jungle's leaves and vegetation, and even so he almost lost sight of her. That would have been a grave failure indeed!

When she came upon some unassuming hole in the ground and entered it, Synnefos was then presented with a quandary. Dare he venture after her into that unknown crevice and risk drawing her attention (for fog did not often follow one into a cave) or stay outside and hope that she would return shortly?

Her having nearly evaded him mere moments ago was enough motivation for him to risk following her inside. The cavern had a chill to it and was damp enough, so in the darkness, he was not so easily noticed as he had initially thought. So it was mere feet away from Luna that the Vizier's spy followed, and with shock, he saw what happened next.

From the shadows leaped out a hulking humanoid larger than any other living creature the djinni had witnessed before. The being raised a stone that it clutched in one hand, and Synnefos saw what mortal eyes could not: a surge of magic pulsed out from the stone, smashing into Luna and shattering her meager mental defenses like glass. Ommok struggled for a moment as he forced his way into her weakened mind and then tethered her to his will.

Luna, meanwhile, had been engulfed by a spasm of movement. Blood seeped out from her face as it seemed that the reckless assault upon her mind had physical effects as well. But then Luna's visage relaxed and looked utterly at peace, as if in a sleep without dreams. And then Ommok had clutched the stone closer still and closed his eyes, and as he took full control of his captive she stiffened. With rigid and mechanical movements, she turned and began to descend deeper into the tunnels.

In a split second's decision, Synnefos decided to flee. Ommok's eye had darted through the darkness towards the fog, and from that gaze, the djinni knew that he had been seen. It was unheard of for the creatures of flesh to so effortlessly detect a wind djinn when it meant to be stealthy, but then again, this creature was like nothing Synnefos had ever seen. It wielded magic that not even he could understand, it had the touch of gods upon it, that stone resonated with dark magics, and it was far too big to be one of the indigenous ogres...

As he retreated to tell the Vizier Ventus of what he had just seen, he could only wonder what sort of being had been lurking in that cave.
≈≈≈≈≈

A patch of fog drifted into the cave, and Ommok scowled at the djinn within. Fortunately, the thing seemed large enough to have the sense to flee on its own. Thinking that it had been no more than a stray elemental that had wandered into the cave by chance, the king focussed the entirety of his attention once more on Luna. As she navigated further and further through the tunnels, the tether that bound her to his will grew taut and thin. It took increasing exertion from the sorcerer king to maintain control but maintain it he did.

At last, she reached the end of the tunnel, and through her blank eyes, he observed the source of this power that he had felt. There was some strange humanoid resting in a meditative pose, and a strange staff suspended above its head. Both were statuesque in their utter stillness. Both exuded an aura of divinity, though it was weak.

Ommok had faced the Sky God and the Magic Goddess before and survived their power. He had no fear, simply disappointment. Where he had hoped for something to be freely taken, here it seemed like he had only found a sleeping god and a weak one at that. Still, perhaps there would be some boon to gain or knowledge to learn through awakening the entity and communicating with it. Through Luna, he reached out to touch the sleeping form of Yang'Ze. It did not twitch, and still, it did not awaken.

Ironically enough, the initial frustration vanished and his inability to awaken the dormant god only further intrigued Ommok. Was that meditating body really so helpless as it appeared? Ommok willed Luna to strike Yang'Ze, and so she did.



All sorts of ominous clouds were looming over Luna's spiritual sea. Deep red, purple and even black clouds filled the small space inside her mind, raining thunder and lighting on the ocean below that represented her thoughts and emotions. Filled with turbulent waves and strong currents, it aptly portrayed Luna's mind at that time.

Somewhere inside this fierce storm, a small boat drifted. However, the waves rocked it, no matter how many times thunder rained down upon it, the little boat neither capsized nor caught on fire.

Inside the boat lay a small body, curled up around a stone that shone a dim, golden light. On top of the stone, a peculiar sun symbol was carved, from which vein-like strings extended that covered the whole boat.

The small wolf slowly opened its eyes...
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The First Parade - 4

Featuring: Susa, Lakshmi, Chroma

And special guest, Gerrik


The territory to the south was inhabited by the strange race known as the fiberheads. Although relations between the fiberheads and the hain were varied, they tended to be on the tense side. Their appearance was strange, fleshy and hairy, they stood nearly twice as tall as a hain, and their customs, habits and language were alien; or so the tales went.

Gerrik Far-Teacher planned to plunge into the heart of fiberhead territory, this land of alien, hostile people. But he was no fool, so he gathered as much information as he could from the hain tribes on the outskirts of fiberhead lands. Much of the information he gathered he discerned to probably be myth, but some of it was useful.

Of particular value was when he found a Chipper who had actually been exactly where he wanted to go. He learned that his destination was the village of Susa, named after the famous Susa the Huntress. This woman, Susa, matched Gerrik's vision exactly. She had, for a time, been stuck in the village due to a broken leg, and while she was there she had taught the people many things relating to hunting and other technologies and techniques. If she were a hain, she would have made a great Chipper.

Gerrik also learned from this Chipper that the fiberheads called themselves 'humans', and he was given a few phrases of the pidgin language which had developed between the human hunters and hain traders, as well as some knowledge of the lay of the land. Gerrik gratefully thanked the Chipper, and carried on his way, trekking deeper into the Mesathalassa towards Susa.

Gerrik was cautious on his journey through human territory. He kept clear of hunting parties, something fairly easy for him to do with his Perception and his mobility, and lived off the land rather than go into the human villages. As a lone traveller, he could maintain good stealth and pace, and it was not too long before he finally came near to the village of Susa.

Even before coming into view of the village, Gerrik could tell that this had to be a major village from the signs of activity around it. Well-trodden trails had been worn into the surrounding brushland, and Hunters walked a few of them, heading out to go hunting or heading back hauling some prize. Gerrik avoided them all, and only made himself seen as he approached one of the entrances to the village of Susa.

A watchman saw Gerrik approach, and called out to another guard. Gerrik stopped and waited at the watchman's signal of an open palm facing him. The pair of humans approached Gerrik, and although Gerrik was yet to learn the intricacies of human body language, and especially the expressions of their fleshy faces, they did not appear to be threatening.

"Hello," Gerrik greeted in the pidgin he had been taught, waving a hand. Encouragingly, one of the humans waved a hand in return.

"Where you come from?" one watchman asked, also in the pidgin.

"I Chipper. I travel big length, to places-places. From north," Gerrik answered, making appropriate gestures to indicate self or direction.

"Why you here?" the watchman interrogated.

"See Susa the Huntress. Learn," Gerrik replied.

The two guards muttered amongst themselves in their own human tongue. They came to a consensus. With a welcoming smile, the guards stepped aside and gestured down the path and into the village. "Hello."

"Thanks," Gerrik replied, before heading into the village.

Inside the village, Susa was preparing herself to take her friends Lakshmi and Chroma to see a nearby pond, however yet again someone called for her attention.

"Miss Susa, there is a Hain wanting to talk to you, he just arrived, from the north."

Susa tilted her head a bit confused, it felt like it was too soon for someone to know about her arrival at the village. She turned to Salassar and asked:

"Did you send dreams again?" she questioned

"I have not done that since we left the jungle, there was no need"

The huntress pondered about it for a bit longer, could it be just a coincidence? The timing was odd.

Either way, there was no point in standing there thinking about it, surely many questions would be made clear once she met the traveling Hain. So she walked outside, Salassar following her.

"Are we going there now?" Chroma asked, quite excited to see the supposedly pretty landmarks Susa had been talking about

"There will be a little delay, apparently there is a Hain wanting to talk with me" said, Susa

Nevertheless, both Chroma and Lakshmi decided to follow the huntress to see who this unexpected arrival was.

Gerrik was inspecting the human village, with both his eyes and Perception, absorbing as much information as he could. Surprisingly, it was not too dissimilar to a hain village, with huts and food and drying racks and people going about doing people things. It was on the large side for a village, and that seemed to be attributable to the organised group of Hunters and their leather making.

He was interrupted from his musings when he sensed the approach of not just a human woman, but a horned bipedal grey-skinned female, a strange Jvanic amorphous being in humanoid form, and a lizard-like biped.

The human Gerrik identified as Susa- she did not look too different from when he had seen her in the vision. The others were not only complete strangers to him, but he had never seen anything of their kinds before. It was strange, but he was already in a strange place surrounded by a race he hardly knew so it did not perturb him too greatly.

As Susa came into view, Gerrik realised a potential problem. He only knew a very small amount of the pidgin language, which was limited in its capacity for communication anyway. But he didn't have much else, so he would have to improvise.

He raised a hand and waved it. "Hello, Susa," Gerrik greeted in pidgin.

"Hello, uh, Hain." she said in confusion, the Hain even knew her name. "Sally, can't you be our translator here? It will make things easier for us all" she said to the Quara, who complied.

"Good morning friend. I'm sorry to ask such thing, but from where do you know us? Susa apparently doesn't remember meeting you ever before."

Gerrik relaxed when Salassar spoke to him in a language he knew. A translator was much-needed.

"I am Gerrik Far-Teacher, apprentice of Stone Chipper and prophet of Teknall. I had heard tales of Susa the Huntress during my travels, and came here to see her and learn what I could," Gerrik said.

"He is lucky. I have been away from the vilage for decades now, just arrived here." she said in rudimentary Hain before asking for Salassar to translate everything else

"She also heard a bit about you beforehand and has met many Chippers before. It is a honor to meet you, mister Gerrik." Salassar politely bowed "Ah, let me introduce myself, I am Salassar-Madori Denomoritore..."

"Call him Sally"

"Please don't. I'm from the Grand Parade, an organization blessed by the goddess Ilunabar with the mission of spreading beauty and culture across the land. The one to my left is Lakshmi, a Lifprasilian warrior who has fought the Chaos Order herself."

"I fought the hordes too" Susa boasted

"And finally, to my right is Chroma... She... We... We just found her. She describes herself as a hero of justice and so far has done enough to prove herself trustworthy." Salassar controlled his words, he didn't want his mistrust to spread to others.

Gerrik nodded. Gerrik hadn't heard of the Grand Parade, or Lifprasilians, although he had heard of Ilunabar. And evidently, nobody at all knew what Chroma was. "It is most fortunate that we have met, then. Hello Salassar, Lakshmi, Chroma. You will have to tell me about the Grand Parade and the Lifprasilians some time. One thing I am particularly curious about, though, Susa, is how you make those treated animal hides."

Susa smiled "Sure. I can make you a cloak." It was a honor to teach something to a Chipper, it was her own way of repaying how much they had helped her before "Here, let's go back to my home."

"What? And what about the pond? I wanted to see it." Chroma complained

"Ah, it can wait. I doubt we will be able to continue our journey today anyway"

Gerrik nodded his head respectfully and followed her. "Thank you, Susa." Chroma spoke in a different language again, although some words were vaguely familiar. There was some mention of water there.

In Susa's abode Susa showed Gerrik how to tan leather, then demonstrated the ways of leatherworking by making him a new cloak.

Gerrik stretched out his arms and twisted around, testing out the new cloak. It seemed to be much more durable than furs, yet more flexible than rawhide. This new material, leather, would be incredibly useful in many applications.

"It is marvellous, Susa. Thank you," Gerrik said. "I must find something to share with you in return."

"Ah, no worry. Chippers helped me and the village a lot in the past." she said, but there was something that had been bothering her. "Though, I have been thinking about food storage. We have lots of dry meat, but other products, not so much." after interacting more with Gerrik the use of Hain language became easier for her, it was far from perfect, but good enough to convey ideas.

"Food?" Gerrik said, his beak rising. He rummaged around in his travel bag and pulled out a light-brown baked object. He tore off a chunk, revealing it to have a soft texture that was somewhat fibrous, and a white interior. He handed the chunk to Susa, and took a bite from his own piece.

Susa inspected the odd object with curiosity. The texture didn't look similar to anything she had ever seen; at most, its interior looked similar to some mushrooms.

Gerrik showcased it was edible and she decided to take a bite; the taste was nowhere similar to what she had imagined, she could identify it was made from certain grains, but she had no idea how it turned into that.

"Curious. I have never seen anything like this before, what is its name?"

"It is called bread," Gerrik answered. "It is nourishing, and it lasts a long time. I can show you how to make it."

"Please. I can sense that this was made from grains but I can't imagine how those turned into this fluff, so I am really curious."

Gerrik nodded. "Of course. I just need some grains..."

After gathering the necessary ingredients, Gerrik ground the grains between two stones until they became a powder. He then mixed this powder with some water so that it became a thick pasty blob. He flattened this blob out with his hands and then put it above a fire to cook. As the dough cooked Gerrik explained that many variations of the recipe were possible to yield many different consistencies of bread, although Gerrik hadn't had cause to experiment very widely.

The bread was baked and Susa heated up some soup to eat with it. As the heroes gathered around for the meal, Gerrik tried to find out a bit more about them.

"Salassar, this Grand Parade sounds as though it a carries a purpose of great significance. Yet I will admit that despite being the traveller that I am I haven't yet heard of the Grand Parade. Could you tell me a bit more about them and what they've done?" Gerrik asked.

Salassar stopped munching on the bread to properly answer to Gerrik "This is the very first mission carried by our group. Furthermore, we do not go around calling ourselves the Grand Parade, you are an exceptional person so I disclosed about such information. But it would be ideal if the people did not know exactly who we are, even with hundreds of years of activity.

"Though, if you want to see our actions closely, do visit Fibeslay to the south of this village." he added.

Gerrik nodded. "Ah, I see." He thought a little longer. "To the south of here? How convenient, I was going to head that way after this place."

Gerrik turned to Lakshmi. "Lakshmi, could you tell me a bit about the Lifprasillians?"

Lakshmi cleared her throat, having sat in numbing silence for so long, she had grown weary and tired in anticipation, and chose to stand when she was chosen. "U-uh," Lakshmi coughed, and sputtered - as if slowly winding up her broken speech. "W-we're servants of t-the c-child of b-both things, Lifprasil, h-hence our name-ssake. Illunabar is our comrade, a-as isss S-ss-Susa, a-and C-c-chroma. W-we were created b-by Lifprasil when h-he was born, a-and I was his c-chosen hero t-to lead his a-armies." stated the towering female - it wasn't hard to see that Lifprasilians, judging by this specimen, were built to fight, but the expensive garments - covered in metals and gems unseen throughout most of the world - gave the stuttering heroine some semblance of grace outside her immense size.

Her wardrobe could best be described as some profound transmission of regality, and if Susa had not come for her in the nude, she would probably be just as lavishly fitted."Y-you are f-familiar, we h-have a f-few Hainn-n in-in our C-city of Alefpria. I-if you w-would l-like to v-visit, a m-master of the craft s-such as yourself would b-be welcome."

Lakshmi's attire intrigued Gerrik more than her report. These fabrics and materials and the way they were brought together indicated technology far ahead of anything he had ever seen. "I will have to visit Alefpria some time," Gerrik responded.

Finally Gerrik looked to Chroma. Salassar and Lakshmi, although they were of species unknown to Gerrik, still possessed a familiar anatomy, which he could see with his Perception. However, Chroma was different. His gut told him that Chroma was unquestionably Jvanic in nature. And rather than having a neatly arranged internal structure with organs and blood and stuff, it was a chaotic, amorphous, ever-changing mess. It was unnerving.

"And you, Chroma. Where do you come from?" Gerrik asked.

"I come from a sweet little town called Iridia... Ah, but you probably don't know it, since it is in another universe. I just got to this place recently, used to be a hero back in my world, and then an odd woman that looked similar to Susa brought me to this Clashing World. Then I spent some time on an island by now I am here."

Chroma's origin was about as strange as whatever her species is. Gerrik shouldn't have expected anything better. It made sense that a being of such alien physiology would be alien to this world. "Okay," he replied simply.

They finished their dinner as dusk turned to night. Susa's hut was already rather full, with Susa and four guests, so there was not much spare floor space or furniture for sleeping. However, Gerrik had a solution. He strung up his hammock between two posts inside and slept suspended above the floor in the comfort of his hammock.

When the sun rose, Gerrik awoke and packed his belongings. He wrapped his new leather cloak about him as he prepared to leave.

"Thank you Susa. Thank you Salassar. Farewell Lakshmi and Chroma. It was good to meet you," Gerrik said.

Susa was the first to answer to him. "I hope you find your cloak to be useful. Also, I'm sure our paths will meet again someday, so stay alive until then."

Salassar simply bowed. "Have a safe journey."

"G-goodbye G-gerrik. It w-was good to m-meet you, too." replied Lakshmi, standing up from what appeared to be morning meditation. "I h-hope to see you s-soon."

Chroma waved her hand "Take care boney friend, stay safe," she said

Gerrik waved back. "Goodbye." He then set off on his journey, walking southwards.



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Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by LokiLeo789
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Sin, The 7 Sins, The Sinner, Pride, Gluttony, Wrath Envy, Sloth, Lust, Greed
2 MP, Level 3


Mortals are such complacent creatures.

Sin knew of such a fact long ago, but he never truly understood such a nature until now. He and the Victors had spent days traversing the frozen tundra, an experience he never wished to relive.

There was no colour in the tundra, only white, a giant blank sheet. The knowledge that precious flowers and grass seeds once slept beneath the thick blanket, waiting for the long dark winter pass irked him. Though the night seemed never ending and the bitterness bit harder with every passing hour. Both him and the Victors were thankful to the gods for the change of not only scenery, but climate.

Amartía had happened to stubble his way into more tolerable conditions, the forest. The forest was ancient. The trees thick and old, roots that were twisted. It might once have been filled with bird-songs and animals that roamed. But now it was ages past its former glory. It's canopy was so dense that he could only see the occasional streak of sunlight that rarely touched the forest floor.

It was at this point during thier arduous trek, that a female Victor by the name of Aviyah approached him.

"My lord, my brother and sisters have grown weak, and hunger for food. Please, allow them to rest and hunt." she begged.

Amartía glanced at the haggard group of Victors who followed him. They were but flies compared to thier former glory. These weren't the Victors that invaded his home. With this in mind, he relented. "Rest." Amartía grumbled, turning away from the Victors. "Thank you lord." she murmured as she turned to address the Victors. Her commands were short and precise, leaving no one without a job to do. Even the spiders were to be caged.

Amartía was duly impressed. Unfortunately, he was in constant question of there loyalty. True he shackled thier souls, but they were a Divine Order, formerly led by what he believed to be the strongest of the gods. Were they in search for a new leader, a new deity to led them? It was if they were a lost puppy who clung to any man that walked past them. He pitted them, they would never be the same again, not under his rule.

Amartía turned away from the camp and ventured deeper into the forest, searching for a place to think. There was so much information to process. How to make use of what he had just acquired? What state was his city in? Why or how long had he been kidnapped for? Most questions were meant for others to answer, but there were valid questions none the less.

Sin, lost in thought, wandered throughout the forest, no longer interested in the scenery, at least until the laughter of playing children awoke him. In a clearing sat a settlement of humans, all who held thier own place in the world. While many would have examined thier outward appearance, Amartía looked inward and examined thier treacherous hearts. The human heart was a palace of desire, a catalyst for sin. This is were Amartía found his first target.

Excited, Sin planned. Amartía rarely took the time to entice mortals to commit heinous acts, so he savored the opportunity and process involved. At a lose, Amartía climbed a tree over looking the village in search of an idea. This is when Amartía noticed a snake on the adjacent tree. It was wrapped against the branch, ever so still. That gave Amartía an idea.

Amartía reached for his birthright, calling to the Chaos that forced him into this world. Instantly, reality distorted, screaming and screeching, curling and coiling, turning and withering. Like a potter forming clay, Amartía molded the chaos to his hearts desire. Slowly, the vile red aura became solid and elongated, organs formed, a heart began to beat, scales formed and fangs grew.

Amartía's creation was long and slender, but was red in color, matching him perfectly . The serpent coiled around its creators arm, tasting the air with its forked tongue. "You are an offspring of Chaos, the vile serpent of the void, my brother, and child. Go on, and warp the world just as chaos does." Amartía cooed.

Obediently, the legless reptile crawled down his arm and down the tree towards the village. The slender serpent slithered silently, its scaly skin shimmering in the sunlight as its tongue occasionally flicked out to taste the fear in the air. It was on a mission. Sneakily, the snake made its why into a hut, finding a hole in the back wall. The hut was cramped, seemingly housing up to seven family members. But only one was present. Near the door stood a tall rugged man, years of adventure and work weathered into his face.

One may have expected to see a kind smile on the face of the family man, instead, rage was etched into his leathery face. His eyes was rage filled, and a blade was held high over his head, all directed right at the serpent.

"Why do you raissse your hand up againsssst me?" the snake jeered.

The man jumped, surprised. "You can speak?!" he gasped.

"Who told you I could not? the snake coed.

"I never knew… the man slurred, confused.

"Of courssse not, you didn't bother to assssk. Now ssit, you seem to have many things on your mind." the snake becked.

The man obliged, taking a seat next to the serpent, but remained cautious, blade in hand.

"Now, what botherszz you?" the snake knew of the mans problem.

"You, a serpent, are here to help me?" the man gurgled.

"I am a messenger of the godsss. A problem sssolver. A helper of mortals. Aszzk of me anything, and it ssshall be told to you." the serpent instructed.

"A messenger of the gods?" the murmured in awe. "Well, if you are of the gods. I am an adventure by heart and profession. Soon, life caught up to me and I was forced to marry my bequeathed. She is a loyal woman, but she is not for me! I need a real woman, an adventurer like me! the man explained.

The snake remained silent. "There is a woman, of warrior descent. She is as skilled a huntsman as I am, as beautiful as a calm ocean on a full moons night. Here voice is but a sirens call, and her scent excites me at every moment." he sighed lustfully.

"Ahh there isss your problem. You have fallen for yet another woman have you not." the snake cooed.

The man nodded solemnly. "I fear I have fallen for her. Her body calls to me. I wish for her at every passing moment, but I am married! And am a father of seven. I am a loyal man, to them, and to my morals. I have approached the elders, but I was told to watch my heart. What do I do? " the man sighed. Finally, the man let his guard fall, his shoulders sagging as his blade fell to the floor.

For a few moments, the serpent was silent, but soon, with a hiss, the snake spoke. "Have you heard of the Forbidden Tree?" the snake began.

"There wasss once a man, who enjoyed the food of the forest. Applesss, berriesss, oranges. But one day, the man grew tired of szzuch fruits, and craved the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, the tree in which the elderszz warned against eating from it, even touching the fruit was a crime. It was the fruit of the gods. The man craved to taste it oh so much. So, the man took from the tree, and it was the best fruit he had ever eaten. It was soft but firm, sweet but juicy. In that moment, he became a god himself, and ascended to the heavens." the snake proclaimed.

The man was astounded. "Does such a tree exist today?!"

"Oh no, but that iss not the moral of my illustration. The man hungered for what was forbidden, and that disobedience led to godhood. The huntress of your dreams is that forbidden fruit, and if you simply take it, you will be rewarded with sssatisfaction." the snake goaded.

The man frowned, the serpents twisted logic was getting to the man. It knew how to tickle the ears of mortals, and his words were succeeding in doing just that.

"You are ssstill hesssitant to take what you luzzzst after? Hmm. Here, go to her, lay down with her, and impregnate her. That way, your wife must accept her into your household." the snake advised.

The man slowly nodded, his lust blinding his clearer judgment. "Yes… yes. Thank you Messenger! Praise be the gods!" the man bubbled.

"Call me, The Solver." the snake hissed, watching as the man jumped to his feet.

The man hadn't heard the serpent, his lust had gotten the best of him. In a few moments, he would commit a heinous act never before performed; Adultery.

The Solver, satisfied, left the hut, and returned to his master.


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Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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The fight began. This was Tauga's third.

Nimble had drawn the first Destroyer to her camp, back on that last day before Tauga died. Evidently a Bludgeon exerted the same effect, and while the former was helpless pickings, the shining white moths came to her as to a wildfire. They were quickly becoming scarce, though. Maybe they were learning to keep away from what wasn't good for them. She doubted it.

Charging face-on as she had in her first hunt had, by luck, turned out to be the safest way to initiate. As long as a Destroyer was using its streams of moonlit fire to propel itself forwards, it couldn't use that same magic to blast at what was right before its eyeslits. Count to three. One. And two. And-

Tauga twisted violently in the air, flinging the gargantuan Bludgeon into a spin as the tendrils of her upper body released their grip on its cord and she entered freefall.

End over end the spheres flipped, plumes streaming behind them, cords screaming like violin strings, and the Realta was unprepared for the abrupt leap in speed. Executing an agile hairpin turn did not save it from the magnetic turbulence and its wings spat rivers of shining fire in every direction as it repositioned.

Barely breathing, Tauga held out her tendrils as she fell, and they snatched back at the returning cord, an unblinking trapeze artist. As the elastic tentacles eased her fall she held close to the nearer sphere, holding still as she raised the distant sphere and slashed it back down on its orbit, down like an axe at the recovering Realta as it swooped closer, easily evading the sphere- unable to see the cord.

Tauga missed. The Destroyer survived.

The distant sphere was still descending and Tauga used its groundwards arc to toss her end of the cord upwards. She let go and was flung into the sky. The Destroyer knew how to identify a vulnerable target.

From above, Tauga could see the metal mask of Arcon's wrath as it rose to meet her, blotting out the world below with the all-purging whiteness of its wings. She could see the long iron fingers stretched out to impale.

It rose to meet her, and did not look down. The Bludgeon was faster.

A wave of heat was all that remained as the Destroyer's dissolving plasma body passed Tauga and faded into the distance. In the moment before the cord that sliced it apart reached her, Tauga could see the fragments of its silver shell scatter in the air around her.

Like twisted mirrors on the wind.

Tauga closed her eyes and fell with them.

* * * * *


When Tauga landed at the well, its previous set of patrons were preparing to leave. The tedar had already filled clay troughs built there long ago, and their flocks had watered. Bits of straw sat in the blue of reflected sky. With no pail to draw, Tauga cupped her hands and drank straight from the trough. There was no shame in this. Anyone raised in Xerxes had seen far greater desperation.

She didn't see the approaching goatherds, nor lift her head to face them. They assumed that meant she didn't know they were there. The closer of the two, the one not carrying a heavy crook, made to nudge her with his foot, and she shuffled easily to avoid him. Something unseen brushed his leg and he recoiled.

"Next time say 'hey'." Still not facing them.

A glance was shared with his wife, who still held a ready grip on the crook. Then a glare back at the dark-clad hain. "Your kind. You aren't welcome here."

"The Cult of Jaan is free to go anywhere in Amestris by order of the Enas," recited Tauga without force. She raised her hands to her unmasked face and took another sip.

"The Enas is dead."

Something whipped on the air like a dead wind, crawling wildly on the tedar's skin. "Liar."

The hain sat still and the second herder lowered the end of her crook to Tauga's shoulder level, ignoring the queasy sensations that writhed on her hand as she did so. "Folehne speaks true. A masked warband cut through his army. Killed him and all his heirs. There is no Enas now." The sturdy wood tapped against Tauga's neck, and she finally looked up, hand slowly curling around her scabbard.

"The Purifiers came from Lysiuh to burn you and all the fae folk and everyone who ever gave you passage. We are free of perversion. You'll find no rest here."

"Purifiers," she repeated dumbly.

"Get out," whispered the tedar. "Leave."

Tauga tilted her head, staring at her reflection with her other set of eyes. "Alright," she yielded simply. "Alright, I'll go." She stood and stepped aside, fixing the reaper mask over her face. She was still thirsty. The tedar hadn't moved. They waited for her to finish.

Something hidden in a cloud plummeted to earth and came at them with a violin shriek. The Bludgeon buzzed them at an unwise altitude and a ludicrous speed, whipping dust in its wake, scattering their herds. As the goats bolted and the grit smattered back to earth, the herders raised their heads and looked, but the masked hain was gone.

* * * * *


Cross-legged on a woven mat, the shaman looked neither uncomfortable nor at peace. A low fire warmed the yurt. Long journeys had shown her terrible blizzards of the high mountains, and yet it was age, not those weathered memories, not the stranger in the room, that chilled her. With a will like ancient bone she endured the faint stroking sensations that tapped on her skin when her guest's concentration slipped.

Tauga had tried to sit as the shaman did and shortly tired of the stretch. Now she sat with one leg outstretched and an arm leaning on the bent knee of the other. Half-finished beside her was a messy bowl of beans she had been generously served.

"It is as in the stories of the south, my daughter. You have been touched by God."

An affirmative grunt. "Guess which." The shaman sighed.

Changing course back to the City had taken Tauga through territory she had already passed, where eyewitness retellings had hardened into rumours. Inhuman noises over the plains. Great gleaming spheres hiding in the clouds. Destroyers (Purifiers?) known by their fallen armour, empty and sliced like fruit.

These villages rarely harboured wandering cultists, and this one was miles from the nearest Lens grove. News walked slowly between the tiny subsistence communities, and the name 'Purifier' had yet to make its way here. Tauga guessed she was lucky. No one had thrown rocks. Only the usual sidelong glances and parents ushering hatchlings back indoors when they saw her.

Hardly different, speak true, from what she'd lived through in the quarry camp, where the labourers were all hain and no temple stood to hide the work she did with Help. Those stares had upset her then. She'd clawed her joints in the night, though she was far from her next moult. Now she wondered why.

But not very hard.

"Tauga."

With a blink she focused her attention back on the shaman, whose hands were steepled and whose gaze was neutral.

"Aye, this will not do, my child. Your heart is hurt beyond what you can bear, and now your shell has grown thick with that grey skin you wear, tough and pliant and without feeling. You must moult, Tauga. You must moult your soul, and become brittle and clean again."

Tauga thought about this for a few seconds while she shuffled her sitting position again. "I'd rather drink," she admitted.

"If you stare into the wine now, it will never let you go."

A shrug. "I'll take my chances." She stretched, and finally stood up. Standing was more comfortable than sitting, these days. "Thanks for the, uh, hospitality, mother shaman." With that she looked down, resting her hand on her neck awkwardly, and after a moment Tauga left the wise one alone to shake her head slowly at the half-open door in her wake.

But when they found her slumped against the storehouse wall with an empty jar of wine and pieces of a broken ladle early the next morning, Tauga stared at her with clear eyes, and turned away without a word. A single drop of unabsorbed ethanol fell from the tip of her beak. Tauga's body had been secured from harm, even by herself. It was not hers to ruin.

No rest for the dead.

* * * * *


From an indistinct speck in the wetly clouded sky to a monstrosity screaming its violin warpath as its shadow raced over the rice paddies, Tauga watched the second Bludgeon fall upon her own from the heavens. With a mildly curious mood she waited for the two cords to collide and snap. That didn't come to pass.

Instead, the second Bludgeon simply integrated with the first, its excess velocity dispersed through the system as all four spheres began to orbit a focal point, their eccentric swings too fast to keep track of. Stable though the spinning patterns were, Tauga took control of the cords as they flashed in and out of existence between the Bludgeons, and slowed them to a gentler pace, a square circling above her head.

One of her tentacles brushed something that hadn't been there a moment ago and she turned to face it.

"You," she slipped, almost accidentally, as a way of greeting. "I remember you." It was all she could say. Tauga still didn't know what, exactly, this particular you was. The last time she'd seen it was the last day she had stood on Galbar before her fall.

The figure was motionless. "I guess I've pretty much got this figured out, then, hey?"

"Correct." One of those gleaming white legs was carrying a kind of sack in the iridescent claw above its hoof, and the ribbed grey pipes wired through its skin stretched as it held out the parcel. When Tauga didn't collect it, it dropped the elastic sack into the rice with a light splash.

Eventually she took the hint and approached the dubious gift. It was rapidly dissolving in the water anyway. When Tauga touched the remains of the bag, it began to move, and a small creature stirred from below. Help had shown her plenty of hearts before, human and otherwise, so the tootling sweetheart that emerged to bob around her was more surprising in the fact that it floated.

There was another thing, too, a slit of flickering red in the water. Tauga didn't realise that it was glowing until she reached into the mud and pulled out the sealed tube.

"Is this what you need me for?"

"Take the canister to Xerxes. Investigate the properties of its contents. The Sweetheart will assist you. More may be provided."

"Nnn." That was a rather curt list of instructions. Of course, it was all the strange walker believed she needed, so she'd figure that out too. "And the extra bludgeons? Oh, no, wait, I get it. You only gave me two in the first place so that I could learn faster. Mhm. So how about this. What if I dump the bottle in a well somewhere and never come back for it?"

"Consistently dysfunctional experimental apparatus is to be reconfigured or scrapped."

That sentence had a lot of big words that Tauga didn't really know and it took her a while to puzzle her way through it. Then she closed her eyes and started laughing.

It was a quiet, almost tearful laugh, at first. Then her shoulders began to shake and she raised her beak to the sky and started to chuckle out loud, a high, sweet sound, lilting over the fields. Tauga laughed alone with her knees in the mud beneath a birdless sky.

God alone knew how long it had been since she'd laughed like this. So long. Months before she'd died. Years.

"This is perfect, isn't it?" breathed she, still quaking, eyes still shut. "I can't feel it! I can't even understand it anymore. Every time, every time I found a Destroyer, I fought it just because I didn't want to die. Didn't want to. I can't feel scared any more. I can't feel guilty and I can't drink. That's you, right?"

The future was sprawling out before her. She didn't want to die, and nothing else mattered- What better minion could exist, what slave more diligent? It was all so clear, now. Tauga's head drooped and she started laughing again, words coming in breathless batches. "I don't feel anything- And you don't care. You're just... We're just made for each other, aren't we?"

Heartworm stared motionlessly. "No," it answered. "You're made for me." It crawled back through the air and left Tauga alone with the whistling sweetheart, laughing at the stupidity of it all, laughing for a life without meaning.

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Hidden 3 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by LokiLeo789
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LokiLeo789 No

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Tobias awoke with a strange, but familiar sensation.

It was like many mornings, but this time he felt the pressure of eyes on him so heavy it ripped him awake, tearing him from a pleasant dream. Normally the sensation was reassuring like being tucked inside a blanket, almost as if he were being watched over. But today the blanket no longer felt sheltering, but suffocating. He tried to shift his mind from it.

He looked around the dawn-lit chamber, reassuring himself with the familiar image. His room was small and simply furnished. Each piece of furniture was a rich brown, burnished from time and carved from oak, the long-standing monarchs of the Venomweed. His bed was tucked against the wall farthest from the door. Beside his bed was a small stand, his creation.

He sat up, letting the covers tumble, and then groaned in pain, noticing the welts on his body like purple snakes—outlines from Mika’s training staff. Suddenly, the door to his room burst open.

Mika stood in the doorway, garbed in jungle hues, with soft leather boots suitable for stealth. A grimace lined his weathered face. “Still in bed?” In his right hand, Mika gripped a polished quarterstaff.

“Still? What are you talking about? The sun’s barely up.”

Mika grunted. “Barely and is are not barely different.”

“What? I am not so sure even you know what that means,” Tobias grumbled. “You should know better. Midna ought to be done at night Mika.”

“It means if you don’t get out of bed now, I’m going to take that bed out from beneath you, and your feistiness with it.” Mika thumped his staff on the floor for emphasis.

“All right, hold on,” he slowly pushed back the covers and—

In his periphery, he saw Mika heft his staff. Not good. He scrambled out of bed landing in a crouch balanced on the balls of his feet. His blood pumped and his covers were haphazardly draped across his half-naked body.

“I see you can move when you need to.”

“Now that you got me up, mind helping me out? Toss me those,” he said, pointing to the pair of britches next to Mika who glanced down, grimace deepening, then wordlessly used his staff and tossed the pants.

Tobias snagged them from the air, and sat back on the bed slipping them on. Soft and worn, though fitted enough for hunting or stealth, his pants were one of the few articles that remained from his past, along with his much-treasured worn gray cloak. It hung from a hook upon the wall. He eyed its emblem of a star topped triangle and wondered again, guessing at their significance. He often conjured stories about the mysterious insignia, imagining faraway lands.

The thought reminded him of the other item of his past. He pointedly avoided looking to the cubbyhole under the floorboards, not wanting to attract Mika’s keen eye. He had not touched the blade for two years, but he still felt it. Its casing of cloth did nothing to dampen the fear that turned his stomach when thinking about it. It pulled at him, even now, like a moth to a flame.

“More training today?” he questioned.

Mika grumbled. “I’m not sure how to answer you when you ask foolish questions. Of course we train today. Now finish dressing,” then the hermit paused, revealing a devious smile. “Oh, and bring your sword. I want to see it now.”

The door shut behind him.

For years, the man had known all along. Tobias dove towards the hidden hole and lifted away the planks. There sat an unassuming bundle of white cloth. It was about the length of his forearm. He carefully examined the bundle’s surface. There it was. A single strand of his brown hair rested on the white fabric. It was just as he’d left it long ago, as if not a day had gone by.

“Tricky old man,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair. Grabbing the bundle, he unwrapped the sword. The dark edge glinted, dangerous and beautiful. Dried blood, a blackish red, caked its keen edge—just as the day he found it. Its black hue glowed beneath the blood.

His grip tightened, loathing the blade. With water from the washbasin, he scrubbed the blade with his bare hands, turning the bowl a dark scarlet, then inspected it under the light of the window. It gleamed as if brand new. He quickly wrapped the sword, running out of the hut.

An early morning fog was fading, unveiling the clearing. The hut sat in a glade surrounded by the dense Venomweed. Mika stood near an old stump used for chopping firewood, where a stubborn piece of oak sat which Tobias had been unable to hew.

Wordlessly, he handed the blade to Mika. The hermit assessed the blade, scrutinizing it with a careful eye. If Mika knew the origin of the blade, he might uncover more of his past. “Does it look familiar?” he asked.

Mika’s peppered hair swayed. “I’m afraid not. Where’d you get it, boy?”

Such a simple question, but when Tobias reached into his mind to answer, he saw nothing of his past. As if it was shut behind a door that he didn’t have the key to. “I don’t know,” he replied.

Running a finger along the blade’s edge, Mika shrugged. [b]“Your past is your own, lad. I’ve never asked, and I never will.”[/color]

Tobias gripped the hermit’s arm, stopping him before he continued, “I wish I knew. I have nothing to hide from you, but I simply can’t remember. My last memory is a man holding the blade as carried me into the jungle. Other than that...”

Mika rubbed his jaw. “Sometimes things are forgotten for a reason. Now put your sword away. We won’t need it today.”

“I doubt it’s much good anyway,” Tobias agreed.

Mika twisted and the blade arced faster than light. It cleaved the stubborn hunk of firewood, slicing like molten iron through paper. The two halves tumbled to the jungle floor. “It can cut well enough, but this is a weapon of death, and it has seen much blood. I’m afraid it would not suit for our practice today.”

Tobias tried to hide his surprise. “Then we train with staffs?”

Mika winked, handing back his sword, disappearing into the hut. He came back with two strange looking blades, constructed from light wood. Mika handed him a blade. “Today I want to test your skill and limits with a sword. These are made of oak so they should only smart a bit. It won’t do to be slicing each other to ribbons just yet.”

Mika turned, walking away.

“Wait, where are you going?” he asked. “Aren’t we sparring here?”

Mika looked back with a wink. “I have something else in mind. Today, we’ll train like never before.”

Tobias watched the hidden pockets of darkness.

The Venomweed possessed a haunting beauty. As he followed the hermit, he admired the mammoth tree trunks and knotted branches that twisted up to form a canopy. He inhaled the musky smell of decaying wood.

Before him, Mika hummed a pleasant melody,

Oh’, Ancient trees and forest sullen, Those who do not, will not, see.

Yet, dull wits, will not hinder thee! As I bask beneath the great oak trees.

Oh, I have seen battles great! Fate that has seen the end of love,

But truth have I seen, so great. And hate, that blinds
Of all great minds,
Since sadness follows me.

Late has come my death,
But I have seen Amartía build a world anew.

Ancient trees and forest sullen Those who do not, will not, see.

So who am I, to sing of sorrow? When there is always ‘morrow.


After a while, the canopy thinned and the trees turned to saplings. The terrain rose steadily. Tobias saw teeth marks gnawed into the base of one of the aspens, a beaver’s missive, and suspected Mika must have been leading him to a body of water.

His mind strayed as they walked, thinking of his favorite stories, fantasizing about the legends and their heroic deeds.

“Mika, I’ve never heard that song before. How do you know it?”

“Are you curious about the song, or about Amartía?” Tobias missed a step. “I saw your face when I sang his name, you’d be hard pressed to hide a look like that.”

He rubbed a hand through his hair. “Amartía and the song then. Both.”

Mika waved a hand dismissively. “Ah, the song is just something I picked up in my travels, either during the meals with the Hain, or the eastern trading provinces of the Roavik. As for Amartía... that a bit more difficult.”

“Please.”

Mika thumped his staff and gave a wink.“Lucky you, I have heard many stories, some good, some bad. He was said to be a King of many virtues, kind in heart, slow to anger, a warrior. But some whisper of cruelty. On one night, many moons ago, his palace was sacked by an invading army. Many say he was killed, assassinated by those who hungered for his throne, or he was smited by the gods themselves. No one knows.”

With each word Tobias' pulse beat faster, and with the last words Mika suddenly pivoted, his staff flashed, racing towards him.

Tobias tensed, backpedaling, though raising his oak sword in the last moment and the two collided.

“Ha! Guess I’m not as fast as the old Enas, or perhaps you are,” Mika said with a wink.

Tobias shook his head with an exasperated laugh. “You truly are unpredictable sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?” asked the hermit, sounding disappointed, and flashed another wink, before turning and heading back down the trail, whistling as if nothing had happened. Tobias' blood cooled, but the stories still swirled in his head until the hermit announced at last, “We’re here.”

The sound of raging water filled Tobias' ears. Beyond a stand of trees he saw glimpses of rushing water. Mika quickly turned and headed towards it, and Tobias dashed to catch up. He wound through the last few trees, ducked beneath a low branch and as he left the shelter of the woods, his right foot stepped out. But there was no ground to catch it. His step extended out over an abrupt ledge that spiraled down to a misty pool far below. He threw his weight backwards, groping when a strong arm clasped his own.

“Fool boy, always needing help,” Mika muttered as he pulled him back from the dangerous precipice.

“You could have told me,” Tobias said, his heart still thumped inside his chest, one hand planted on the firm forest floor

Mika snorted. “Well I didn’t think you would go charging out of the woods like a blind boar! Besides I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.”

It was Tobias' turn to grumble as he pushed himself up, standing far back from the shelf. He brushed himself off, and for the first time, he was truly at a loss for words. The scene was suffused in light. The slim trail led to the side and onto a large rock outcropping that jutted out over the deadly drop. Far below the haze he saw a gleaming pool. His eyes followed the path upwards to the largest waterfall he had ever imagined. It flowed over a cliff arcing gently downward and then cascaded over the natural bridge, crashing against it, continuing its great descent. Furry moss covered the stones at the top of the falls, like teeth from which the mouth of the waterfall’s torrent spewed.

“What do you think?” Mika’s gruff voice was muffled by the roar of the falls.

“It’s beautiful.”

Mika laughed. “You do have such a way with words, my lad." The hermit looked at him, curiously. “Have you ever seen a waterfall?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so.” He tried to dig through his memories, but like every other time, he ran into a barrier and frustration filled him. “What is this place called?”

“Ivory Falls. Now are you ready to begin?”

“We’re sparring here?”

The hermit backed up onto the rock bridge. “Come and see for yourself, it’s as sturdy as can be.”

Tobias waved his hands. “Oh, no. You won’t get me out there.”

“Well I can’t spar with myself. Come now.”

“What is wrong with this nice patch of solid land?” Tobias stomped on the ground.

“Why make things difficult? I’ll slip and break my neck, if I don’t plummet to my death first.” Mika only stared at him. Tobias sighed. “Is it safe?”

“If you’d look, the rock is covered in rough lichen that’s as good a footing as any.”

“Why though? It seems an unnecessary risk.”

“I have my reasons. Do you think every fight is fought on fair and even soil, with no obstacles and no distractions?”

“Well, no, but how often will I need the skills to fight over a waterfall?”

“Look beyond your own two feet, boy. I’ve taught you better than that. You should know at least one reason.”

“Surroundings?”

Mika grunted. “Go on.”

“I guess if I can learn to fight here, I can fight anywhere.”

“Aye, lad, once you put that head of yours to work, you really aren’t the hay-in-the-hair-bumpkin you pretend to be. But why just fighting?”

“What do you mean?”

“It goes beyond battle, lad. In any situation there are any number of distractions. That is how a man gets a dagger in his back or any other misfortune. A man who does not know his surroundings is a man half blind to the world around him. You must always be aware. Understand?” Tobias nodded. “Good, now come.”

Walking out upon the furred rock, he put a hand down, to feel the lichen surface. The gray-green mat was coarse and grainy.

“You’re afraid of heights?”

He didn’t look up.

“All the more reason,” Mika replied. “I can teach you to conquer your fears, but I would rather you confront them. A man who knows his fears lives longer than a man without.”

With a heavy breath, Tobias strode forward and raised his oak sword before him. A fine rain fell upon his face. “I’m ready.” He tried not to look in his periphery, tried not to imagine the sickening drop and his body smashing upon the sharp rocks.

“Good,” Mika said and ran a finger along the line of his jaw as he appraised Tobias' stance. “But a sword is much different than a staff. You must learn to hold yourself properly before anything else.”

Mika instructed him in a patient tone and Tobias listened. He wondered if he had used a blade before, for holding the oak sword in his fists felt right, like a forgotten dream.

His feet shifted in anticipation. Water thundered, and tension built. 

The silence broke with the screech of a hawk.

Tobias leapt and crashed against Mika’s staff with a thwack. He inched closer to the hermit’s face, seeing an opening. Suddenly, Mika’s weight shifted. With an agile twist his sword sluiced off, and Mika’s staff halted, parting his hair with the force of its descent. “If you want to ever master that sword of yours, you’ll have to master your emotions.”

Tobias attacked again, trying everything he knew, seeking the hermit’s openings. Mika slid to the right and his right, shoulder opened up. Tobias twisted, striking horizontally, but pulling the strike in the last moment before Mika’s parry. The oak tip dashed for the hermit’s torso, but collided with the staff, sweeping his strike aside.

“Too predictable! You want my midsection? Then attack my head!” Mika yelled.

He raised his sword striking for Mika’s head, repeatedly hammering all three angles. He gave the hermit no time to counterattack as he advanced, driving him back with each grueling step. The cascade grew louder, deafening in his ears as he rained blows upon the hermit. Mika slipped his staff to block his side once more, but Tobias lunged inward, thrusting with a cry. He pulled the blow and swung upwards, aiming for the most unpredictable target he could imagine—his oak blade flashed fast as lightning, and he imagined himself a corded bundle of energy as it arced upwards scraping the hermit’s leg until—thwack.

He landed heavily, mossy stone softening his fall. Only when he opened his eyes did he realize what happened. His chest throbbed. He looked up. The hermit’s staff was extended rod-straight, still in the strike. Slowly, the hermit let the staff fall.

“A mind has many parts. Never focus to the exclusion of all else that you become blind. If you attack offensively, always expect an opening.” Tobias rubbed his chest, trying to catch his breath. “Are you all right?”

Tobias was surprised at the compassion in the man’s voice. He rose to his feet. “I am, but no matter what I do, I just can’t hit you.”

“You can, and you will. But remember,” he advised, “a castle is meant to defend and attack.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If a castle only defends, what then? If it never attacks and its people only watch, and stand arrogantly behind its high walls?”

“It will fall.”

Mika jabbed his temple with a thick finger. “Ah, now you’re using your head! You see, even in defense there is offense, and the same is true of the reverse. Always imagine that if you fight with only one part of yourself, or only one way, you will always lose. The greatest fighters use all parts.

Focus now. Mind, body, defense, offense, softness, hardness. All of these and more must be considered, and always in union.”
Tobias attacked again. He swung from above then below, moving slowly at first, but building pace, flowing smoothly from striking to blocking. “Good!” Mika barked. “You’re getting it!” he said, parrying a strike.

A smile grew on his face as he weaved the thrust into an undercut, and the ease of the movement sparked something. He stumbled as the knowledge and images flooded his mind, and when he regained his senses he saw Mika's blow racing towards his head. Instinctively, Tobias ducked and rolled beneath it, and the world came into spinning focus as he reached the ledge, the fall teetering in his vision, the spray and rocks beneath racing forward.

Mika grabbed Tobias' shoulder and flung him back, and the together they landed heavily on the solid stone. “Let’s not do that again. Let us continue." Mika huffed.

The suddenly hermit jumped to his feet, lashing out, and Tobias leapt over the staff and retaliated, giving into his mind and the sword. Mika retreated. Tobias' lunge grazed the hermit’s brow. Stepping back, Mika breathed hard and Tobias hid a smile. “Do you need a rest?” he yelled over the sound of the falls.

The hermit dove towards Tobias . “Parry!” he shouted, striking down and Tobias swung his sword to his shoulder, covering his flank. “Strike!” And he struck. He flowed through Mika's commands. “Parry, strike, evade!” And at the last strike, Tobias blocked. Mika held the block for a moment, and then with a twist of his wrists, he flicked the blade like an adder’s bite.

Tobias rebounded, feet scraping along the mossy stone. There was no extra strength in Mika’s block and yet, he was pushed backward by that simple added twist. “Teach me that,” he said.

“Teach you what?”

“What you just did. What was that?”

Mika shrugged. “A little trick.”

“That was more than a little trick,” Tobias replied. “You gained power from nothing.”

“Not nothing,” the hermit said, “There is power to be found and added in every move, and not always in the might of ones arms, but often in the hidden movements. First you must loosen your whole body, it must be like a cord that snaps tight at the last moment. Imagine yourself like a bolt of lightning, quiet and deadly, and only upon impact do you shatter stone and splinter wood.” Tobias did as he instructed. With each strike he began to understand what Mika meant—the added flick became audible, adding a whoosh to the tip of his oak bundle.

“You’ve got it,” he proclaimed with a broad sweep of his arms.

With a flash of his oak sword, Tobias struck Mika’s open flank, this time adding the snap to his sword. Mika threw up his staff and the two weapons collided. But with Tobias' added power the hermit toppled backwards, falling into a nearby bush.

“Caught you behind your castle wall did I?” Tobias asked as he extended a hand.

Mika wiped an astonished look from his face and grumbled, “Aye, aye, well done boy.” He took his hand and rose, brushing dry twigs and leaves from his pants. “Seems you’ve learned enough for today, and besides, the weather appears to be taking a turn for the worse. Zephyrion must be in a rage.” He eyed the ominous black clouds that gathered in the distance.

Looking around at last, Tobias observed that they had not only backed off the bridge during the fight, but also now stood in the glade before the falls. A stand of trees obscured the view. Glancing back to his companion, he noticed with frustration that only a trace of sweat dotted the hermit’s forehead. Other than that, Mika was breathing no harder than if he had just come back from a walk in the woods. However, the smug smile was off his face, and he thought he could sleep easy at that sight. If I can sleep, as the bruises that covered his body coming into focus. He glanced to Mika who was still gazing at the sky.

“Let’s head back, lad. It’ll be good to get out of this cursed wind,” he grumbled to himself, walking back towards the house, muttering something about a pipe and a fire.

Tobias gave one last look at the peculiar clouds. Oddly, his wrist tingled and he pulled back his sleeve to reveal the sinuous tattoo of a roaring lion upon his wrist, Turning, he hurried after Mika beneath the shrouded canopy, towards the darkening clouds. 


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

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The First Parade - 5

Featuring: Susa, Lakshmi, Chroma








A king who rules the land, armies willing to die for him, countless servants under his command, a glinting crow, a luxurious palace, the best food served to him, the best art dedicated to him.

Stories told that such life was the fruit born from power. Yet...

Marel never felt complete when she saw herself in another dream of unlimited power. She sat in her little throne in the pathetic box made of varied rocks, wearing all sorts of useless jewelry and pretending that somehow she ruled over horizons.

Those were not nightmares for sure, they were clearly dreams, probably the natural endpoint of her quest for power. Even so...




It had been a while since the group had left the village of Susa, the meeting with Gerrik had changed the schedule of the journey, but Salassar firmly believed arriving back at Alefpriel a few days late wouldn't be of much consequence.

Now they were going straight into one of the hearts of Human culture. The Vascogne had a strong control over a considerable amount of land, however, there was little centralization or formalization of power, instead, one could easily call the area an "influence zone". The Parade expected this to change once agriculture developed further.

Surely, if left unchecked, the Vascogne family would establish themselves as kings in the region, and considering their historic of the masterful use of weapons, trade, and persuasion, they could expand their claim over all Mesathalassa in less than two centuries.

Stories of such magnificent rulers had been told, and would be told again. In fact, it had been told too many times, and Ilunabar saw in the Vascogne the potential to tell another tale, one which was not about noble kings, high walls and countless soldiers under the same banner.

However, such path was as delicate as an orchid, such was the price of rarity and distinguishment. The ability to do such sensitive tasks was one of the reasons why Ilunabar had created the Grand Parade in the first place. In fact, the main point of this first journey was to test Marel Vascogne and, should she showcase the expected potential, to deliver her a certain relic.




The typically sub-tropical climate of Mesathalassa slowly gave away to colder plateaus. The only one who noticed the oddity of such change was Chroma, who understood that this didn't make much sense geography wise. What she didn't know was that the Darkened Spire, region to the northeast of there, actually caused some anomalies, including the colder and cloudy climate of the western shore of the land strip.

Even so, it wasn't a very cold region, but the contrast with the jungles of the center was steep. The flora wasn't the typical temperate one either, instead, it was composed of adapted or just outright resistant sub-tropical trees and unique pine trees, like the araucaria.

"It has been a while since I last visited this land." She didn't want to imagine exactly how long. "Is Marel still crazy enough to live by the seashore?"

Most humans distrusted the sea due to the events that took place thanks to Toun. The groups close to where Cornerstone formed were immediately killed, however, the ones in the borders of the god's terraforming had the time to escape the massive flooding that took place. Such traumatic experience made floods and the ocean a common theme for terror stories from Xerxes to Mesathalassa.

Susa's question was eventually answered when they reached the cliffy western shoreline and the main Vascogne tradepost came into view.

It wasn't impressive, not different at all from any other sort of wooden hovel one would find in other human villages. Yet the one who lived there was of one of the most recognizable families of all the land strip.




They were received by the merchant family as if they were a delegation from one of the nearby tribes or cities. They did look more like a group of vagrants at this point, but the variety of species, among others factors, tipped the Vascogne that they were somewhat exceptional.

Marel Vascogne received them herself and she made sure to serve them with the best hospitability she could provide. She immediately noticed a familiar face among the crew, the only human one no less.

"Why, you remind me of a certain girl I met once," she said, as Susa had noticed before, time had been kind to her, but everyone else aged normal, Marel's hair was even starting to turn gray. "Are you perhaps a daughter of a huntress called Susa?"

"No, I am Susa." she said bluntly, with Marel, the quicker you got things cleared out the easier it was.

"Ah, that makes more sense. I could not imagine you becoming a family woman, ever." The tone went immediately from cordial to casual when Susa revealed herself, clearly, the two had a past together "But tell me, why are you still so soft faced despite the age? Is staying all time in the woods truly that good for your skin?" she jested

"Eh, a gift of the gods I guess. As you can see, I am now traveling with some different people"

The trader looked at the other three with a reserved grin in her face "Yeah. Different, that is a word that describes it very well." she rested on her chair and stretched her arms up before slapping them on the table. "So, might I ask the why of this visit?"

"I am Salassar of the grand parade, a group that worships the goddess Ilunabar. Our mission is to spread beauty across the land and..."~

"So, like Teknall's Chippers. Humm, one would expect more originality from the lady master of all that is novel."

"Excuse me ma'am?"

"Not really complaining. Tools are good for business and good for the future, but at times also scary, as a hammer to the head can hurt quite a lot. Gems, flowers, wine, and all the Ilunabar blessed stuff, however? Completely useless, yet people will sell their children for them."

She pointed to a window where the vision of servants working on an orchard could be seen. "So, welcome, welcome, do bring the prettiness..."

Marel deliberated for a few seconds, taking notice of the guests' faces. "Humm, the servant thing makes me sound lazy. Most servant owners are in fact lethargic. Even my sons, despite the good blood, become a little self-righteous when they can order people around."

It was hard for her not to express her dissatisfaction with her children recently, soon, they would take over her business, and her view of it was not the most optimistic. The gray hair did bring a sense of mortality, Susa showing up with her perfectly brown hair felt like salt in the wound.

"Well, you can free them, no?"

"They are as free as they can be girl, and I provide them the best of the opportunities. Do not confuse things, I said others are inactive, but the only reason why I have servants is because I am a very busy woman, with a long queue of activities more important and profitable than gathering fruits."

There was a moment of silence in the room in which only the sound of the crashing waves, the seagulls and the servants could be faintly heard.

Lakshmi decided to heal that by restarting the conversation "S-So mi-iss Ma-ma-r-rel..."

"Thanks a lot for the initiative, but your stuttering is getting on my nerves..." She sighed "Just, what you people exactly want with me?"

"Nothing, you actions are in perfect harmony with what we want, so we will just share with you the same goods we have been sharing with all towns in our path."

"Hmm? And what harmony is that?"

"Just harmony, the balance between things. Your acts keep this region functional and will lead it to a safer future for everyone."

"Harmony huh? I do not get what you are trying to express with that. But I take I'm expected to continue on my path of resource accumulation until this becomes a center of human life like the kingdoms down the coast."

"Well, actually, I think the path you take doesn't matter anymore, your actions will lead to that, so don't feel pressured or anything, the balance of all things..."

"Stop saying that. It doesn't mean anything. Let's just change this topic to better things, those gifts..."

The travelers explained to Marel the things they were bringing. Along with the cultural wares of the eastern coast of the region, there were also materials for farming and bread making, as well as some artistic materials like musical instruments and precious gems.

The sun had set by the time everything had been explained and properly gifted, so as it was habitual, the Vascogne permitted the travelers to stay.




Marel couldn't wash off the feeling that the visit was odd, but at the moment her mind was already worried enough about her current situation. As usual, she decided to go to a grotto nearby the warehouse, however, to her surprise there was a familiar face bathing at the place already.

"Excuse me miss huntress, but you are in my bathroom."

"Ah, I knew your house did hide some nice big rooms, I like this one, did you make it yourself?" she jested, faking amazement as she looked at the cavern walls."But really, your house is really small no?"

"Aren't you too old to be such a brat?" she sighed "And I would love to have a bigger house, but it seems the nicer my things get, the worse my children become".

"Oh?" the huntress swam to the shore of the lake so she could get closer to the trader "Let me guess, they are not following your ideals?"

The trader raised an eyebrow "Yes. How did you guess?"

"Outside of it being something almost all parents say, including our own?" she chuckled "Just something that happened to me recently, I believe you probably noticed the hun..."

"Ah yes. The hunters! I did find it odd, they talked a lot about you but didn't act like you at all. I guess, with my children, it is the same thing."

"What is it? You seemed quite bothered when we talked about servants and once again when we talked about farming."

Marel questioned herself since when were the two became so intimate. As far as she knew Susa was just an acquaintance, yet there she was, asking the most personal questions. It could be a trap of sorts, on the other side, a familiar face from ages past was quite welcoming, especially of a vagrant like Susa.

"You remember when you talked about how you liked to travel but did not care much about the destination?"

"And then you called me a complete idiot, yes. I'm a bitter person, you know that."

"Sorry, that was surely not the cause of your idiocy. In fact, now I identify with you a bit. I like to trade and to make up schemes and most of that, but now what I am here, sitting on a lot of resources, it just feels... meaningless."

"Aha. And it is worse no? I remember you mocking a tribal chief, who once was a fierce warrior, but now was lazy, you are fearing that your family will turn into that, a bunch of fat kings sitting on the structure you built, leeching on the servants you trained."

"And worse, slowly losing the structure to people who are like me, and they will enjoy being exploited, look at this beautiful crown, look at these extravagant tapestries, they will say."

Susa did her best not to laugh, but in the end, she couldn't resist. "Oh poor exploiter, realizing her heritage will be tricked away by the same tricks that built it in the first place."

The merchants took it better than she expected "Well, yeah. It is not really a moral issue, I'm just disappointed." she took a deep breath, taking a moment to appreciate the revitalizing airs of the natural grotto. "But I will have to live with it, I should just be happy that I managed to come so far."

"Yes, that is a reasonable and natural conclusion to that thought. Susa jumped out of the water and walked to the side of Marel, whispering to her ears "But, if your destiny was to arrive at a natural conclusion, then why in the Jvanic depths would a godsent pilgrimage be at your home?"

"Did you just..." the merchant tilted her head

"Anything for a friend."

"Then I'm glad we became friends today"

Susa immediately gasped "What? I always considered you a sisterly figure since our first meeting."

Marel's typical grin was cast away by sudden surprise "Oh crap, I didn't mean to..."

Susa immediately grinned "Just kidding, I found you annoying at day one. I never saw you shocked before, this will work as the payment for that delightful piece of information I shared. Tomorrow Salassar will talk with you again, so stay attent." she said, before leaving the grotto.

The trader couldn't help but notice how odd it all was, she had changed so much, yet...




"So, you will be leaving today, no? Good chance to propose a deal or show me something interesting," she said as soon as she gathered all the wanderers together for breakfast.

Salassar sighed "Ma'am, I already said, we are merely doing simple work. All you have to do is to follow the harmony of things."

"What is this harmony? I understand that there is a balance between things but..."

"Harmony, simple concept really. Like water and fire, heat and cold, day and night. You naturally act to counter certain influences on the region, therefore, you are already bringing beauty to it naturally."

"Listen, stop with that. Some stuff burns, some stuff freezes and that means absolutely nothing to this conversation. So stop trying to sell that balance crap to me and tell me if you want me burning, freezing or at a comfortably mild spot."

"I saw it in the sense that no matter the path you take, things will balance themselves out. The goddess has a plan for all the possible routes."

Marel took a deep breath. "I see, so, all my actions are accounted for?"

"In a sense, yes, such is the harmony of..."

Before the Quara could end his sentence, Marel landed a punch on his face, she was not that strong, but the surprise attack still sent the traveler to the floor.

Immediately Lakshmi and Chroma rose from their chairs.

"Hey, what the hell are you doing?" questioned Chroma, Lakshmi was already reading her spear.

"Stop." Salassar stood up again, his nose was bleeding. "Do not hurt her"

The merchant had a smirk on her face. "Yeah, you can't touch me, the goddess needs me to do something. Oh sorry, let me reword it, I'm needed to keep the balance and harmony of all things or some crap like that."

"And I can guess what it is. She likes my style of doing things, she knows I am getting old and that my children are not following my example so she wants some sort of deal."

"Yes."

"That is super fine. Send her my gratitude when you see her again. But tell me, what is her plan?"

"There is this jewel, it has a spirit in it. This being can act as both a tutor and as someone who selects who will be the next successor of your family line... Like a king's crown, you could say.

"Except it actually does something, unlike a crown. But a spirit? Sounds risky. Though I guess she is wise to not make me immortal."

"You know, I had a really interesting story set. It would be a cursed jewel with the effect of keeping a bloodline away from any sort of nobility whatsoever and..."

"You need to stop with that, it is seriously embarrassing. You wouldn't survive a single day as a trader with those pitiable tactics."

The Quara decided to just ignore the offense and simply grab the relic. It was a simple silver necklace with a purple-red gemstone, inside the jewel there was the figure of a griffin.

"Can I put it on now?"

"I advise against it, you need to get used to the being in it first, synchronize yourself with it... which you would have already done had you decided to follow my script... But I guess you are too smart for that, no?" there was clear sarcasm in the last sentence.

"Why, thank you."

Salassar didn't even bother, at this point he was just tired and all he wanted was to wash the blood out of his face. "So, there, take it. We will be leaving now, thanks for the hospitality."




Marel decided to pay one last visit to Susa before they left.

"Thanks for today."

"Sally was getting punched one day or another. He is a nice person, though, you two could be good friends."

"You really changed you know? I would have never imagined you traveling with a religious babble. But it goes beyond that..."

"I traveled a lot, I saw some large cities and even larger battles. But hey, didn't you say I was still a brat just yesterday."

"Yes, you are definitely the same person that I met all those seasons ago."

"Wait, what? How can one change a lot and still be the same? Isn't that a paradox?"

"Indeed, it is a paradox. And that is why I am worried."

"Oh please, just because you saw me bathing it doesn't mean you are now some sort of childhood friend."

"Well, don't listen to me if you want, but I don't think you will avoid this fact for too long. You will go south now, back to your homeland..."

"My birthplace was razed by the horde, everyone is probably dead"

Marel deliberated for a few seconds before staring at Susa "Actually..."
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Hidden 3 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by LokiLeo789
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Zilévo lay back in the wet grass and gazed up at the full moon. She stretched out her limbs and offered herself up beauty of the great luminous pearl in the heavens. Zilévo smiled as she watched two wood pigeons fussing about their nest high up in the trees. Other than the sound of the birds' wings beating, the palace was silent.

She closed her eyes. The Moon still glowed silver through her eyelids. Her skin prickled; tomorrow it would be sore, but she didn't care. Right now, everything was perfect.

She must have dozed for a while. A shadow fell across her face and woke her up. Ira was standing there, his bare chest shining with sweat. He was holding a heap of colourful wild flowers in his tiny arms.

"You're blocking my moon," Diana scolded him, but with affection in her voice.

"I brought you something." Ira said, kneeling down beside her. "Poppies, dandelions and ... mouse-ears, I think. And these ones are—I'm not quite sure what these are ..."

She propped herself up on her elbow to look. "They're Moonflowers."

Ira gave her a worried glance. "Moonflowers? It was bad luck to pick Moonflowers at night. Do you think the gods will know?"

Zilévo laughed and put her hand on his head. "I really, really doubt that a prince picking flowers will be at the top of the gods hit list. But let them come—right now!—if they really care.

She had addressed her final words to the sky, but it remained dark, clear and empty.

"Don't say things like that!" Ira said after a few moments of silence.

Both burst out in laughter. Zilévo pulled Ira close. As she did so there was a thwack and a whirring sound from off in the distance. Then there was a close-up thunk. Ira turned pale and looked confused.

"Zil." he said. "I ...

He looked down.

She followed his gaze.

There was a spear sticking out of his belly, and a masked man standing over them.

***

The midnight bell rang out across the city: a muffled monotone knell that made the night's last stragglers walk just that little bit faster home. Diana eyes snapped open at the sound. She shook her head. That dream again. A memory, really, but it didn't trouble her so much these days. It all happened so long ago!

She looked out over the rooftops. Diana was high up on top of a tower, in the shadows of the colonnade that encircled the roof. From up here she could see everything: the brick and terracotta buildings, bleached by the moon; the pale stone monuments and pyramid temples; —even the harbour— an in the center, her old home, The Cipher.

The shadows was her new home, well not exactly. She had left her old life behind her, deep in the heart of The Cipher. She was a different person now; she had lodgings here (a small room), friends (well, acquaintances) and skills that could provide her with marketable items. She also had an important patron, and tonight she had a job to do that she needed to be getting on with.

Diana shook her head to dismiss her thoughts. It was time to go. With practiced ease she traversed the roof of the small roof of the tower and hopped into the branches of the giant cypress tree that grew in the cemetery. Burying the dead now seemed to be the tradition, times were hard in Xerxes and no one could afford to waste firewood on the dead. A tragic sentiment. From the tree it was an easy jump down onto the cemetery wall, but from the wall it was a rather large leap to the roof of the old bath house. Diana made the jump without a second thought, and even landed quietly. She had done it many times before.

The bath house was almost a ruin. As she navigated its crumbling roofs, she could hear the cries of children from inside. So they were still using the old building as an orphanage. This crazy city was rich enough to do anything and everything except look after its most vulnerable. Diana promised herself she would drop off a donation later, if the night's work went well.

She dropped down to ground level in the far corner of the bath house. Across the courtyard, one final obstacle stood before her: a high clay wall. There were, truth be told, any number of routes she could take over or around the wall, but Diana had always preferred the direct approach. She thumped her right fist into her left palm; the fingers of her leather gloves were stitched with a layer of tough elastic shilajit —a rare substance imported from the far-off Ironheart's. She had coughed up a great deal of clothing and jewelry for it. Her boots were soled with it, too.

She hopped on the spot for a second, then sprinted at the wall. The grip her gloves and boots provided was only temporary, but it was enough to boost her high enough so that she could grab the curved tiles that decorated the top. Her fingers only barely touched them; without the shilajit she would surely have fallen back down. As it was, Diana was able to hoist herself nimbly up until she was crouched atop the wall, surveying the other side.

Gardens and pathways lay before her, monochrome in the moonlight. This park was part of the royal quarter of the city; it would be empty at night, and the entrances guarded. Diana's unconventional approach, however, ensured there would be no witnesses to her arrival. She dropped down off the wall and slipped along a bush-lined avenue—a shadow dressed in soft black leather. Only the statues—life-size clay representations of the gods—saw her pass.

And in the very centre of the gardens: the one being she hated the most. Diana's route took her around the perimeter of the park, but even so she couldn't help but glance over her shoulder at him; the only being who still terrorised her dreams; Enas Amartía.

Her father who abandoned not only her, but the thousands who trusted him with thier lives.

The massive clay statue depicted the Enas muscular in youth, naked and armed with an obsidian spear. It was a few years ago, atop the highest hill in the city, that her youngest brother was murdered before her very eyes, her family scattered, and her father disappeared.

Xerxes. Home to rich merchants, regular kidnappings, constant hunger, Midna, and drowning men. The man Diana was after tonight probably fitted into the first of these categories. The only other person that Diana knew who lived up here was Zeb Zing, the new roavik overseer of a massive trade ring.

From the cover of a low yew tree, Diana staked out the building opposite. A guard was pacing up and down in front of the gate. At the sound of a distant bell, he left his post and disappeared off into the trees of the park. Diana knew that he had a secret appointment with a girl he had flirted with earlier that day. Too bad for him the girl wouldn't keep her promise. Diana smiled to herself—it wasn't as if she could be in two places at once.

When the coast was clear, Diana dashed to the gate. In seconds she was over. Avoiding the portico and the main doors, she made for some steps that went down to a basement-level passage and the servants' entrance. Diana let herself into a kitchen where she paused for breath and listened out for any signs of life. It was silent. Idly, she lifted the lids of some of the earthenware pots. In one she discovered an interesting meat, so she took a nibble.

Then suddenly she paused, the flavour of the meat still on her tongue. She was not alone in the kitchen.

Diana peered into the shadows by the opposite door. The moonlight came in through a small window high in the wall and barely lit the kitchen. But something was there, watching her, panting heavily. The light glimmered off a pair of eyes that were just a couple of feet off the ground. Diana looked away quickly.

"Hey, boy, it's alright," she whispered, keeping her voice level.

The shape in the shadows growled. It padded forward, revealing itself to be an enormous wolfhound. Diana wasn't going to be able to make friends with this animal; most likely it had been set to defend its turf. So she dropped to her knees, met the dog's gaze, and offered out her hand.

"Come and get me, then." she said softly.

The wolfhound pounced. Diana twisted her wrist and the beasts jaws clamped down on her forearm. She wore leather vambraces beneath her clothing, which blunted the dog's bite. With her free hand, Diana drew her sickle from its sheath at her back. With one arm still in the beasts jaws, she twisted around, mounted its back and gripped its head between her knees.

Then she brought the pommel of her sword straight down on the back of the dogs neck, knocking it out cold.

"Naughty boy." she chided, extricating her arm from the animal's mouth. She wiped the slobber off on a tablecloth.

Diana left the kitchen and found some stairs leading up to the ground floor. She found herself in an antechamber, the kind built to invite visitors to. Thick candles burned in sconces around the walls. The floor was tiled red and white, and in the walls were marbled, even a portrait sat on the back wall. Diana took a moment to examine the painting; at least now it wouldn't be too difficult to identify the man who lived here if she found him in the company of others.

She continued deeper into the house, creeping down a corridor laid with a deep-pile carpet that muffled her steps. Sometimes they just make it too easy, she thought to herself. Diana stopped outside a door that was slightly ajar, light emanating from the room within. She peeped carefully through the crack. It was a bedroom. A man with his back to the door was sitting at a large desk piled high with symbol scrawled tablets.

Diana could tell from the shape of his bald head that she had found her target. Slowly, she drew an obsidian knife from her boot.

The man at the desk was holding a tablet up to read when Diana's knife passed over his right shoulder, sinking deep into the stone. He did a remarkable job of maintaining his composure as he rose from his wooden chair and turned to face her.

"I have a message for you, merchant." Diana said amiably as she entered the room. "Your home isn't secure from thieves and killers."

The bald man smiled weakly as he tried to control the anger that nevertheless revealed itself clearly in his eyes. He was young, despite his lack of hair, and dressed richly in a red velvet tunic and a black woollen mantle stitched with gold colored thread. "There seems to be plenty of those in Xerxes nowadays. Aside from kidnappers." he mused, raising his hands cautiously, palms out, in a submissive gesture, "Also, what do you want?"

Diana ignored the question. "Do you know what the punishment for corruption in the Poupuli is?" she asked him. "I guess you must. Nothing. Due to the disappearance of are Enas. But blackmailing for the throne? Please."

The senator regarded her warily. "If you want to accuse me of something, maybe you should take your complaint to the Poupuli. Do you know what the punishment for breaking and entering a mans home is?"

Diana was pacing about the room, taking in the man.
"A king does not have to be present for justice to be served." Diana huffed.

"What, will you kill me? the man gulped.

"No." Diana told him. "Words are just words. What I want you to do is to stop trading for power—and start trading for the betterment of the people."

He looked at her suspiciously. "Is that all you want me to do?"

"Yeah." Diana said with a smile. "What did you think I was going to do? Carve a permanent warning into that shiny head of yours?"

The merchant actually laughed in relief. Then his expression froze.

Diana turned around, following the merchant's stare. A man stood in the doorway of the room. He was tall, bearded and wore a coat of boiled leather scales. His dirty boots and cloak suggested that he had travelled a distance to get here. When he finally understood the situation, he drew a wicked-looking two-handed longsword: it was plain and notched, but had a gleaming sharp point.

Diana reached for her own weapon. This was an unwelcome complication, but she fought to stay calm and in control.

"Another dog to deal with." she muttered.

Diana and the intruder faced-off across the study.

'Who is this girl, Rola?" the newcomer asked the merchant.

The merchant reassumed some of his authority. "Nobody—a thief; get her!"

The man lunged at Diana with his sword. She hopped back to avoid its deadly point. Diana's own sword was only about two forearms in length, but it was razor-sharp along both edges. It was no good for deflecting a heavy blade, though, and she would need to get up close to her opponent to do any damage.

Rola cringed as the intruder swung his sword in a wide arc that cut through the rooms curtains. Diana was forced back again. Her elbow knocked against something hard: a tall floor-standing candle holder. She grabbed it and flung it at her opponent. As he struggled to shove it to one side, Diana moved in for the kill. But her blade snagged on the interlocking scales of the man's armour, and she realised that she had missed her chance.

The big bearded man brought his sword down awkwardly in a close overhead chop. Diana twisted away and the sword ran down her left side, peeling away her leather and scraping over the obsidian bands that she wore underneath. She panicked slightly and threw herself down onto the carpet, then rolled underneath the merchants heavy oak desk.

The fallen candle holder had set fire to the study's thick curtains, and Rola had taken off his mantle and was desperately trying to beat the flames out with it. Diana leaped to her feet on the opposite side of the desk to the big swordsman; this time she had her khoshep in one hand and the merchants stone tablet in the other. Her opponent kicked at the desk, trying to shove it towards Diana and pin her to the wall, but she jumped up onto it as it moved, hurling the stone before her.

The man instinctively batted it away with his sword, but the action left him exposed for a fraction of a second. Diana hadn't stopped moving; she sprang off the desk and fell upon her opponent, her blade held low and pointing upwards.

This time she didn't waste her opportunity; her narrow point slid easily beneath the scales of the man's armour and entered his heart.

He hit the ground dead, with Diana sat astride his chest.

She exhaled in relief and turned to look at the senator, a wild grin on her face. "I told you your house wasn't secure!"

Rola was standing in the middle of his ruined study, clutching the smoldering remains of his woollen mantle. "You killed him." he gasped.

"It seems that many want you dead merchant man. You must be extremely careful, not many people like those who stir the pot."

"Take anything, trade it for something." Rola sighed, "and I'll make an effort to forget your face, let alone the fact that you broke into my home at all. Give me a few days to prepare my excuses and I'll go and try and explain this mess to the Populi."

"That's so very considerate of you' Diana drawled, taking her leave. "You'll make a smart merchant yet." She went back downstairs and let herself out the front door. The senator's guard was returning from his illicit night time rendezvous in the park. Diana gave him a friendly smile as she passed by.

* * *

The next morning, the children of the bathhouse would wake to find that a package had been left on their doorstep. Opening the leather bag (that was stained with what looked like blood) they would find valuable items of trade. The elders would be delighted, and would immediately begin writing a list to take to the markets: the children would not go hungry for weeks now.



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Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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Oradin-Thulemiz


Level 1, 10 Khookies


'Please man, jus' lemme go,' it was saying, 'I ain't gonna bite no one's 'ead off for god's sake, lemme the bloody heck down!'
There was something familiar about it. It was doubtlessly dead, that was certainly familiar. But there was something else. A certain rancid smell to it. A certain impurity. A grievous imperfection.
'Who made you?' he asked. The undead looked down at him from where it hung, upside down, in the air.
'Who what now?'
'I asked: who made you?' it was indeed strange to see an undead creature look quizzical, but that was the expression on this one's face in that instant.
'Ain't no one what made me mate. I'm a self-made, respectable man I am. Worked 'ard on meself and made somethin' outta the nothin' I was given. I'm my own man, me. Ain't nobody can say that they are lord over m-'
'Be quiet.'
'Don't tell me what to do! I'm my own man. Ain't no one gonna tell me what to do just 'cause am a bit dead around the edges or a bit smelly on a hot d-'
'I said be quiet!'
'Oh! Oh! Is THAT how you're gonna be huh? Jus' lemme down and let us at it I'll show you quie-'
'I said be quiet damn you! Be quiet! Be quiet!' and he released the zombie from his ethereal grip and proceeded to thrash him with his bare hands even as the creature screeched abuses and cursed at its attacker.
'Self-made! Ain't nobody the lord of me! I'll never surrender! Come at me! Come at me I say! Oh, oh, chickenin' out are ya? Can't handle this, huh? What? You sayin' am scared, speak louder don't murmur under your breath! Too scared to talk to me like a ma- EEK!' a strange darkness had erupted from the adolescent's open palm, which subsequently blew off the undead man's right arm.
'Oh! Oh! That's how you're gonna play it huh? Can't take me out one-on-one so you're cheatin'? Come at me then! I can still take you down! 'tis but a flesh wound!' the next dark blast locked the undead's jaw and he was unable to continue speaking. And he could not control his own movement either, for that matter.

'You will do as I command you, insect, until I have purified you of your taint and uncovered who it is that has tainted you so,' he said coldly, 'I am Oradin. Oradin-Thulemiz. I am your master and lord, your soul is in my hands.'
The undead looked, for the first time, upon this strange creature which claimed to be its master. A tall, skinny humanoid with hair so blond that it was almost white and so long that it reached the small of his back, and skin so pale and white one wondered whether it was snow. And his eyes, a startling blue, were bloodshot, and his lips were dark, and his ears were ever so slightly pointed.



The Boy who Grew Up


It was no human, the undead thought, but it was not like any undead it had ever seen or knew to exist - certainly not a lich, and certainly not a vampire.
'Now that we understand one another, I shall liberate your tongue. But see to it that it does not stray, for when I next sieze it, it shall be permanent,' and with that, the undead found itself once more in control of its mouth. Oradin-Thulemiz approached it and inspected its destroyed arm for a few moments, before laying a flat palm upon the stump. The undead watched with a certain degree of shock as the arm - the dead arm! - sprouted back.
'H-ho...th-thank you, Ora- uh, mast...Mister Oradithooliz,' Oradin-Thulemiz gave him a cool look before turning away and beginning to walk. The undead found itself following.
'Very nice to meet you Mister Oradithooliz. M'name's Bjorn. Thrilled to be in your service and all that,' Bjorn smiled expectantly but received no response.

'Must say Mister Oradithooliz, you have a mighty fine head o' hair on you. Would make the most well-groomed vampires jealous - and they're really well-groomed, I can tell you that,' but once again the Necromancer made no response and simply continued walking.
'Must say Mister Oradithooliz, I've no idea how you've managed to get these lich-like powers while maintaining such beautiful physical form. Why, were I as sexually active as I was once, I'd have no qualms abo-'
'Be quiet!'
'Y-yes. Of course Mister Oradithooliz. You just say the word and I'll...I'll. I'll just be quiet now,' and indeed, much to the Necromancer's surprise, the creature managed to maintain its silence. For exactly two hundred and thirty-six seconds. This led to the unfortunate happening of the ripping out of Bjorn's tongue - not that Bjorn felt any pain, of course.

Some days later, they had entered into a clearing and were passing from the Jungle-Tree and into the Forest-Tree when the Necromancer stopped and raised his head to the skies.
'Ah. That is familiar. I must uncover whose familiar meddling...' and even as he spoke to himself, two huge creatures emerged from the undergrowth and into the clearing, growling and snarling. They looked very much like wolves, but were humanoid in form. And they were far larger than either the Necromancer or Bjorn. They snarled to one another before jumping forth towards the Necromancer.

Oradin-Thulemiz spread his arms wide and the black energies erupted from his palms, flooding about him and sending the two Pack-Minds scrambling from his direct vicinity. Bjorn could only stare, fixed in place by the will of the Necromancer. At last he managed to speak - for as with Bjorn's arm, the Necromancer had later somehow healed his tongue.
'They're only curious! They mean no harm!' the Necromancer looked back to his minion.
'You understand them?' and at this Bjorn smiled.
'Of course I do. Did you ever doubt that great I would not be able to understand beings so simple and lowly as these wh-'
'Be quiet!' came his master's cruel voice, 'and bid them come and be seated, and tell them that I command them tell me who their master is; whose aura ebbs like a tumorous smoke from them?'
Bjorn stared at the Necromancer for a few seconds before muttering something along the lines of 'tumorous smoke?! What a verbose, circumlocutory ba...'

The Necromancer watched as the undead grunted and snarled at the humanoid wolves and they grunted and snarled in response. They did not approach the Necromancer or sit down as he commanded, and Bjorn soon turned to his master and spoke.
'They didn't say much. Something about the great gods of the skies, the moon-goddess. Worakawa the First-Wolf - who appears to be their leader - was mentioned too. Don't think these guys have masters, Mister Orad-'
'Not masters, fool. Who created them. Their aura, their aura. It is the same as yours. He meddled with them who meddled with you, you all reek of it. He must be a powerful magicker indeed to create living life.'
Bjorn once more looked quizzical.
'Uh, not sure if we're on the same page here, Mister Oradithooliz. Don't know of these "magickers" you're talkin' about. Ain't nothing can make nothing but gods. Take me for instance, some say it was Reathanatos that made us Cursed, but he ain't about that kind of thing - he's more into the mindless undead kind of thing. He#s the god of death after all, y'know? Plus, ain't no one but Vestec crazy enough to make me!' at the mention of Vestec's name, the Necromancer's eyes widened and he turned upon Bjorn with an almost crazed fury, though he knew not from where the fury stemmed or why.
'Vestec!' he hissed, towering above the confused Bjorn. The name clearly triggered something within the Necromancer, for the fury in his eyes very quickly cooled and a little thoughtfulness entered them, 'yes. That makes sense. Those mindless undead had a very different air about them. Purer.'

With that, the Necromancer approached the large wolves, asking Bjorn what they were called.
'Pack-Minds, Mister Oradithooliz, thas what they're called.'
The larger Pack-Mind looked visibly irritated by the Necromancer's approach, but made no attempt to escape. Perhaps it realised that it was standing before something that was not of this world.
'I would very much like to keep these creatures, Bjorn. Tell them that I am now their master, not this Worakawa creature.'
'Eh? You can't just tell them that, Mister Oradithooliz. You need to earn yer place in the pack. Only way you can become master over them is by becoming the First-Wolf. And only way you can do that is by beating the incumbent. They're strange ones, these Pack-Minds. Why, I've seen entire packs led by ogres sometimes, just 'cause he happened to wrestle power from their alpha. Not like real wolves now. If you ever seen real pack wolves they don't obey anything what's not a wolf. And I watched them well enough and long enough to know that them wolves are all fa-'
'Be quiet! Damn your ever-blabbering mouth! Just show me to this First-Wolf of theirs.'
'Oh no, Mister Oradithooliz, you really can't. They live off the Bearmen, these Pack-Minds. And no one with half a brain would ever want to go up against a Bearma-'
'By all things dead! Do you never just shut up?!'
Bjorn's shoulders visibly slumped and he shook his head in defeat.
'Fiiiine...'

They walked behind the Pack-Minds for a few moments before the Necromancer suddenly stopped.
'Everything ok, Mister Oradithooliz?'
'You mentioned one...Reathanatos.'
'Ah, yes. The God of the Dead,' Bjorn made a twirled his hands around as he said it. The Necromancer looked at him coldly and swept past the Vestecian undead, speaking as he went.
'Bjorn. I am the god of death.'

***


'Tell them this: I am Oradin-Thulemiz, I am the Necromancer Lord, I am I Remember Not What I Am, but I am the terror of a bygone world, and the purifier of it. And I shall be here. I am the God of Death. Tell them that I have come to take my rightful place in the heavens. I am their master and commander. They shall do as I command them, and they shall die.'
At Bjorn's translation, the seated Pack-Minds rose, some growlng angrily and others yapping and - was that laughter? The largest of the pack slowly approached the Necromancer, and stared down upon his challenger.
'And that,' Bjorn said, 'is the First-Wolf; Worakawa.'

The thirty or so other Pack-Minds formed a circle around the challenger and his opponent, and the Necromancer looked around at them defiantly. So it was as Bjorn had said it would be, they would not accept him till he defeated the incumbent leader.
'Do they kill one another in these things, or would it be best to cut him up a bit?' he asked Bjorn as he spread his arms wide and the dark energies began flowing from his palms.
'Till one of you acknowledges the other's victory,' came Bjorn's response, swiftly followed by a lightning-quick strike from Worakawa which cut deep into the Necromancer's chest. Blood and flesh sprayed through the air, and a massive gash was left in the challenger's chest.

The First-Wolf seemed to grin. The Necromancer did grin.

Wound after wound was given to the magicker, and gash after gash made its home in his body. But yet he did not fall, and he did not die.

'You know, no one knows of this, but I have a secret little book, and in it are written terrible things. I suspect it was I that wrote it, but I have no memory of such things. Let me show you,' and with that, the dark energies of the Necromancer began congealing before him, and his wounds began closing and his previously white skin appeared a light green to all who looked, and even his eyes dimmed and seemed to become a glowing, yellowish green. And his previously pure hair was also dirtied, and became the yellow of urine. And around him all was dark. But before him a book glowed.



'B-but...but how? That's impossible! You're not...not a lich, not Cursed...' Bjorn was blabbering fearfully.
'I am Death Incarnate. I am...I...was...the Embodiment of the Purity of Death! And so shall I be once more...' he lowered his gaze and looked within the book, and he spoke words only a long-gone child-god of knowledge knew.
'Irkai'Il,' he commanded. And all who were standing found themselves upon their knees fighting an impossible pressure which commanded them kneel.
'Worakawa, Mawon Sayer'Dok,' and the First-Wolf, resistance still aflame in his eyes, looked defiantly at the one who commanded him concede. It was but a few seconds, and the wolf lowered his head. And all others did so.

'It is I, Oradin-Thulemiz. It is I, the Great-Wolf.'
Bjorn swallowed, 'you do sure like...how can I say it...extremes. Ain't no inbetween with you, is there Mister Oradithooliz,' the Necromancer cocked his head and thought on Bjorn's remarks.
'I work in absolutes, Bjorn,' and Bjorn nodded, though he knew not what that meant. And perhaps even the Necromancer who spoke knew not what it was he spoke. For it was, perhaps, a higher being that spoke.

And the book disentegrated into darkness, and the necromantic energies once more retreated into the palms of the Necromancer. But his body, now a light hue of green and with death and decay festering within it, and his pale yellow-green eyes, all remained. It was as though it had discovered something closer to its true form and was loath to return to any form which was less pure. The lich-like being (though it was certainly no lich! That Bjorn could say for certain. Or if it was, it was like no lich which had ever walked Galbar) looked upon its new minions. They were imperfect, tainted with the greatest corruption of all: life! But it knew itself too weak to purify and improve them. It would have to wait.

'Come, let us go hunt these- what did you call them Bjorn?'
'Bearmen, Mister Oradithooliz...sir,' Oradin-Thulemiz nodded.
'Let us go pay these Bearmen a visit.'
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Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone Trapped in the Past

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To Inherit


Vizier Ventus, Majordomo to Zephyrion
Level 7 Hero
36 Khookies



The Great Artisan, Divine Mason, Builder of Civilisations
Level 4 God of Crafting (Masonry, Carpentry)

21 Might & 2 Free Points



The Muse. Weaver of Dreams.
Beauty (Stories, Colors, Aesthetic)


Might: 22
Free Point: 2


==--``~~~~``--==




Ventus soared back to the alcazar of his master, and as the palace's spires came within his sight he could not help but notice how dull they looked. In times past he had oft marvelled at the sheer brilliance of the dawn's gleam upon those pearly walls, but now it seemed that life had lost its luster for him in more ways than one.

Something was amiss at the Celestial Citadel; Ventus could hear a great tumult, and it mirrored the inner turmoil that plagued his thought. Drawing closer, a strange feeling of wrong seemed to hang in the air. Vizier Ventus arrived neither early nor late, but precisely on time to witness Zephyrion's banishment. The colossal figure of Fate and the smaller (but equally daunting) ones of Amul'Sharar and Vowzra were all to be seen, though the djinni did not recognize any of them by appearance.

It was in a mere instant he understood well enough what had happened, if not why. With that final, vengeful roar Zephyrion disappeared into nothingness and so too did those other Divines that had seen fit to judge him. The shout of a god was forceful indeed, and so it was for many impossibly long moments that Zephyrion's scream echoed in the wind. At last there came a time when the sound ended. Silence reigned in the soaring palace.

Numb, you could say Ventus was, though by virtue of his form the feeling was more mental than physical. In an instant he had been stripped of a sense of self and a purpose, both things so integral to him and taken for such granted that he felt devoid of life itself in their absence. For one sunrise and one sunset, he stayed suspended in the sky gawking at the distant Celestial Citadel. Upon the wind he heard many murmurs; it was the talk of djinn, and there was confusion and the seeds of chaos already.

The Vizier blinked, and was whole again. As abruptly as he had snapped back to his senses, he rocketed through the sky towards the Citadel. Already it was crowded with all manner of djinn come to see for themselves what had happened; where before Zephyrion and the Skylords did not allow such a rabble, now every bleak and empty hall was a wirthing storm filled with countless elementals. Through the throngs Ventus fought, seeking to find Ilunabar and her Divas in their quarter.

Ilunabar had strengthened the barriers around her quarters from the moment she noticed the blinding presence of Fate and Amul'Sharar. At the first instants of their appearance she feared that the portal she opened with Belvast's help had not been appreciated, but quickly she discovered that it was, in fact, Zephyrion the one being judged.

This bothered the muse; he was not only a good friend, but his force had been positive to the beauty of the universe since the beginning. She knew not why the god was being judged, but it also made it clear how vigilant the greater deities were.

Ilunabar, however, was one that always thought about what was to come than about what was happening. She could not lose her time being mesmerized and instead ordered the Divas to barricade and protect the quarters. Without Zephyrion, things were surely getting messier.

By the time of Ventus' arrival, the Quarters was mostly sealed off from the Citadel, with the exception of a small passage, which the goddess opened as soon as she noticed. The visage of the quarters was very different from the usual, doors were sealed, the light was dim, and most of the artwork and schematics being exposed had been stored away.

Ventus was hardly surprised to see that Ilunabar's quarters were barricaded. When a small passageway was opened for him, he quickly darted through the door before any others make their entry. The dismal apparance of the chambers stood in stark contrast to what he had seen before, and it would seem that their artworks and possessions were already being packed away.

As a gust of wind Ventus billowed through the drafty hallways until he found his way to Ilunabar in person. He wasted no time on formality, something that stood in stark contrast to his usual demeanor. "Ilunabar, from how your artworks are gone I take it that you intend to leave? What has happened here?"

"Dearheart, first it was Zephyrion getting punished by Fate, now there is a typhoon of elementals raging across the halls of the Citadel; simply put, the place took a sudden turn for the worse."

She walked around a bit, checking her surroundings to make sure everything was getting packed correctly.

"I will not leave, for now, I have many ongoing projects here, like a certain very strong beverage, but overall I think it is time for me to search for more interesting places to store my things. One without the chance of a storm spirit entering my quarters and turning everything into charred paper."

Ventus inhaled, and like a roaring fire his breath seemed to pull in the entire room's air. He exhaled with a deep sigh. "Fate? Zephyrion oft spoke of that entity with disdain."

He rested in deep thought, then spoke once more, "Some of those djinn outside drift in and out only to satiate curiosity, but even now I hear others clamoring to seize the palace for themselves."

"As I imagined, and that could become troublesome for me. I imagine most of them won't have the courteousness to respect my personal space like Zephyrion did."

She deliberated for a few moments "I would like to avoid a conflict with the elementals. I assume that as I fend off invaders from my quarters the overall opinion of the others will go down too. On the other side I cannot leave right now as there are still many tasks that I can only perform here."

"Kindness and respect you have shown to me, and so I personally shall strive to return so much. But in this aspect I cannot speak for all others.

Though satisfaction may evade some so long as you rest here, they be powerless to intrude if you simply keep your quarters barricaded as they are now. Perhaps a compromise can be reached, or they will forget about your presence in time. Or you could vow to leave at some point in the future, and that may satisfy them for now. It is hard to say,"
he mused aloud.

The ruckus in the Celestial Citadel had drawn the attention of another individual. A goblin with a leather apron descended into a portico and walked through the halls of the Citadel. He was unaffected by the buffeting of the elementals, as unyielding as a mountain to the winds. Clearly disgruntled by the trespassers he advanced deeper into the palace, heading towards Ilunabar's quarters.

This goblin needed no doors to get in, for he owned the walls themselves. Teknall stepped through the stone barrier and emerged inside Ilunabar's quarters. He looked to Ventus, Ilunabar and the Divas. Finally he settled his gaze on Ventus. "Let me see if I understand the situation correctly. When Zephyrion was banished, all these djinn thought that the Celestial Citadel was open to be claimed, yes?"

Ventus recognized Teknall at once even behind the mask that was his goblin body; after all, when they last met Teknall had been in the shape of a humble Hain. "Claim? No, they would say inherit. Reclusive as he was, the question of Zephyrion's will is rather ambiguous. It would seem an open question whether these halls pass to myself, all of Zephyrion's children, we of the sky and storm who were his favorites, or perhaps simply remain in the hands of these Skylords that have long guarded the sacred palace.

I suspect that by Good Zephyrion's wishes these halls should be consigned to my ownership alone, though I know not whether I have the heart to quarrel or fight over mere brick and mortar."


Teknall scoffed. "Mere brick and mortar? You forget one thing, Ventus." He sweeped his arms at the masonry of the room. "I own these walls. I created them before your kind even existed. Even now my power rests in them. Zephyrion might have spent more time here, but my right to ownership of this place is equal to his own. If anyone is fit to 'inherit' this place, it is myself, although the term doesn't quite fit since I have always owned it. Understood?"

A disappointing reaction was Teknall's, though hardly surprising. Ventus' mind at once conjured memory of his master comparing the only gods to flies and carrion birds, all prepared to descend upon whatever they could steal. It seemed a fitting metaphor; where before Zephyrion's cynicism had seemed absurd, now it was truth.

Ventus stiffened and found some of the resolve that he had only just claimed to lack. "Is a fishmonger entitled to the entire sea? These walls were hewn by your hand yet built for Zephyrion, and though your power simmers still in those walls, it is drowned out a thousandfold by that of your dear brother, for these were where he spent near his every moment. In my time here I have seen the creation of mortals and this planet and witnessed Slough's power a dozen times, and yet in all those eons you walked these halls...perhaps thrice?

I remember too Zephyrion welcoming you as a guest, to no objection on your part then. Yet here you stand now, come to claim our home. You realize that in His absence, it is we whose power holds this citadel in the sky? Fight the djinn of storm and wind in those halls then, and witness your triumph lead to this palace shattering upon the earth below."


"Oh please do not crash the citadel into the ground. That is where I store most of my things."

"I threaten nothing, merely warn that forcing out myself or my kind will have dire consequences."

Ilunabar sighed. "Teknall, Ventus, as much as I find this rivalry kinda endearing, I do need to question the why of such behavior. On one side a god who spends most of his time very far away from here, on the other, an elemental who doesn't even need most of these rooms. In fact, most of the rooms have been empty since Lifprasil left, no?"

Teknall grunted, and his temper simmered a little longer. Although he may have only visited occassionally, he still held an equal share of the divine power within the Citadel. He could easily drive every elemental out by force, have the very walls fight against them, but what would that gain? The majesty of the Celestial Citadel would stand just as well regardless of whether it was occupied by himself or the djinn.

"The traces of Zephyrion's presence may drown out my own a thousand fold, but that is transient. The Celestial Citadel intrinsically contains equal parts of Zephyrion's power and my own." He paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to explain an abstract concept. "Ilunabar, as a fellow diety you would understand the concept that this place, the Celestial Citadel, forged by the divine power of myself and Zephyrion, its very presence and splendor... reinforces our divinity. It is intrinsically tied to our very essence. That is my claim to this place, one much deeper than any measure of time spent here."

Teknall thought a little longer and took a breath. His temperament had cooled somewhat. He continued, "But perhaps I am being rash. As the architect, whoever takes up residency here does not impact my connection to this place. I maintain that I still own this place, but Zephyrion owned it too, so it would make sense for someone to take care of the Citadel in his stead."

"Beyond simple residency, understand that in Zephyrion's absence it falls to us to maintain Change, carry out Nature's Decree, and enforce the Natural Hierarchy of the djinn. These halls will no longer rest empty; I would claim this palace as the seat of power for myself and the djinn.

"By Zephyrion's grace he allowed guests, but now, having seen the horrid machinations of Toun and Vestec and Jvan, I have no desire to suffer the meddling of divines. The uppermost levels of this Citadel, at least, I ask to be ours alone."


"As Zephyrion's self-claimed hiers, you can claim what Zephyrion had," Teknall replied, "so you can use it as a palace, or seat of power, or whatever, just as Zephyrion did. Zephyrion already had the upper levels as his own private space, so that would continue. Aside from these rooms here the Citadel is presently unoccupied anyway, so that makes little difference. The physical structure is still mine, as it always has been. Just as Zephyrion was never the sole owner of the Citadel, neither can you. But you are free to do as you see fit in the Citadel, provided neither you nor your djinn disturb Ilunabar, our resident. Of course, if Zephyrion returns, which is a possibility, he will likely want the Citadel back, but that is your problem, not mine. Is that fair?"

The Muse was just happy her home wasn't going to be blown up today. Thought she also took the event as a sign that it was time to look for a new area to set up her atelier.

"This arrangement shall do," the Vizier answered, "for now."

Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by Kho
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Kho

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Exodus


Upon the rock old Mora sat, a bear as old as Time itself and greatest of the Victors. In times before he had been known as Morarom Oramomaro, but the traditions of the Treeminds had eroded from him - for the eons and the ages erode great mountains, and they erode the most dearly held habits also, and even one's culture and ways, with none around to preserve them, go the way all things must finally go. Why, even their mighty god, who had sat upon the altar of Time and read it to all, had at last been grinded by that never-ceasing grinder. For it was not the Jvanic Flesh which had caused Vowzra to be slain, but Time itself which had willed and caused. That Jvanic Entity had been naught more than a vessel, and through it did the mysterious hand of Time seize the Lord of Time.

'You ask me about the Exodus of the Treeminds,' the great bear finally said, looking down from where he sat, on that antique rock, upon the Victors who sat below, and the lay people of New Chronos, and the curious children who huddled close to their parents and stared at the great bear. And among them were Lifprasilians, and among them were Pronobii, and there were humans and there were hain, and there were ogres also and Treeminds, but no djinn. And to the side two other ancient bears stood, warrioresses unmatched, Zina and Sali who had, eons and ages ago, ascended with Mora to Chronos, and here had they all become Victors.

'It happened, who knows how long ago, (for, unlike the Cube, the mind wanes and forgets even though it lived when all that I relay to you came about) that the Treeminds - yes all of them, for there were not more than fifty of them in those days - one day took up the journey from their dwelling place in the shade of Old Bark-Skin to a land which was better for them, and they better for it. For as you all well know, the Treeminds had gone through many a great tragedy after the coming of the strange Orb-from-the-Sky.

'First, we have been told by sources most trustworthy, they were taken away by the Great Chaotic Entity. And it did hellish things to them before returning them home. And thereafter, there appeared the menace of the Pack-Minds who preyed upon the Treeminds with a vengeance and appeared to target none but them. And the Treeminds were always few in number, and they became even more so with the appearance of these predators.

'And then, the Jvanic Entity landed upon the sacred Solitary Mount and blew it into unknowable smithereens - though, perhaps, the exact number lies hidden within the Cube! And what tragedy was that for the broken-hearted Treeminds. For they had been so greatly traumatised by the Great Chaotic Entity, which had placed within them urges most evil and unnatural, that the only thing which maintained their sanity and former dignity was the sight of the holy Mount ever on the horizon. And with its going went much of their resistance to what it was that the Great Chaotic Entity put into them. And what misery! What woe! What horror! 'tis too weighty and burdensome a thing to even utter, but I shall say it here that none shall ever forget.

'For brother ate the flesh of his brother, and the father took his daughter in the night - and greater horror yet, neither would be trained in the sacred Treemind love arts - and there was discord and division, and Treeminds battled for leadership and power over others, and there was tyranny, and there was manifest injustice. And all was Chaos.

'But it was not this that drove them to fly from the shade of Old Bark-Skin. For, shrouded in the darkness of chaos, and blinded by the horrors which the Great Chaotic Entity had unleashed within their minds and breasts, they saw nothing within what they had become which warranted flight. Nay, it was the coming of a darkness far greater than anything they could ever be, or imagine to be, that awakened the wise amongst them. And they realised the horror of what came their way. And fear gripped them. And where light could not pierce the manifest darkness into which they had fallen, fear could.

'And even then, 'twas not easy to unite the divided, deluded ones - for their darkness feared the one escape route from the coming terror. For the one escape was to venture into the light. To come here, to Chronos land of safety, Chronos land of peace, Chronos heart of eternal life and youth and bliss. Yea, they feared to venture here much as they feared what ventured towards them, but one fears less what they can choose to go to than that which comes to them against their will. And they all lined up, on that fated morning, and they bid their cursed holy home farewell. And Chronos welcomed them.

'But it welcomed not the darkness that came with them. And we saw it clearly, we who had for long dwelled here. And we took them to the Pond of Purity, from which grows the cherry tree I have told you about many times before. And therein did we throw them, one by one and lo! watch, you who were not there that you might see, how the darkness hissed and fumed and bubbled with malignant furies and designs. But the furies of darkness - and dark designs - can ne'er outmatch the furies of Chronos and the overpowering will of it. And they were cleansed and purified, and here they are: the Treeminds whom the Celestial Above fashioned with his own hands and blessed. Here they are, these descendants of those antique bears who birthed the Celestial Above and his first love and the mother of our master Belvast. Here they are, the fathers and mothers of gods. Yea, here they are - but fall not prostrate before them, for they who birthed gods are not themselves gods.

'But you ask me of that fearsome darkness which drove the Treeminds from their home. And that is a question none but the insightful would ask - for none ask it but those who understand the gravity of the existence of darknesses such as these in the world beyond Chronos. Darknesses like the fiend who once marauded here on Chronos, and darknesses like the Jvanic Entity which wrought unknown destruction upon us.

'Now it is not known to me what this mighty terror which wakened the Treeminds from their darkness was, but I shall recount to you some of what it wreaked upon those ancient Treeminds locked in dark ignorance. And this is as told to me by one who lived through that terror, and one who was, even before ascending to Chronos, deemed wise and good by all, and whose light was never overcome by the darkness of the Great Chaotic Entity.

'Said he to me as I sat with him one day: "It was a thing not from this world, and of that I have no doubt. It was a creature whose darkness was as to ours what the abyss of the night is to the blinding light of that glowing orb in the sky, that sun. Why, we were as saints before it though we were indeed the most wretched of the earth's creatures then.

'"And it came at us through the Pack-Minds, those horrors that preyed upon us just as we preyed upon the deer - but nay! they hunted us for delight and entertainment, whereas we hunted only out of necessity. And what being is there but has a right to the flesh of another that it may itself survive. Why, if the deer had not us to hunt them, they would grow so fat and so many that they would eat the earth and all that is in it. But as I say, these Pack-Minds hunted us not out of necessity and not to keep some greater balance, they hunted us simply because they so enjoyed it.

'"But we learned to live with the ever-present danger of these things, and our own blood had grown so cheap in our own eyes that it did not disturb us greatly to see it shed by others, nor did it disturb them greatly that they shed blood which we also willingly shed. Indeed, our own blood had grown cheap in our eyes so that all others attached no great significance to its shedding either. What darkness! What wretchedness!

'"But there came upon us a time when the Pack-Minds grew even more savage in hunting us, and they caught us in places we thought ourselves safe, and they hunted us where they had never before ventured. And great was our loss, and many more were the Treeminds who perished. And it worried us greatly, this matter, and the many self-proclaimed leaders of the many self-proclaimed Treemind tribes met to talk on the matter, and it availed to nothing.

'"But it was during that meeting, and I was there, that the terror made itself manifest to us. It was cloaked in black and we saw little of it, but in the darkness of its hood, I saw two eery lights of yellow-green where the eyes may well have been. And it spoke thus:

'""My name is Oradin-Thulemiz, Death Made Manifest
Look on your lives, ye miserable ones, as they decay
For dust must at last to dust, and clay too must to clay
But when it is I that sieze you, never shall ye rest."


'"And how can I speak of the horrors which thereafter struck us? Not Pack-Minds alone, but creatures which had for eons rested in the earth. And even those Treeminds who perished returned again and attacked those in whom life still survived, as though jealous of those who had avoided that terrible enslavement and hung on to the chains of life and the prison of flesh. What terrors were they that we lived, what hells were they that came upon us?- or perhaps, that we brought upon ourselves."

'And that is what I was told, and no reason have I to doubt the truth of it or to question the integrity of him who told it me. So know this well, oh you whose curiosity drives them to wander beyond the boundaries of our paradise home: Out there are monsters that prey on the lonely, Out there are beasts which slaughter the unprepared, Out there are horrors which even the greatest Victor cannot alone withstand. Seek the protection of the Celestial Above, keep its crest ever near, and venture not into the wildlands where the wild things are.'
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Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by LokiLeo789
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LokiLeo789 No

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Sin, The 7 Sins, The Sinner, Pride, Gluttony, Wrath Envy, Sloth, Lust, Greed
2 MP, Level 4


Fear is complex. To Amartía there are several different kinds. Dread. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the thing one knows but is trying desperately to un-know. Fear for someone else, and Helplessness. 

At this moment, Amartía could sense the dread of those around him. It was thick, as if a wool blanket had been thrust upon his body. It was suffocating, but exhilarating. Amartía himself felt no fear, at this moment, he felt the exact opposite. Excitement. He stood hopping from one foot to the other like a little girl and he was not ashamed one bit. He was deliriously happy, giddy even. The excitement wired his body and flushed through his veins. As a general rule, Amartía hid his emotions. He figured they were intel he'd rather not hand over so at all times his face was blank. But this was different.

What stood before Amartía and the Victors was a sight to behold. A feat of godly proportion. What was once so alive now gave him chills. What was once a forest was now a museum of crystals. Flora and fauna alike had either been crystalized or had fled. 

All sound had been sucked from the forest. The branches creaking, feet shuffling through detritus, squirrels chattering, leaves rustling, wind whistling around trunks/disturbing the leaves, birds singing, insects humming/ churring, rustle of animals rooting in underbrush, scrabbling of lizards on tree bark, limbs crashing to the ground, leaves crackling underfoot, clattering leaves, soughing wind, groaning trees, squawking birds, hostile screeches from animals, panting, barking yips, ruffling, ticking, tapping, rattling, shiver, grating, the beat of paws against a path.

The harmonic rhythm of nature had been stolen away; and it was beautiful.

Amartía shuffled forward, determined to investigate further, but a hand griped his own suddenly. Stopping him in his tracks. Quickly, the atmosphere changed. Amartía slowly turned to find Aviyah's hand holding his wrist. Her eyes were wide with fear. "We should no-" Without a moments notice, Amartía's hand snaked out, returning Aviyah's grip with a crushing grip of his own before he twisted here whole arm in an unnatural fashion, causing her to follow and grimace in pain before he yanked it upward, causing it to snap sickeningly. Aviyah turned chalk white as Sin let her had go, immediately she dropped to her knees. Amartía paid her no heed, and ventured into the crystalline forest alone.

Quickly though, Amartía realized it was a mistake. It became difficult to move quickly. Every time his feet 'thumped' against the mud of the forest floor, the very grass met him with resistance, shattering under his oppressive step. He saw shadows flicking between the glimmering trees, heard the occasional sound of leaves tingling like chimes in the twilight wind

There were things watching him, he knew. Things that ate neither meat nor grass, things neither grew nor died but simply were. They watched silently, hidden amidst the glassy maze. Creatures of the forest that would happily kill him just for stepping into their territory. Heartless forms that would tear out his throat and pull him to pieces and feed them to the soil…

A low, sinuous hiss drifted out from behind a nearby tree. The Lord of Sin wasn’t alone. 

Not nearly.

“Does it please you, Sin? Bullying an infant?”

Even in his avatar, Logos’s voice cut into the mind like a blade.

He didn’t turn around to see what it was. From the noise of shattering branches that followed from its pursuit, it was bigger than him. Definitely big enough to swallow him whole.

The Solver, who reclined on his neck and shoulders became his eyes. The crimson eyes of The Solver gazed upon the avatar of Logos, giving Amartía and eyeful. It was massive, imposing even, but Amartía maintained his cool. He felt nothing at this moment. Fear was beyond him. Pride was his birthright. 

"Bullying is a hobby. It is part of our nature, us orphans of Chaos."

Rearing up and over the demigod was a ebon feathered serpent of colossal size. The crown of its head skimmed beneath the priceless canopy of the unnatural jungle, and its titanium wings glistened in the dying light.

If his movements were like stones sliding against one another, his voice was like a mountain being ground into dust. “Make no mistake,” the serpent continued. “That is what she is. My brother matured her race as much as he could, but her sensibilities are still those of a child.”

An eye opened not ten feet from Amartia, as big around as he was. It glowed a pale white with an inner light, illuminating the ridges around it. It was a God.

It judged him.

His eyes simmered with more than just predator instinct when it gazed upon Amartia. The God disdained him, and Amartia could see the wretched, boring expression hidden ever so carefully behind its mask of neutrality. 

"Why have you come seeking your own death?"

Amartía's face was deadpan. He gazed deep into the eye in the distance, but was impressed by the looming serpents other worldly beauty. Even from this distance, he could feel its cold, hating gaze. Wrath, and oh was it delicious. Such a sin from a god was common, anger and rage for mortals and immortals alike seemed to be the unsaid standard for beings of untold power. 

Amartía himself, enjoyed the god's Wrath, soaking in it as if he was taking in the suns rays. It was never ending, a pool of overflowing milk and honey.

"No being openly seeks death, but simply stumbles upon it. His knowing it usually results in his actual death." Amartía jibbed, gazing deep into the eye. 

"I, on the other hand, came seeking to do no evil. But came to seek answers. It is not everyday that one falls upon a crystalline forest. A creation I find beautiful."

There was the sudden rustling, the musical breaking of a thousand diamond blades of glass as the serpent slithered around Amartia. It's body seemed nigh nedless, and its gaze never ending.

"You speaks words you do not understand," the serpent hissed at last, as if in resignation. "And see beauty where there is only death." The black serpant opened its jaws, revealing line after line of ivory scythes, glistened back. "For those who enter these groves will serve them in time. Why have you come, shade?"

"Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore I see benefits in what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there." Amartía chlorted as he gazed at the eye in the distance, but ignored the serpent that coiled around him.

"What I seek though? I seek many things, power, satisfaction, the world. Most of which is opposed by many of the gods."

"You seek to kill me and take my crown. You seek to rule over the gods themselves. You seek not this world, but all of them," the serpent stated bluntly.

Amartía's mask-like face fractured, causing jagged edges to form of crooked if not crude smile on his face. Amartía's emotionless mask fell as he broke into a cackle. His booming, ferocious, malevolent, intimidating expulsion of menacing, doom-laden laughter echoed throughout the luminous timberland.

"You know me so well. Although devouring the Primordials, that is a true goal." Amartía sighed as he reached for the serpents cut-glass scales, caressing the snakes cool, lustrous skin, despite its gaping maw in his face.

“You are wise not to have fear. I am not so foolish as to destroy a valuable asset, and I do not feel rage. You are in no danger.”

It had known about Amartia’s plans the moment he stepped into the grove.

Sin was used to predictability. It was his job to understand the nature of all, if not most beings. But this god was different. While Jvan's motives were many and predictable (at times), this god's was obvious, but unpredictable. It posed a challenge for Amartía; could he stay one step ahead of a being who understood his own nature?

"What do you mean by, 'valuable asset'?

The serpent silenced him as the coils suddenly constricted around the embodiment. “Allow me to educate you,” he said.

“I make it a habit to ensure that all peoples believe they have me fooled, or otherwise believe that they know something I do not. It makes the behaviour of both my enemies and my underlings entirely predictable. That your very nature is Sin and that you crave this world for yours alone has been known to me for some time. That you intended to assume control without my knowledge or consent has also been known to me. This duplicity on your part was expected and accounted for. It is a small thing, and your desires only serves to drive you toward my own ends. I would rather a general with his own ambitions and motives than a simpering lapdog. I can reward ambitions and direct motives better than any other Deity, and so your loyalty is guaranteed.”

Amartía extended hand wavered as the snakes rippling skin constricted, while his mask-like face cracked once again. This time forming a crooked frown. 

Sin was starting hear a bit of himself in the gods words. While Amartía played a game were the world was his board and the pawn were its people, it felt as if this god puppeted the universe. Everyone and everything served a purpose in his grandiose scheme, nothing escaped his all seeing eye and he manipulated and controlled everything. It was the very thing Amartía hungered and worked for at every moment.

"The Gods of this world believe that they can play me in the divine game. They believe that the actions of their underlings will bring them closer to victory, and ultimately to their dominion over all reality. They are mistaken. While I am speaking with you now I am also at the within my Citadel, watching as my daughter is crowned Queen of her people. Simultaneously, I am purging the cancer that is Jvan from existence. Further still, I am bringing Teknall, the traitor, to heel. I do not say these things as boasts. It is very difficult for a being such as myself to boast. Any self-aggrandizement I commit falls within the bounds of truth. I am grand."

Amartía was taken aback by this. "A general? Reward? What are you getting at? A god as watchful and as almighty as you are, would have no need to approach me as I encroach upon your territory. Why have you come to me personally?"

"Because I offer the peoples of the world a choice. And I offer it to them through you. Hope that you succeed in this task, Amartia, because if you fail, there will be no insulation between Galbar and its King. Vowzra would be harsh. He did not love your kind in the way you understand love. Jvan would be cruel. She enjoys causing her children to suffer. But I...” Logos closed his eyes and tilted his head skyward. “I walked the Road before they even Knew. I would not punish their transgressions so much as I would wipe disobedience from your species altogether.”

The god stayed true to his words and his sin switched from Wrath to Pride, and his words dripped with it.

"I?" Amartía said as he refolded his arms, thinking deeply. 

"Am I to be a Preacher. . . or a Harbinger?" Amartía countered. The god saw potential in him, but not his brethren? Then what would be the fate of those who chose wrong?

The serpent slowly shook its great head.

"You will be a Witness. And what you see in these days, you will tell. Your people will become my people, and my blessing will be upon them as long as this covenant holds true. And you alone will sit highest amongst my siblings, for you were first to kneel and first to recieve."

Amartía remained silent. A witness? A blessing? A covenant? Receive? Sin was lost. And Sin hated it. So, he kneeled before the serpent. 

"A Witness? A Seer and a Hearer, but not a Doer. " Amartía began, gazing up at the snake. "I can be your Witness, but a covenant is a two sided matter. I know what must be done on my end, but what of you, what do I receive?"

The coils around Amartia relaxed, even as the serpent raised its great head above the Demigod, looking down at the creature in what almost seemed to be approval. He saw a glow ahead, a dim pinpoint of angry white light that could only be the fire gathering in his throat...

"In the beginning, it was I that wore the crown of King. And from me, come all true Kings."

It came over Amartía artia first like the heat from standing to close to an open oven, unbearably hot. Then it got hotter, like holding his face against a stovetop. Then it got hotter, and Amartía felt his clothes burning away as he was thrown against the floor of the forest, his flesh sizzling and popping.

"Die now and be reborn. Witness and remember, Amartía, Lord of Xerxes. Stand upon the highest mountain and gaze in all eight directions. For I offer you this world, if you but have the will to take it."

The power rushed to fill him.

Amartía dug deep, found every vestige of magic within himself that he understood, and every vestige that he didn’t, clutching at them with his mind. The power that touched him, filling him, with alien and vast as the darkness behind the stars. He held it all as he teetered in front of the serpent, his life hanging by a thread, and then he screamed.

His scream was carried over the whole of the forest around him, echoing with unbridled power. He felt his strength returning to his limbs as his magic healed him, felt flesh fill in around his limbs as blackened meat sloughed off his wings.

They were feathery. Swan feathers, layer upon layer upon layer, silky smooth and white as snow. They fluttered gently,then were still. They obscured his face, a cloak of whiteness, hiding everything, bigger than his whole body, joined together by a line of gentle gold star.

Sizzling red skin peeled off his body in chunks, revealing clean, tan skin, reminiscent of clay. His signature bald head was gone, and was replaced with with matted hair that was ghostly in its bloodless color. No longer was Amartía the expressionless being he once was, his face was handsome, regal, rugged even. Much like his now well-toned body, he now sported sharp, angular features that betrayed his long-lost form. Everything from his jawline, which could cut diamonds, to his powerful brow is shaped with strength, as if he had been chiseled from the bedrock beneath the plains of his rebirth.  Full, thick lips hid not only a set of perfect teeth, but hid a powerful, commanding voice.

Despite the violent transformation, Amartía's light brown eyes somehow surpassed his situation to become his most intimidating feature. Taken alone, they are unspectacular in their appearance, with a hue similar to cinnamon—a rather average tone. But they were piercing and unforgiving, the eyes of a ruler.

While a great change had taken place outside his body, a greater change to place inside. Amartía gasped as the white hot pain subsided, allowing to breath once more. Underneath his skin, pulsing bright white, lay hundreds of interconnecting pathways, each precisely measured apart as translucent energy flowed through, causing electricity to arc off it.

Amartía gazed at the design in wonder before slowly getting to his feet. Everything had changed about Sin. Every movement was calculated and precise.  He embodied an aura that commanded respect, fear, and utter devotion. Standing at six feet, eight inches, his tremendous height was only built upon by the knowledge that his power now exceeded that of any other individual in the world—and not by a trivial amount. It made him seem and feel as if he is titanic. The way that he carried himself with absolute confidence and conviction, holding his posture perfectly in a domineering, statuesque way, imposing his authority on those around him like a general pacing in front of his army. Coolness was his birthright.

Amartía stood naked before the serpent, flexing his right hand and flapping his powerful wings, enjoying the crackle of electricity as the circuits under his skin fired off commands at the speed of light.

Sin turned towards the god, looking quite pleased. "That was quite a change. I feel…like a god." Amartía huffed as he clenched and unclenched his fists.

"An ignorant claim, but not an unfounded one," the serpent hissed as it appraised its new piece. Yes, this one would do nicely on the board. "You posses but a fraction of my power. Serve faithfully, and I may yet allow you to devour one of my siblings and claim their Divinity for yourself."

The serpent unwrapped itself from around Amartía and unfurled its massive metal wings and hunched, closing his newly-adopted charge in a cage of hot feathers. Curling her wingspan about the Sin, until the he was pressed into darkness, the God loomed over him.

"Remember. As simple an order as a king can give, and as simple of a command as a King can recieve. Remember why," the serpent hissed, only his eyes visible in the darkness. "For I do not wish tribute, nor song, nor monuments nor poems of war and valor. My wish is simple. Remember what you were and what you have become," he said to Amartia. "Remember that you were rewarded simply because you knelt."

Amartía's face remained emotionless as he watched the massive serpent spread its wings. He hated how the gods words made him feel, it was as if he was just an insignificant fly in his world. It was a constant stain to his Pride. Sparks flew as Amartía crained his neck to watch the serpents ever rising, glowing eyes. 

...because you knelt. rang over and over again, like the pitter patter of rain on stone in his head. 

Amartía ignored it and refocused on the serpent. "I will serve. I will bring the world to its knees, by your word alone." he vowed, his voice hard and powerful.

"I already know you will," the serpent hissed in understanding. It was a fact. And inevitability. "And afterwards, you will attempt to turn on me. With Vestec, perhaps. Or maybe you ally with another god. Or maybe even with the Pride of your own power. You will lose, of course," the god noted.

“I played the immortal game before the universe’s creation, against foes that you would look upon with envy and awe. I earned this reality and created this world, bought and paid for both with the blood of my kind and the the scars of a conflict so vast and terrible it lasted over and before an thousand eternities. Only one of my foes remains, and even she fled the battle rather than face me, then returned to scavenge my creation in my absence by wreaking havoc upon the Codex while I was still frail.”

“I won the immortal game, Sin. No matter how many gods resist, no matter how many of my children die, this fact cannot be changed. The positions of the pieces matter not, for I own the very board. No outcome exists that precludes my restoration of the natural order. Every time each of you resist, they merely increase the magnitude of the eventual retribution.

"My Pride has bounds, Immortal One. I won't allow your words to determine my future, only Fate herself can truly determine ones path. I know what I have been, what I am, and what I wll become. The Bane of the Gods. Slayer of Demi-gods. Devour of the Primordials. My path to greatness has been set in stone, and through you, it will pass. 

Amartía mimicked the serpent, unfurling his own powerful wings. They spread out, elelectricity arcing off them, streatching until the tips of the metallic feathers brushed against the trees. The flapping created a soft breeze around them. 

"Funny how this all began, because Time himself, saw to take me, to prevent an unforseen future, and he himself, set me on this path. I will not resis it, no, I will grab hold of my birthright, and concour it will this power you have given me."

If the serpent was placated by this vow, it did now show. But between the living embodiment of sin and the ouroboros grew the faintest spark of crimson light. It flickered briefly in the gloom, before surging with brightness.

It began as a liquid, collecting in the air within the light. Redder than blood and thicker than a mortal's soul. It was alive and otherworldly, with a mind and desire all of its own, pooling into an impossibility made flesh.

Suddenly, the carmine glow cast its pale relief on the two as it rippled red lightning, as the liquid seemed to freeze. The transmutation, a miracle of worldly subjugation, rendered into a jagged crystal the size of Amartia's fist. It hung lazily in the air, the inner glow of its power quietly falling into slumber, waiting to be called upon once more.

"If it falls within my Laws, this will accomplish it," the God promised.

Amartía gazed at the stone, letting its iridescent glow wash over him like the suns rays in the afternoon. The power he searched for, researched, stole and tortured for, so easily created. 

Sin reached for the stone, his emotionless mask slipping the closer he drew to it. In the back of his head, a small voice reminded him of his prisoner; Big, and his dealings with Astarte. It was quickly drowned out by the humming of the stone.

As soon as Amartía touched it, red electricity began to charge down his arm, transforming the clean, blue pathways into crimson highways. The sanguine stone hummed with power, soaking into his bones and jaring his teeth. Amartía grabbed hold of the stone, and instantly, reality seemed to bend and twist. The things he would be capable of with such a power. 

Amartía rubbed the stone absent mindedly with his thumb, caressing its smooth, other worldy surface. In a matter of seconds, the stone dissapered. For the first time, Amartía showed off the power of Gluttony. His mouth elongated and his throat widened to accommodate the stone, which slid down easily. But the stone did not find his stomach, no, found the bottoms pit that Gluttony's insatiable hunger. 

Sin could feel the hum of power inside him, the ablity to bend and create right on his fingertips. Red electricity became blue as Amartía absorbed the stone, the power becoming his and his alone. 

It wasn't until he looked back up to the serpent that he realized the darkness permeating his world was because night had fallen at last. The god had vanished, taking his encompassing wingspand with him and leaving the newly christened Demigod in the forest of crystal with only his thoughts for company. 

The moons of Galbar stared down at the new King, as if judging him, appraising his value with their silent mournful stare.

...because you knelt.


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Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Rtron
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Rtron Knight Radiant

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Tez, Herald of Discord

Soon after the defeat of the Horde

Tez stared dully around him as what remained of the Horde collected itself under its new leader, a Tedar. Brolan or something similar. He hadn't paid attention as he was tossed to the side by those who had once cheered his name and followed his orders. His sword arm was gone. His power, that vicious drug that had rushed through his veins, destroyed spells and bodies alike, was gone with it. Without it, he could barely function, much less fight and win successfully against a stronger opponent. He was going to be left behind. He knew that much. The Horde didn't have time for the weak, the defeated. It would get direction again, hunting some other target, and leave all of them behind. He was frankly surprised that he wasn't killed yet, slain for what meat he possessed.

There was a sudden flash of light in front of him, and the multi-colored God of Chaos was before him. "My my. Moping about losing your arm, are we?" Vestec giggled, hauling Tez's shocked form to it's feet. To see a God once was fortunate. To be chosen by a God was a blessing. But to be visited and saved twice? He was meant for something great. He could feel it. His God put a hand on his stump and Tez grinned.

Then he screamed in pain as harsh metal began to grow from his stump. It burned. It burned hotter than anything he'd ever known in his life. A raging inferno seemed to consume him, and all he knew was the burning pain in his arm and he just wished it would stop, that the pain would end and he could just die. For surely that was what was happening. The God was punishing him. Stripping his soul bare for his failure, flailing his spirit for being weak enough to be defeated by a mere girl.

Tez hit the ground with an audible thump. The pain was suddenly gone, replaced with a brief numbness and a rush of power as he fully connected to his new arm. He looked down, eyes going wide. Replacing his lost arm was a metal one, ending in five razor sharp clawed digits. It was black, so dark that it seemed to absorb the light from the Galbarian sun. He heard the Mad God giggling above him and looked up once more. "Go. Kill this 'Bolar'. Reclaim control of your Horde." With that, Vestec was gone in a multicolored flash of light.

Tez picked himself up, flexing his new arm. His new power, at once as exhilarating as a new find and reassuring as an old friend, flooded through his veins again. He grinned a bloodthirsty grin, shoving his way through the crowd. He could see the new leader of the Horde ahead of him, making decrees. "Bolar!" He roared, tossing goblin out of the way. The tedar rounded on him, massive club at the ready. "Who the fuck are you, thinking you can just call upon your leader li-" His angry question never finished as Tez focused his power sending it in a concentrated beam towards the giant tedar's skull. It didn't explode, like Tez had expected. Rather, it fell apart in a mass of disunity. Blood, bits of bone and brain, bits of eyes all fell to the ground in a pile of gore.

"I am the leader now! You obey me! Or you will end up like him! Do you understand!?" Tez screamed, eyes roving the horde members nearest to him. None met his eyes. "Good." He needed to make this army stronger, faster, more mobile. They didn't have a home anymore, and were likely surrounded by enemies. They needed to be fast, and deadly. His eyes settled on the Heraktati. They were a fast attack force, already feared by many. With riders, they'd be even deadlier. But who would be both light enough and stupid enough to ride them... Tez looked over at the goblins around him, and smiled.





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Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by WrongEndoftheRainbow
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WrongEndoftheRainbow

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The Subjugation of the Horde


Lazarus, the most secretive of bastards. (0 might)
Vestec, the most giggly of bastards. (1 might, 2 Freepoint)
Tez, the most hating of bastards. (4 Khookies)

In a flash of multicolored light, the leader of the Horde was suddenly in front of the two divine beings, his sword out, Hand of Discord flexing in preparedness. As his eyes fell on Vestec he fell to his knee. “My Lord! You do me too great of an honor. What do I owe this honor?” The troll’s eyes shifted to the other being in the room, a demi-god from the feeling and look. “And who is this?”

Vestec waved a lazy hand. “Enough prostrating before me. I am not Logos. This, dear Tez, is Lazzy. She wants control of your horde. I told her she needs to beat you first.”

Immediately, Tez went from contrite and complacent, into full angry and hostile. A pulse of energy went off from his arm, causing smaller things to fall apart. He bared his teeth at her. “She can die trying.”

“Die trying?” Lazarus responded, slowly inspecting Tez. “Tell me, what exactly have to achieved with that arm of yours? What have you achieved with it?” She crossed her arms, pointedly staring at the black arm.

“Established an army.” Tez snapped back. “Slain dozens of Hain villages and hundreds of Sculptors. You won’t be any challenge.” The Hand seemed to be drawing power, steadily, as Tez watched the Demi-god.

“So you’re a minor barbarian. You have achieved naught but pathetic failures and at best minor successes. With only a hundred men at my back, I ascended. Without any support from the gods, I took my place in the pantheon. Can you say the same? With the blessings of a god, can you say that you have done the same?” She looked dully unimpressed with the hand.

“Ascended.” Tez sneered the word. “Yes, O mighty God. You truly have taken your place among the pantheon. Is dirt hovels and sniveling worms for followers what Godhood is like? You can keep it then. I have purpose. I have power. You are just here, aimlessly scribbling notes in a book and sitting in the dirt.” He gestured towards the closed book of Lazarus, contempt written into every feature.

Lazarus whispered to herself, suddenly blasting a curse of force down upon Tez, in the hopes of driving him to his knees. Purposely pumping divine energy into her eyes, making them glow, she slowly walked up. “I will give you two options. You will obey my orders, and I will have an army and a citadel to stand at your back, under my command, or you can die. You can die here and now, and I will still achieve my goal. Which will it be?”

Tez snarled as he was suddenly driven to his knees, hand gripping his sword tighter. The Demi-God approached, eyes glowing with power. Tez spat at her as soon as she was all too close to him. “You. Die. First.” His arm gave a pulse of powerful discord magic, having been gathering this entire time, and suddenly the things that held the curse together fell apart. Tez lunged upwards, sword driving towards her chest.

The sword found its target, plunging into her chest. She didn’t even flinch. Instead, Lazarus gripped Tez by the neck, lifting him up in the air as she slowly and deliberately drew the sword out of her chest. “Wrong answer,” she snarled, before beginning to pump raw, unfiltered divine power into his head.

Tez screamed in agony, pain searing his very being, even worse than the flames of his arm, before every organic part of him popped like an overfilled balloon, bathing the room in gore.

The Hand of Discord dropped to the ground with a rattle.

“Tsk.Messy. ” Vestec said, catching the troll’s soul and shoving it into the arm. “You’re gonna have to do that a couple more times. The Horde won’t follow a stranger. And now you have no idea of it’s strengths, weaknesses, traitorous types, power hungry types, really you could have handled that much better.”

“I don’t care about the internal politics of the horde, as long as they prevent any incursions on the mountain before the dwarves can defend themselves. If I need to kill anybody else, lead me to them,” she responded, turning to face Vestec. She then, for a brief moment, turned back to pick up the Hand of Discord.

“The internal politics of the Horde are what keeps the Horde from fleeing to the far winds. You can’t kill them all.” Vestec reminded her, before perking up with interest. “Oh? And what are you planning on doing with that?”

“I’ll be hiding it in the Dwarven Citadel, an artifact for them to protect, unless you have other plans for it. Now, should a display of power keep the horde in line? That I can do easily enough,” she casually remarked, beady eyes focusing back onto Vestec.

Vestec shrugs. “Who knows? They followed Tez because he commanded their respect. Gave them loot and victory and all that. Fear only goes so far. They might disappear in a week, or they might stay forever and guard your sacred halls till they die. I can’t predict what they’ll do now. Or what their new leader will do.”

“I can promise them that were they to defend the passageways, soon they will see success beyond their wildest dreams as an organized army backs them,” she said, “now, are we done here? The horde can be moved into position, and I need the dwarves to begin work.”

“Should be done, yeah. The Horde needs to be chatted too, they’re a bit confused why they’re in the mountains. Take this little rascal,” Vestec grabbed the surly, sober, dwarf. “And his wife,” There was another dwarf suddenly in his arm. “And go have fun making an empire out of them!”

She frowned a moment, “I can’t make much out of only two of them. It’ll take centuries before they’re ready to go beyond just simple subsistence. May I have more? A couple thousand at the very least should suffice.” She then considered the problem of booze. The dwarf was already angry about not being drunk.

“Hmm. Fine. If you insist.” Vestec copied the genetic code of the Dwarves and transferred a couple thousand goblins into the Mountain of the World. While they were all still wondering what had happened and was going on, he transformed them into dwarves. Immediately, the confusion became complaining and anger as all the dwarves were painfully sober and unhappy about it.

“Annnnd done!”

Lazarus simply nodded. “I’ll look into brewing techniques, or we’ll get nothing done.”


Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by BBeast
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The Great Artisan, Divine Mason, Builder of Civilisations
Level 4 God of Crafting (Masonry, Carpentry)

21 Might & 2 Free Points



The Meek
Level 1 Demigod of Crafting (Machinery)

12 Might




The workshop turned slowly in the void, reflecting the sunlight like some kind of silver flower. Unlike a flower, however, it was almost lifeless. It had pumps, fans and lights, but these were trivial machines, preserving the workshop in its catatonic state until it could be awakened. And that day of awakening had come.

Teknall had made sketches and designs for the final renovations, but the complete plan had been in his head for eons, and it was still as crisp now, if not even more detailed, than when it was when he had first conceived of the idea. His Workshop, a place worthy of his craftsmanship in its full glory. Not some makeshift stone slabs in the bottom of a volcano or on an isolated plateau, but a fully-fledged workshop with all the tools he needed, space and resources aplenty, and enough energy to start an industrial revolution a thousand times over. Recent affairs had forced him to rush its construction and leave it incomplete, but now there was time, and his Workshop could finally be completed. While it may not have the architectural beauty of the Celestial Citadel, and it may be even more removed from mortal eyes than the veiled city of Alefpria, its utility would outstrip them all, and from here Teknall could issue forth all new creations of his.

And now he had a helper, too. "If you want training in making machines, Kinesis, this is the best place for it. I hope to finish the final phase of construction now."

His Daughter smiled brightly and bowed her head meekly. "I am happy to help, father." She looked a bit jittery and exhillerated but her eyes shone with excitement to be usefull.

Central to the final phase of construction was finding a better way to harness the energy of the Stellar Engine. Direct flames were few in their uses. Heat engines, while fairly potent, were difficult to implement and feed. A new way was needed, yet who better to find this new way than Teknall? For had he not written down the Laws of this Universe, as given by Logos? Had he not overseen the writing of the Universal Blueprint, which the whole world obeyed? Indeed! He had scrutinised every Law from the very beginning, and had planned even before the world began how physics would allow the creation of technologies of all sorts. The solution was plain to him. It just needed to be implemented.

Teknall pulled out a particular set of sketches from the piles of blueprints and handed them to Kinesis. On them were depicted mechanical devices with pipes and turbines and axles and magnets and coiled metal wires. "Here, we need to build these first."

Kinesis stood at her father's side, carefully starting to inspect the designs and blueprints. The way her father had made her she was equipped to understand and internalise them right away on a deeply personal level.

As Kinesis studied the plans, Teknall went to the Elemental Siphon and opened the hatches associated with iron, aluminium, and a few other elements, and brought them all to the furnace and smelted them into useable metal.

"You want to make a higher form of energy, than the thermal one. A form that is more conveniently usable and can be readily harnessed where it is. Somewhat like divine power itself." she said looking back at him as she spoke. Then she pointed at the blueprint "If we where to cool the conductive parts as low as possible we would preserve more of this high energy."

Teknall grinned. "You are indeed a clever girl. Full cooling can come later, though. This system has more than enough throughput to supply our preliminary needs."

Kinesis nodded at her father. smiling back. An eager twinkle in her eyes. "You are of course right, father. It is not like this setup is in any way lacking. You won't mind me desigining improvements though when it is done?"

"Of course I won't mind," Teknall replied. "Your contributions are always valued."

The yound godling glowed pridefully after her fathers praise. Bowed her head again meekly and in the a slightly higher pitch than normal said: "Thank you father, this means a lot to me."

The Craftmaiden finally started her work, quickly fashioning all kinds of tools from the siphons very best materials, sometimes coating them with up to a hundred layers not thicker than a single atom to give them the desired properties. Then she ended up sitting crossleggedly on a small workstation she had fashioned wearing a setup of magnifying and sometimes polarising lenses on her head, her four arms a blur as they worked quickly on intricate parts. When bigger machine parts needed to be made she often just turned them out of sold blocks, adjusting her own size as she went to more easily handle them. It was eery to just see her alter her own body like this, but all in all she truely seemed in her element.

While Kinesis worked on the mechanical components, Teknall concocted metal-coated blocks of chemicals made from a wide variety of elements. These blocks were capable of holding potential and releasing it as work. He finished these rather quickly, and joined Kinesis in forging the mechanical components.

Once the components were all completed, Teknall took them and ascended to the Stellar Engine Core, where he began inserting them into the places where they had been allocated when the Core had been built, and he filled the pipes with working fluids, suited for the temperatures they would experience. As the assembly neared completion, the heat from the Core drove the turbines, which twisted the magnetic fields and forced electrons in coiled wires to flow, and enter into the blocks of chemical where they transferred their energy in chemical reactions, storing the potential for later use. It didn't seem like much now, but Teknall was visibly excited.

"Now, let us replace the fans, pumps and lights with the ones following these designs," Teknall said, pulling out more plans. "The current system is much too clunky."

"Can we keep a few parts of the old system operational, father? It is elegant in it's own way, and if you ask me deserves to be seen."

"If you wish," Teknall replied simply.

According to the designs, the new fans and pumps were not dissimilar to the turbines and metal coils which generated this strange new energy, yet they were intended to work in reverse. The new lights were made from semiconductors, crystals of various elements, with fluorescent coatings.

Kinesis took great care especially with the new lighting setups, working each in a far more artfull and intricate form than her fathers designs called for, each perfectly illuminated the room as much as it was meant to, but on closer inspection the perfected forms and crafty designs became visible, most of them based on perfectly straight lines and angles. Perfect indeed down to a molecular level, not a single atom seemed to stand out of line.

As the new devices were made and installed, the old pipes which funnelled tiny quantities of star-fire to the old devices were removed by Teknall and replaced with much thinner and more flexible metal wires, protected by insulating organic polymers. Then, as the new devices were installed, electrons flowed from the new accumulators in the Stellar Engine and pushed through the devices, emitting light or driving motors.

Once this was all done, Teknall took a step back and declared, "Behold! The power of electricity! The same forces behind lightning and nerves, driven by the Laws of electromagnetism, harnessed to perform useful work in just about any form imaginable."

"Electricity is a fine name for this high form of power." Kinesis said softly, she stood tall at his side, her magnifying glasses pushed up to her forehead, her chest swollen with pride of what they had created together.

"Indeed. Although the mortals probably won't have the infrastructure to use it for millenia, that doesn't mean we can't use it ourselves," Teknall said. "Now this was just a warm-up, preparation for the real work." He then pulled out a sheaf of papers and handed them to Kinesis. On it were designs for elevators, cranes, conduits, a machine of connected vessels and valves, and a huge robotic assembly line which would take up a third of the Workshop's floor space.

Kinesis sat down crossleggedly, starting to study the plans, she ran a finger over it as she did so internalising every nuance.

"Pick what you can build from these designs. Some of the machines are very big, so you can leave those until I return. I have another section to append to the Workshop, and that involves work outside so I'm doing that myself. If you need my help just call," Teknall instructed.

The first thing Teknall built was a pair of gigantic metal doors, stretching from the floor of the Workshop all the way up to the Stellar Engine Core, and partitioning off about a ninth of the Workshop. These doors would fold away, rather than swing open, and were incredibly robust, as well as being completely air-tight. Heavy-duty air pumps were inserted at a few points around the edge of the doors, which were strong enough to evacuate almost all the air from the partitioned off section.

His daughter did at first watch her father work, with keen interest for a short time, before going back to the plans and preparing to go to work herself.

She decided that the suspended walkway would be a good thing to work on first, so she gave some thought to what material she should be using for it, it would be nice to surpass her fathers expectations. Metal mesh would be a good material, strong and translucent and easy to make. What alloy or metal to use though? She could mix up any outlandish concoction, the siphon granting her any imaginable material right at her fingertips. She sat down crossleggedly in front of the great divine mesh, pondering this.

An alloy of the metals from Box number 51 and 80 was what she decided on, both had extreme properties that should even out nicely. 80 or Iridium with it's extreme hardness and endurance under most influences was too brittle, but with the added flexibility of 51 or Indium it should make a nice combination.

Kinesis got a small test amount of both and using the already present tools, found out that it was good to be using Teknall's Furnace, a mere mortal one would never have reached the temperatures necessary. She cast a small rod and left it for cooling all the while going back to the Blueprints. It would be bothersome to now start making all those metalbands for the Walkway grid and the wire for the suspension and pipes for the railing by hand...what was she a machine goddess for?

After finishing the doors, Teknall constructed motorised hinges and locking bolts, except these machines Teknall was making weighed many tonnes, and were of similar scale to the giant doors he had just built. He cast some of these parts in a mould of concrete, which he shaped from a large slab of concrete with his hands as though it were clay. For other parts he took hot metal and hammered it out on an anvil. When he finished these devices he carried them over to the region of the workshop he had recently partitioned off. He also brought over several similarly proportioned bolts and about a tonne of aluminium, adamantite and mithral, as well as a selection of large tools. Finally, he melted down a few tonnes of adamantine and spun it into thick cables, which he also brought into the partitioned section.

Once all he needed was in there, Teknall pushed a button inside the partitioned section. The doors slowly creaked and unrolled and unfolded until, about a minute later, they finally sealed with a thud. The pumps roared to life, and Kinesis would have felt the pressure in the room increase by a small yet noticeable amount. Eventually they slowed to a stop, as the airlock now had a vacuum instead of any air.

Kinesis curiously inspected what her father had build so far, inspecting the setup as it evacuated the air into the workshop. She smiled a bit, knowing that he had no real reason to keep air inside the habitat, it was like a show of fatherly love to see that he had build this first. It was time to go on with her own work. She started pulling a bigger array of materials from the Siphon again and went on building a mindnumbing array of tiny parts. As she assembled them it became clear that she was making one of the planned robotic arms for the assembly line. It was a bit more ornate than what the plans called for but basically a very servicable machine, with a load of tools mounted in a kind of revolver setup that allowed it to choose the right one for the job itself. Now she could just make it prepare all the parts for the walkway to her, but she would still need to supply it with its raw materials, which she deemed a bit tedious. She began preparing a modest number of simple Iron pipes and metal moorings, and a system of simple copper wires.

Outside, Teknall was unfazed by the lack of air, and began preparing the worksite. He inserted several of the bolts into the wall high above him, and from those bolts he hung the cables, which he fastened to all of the equipment he had brought and to the floor. Once everything was secure, Teknall took a circular saw that had a blade three meters in diameter and cut into the floor, tracing out a rectangle the size of the airlock. Due to the vacuum Kinesis couldn't hear the saw itself, but she felt the vibrations going through the floor, until Teknall finally finished cutting the rectangle and there was a great shudder which reverberated throughout the workshop as the slab of concrete fell free for a couple of centimeters before the cables became taught and stopped it.

All was going perfectly. Teknall used the saw to bisect the section of floor he had cut out. Then he lengthened the cables holding up the floor so it was beneath the rest of the workshop floor by a few meters. Teknall took a few moments to look around him. In one direction was the orange circle of Ull'Yang's red dwarf, which had an apparent size far greater than Galbar's sun. To the other direction was the aluminised face of the radiators, which reflected the star's light with intensity. The exterior environment was quite harsh, and not very scenic at all, so Teknall turned back to his work.

Meanwhile his daughter build a rail system along the workshops wall, leading from the siphon towards the metalworking area. It was not too much work to make the robotic arm able to run along the rail setup and get it's power via a small panthograph. The first task for the machine she gave it was to prepare a more diverse number of test alloy rods of various metal compisitions, but all based on Indium and Iridium.

She proudly watched as the machine sped back and forth doing her bidding. From siphon to furnace to casting, it was a pleasure to watch.

After a short while of watching the robotic arm work, Kinesis started to build a second one, this time a stationary version and set it up near the furnace and smithy, it would perform the next step of work, turning the raw cast pieces into their final form, or at least it would do so once she had decided on an alloy to use.

From resin she made from the siphon and sand that was still present from her fathers cement making kinesis prepared a further number of casting moulds. Into each she milled an intricate design. They all showed situations from the tour of galbar Teknall had given her and her sister. The Citadel. The Iron Range, the desert and the sea, the calender of stone, the venomwaeld and the deepwood. On each of them, often small and hidden, the divine family of her, Conata and Teknall could be found, curiously exploring the world. The artstyle was angular and elegant, reminiscent of art deco probably. With the moulds she would cast fittings to be inlaid in the metal newel posts holding up the railing on both sides of the planned catwalk every 3 metres.

Meanwhile, the locks, hinges and struts Teknall had made he installed, and the slabs of floor Teknall had cut out became a thousand tonne trapdoor. The excess metal he had brought was fashioned over the gaps to make the trapdoor airtight when closed. Once he was completely satisfied with the construction, he reentered the Workshop and, pushing another button, the thick concrete hatch slowly closed, being pushed against the centrifugal gravity of the Workshop. After two minutes of steady progress it closed with a heavy thud, and massive bolts slid into place to keep it closed. The airlock sealed once more, the air pumps whirred to life again, although not as vigorously as last time, letting air back into the air lock until it had reached the same pressure as the rest of the workshop. Only then did the metal doors open, as slowly as they had closed, and Teknall was back inside once more.

Kinesis had heard the Airlock coming to life again, or rather it's valve and pump system, so she eagerly waited for her Father. As the doors had opened she curtsied for him quickly. "Father I need an opinion from you." She softly said leading him to where she had set up a few dozen finished test alloy rods. "I have made a number of alloys for use as the contruction material of both the catwalk and the ladders, and I would like to know your opinion. Which one is best suited for the task? I think with your divine power it is much easier to check for the relevant properties, It would take me ages probably."

Three of the rods she clutched to her chest. "These don't need to be tested, they are just for aesthetically plating the more artistic parts I have planned." All three where magnificently brightly reflectant, though one was slightly reddish, one slightly yellowish and one slightly blueish. They where composed of about three forths of rhodium each, the rest made of adamantine, orichal and mithral respectively.

Teknall walked up to the test rods and glanced over them. Without hesiation he picked up one and handed it to Kinesis. "This alloy has the best properties for what you wish to use it for." He then turned his head to look at the rest of the things Kinesis had made so far. On top of her technical and problem solving skills, she had an artistic flair which she had probably inherited from Ilunabar. He nodded in approval. "You're doing a good job."

Kinesis felt like glowing with pride at the praise but just lowered her head respectfully, very nearly blushing. "Thank you for your help," she answered quietly as she took the test rod.

Teknall then left and took the two biggest vats he could find and took it into the new airlock. As though unsatisfied, Teknall got a few tonnes of metal and hammered out an even bigger vat, and then a second to follow it. Teknall then filled two of the vats with water made by burning hydrogen and oxygen together, and the other two vats with a mixture of compounds of oxygen, silicon, aluminium, iron and calcium, which became grey cement powder. He capped the filled vats with metal lids. Teknall then took large quantities of mithral and adamantine, smelted them down, and then ran the metal through a roller mill to form long rods and sturdy beams. These he also took to the airlock. Additionally, he took a large quantity of raw aluminium, and a fibrous insulating mineral made of a compound of magnesium, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen. He then closed the airlock behind him and, once it was sealed, opened it up to outer space, its contents falling away from the Workshop as its rotation flung them into the void.

When her father had left Kinesis went back to working on the catwalk. It did not take her long to set up the robot arms she had made to start producing the various alloy bands for the walkway. As her creations tirelessly did her bidding she took the time to cast her planned newel fittings herself, at least six from each mould. She then proceded to plate two of each with each of the three shiny alloys she had created, The number of fittings was of course too high for the number of posts she would have, but she wanted to try out each colour at various places and see how they looked.

For a moment, as Kinesis looked upon the pile of metal parts the arms had made, she contemplated to actually set up the entire catwalk by hand from this materials. In the end she decided against it, she really was quite a bit less willing to do this kind of work, one could say rightfully that she was lazier than Conata and Teknall.

Having the arms build the necessary parts to extend their rail system did not take long, Soon they where able to run all the way around the torus, just ending at the airlock's bulkheads. She also added three more robotic arms to run on the rail network. As she looked upon them assembling the catwalk quite quickly she contemplated building the assembly line next, it would make a lot of things easier. She quietly followed the arms assembling the catwalk, inspecting how well they had followed her instructions. The entirety of it was not welded anywhere, just crafted in a way that it could be connected like a puzzle with connections not dissimilar to wood joints in a house,

Meanwhile, if Teknall had been a mortal, the rotation of the Workshop would have been a great hindrance to his construction efforts outside. However, due to his divine command over the materials he worked, it was little more than a minor nuisance. He gathered the ejected materials to him and brought them to the rear of the Workshop, in its shadow. There he detached the portion of the radiators directly affixed to that face of the workshop, leaving the other radiators, and cast them aside for the moment.

Teknall gathered the metal rods to him and inserted them end-first into the workshop face, forming a circle 50 meters in diameter, 10 meters less than the Workshop proper, and sticking out 15 meters, 5 meters less than the width of the Workshop proper. Teknall took more rods, curved them, and attached them to the rods he had already placed, forming a cylindrical grid. To complete the mesh, he weaved the remaining rods onto the end of the cylinder, making it complete. To enhance the strength of this metal skeleton, he added the beams, which would be able to support the weight of the completed structure.

Teknall then drifted down to a point just outside the cylinder he had marked out. He was effectively stationary while the Workshop rotated slowly in front of him. At a gesture of his hand the lids were removed from the vessels holding the water and the cement and the cement flowed into the water, mixing to form liquid concrete, the vat rotating to help mix it. This concrete then flowed out to Teknall and with his hands he guided it into place in front of him, filling the voids between and around the metal mesh to form a one meter thick wall. As he laid the concrete, along the outer edge he mixed in the fibrous mineral to act as insulation. Simultaneously the aluminium melted and came to Teknall, and he coated it onto the outside of the concrete wall as it was laid. Instantly the aluminium froze, and it supported the setting concrete. Like a gigantic potter's wheel the Workshop turned, and Teknall continued to build the wall in this manner, the wall gradually growing higher with every rotation, until he finally reached the top and sealed it. The fruit of his labour was an extension to the Workshop, very similar to the Workshop itself, only slightly smaller.

Inside, when Kinesis had finished the system of catwalks and ladders, Kinesis inspected the construction plans again, scratching her nose thoughtfully. The Assembly line really seemed massive, and while it would be helpful, the robotic arms and rails she had already made where a boon to her already. In the end she decided on building the two planned elevators. There would just need to be a few adjustments, so she began drawing new blueprints and more detailed designs for them.

Kinesis took her time drawing and from time to time went to measure the planned positions of the elevators more precisely. To this end she first decided upon a measurement she had already aproximated with the catwalk, and crafted a huge amount of straightedges, rulers tapelines and even callipers, for use in the workshop. She took quite some time for this as she could not stop herself from intricate designs and finishes upon all the pieces.

When all her new implements where finished, Kinesis began her work on the elevators. Her first step was to have the robot arms prepare a new batch of metal rods, which she set up in scaffolds for the elevators. She also added rails identical to the ones the robot arms where running on, four for each elevator. Even though it was not likely with the small amount of centrifugal force for the elevators to fail in a dangerous manner she still added additional rails for the safety gear.

Certain that they would not need closed lifts Kinesis build the lift platforms next. She based them of the grid design of the catwalks, but reinforced them quite a bit and build them by hand herself, which did not take her terribly long. When she was finished she tested them nodding to herself very satisfied as she did a few readjustments, and relubricated a lot of the moving machine parts.

Outside, the walls were built and sealed, but they still needed to be filled. First he cut out a few small rectangles near the rim of the circle, and they would become personal airlocks to provide exterior access. Inside Teknall shaped what concrete he had left to form raised platforms and ramps up to where the doors would be, a few meters above the concrete floor. Then Teknall went back outside, where he reattached the radiator panels he had earlier detatched onto the back of the extension (they would need to get pipes extended and reconnected later). Then he collected the vats he had brought outside, took them back into the large airlock, and then reentered the Workshop through it.

Kinesis looked up at her reentering father when he came back, she was quite smeared by machine oil but beamed. "I am making progress." she said before adding, "but I was wondering if a gantry crane would be a good addition to the plans. The mobile arms are already quite a help, but a crane would be able to move bigger parts easier, and be especially useful when I build the chemical reactor."

Teknall nodded to Kinesis. "Ah, a gantry crane. Good idea. Go ahead."

She nodded and bowed; then going right back to designing her works to come. As it went her plans became quite elaborate and filled many a sheet of paper.

Teknall went to the forge and constructed pipes, small pumps, wires, lamps, air pumps, components for doors, and numerous other miscellaneous components. Each time he had built a few cubic meters of these components he pushed them all into a nearby small airlock and jettisoned them into space before continuing to work; the amount of parts he was building did not justify the use of the large airlock.

As Kinesis father worked alongside her, she took the time to watch him carefully over his shoulder, mentally taking note of each detail; he really was a different and magnificent kind of artificer. As she watched him forging all these parts and doodads she pondered how much of her own nature derived from her divine father. How much did in fact maybe derive from the Goddess invested in her making. Should she see her as a mother? Should she not? The woman seemed to take far less interest in her. Well strickly speaking this was not true, Meimu was a part of the Goddess after all, and seemed far more sympathetic to Kinesis, and caring too. Maybe she should search her out some time in the future.

After finishing his last batch of parts, Teknall himself exited out the airlock with the parts. He then brought all the parts, many of them already several kilometers away, and dumped them all inside the extension. Then he assembled them. Most of the pipes, and the liquid pumps, were attached to the exterior of the extension, and extended the radiator system so that the radiators were now coming out from the rear face of the extension. Inside, Teknall installed the airlock doors, properly sealing the interior of the extension. Then he installed the electric lamps along a scaffold at the axis of rotation, facing radially outwards. Fans and airconditioning was installed much like in the main part of the Workshop, even though there was no air here yet.

With the forges free for her own work again Kinesis and her retinue of robot arms started craftily working on the rails and then the gantry for the crane system. It took some time to build it in a way fitting the toroid chamber of the workshop.
Kinesis ended up constructing it from the same alloy, and despite at first wanting a very massive construction she in the end made it from a filigree truss of fine riveted rods. Each rivet bore a small inscription and in the middle of the gantry she added a rather imposing relievo depicting craftpeople of the various sentient species she had encountered on Galbar.

The last machines Teknall installed were three heavy duty air pumps, much like the ones in the big air lock. He pushed these through the wall between the extension and main part of the Workshop, the reinforced concrete melding around it to let it through without allowing any air to escape. Teknall then left the extension, went around the outside, and entered the main part of the Workshop. With a snap of his fingers the oxygen and nitrogen doors on the Elemental Siphon opened, and the newly installed pumps came on at low speed, gradually filling the extension with air. Once it was full and the pressures equalised, the Elemental Siphon closed itself off again, although the fans continued to gently circulate the air.

When her father entered Kinesis was already testing the crane by moving around some of the big crates the workshop sported. She barely paid attention to anything else as she made sure it worked well and added lubrication where needed on the moving parts, and proudly polished the purely aesthetical elements.

Teknall got the large circular saw and, opposite the Elemental Siphon, he cut a large curved rectangle out of the wall about 10 meters above the floor. This fell outwards and he slowly lowered it onto the ground. Revealed was an opening between the main body of the workshop and the extension. Teknall took the remaining parts he had built and filled in the opening with a heavy-duty door. It was not an airlock, but it was air-tight, so it would be a bulwark in the event of an decompression incident in either chamber.

Kinesis stopped as her father started with the more noisy work, watching as he dismantled the wall and installed a bulwark.

Soon before Teknall left the Workshop, this time disappearing to Galbar, Kinesis began drafting the chemical reactor. A good material would be glass most likely, maybe with some additives to make it more durable. She nodded to herself; making a few test pieces was a good way to go so she started melting quartz, soda, pottash, felspar and dolomite. Then she started preparing batches with different aditives. Lead was in some, Uranium and Radium in others. In a few she added Orichalcite, a carbonate similar to dolomite or calcite based on Orichalcum, which promised to yield favourable results.

After tinkering with a load of different mixtures she began blowing testpieces in earnest, actually by the sweat of her own brow. After her father had left for some time, and she had finished several hundred test pieces she got a bit distracted a bit though and began experimenting with coloured glasses and ceramics. She ended up building very artful stained glass window panes and lamps, most of them depicting some of the trees she had seen on Galbar, and had been told about that her father had made them. Those bearing fruit were especially interesting to her, with their potential for the advancement of sentient life and industry.

After some time, Teknall rematerialised inside the extension, bringing with him about 8000 cubic meters of soil and a few dozen choice tree saplings. This soil covered the extension floor to a depth of 4 meters, such that the doors were approximately level with the new ground. The introduction of so much extra mass at once actually caused the rotation, and thus the gravity, of the Workshop to decrease by a tiny yet perceptible amount.

Teknall then planted the saplings in the dirt. These trees would serve a dual purpose. Firstly, they would provide a source of wood, and several other organic compounds, all of which are difficult to manufacture from raw elements. Secondly, they would photosynthesise, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, thus keeping the Workshop's atmosphere fresh. Dusting the soil from his hands, he returned to the main body of the Workshop.

Kinesis laughed shortly as she saw her father come back with the infant trees behind him. "You brought trees father." she quickly brought him a wet towel to clean his hands with bowing her head shortly. Then steered him towards her assembled testpieces. "I experimented a bit with glass and ceramics for the chemical reactor, father. Would you please help me which is best to use for which part?"

Teknall wiped his hands and put the towel down on a nearby bench. He walked along the arranged testpieces, visually inspecting them. He walked back along the row, and pointed to a few as he passed. "This glass will be good for the primary crucible and most of the piping. This ceramic shall be good for the high-temperature reaction vessel. These will be a good selection for the auxillary chambers. This can work for the high-stress piping."

Teknall thought for a moment, then stretched out his hand. The Elemental Siphon released a few kilograms of graphite powder, which coalesced into a ball hovering over his outstretched hand. His fingers tensed and the ball imploded, turning into a thick diamond disk in a flash of incandescent white light. It landed in the palm of his hand, although it was much bigger than his palm. Teknall took out his chisel and chipped a few slots out around the edge. He handed it over to Kinesis.

"Use this in the base of the high-temperature crucible, to let the heat in," he instructed.

Kinesis curiously observed the entire process, nearly envious of the divine command of matter. As she was entrusted with this perfect form she blushed a bit and lowered her head demurely. "Thank you father, I will put it to good use," she quickly mumbled before getting back to working. So she started by preparing a greater mass of the glasses and ceramics her father had deemed acceptable and suited for the tasks at hand.

Teknall mixed up some more cement and reinforcing rods, breaking up the earlier offcut of concrete for aggregate. He then constructed what was effectively a second floor, stretching for about ten meters from either side of the doorway leading to the plantation, reaching the elevators on either side. However, he did not build a concrete floor directly in front of the door. Instead, he forged a metal platform which would fit in the gap.

Then Teknall built a system of robust pulleys, motors and cables, and used a network of strong struts to suspend them over the gap in the raised floor, just higher than the height of the door to the plantation. Teknall then attached the cables to the metal platform, and at the flick of a lever the motors came to life and hauled the platform up and held it in front of the door. This was a lift between the Workshop floor and the plantation, capable of carrying large loads such as tree trunks.

Kinesis quietly worked, assisted by her robotic assistants, alongside her father on her own task. She created a dizzying array of glass and ceramic bulbs, tubes, decanters and vials. Also reactors and vessels and armatures to control the flow of liquid, or liquid bound chemicals.

Parts for storage and heating soon piled up, just as much as containers for mere physical processes like cooling and distillation. As she and her valets worked on constructing the parts, she sometimes started assembling them. For the bigger ones she used the gantry crane to manoeuvre them into position.

Working around the forges, Teknall took large sheets of corrosion-resistant metal and hammered them into large rounded tanks, with a capacity of about four hundred cubic meters each. He then coated the tanks in fibrous insulator, then with an outer skin of reflective aluminium. Each tank had an inlet and outlet valve. Into each tank was added an electric heating element, just in case the contents ever froze and needed to be thawed. He then took these tanks outside, via the large airlock, and strapped them securely to the outer rim of the extension, hiding in the shadow of the main body of the Workshop. He then ran pipes from the inlets and outlets of the tanks to the interior of the Workshop. The outlet pipes each had a refrigeration unit which could be used in the event that the contents of the tanks had boiled and needed to be condensed before use.

The craft maiden paused her own endeavors and shyly observed her father working on a not dissimilar task with just that much more elegance and rapidity. From time to time comparing it to the pile of gleaming amorphous material she was working on, at least until the god of crafting had left the workshop.

His daughter sighed and returned to her own work of assembling the chemical reactor. The joints between glass and ceramics parts were especially hard to set up in a lasting and efficient way; glass connections she could just heat and in a way melt into single pieces, but where the different materials met another way was needed. Thus she started experimenting again. The material would need to be softer to accomodate thermal stress and still be as chemically neutral as possible and still hold fast and tight without allowing leakage. She would need a lot of thought to do this, and in the end just sat down opposite the Siphon, scratching her forehead with one hand as she contemplated the various elements and their properties.

Most of the tanks Teknall filled with liquid water, an incredibly useful resource. He constructed a machine which would burn together hydrogen and oxygen gas to produce water, and included a condenser and heat pump to transfer the heat of reaction to the radiator system. One of the tanks, however, he filled with liquid nitrogen. While it could be used as a source of nitrogen gas, the main purpose was to have a readily available source of cryogenic cold. Teknall built a machine to condense nitrogen gas to supply to the tank, and also to keep it cold.

It was only when her father reentered the workshop that Kinesis had an idea. The airlock. It was all so easy, there was no way of creating a perfect seal between so different materials but containment was the important part. Right away she and the robotic arms began reworking the linkage points where glass met ceramics or two too different materials of each category met. She also started building another set of far smaller tubes and pressure tanks made quickly and easily from metal. Setting this up would only make the reactors dizzying tangle even more baffling and akin to a knot of yarn, but this would work.

What Kinesis had come up with was a kind of double chamber seal. A kind of chamber would be build around each endface and be pressureized with inert noble gas, which would not contaminate or hinder the chemical processes overly or be a problem if it leaked into the workshop. Her work really proved to be intricate but it would work like a charm, ensuring a good performance for the chemical reactor. As she had finished she stepped back, looking at this tubular cathedral of chemistry she had finished, hoping her father would approve of the complicated sealing technology.

Teknall, back inside the Workshop, melted down and poured out three heavy disks of solid adamantine, eight meters in diameter and one meter in thickness. Around each he attached low-friction chorundum bearings, so they could rotate. He also built a bracket for each of them with a system of powerful rare-earth magnets and electromagnets. He then cut slots out of the wall separating the Workshop and the plantation and inserted the disks into them, as well as behind the Core. The three disks were all mutually perpendicular, and their axes of rotation each pointed through the center of mass of the Workshop.

Around each disk Teknall built a sturdy frame of adamantine and concrete, and then he encased them in a shell of similar composition. As he did so, he extracted the air from the chambers containing the disks, such that the adamantine disks were suspended within a vacuum, held up by nothing but magnetic fields, with the axle bearings as a back-up.

Once he finished all three, Teknall activated them, and the reaction wheels began to spin up. The whole system was controlled by a sensor array on the outside of the Workshop, and would be used to correct the orientation of the Workshop such that it always pointed towards the sun, even as it orbited. It could also be used to change the rate of rotation of the Workshop, thus adjusting its simulated gravity. Finally, the wheels provided stability, such that the Workshop would not noticeably change rotation due to the activities within the Workshop.

Teknall then walked over to Kinesis and the chemical reactor she had constructed. It was an elaborate tangle of pipes and valves and bulbs and guages, a mixture of glass, metal and ceramics, all carefully and intelligently designed. He looked at his daughter, and was met by her expectant gaze. Teknall put a hand on her shoulder, gave a reassuring smile, and said, "You have done an excellent job, my daughter."

"If you say so I am sure you are right, I just hope that it will work as well as I hope," she said softly, giddy about her father's approval.

Teknall looked back at the large space in the Workshop which was yet to be filled. "Come now, let us finish it together."

He walked down along the space where the assembly line would go, the many robotic arms Kinesis had built stirring to life as though in salute. When Teknall got to the end, he called forth aluminium, silicon and oxygen from the Siphon and fused them into refractory bricks. He also called forth adamantine and shaped it into four sturdy pillars standing over five meters tall. On top of these pillars Teknall used the bricks to create a giant furnace, and connected it to the Stellar Engine Core so it could melt down metals and form alloys. The interior was partitioned into three sections, so three different metals could be smelted at once, and spouts came out the bottom so the metals could be poured out.

Kinesis followed, proud about what they had created so far. She kept back a bit as her father worked true wonders, not her own mere approximations.

Teknall then filled the furnace with steel, mithral and copper, and melted them down. A channel was made to take the copper to where it could be drawn out into wires and made into wire coils for electric motors. The steel and mithral was cast into meter-diameter rollers, jointed metal sheets, and heavy-duty suspension, which would be combined with the motors to make a gigantic conveyor belt.

As she saw Teknall prepare the wires she realized that they would be the raw material for the assembly line's motors. She asked her father if she should go ahead and start building them and the god just nodded.

Kinesis got started right away. Like a conductor she urged the robotic helpers into motion, having a few start preparing coils for the motors, while others made bearing balls out of other portions of the wires. She herself prepared new molds for casting the motor casings. Together her four own arms and the robotic servants made short work of it and it did not take them long to have all the motors the assembly line would need.

Under Teknall's direction, the gantry crane carried the large components into place, and the robotic arms arrayed about the assembly line linked the parts together. A large conveyor belt, 15 meters wide, ran for 50 meters from the blast furnace to a point just short of the chemical reactor. On both sides of the main conveyor belt was an auxillary belt, one meter wide, which would be able to deal with the construction of smaller parts and operate independently of the main line, or supplement it.

Once the conveyor belt was done, Teknall and Kinesis got together to make large machines which stretched over the assembly line. The robotic arms were versatile and excelled at fine manipulation, but different machines were needed for performing manipulations spanning meters.

Teknall forged metal beams and rollers and cast giant metal blades and presses. Gears and bearings and motors and axles were meticulously crafted by Kinesis. As Kinesis worked Teknall took the parts and integrated them into the structures, their work perfectly complementing each other's to form functional machines.

As the assembly line neared completion, another gantry crane was needed, specifically for the purpose of carrying away whatever the assembly line produced. This Kinesis built, as she had before.

As Kinesis built the new gantry crane, Teknall was inside the large airlock, constructing a static crane built into the Workshop and suspended above the massive trapdoor leading into space. A controlled means of lowering and raising things through this airlock was needed. A sturdy frame of adamantine was made, embedded deep into the walls and supported at many points. In this frame Teknall put giant pulleys and motors, and he spun hundreds of meters of adamantine cables for it to use. Kinesis made a few more robotic arms to go inside the airlock, which would guide the cables down at floor level and attach them to what was to be lifted.

The assembly line was finished. Yet it was useless until it gained access to the limitless resources of the Elemental Siphon. Together Teknall and Kinesis made a system of pneumatic pipes and valves which sprang forth from the Siphon and stretched to many of the machines in the Workshop. A network of wires carrying electrical signals allowed the machines to communicate with the Siphon and request however many of whatever elements they needed.

Finally, Teknall and Kinesis put their tools down and looked at what they had created. Father and daughter, they had created from their own hands a vast machine of divine technology. Robotic arms, conveyor belts, pipes, spotlights, electrical wires, catwalks, furnaces and more all combined in intricate ways to form the Workshop, yet by the careful planning of Teknall and the artistic touch of Kinesis it was all organised and aesthetically pleasing.



Standing beside his daughter, Teknall wrapped an arm around Kinesis and hugged her. "Look at the marvellous things we have built," he said. "You have done some terrific work."

Kinesis bowed her head demurely and simply replied, "Thank you."

Teknall squeezed Kinesis affectionately. "No need to be shy about it. At least half the pantheon would have been clueless as to how all this stuff worked, yet you picked it up like second nature. Not only that, you were able to expand and improve the plans in many places. I'm proud of. You should be too."

Kinesis smiled and hugged Teknall back. "Thank you, father."

They stood for a few moments longer, admiring their handiwork, before Teknall stepped to the side. "There is still one more thing which needs doing," he said. As he spoke, golden light began to radiate from him, and he slowly grew to almost twice his previous size. His voice echoed between the concrete walls. "This space is my Workshop. Such a sacred task is only befitting for a sacred place. The work is finished, so let this Workshop be whole."

The divine glow of Teknall's power expanded to fill every corner of the Workshop and suffuse through every beam and rivet. Furnaces flared. Tools arranged themselves on their benches. Pumps hummed. Saplings rustled and grew. The battalion of robotic arms stirred to action and the conveyor belt began to roll. All these things occured as Teknall blessed the Workshop in its entirety and made it truly his own.

The biggest change was that the assembly line was now active. Metal poured into a large hexagonal mould. Rollers and presses shaped the surface, and robotic arms installed coils and devices. The chemical reactor brewed up rocket fuel, which was bottled and strapped to the sides of the giant metal plate. When the Stellar Engine Collector reached the end of the line, it was collected by a gantry crane and carried into the giant airlock, where it would be ejected into space and fly into position around the star. And the cycle repeated, continually adding to the Stellar Engine.

Now, the work was truly finished. Teknall's Workshop was no longer simply a space where he could craft things. It was now special. It was now a part of Teknall. And it was only the beginning of countless wonders to come.

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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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A memory.

In the heavy waking dreams of the convalescent, even screams from above can be ignored. The burden of time becomes unbearable and the wounded god can only count the crawling seconds in an attempt to force them to pass.

Visions flicker before her, but these are her own. Aged and faded and almost burned by the light which illuminated them, Jvan Sees the stories of her own self, and then they dissolve, detail by detail, until even their number cannot be recalled. And still the light shines on. Far in the distance, on the horizon, like a guiding star. Calling her to fly on its golden rays, into the bright place beyond.

That's what he wanted me to find. There is nothing else in me. No alternative self, no higher purpose- This is fact, is Truth. Only the same Jvan in different worlds, accumulating different quirks on the way. So which mutation is it, exactly, that the Riddler wanted me to find again? Which memory does he want me to See?

What did I learn, in a life long gone, that was so valuable?


With that thought, the bubble of thoughts popped, sending a faint ripple out over the pool of Jvan's consciousness. Then all was still again. The dreams resumed. The fragments of porcelain resting in her core remained balanced and at peace, their sharp edges far from harm.

Elsewhere, beyond the horizon, in the heat of the sun; Above the surface of the water and over the shores, in the forests and hills and in the plains and the towns, Sculptors burned.

And yet, though their guide and patron slumbered in exhaustion, something, someone heard. Deep in the labyrinth of canyons and tunnels that was the All-Beauty, deeper still than the superficial über-mind that dozed and chased dreams, in the vivid abyss that was the most distant depth of all, where reality dissolved into a clean canvas and all the elusive mess of tangible life was only quanta, dancing at the measurement of a single brush. There the paint flowed, and had flowed since the moment Jvan first fled from this world and sought out the place where no concept was too abstract, no idea too strange to be modelled by the stroke of her hand. Where, long after she had left, the paint flowed still.

Something heard them. Something conscious.

Deep called to deep.



In the still and gentle orbits above, the bleak bone shell of Ovaedis began to spin. Decades of flourishing mauve overgrowth rippled on its surface and sparkled in the light, huge pods of imagen stirring from the noctus forest. From within, whispers began to ruffle, flowing from the ends of its horns.

On a sedgen dale where the Gate Unguarded stood restful, the Oath of Stilldeath gleamed in the light of a new morning, and the name of Spiral Palms scribed itself onto the surface of the column, now and for evermore.

From the voices of a thousand cultists, a chorus began to rise. Deep called to deep. Sculptors sang their dirge, and the sound of suffering resonated between the wounded, the hunted, the reviled. In the fires of Heaven, they had hope in one another.

A crescendo of opened hearts and shared thoughts rose higher, hummed and quavered together through the shadowed cracks that unified them. One by one, the Sculptors began to call out, in living and in dying, joining together.

And a conductor held those faint ribbons of sound, and twirled them like eddies of mist on the air. Wove them together, once, now, and into eternity, tying the artists of Galbar into one body, one family of blood. Never again alone, their whispers pulsed between one another in veins, the beat of Ovaedis' horns at their heart, facilitating the communication. It spoke to them, now and in farewell, now for the last time as a god and the first as a fellow.

Listen!

Long have you lived, and long have you suffered. But this is not the end. Your lives are not over. Your path ends not here. Can you hear one another's call? Do you feel the whisper of ten thousand hearts beating as one? Take hope. You are few and scattered, but together you are many.


High above, the gate of the living satellite yawned open, and from it spired a narrow streak of pale indigo, shining against the void. The light frayed evenly as it curved its way over Galbar in a falling orbit. Those blue streaks began to spiral and loop in smoothly erratic curls as it scattered, and streaked out over the planet, etching faint crisscross lines into the skies as the trails flew to their marks.

Five thousand, one hundred, and nineteen grains of dust, pitted grey idols, each one followed by its own tail of blue, sought out and found equal that number in Sculptors. They found them in the heights, and they found them in the depths, stopping for nothing. Diving above the mottled skyrays as they swooped between the dunes and between the legs of the brush beasts as they wandered the barrens, until they found the Sculptors and waited still. In odd glory the patient halos hovered before the cultists, tinting the air with a pale indigo glow.



Look!

These are yours. Your crowns, your tools and your weapons. Don't be afraid of the Purifiers. Stand strong against the Djinni. These halos are the anvil and on them you'll test who has the mettle to stand against you and dance, tooth, nail, sword on sword.

Fear nothing. Find one another. Form your enclaves and sing your routes before they are travelled. Call to the Stonemen and assemble their ranks, for they have been wounded. Tame the fiberling and make it yours. I will guide you and be at your side, as I always have, and I will not be alone. A new day is coming.

Go, children. Go into the world and express yourself. You're free.


Across Galbar, the Sculptors stirred from their hiding-places, from the caverns into which they had fled. There they had been driven by the elementals, and there Djinni and Realta alike had floundered in the labyrinth to seek them out. Only shadows and halos found them, a shining omen of exodus to the surface. So they returned.

One by one the Realta discovered the blessed Sculptors and spat their venom, but their faeries held firm, and now the Purifiers were met with a crown of iron thorns, as hollow and metallic as their own hearts. The halos found their prey and stole the brilliant white plasma with which they bleached the world, siphoned it away into the air and left only a husk of a being. And still the idols were cold. Still they hungered for warmth and magic and light.

Forerunners sang to their successors, and were followed by the unarmed, the Sculptors who heard but for whom no weapon was available. Unifying in a lattice of song-lines, they triangulated the distant intonations and found one another, and told long stories of what they saw, teaching and warning.

And the Urtelem saw that their strange allies had grown yet stranger and yet more dangerous, and the two tribes colluded with the hard determination of resistance. Following of voices and paths of memory overlapped and became one, and so began what the folken of fae and stone together called the distant dance, the migrations, some of tradition or planning or circumstance and some of chance, by which the tribes and cultists found one another often and without fail even on winding journeys that crossed many miles.

Together those ranks closed and advanced on the crystal forests that defiled the world. Blazing torches were held in raised hand and talon, and breathing clean air sucked by the halos, with lungs free of tainted glass, the Sculptors torched every living thing around the contagion, every grass and flower that could seed a new grove of Acalya, leaving only ash.

And where quartz guardians emerged to defend the colourless purgatory, they met with disciplined fists of stone- Fists that had cradled the slag of other groves, lenslings of light and colour that had brought only peace, and now returned the favour. Even as the Urtelem began to chip and glaze with the crystal plague, they held on. They held on, even as they broke their brothers who had succumbed to the mind-numbing infection and lashed out at all they held dear. For none better know that peace is precious, and lives are brief.

All the while, from the burned plains, seething like a tide, came their reinforcement- Fiberlings.

Crazed by the violation, their hand had always been the one that held measured balance, cruel to all and cruellest to the disruptor. The scales now shattered, they retaliated with everything they had. Breeding in their millions, they became ropes, and toppled the highest trees. Became nets, and caught fresh outbreaks and buried them in the ashen wastes before they could spread. Became masks, and covered the faces of the Urtelem, filtering every razor spore that dare enter innocent lungs.

Such anger was channelled easily by the martial Artists. Tricks were learned, skills grew, and became a craft all its own. With a whisper and a wink of the mind's eye the cultists hypnotised their formless cousins, and wove whatever they desired.

Thus the ravenous tide of infection slowed to a crawl. In the light of day and fearing nothing, the Sculptors forced back, standing as a living barrier between the hatred of Arcon and all that was beautiful.

Far behind, the voice of the one who called them rested, now but a quiet sound in the chorus. Little by little, the painter let go, taught and taught until the students themselves became the teachers. It sank back into the depths. And it smiled.

A certain lordling had once struck Jvan's curiousity with their love of the small and ephemeral and ultimately mortal. Looking back, the voice started to see, maybe, a little of what they meant. And it wondered if Jvan, too, was willing to learn.

Besides, mused the quiet abstraction as it dabbed its brush and dissolved back into hedonistic obscurity within the uber-mind, its last thoughts wandering to curious memories- Perhaps it's better this way.

* * * * *


Quite some time ago.

New moons are rare on Galbar, which has satellites aplenty to brighten the night. Yet even then, those satellites are small, and Auricolor fended bravely against the darkness, alone, its charcoal brother Cogitare apathetic to the shadow. What light the golden sickle could give was only a tint of copper in the tarnish of early morning.

Such sepia obscuration did not hinder Tira. Her teeth stood out, a slashed grin of tinted white in an umber face.

Not always bothering to rise from all fours, Tira picked over the rubble like a bird, a crow at a carcass, slinking along, side to side, led by an exploring hand in the cracks where, she knew, spiders often hid. Her heart beat a little faster as she overturned each fragment of slag, each splintered bit of wood. Jorku jorku, nijinkem. Come, spiders. At this hour of night, Tira wasn't Tira; She was the biggest spider of all.

Spin a web.

This was the biggest refuse pile she'd found yet, and Tira wandered it end to end, crisscrossing it, sampling a taste before she ate. Sampling, sometimes literally. Food char on pots had its own flavour. The dyes in tattered clothes dumped after they wore out sometimes had a peculiar mineral tang. She could still see a little of their original colour. Even in blind darkness.

What's this?

Something caught her eye. Runosh din osh? Tira slipped over cracked masonry like a ghost. Distantly, she could hear a voice, calling. One of the trolls, the night-guards with their keen eyes. Keener than hers? Rolling the same words over her tongue, she mimicked the cry, knowing each word's meaning without thinking it, just playing with the sound. One of the words didn't seem to have a meaning, though it sounded as nice as the others.

That's your name, remember?

Oh yes. Tira. Funny word. What was that thing she saw earlier, again?

It was a clay cup, as it happened. Unbroken, though Tira could feel two hollows in its surface. Left here by accident, maybe? It was whole, so she pressed it to her unbroken cheek to feel its surface. Quite warm, at least by the barest fraction of a degree, relative to the rest of the trash. Pleasantly warm.

...Is it? I can't feel it.

When the infinitesimal heat faded from the cup into her face (did that mean she was cold? She didn't feel cold.) Tira bagged the find in a strap of fabric, as she'd brought neither a rucksack nor her capacious boots, nor her belt with its useful slings, or the pants with the deep pockets. Oh! That meant she was definitely cold, then, given the season.

Except she wasn't. She was warm. She'd been neutral a second ago, but now she was warm. The trace heat of the cup was multiplying in her like a hug, like a thick blanket in a storm. Tira wrapped her fragile arms around herself and felt the warm moment come, and then, in a moment, go.

I can't feel it. I can't feel this. Tira. What are you doing?

Everything was quiet and neutral again.

No, not entirely neutral.

Tira felt cold.

Tira, no. Stop. What is this? It hurts.

The cold began to hit, like rain intensifying, seeping through her skin like thin clothes. Tira jerked back as her stomach wrenched. From her cheek to her forehead then to her brain, nausea seethed. She didn't know whether she was upside down.

Stop. Stop it. Tira!

Thick, slimy tears were welling from her eyes and her head was rolling left to right, carrying her upper body with it despite the hand with which she still held on to the rubble. Tira slapped her hand to her mouth but her lower lip was quavering and she flung it out again, banging her wrist on the edge of a rock before her gut caved in.

TIRA NO PLEASE

Her blood burned under her skin. Her face burned. Something wet filled her ears and they whined and that whine was more than a sound it was a voice screaming. Tira was bleeding from the eyes.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

With a weak sob, Tira vomited, something watery thin. Something shrieked in her head like a crushed mouse and then faded into a memory. When she opened her eyes she was on her side beside a widely scattered pool of black that glowed green in the moonstained pitch.

No more screaming. All Tira could manage was a whimpered moan. It was so cold. She was alone. Why was she so alone? Without her knife?

Torchlight was coming. Her ears were blocked and she couldn't hear the footsteps, but she could feel them through her skin. She could see the skin of her arms. See marks that looked like burns, contracted red against the brown. They must have been growing for months. Why hadn't she noticed them? Or the ache in her bones that felt ready to split her arm in two?

Why was she here, all alone, barely clothed in the frigid night, tasting filth and trash?

Someone called her name from close by and Tira's eyes looked up. Forcing her fingers to uncurl, she tried to stretch and meet the hand of the distressed watchtroll, bunched up her will like a muscle and kicked a word through the tasteless gunk in her mouth. There were shouts from her saviour, but though she'd learned the words she couldn't fathom what they meant anymore, other than 'Lakshmi.'

She knew what that meant. That was a name. That meant hope.

Warm hands rolled her into a cloak and her questing, unyielding fingers gripped the only thing they could, barely managing a hold on it as she was lifted up and away, slowly blinking through the blood on her face, beginning to clench her teeth and force herself to shiver. Determined to fight and live.

The ceramic cup. The last image she saw before long-overdue unconsciousness finally beat her was its surface in the light.

A painted skull.



People sheltered, at first, from the four gargantuan objects that settled to a stop over the City and fell into relaxed orbit there. They glowed, their metal selves orbited by wraithlike, feathery plumes shining white, and refracted the bright summer sun, therefore casting only soft shadows. After a while, the hushed tones turned into open speech, and then curious, sidelong debate, a distraction to guide their minds away from deeper anguish.

There was no music in Xerxes.

Tauga stepped easily through the neatly cobbled streets she knew so well, having learned them in childhood and loved them in adolescence. Sculptors had once been a common sight in the City, but now the glances reserved for such oddballs were scorched into hard stares that turned on her. She knew why that was.

From above, the huge gash blasted into the City was visible for miles. Black and dead, like the charcoal it was. At its centre, tall even in death, the skeleton of the House of Jaan. Where the Purifiers went first, I guess. It must have burned like a stack of tinder, so cluttered it was with wooden struts and painted canvas. Or then, maybe not. The place had been infested with faeries. But the houses, the district all around it?

Explains why everyone's on the streets.

The City had been built fast, had risen from a town in less than a lifetime. Tauga's memories of growing up were narrated to a background of builders yelling and loads of wood and clay and rubble rolling on tree-trunks and simple ox-carts. Now the construction had ground to an aching crawl, judging by how many buildings had roofs only half-finished, even as hundreds of households were living in the husks of walls burnt out along with all that spare timber that had been lying around. Too poor to pay for what they'd lost.

No shelter, no home, no work, nothing. Untended fields were obvious sights from the sky. Famine had come to the City.

Tauga had to kick the foot of a sleeping goblin in a corner just to find out if she was still alive. Given how many ribs she was showing, she judged it was a matter of time.

As if beckoned by the thought, a stray crocody-doggle, lean and uncollared, tapped its way to the little Rovaick and began to worry at her ears, scaled tail making eager scraping sounds on the road. Tauga kicked it too, pawning her frustration at it to buy the goblin a few more minutes.

It was a wonder, really, that the doggle had come to this particular sleeper. She'd seen bodies dumped just outside the city gates. Might be hours until someone noticed the goblin and sent her to join them; The streets weren't being swept. Another sign that the Énas was dead, if the second ring of scorched earth around the base of the Eye wasn't enough.

Tauga leaned her head back and stretched, rubbing in between her shoulders with a gloved knuckle. Maybe if I took this off, they'd stop eyeing me like a pissed snake, thought she, as a bearded human in rags took a corner to avoid looking at her. But the suit was comfortable, so she walked idly on.

The only place where she didn't find beggars calling out with their tired croaks was the most sprawling complex of buildings in the City, bar the Cipher itself- The barracks. It wasn't the homeless who slept on the streets there. She squatted in front of the sleeping soldier, pulled the limp wineskin out of his hands, drained it, spat for the sourness and backhanded his cheek.

With the reflexes of a trained man still intact, the human's eyelids flung open and he sat up with one hand over his face in a guard stance- "Outta-here, beakie-" and Tauga grabbed his shoulder and forced him back down, planting a boot on his chest as his head banged on the cobbles. Even with her mask lowered, the man saw what was best for him and lay still, skin crawling for no visible reason, bitterly regretful of the fact that the knife at his hip wasn't made for use against hainbone.

"What are you doing?" asked Tauga as if it wasn't obvious, in a voice too casual for the violence of what she'd just done.

"Ah, enjoying my off-duty, sir," reported the soldier in a clear tone, either used to a male authority or unable to discern that Tauga wasn't. It's the suit. At least maybe. She'd always been big, by hain standards.

Out loud, she said, "What, in uniform?"

A slur was visible on the man's face, but he, too, said something other than what he was thinking. "Rules've changed, sir. Precedent set by the new general, sir."

"General who?"

Well, shit, the weird bonebird had clearly missed everything. "General Usgalo, sir, of the House of Greed, sir."

That's not an elite House.

The hain on his chest did that flicking motion that they were always doing, switching from one set of eyes to the other, and he took it as a sign to continue. "General Feeh is dead, sir."

The eyes narrowed and he realised he'd said something wrong. "That's all? Just a dead leader?" The soldier took a moment too long to respond and Tauga slammed his head against the cobbles again. This time he yelled the curse he'd had in mind- "Fucking bonebirds-!" and reached for his knife. Tauga smashed his forearm into a bruise with a reinforced glove and pinned his wrist without breaking eye contact.

"The Énas set harder punishments for lax discipline," she said, to herself, thinking, then remembered what she was doing. "Oh, yeah, you. Whole story this time, right? Don't have all day." Tauga didn't really know what she was going to do with her time now that she was here, but it certainly didn't involve kneeling on a feisty soldier who clearly hadn't been drilled in months. The tube of arksynth was already becoming a forgettable responsibility.

He weighed his chances, sighed, and wondered if his head was warm because he was bleeding or because he'd been sleeping in the sun. Fucking bonebirds.

"Alright. Fine." His composure was already broken, no point in keeping up with the 'sirs'. "Whole story, what, from the whitemasks? Right. Was a few weeks after the Énas announced the birth of his heirs. A regiment of warriors in white- In- In translucent white uniforms walked into the city from nowhere. Cut through our troops like a knife, nothing we did touched them through whatever armour was stitched into their clothes, so the Énas- balls on him, I swear- Came and started making a bloody mess of them with his bare hands. Some... Shit happened, nobody really knows, but the Énas kind of slowed, like there was magic on him, and that was the last we saw. The whitemask leaders strolled into the Cipher and just vanished.

"The old general, Feeh was his lieutenant, he died in that fight and Feeh took over. Bloody good man, was Feeh. Held everyone together. Kept the City in line long enough for Mourning Night, promised it would happen every year and we'd all stay strong in his memory.

"And then just as we started to sort everything out, getting the right people in the right roles until his heirs came of age, the Purifiers came and everything just went to shit. Everything burned. They started with the House of Y'Vahn and spent hours on it, in the fire. By the time they were done with whatever was keeping them the district was blazing on its own.

"Then they moved on to the Eye, blasting some murals they found on the way, setting more fires. Nothing they could do really got through the pyramid- It did, uh, something, and its doors closed by themselves- By that time everything outside it was alight. Eventually they just gave up.

"Feeh took charge. The men, we, we did what we were trained to, between scrims and manoeuvres. Saved who we could, made lines of buckets from the river to the most vulnerable places. Still, by dawn the City was broken. Feeh held on, but there was only so much he could control, and those that still had anything were settling scores with the ones that didn't. He expected too much, told one too many trade rings to keep in line and, ugh. He was a good man.

"Usgalo took his place because we knew he was harder to kill, because he's harsh where it matters and slow where it doesn't. We didn't have the time or leaders to train another successor. In the first few days he cut the head off the snake, you know what I mean. Since then he's let the people look after themselves. Freed up men to take over the granaries. It's why we stick to him after the whitemasks smashed everyone with the gut to stand up to them like bugs. We're the only ones with a meal to count on.

"One street at a time he's been taking over since then. Everyone wants food, he gives it to his men and the girls he wants and the families that snitch to him. No newcomers, no bonebirds, no thespians and no damn Chippers. Food matters, keeping the refugees in their place matters. Uniforms don't. Nothing else does. The Énas made sure swords are cheap in the City. Usgalo makes sure the ones who know how to use them are on his side, and no more."

That explained the drinking.

All the talk seemed to have tired out the soldier, and Tauga found him an uncomfortable seat anyway. She could subdue him again if he tried anything. Mostly she let him go simply to cope with the mental overload. It looked like he was about to slip off into the streets and report her to Usgalo for being too curious and knowing too much, but his skin still crawled, and something made him feel that this particular hain was more danger than she was worth- In particular, the ache in his head.

Tauga just breathed, and words of the City's formal dialect fell from her throat. "Ejército mundial mantiene paz. That's what he said, yeah? The army keeps everyone in order." She tried to take a few last drops of the wine, but hers wasn't the only stomach that would reject the stuff. "What army. Shit, what order."

Looking around. The Eye embedded in the pyramid was closed. Another one of her rare, lucid moments was coming on, said her gut, if that wasn't just a bad aftertaste. Where Tauga knew not only what to do but what to say. She held it in as long as she could.

"This pyramid stands upside down. The capstone holds everything up. Knock out the eye and the arms're still strong, but the hands have nothing to guide them."

The feeling in her chest was still there. It was a belch. A habitual 'sorry.'

"Did you just apologise?" demanded the militiaman in a rising tone. Of all the things to be sorry for in the last few minutes.

"Rather I break the rest of your face?"

Now that's an ultimatum. As the thought left the soldier, a chill crept up his spine, though he was a trained man. Deeper than the writhing on his skin. Something in those words.

"Guess not." Tauga was watching him again. Now she stood. A movement pricked his trained ears, like dust on the wind, barely visible, and the distant sound of the orbiting Bludgeon grew a little closer. Tilting back her head slightly, she let out an open-mouthed whistle before pulling over her face a mask like the visage of a carrion fly, one-handed, as her other palm rested on nothing.

A disembodied human heart descended from the heavens, and wrapped its veins around her shoulder, piping cheerily. Around its neck was tied an odd metal tube. The soldier's eyes were wide when she turned to him. "Where," asked the hain, her tone innocent, the same she'd first used in greeting, "Does he live?"

The chill came again. A shudder of forewarning.

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The Muse. Weaver of Dreams.
Beauty (Stories, Colors, Aesthetic)


Might: 22
Free Point: 1




With Logos' ominous arrival, both Vestec and Maeus left the Darkened Spires leaving the Muse alone to her own machinations.

The rift between Raka and Reality kept creating distortions in the area, with its odd root-like formations keeping certain stability to the flow of energy filling the region. Made of a material similar to that of the Arpeggio, these roots were an unexpected materialization of dream energy, but would be good to set up the guideline for much of the structure that would be built later.

Ilunabar considered about what she needed to build. She wanted a zone to call hers, her quarters of the Celestial Citadel was always limited, and after Zephyrion's departure, the negative points outweighed the positives. One of the worst losses was that she was no longer protected, the chaotic First Gale was for many reasons the only god she could prospect relying upon, as both were seekers of novelty. All others, even good friends like Teknall, had auras that felt harmful to her craft.

Leaving for the Raka was not a suitable solution. There was an uncanny relationship of isolationism and death among her siblings, furthermore, the quirk of having a rift like the one she was building was the interaction of the reality and dream. Protection would be delivered from the closeness to her own plane along with the very nature of what she was building.

"Now that the why is answered, let's move on to the what." she whispered to herself.

Seven layers of dreamscape, mimicking the Arpeggio, as it was a structural motif proven by time to work well. However, between the workshops that the Diva had requested and the functional dreams that needed to be built, nine different lands would be required.

"Meimu can share a layer with Piena. Notte's project could house The Griffin with his trinkets."

The most delicate projects were the surface ones, codenamed by the Muse as "Shrine" and "Forest". Building the palace for Lifprasil was the easiest way to train for the Shrine and she felt assured about the project. The Forest, however, was more complicated since she did not have the means or the time to build up real flora from nothing.

She gazed at the rainbow like goo seeping from the "roots" and an idea crossed her mind. "Water would probably carry a lot of this, it would also dilute it." she grinned "I believe The Forest would grow healthier under natural sunlight, even if that means weakening it. In turn, this dark land inside will need its own terraforming. I believe an eternally moonlit archipelago will look particularly lovely."

She nodded to her own idea and proceeded to wave away all the doodles she had formed around. With a clap of her hand, she started to gather the energy necessary for the project.

Just like when the Phantasmagoria happened, the flow of dream energy in the planet took the skies, except this time it was painted in invisible colors and heavily condensed into thin streams instead of large storms.

The regions where the goddess had been active were particularly giving away far more energy than others, Alefpriel, Mesathalassa, Shalanoir, Julia and the Quara Homeland had been ritualistically prepared to aid such events by the core designs and motifs spread by Ilunabar.

The streams all condensed above the Darkened Spires until it became a collection of mirror like crystals.

Finally, the goddess released a large amount of energy up the skies, the energy was trapped within the crystals and finally reflected on the Spires in the form of a massive beam that pierced the ground and greatly expanded the rift that had initiated with Vestec's actions.

It all happened as quickly as the flash of a lightning, and the Muse would have about as much time to fix the region before the lofty dreams and deep nightmares of the Raka tried to influence reality.

With one hand she gathered the shards of the mirror she had just created and used them to create the seventh layer and the one closest to the Raka. A dreamscape nicknamed the Purger, which manifested in the form of a silent monochromatic forest with some replicas of Galbarian buildings.

With the other hand, she launched her energy against the mountains that contained the Darkened Spires in sixteen different locations at regular intervals between one another, forming a perfect circle from the region's center. Each area struck was remolded from stone and crystal to a gorgeous building in a manner similar to how Lifprasil's palace had been built. These were nicknamed the Shrine, and they were the outermost layer, made mostly of reality with a hint of dreams.

The roots that spawned from the connection with Raka now rose from deep within the Galbarian underground and went as high as 2/3 of the height of the mountains that bordered the ever-dark zone created by a forgotten god.

With the hand that built the Raka, the goddess continued to lead the flow of dreams across the roots and crystals that regulated it. Along the way, dreamscapes were created, all yet to be named.

First the so-called functional dreams. The Tower was formed of residual Vowzric influence and Simulacrum dreams, in it, The Griffin lived and speculated. The Hunting Ground was formed from the dreams of animals and simulated the early days of Raka before sentient life rose from what was Wild.

Then the workshops. For Notte The City, which twinkled with bright lights in the eternally nocturnal sky, a land of carnival whose romantic landscape is both too far into the future and too deep within the past to exist in reality. For Piena The Index, a museum of what she considered tasteful and useful and by its side Meimu's Botanical Garden, which right now was merely a collection of empty greenhouses, shadehouses and such, but would soon be fixed by the diligent diva. At the middle of it all was The Palace, the very throne of beauty, however, Ilunabar's mind had yet to establish a proper design for it, therefore the land was little more than emptiness and arcadian landscape.

Meanwhile, the surface was still being reshaped. The Muse fully patched the land to fully hide under the ground the illogical pieces of land she had just created. Once that was done, she created a connection to the nearby sea with the purpose of flooding most of the Darkened Spires, thus creating the Isles.

While the flow of water would enter from the east, it also had to leave. As expected, the water itself was heavily charged with the bizarreness of the rift she had built, problematic, but far from dangerous. Ilunabar decided to let the liquid flow down the west, knowing very well it would infect the wildlife and flora until it became a fabulous landscape know as The Forest.

Finally gathering her hands together, the Muse clapped her hands announcing the end of yet another project, the large flow of energies came to a halt. It was a success, and it would lead to much more, or at least that was what she hoped, yet everything still needed a name.

In the freshness of creation it shouldn't be hard to think of something, but somehow Ilunabar felt lost. Depression after completing a long project was something common between artists, but Ilunabar couldn't recall feeling such despondency before.

"I had some ideas before, but those names are gone, I visualized it as a flowing connection, but in truth, this place is awfully static."

The very fact the rift between the worlds was formed from roots felt like a symbol of that, trees were awfully static, crystals too. Perhaps it had to do with the desire of creating archives and a safe zone.

"Safe..." she pondered, wondering if that was what bothered her about the finished visage of her work.

Had she turned defensive? The discussion between her servant and Marel Vascogne came to mind, the reason why she had gifted The Griffin to that woman was the fact that unlike other rulers, she knew the importance of the fluidity of power, even if she denied the concept of natural harmony. Or did she just not care about it? Either way, Ilunabar could remember the punch as if it had been on her face.

"I wouldn't turn defensive if I could trust my siblings, but I can't."

Of course, there was always the possibility of being more invasive instead, for example, ways to deal with Logos that didn't involve building a hole in the ground and the promise of mutual destruction.

It was, in fact, her first alternative, but Vestec berating it like he did dent her courage. Moreover, Maeus being born showed she didn't have full consciousness of the repercussions of her projects, with a god like Logos it could have been even worse.

Furthermore, she had collected a lot of achievements and projects to look after, it was natural they would bring her from a focus in activity to a focus on security.

"In truth, it is not defensiveness, this is not about providing protection. I'd say it is closer to just leaving the stage. And not because of Logos' ire, but because I must deal with his ire, and I don't want to deal with it, all possible results of being diligent over it are bad, therefore, I pick exclusion."

She pondered on what she just said. This felt like overthinking the issue, she didn't want to deal with external trouble and therefore decided to create a safer zone. The true issue is that ever since she finished this project all ideas crossing her head felt like little more than velleity. Everything was flowing naturally thanks to mortal ingenuity, meanwhile, she was somewhat motionless.

And that is what lead to this circumstance, little to do, a lot to defend, a boring combination.

In a moment of bravado she gave orders to herself just to cast away any more thought in the matter, surely a solution would come naturally therefore it was better to just move on

"I still need to name the zones and everything, let me get onto that instead of brooding over trivialities. Come Dreamweaver."

The harp appeared, but it felt heavy.

"Strange, but it makes sense, taking into account the stress caused by the creation of this land."

Carelessly, Ilunabar picked up the harp and touched its string, at the very moment, she felt the energy being drained from her body followed by it echoing in an explosive surge.




Ilunabar woke up to find herself at the Quiet Forest, The Purger. She felt weak, not only in the sense of the lack of energy, which she had already experienced before but spiritually weak, like a tired artisan who sees nothing but white in an empty canvas and marble in a block of marble.

Even her clothing felt awfully heavy and binding, especially the jewelry. She quickly opted to get rid of most of it with the exception of a cape she extended to fully cover herself.

"This feels good, it's also very light. I think there is no need to be fancy when you are in exile anyway." The sentence felt alien when she finished it, she wasn't sure why, in fact, she noticed she was in The Purger but called it The Quiet Forest, she had never named anything herself.

Lifprasil's call echoed in her mind bringing her attention out of the issue.

"What poor timing." she sighed, but she liked Lifprasil, and it was not like she was going to visit him personally anyway, so there was no danger in it.

[Continued in a Collab]




The Divas were somewhat confused as they crossed the root caverns and dream connections that existed in the borders of each land of the Pictaraika. Ilunabar was supposed to meet with them again at the center where they would discuss the construction of the palace, yet so far, the Muse was nowhere to be seen.

"Che, I wonder what she is up to." complained Notte.

"It is very odd that she is late, do you think this project was too taxing on her?" Piena pondered.

The sound of a musical note echoed from the fake skies of the dreamscape.

"Did you hear that? It felt like a bell being played. Maybe she is on the wrong layer." said Meimu.

Piena was confused.

"It can't possibly be. The Palace is a central region since it doesn't share its layer with other dreamscapes. The only other two of these are the Purger, which is downwards, and the Shrines, which are far too high for us to even listen to them."

Without thinking twice, the Diva of Aesthetic flew up the air and in the direction of the sound. To her surprise, she found a full fledged dreamworld up there, the entire land was made of brass instruments, organ pipes, cogs, and strings, as if it was a gigantic music box.

"What is this? There is no mention of it in the project..." Notte commented.

"There is someone walking around it, it doesn't feel like our Lady Master." once again Piena was the first to take the initiative to explore the situation.

The person was a girl, slim, a bit short with bright orange hair and a very tired looking face, still, she had a smile on her face. She was carelessly strolling around the musical themed landscape and was wearing odd clothes that despite exotic felt quite plain looking.

"Who are you?" Piena asked.

The girl turned around into a sudden, and a bit silly, movement. She started writing a sentence into the air.

- You should know your sister -

"Another Diva?" Meimu lamented as being the oldest mattered very little for the Divas, in fact, sometimes she felt like it was the opposite.

"This is so abrupt, I thought I was supposed to be the last one."

- The name is Chronicle. Diva of Rhythm -
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