Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Double Capybara
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Double Capybara Thank you for releasing me

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The Muse. Weaver of Dreams.
Beauty (Stories, Colors, Aesthetic, Flowers, Glass, Jewelry)


Might: 20
Free Point: 3
Level 6




West of the Pictaraika was a nameless land. Back in the times of the Darkened Spires, it was a dark jungle where only a few brave wandering tribes could survive, then came the catastrophe of the metatic ocean, which not only created a coastline where previously was an endless land but also rose said coast's height, that turned the land into a basin, and the jungle became a swampland.

That all, however, was past, the land was no longer dark, for Julkofyr's shadows had been appropriated by the muse. The change was gradual, the most sudden one being the end of the eternal clouded skies in the region, now it was only regularly overcast. This gave the local clans a time of sudden growth and prosperity, but they, living in such odd lands already, knew nothing was that easy, and quickly became suspicious something else would come.

Indeed, now what was oozing down from the mountain chain to the east was no longer the simple darkness of Julkofyr, but the dream energies that flowed straight from the realm of dreams, Raka. Surely, they were heavily diluted by the time they left the mountains, but that still was bound to do a more profound change to the region than the ones caused by the eons of umbra.

It could be already seen in the eastmost lakes of the region, where the divas had been sent to observe and analyze the changes that would soon spread to the whole region.

The flora had the quickest, most striking change. Not enough time had passed for a new generation of trees to take over the old unfit ones, but even then, they already showed leaves of different colors, prolonged flowering time, twigs growing in odd directions and canopies forming oddly aesthetic areas. The influence observed on flowers was much more clear, which went all the way from opaque to transparent.

Small critters such as spiders also were changing swiftly, bejeweled spiders that looked closer to pearls with legs could be seen building something a mortal from another region would say is similar to a wet spider web, except all droplets are jewels, making it look like an unending necklace. They competed fairly with their cousins, which had slender bodies whose exoskeleton looked like metal, they had smaller jewels in their body, looking like scarab brooches that had turned into jewel by their own will, those spiders had meticulously made disk-shaped, mirror-silver colored webs that refracted light creating a rainbow-like color in them. Not so friendly was the competition with the semi-transparent lucid spiders, who secreted a substance into their web that formed icicle-like crystal shapes that chimed whenever the wind blew, for the optic-focused spiders, such focus on sound was sincerely silly and a tad annoying. To a non-arachnid outsider though, each web is far more awesome than what is typically in their scale of awe. It would be wise, however, to remember that webs are formed for an reason and that the difference between dreams and nightmares can at times be just a matter of awareness.

Of course, there are more critters than spiders, and the possible forest is full of them. From bees that make all sorts of addictive honey to ones whose wax when made into a candle eats light instead of giving it; to cicadas who sing songs of melancholia for ages that happened long before their short life; to ants which decided to revolt against the unfairness of monarchy and embrace the republic; to butterflies, which oddly moved on unchanged, the only oddity being that somehow species from the faraway Venonweald, Deepwoods, and Shalanoir had also spontaneously appeared there.

Other animals changed too, some fishes suddenly had a smaller frame and delicate contrasting colors, birds sang more complex songs, lizard eggs became oddly polished and even the prideful wolf changed, with some of them suddenly having a very small frame, comparatively bigger heads with larger eyes and ears and unusual coats.

Piena called them Pixiehound. Pixie, being one of the words she invented as she tried to divide and catalog the life in there, despite its chaotic nature. A creature that had become smaller and had clear changes in their structure was a Pixie, a creature that had just small changes was a Sprite.

Of course, such things raise up the question about the local humans. So far, they had yet to have enough interaction with the affected area to show what is to come, but some already suffered the effects, they listened to echoes and sometimes spoke in them, they would suddenly wake up to find their hair now had odd tones including some of the softer beyond colors like starlit black or that it now would grow almost instantly to hip height, no matter how much they tried to cut it.

Though barely any interesting changes could be seen beyond the aesthetic of pastel tinted skins or twinkling eyes. Piena theorized most humans would escape to the north or south, the ones that stayed behind, willing or unwilling, would quickly provide a good case study.




Flax, honey, reed, wax, fur, sap, silk, dyes, along with all the possible fruit byproducts. This new land was one of opportunity, it would be capable of speeding up the construction of the facilities necessary to harness the true potential of the Pictaraika while also proving a whole new horizon of possibilities for artists around the world. It all was within a hand's reach, but it was not Piena's own hand.

Smoothly, she approached Meimu yet again. The two of them and Chronicle were the ones tasked with exploring the region, Notte was tasked with reading the gardens.

"So... Sister, how are the notes going?" asked Piena, trying to be as casual as a cold bureaucrat could be.

"I'm making some, but I fear taxonomy isn't at the top of my priorities." Meimu shrugged.

Piena stopped, a bit startled at Meimu's apathy. "Collaboration is a must if we are to succeed in this world. Your very project, those gardens, is reliant on the materials we can harvest."

"Yeah... I'm aware, but I'm just not a heavy note taker." and if she did it too well today, tomorrow they would ask more, then she would be sent across the world, perhaps even forced to spend more time in the foul swamps of the venonweald. "Just let me follow my pace."

"Just don't let it work against us." was one last warning Piena gave before continuing their path down the basin.

They stopped again a day or so later, by the margins of a heavily changed lake, even the fog seemed to carry a hint of magenta and dreams. In such regions, a mortal's senses would be easily warped just by staying in it.

From a tree, a drop of dew fell from the canopy above into a brush. The small watery orb carried in its surface minuscule glittery particles in a golden color. Probably some sort of secretion of irisation. In said bush, a group of caterpillars was feeding, they had a crest of 4 horns that could be loosely described as dragon-like.

| Are these new? Not too familiar with this kind of thing. | wrote Chronicle.

"Hum?" Meimu possibly to stare at them. "Ah, those? They are familiar, but I do not recall from where. Sincerely, all these things do is to eat plants, so we are not in an exactly good term."

"They are found southwest of Shalanoir's Pass, north of The Hilt."

There was some sort of eye to eye tension between Meimu and Piena for a second before Chronicle intervened.

| Ah, so you have an interest in butterflies? |

"Not at all, but it is just a basic fact one would expect us all to know."

"Hey, what is the implication?"

"There is no implication, you admitted you did not know about them because they did not appeal to your whims"

Chronicle ignored the discussion, instead, paying attention to the bush again. A single butterfly had landed on it and was now calmly sipping on the droplet of water. Great Nawab, it was called, though it was definitely closer to the cute and small spectrum than to the great spectrum. The Diva of Brass extended a single finger, and the butterfly landed on it. There was something peculiar about them, as it had something close to a gallant pose, perhaps a reminded of the dragon-like appearance of its caterpillar days.

"So, what do you think, Chronicle?" Piena suddenly asked, in hopes to finally finish the impasse of the bickering. Chronicle hadn't truly paid much attention so that was an issue. She looked to the butterfly, stared it for a bit, then nodded in agreement.

| I think you both are silly in your own unique away, but that is what makes you special so it is fine. | she wrote, following the diplomatic advice she just received.

The stares of reprehension from both sides signaled the end of the discussion. It was really hard for the fourth diva to deal with situations like this, she knew how to help, but was it wise to help? The Divas were specialized but not harmonious, that worked, but not too nicely, as a lot of time was lost with miscommunication or worse. Losing time sounds bad, doing things faster sounds nice, but a clock that skips seconds is broken and a swift carousel is just going to get people harmed.

Finally, they arrived at the cliffy shores of the region. Immediately, Piena had to think about the most pressing issue the current situation would present.

"I wonder if the change will stop once it reaches the sea. It seems to flow easily trough water, so I wonder if it could be carried to distant villages by the currents."

"We can fix it now. Even if we are unsure if it will be an issue or not." Meimu had had a sudden sparkle of creativity, "Let's just use coral, the shores around here are not deep even after a long walk into the ocean. It would also create the possibility of new biomes for beauty to bloom."

Piena nodded in agreement, and Chronicle took the opportunity to outright go and do the deed. Typically such changes to the state of the universe are made with the wave of a hand, Chronicle, however, clutched the air and pulled it, noisily tensing invisible strings.

All across the extents of the region's beaches, coral rose to the surface, sand and rocks tagging along. The reefs didn't seem to mind being dry and in contact with the air, neither were its colors bleached.

"Ah, I wanted to do that myself. But it seems to be adequate work." Meimu sighed. "By the way, do you have any idea of how we should call the, uh, dream energy, flowing through the basin?"

"Hmm, do you find it necessary to give it a name?"

"Well, I mean, it is affecting a quite large area. It also seems to work similar to Chaos but we can't just go and call it Dream."

| You think this is similar to Chaos? | interrupted Chronicle.

"Yeah? Doesn't it change beings?"

"I also agree with her. Though you make it seems like there is a significant difference..."

| There are actually some clear cut differences. Meimu even pointed a conceptual one by accident. |

Silence followed.

The other two divas looked at the youngest with expectant eyes.

"The difference being...?" asked Piena, even if by now her hope was gone.

| Ah, I was supposed to tell? I don't feel like it though, not one to share half-baked theories. |

"Well..." Piena took a deep breath "I guess at least you pointed something out." she forced herself to say.

There was another moment of silence.

Suddenly Chronicle wrote. | How about Glamour? |

Both the divas replied in unison, showing each their own variety of inquisitive facial expression. "Glamour?"

| ☆ Glamour ☆ |

"Do...Do I have to pronounce the star?" Meimu asked.

"What does that word mean?"

| A dialect for Magic, Enchantment, Allure. A truly basic fact one would expect us all to know, papillon lady |

Piena only answered with a tsk, sidetracking her from questioning further and giving Chronicle the cause.

With all that set, they started to walk back. Of course, they could just float like usual, but given the nature of the mission walking back would be interesting. And it was proven to be a good decision, new things were found, like a transparent web which was only visible by green dots in each intersection and all other oddities.

"Do you think we missed it on the first time?" Piena idly asked.

"I think not. This whole wildland in on a delicate combination of sensations which is flickering at best. In its core, it is ever changing, you cannot step twice into the same grove, yet, I do not see it as the other changing, chaotic areas, in a sense, it merely knows when it is time to gracefully step down."

It was about that time in which Notte finally returned to Galbar, bringing the good news that the foundations of the garden area were ready.

"So this is The Forest huh? What is its name?" she innocently asked.

"Good question actually, I do think we have set it already..."

Meimu interrupted. "Oh, I did it already." she smiled. "Phantalei is the name of the region, but the core swampland we visit today is Pantarea, not to be confused with the name of the basin, which is Phantaneira Basin."

Even Chronicle was perplexed.




Anything bellow the second layer of the Pictaraika did not receive a single glimmer of true solar light, any color perceived was in truth an illusion. That did not matter for most but the plants, which is why the gardens had yet to be turned into nothing but deserted frameworks.

That all changed now, however. Notte, using a special kind of mirror, had brought filtered stellar light down to the third layer. It was meant to be made by mirror-linking the crystals in the rings of Galbar, but a close look at the reflections of the mirrors would make it clear that was not the case.

"So, what happened here? Why the unannounced change in plans?"

"Oh... That. Uhm, long story. So, I flew up to the Galbar rings, but the scene there, it was ripugnante. Full of filth. Despite the vacuum, I swear I could almost smell the stench and hear the crawling. So I went to the neighboring planet, the one that was tinted in magenta, and formed a glass ring in it."

"Wait, what? Any change in the light could be fatal to my plants."

"Calm down, I adjusted the tint of the mirrors so it would filter the light. If it does not work, I can change it again."

"I see. Then I suppose it will work fine."

"So that is the state of the near outworld. Did you inspect the moons?" Piena had a contemplative but not too serious expression on her face.

"Ah, no. I did not. It was just too messy for my taste and I had the stuff to do on another planet."

"I see." she responded in a distracted tone.

Soon after, the divas started their work and as always, gathered a group of marionettes which they used to do a massive amount of the hard work. However, as it had always been clear, there was a manpower issue in the current phase of the project, despite their hard work, only a single garden of the uncountable total amount of ones to be made was ready.

"Sisters, there is a beauty to all tempos, but there are times in which larghissimo becomes synonymous with molto tedioso." complained Notte. "What is the plan? Will Piena's reptiles come to help? Will more marionettes be made? Will our lady master make a diva of diligence?"

Meimu too disliked all the hard work, and while a full solution was out of her sight, she did start some counter measures of her own.

"Well, I plan on planting fiber-focused plants at first. That could lead us to get better strings to work with the fiberling core of the Marionettes." she explained.

| There is more to do with those than just that. Think of all that advanced since the originals were made. | wrote Chronicle, hands behind her head, lazily leaning against a wall.

Piena sighed knowing there would be no further answer, but she had some thoughts in mind.

"There are more reactive materials we have. Flexible wood or bejeweled webs for example."

"Or obsidian and glass. We have more control of those too."

"Oh, and jewelry."

The Diva of Steel stared at them, lips pressed together and a hand constantly tapping a fence. "I have a project in mind." she suddenly said. "We could fine-tune each marionette for certain works. Even though our collection of materials is nowhere near lavish yet, we have enough to create advanced, specialized dolls."

Her expression soured. "The issue is that again, we will need to fabricate a lot of those. Far more than our manpower can provide."

"Ah, could we not just use your reptiles?"

Meimu's eyes widened. "No more mortal use of my marionettes. Lifprasil was already a lot, and we did not tell them how to make the thing. I am aware the lizards are close to us, but even then, no."

| Then what? Slavery? |

The other three divas stared at the youngest.

"Slavery is unaceptable." Piena sternly informed.

| I am not talking about the whip and shackle slavery, but you two did add addictive as a quality of many products from the forest so, you know. |

"Hey, calm down there. Yes, we may give away substances that make people a bitsy bit dependent, but that is not slavery because... they could decide to stop?"

Chronicle raised an eyebrow | Then couldn't you just trade the products for their work on building marionettes. It is the same moral issue. |

"Ugh, it isn't. It is different. I think..."

Piena wanted to stay away from that discussion, but Meimu was being too slow to realize simple point, so she intervened almost on a reflex.

"It is not the same. One thing is giving it away, the other is asking for work in exchange. To get a bunch of addicted people stuck in a workshop is not a thing we strive for."

"And anyway, it is still mortal hands building marionettes. Though I guess in this case they would barely remember what they made" Meimu added.

Piena and Chronicle were far too busy staring at each other to continue. The diva of steel seemed to be far tenser than she was a moment ago.

"Ah." Notte suddenly said, avoiding eye contact, clearly shy to be getting in the middle of a serious discussion. "I had one idea. What if we divided the work?"

She willed a phantom marionette over her hand and then broke it down to its basic components. Individually, it was hard to guess what each one was supposed to do.

"This would stop any slim chance of mortals reverse engineering them." Not that anyone but Meimu found that to be possible, not with the complex fiberling wiring it needed, but the extra guarantee could finally end the impasse.

"I guess that will do. So... let us get to work. Again." she sighed.

"I will..." Piena suddenly interrupt, unnaturally non-commanding. "Get the sheets we will use for this. Give me a moment, and I will return so we may initiate the planning of our next step."




Piena opened a single box from her increasingly more refined and organized collection of plans. Bells tactically placed inside chimed as she did so. With focused eyes, she stared at each section of the box to see if anyone else had opened it, yet not a single thing seemed to be out of order in her intricated system to detect any intruder.

"I guess it was just a coincidence." she sighed and grabbed a thick stack of papers.

"There is just no more window for me to possibly put this plans into action if I explained why it is not of the best interest of our group myself." she bit her lips.

Finally, she threw the papers in a fire. It was a neat plan, would probably have granted more influence to her among mortal realms and would put another sightless creation of Meimu to good use.

There were other ideas in her mind anyway, Chronicle ruining one was just a minor nuisance.

She was ready to step out of the index and go back to her sisters when Ilunabar suddenly entered it.

"Hey, it seems the garden is ready right?" she said in a rush.

"One is ready, we still have a lot to..."

"Right, nice. Prepare a beer garden for me as soon as possible okay? I will need it for a bargain."

"Well I can try but..."

"Great. Thanks." Ilunabar patted the Diva's head and disappeared.

Piena sighed. It seems that her lady master had good reasons to leave so much work for them as even she seemed to be lost in chores. Even a diligent schemer like her couldn't way until these times were over.




Life in Galbar was a mixed bag for Maeus, on one side he had so much to enjoy, on the other, it was such a backwater place that barely knew how to make beer yet. Still, he did his best.

"You know," he said after downing a bottle of wine, "I like you, I like that you are see-through, I can hug you... and still see the landscape, that is great you know." he muttered to the feminine water elemental leaning against him as he enjoyed a natural hot spring of the Ironhearts.

The suddenly Ilunabar landed right next to the pair.

"Oh?" she said as she noticed the scene. "Oh! It is one of those."

The muse tried to approach the female elemental, but the thing had been startled so hard she decided to disappear down the spring.

"No wait... Oh well." Maeus shrugged, it was just too much effort to try to bring her back, even though he quite liked the hot volcanic waters from which she was made, the mental numbness their heat caused being quite similar to that of a beer, but only to a modest degree.

"Shame, I am truly interested in those." she then turned to the god of hedonism. "Nevertheless, are you busy right now?"

The god heard the question, but still calmly walked to his purple toga and dressed up properly. "If you expect me to work, I am, if you have something nice to prose, I am not."

The goddess smiled. "Oh, it is nice alright, the nicest around. I think it would be of your best interest to return to the Pictaraika."

"And why is that? Last I recalled it was a deserted, dark place, with nothing to enjoy." just saying those things made him look tired.

"Well, that was in the past. We had just started to work there, but now it is a bit better, we are on the brink of starting to produce beer, for example."

In the blink of an eye, the young demi-god had gone from distant to being in an arm's length of the goddess. His eyes squinted to her phrase. "True beer? Not that peasant dirty water you find around?"

"Well, that is why I am calling you, how else will we make sure it is a great place with great drinks?"

"Eh... That sounds like work." the very word made him shudder.

"Oh come on, you just have to say what you want and we will do it. It will be a nice life and you will have servants."

"Still sounds like a lot of work. Those few days before the servants start to understand my needs and do my biddings without me saying a word will be the worst."

The goddess stopped, took a deep breath, reminded herself of how Maeus was useful and continued. "Again, there will be alcohol."

"Good point." he nodded.

And with that, the god of hedonism returned to Ilunabar's land. While the goddess of beauty had been distant from him when he was first born, recent thoughts about the nature of hedonism got her curious about how things worked.

It was, in a sense, similar to sin, but where Sin was like a fire that burned you, Hedonism felt more like slowly going drowsy from the smoke. Observing how he worked would be nice.

As they talked about Maeus past travels across Galbar, it became clear to the goddess that elementals, male or female, for some odd reason, found the presence of the god to be highly addictive, though any sort of light noise from outside was enough to make them snap out of the hypnosis. It was a curious situation which the goddess would need to investigate later.

That thought, in turn, reminded her of Zephyrion. She wondered about how the Celestial Citadel could be doing even since all non-elemental life had left it. In a sense, she felt like that was unfinished business, and as soon as things quieted down in the Pictaraika she would try to visit her old home of so many eons.




The very planning behind the manufacture of each piece was a work of art in itself. The web of the divas had been put to its limit for this work. Hain, human, rovaick, quara korala, and divine hands were needed to quickly assemble the dolls all across Galbar. Most of the work was arranged by manipulating third parties to set up the workshop, some were done by unaware pawns, finally, some was done by the direct action of the Divas, with direct payment in gem and jewelry.

Now, all that was left between them and the new workforce was the "weaving" of the Marionettes. A normal Marionette was a simple thing to be wired, it has simple movements that could be easily done with just a few levers to use all that interdimensional force. A Fine-Tuned Marionette used a variety of devices so that the doll could do advanced tasks or have a herculean strength or whatever else the situation needed.

The quality of the wood and strings increased drastically, though the main new change was the use of flowers. By interfacing the fiberling and the plants, new horizons could be opened, such as reaction to visual stimuli (with the aid of mirrors and glass) or creating a chemical distress call similar to that of the blades of grass. Beyond that, things such as crystal pendulums, obsidian blades and jewelry provided new room for new functions, the later in special, could react to the natural magic of the world.

The Marionettes, however, were still quite slow and unadaptable things. Their whole function was based on a series of complex braids, knots, and weavings, with no possibility of creating new ones naturally. Even with the advance in reactive behavior, any possible use in battle would still need a master, like when Lifprasil rode fake wooden horses to fight Grot.

In action, the Fine-Tuned work perfectly, with just the first batch, they were able to do massive amounts of work in both constructing the gardens and the subsequent manutention. Immediately new plans for Marionettes to work on the index and in the construction of the temple were set, the first step into truly getting the Pictaraika to work.
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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Malchivo
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Malchivo Scholar of GM Weaponry

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Playing Primordial

Double Capybara, Malchivo, and Muttonhawk


A mosaic of the stars above reflected from Cornerstone below. The gloss of the white porcelain made the floor a flat blue lake, dappled with constellations and bright blotches of moons.

Against the water-like reflections were a legion of repeating grey structs, leaning to support four-limbed bodies decorated with vicious and barbed extremities. Around them fussed the comparatively small slave hain, only resting as per their shifts and roles. With flowing, synchronised dances, they willed the very reflections on the floor up in shapes of opaque porcelain to use as materials for the suspended bodies. Their dances lined up in exact movements, making even the smallest piece falling into place resound in a echoing chord. The rhythmic clinks and clacks gave the night a cold, methodical chill.

If the sun still graced the sky, and if his sister had not spent so much effort to make herself elusive, Toun would have already noticed the presence approaching from the east.

The presence had decided to finally visit her brother, and she was going to bring him a gift. It was not that she believed Toun's favor could be won with pleasantries. In truth, it was more of a catalyst for conversation with the aloof sibling. The gift in question was the twelve white giants which Alefpria had captured a long while ago. They were stuck in a net like a handful of crabs, flying forth between two huge flying siphonbeasts at the wall. Despite her body's looks, the goddess could carry such thing with ease.

She gently landed on Cornerstone's tiles. The giants continued to struggle in their bindings, scraping the perfect floor for their efforts. It was her first time in that odd land of clay, and it did look as imposing as the stories told. She looked around for a short time, and while she could just try to sense the god, she knew it was better to announce her presence.

"Hello? Toun?" She asked, not letting any hint of intimidation or awe the place caused seep into her speech.

The methodical factory worked on for a lonely while. The intimidation only closed in.

A calm, if quivering, voice sounded in Ilunabar's mind.

"In the centre, sister." The place was suddenly less oppressive. "I did not expect to see you. Why have you brought those units here?"

"These are the giants that walked into the territory of Alefpria. Since they do attack some of the creatures under Lifprasil I decided to constrain them before they got into fights and risked being destroyed," she answered.

She walked for a short while before jumping down near the location where the porcelain clad sibling was. Toun stood adjacent to the only tile lifted out of place; a circular block at the very centre of the vast floor, spinning like a potter's wheel. He had his hands splayed around a lump of prototypical clay. The furthest joints of his fingers stretched onto its surface with bright red ink, painting instructions in exact calligraphy. There, Ilunabar got to observe the calligraphy in work, and her interest in the skill showed.

Toun did not appear changed by the attention. He stayed focussed on his task. "I see. They may be disposed of, then." The white giants were of little interest after all.

The clay on the wheel began to take on a new form, texturing with lumps that could have been the stumps of limbs. And then it stopped. Toun looked up from his work, peering suddenly at his cloaked sister with a vacant eye. "That is not all, is it?" He asked. "You have servants. You still came personally. We have not spoken in some time."

"Sending any of the Divas would have been rude, I believe." She turned up to face her sibling. "Furthermore, I wanted to see you by myself, it has been a long time. Maybe all the recent events have made me somewhat melancholic. Maybe I just want to cultivate a healthy connection to a sibling whose objectives are not all that different from mine"

Toun's look sharpened. He straightened his back and brought his hands behind him into the opposite sleeves of his robe. A respectful, if uncertain posture. "The deaths in the family affected us all." He looked aside, pausing. His gaze returned to Ilunabar no more certain than it had been before. "Although, I have observed a number of your creations on this planet. How is it that you believe our goals align?"

"Our aesthetic might change, but we are creators, not destroyers." That was not entirely true, considering the Metatic Ocean and the slave hain. But it was not entirely false, considering Logos. "Furthermore, we both seek perfection while also not limiting ourselves to flesh and physics."

Toun's eye narrowed and his voice lowered. "You are either confusing the ends with the means or you are trying deliberately to alter my viewpoint. How can I trust your agenda? What reason should I have?"

"Oh, I see. Let me rephrase what I said minus the euphemism." She took a heavy breath before continuing. "You are not a god who had tried to harm me or my projects. We also work with similar materials and concepts. We can work with fully physical things like porcelain and glass; with concepts that have a physical form but need a conceptual context, like color and calligraphy, and with fully ideal concepts, like oaths and stories."

She stopped, rethinking her position. "I spoke a bit too much, I am sorry. The point is, I believe I have valid reasons to want to be in contact with you. If you fear a sinister agenda behind my words, I do not know how to prove to you that is not the case beyond mentioning that in the past I have helped Vowzra, Teknall, Astarte, Lifprasil, Lazarus, and others without asking for retribution for my contribution. Beauty in itself is a very self-achieving objective, I do not need schemes to deal with the siblings who do not want to destroy my work."

Toun's gaze remained defensive and still. He obscured his thoughts behind an uncomfortable silence. It ended with Toun's usual bluntness. "Come with me." He stepped around his wheel and offered a hand upturned to Ilunabar.

She was a startled at first. It was not within the answers she expected. Still, she complied. "Sure." She reached for his hand.

The instant that their hands touched, Toun wrenched them both across a quarter of the entire planet in an instant. The temperature from the warm equator to the far north suddenly dipped. They appeared in a craggy land, covered in snow. The goddess was less surprised by the sudden flight than by the previous response. Her only reaction was willing her cloak to be more 'winter-like' once they set their feet in the cold.

In front of them were two notable features; a portal to a wavy landscape beyond and an immense pillar of porcelain written with red characters and four godly signatures. The writing was an epitaph that bound the actions of gods by its terms. Behind the pure, despondent fire they evoked behind their godly eyes, the words were as clear as they day they were written:

"Here lies the memory of our sister of knowledge Vulamera and our brother of time Vowzra. Here in their tragic deaths, we swear an oath to never seek the death of any sibling of ours signed onto this pact. We do this for the sake of our souls as well as the integrity of our hearts, for death begets death, and grief begets grief. May this place within the gate be a place where no god sets foot to do battle. In sacred remembrance of this, we declare: Fate shall no longer toy bloody games between our bodies into this timeline."

Staring at the pillar, Toun released Ilunabar's hand and tucked his own hands into his opposite sleeves. "Sister, your words have made me realise something." He turned his head to look at her. "I need your help. But before you can help me, I need you to sign the Oath."

"The Oath huh?" She said, casually placing a hand on her hip in a relaxed stance. "Pardon me for not having signed it before, I just found it to be redundant. It is not like I can kill anyone unless they are allergic to angry flute playing." She jested, despite the knowledge it would only fall on deaf ears. "And any god who wants to hurt me is enough of a brute to also be an oathbreaker."

Toun did not react.

"But thinking again, sometimes redundancy is a good remedy to avoiding communication noise. Furthermore, since I am working so hard to keep Vulamera's ambitions alive, it seems proper to pay respects to her memorial. For the other siblings too, but her case, for me, is something beyond." with that said she vanished, just to return seconds later with a bottle of ink of a thick, glittery magenta color and a metallic and a jeweled reproduction of a peacock feather.

She dipped the pen in the ink and wrote her name on the memorial. The deep purple contrasted with the other colors, there seemed to be something unnatural in it, but the effect it caused made it more memorable, not less.

"And just to avoid myself from abusing the meaning of a name."

Shifting the color of the ink to fit her needs, she wrote the name of her four divas by her own name's side. Meimu in a flowery pink (visit it in another season, and it might be green), Notte in the colour of a starry sky, Piena in steel, and Chronicle in brass.

"You will find all of parts of your pure essence joint and severally bound," Toun mentioned monotonously. "Jvan's 'painter' signed the oath on her behalf. They are both beholden to it, as will be any other shard of themselves. However, the sentiment will not be lost on others."

"It is done brother."

Only now, with Ilunabar having demonstrated herself, did Toun's eye soften and look down. Gone was his hard tone, slowing into a sombre trill. "You have my thanks. In deepest sincerity." His hands slowly separated from his sleeves and his fingers weaved together. "Now, I should begin to explain. What do you know of the nature of demigods, sister? Not their genesis, per se, but their role?"

Toun began to turn around, offering a hand to proceed back to Cornerstone again. They could both feel the effects of the Oath still weighing on their emotions just by being near it.

"Well, what I have been focusing the most about the demi-gods is the typical fate of their parents. But let me think," Ilunabar took his hand again. The wrenching sensation was as expected. Dappled tiles and equatorial warmth appeared again. She typically liked to move by herself, but she felt like Toun's intention was not to assert dominance.

She continued brooding. "Typically, their roles are ones that are not taken by gods. There is the exception of Teknall's daughters, but they were based on the Divas’ theoretical design, and therefore are very specialized in one area."

"You are mostly correct. However, there is a deeper pattern." Toun walked calmly back around his wheel and placed a hand upon it. "Their roles are ones that are not taken by living gods. Whatever processes that dictate their roles mutate their exact nature, but it would appear that demigods are being born with concerns similar to gods that have perished."

Toun pushed the edge of his wheel to make it spin. It did not slow. From its centre, an image expanded, distorted as though looking through the eyes of a small bird. Beyond was a cavernous interior, hewn by dwarven tools. There stood a cloaked figure in a stitched mask.

"This is Farxus. He appeared in balance to Reathos' demise."

The image blinked and changed to observe a bronze, avian, almost machine-like humanoid.

"You mentioned Lazarus. She is obsessed with secrets and knowledge. Appropriate then, that she appears after Vulamera."

With another blink, three figures were seen striding through a temperate woodland. Toun gestured to the woman in the large feathered black cloak.

"You may or may not have heard of Helvana. She has an affinity for darkness. Her appearance was late to replace Julkolfyr, though his essence waned over a long period."

Toun grabbed the edge of the wheel between his thumb and finger, instantly halting it and winking the image back to flush white clay.

"There are others. They all point to the possibility that the essence of dead gods is...preserved in divine children."

Ilunabar's eyes widened with realization. There was definitely such 'balance' in the world. She could irrevocably perceive it now that Toun had mentioned.

"Yes... Definitely. I do not know if it is a natural thing or a machination of the higher gods, but the examples you give make a good point. They would have convinced me if I was not already convinced by an experience of my own."

Toun's face turned a degree, curious.

"Ever since Vulamera departed, some of her words have been echoing in my mind. What she said in the times before the creation of this universe. She wanted to build a library in reaction to Ull'Yang's kindness."

"If Lazarus, which thinking now, I sought out to help for no good reason, took the aspect secrets and experimentation. I have been definitely led to a path of achieving and memory." Ilunabar mused aloud.

Her talking was far more paced than normal. She thought of the extraordinary implications. "It makes me remember the very first thing we heard. Our Name and Role. Perhaps... that is a god's essence... And though the Name might be lost, the universe cannot afford losing a Role. And if no god is fit for it, then a demigod shall be born."

"This is but speculation," Toun lifted a hand to placate Ilunabar's reaction. "However, your conclusions are similar to mine. The next question I sought was the role of the parent gods, if any are involved. I have not witnessed the creation of a demigod first-hand, though inferences can be made based on the results. Consider Conata, the-...or rather a daughter of Teknall, now that you bring that to my attention..."

Toun flicked the wheel again, opening the lensed image of a metallic girl sitting on a beach with a wending lump of lustrous fluid between her raised hands.

"Observe how expertly she handles metals. She was built for it. Teknall promised the southern Ironheart rovaick a helper to exploit the greatest natural resource in their homes. She was designed and built. Her 'role' was willed by her progenitor."

Ilunabar raised a hand to her chin, this was more complex than babbling. A bottle of wine accompanied of a wine glass flew into her hand, landing in a surprisingly gentle manner, she apparently had brought it all the way from the Pictaraika.

"You have to consider that Conata is a pure-work of Teknall. Back then, we crafted two beings, Kinesis, a collaboration between our styles, and Conata, which was based loosely on my design and theory, but was mostly built only by Teknall." she sipped her wine. "And with all respect, it shows. No wonder she had to live among mortals to learn some sense of nuance, as being the child of only one god did not provide her new worldviews."

"Beyond her, there was The Bard. Which was born when Vowzra made me craft a musical instrument. I do not know what his purpose was, but he seems to have done what Vowzra needed to do, and now he outlives his father." This caused her to drink a large quantity of the alcoholic liquid. "And then there is Maeus, which was created when Vestec stole and drank a powerful beverage I had made with the objective of inebriating Logos should he attack me. He… wasn’t designed for a purpose. Outside of being a god of alcohol, he seemed to be a collection of random aspects. Vestec’s fault, I believe."

"Your recounting demonstrates-" Toun raised two joined fingers to punctuate his response. "-just the next measure. Precision of concept. Conata could arguably be a subset of Teknall's essence purely. He understood metals just as innately -- he created them. Only he could define it so precisely. Granted she still exhibits irrational or spontaneous behaviour. That may have been due to your involvement in her design, which influenced the will of her role. Possibly defining you as a lesser-influencing parent." Toun did not stop to let either the slight against Ilunabar's sense of judgement or the implication of her new motherhood sink in. "Had Teknall been the only one involved in her creation, perhaps then the will would have been more precise in concept. But, assuming that was only one being, what happens when the wills of two different beings intersect? You bring up the Bard and Maeus. They are special cases that I have not had the opportunity to observe yet, but there is a clear case in Keriss that could inform their outcome as well."

Toun began to pace around the wheel, walking behind Ilunabar as he talked and back to his wheel again. He gestured his obsession. "Keriss was born of Vulamera and Vakarlon. Trickery and knowledge. And her affinity is in suffering." He threw up his hand. "Suffering! This is beyond the means of both parents independently. Their essences mixed to bring suffering. A unique power!"

Toun placed both his hands flat on his wheel, eye wide and pupil dilated. "Now, with this knowledge, we have ideas that can be brought together." Toun flicked one wrist and his index finger tapered to a red nib. He wrote one character in Tounic calligraphy. Two concentric circles. "An essence corresponding to a role, when in flux, will be drawn into a new divine body." Another symbol was scribed; a precise cross-section of a funnel. "The exact nature of an essence may be drawn specifically by a divine being with great precision of concept." One more symbol was scribed. This one looked like a diptych of two opposite patterns. "Essences with roles beyond the full understanding of a single divine being may be drawn by the intersection of understandings from two or more divine beings without the full understanding of the role."

He stood up straight and spread his palms above the wheel. "We, the two of us, hold instruments that may define concepts so precisely that they may define the role of a divine essence. My calligraphy, your aesthetic." Toun enclosed the three symbols in a perfect red circle. "Do you know what this means, sister? Do you realise what is now possible!?"

Ilunabar's face became far more serious. Before, it had been just talking, but now Toun was moving into the area of practice, and she knew the possible practical effects of creating a demigod.

"You also need to account the consequences... Vulamera, Belruarc, Vowzra, Vakarlon, all had very clear demises, which is quite different from what Julkolfyr suffered, for example."

"The consequences? Are you describing the 'parents'?" Toun threw up a hand and stepped to the side. "The consequences will not be bringing a new divine being into existence, sister. Are you not listening?"

"I just needed to make sure that fact was known, brother, considering I always took that into consideration when I made the previous demigods." Still, she relaxed, continuing with the tension would just create animosity between her and Toun.

"Nevertheless, I'm truly intrigued by what you propose. Indeed, as I said in the beginning of this conversation, we both know how to work well with the conceptual, and coincidentally or not, we both are writers. Yet, your proposal implies a very focused idea of a god, I do not know if I have such a clear cut idea of a god right now."

Toun's stance changed. He lowered his arm and faced Ilunabar fully, returning his head to an anatomically viable position on his neck. "Neither do I. I do not expect that from either of us, for it would make what I wish to try possible without us both involved. Cast those doubts aside -- I shall tell you directly what I have discovered if it will stop conceiving such doubts." His tone levelled to flat fact. "Kyre is dead. His traces are gone."

The goddess raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. "He is? I know he was being awfully idle in face of some issues, but I did not expect him to just die..." she judged despite not knowing the circumstances.

Toun gave a pause. "We can bring him back."

"Ah! Yes... We probably can…"

Without breaking eye contact, Toun walked around the wheel while Ilunabar continued.

"Yeah, it could definitely work. Though maybe we should check his situation first... No, thinking again, that would give time for a new demigod to appear, we need to act now."

As if the final word caused the movement, a white clay tablet sprung up from below Ilunabar's vision. Toun was holding it from next to her, staring expectantly.

"Write him." Toun pushed the tablet into his sister's hands.

"Right..." she couldn't start immediately because she needed to think what system she would use. She had learned the Diva's model wasn't as ideal as she thought. "Let me just get my equipment, it shouldn't take more than a second." With that, she vanished.

In the blink of an eye, she returned, this time with a full case of ink bottles, three different pens, and some sort of eyewear which had a thin metallic frame holding a pair of glass lenses. The glass itself, however, was covered in cloth, as if to "seal" it.

Toun had already commenced writing on a separate tablet with his red ink and fingers.

Without a word, the goddess started to write. After she finished writing the introduction, she took the cloth away from the glasses before wearing it. It was colored in a weak hue of the beyond color Vowzil, showing all the possible potential of each page, while only causing a soft sensation of having her eyes burn.

On the other tablet. Tounic calligraphy spread in shifting formations as all four fingers of one hand scratched upon the tablet's white surface. The symbols clashed and organised in loud marches and deep strategy, bound on their edges only by fencing runes that kept the concepts stable.

The goddess's work was far more 'delicate' in a sense, as it involved long indexes, thorough examples, complex flowcharts, and detailed descriptions. It all focused on the small aspects that formed combat, and from there it built up in a procedural form to cover battles as a whole. The same method was used to define personality, as she had first used with the Divas -- an initial framework left open to add personal experience into its content later.

The pieces of written essence, running from the high abstraction to low on Toun's tablet and from low abstraction to high on Ilunabar's tablet, crossed over in content during their progress. In that moment, they diverged by direct comparison. Even independent of the distinct semantics in their writing styles, stark differences occurred until they could not be considered describing the same being. All was going to plan.

Toun's eye remained half shut as he wrote, Ilunabar was similarly absorbed. Only the silence between the two gods hinted at the weight of their actions. To bring back a fallen sibling could secure their own lives, if they had family to bring them back from the dead. However, this was but a mild side effect. Grief from losing immortal kin was what truly lent passion to their scrivening hands.

The pair silently worked as the stars passed over.

The sun began to beam over the serrated edge of Cornerstone's horizon. Ilunabar found the final flourish of her quill before Toun was finished. However, Toun was not far behind. Another hour of corrections and revisions saw his work complete in turn.

His hand lowering, dry of his red ink, Toun faced Ilunabar once more. His eye glowed in a shape of anticipation. "Your doubts. Are they still present?"

"Not anymore. It would be too late to worry, anyway." She shrugged, giving one tired look to the tome she wrote, rubbing her eyes in hopes of making the burning feeling in them go away. It was still there even a time after she took the glasses off.

Toun, in turn, looked down at his version one last time. "That is well. The point where this succeeds or fails hangs upon what comes next." He gazed over at the white wheel hovering. His arm stretched to place the red-written tablet a hand width from the exact centre of the circle. "Place your piece next to mine. We must both weave a body for Kyre to occupy."

The muse nodded, and placed her own work next to Toun’s. The ends of the tablets struck flush together with a satisfying snap.

The wheel spun. Slow at first, settling into a speed that made the tablets blur into the appearance of a disc. Toun extended a finger and curled at the air near to its edge.

"Come."

The single, familiar word was all the effort that Toun displayed. The tablets blurred and weaved into a new shape on their own. Tendrils of red and magenta blurred into gradient swirls. They embraced in a twist at such speed that it formed a colour of its own. Symbols of war.

"Observe," Toun said. "An essence is drawn."

The goddess paid close attention as the design came to fruition. Whatever happened next, she needed to observe it down to its most tenuous details.



The silence was broken by a steady beat. It called to him across the vast nothingness, the only sound to ever exist as far as he could recall. What could create such a sound. It was not the thump of a heart, he was yet without one. No, it was primal, a sound that resonated with every fiber of his non-existence. A drum, that was the sound. Not just any drumbeat however, no it was a call to war. Was that why he could hear it? Why it was the first sound to reach out to him? It was trying to tell him something and he knew exactly what it was saying. War was coming, for he would be war. All he had to do was exist. Surely such a thing couldn’t be difficult. If he was able to hear the noise there must be something on the other side. A conduit to allow him access to existence.

He extended his consciousness, farther than he had ever been able to before. Without the concept of time he did not know how long he was searching, following the beating of the drum towards his destination. It grew stronger the closer he came to the breach, a breach that had been created only for him. He knew this to be true for none of the Others moved towards it. He alone could hear the sound, and eventually see the crack that would lead to existence. Such a novel concept, existing. Of course, all these thoughts would disappear the moment he slipped through. They could not survive the shift. In a sense, it wouldn’t be him existing. He was simply another part of the process. His consciousness brushed the breach, and then there was nothing.

'Thought, that is all I am. I have no physical form. I cannot interact with the world in this state. Not in the manner I will need to. No this will not do at all.' On instinct the transparent spirit of runic design merged with the nearby clay. Within a moment, the material began to stretch upwards, stopping when it was a few inches over five feet in height. It did not remain still for long, though the next step of the process occurred more rapidly. Where there was once formless clay now stood a pale human figure clad in a robe of the same color as his skin. For the time he paid no heed to the two truly divine entities before him, instead he turned his gaze down to his clothing. With a wave of his hand color bloomed from the bland garment, turning it from the pale tone it had to a vibrant red. Satisfied with the change, he finally acknowledged the two formidable presences before him.

Toun was looking back, statue still and blue eye wide. "Something is amiss..." He muttered.

It spoke back. "I need information. The current blank slate that is my mind is unacceptable. Can either of you amend this?" Despite the youthful look he possessed his voice was deep, though unable to resonate due to the expansive nature of the surrounding area.

"Blank slate?" Toun repeated, slow and confused. His turned his head slightly from the figure. His brow opposed down over his wide eye. "He is different to before."

"It seems it is more than just a simple difference, brother," Ilunabar said. She hadn't reacted much to what has happened outside of diligently taking notes of each detail. Yet, for her, it was easy to tell what was amiss from basic things like speech and behavior pattern alone.

The red-clad figure had remained silent as the two beings spoke to one another, lips pulling down into a frown the longer they went on without explaining anything. His question had been a simple one, or so he thought. It appeared that they had more important matters to discuss, the main topic going completely over his head.

"I can help you. But first, could you take one of these?" Ilunabar formed three illusory tools in the air in front of their experiment; a pickaxe, a hoe and a sword.

Toun's eye blinked to the items and back to the figure. The experiment was clear. Ilunabar needed to assess how much the project had deviated from the expected result.

Now he was finally addressed. It was not with an answer, but rather a request from the more feminine of the entities. His scowl grew more pronounced but he believed the only way he would get the information was to play along. He took a step forward to close the distance between himself and the objects that had been summoned out of thin air. Narrowing his eyes, he examined each one in turn. At first they were meaningless as his mind was still new, but after a moment words and connections began to form. Supplies, food, and battle each one on their own was fragile. They could only reach their true potential when utilized together. Yet he had to choose only one.

"No, I cannot. They are meaningless on their own, so picking one would handicap me more than if I had none." Once the words fell from his lips he took a step back, mouth still turned downward.

The goddess took a heavy breath. It was not a reaction motivated by anger but instead a self-censorship so she would not share aloud a joke about bringing the wrong sibling back, as the nitpicking behavior of the spirit reminded her of Vowzra.

"It is not Kyre for sure." she commented, side glancing Toun before looking to the newborn demi-god again.

"It seems we brought you to this world by accident as we were trying to resurrect one of our siblings," she said in an uncompromising manner.

"I hope you do not expect an apology for your mistake. I am not sorry, if an error had not been made I would not be here. While it would not matter if you had succeeded in your goal I am glad that you did not. Existence is preferable to nothing, I would presume." His tone was even and cool. He did not have time to apologize for something out of his control and even if he did he had no desire to do so.

Toun did not oblige the argument. "Do not apologise for our failures, essence-stealer," Toun rumbled. "Your act of existence is merely sealing our brother from us." Toun's fingers icicled into long, shining claws at his sides. Barely contained anger trembled them. "I'll destroy this one. We shall try again."

Self-perseveration was pushed to the back of his hollow mind when other thoughts began to swirl within. He could not devote attention to the predicament created by the porcelain one when the first stirrings of knowledge were in the process of birth. Only one thread had become strong enough for him to grasp. It was a simple concept, but one of immense importance; a name. Focusing more intently, he gave it a gentle tug, needing to know what the name was and what it belonged to. Both questions were soon answered as the thread bloomed.

Toun raised one of his long clawed hands...

"I am Thacel."

...And halted.

"Interesting name. It is certainly better than nothing I suppose." Thacel mused to himself aloud before turning his attention once more to the duo before him. While he had missed the words spoken by the one wearing robes, he noticed the talons that had not been there before. Their sudden appearance, combined with the quaking, clearly indicated that he had done something to garner the negative attention of the ceramic divine.

The second thought passed from the halted claws. Toun clinked forward.

On instinct Thacel took a step back while lifting both hands before him placatingly, the only action he could take as his words failed him.

"Toun, wait." Ilunabar said, not in a particular rush, but not as casual as before either. Her words were quick enough from Toun's previous hesitation to make him stop once more, slowly lowering his claws. His blue eye turned to her side, though he did not turn to face her.

"Not all mistakes are imperfect, the shining obsidian is born from seismic failures after all. We do not know if he is stopping Kyre from returning yet, just like we do not know if Kyre can return at all."

"You propose we keep this being alive?" Toun asked slowly.

"Yes, that is my proposal. Do you feel like killing him immediately is absolutely necessary? Even if you consider him an error, we need to put thought into it, see where the mistake began." The goddess crossed her arms and stared at Toun. She hadn't moved a step since the whole process began.

With the attention moved away from him, Thacel finally allowed himself to take a breath. While his existence was no longer in immediate danger he knew that his circumstances could change in less than a moment. His flat gray eyes fell upon the yet unnamed feminine entity who had taken to protecting him. It was clear that it was not out of any form of bond between them, but it was better than the pure hostility coming from the other, Toun. With this thought, he took a step to move himself closer to the female divine, distancing himself from Toun while also turning her into an obstacle between them.

Meanwhile, Toun felt Ilunabar's eyes on the back of his head the entire time. His chest breathed up and down. He slowly tilted his head to one side, and then shouted anger into the sky. His body wrenched a turn on one foot and threw his right claw underarm, extending its tips to the tiles below. They screeched at the contact, and as the claw followed through, the tiles beyond were thrown and broken in a line of force hundreds of fathoms before him.

The unfiltered rage shook Thacel to his very core. Even if he had been part of this world for centuries he doubted he would have ever experienced something as primal as the fury before him. He was grateful to be closer to the side of the female and capitalized on the position by taking another step toward her, though he stayed several behind her as a precaution.

"What could it have been!?" Toun shouted. He threw one arm through the air furiously. "We wrote Kyre! We coaxed him forth! Every mote of his being! All planned! All wasted!" He let out one more frustrated snarl.

The goddess' stare moved from her brother’s back to the destruction to his left. She was clearly distant, considering the possibilities while also being unaffected by the screaming that surrounded her. Finally, she calmly turned the stare of her deep purple eyes back to Toun.

"Let's say Zephyrion had not been temporarily banished by the greater gods, but outright killed," she said, unaware if Toun knew what had happened to the deity that previously hosted her. "And we were now writing him back into life. Do you think we would have added a line to stop his fatal mistake from being made? I think so, because otherwise what happened would just have repeated itself."

She finally took a step forward. "We wrote most of Kyre, but Kyre is dead, no matter if by murder or accident, the fate is the same. A correctly written Kyre would have all the words that lead to his death. A perfectly written Kyre, however, may not exactly be like that." She stopped.

"If you want, we can try again, this time making an effort to crystalize all the flaws in the paper."

Toun stood simmering. He responded with his back to Ilunabar still. "The course of life. That...No, we would still need to release his essence from this..." He waved a sharp finger lazily in Thacel's direction. "...Imitation."

Silence fell between the two divine beings. A silence that allowed Thacel’s thoughts time to be heard once more. The conversation, more importantly the parts contributed by the feminine idol, had shown him much. He had already known that they were his creators, but it was now clear that they had done so in order to bring back a being much like them. He took a moment to let his gaze trail along his own form.

"I do not believe I contain any essence of the one you sought to return to life, and if I do it is such a minimal amount that extracting it would not yield significant gains. Take a moment to compare the three of us." Thacel lifted his gaze to look upon the back of Toun. "I am a speck when in the presence of you two. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if I contained a large chunk, enough to warrant my destruction to try again, of this Kyre’s essence I would stand beside you as an equal in terms of stature? Or at the very least the difference wouldn’t be anywhere near as massive as it is."

Toun's hunched shoulders continued to rise and fall.

Stepping around his goddess barrier, Thacel moved instead to stand between the two, his eyes still focused on Toun. "I am not Kyre. I am the product of your desire to bring back one that was lost. I am your time and effort given physical form. The pair of you sought to create perfection. Do you doubt your abilities to the point that you believe you missed the mark? I for one do not. You did not revive your Kyre, you created a being made in his honor."

"...I shall not dress my mistake in honour." Toun's anger was crumbling in his voice. "Kyre is a brother. My heart weeps too broadly to insult him so. All my siblings deserve better, god-whelp." The avoidance of Thacel's previous point spoke silent concurrence.

"If he deserves better, make me better. Craft me into a living monument to your fallen brother. With the wisdom and power held between the two of you, the foundation could be placed with ease. Or let me remain as I am and watch as I build myself to the same point." Thacel’s voice remained steady, he had avoided death for the time but that was a small victory.

Toun's head turned until the corner of his blue eye peered over his shoulder, shining back at Thacel. Disdain seeped with it. "You believe yourself his equal? Arrogant creature." He turned, elbows out and chin lowered. His fingers lengthened to splayed claws again. "Even in potential, you are a mistake. You have been suffered long enough. I shall not keep reminders of my failures before me-"

"He does seem to be clinging quite stubbornly for a chance to live, so it is quite hard for anyone to believe this is a mercy kill." Ilunabar crossed her arms, while at first her words had an edge to them, they became increasingly softer as they continued. "There is no sign that he is trapping the essence of Kyre, your own words denounce that realization. This is just murder for the sake of murdering."

The goddess measured her words. A direct confrontation would fan Toun's fury, but she was set on grasping the opportunity the new demi-god presented for the sake of a quest for something that could very well be unattainable.

"I have seen today that you are a kind soul Toun, do not let your ire bring more death to this family." she said, in a calm plea.

Toun's eye relaxed. He turned one of his clawed hands, looking down at the edges that threw the light of the morning sun. His claws shrank into curling fingers, this time just as he hung his head and wrinkled his brow. "What now, then, Ilunabar?"

The goddess's hand reached for her chin. "About Thacel, I would be fine with letting him go, as long as he abdicates his wish to be like Kyre. For the resurrection project, it seems we both do not have the power or knowledge to bring a god back... at this moment." She sighed.

A long, still sigh escaped Toun's nonexistent nostrils. Ilunabar had given him thought that lasted another quiet pause.

Toun turned up his eye, raising his brow. "Thacel, god-whelp. You are not Kyre." He spoke gently, in spite of his words. "You never will be. Though, I will allow you to live if your life is not wasted. Make yourself better, if that is still what drives you."

Turning his hand again, Toun curled a fist and raised the little finger of his right hand. It lengthened to a claw, though not poised to attack. He wrapped his other hand around the finger. "If you at least swear that much..." A sharp crack sounded as the long finger abruptly tilted. "...I shall ensure you keep to your word."

Thacel took a deep breath, composing himself after the back-to-back threats that had been placed upon his life. He lifted his head to meet the eye of Toun directly, gauging the sincerity of his...father. "I can swear to this easily, for my words earlier came out misspoken. I do not intend to try and emulate your fallen brother, I know that is beyond my abilities. What I had meant is that I would build myself to be worthy of the attempt made by you two. I will not allow myself a life of luxury because of my divine origins, I will forge myself into something of use to the world. That had been my intent and I apologize for creating a misunderstanding between us."

The words left a bitter taste in his mouth. Confessing he had made an error was not easy, but the bitterness was honest.

Toun turned his full attention to his broken finger, still lengthened to a claw. He ran the hand it was severed from up and down the flat between its edges. Tiny red symbols bled out of the flush clay surface. Before their eyes, the claw's base swelled into the handle of a short, narrow sword. The guard was in the circular shape of Toun's insignia, while the pommel was a simple sphere of jet. With a flourish, Toun waved his free hand up from the ground, willing the clay tile below him to ooze upwards a thin white shape, tinted orange by the morning sun. The hand that held the claw-sword spun the blade and perfectly sheathed it within the ooze. The tile let go of the sword's new housing, leaving behind a filled scabbard. Toun let the assembly go. It floated into Thacel's hands. One last touch of a small white cloth fluttered from a tiny ring on the jet pommel. The sword and scabbard were lighter than expected. Lighter than the clay it started as.

"With that, there shall be nought but full understanding." Toun warned. "It will watch you, Thacel."

For the first time, the stoic face of Thacel broke, surprise coloring his features as he held the light blade in his grasp. He had not anticipated receiving a gift from Toun, after everything that had occurred between them in the short time since his creation. With a slow, almost reverent, movement he drew the blade from its sheath. His eyes danced along the flawless sword before returning it to its home within the pale sheath.

"A blade of such quality deserves a name equal to it. I can think of none better than Vigilance. A constant reminder that my actions are being watched and to act accordingly." Thacel’s tone was not that of one offended nor frightened, but surprisingly warm. At least compared to how he had been speaking thus far.

Toun paused. Something had taken him off-guard. He straightened to a rigid posture. "Do not disappoint me." His eye flicked to Ilunabar. "I shall continue my work. What we attempted here may not do well in the knowledge of others. Yet, sister, if you should be revealed to any new information, we may try again in the future. There is no more progress to make today, excepting reflection."

In Ilunabar's mind, Toun privately conveyed a reluctant addition, away from Thacel's ears. I owe you for preventing a further mistake. I will always be ready to help, should you require it, Ilunabar.

The Muse nodded, showing acknowledgment of both sentences. On that topic, all things have been said. There was no point delving further into such scars.

"As time passes, advancements in resources and concept will be eventual," she said before turning to the new demi-god. "Speaking of resource, I think you might want to follow me back to my holy land, Thacel. The archives in there will probably give you the context you need in this uncertain world."

Toun's head rotated to face Thacel. He clasped his hands behind his back.

"Thank you for the offer, it is incredibly generous and I would be a fool to turn it down." While Thacel spoke, he had turned his gaze away from his father to his mother. He was still coming to terms with the fact that beings as powerful as the two before him were his creators.

He let his gray eyes return to Toun and nodded his head. "I believe this is our farewell. I look forward to making good on my vow here."

"It is no farewell," Toun corrected. His hand swung from behind his back to point at Vigilance. His little finger had already grown back. "Not while you carry the blade. I may call upon you again, if you think yourself useful." The same hand waved forwards, shooing them. "Go."


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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Scarifar
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Scarifar Presto~!

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Mea Culpa



Niciel appeared within a small area of the Valley of Peace, where some Wisps had alerted her of an unknown object in that location. Usually Wisps didn't alert her unless it was something major, and even then such events that happened did not get Wisps to alert her. With her staff, Enlightenment, however, it seemed that every minor thing now had to get her attention. Niciel knew she would need to fine tune that. Meanwhile, a few nearby Hain spotted her and knelt down to greet her, but she merely gestured for them to get back up, then placed a finger on her smiling lips. Returning to her original business, Niciel approached the thing her Wisps alerted her for. What she found was quite interesting: a little bird of porcelain and metal. She didn't need to sense godly influence to know who had created this. She reached out to it and let it rest atop her palm, examining its fine quality and wondering why Toun made it. Knowing him, Niciel doubted it was merely cosmetic.

Niciel looked back at their past, recalling the argument they had. She wondered what Toun was doing now. Probably something more important than reminiscing of the past, no doubt. Then a thought occurred to her: she should take this chance to finally go apologize to Toun. Niciel never did like how their last encounter had ended, and now that so much time had passed, perhaps he would be more willing to listen to her. Using Enlightenment, Niciel located the Wisps nearest Cornerstone and used them to locate Toun.

Some had a distance to travel over the metatic ocean. Others had to come up from under the surface. Cornerstone was never difficult to find. The sheer white walls of the circular fortress stretched up and loomed as always. When the wisps danced over the top, the slave hain patrolling the toothy crenellations traced them with their eyes and clay spears. But the wisps were no threat.

Over the walls, Cornerstone was no longer as vast and empty as it used to be. In the sky, huge floating shells with crab-like pincers breathed a soft blue magical fire. The energy streamed gently upon the shadows below. Row upon column of identical clay structure was under construction by a crew of slave hain each. Lumps of porcelain rose, was shaped, and added to the structures in a syncronised dance. The military precision of the operation took the interior courtyard away from any notions of the natural world.

When the wisps looked closer to search for Toun himself, they saw that the structures were frames for some kind of large humanoid creatures. Beak-headed, like hain. They had blades and claws for hands and a seat in their torsos. They were empty and incomplete, for now.

Finding Toun was as simple as listening for the one noise out of sync with the factory floor. The robed white god was walking between two of the concentric circles of constructs, apparently oblivious to the oppressive industrial clinking. He had his hands clasped behind his back, pondering at the floor.

He stopped. His head turned to the nearest wisp, revealing his wide blue eye. He stared right back at Niciel through the mote of light.

As the Wisps gathered, a light began to glow in front of one of them, and with a flash, Niciel appeared hovering in the air a few inches before gently setting down on the ground. Giving off a gentle smile, Niciel greeted Toun, "Hello, Toun. It's... well, it's been a while since we last spoke, hasn't it?" She realized just how nervous she was about actually going through with it, gripping her right hand with her left a bit more firmly.

Toun maintained his stare. Neutral, if tense. The clay works clunked on around them. He spent seconds as if forgetting how to move, let alone speak. "It has." He said, cautious.

Niciel could feel the urge to turn her head to the side, afraid to meet Toun's gaze. However, she gathered her resolve and continued to look at him right in the eye. "Do you still remember the... argument we had? I... first, I wanted to, um, clarify a few things. When the Angels came here on that day, they were tricked by Vestec. I swear that I had nothing to do with their attack."

Finally, Toun blinked. "Is that why you are here, Niciel?"

Niciel sighed. She didn't think a simple apology would be so hard. "No, it's not just that. I really wanted to come here to... to apologize to you, for the way I acted, I mean. Back then, I failed to see your side of the story, and I barely listened to you before... saying the things I said. I never liked the way that ended... and I wanted to make things right." There was a short pause, then Niciel added, "I hope you can forgive me."

"You were careless." Toun took a sliding step to face Niciel fully. "How is it that you can ask my forgiveness with naught but your word? What do you intend from now on, sister?"

Niciel was silent for a time, then answered, "You're right, Toun. I was careless, and to an extent, I still am. I wish to change that." Niciel extended her right hand towards Toun, summoning her staff, Enlightenment. Still holding it out, Niciel continued, "I created this staff of Enlightenment as a symbol of my resolve. I know I have spent too long resting idly within the Valley of Peace, all while ignoring so many events occurring outside of it. Vestec's war on the world. Logos' Realta attack. Even that malignant, chaotic burst of energy that I'm sure was a declaration of war to the world. No longer will I hesitate. I am the Goddess of Light, and I intend to right all of my wrongs while aiding the world to the best of my ability."

"As for what I intend to do from now on... admittedly, I have no idea," Niciel said. "That is why I intend to see for myself the world that all of my siblings have created. I can't help a world I know nothing about, which is why I will learn about it first. That is my answer to you, Toun. Perhaps my word means little to you, but to me, it is everything I can offer."

"If that is what you wish." Toun's level voice made him hard to read. He turned his head one way to look at a nearby slave hain, and then the other way to look at something else. "See for yourself as much or as little as you desire here. I only have one condition." Toun bored his eye into Niciel again. "Stay. Out. Of my way."

Even with her ability to sense Purity, Niciel found it difficult to gauge Toun's emotions. Perhaps it didn't matter too much, though. Niciel did what she came for, and there was little else to do. Niciel bowed to Toun, lowering her head deeply, then teleported away with a flash of light.

The white polish of Cornerstone dimmed a degree. Toun was alone once more, but for the regular noises of the things being contructed either side of him.

He lowered his shoulders. His eye dimmed. A moment to pause and stare at a blank space passed. He turned, mouthlessly exhaled, and continued his walk.
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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by poog the pig
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poog the pig the fastest RPer this side of fuck

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Lifprasil


Within the sheets of rock and divine architecture provided by Jvan, many new forms awaited their exaltation from their emperor. Each shimmered with spells and god like immaterial, normalcy subjugated now by strange flesh as they stood amongst orderly rows, lead by a flagship two of a similar disposition. The Twins stood diligently as soldiers, but with Lifprasil in front of them, watching silently over his forces with an expression of purpose; they were suspicious that their roles lacked permanence.
The new army, the first regiment of the New Age, stood 5,000 strong, and their might was prostrated in height and muscle, it was as if each one defined the word simply by example. With silent intuition, each and every one watched Lifprasil in silence, awaiting his word.

"My warriors," started Lifprasil, flanked by Dabbles and his throne.

"Alefpria, as it stands, is but a settlement, a wary village hiding from the troubled planet around us. I have created you as the people's first and last line of defense, bastions of order and sublimity - manufactured to sacrifice mortality so that your fellow countrymen may live comfortably despite the terrors that threaten them. Upon your shoulders is also an even more tremendous burden, as the enemy not only waits on distant shores, but within the cosmos, hence your namesake. Gods float silently, and untold horrors sit hidden behind the veil of the night sky, watching Galbar with sinister intent."

The Emperor paused, helmet withheld to the crook of his arm, sword in the other.

"I have seen them, and you have witnessed their power - you were all planted here by seeds, sowed by the God of Order; the owl Logos himself. From distances great you were adopted by my men, and given new life here so that you may one day be given an opportunity for vengeance upon the monster that wronged you,"

Lifprasil felt it as he spoke, the anger, the hatred, the fear, it was a conscious sheet over the army within his starship, so present he felt like he could touch it. These children of a god's genocidal fervor were prepared, ready to wreak havoc on those who wronged them. Dabbles however was elated, fidgeting happily as he looked over the 5,000-strong army. These beautiful titans were fantastic, truly some of the finest productions from his many handed expertise - they were Jvanic mint, it was too bad that they would soon be sullied by combat. This made Dabbles slightly less... himself, but he celebrated silently nonetheless - the glee he felt tempted him into throwing coinage to children again; but that wasn't important now.

"Today is not that day. Instead, with this power - with our collective might, we will follow in the wake of this great owl, and take a divine journey into a path of absolution! We will burn his creation, and reframe the world he had left shattered into a paradise; one that can sustain itself throughout the ages, and ensure a bright and noble future for all mortals!" the Emperor exclaimed, heartily raising a fist and spurring his new army to an ecstatic warcry.

A smirk tickled Lifprasil's expression. They were ready, the 5,000 strong Knights, and their two leaders: the Twins who watched in silence. They were hunched within their individual chassis. hence devoid of expression, tiredly gazing into the crowd, but with their silence Lifprasil issued them a pair of medals, small, valuable trinkets made from steel and precious gems that illustrated their status: Lieutenants to Alefpria. Their medals were embezzled by a golden V, clipped by an outline of stellar ruby, malachite, and a deep charoite that had been cut neatly around the insignia. Extended from the V were two small boxes of the same gold, each evenly spaced and no larger than the letter they extended from to signify their rank and file - just underneath Susa and Lakshmi.

Each medal was stamped into their chests by Lifprasil himself - square on the right pectoral, delivered by a press of his thumb into the hard outer shell of their armor.

"Thank you." They said in unison, first amongst equals that bowed to only one god.

>>>

If he was to say Cosmic Knights were fast, that would have been an understatement. Sparring matches between them only lasted a minute at the most, and each one carried heavy cast iron rods as weapons that even he as a Higher Insidie would have issues hefting. Hogarth would often attend training sessions in his downtime, a small book in a calloused hand, and a paper umbrella in the other, but these were often with smaller mortals. There he sat, hot pebbles at his feet as he read atop his pitifully small chair underneath the judgemental gaze of the sun. He rested in a rectangular courtyard, constructed from carefully laiden brick and timber that had been constructed at the height of Alefprian expansion - but now served temporarily as a storage house, and now a very disposable housing for Cosmic duels.

The house wasn't entirely too large, at least to an Alefprian, being just about one-hundred feet in its length, but it was more than enough space to hold weapons that awaited soldiers when the time came; each one packaged like a vase of very sharp flowers potruding from a wooden barrel. The two supermortals that violently frolicked in front of him today were named Aegin and Pavel, and they were in the first five seconds of their twentieth battle today - not that Hogarth cared, he had a book to read, they had plenty of attention from his guard.

"Considering that writing as a concept is so recent - it's hard to find any good literature, don't you think?"

"Relative to you, Emperor," said the Lifprasilian - aware of his looming mortality. He was old, especially for an Insidie of his longevity. "What have you?" he questioned - the Knights were finished with their duel, and they took to kneeling; beside them unevenly dented rods of impure iron, stressed by the loud clash. Accompanying Lifprasil were a troupe of ten Cosmic Knights within violet shells, earlier there had been a changing of the guard upon the introduction of their warrior caste, as Lifprasil had willed it in his charge.

"You understand that you, the other lieutenants - Chroma included - are responsible for Alefpria in my leave, correct? The march to Xerxes will take time, and in that time our wealth of experienced soldiers and Knights will be lacking. Thousands, if not millio--"

"Save me the long winded speech Emperor, no offense, but I've done this for a hundred years now, anybody trying to get past me would be a fool to think they could; and with the construction of the schools underway, I'll be sure to have those experienced in what's-it-called in my company. Sculptors too, although I do disagree with their loose grip on morality."

"A necessity for the advancement of our kindred mortals, you see."

"You sound fairly evil right now, you should work on your exposition."

The nerve on this man, Lifprasil mused. In his old age, he had really attained a higher level of uncaring, especially after the Realta assault on Alefpria. He had a point though, maybe he did need to work on his exposition, or his presentation, rather.

"Presentation." Lifprasil tried to correct him.

"They're one in the same to you and all your other holy-types." said Hogarth with a smile, Lifprasil felt a staunch disbelief within him, which halted his compulsion just to use his powers on him, as he would with anyone else.

Lifprasil sighed.

"I suppose you're right, old-man." he teased.

The elder sputtered, and snapped his book shut. "You're older than me!" he cried, which caused Lifprasil to laughter, a not-so-noble gesture to the mortal.

"Many apologies, Hogarth, I may look young, and be young at heart, but I am quite old, I remember when this landscape was just crimson dunes under an oddly colored sky. However, despite all that time I've never worked on my manners, I really am sorry." Lifprasil would then exposit gracefully, bowing to Hogarth. Respect was a fickle thing, and he had respect for few, but the learning Demi-God, despite his extended history, felt it best to be respectful towards the old man in front of him.

In the end, Lifprasil had only these little things to calm his nerves, everywhere he went his armies were preparing to move, a massive procession had already been prepared, food stored, weapons bound, and graves layed for the inevitable bloodshed. All he had to look forward to now was a campaign that only ended in pain, and after the conquering and taming of Xerxes and his siblings, he had no direction to go but forward.

This day would probably be his last day without being marred by stress, but it was a necessity, as he had said earlier, for the advancement of his kindred mortals. Everything was an obstacle, it felt like, and to achieve his grand plan, Lifprasil would have to set into motion events that would very well spiral out of his control.

Maybe he could use some more perspective from wise men.



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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Over the south polar icepack skimmed an annelid of unusual construction, and on the back of this annelid was an individual even stranger.

His journey had an effective starting point of 'nowhere in particular' and a destination that boiled down to 'over there', but this didn't bother him at all. In fact, the directions had been given with him in mind. He found the landscape inspiring and easy to traverse, and had even taken the time to stop and build a snowman, insofar as 'man' could be applied.

Before long, the journeyman and his steed came into view of the plateau. Magnifique! Their size was indescribable, quite beyond anything he had seen before, and at first he slowed his passage to savour the sensation. Soon enough he realised that not even this was necessary, as the expanse still before him was so vast that he could set his pace however he liked for days yet before his destination was reached. So he urged the modified wyrm onwards, one eye ever on the glorious sight of the stone landscape, the other... Well, there wasn't any other.

If there had been, though, it would be set in the same direction as the rider's recently acquired magnetosensory neurons were guiding him. This planet had an admirable magnetic field, and though the heavily furred, wingless fae he brought with him would throw off any kind of compass they got near, the journeyman took care not to lose sight of it. His destination was maybe a day's journey from its terminal point.

In a few dozen hours, day and night having no meaning here where the summer sun never set, that destination was all too visible. His annelid steed slid flexibly over glacial crevasses and between boulders when the going was rough, until- Oh! That unmistakable shape in the stone! Those structures nestled at its base! The travelling had come to a satisfying end, and the journeyman was made as a speck of dust in the awesome shadow of the World Mountain.

Wow. Glorious.

With an encouraging slap at the side of the wyrm, he descended to the door of the Citadel Dundee.




Although he had been told at length about the still-resonant effects of Vowzra's curse upon the mortals of Galbar, the dwarves had quite obviously been made well after its casting, and they did not react to the journeyman's presence much more negatively than would be expected from those who had never seen something remotely so foreign. He waved at them, having been told that this was a friendly gesture.

This is what they saw.

Over the gravel moved a leechlike, segmented wyrm as black as being buried alive, under whose skin still blacker colours whorled. It was easily twenty metres long and about two across, and it made almost no sound as it moved. Atop it stood a fleshshaper whose characteristic black-and-red patterns had been claimed by albinism, leaving white speckled with pink.

He had a tail and two legs roughly where they were meant to be, and a fairly ordinary child-sized torso, but for the fact that his arms were missing. These were replaced by two more legs on the front of his chest and a second tail at the top of his spine. All six of his limbs were identical- Thin, beak-tipped tentacles three metres long, with occasional kinks suggesting joints and bones where there were none. All pink and white.

His head was gone too. Where it should be hovered a large black eye-shape, suspended on faint blurs of energy, its pupil a dark blue slit in a wavering white ring. Around his torso hung belts of faintly pulsing tools, bladder and vein and chitin, the largest on his back like a spear.

The three dwarves standing watch at the smaller entrance within the vast stone gate watched this figure move unmistakably towards them through the largely abandoned outer settlement, and, being trained but not tested, immediately sent one of their number to put the Citadel into a state of alert. Then they shared a glance, gripped bronze spears, and simultaneously took a swig of distilled courage.

"Hello," said the newcomer, his eye locking onto one of the dwarves and hovering motionless. The voice was small and shy.

"..."

"My name's Zyle." Long pause. "I'd like to be let in, please." Immediately a 'hand' shot up from somewhere and waved again, tongue wriggling from its beak.

"...Well ah," said the dwarf being stared at from somewhere under his accent, and his beard. "'Spose that can be arranged."

"Oh, that's very good. Now, please." The tentacles wiggled and the torso seemed to nod, but the eye never moved, nor did Zyle dismount.

"Yer armed," said the other dwarf abruptly, gesturing with her spear. "Take them..." Another gesture. "...Things orf, then ye might just get in a wee bit sooner."

"Sorry, no," said Zyle without looking at her. She scoffed.

"Well you'cn bloody freeze yer tit-beaks orf then, we're not lettin' ye in 'til ye put those down 'nd get orf that fockin' big intestine ye got there," said the second dwarf again, pointing as if it was necessary.

"Not happening and I really am really sorry," continued Zyle, flopping a little and then bowing, leaving the floating eye behind until he rose. "Sorry, but I'm going in now. I hope this doesn't make things awkward between us and goodbye." Zyle tapped the oversized wyrm and it started to squeeze into the tunnel, forcing past the gate.

The first dwarf lunged. Zyle's arm curled inwards then whipped out, pushing the tip of a shell-like shiv into the base of his neck. A shocking bang.

A chamber of liquid air spat into the dwarf's muscle and expanded in the heat, shattering his upper chest and neck and tossing the snap-frozen body to the ground, nearly decapitated. The massive eye finally turned to lock onto the second dwarf.

"I have five more of those," said Zyle in slight awe, possibly to himself. He let the spent bioweapon fall to the ground. "I'm sorry. Was that distressing? I think it would be maybe best if you escort me in personally. That way you can tell people I don't mean any harm. Is that okay? I'm looking for a resident deity, if there is one."

It had happened in the blink of an eye, too fast for the second dwarf to fully register. She nodded, swallowed, and gestured in. Zyle followed, dismounting somehow after he and the wyrm had squeezed in, spiralling as he moved as if his six arms were an irregular wheel around him.

"You must know. I really am very excited to be here. It was a real stroke of luck. Our lord mutilation can't go in because she's too scared. She's always scared. We know. The Tauga project isn't done yet so that can't happen either. Sending Help would be perfect but Heartworm avoids them. So I'm next in line. See, I have this thing that I love. I matured in the laboratory, before that I came from nowhere much. So I've never had the chance to really talk to anyone who wasn't weird. I love it though. I love chat. Conveying meaning and intention through words in the context of culture. I hope I can get better at it. It's so much fun. Say, have you ever..."

The shaken warrior led Zyle further in. His stare never wavered, not by an inch. Quickly they reached the main hall, the preceding passageway short and sweet. Within, tainted by the sickly sweet smell of copious amounts of ethanol, was a long, central set of tables. They had stools all around them. Many dwarves were in the room, each one with a mug of booze in their hands. The room, initially, was cheerful. Boasting, bragging, and the occasional impromptu song echoing through the truly massive room.

That changed when they spotted the sculptor. The room gradually began to silence as the alert from the guard that had been sent in spread. The citadel guards had already been levied, blocking Zyle’s way with bronze spears and yielding an 'oh dear'. Silence spread across the room, only scant echoes remaining where there used to be merriment and joy.

One dwarf in particular stepped up, clad in fancier clothes than the others. “Ye’on’ o’ those things we was told ‘bout? Scepter ‘r something,” the dwarf mused, a small fragment of divine power radiating off of him. The lightly armored citadel guard behind him nervously held their spears at the ready.

They expectantly awaited the Sculptor’s answer.

"That's an interesting question we should really look into some time," said Zyle eventually. "I mean, there's certainly room for interpretation there. I'll get back to you. Can we please come through now? I'm looking for a deity."

The eye revolved and settled on the psyker as one of Zyle's beaks gripped the closest haft and pushed it slightly aside, another twitching around the thing on his back. "Maybe you could give me directions?" The dwarf from outside nodded sharply, making grave gestures.

The psyker simply shook his head. "Y'ain't jus' walkin' in'o' th' Empress. Especially nyrt as a stranger." the other citadel guards continued to remain on alert, nervously looking over the Sculptor. The drinking hall was also still silent, the vast tables filled with dwarves that all did not speak, except in whispers. On the tables were their mugs, and what appeared to be some kind of meat and mushrooms on plate. The meat was likely from somewhere in the caves.

There was tension. The wyrm bulged.

"Okay," said Zyle, pulled the rifle-like weapon from his shoulder, and tossed it into the arms of the nearest dwarf. "I've reconsidered. Please make me less of a stranger." Immediately one of his beaks splashed into a tankard and siphoned up the liquor in a gulp, the long arm bulging as it swallowed. Zyle clambered fluidly over a stunned dwarf, picked up a stuffed roast from the table that probably weighed more than him, teetered, and tossed it into the wyrm's...

"Ye gods, that is a lot of teeth," muttered someone. Zyle wiggled. The wyrm's front end inverted and went back to being a featureless snoot.

"Feasting is a custom. Right? Now we are acquainted, and oh, what was that roast, anyway?"

"That was cave spoider meat, and even if y' did give up yer weapons, non'o'us are allowed in th' Empress' chamber, what makes ye think ye will be?" the psyker questioned. The citadel guard fanned out across the room, spears more relaxed now, except when looking towards the wyrm. Some more psykers began to cross the long, cavernous hall.

Zyle shrugged. The motion carried down his arms in waves. "Does she get reports? I can yell at her through the door if I need to. Oh and also I can read and write because Help taught me. Do you have writing? Pictograms maybe? Nevermind. I'm okay with just getting close or listening to her holy voice penetrate my bones until my hollow spaces reverberate in time with the song of the void. Or whatever she does. I'm sure she's lonely."

"Unless ye' got express permission from 'er, ye ain't goin' in. That's final." the psyker responded as the other psykers continued to near. They eventually made their way up, maintaining a respectful distance from the sculptor. They paused a bit, one of them saying, "Tha' thing can go in. Make i' snappy." the psyker then pointed to an unassuming side door far down the main hall.

"Okay, down the suspicious darkened tunnel I go," commented Zyle, surreptitiously pulling along the dwarf he'd handed his contraption to by the wrist. "Is it a cultural norm to surround visitors with ominous onlookers in nice clothes? I feel like that's important." He gestured, and the giant wyrm began to slide into the doorway. "Let's go!"

The psyker looked as though he was about to say something, but clearly deciding against it, he shrugged his shoulders. They were unopposed in their entrance to the side hall, which quickly fanned out into a larger room. At the center, leaning against a wooden table, was Lazarus. Her form wavered in the air, almost like heat waves on a hot day.

"Are you here for Jvan? No. Someone else?"

"You were right the first time, actually, in manner of speaking," said Zyle, a little idly, as the eye rotated mechanically towards Lazarus. He guided the wyrm into a corner, which it occupied like a shroud. "The psychological fragmentation of All-Beauty is really interesting to follow. Did you know that the uber-mind actually lost traits when it created the primary probe, even after the connection disintegrated? Also, I'm looking for an Empress," he added, "do you know her?"

"I'm fully aware," Lazarus responded, before continuing. "I'm the Empress." she continued to lean on the table, giving a small glance to the wyrm. "Now, as I was asking, what did you want?" She asked, continuing to waver in the air.

Zyle shuffled, a little tensely, then a belated "Oh!".

"My name is Zyle, an emissary of the Emaciator," he began, "rogue avatar of Jvan. Recently a divine signal was broadcast from the surface of the moon Periditus. By the time we could investigate, the source was already gone. We think it started here." A shift that might've been a nod. "The civilisation growing here hasn't gone unnoticed. I'm here by the word of Heartworm, to establish contact as her proxy."

"The signal did indeed start here. I'm not eager to tell you what it was, however. After all, I am the demigod of secrets," Lazarus paused, "welcome to my little hole in the ground. The dwarves have proved industrious. The only problem is the caste mixing that happens. They can't help themselves."

"That's kind of adorable," said Zyle. "An inter-caste love story. Okay, I'm done here. Demigod identified, welcome received, Heartworm will see you now or soon maybe."

"Just let me know when Heartworm arrives," came the simple response.

There was a single tapping sound.

Dwarf eyes turned to where Heartworm was calmly setting its hoof back down on the stone. Zyle's eye snapped back to the shape of his god- Two slender legs, a pod studded with eyes, and a grey visor thereon. Heartworm didn't tower so much as suspend itself at the top of its limbs as if they were stilts. Stilts corded with hydraulic ducts, and fingertip syringes.

Lazarus turned her head, looking at Heartworm. Cooly, she responded, "Hello."

"In geologically rewiring antarctic region around the stable godflesh housing the remilitarised undead Pronobii, Vestec continues a pattern of divine saprophagy," answered Heartworm, hooves clicking towards the uneasy psykers as Zyle 'ooo'ed. "Raises questions of an underlying order in selection of characters by Fate."

Heartworm raised an arm to the face of the nearest psyker, who didn't have time to react before a hypodermic spine emerged from between the cloven hoof and stabbed her in the eye. Heartworm retracted it and faced Lazarus, leaving the wounded dwarf clutching her face. "Decomposing Reathos, Vestec contributed to Lazarus's resources. Scented at this location subsequently. Not responsible for birth. Lazarus emerges ex nihilo via Vowzrid facilitation. Three divine entities originated here since then."

"Lazarus itself originated from Other contamination. Given Jvanic nature thereof and anomalous local concentration of demigods, the World Mountain theosystem holds scientific value to Heartworm."

Pause.

A beak tapped Lazarus's feathered shoulder. "That means she likes you," whispered Zyle excitedly.

Lazarus looked at Zyle briefly, before returning her gaze to Heartworm. “It’s good to see someone who is as interested in theosystems as I. I’ve come across some,” Lazarus paused, “startling discoveries, to say the least. Nothing more than theories, but I believe in those theories.”

Lazarus then turned, plucking a wooden machine off of one of the tables. She briefly looked over it, before asking, “how much do you know about divinity?”

"Observations," said Heartworm without nodding. ”Primarily of deity-avatar psychic link. Various other data spanning eight million years. Heartworm has dissected one god to date.”

“My theory is that even the most powerful of gods is mortal. Inexorably so. The universe is finite, and so are we. Do you know what that means? We are all dying. Eventually, both our works and ourselves will be gone, dust to the wind. I may have bought myself time when I ascended, but my work is not yet over.” Lazarus stopped, staring at Heartworm.

Heartworm said, “Correct.”

She waited for an elaboration.

”Analysis of Logos’s communication with Jvan suggests that they have collided before. Prior universe now non-existent. Logos’s behaviour reflects on multiple realities lost to absolute entropy. Evidence for consecutive worlds is abundant. Vakarlon was one iteration old upon modification. Within each, time races towards exhaustion. Gods die.”

”However, inter-universal travel is possible. One-way. Dreams attributable to Jvan document her ascension to an entity tunnelling between worlds indefinitely upon destruction. All-Beauty. Estimated age several hundred consecutive universes. Survival is contingent on her fractal nature. Reincarnation follows a constant pattern of birth from nothing until death of that world. Jvan is universe cancer. Grows eternally with no end point. Thus escapes entropy while also facilitating it.”

“Yes, this is all evidence of prior and future universes. But, the question is, how do we survive it? With our power intact? This is what I want to find out. I did not ascend with the intention of being stuck in an endless cycle of rebirth at my initial point of ascension. I ascended with the intention of living forever. Because despite the horrors I’ve seen -- which have destabilized my foresight and hindsight to the point many would call me mad -- I was born into this world with the intention of immortality. If I am at risk of being reverted at the end of the universe, I am not immortal.”

Lazarus stopped, silently staring at Heartworm. Somewhere in a corner, Zyle’s beaks were pressed together, looking thoughtful and nervous. She then continued, “Time ticks on, you know. With or without us. I intend to avoid being left behind.”

“Jvan’s memories contain answers for Lazarus,” said Heartworm simply. “Entropic death does not concern me. Heartworm was designed for a function. At the death of this world, that function will have been executed. Heartworm will be complete.”

Zyle made a faint ‘wow!’ sound, then raised an arm. Heartworm sent a telepathic blip, which he took as permission to speak.

“Madness is a vague and relative term rooted in abnormality for which unique individuals have no base of comparison,” said the Sculptor. It was quickly becoming clear where he’d picked up this particular style of speech. “I came here by choice, to a place I’d never been, full of magic I’ve never seen and a literal demigod who could be hostile, for reasons I don’t understand. I’m crazy, by your definition, and maybe that makes me trustworthy, if I may please say a thing.”

“I have a friend, I do. Help. Two hundred years old, has seen cities rise and fall. They can live for millennia more. In mortal terms, Help is undying, and lives with the biotechnological resources of a god and time enough to go anywhere and do anything they could ever want, except the one thing they wanted to do. They say that there’s no purpose to immortality if it’s spent stagnating. If Fate let you achieve your dream, what would you use it for? Infinite time? Infinite power? Why are you alive other than to nurse your fear of death like a parasite?”

“There are many mysteries left unchecked. I know far too well how precious little we know of this world. This universe, indeed this very existence is an enigma. It is not just a fear of death. It is a fear of dying without ever knowing our true potential. Some say we should be satisfied with our position in life. I disagree. What is a being worth if it does not improve upon itself? What does it add to the table?” Lazarus responded.

Zyle was confused, if interested. “I… Don’t think you need more than one eternity to know yourself,” he said after a while, “but I like that because it’s a big dream.”

“Arm,” interjected Heartworm, tossing at its lieutenant the tendon lance he had handed over earlier. It wasn’t clear how it had been retrieved. “We investigate now. Guide us,” continued the avatar, pointing briefly to Lazarus. “Your empire is an effective resource base. Symbiosis can be arranged.”

“Guide you where? I don’t go into public anymore.” Lazarus responded, not moving. Her form continued to waver in the air, unsteady despite her deliberate idle movements. There was a small silence. Zyle winced as if flicked by something, and promptly left with his wyrm, looking back at Heartworm.

“Lazarus is not the first god to try hiding her malaise from Heartworm,” said the Emaciator. The room was empty but for them now. “I helped Vakarlon. I can help you too, for a price.”

“I do not require help. You seem to forget that I know plenty more than you about the inside workings of divine energy,” Lazarus responded, “I know what I am doing.”

“False,” said Heartworm. It lifted an arm and set a small sphere of mangrove wood on the table. “Burn it. I’ll be there when you do.”

It turned, and left Lazarus to her devices. Lazarus only gave it a brief glance before returning to her work. She didn’t look twice at the artefact.

* * * * *


The Emaciator would not wait on Lazarus’s reclusive pride. The dwarven empire was an asset it was not willing to pass up, and if it was going to claim a share, it had work to do. It found Zyle waiting outside, chatting and gesturing.

“...So of course the second mechanism is bound to the first and provides most of the thrusting power once set off by the initial release of force, and that happens when you pull the trigger because that’s what triggers are for no wait hold it like so wait no your hands aren’t made for it nevermind. Anyway the neurotoxin is strong enough so half the time I mean I don’t actually-”

The psyker was cautiously looking back and forth between the excited Zyle and his gestures to the muscular bows built into the lance. Listening, clearly, with some detached part of his mind, while keeping a high alert. High enough, to his every credit, to shift his guard towards Heartworm when it levitated from the hall of the Empress.

And not nearly high enough to avoid the needle.

The scalpel hand withdrew as quickly as it had come. No longer making use of either limb for locomotion, Heartworm hovered with long arms held loosely at its sides, work-ready. The psyker staggered back with a fist to his eye and a rune in his hand, shouting for aid; It batted him with a forearm and he fell silent.

Zyle looked up giddily.

“Lazarus unresponsive,” said Heartworm. “We do this ourselves.”

An audible gasp from Zyle. He adjusted his grip on the venom lance and flipped himself onto the back of the wyrm. “We’re going data hunting? Really? You and me really?”

“Correct,” said the voice from the pod, vivid lights patterning the surface of its visor.

* * * * *


Our forays reveal basic flaws in the dwarven caste system.

Peasants, miners, craftsmiths, warriors, psykers, and the shamed. All of one kind. Some blessed, perhaps, by the runes of the Empress, and some given of particular talents that had led their ancestors into certain castes, or else cast down into the depths by virtue of their crimes against the Empire. But at heart they were all of a kind.
Despite clumsy attempts at eugenics by the psyker oligarchy, they maintained close relations. Intermingled and intermarried, rose from stratum to stratum by merit, as could be expected. They were a hardy people, adaptable and diverse.

Inefficiency.

Yet they suffered from the fault of all species that spread by versatility. Designed for resilience as individuals, their communities forced each dwarf to specialise as they increased in size. Faced with performing a single task for the whole of their life, much of the dwarven potential went to waste. No matter how many dwarves the Citadel held, there was only so much diversity they could produce. Only so much talent to be wrought from a single set of genes.

Castes shall be refined. Fitted to their tasks.

Had Heartworm the choice, it would have arranged the Empire like insects in the snow, breeding, feeding, divided by bodily function, their sentience as specialised as their form. Antarctic termites, tunnelling as one vast entity of a million units.

Alas, control was to be shared with the Empress and Heartworm had no intention of instigating divine conflict.

Psychologically individual still. Lazarus is to retain control through cultural means.

As such, no phenotype would be truly optimised. Each caste was to resemble a dwarven ideal. The divergence would be a moment not of shattering, but of ascension towards sacred forms- Those of the animals that the dwarves revered, and looked to as symbols of their newborn race.

The blow of change would be softened by the aesthetic and cultural values of the polar folk. And yet…

Invasive procedures.

Once, long ago and under the coercion of its creator, Heartworm had blended the Rovaick gene pool, thinning their blood into a broader spectrum of traits. Traits that combined in many ways, yet did not easily coexist.

Now the goblins had come full circle. From many kinds, by the hand of Jvan, a mix; From a mix, by the hand of Lazarus, a pure breed; From a pure breed, by the hand of Heartworm, many kinds. Apt, maybe, that a now-free Emaciator would be the one to divide their descendents once more into a multitude.

It knew that the operation would be no kinder in reverse.

* * * * *


“Go- Go- Hither, run-!

Their steps beat a rushing trail of sound down the corridor. Behind them, neither the metals nor the warriors were still screeching. Devina stared down into the torchlight ahead. She had never thought of this passage as long, but now she knew she had been wrong, so, so very wrong.

She turned just in time to see the other woman collapse.

“Hither!”

Irrong’s head strained to rise. Her eyes were shut and streaming with tears; Her arms were wrapped around her swollen belly. ‘I can’nae,’ she mouthed, unable to speak between gasps of exhaustion. ‘Devina...’

The metal sounds began again. Devina looked up.

A vast, dark eye stared back down at her.

She screamed. Something pale moved. She didn’t wake up for almost an hour. By the time she did, the things had gone.

She crawled towards Hither. She was still breathing. There was a long scar across her abdomen where her shirt had been slashed open, the flesh sealed shut as if by burning.

“Hi-Hither...”

Hither looked at her and she realised that they were both weeping in equal measure.

“Ye live,” said Hither, taking Devina in her arms. “By the g-gods, Dev, ye live. And th-the bab lives too.”

Devina put her hand to the mark on Hither’s belly as if fearing it would burst open at her touch.

“We’ll raise him, Dev. The demons c-can’t take him from us. Never. An’ we’ll raise yers also.”

Devina looked down further, saw the scar on her own body, and screamed.

* * * * *


They did raise the babies. Devina and Hither both gave birth within two months, in the warm underground chambers reserved for that purpose, surrounded by tokens of good luck and midwives who had seen no rest. A son to Hither, and a daughter to Devina.

The labour was hard, for their children were large even from birth, and they grew quickly. There was hair on their heads from the first day, and on their jaw, both as white as age. Before they were weaned they had a coat of warm fur.

Their children grew, and they were both tall and bulky. They ate ferociously as youngsters, until their arms were thick with fat and muscle and only the deep winters could touch them, even outside. Often they walked on their knuckles, not only in play but by nature. Their brows were thick, their skin dark, their eyes lidded, and their voices boomed across the mountains with youth and strength.

The dwarves raised their babies, and they loved them. And they were not alone. Among all the peasant children born from that day, the son of Hither and the daughter of Devina were not alone.

* * * * *


The miners were the first to be afflicted.

Worms came from the depths they had created and the caves they had not probed. Worms came from the darkness, from the water of the flooded tunnels. The worms came when they were asleep. And after a while, the worms came when they were awake.

In the plague of those days, neither man nor woman was spared. While the demons rampaged through the tunnels of Dundee, wormwounds began to mark the miners at their work, one at a time, for the worms never struck twice.

A bitter blessing that was, for the worms struck deep.

Even when the bleeding stopped it was days before the wounded felt the crawling cease. Even when life slowed to a pace that approached normal they knew something had changed. Even before they saw the surface workers raise their strange offspring, they knew the children they had lately conceived were not theirs alone.

The miners were born thin and pale, with muscles in odd places and teeth that could grind rocks. Their beards were all the hair that remained to them, and it was not fur but whiskers, long, stiff feelers that twitched back at the slightest touch, stirred at the faintest change in the tunnel air. Though gangly and stiff, their backs and their brains did not tire of the relentless chipping that comes with a pickaxe. With shrivelled ears and shrunken eyes they clambered into the mines, climbing the walls and ceiling with padded fingertips, and hooked claws.

With a lick of stone they found ores, and with a memory as clear as water they found their way in the maze. Touch guided them and instinct kept them, and the dwarves of the depths found their home in the darkness.

* * * * *


As food from the surface gardens and mushroom farms, and as water from the snow-born aquifers, so too did spirits flow through the heart of the dwarven community. Even now.

The Jvanic monsters seemed to know this, for the Citadel was under no illusion that they wanted the dwarves alive. And so the breweries were left untouched in all their mycelial splendour, the dry clack, flow, and bubble of gears churning vats.

Left untouched, until-

Bruss heard a sound like joints popping and another like metal banging, and by the time he turned, the warrior skewered on the business end of the meat lance was too paralyzed to breathe.

“Hi, we’re demons,” said Zyle.

A moment of yelling as Bruss went to raise the alarm. There was another popping sound as the spearhead was retracted on its mechanisms, leaving perfect leaking holes in the front and back of Grint’s breastplate. The poisoned dwarf slumped. Bruss didn’t see it happen, but he didn’t need to.

He ran, crying out at the top of his lungs, and a hand caught him by the shoulder.

It had scalpels for fingertips.

Bruss felt something nick his skin through his clothing, saw a faint twitch in the tubing that wreathed Heartworm’s forearm, and felt his senses blacken.

* * * * *


Though an outsider might not, at first, understand the genetic origin of the miner and surface caste phenotypes, few would be mislead by that of the specialist. As those who walked the snow were born of saru, the wise mountain monkey, and of the snow ape some call yeti; And as those who clawed the stone bore blood from tunnel-rats, revered and feared for the blind cunning of their broods, so the craftsmith caste were derived from the bats of the woods.



Even with the Emaciator’s accelerating touch, their gestation was not quick. The first were born months after the wormwounds healed. They clicked and twitched, sniffled and stared, with keen senses and curious minds; With agile hands and light, fast little bodies that feared no fall. They were the ones who, one day, would navigate the mountains and the ices with echoes in the night, though the cold gnawed their fragile fingertips.

This is what they inherited.

A line one hundred strong, dazed and calm, though they knew not why. From the corpses of things that looked like hearts with helmets did the one-eye demon feed them sweet tidbits, and their minds sharpened, turned to escape that was quickly proven to be impossible to them.

The Emaciator walked among them and they did not fear. The Emaciator showed them the grey flesh, and the one-eye demon placed it into their hands, let them feel its warmth.

The one-eye demon taught them that there was a spirit in the flesh, one that they would have to come to know for themselves. He showed them how they might grow this flesh in pots of rotting food, stretch it like taffy, blow it like glass. He was patient and he was cheerful, and the Emaciator was swift in his shadow.

Swift to bleed them if they rebelled. Swift to their aid if they struggled. Silent and ever-present, it hovered above them, a single touch of its hands correcting their errors, guiding their hands, scratching perfect diagrams into stone walls. Its pacing was perfect, its knowledge supreme.

They learned what stimuli could be derived from mineral and plant and intuition, applied on the tip of a pin.

They learned how to spin a matrix of arksynth that caused pastes of yam and sawdust to fizz and ferment. Its milk was flavourless, yet unmistakably strong.

They learned how a sac of ‘synth like a twisted octopus could be stitched together with spider’s silk on a crystal needle. Filled with coal and hung next to the skin, they produced warmth for hours, a lifeline for those who lacked blubber and fur.

They learned that a wand hardened from flesh whose recipe took weeks to complete would glow in the presence of tin-bearing rock. A bulbous flicker at the end of the rod leading them to a metal soft and pure and rare.

They learned the art of cultivating arksynth sponges that could be worn on the mouth, fitting over the face beneath a mask to keep out the deadly vapours of poorly tended mines. The dwarven masks grew fearsome and ornate, a symbol of mastery.

They learned how a bladder of air could be distilled through membranes painstakingly stretched from stemsynth after the application of saru blood, labradorite, and stonegall harvested with a blade of gold. Worn on the back, their bag of air lead into their masks by an intestine, and those that wore them breathed freely, no matter how hard the wind or high the mountaintop.

This they learned.


Cardiovascular problems set in not long after the Emaciator’s departure. Of those craftsmiths that fell pregnant after they had partaken in the drug-fueled study, none survived the bleeding during childbirth. When Heartworm left, it took away the touch that had coldly and effortlessly guided their endeavors, and their discoveries, too, became a shadow of what they had been in those weeks.

Yet this the people of the bat inherited: A pristine chamber where styli scratched and candles flickered bright at all hours. Skills bought by the curse of the cancer god, valued highly for the cost at which they had come.

An academy of flesh.

* * * * *


In those days and shortly after, the dwarves began to discover beasts on the ice.

Many were old enough to recall legends of brush giants, carried down still from their goblin roots. The plateau grazers were too far removed from their cousins to be recognisable, yet the primeval fear they stirred was as old as the chaos from which the goblins had come.

They were scarce. Far smaller than their savannah cousins, they were nonetheless too large for the crags, too heavy for thin ice, and too ravenous for the bare rock, though they supplemented their diet with any animal they could find and crush, and migrated north to the treeline in winter. And yet, even few in number, they were fearsome. Larger than the mastodons of the forest-tree or the sloths of the Deepwood, they bore one horn and two curved tusks at the back of their jaw, and a short trunk like a tapir. Great spines rose from their back in a forest of black wool.

Yet they met the dwarves with placid curiousity.

On the frozen sea, unusual cetacea were found. Derived from the hexetaceans of the Drenched Flowerbed, they had six functional legs, and yet spent much of their time in the water, emerging to breed and escape predation. Smooth and grey and dour, they fed by baleen, putting on much weight in krill in the summer months before hibernating in snow burrows. Though they travelled, their homing instincts carried them faithfully home when food became scarce, thick with blubber and milk.

Once land-bound, they offered little resistance to the spear.

But what else might predate them so, that these huge creatures might seek shelter on the ice?

Reports came of things that had no likeness anywhere on Galbar. Like pinnipeds in form, yet their faces were thin and sharp, like sperm whales, like foxes. Four flippers near the fore of their body carried them into a sprint with a single flick, and a dorsally finned tail propelled them to new hunting grounds. They snapped and bayed to each other in voices eerily distorted by water, and with a bladed ridge on their cleaver-like skulls, they butchered even the amphibious whales.

The dwarves that found them called them sea serpents.

But if their flexibility brought to mind a snake, other things remained of the fox and whale. The serpents were deceptive, cunning, and playful. They followed fishing vessels, and learned how to take advantage of dwarven krill-nets. Soon they were leading the boats to plentiful shoals. In time, the denizens of the Citadel began to catch on.

It only took a few stolen pups to rear the first generation of mounts.

* * * * *


As wagons and mills were affixed to the back of broken-in plateau grazers and herders on serpentback followed pods of hexetacea, the most magnificent creatures of all were yet to be discovered.

The warrior folk of the dwarves were born bat-like, as the craftsmiths were; Yet as they matured and their fur grew in, their true resemblance came to the fore: They were the people of the lynx and leopard.

Grey and brown, maned and spotted, their beards fitted seamlessly into the rest of their form. They had claws and fangs, the strength of peasants, the perception of adepts, the patience of miners.

But they were not born alone. Each and every warrior dwarf had a twin, one that was no dwarf at all.

They resembled one another. The catlike face, the shape of the hands and feet, even the patterns on their fur. Yet none could mistake the second pair of limbs for what it was.



As the warrior children played and grew wise, their sisters’ wings grew stronger. They could not speak, but there was no doubt that they understood their brother dwarves. Nor would any disbelieve that they, too, had been bred for war.

The dwarves called these magnificent creatures gryphons. Heartworm clicked its hooves and couldn’t care less. One weapon was the same as the other.

* * * * *


If any were consoled by the Emaciator’s violence, perhaps, it was the lowest caste of dwarves: the Shamed.

Killers and abusers and insurrectionists and runaways. Their name and community stripped away, they were kept separate from all others. Once their punishments were complete- A brand to mark them, a tongue to mute them, a blade to castrate them- They were sent away to bear the worst of the work in the Citadel Dundee.

Sewer scrubbers, mine canaries, blizzard scouts, spider bait. The Shamed laboured where they were not seen, and secretly rejoiced that they had been forgotten in the Dwarven Empire’s darkest day. Some prayed that the chaos would continue, and the mountain folk would be reduced to the level to which they had been forced.

But the chaos did not continue, and the Shamed had not been forgotten...

* * * * *


Two figures in the dark. One tall. Relaxed, in the dangerously confident way of one about to smash a skull with his boot.

Torches weren't used here. Only bioluminescent microbial sprawl marked the walls. It cast no shadows, and relegated the face into a silhouette recognisable only by its familiarity. It was dangerous darkness. It was suspicion given form and fizzed into the atmosphere.

"Finally remembered us, did ye?" said the tall figure. "Did ye no' think that things might've done changed 'fore comin' back tae us?" The tall figure clicked his tongue and shook his head slowly. "O nae, lassie."

The smaller figure said nothing but was not silent. They could hear her breathe.

"Queer that, don'chu think? So much dwarves gettin' bleeded an' giving birth tae wee bats an' lynxes. But no' a finger wass laid on our bodies. So everything's still the same for us, nae?" The tall figure spat. Another shadow moved in the background, stood, became a dwarf; and at her example more followed.

The smaller figure breathed even, a sleek robe trapped between ragged furs and muscle.

"Way we see it, we're no' so diff'rent," said the tall one, softer now. "Ye lord over us, you and yer Emperor, but yer still one of us. Blood of our blood. But ye think ye can leash yer brothers like a mangy bitch. Ain't that just the queerest thing."

He stepped forward, his height and hatred towering, and he did not stop. The robed figure clenched her jaw and felt fear.

And she raised a rune-marked hand that shone with power, illuminating the curved horns that crowned her skull.

The Shamed Ones recoiled in agony from the light, their own branded sigils resonating with hers. With burning hand she grabbed the tall figure by his wrist and his mouth flew open, throat rattling in pain. She threw him down and pulled the knife from her belt.

The marks she made burned them both with radiant heat, but she did not falter and she was not disturbed. Even before she was finished the Shamed One's body had begun to swell and crack, his spasms quavering and involuntary, his groans vanishing. She struggled to wrest his engorged body into position. After a while, though, there was more than enough free skin to carve up.

Once complete, she left the still-growing figure on the ground, a leash around its neck. It did not struggle. It never would again.

The psyker made her way back down the corridor, where a demon was waiting, exactly where she'd last left it.

"'Tis done."

"Adequate. Findings?"

The psyker shrugged. "He's growing fast. I can take 'im tae the mills soon, if I find a good yoke. Bastard's got more muscle'n a coo by now, 'e'll be big's a beast by mornin'."

"Compliance?"

A grimace for the strange god, but she was used to as much. The Emaciator had been straightforward with the ruling caste. "Yes, yes, blinks when I tell 'im n'all that."

"Sufficient," said Heartworm. "The procedure is applicable to all dwarves. Inform Lazarus of its practical applications." It turned, and tapped its way down the corridor.

"...Do ye always jabber like that?" called the psyker abruptly to its back.

"Sometimes."

* * * * *


And so the chaos came to an end.

Attacks slowed, then disappeared. New technologies became staples. Beasts were bred and children came of age.

In the tunnels, the worms died, and the scrabbling of miners became a sound of familiarity, wealth, family ties established through touch in the darkness. On the ice sheets, peasants formed long caravans of knuckle and tundra beasts, singing warmth to one another in a booming chorus.

In the mountains, crafty explorers picked out reagents for the ‘synth vats. In the mighty halls of the Citadel, the psykers stalked with beards flowing under their masks, weaving runes that dazzled and dismayed.

In the dirt, the Shamed laboured without word or thought, giants that taught a grim lesson.

And in the skies, the warriors marked the borders of an empire on gryphon’s back.

Peace. Labour. Prosperity. Birth.

Life went on.

* * * * *


But the demons were not gone. Not entirely.

They lived on in the hearts of the scarred, still lurking behind corners, still alive in the sounds of the night. They lived on in the artificer caste, whose families could not so easily forget their dead. They lived on in the orphan warriors whose parents had died that their gryphons might live. They lived on in the horns of the psykers and the fear they commanded.

The songs and stories of the Citadel Dundee had taken a turn for the grim that was not easily shaken. A constant had been written into the dwarven psyche: That whatever glories may come had been wrought from suffering, warped by dark forces. They had been chosen for a gift as terrible as it was magnificent, and were powerless to decide their fate. Much had been given to the dwarves, but something had been lost.

All knew this, though they didn’t say it.

And some knew more.

The touch of Jvan ran deep. Within each caste there was as much diversity as there had been in the dwarves as they had first been created, perhaps more. Yet once again, there were intermediates. Infertile hybrids forbidden by the psykers and sent away be fearful parents at birth, that they and their offspring might not disappear, only to return Shamed. There was a place for such infants.

All knew this, though they didn’t speak it.

And the ones who came to collect the babies knew more.

The Emaciator had come and gone. It left a shadow. A shadow of six long, reaching arms that found lone dwarves suffering from mysterious sores and curious thoughts, and plucked them away in the night.

It left a shadow in the broken chest of the eldest craftsmith to die. A whistling, piping shadow collected by the hybrids, and raised, along with its siblings, in the secret places of the mountains. Raised for harvest in the flesh of grazer calves.

And those that knew of these things knew also that the monster’s words were true, for it was a prophet. And it prophesied thus: That the Emaciator would yet return, for it had imposed on the dwarves a debt, and that debt would one day be repaid.

But there was hope. The prophet Zyle spoke to his acolytes, his suffering changelings as they thrashed among a swarm of faeries, his children unwanted and without place. He spoke even to the lowing animals in which the sweethearts grew.

He told them about the Messiah.

The Messiah would come, said the prophet, from the Emaciator and yet in spite of the emaciator. Long wars has the Messiah fought, and great peoples has the Messiah ruled. She would come from the skies and forge a new covenant with the dwarves, that they need not pay the old and bloody debt. She would stand before the Emperor and intervene for the outcasts with no fear in her heart. The Emperor stood by and watched while the people of the mountain suffered, but the Messiah would take them under her wing, and give them purpose.

And so, in the dark recesses, in the deep tunnels, in the dangerous springs and the secret places of the mountains was the Messiah’s image graven. The Messiah wore the face of death, and great weapons were around her. Sweethearts followed her, and she struck down the unworthy with her staff.

All the dwarves of the World Mountain knew this, though they were quiet.

But the Messiah would come.

Soon.

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Diana leaned against the bulwark of the Swordfish, chomping on an apple as she watched the crew prepare to make sail. She was wearing a loose long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed floppy hat: ideal clothing for avoiding both the sun and the stares of lecherous sailors.

For the better part of a septum, Diana planned, prepared, and gathered supplies and manpower for the expedition to the — appropriately named by Jorge — Sealion Islands. With the nigh-inexhaustible pockets of the young lord, and the web-like connections of Vipersong, Diana and her higher-ups were more than capable of gathering an exploratory force capable of establishing and defending a port settlement on the Sealion Coast, granted the island was devoid of sentient life. If what she hoped to avoid was so, force would have to be used, whether or not the inhabitants were willing to move or not; orders straight from Jorge himself.

Most of these idiots don't even know how to hold a sword …" she mused as she watched a whale of a man juggle a crate of sweet ale up the gangplank. One misstep later, he was blubbering uncontrollably in the water. Someone would come for him later.

Most of the men on board this expedition where family heads, struggling to make ends meet and forced to take jobs such a these that always held the stink of death on them. It was an unfortunate predicament, and she didn't envy them.

Tossing the apple core into the harbour, she noticed one final passenger making his way up the gangplank: a man dressed in full leather armour, struggling with two bags full of swords, spears and other things that rattled and clanked.

"If you fall into the water, don’t expect me to dive in and rescue you," Diana shouted. "I didn’t pack my fishing net."

The man gave her a broad smile of recognition as he stepped on board. "It’s easier to wear my armour than to carry it," he explained. "And no true knight would even think about leaving it behind."

"You’re not a knight yet," Diana reminded him. "What are you doing here, Xan?"

"Lord Sealion has sending me to investigate an island chain off the coast. What are you doing here, er …" He looked at her expectantly.

"Diana," she introduced herself. "I’m going on a bird-watching trip." She didn’t want to reveal her own association with Jorge Sealion just yet. Nevertheless, didn't Xan understand the concept of confidentiality?

"Here, let me help you with those," she said, relieving him of one of his bags.

"Thanks, Diana. Let’s go and dump all this stuff in the captain's quarters."

She raised an eyebrow. "The captain's quarters?"

"Of course. As a representative of Lord Sealion, I’m entitled to make full use of the captain's quarters for the duration of the voyage. I trust that he’s already prepared it for my arrival."

Diana looked over to where the captain, a fat, muscular man with a collection of evil scars and a peg-leg, was sharing a lewd joke with two equally dangerous-looking members of his crew.

"I think you’d better follow me." Diana told Xan.

She led him through a hatch and down to the cargo deck. Near the stern of the ship was a curtained-off area with two hammocks, one hung above the other. The place was cramped and small.

"I’ll take the top." Diana said. "I don’t want you falling on top of me, especially if you sleep in your armour."

Xan wasn’t happy. "But there are other people down here … and a strange smell. And probably rats, too."

Three sailors were sat hunched over around an upturned barrel throwing dice. They stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at Xan. Diana put a hand on his shoulder. "Don’t worry, she said. "If any of these rapscallions so much as touch you, I’ll make sure that they regret it." The sailors laughed and returned to their game.

Xan threw down his bag of weapons with a huff.

*


They were back up on the main deck when the Swordfish passed through Jakwela's seagate. The craft planed eloquently over the flat, blue surface of the White Sea. Its oars dipped and rose, dipped and rose, flashing in the morning sun and sending water flying skyward. A white sail hung furled over Diana's head. Green floodplains beamed bright and warm on either side of her. The ship smelled of cedar, earthy water, and sweat.

The Swordfish was just one of around ten vessels that headed out under oar in single file, passing a similar-sized line of incoming arrivals on their port side. In practice, the line of ships would break apart upon reaching the open sea, each free to pursue it's own agenda. Oddly enough, this particular line of ships — upon reaching the open sea — all maintained a single course. Such an occurrence proved itself a curious sight to those on the mainland, but to Diana, it was only procedure. With the Sealion's expertise, Vipersong planned a course long in advance, one to be strictly adhered to or the dangers of the White Sea would claim them.

Diana was apprehensive as they struck out into the unbounded, uncharted White Sea. Beyond the secure city walls, whether on land or at sea, anything could happen, and it often did. Xan didn’t seem as worried, though; rather than nervously monitoring the horizon like Diana was, he was scribbling intently in a small scroll. Diana tried to take her mind off thoughts of sea serpents and sirens.

"What are you writing?" she asked him. "Your journal? Seventh Day: met a girl," she imagined out loud.

"Unfortunately, she’s out of my league." Xan laughed. "No. We’ve got a week to kill, so I’m going to try and finish my epic romance, The Song of Lust. I've filled three scrolls so far."

Diana sighed. She looked over to where the captain was patrolling the deck, supervising the raising of the small schooner’s sails.

"Hey, Dead Leg." she shouted. "What can we do to help?"

The captain stumped over to them. "The bilges haven’t been cleared for three days. You did a good job sorting that mess out last time you were on board with us, Diana."

"In that case, I think I deserve a promotion." she countered.

Dead Leg grunted. "Fine! You can scrub the decks instead." The captain then turned to Xan and gave him an evil leer. "You, sir, are on bilge duty."

Xab looked aghast. "No." he spluttered. "The Lord … I represent …

"You’ll need to go and grab a bucket," the captain ordered. "Make your way to the very bottom of the hull, near the foremast. The smell will guide you." Xan staggered away. "And take your armour off," Dead Leg called after him. "The bilgewater will do more damage to it than azibo blood!"

"I think I’d rather fight an azibo!" Xan moaned.

Diana smiled. Dead Leg was one of Jorge's most trusted captain's, and one of Vipersong's loyalist gang-member. Upon hearing of the expedition, he immediately volunteered his ship. In addition, using his connections, he gathered an armada of sorts, to further spur the effort. There was no other captain like Dead Leg in all of Amestris, a man who lived his life in the White Sea, conducting all manners of business; whether it be in loyalty to Vipersong, to the Sealion empire, or himself.

Diana wiped a droplet of spray from her nose only to feel it replaced by another. The little drips were cold and clear, and they ran together and fell from her skin onto warm cedar planks below her feet. Occasionally, one ran over her lips. Their taste was sweet and clean.

In a matter of days, she would greet the unknown, and accept it either with open arms or sharpened bronze. "Just another day on the job."

*


On the Swordfish’s mainmast, Diana was on lookout in the crow’s nest. The empty sea stretched out for spans in all directions. It was the thirteenth day since they had left Jakwela, and so far Diana had spotted a few sharks of the port side, most likely a result of Dead Leg's happy hands pushing thieves off the boat. Now she was looking out expectantly for something else. And there it was! A low line of dark green on the western horizon. There were no mountains near the coast around the Sealion Islands, just miles of endless mangrove swamps and mahogany forests under a sweltering tropical sun.

Diana was cool under her hat, but down on deck, the crew were bare-chested and sweating as they hauled on the rigging. She leaned out over the basket and called down

"Land ahoy!"

Nobody noticed. The boatswain, a tall blond woman with a loud voice, was ordering the crew around and commanded all their attention. Only Xan, who was halfway up the mizzenmast, heard Diana. He was hanging from the end of a spar, untangling some of the sails; clad only in a headscarf and loincloth, he was quite a sight.

"What did you say, Diana?"

She cleared her throat. "Land ahoy!" she croaked.

Xan gave her the thumbs up and dropped down so that he was hanging from the spar by his legs. He cupped his hands to his mouth and bellowed:

"LAND AHOY!"

Suddenly the deck was abuzz with excitement. Sailors abruptly dropped what they where doing to gaze upon the ever growing Sealion Islands for the first time in rapt awe.

Having seen enough herself, Diana dropped to the deck and approached the blonde boatswain, the only other woman on the boat.

“Sadus, you recluse, I can’t imagine what’s going through your head. To just skip out on working the deck, without so much as a word, and to do what? Muck around and stare at some god forsaken island!” the deep female voice yelled.

Diana couldn't help but smile at the strapping boatswains' antics. Better known as Viatrix, the experienced sailor was tall muscular with short blonde hair. She was taller than most the men on the boat except for the man she referred to as Sadus, but she looked stronger than him. However, her body was obviously that of a female and she still had a feminine figure, just a large one. The woman wore a heavy cloth shirt that was partly unlaced at the top to reveal her ample, better yet, aggressive cleavage. She wore long practical leather pants and carried a rather large sword at her hip. Despite her hulking figure, she carried the grace of a huntsman.

"Sadus giving you trouble, Viatrix?" Diana jibbed, stopping just short of boatswain's position.

"That or he's feeling pretty cocky that I let him put my four quarters to the spit a few moons ago. Viatrix commented drily without looking her way.

Diana smirked and gave Viatrix a knowing look. "Is that so? I didn't take you as the submissive type."

Viatrix shook her head slowly, almost in awe. "I didn't also! But Sadus has a way of coaxing the bugger out of me. You'd be surprised what little guy is capable of."

"I'm sure I would! He somehow managed to tame the wild Viatrix!"

Viatrix leaned down to whisper in Diana's ear. "I won't deny it, when he takes the hammer to the anvil, I sometimes wonder whether or not he's human." A sly smile danced on her face. "What about you and that knight boy, you two are oddly smitten?"

Diana spared Xan a glance. High above the deck he perilously worked the roped scaffolding without so much as breaking a sweat. Diana scoffed. "Far from it. He's just a clueless dreamer I met a few turns ago at the temple." Diana paused to adjust her hat against her head. "Fate seems bent on keeping us together."

"Fate doesn't make mistakes, there's a reason you two happen to be on this boat today, a reason why your destinations are the same, and your missions intertwined. I wouldn't fault Fate just yet, Ivory. the giant woman mused with a great smile.

"Oi! I don't pay you muckers to sit around gawk at the pretty trees! Get back on it! Especially you two ladies.' a deep male voice boomed over the crashing of waves.

The voice belonged to a man equally as imposing as Viatrix was, standing starkly at the helm next to Dead Leg. Short but powerful with a face weathered and dark with exposure and with a balding head shaved close for comfort inside a helm, the Vipersong Beta known as Red Dog, wore the blue tattoos on his face marking him as a man born and made a warrior in the northern tribes of Amestris. Despite that upbringing, he now called the beaches of Jakwale home, where his gang now was centered. Yet, he carried the honor of the northern tribes in his bones, for the buff gangster was as steady as the silver granite of the Hearts. He was disciplined and determined, as implacable as the mountain stone itself and as unstoppable in battle as an avalanche. Combined with a rapier-sharp intellect, those traits made Red Dog the best man for the task of leading the expedition across the White Sea into the unknown.

Viatrix let out an inaudible sigh and rolled her eyes. "We'll talk later, Ivory. Remember, let Fate run its course and play its tune. It'll guide you right." Suddenly her voice rose. "Up, up! You heard the man, enough gawking or I'll have your asses on oar duty till we dock!"

*


The next morning, Diana woke to the sound of silence.

She heard no laughing, no singing, no thumping of feet as the sailors worked the deck above. She swung dizzily in the air and tried to remember where the floor was so that she could get out of the hammock without falling on her face.

A moment later, she heard footsteps.

She had barely managed to get her toes down before Dead Leg burst through the curtain and brought the light of day with him. The captain’s tattooed face was flush with color. His eyes were shining.

“We got trouble” Diana heard. The sentence was followed by a string of syllables she couldn’t
even parse into words.

Swiftly, Diana dressed herself. Were they under attack? Were they pirates? Were they docked? Were the Sealion Islands actually inhabited? Were the inhabitants the hostiles? All her questions were answered once she reached the deck. Off the Swordfish's port side, six or seven small fires burned on a hill covered in yellow heather. The sea washed onto a gray beach below them.

“Have they spotted us?” Diana asked.

None of the sailors responded.

A high layer of clouds covered the sky. For a moment, the sun broke through it and painted the hill in shades of orange. Diana spotted tall figures scampering along the beach between silhouettes that looked like twin-hulled canoes.

Her stomach twisted.

Anticipation had been the worst part of danger for her since his childhood. Once a crisis was on her, she could trust his body, trust her heart, trust her mind. But if she watched a problem come on, she had time to think. Time to wonder about the mistakes she might make, and about what might happen if she made them. She envied those capable of shrugging off such thoughts.

The minutes passed slowly. The Swordfish's sails flapped lifelessly above. A few birds circled high in the sky. Diana stood alone at the ship’s shoreside rail.

The canoes launched one by one.

Diana counted maybe twelve boats, with six or seven tall, shadowy figures in each. The Swordfish's crew on deck numbered thirty-five. They couldn't count on help from the rest of the armada, the orders were clear, no one was to move from there post.

She spared a glance at Xan. The defender was standing on the ship’s forecastle, near the stairs to the main deck. His eyes were focused on the canoes. His brows plunged sharply toward his nose. His lips were drawn thin, like he was planning.

Diana frowned and turned away.

Dead Leg whispered something to Red Dog. Red Dog answered.

A bead of sweat rolled down Diana's cheek. She slipped her sickle sword from its belt loop and swished it through the air a few times. She hoped she could trust it. Never put too much faith in a weapon, Caspian had once said. Unless that weapon is yourself. The words still sent goosebumps skittering over Diana's skin. Her whole life was spent honing her body into a deadly weapon. She would spend hours playing with an array of weapons, learning how to move with them, strike with them, parry with them, and throw them. She was more than confident in her skills, but not overconfident. Her encounter with the Blowfly had thought her to never underestimate an enemy again. Never again.

The islanders bobbed in a line on the ocean swells just outside of arrow range. They were close enough to see, and to count. They numbered about eighty. Pale, flaxen hair hung long from their heads over their ruddy bodies. Their chests and legs lay bare to the north sea air. Diana could see their weapons lying beside them in their boats.

The islanders sat motionless for close to ten counts. Whispers echoed up and down the sailor line. Some of the sailors twitched nervously, clenched their teeth, or gripped the rail until their knuckles turned white. Dead Leg repeated a word in his own, broken language in the center of the line.

He’s calming them, Diana thought. Good.

And then all hell broke loose.

An ululating cry rang out from the boats. The islanders’ paddles struck the waves. Their canoes shot forward.

Dead Leg cried out. The twang of bows filled the air. Viatrix hurled obsidian tipped spears towards the canoes. Islander after islander fell from the fast-approaching boats.

It would take more than picking off individuals to overcome the numerical advantage the islanders possessed. Viatrix should have known that.

Two of the oncoming canoes lost enough rowers that they fell behind the attack. The momentum of the charge faltered. For a moment, Diana thought the islanders might not even make the ship.

Then some of them stood up.

Dead Leg shouted a word she didn’t understand. The crew dropped to the deck and huddled behind the bulwarks. Immediately she feel to the ground. The sailor closest to Red Dog grabbed his leg and tried to pull him down.

He kicked his hand away. Apparently he could guess what was coming, and it did not concern him.

The islanders standing in the canoes raised blowguns. They took a few seconds to train them on the ship, and then at some unseen signal, they all fired at once. A volley of darts filled the air. Some flew toward Xan. Others took a steeper angle upward.

Diana lost him in the haze. From what she could see, there were still six canoes left in good shape, and more than enough islanders in them to make for a bloodbath if they reached the ship. Her mind was thrust into overdrive. What could she do?

A loud thump echoed from the bulwark, and Diana whirled to see a weaponless islander grappling with a sailor next to the ship’s rail. She lurched to her feet. The sailor lost his balance and the islander heaved him overboard and turned in her direction.

Acting out of impulse, Diana spotted a set of axes strewn on the deck next to her and lunged for them. Rolling and grabbing them in the same moment, she stood to meet the rushing islander. The muscles in her arms bunched, and she freed one of her axes from the shoulder of the islander and kicked it down the short stairs, jumped down after it, and followed with the other ax, all in one swift motion.

The islanders' skull crunched beneath the blow, and Diana lifted his eyes. A stew of struggling figures frothed across the Swordfish's deck before her. Large, bronzed arms tangled with equally thick ones. Bronze flashed against bone. Sailors roared. Islanders hissed. A river of blood soaked her feet.

And Xan was in trouble.

An islander lunged for Diana with a spear, and she leaped aside.

She’d seen Xan moving toward a group of islanders moving against Sadus a moment before, but she couldn’t—

Duck. Twist. Hack. Scream.

—she couldn’t find him—

Easy, she told herself. Wait. Fight. Keep your eyes open.

An islander taller than the rest was fighting in the center of the deck. Around his waist, he wore nothing but a ragged loincloth. Two bands of leather were cinched around his arms and his hair was long and silver. The man was well-built and wielded two gleaming cutlasses with pearl-like guards.

And Diana knew that she would have to fight it.

Two sailors descended to the deck behind her. She heard loud, heavy fear in the way they breathed, and she turned around long enough to see that they were young—a black-haired, bright-eyed boy from just outside Yala and an older hain from Ngarlak.

They were inexperienced. They were nervous. They would have to do.

“Both of you,” she said. “to me.”

Diana had been born to rule. When she commanded, she was obeyed.

She moved forward. The sailors behind her did not.

Diana did not waste time. She rushed at the islander giant as it was pulling a sword from the throat of one of her countrymen. The deck thumped and flexed beneath her boots. Her hands held tight to the grips of her axes, ready to strike in any direction.

The beast turned to face her. Its hair swung before its face.

It smiled.

Diana snarled.

They joined battle a moment later.

Diana had to dodge a thrust from the islanders right cutlass to get in close enough to strike. She lashed out for the man's knee and was parried, but the momentum pushed her into an easy spin. She came back around and swung her right axe for the islanders head. The attack forced the man to duck, and Diana followed through with a slash of her left axe toward his midsection.

The islander leaned back and the ax missed by inches.

Diana kept spinning. She swung for the islander's outstretched, unprotected legs.

The warrior took a step back and exploded forward with a kick that caught her straight in the arm. Its shin hit her hard enough to make an impact on her bones.

The blow stopped her momentum and her breath whooshed out of her.

Nevertheless, the islander came forward.

Diana barely had the balance to dodge his next thrust, and the one after that, and the one after that. The cutlasses flickered in the sunlight and were lost in shadow, gone and back again just inches from her body. There was a madness to the way the man fought—an insane ecstasy in combat, as though the dance of death was all he lived for, all he had, and all he needed.

The ship’s rail loomed behind Diana. She was running out of space, and she needed to maneuver so that she had open deck at her back again, but she had no time. The swords came too fast. Her heel bumped up against the bulwark. She had to parry a blow from the left with an axe, then one from the right. She breathed, grunted, breathed—

—and a young sailor bought her time with his life.

The boy charged in from the side screaming a wordless battle cry and slashing with a short sword. The islander leaped back and dodged his first strike, then his second.

Diana watched the islander pivot. She hurled her left axe at its chest.

The islander stepped forward. Diana's ax flew by it. It thrust.

Its left cutlass went straight into the sailor’s chest.

The young hain's eyes went wide. Diana rushed forward. The islanders sword was stuck in the sailor’s chest, and the boy had his hands on its hilt. He was shouting something, fighting even as he died.

Diana would tell the boy’s family that, if he had the chance.

The islander had to let go of the sword to meet Diana's attack. They clashed, spun, clashed. The beast’s movements were easier to track with only one blade to follow.

But Diana was down to one weapon as well.

Their duel grew tighter. Diana struggled to grab one of the half-a-dozen weapons scattered across the Swordfish's deck. The islander did the same. It angled for a short sword, and Diana cut it off. Diana went for her axe, and the islander nearly took her arm off. The two swirled in a narrow, mortal circle.

Diana could sense the fighting quieting around them. There were fewer other combatants to dodge around, and the screams and shouts of battle had attenuated.

But she couldn’t be sure who had won.

Her breath came in gasps and grunts. Her arms and legs burned. It became all he could do to keep the islander from gaining a second weapon.

Bone-deep, searing pain engulfed her right arm.

Diana tried to move it and failed. She was forced back on the defensive.

The islander picked up his other cutlass.

In Diana's arm was a dart. A six-inch, black dart.

The islander stuck her in the shoulder and then opened a long gash on her thigh. A kick caught her in the gut, and as she fell back, a knee slammed into her head hard enough to wrench her neck. Her ears rang. The world went fuzzy and distant. She felt blood on her chin, in her hair, in her mouth.

She tried to stand, but she couldn’t get her legs under herself. She braced for the blow that would end her life.

It didn’t come.

Diana's feet couldn’t gain purchase on the deck. Her right arm wouldn’t bear her weight. She squirmed and rolled until she could drag himself up against the ship’s bulwark, and then she pulled the dart from her arm and tried to catch her breath. The world blacked in and out around her. Her head ached. She had difficulty thinking in straight lines.

Xan, Sadus, and Viatrix were fighting the giant islander.

Sadus parried cutlass blows once, twice, three times with daggers. He almost succeeded in landing a strike to the beast’s left knee, but he caught the right in his head for his troubles.

He went to the deck, and the islander turned around to block an overhand club blow from Viatrix.

Diana's arm and stomach ached. Her jaw swelled shut. Her thigh and shoulder were crossed by fiery lines.

The beast kicked Viatrix away and turned back to Sadus.

Xan stepped between them and thrust for its torso.

Diana struggled to watch. Xan fought cautiously and quickly, two swords to two. Sadus regained his feet and attacked from the other side. The islander fought them both at once, one cutlass for each.

Diana felt light-headed. She wanted to watch the sailors continue their fight, but she couldn’t find the strength. Her leg and arm were black with blood.

A dart.

The histories would read that Diana, lost princess of Amestris, had been killed in the White Sea by a damn, bloody dart.

Diana's chin fell to her chest, and she slumped against another body. Her eyes closed. Her tongue felt dry and swollen. Images of her past floated floated before her eyes as she waited for the darkness to claim her.

But the darkness never came. It was as the padding of islander feet and sailor boots, that Diana heard them abruptly slow as if they paused to consider her final moments in delicious anticipation. The symphony of battle, slowed to a low rumble until it abruptly disappeared. In the same instant Diana's mind completely cleared as though she'd taken no blows at all.

Blinking in stunned surprise, she looked up. And she found herself marveling to discover everything was frozen in place all around her.

"What, . . .?" she began to husk in amazement. Only to stammer into silence when her eyes caught sight of what appeared to be a single flake of snow slowly descending from a clear mid-morning sky towards her, leaving a glowing afterimage line behind it against the blaring rays.

Levering herself up onto her hands, Diana craned her neck to watch the white flake fall, drifting weightlessly downward like a leaf falling in the last days of autumn. It was about the size of her thumbnail and, as if its mysterious appearance wasn't enough, the flake looked as though it fell directly towards her.

It was almost instinctive to reach out to let the intricately delicate flake fall into her palm. And, though there was no shock of cold against her heated flesh to announce true snow, she drew it towards herself to examine it with wondering eyes.

Up close, the flake was as intricate and complex as she first thought, finely joined shapes and lines in a smooth construct that only nature could've devised. Yet, there was something familiar about it, as if it bore more than a passing resemblance to the ancient crest etched upon the heart of every Xerxian, the eyed triangle, better known as the cipher.

Then, as her breath caressed it, the flake abruptly dissolved, having resisted the summer heat and her own body warmth until now. And yet again, instead of cold water, it was with a rushing tingle that the flake was absorbed into the skin of his palm. Instantly her nostrils were filled with the scent of rose petals and, with soft insistence into the heart of her mind, a woman's familiar voice spoke:

"It begins."

Even as the words echoed inside her mind, time became itself and the symphony of battle returned.
Nevertheless, she struggled to keep the wonder from her face as she felt quicksilver adrenaline flood into her body.

As if she had been reborn, Diana jumped to her feet, then watched as once again the world seemed to slow to a crawl.

First to fall was giant islander, Diana returning the blunt favor he dished out earlier by hammering her forehead into the beast of man's face, shattering his nose and sending him stumbling backward. Another one who held a blade to a hain sailors' neck was next, using her inhuman speed to grab hold of the islander's wrist to twist the arm so hard, it both dislocated the shoulder and shattered the upper arm, sending the jagged end jutting from tortured flesh. Then she was driving a broken stump spear-like into the islanders side, penetrating his ribcage to what was left of his elbow, piercing his heart and killing him instantly.

A hard swing with a knotted right fist flew across her body as Diana twisted to the left, took out two more, jaws breaking with dull 'cracks' from the force of impact. Reversing the twist, she then snapped the fist around to knock aside three islanders behind her. Using the momentum from that attack, she continued to spin around and whistled a reverse heel kick through the air with enough speed that when it struck the giant islander in the side of the face, still falling back from the head butt, it instantly snapped his neck.

All within the blink of an eye.

Then time sped up and Diana straightened erect as the surviving sailors staggered back into motion.

"By the gods, how, . . .?" one stammered in confusion, the bodies of islanders heaped untidily all around the deck. None were left alive.

Diana looked down at the hand that had absorbed the flake of light, eyes narrow slits.

"Red Dog!" she bellowed, her own confusion a hot rush through her mind. She lifted her head to look at the stunned sailors who stared in shock back at her.

Red Dog pushed through the crowd that assembled on the deck. Blood covered his body, blood Diana was confident once belonged to an islander. "What in bloody hells did you do, woman?" he breathed.

"Hike up your britches, Red Dog and get the boys ready. We still have a fight on our hands." she turned and pointed at massive island growing ever nearer. Even from this distance, everyone could clearly see crowd growing on the shore. Every single one of them brandished a weapon in hand.





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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Frettzo
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The Shadow - 1

t'chi

The arrow pierced through the shadow, hidden among the darkness of the forest. It didn't flinch. The man who shot the arrow grimaced, a sharp pain going up his arm and into his neck as he let his bow fall to the ground. he was panting and in tears, yet his face showed nothing but a stern expression. He brought his hand close to his face and tried to flex his fingers. He couldn't. His hands were so calloused that balling up his fist was impossible, and the rest of them were so raw that blood was beginning to flow freely.

So the man let his left arm hang and used his right one to pick up his knife from the grass, taking care not to stumble on any of the roots going along the ground.

When he looked up, the shadow was no longer there. He squinted his eyes and pushed his matted hair out of his face.

"Not again…" He muttered to no one but the ever-growing trees.

Holding the knife tightly but not as tightly as he once could, the man closed his eyes and focused. After a moment, his useless left arm began emitting a soft glow. He could barely see a moment ago, and now it was much easier to find his way around.

So, now a bit safer from the shadows, the man walked forth.

The question is, when is a shadow most dangerous? Is it most dangerous in a dark place, where it has dissipated and you can't tell where it is? Or is it most dangerous when its borders have been defined by a light source?

Long, shadowy arms all crept along the border of his light, looking for the moment to approach the man. Looking for the moment to taste his soul.

Every step was heavier than the one before. His calves were burning. his stomach felt like it was being hacked apart by a battle axe. When was the last time that he ate? He tried not to think of such things. There was no way to tell how long it had been since he entered the damn place, but it was for sure that he hadn't felt thirsty.

Every step was heavier than the last. And then he fell, his dragging foot caught up in a root. His light dimmed for a moment and he couldn't recover the full brightness no matter how deep he searched for the energy.

He saw the shadows closing in. They were mere feet away, with their clawed silhouettes dragging across the grass, over trunks and under roots. Some scratched at his shins, others at his forearms.

There, in an unknown forest, after having spent who knows how long starving and running from these shadows, after having seen his village burn down and having covered his family's escape from the Demon, he felt it.

A knot formed in his throat, and his tears took on a renewed vigor. His lower lip quivered and he squeezed his eyes shut to try and stop what was happening.

There, as his limbs were being pulled by these shadows, he knew.

One of the arms coiled itself on his left arm, stronger than the rest and much more defined as well. Turns out, you don't want the shadows to be defined if you're trying to escape from them.

He choked back a sob.

"Ggrrah-!" He groaned as he pulled his right arm hard, freeing it from the other arms. He aimed the knife at his heart and brought it down-

Only to see, with a chill going down his spine, that the stronger shadow got a hold of the knife blade moments before it pierced the man's skin. With a flick, the knife went flying out of the man's grasp.

He knew he was going to die.

The last thing he felt was a sharp sting on his sternum. The last thing he saw was the fountain of blood that spurted from his gaping chest as the shadow arm tore out his heart. The last thing he heard was the metallic grind of the shadows slithering across the ground as they enveloped his dying body.
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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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The bronze chisel made a sharp but not offensive noise at the surface of the basalt. Old Walker's fragile hands tapped the growing mark into a curve with calm, ancient perfection. The letter turned upwards, terminated, and the Sculptor lifted its tool from the stone. It wiped dust from the chisel, then wrapped both tool and mallet in a canvas wallet, which it tucked away neatly in one of the saddlebags at its side.

The sentence wasn't finished yet. It terminated just before the end, like so:

Trust not your kings, for they will overwhelm you with the splendor to which they were crowned; And trust not your elders, for they may deceive you with the wisdom in which they have grown; And trust not your elected leaders, for they can blind you with the charisma with which they were born; Only trust God, who is splendid, wise, and

The rest would one day run 'great, yet has earned none of these things.' Following that, 'For you, the Chosen People, have given unto God Her temples, enriched Her knowledge with your prayers, and spoken Her word with holy fervor.' It was one of the many entries in the Tome of Sayings, which was the first book in the Voice of the Painter. It meant, of course, that the Meteran people should bow before no-one that they themselves had not shaped with their own wishes for the future.

Yes, it was one of many hundreds of entries in the Tome of Sayings, with all its poetic contradictions. There was still plenty of room to be carved on the slab, but Old Walker was done. When work would continue, they did not know. Why work had ceased, they did not know either. That was just how things would play out.

The Sculptor stepped into the winter snow and caught a snowflake on its fingertip. Bringing it to their eye, Old Walker could see ice in all its minute geometric perfection.

They did not ask for the memory, nor did they try to block it. It was one of their own, as most were.

* * * * *


It was their first winter in the Valley. The caravans and herdsmen had weathered countless snows before, but this one would be cruel, not in the wrath of its wind or its cold, but simply because it struck when they were all far from home.

In the spring, Old Walker knew- Whether in the present or in the memory they did not know, for time is fluid- this place
would be home. In the mountains, any earth whose winter has been conquered will yield before the mortal heart. It was happening before their eyes. Tents were shared, children wrapped in the furs of their mothers, beasts fed with the shared hay of which some families had brought too much and others too little.

When spring broke, this place would be home. And those who shared a home would be family.

The people looked up when the great rufous shadow passed among them, three pairs of footsteps padding just loud enough to be heard from inside a tent. No one who looked upon it could doubt whether it felt the cold; Old Walker's bulk had accumulated that strange aura only borne by those who have walked many miles through many blizzards unflinching. The wind flicked its feathers but could not touch its skin.

At its side was the Kernel, tucked under one foreleg while the other three walked on their palms. Its curvilinear blue not-flame flickered and clung to Old Walker's plumage. Everything it touched seemed to become a transparent outline of blue and black, illuminating the shape of the world without its content.

A hain family was huddled in one of the caves together with their goats. They bore the cold better than humans or goblins, though still not as well as the goats, and had given up their tent for the more vulnerable, knowing that they had enough furs for the night.

Old Walker lifted the veil from their cave and looked in, long neck swaying. One of the hain looked up, cradling a small kid. Old Walker quietly nodded and stepped in. The goats did not stir at the touch of the Prophet.

Taking the Kernel of God from under their arm, Old Walker set it down gently at the hain's side. Her eyes widened in wonder and a little fear. Old Walker stroked her head and left.

The warmth of the Kernel was already starting to fill the shelter. The Sculptor would return for it before dawn.


The snowflake had melted in Old Walker's hand, and others had taken its place. They walked on.

* * * * *


Now it was summer, some years later. The exact number didn't matter. Old Walker preferred to count by how much the children had grown. Little Seikil was almost knee-height on them now, which must have meant he was five or six years old. He'd been born in the valley, when Nualles had been about as tall as Old Walker's shoulder. She'd been born in the valley too.

Speaking of, here came Nualles now.

Troll hair had a tendency to mat, and Nualles kept her dreadlocks in place with a simple strip of canvas. They bobbed up and down as she carried the basket of yams to the granaries. When she ran into Old Walker, she said nothing, only stood still for a moment as if adapting to the issue, and then ducked between their legs without a word.

Old Walker liked her.

Others saw the Prophet on the way and nodded respectfully, some throwing handfuls of grain in a gesture of respect. Nobody asked where they were going, having become accustomed to the mystery. Which was good, since Old Walker didn't know, and wouldn't have answered if they did.

The Sculptor stepped over an irrigation channel, small fish squabbling silently in its flow. The fields of the valley were perfectly ordered, grids and supergrids, water and roads, beans and barley. Each year the crops were rotated to a different field, such that each might refresh the soil for the next. The mountain slopes beyond them were terraced for vegetables.

At the northern end of the valley lay the lens grove, where the Meterans brought their restless dead. Not far from there was the hall of writings, where urtelem busily counted every basket of produce and pail of water to be produced by the valley, and all the visitors that arrived, and all their wares, and all their prices, and everything that had been bought, and everything that had been sold by the returning travellers who had been to Rulanah and to the Mist City, that is, Alefpria.

Old Walker went there. The memory came some time on the way.

* * * * *


The wind howled as if in pain. In a colourless world of ice, the town was nothing more than a warped piece of horizon.

Go. What are we waiting for?

The Sculptor stood upright, raised their head to the sky. Their owl's face split at the chin, rose, revealed itself as nothing more than an upper jaw over a huge maw.

Walker shrieked into the polar night.

The guard was well-prepared. Walker's pack was not. That didn't matter. They were nothing but spear fodder anyway.

Fae spikes had been worked into a line alone a wooden spine, slanting upwards, which had then been lashed to another facing the other way. Repeat four times and Walker had a sword for each hand.

Eight ashlings followed the Sculptor's lead as it ran, weapons flicking. Shards of ice flashed forwards from the wall and glanced off glass armour and one dense coat of quills. Walker felt something pierce their shoulder and didn't even slow.

The world bounced at their sprint, and then-

Pronobis.

Walker swung and the warrior's blood became an arc of steam on the wind. The two at its side closed rank immediately as they fell in towards Walker's groin with their frozen spears, but their wounds were shallow and Walker's were not. The enormous creature's maw opened and a barbed tongue picked up a fourth by the neck. His head popped with a frozen shatter.

Strange, isn't it?

They did not turn to ice if they were killed before their time. They still had a taste.

The ashlings fought and were rebuffed, but Walker worked too fast for the Pronobii to realise that they were wasting their time with the scum. Each blow was excessive, nothing but a glint and a sound of wood splintering, breaking bodies as much as it tore them open. The jagged lines of faery metal were bent by flesh.

Four swords, each rising as another fell.

The sound became rhythmic.

Walker ran out of warriors and turned on the ashlings. They were harder than the icy armour, yet more brittle. Hacking became crushing. Without skin, the ashlings' organs simply steamed naked on the ice when they were broken. Those hands did not seem nearly so fragile now.

There was a
thud within the town walls after the noise died down. A thin layer of snow had tumbled from the inside of the wall from the impact. The Pronobii looked at each other in terror as an alien sound pierced the uncanny quiet.

Slowly, steadily, Walker began to laugh. The sound carried on the wind and was heard for miles.

...What is it?

Walker slumped against the ice wall, quaking with laughter, bleeding from everywhere, blood that froze in their wounds.

"All this way," wheezed Walker, "to be stopped by a gate!"

...

Jvan was silent. Then, softly at first, as if breaking through a wall of her own, she, too, started laughing.

You
idiot, said Jvan, between chuckles. Light! How did we do this?

Walker just sat against the wall and laughed. They laughed together. They fell quiet together. After a while.

"I could make a ramp out of snow," said Walker. "They'd fight me the whole way, but..."

No need. We did what we came to do, and you did it well. Be proud, Walker.

Walker nodded, limply, then began to stand.

Let me.

The Sculptor's eyes closed and the thoughts behind them fell into a trance. Jvan took over. Walker's performance responded well to her cues; It was almost as if she could share his body.

Jvan ran her hands over the layered feathers, felt the warmth of Walker's lungs, the taste between their teeth. She felt the bruises under the plumage. Frostbite and fatigue. You're cold, she commented coolly. Walker began to stir, and she pressed them down with a psychic fingertip, a signal gentle yet obeyed. Her hands wrapped around their body, weathering the wind for them, one soul holding another.

Relax yourself. I will take it from here.


* * * * *


Old Walker found themself at the door of the hall of writings. Pebbles-In-A-Dry-Stream's-Bed, matriarch of the Cliffside Mesa herd, was watching them. She signed amicably.

'Daydreams again?'

Mnooon, said Old Walker.

A very low grinding rumble that was a laugh. 'Come, Prophet. Walk with me.'

Old Walker made an acknowledging grmf and fell into step beside the sizeable urt. She was old, her back adorned with a heavy patterned blanket that was not purely decoration, ground quartz lenses at her eyes. Colourful minerals glittered in her shoulders, beauty that few other than her own kind would realise were a sign of senescence. Not even rock is immortal; radioactive decay and electron entrapment were taking their toll.

Her hands, though stiff, were still quick enough to keep a conversation. Loosely translated, Streambed's words could, perhaps, have sounded like this.

'I have read your latest transcription of God's word. I find your script curious. An adaptation of what is used in Rulanah, is it not? I regret to say it is rather dull.' A sharp wave. 'Bah! No, I do not regret saying that. It is a decisively boring piece of work. Even the hain could figure it out if they tried hard enough. What is the point of a language that doesn't challenge the reader?'

Mrrr, said Old Walker.

'Oh, I jest.' It wasn't entirely clear that she had. 'It will be useful if we earthy folk don't have to stand around and translate all the time. I don't trust the meat folk with numbers, though. And I'm not sure how many of them will have the time to learn.' Streambed's fingers twiddled off to the horizon. 'Ah well. That is not what I'd talk to you about. It has more to do with the words themselves.'

She looked up, took in the scenery. The hall of writing was situated near the primary road into Metera, and now they stood at its gate, fertile valley on one side, a grit-strewn road sandwiched between vast mountains in the other.

'I take it you've noticed, yes?' The hand darted from Streambed to Old Walker's eyes before flicking off an affirmation without a pause. 'I've never seen nor heard of such a thing in all my life, not even from the Makers. It is subtle, for sure. But I know.' Streambed's eyes rolled and her palms went up before going together. 'God's sake, of course I know, I'm worse than most of them. But maybe that's senility, eh?'

Old Walker was respectfully silent.

'I'm talking about the Distant Dance, of course. Not just the triangulation.' The Urtelem sign for 'triangulation' was remarkably simple. 'Everything that comes with it. The migrations, the message stones, the-' A sign that meant 'made into sludge', as of rock reduced to organic mud, but would probably be better translated as a much gentler Urtelem version of the word 'motherfucking'. '-faery monks. God, they're probably the reason I feel so old. Not you, of course. You are fine. No, I'm talking about the culture. Specifically, the way we Urtelem are losing it.'

Streambed looked thoughtful. 'No, no, not losing. We're gaining a culture, too. But it's new. Very new. Used to be that we solved problems because they interested us, and sometimes because they made others happy. Well, some of them are still interesting and most of them make people happy. But we do them for others now, whether or not they're interesting, or make anyone happy. We don't crunch numbers for the taste anymore. We do it to be...' A series of signs that cannot be fully translated. 'Part of the whole. Integrated into the blood of the nation.'

'Same goes for travelling. We don't wander our old routes; We go trading. We did that before, of course, but now we travel for business, not do business as we travel. And... It's fulfilling. It's not easy to get an urt to do something they don't like, you know. But we actually enjoy this! It's not so much about beauty in nature anymore, so much as it is beauty in... Function. Efficiency. We've gone from stargazers to booklords.'

The sign for 'booklords' was a sarcastic play on the signs for a graven tablet and a mountain ruled by a Stonelord, bringing to mind a single Urtelem sitting atop a huge pile of stone writings. Little did Streambed know that she had just invented the Urtelem word for 'bureaucrat'.

'It's in the way we speak, too.' The sign was literally speak, as if with the mouth. 'I've felt emotions from every mortal race under the sun, from Shalanoir to the ice shelf. We Urtelem, we are unique. Imagine trying to explain in words what I'm signing now!' Another laugh. 'But I feel that... It's possible. The emotions are different, but we're copying relationships from the meaty folk. We compete more, we say more. Wait less, do more. We're worse at poetry and much, much better at speeches. And sarcasm. Where the devil did we even learn sarcasm? Eh, faery monk?'

Mnnn?

Streambed laughed and patted Old Walker's side. 'Oh, Prophet. I do enjoy our little chats. I feel that if only I had the faintest idea what you were saying I would know so much.'

Nurrrr, grumbled Old Walker, escorting the elderly urt back to the hall of writings.

The next memory came in the autumn.

* * * * *


The hall of Tomes had been worked from a lava tunnel, with an excess of room. Tablets lined its walls end to end as far as the eye could see, each one twice the height of a grown human. Even the Prophet had to rise up to two legs to reach the highest letters.

Snow had blown in. The hall of Tomes was never closed. It had neither door nor veil. Fires had been lit on its floor, and shepherds who offered sacrifice were allowed to rest their flocks within, should the weather be stormy. The hall of Tomes was open to all the people of Metera and all its visitors, that they may learn the word of God.

It was winter. Maybe the same winter we saw Old Walker carving the Tome of Sayings. Maybe not.

The cave was empty. Maybe the same cave we saw Old Walker pass the Kernel to a herdshain named Iffalie on the first winter. Maybe not.

Old Walker took a broom from a niche at the entrance of the hall and began to sweep out the ash. There was soot on the basalt. Old Walker swept that away too.

-this prayer you are to summon God, not simply in voice but in Her holy Composition, and without fail. In winter and in rain She shall come to you, in fire and in flood, when you are thirsty or when you are wealthy, whether you are rich or poor. Your prayer will be obeyed, even if you and all your folk are of the infidels. For God is all-hearing, all-loving, and all-serving. Only the jealousy of a false god could keep the Painter from...

Sculptors were generally used to cold, faeries being the energy-hungry creatures that they were. Old Walker felt nothing as they shoveled snow from the road leading to the hall, then grew distracted and shoveled the rest of the road as well. By the time they returned to put back the shovel, the icicles at the entrance had grown noticeably longer.

Such is the reasoning for the Holy Exchange under God, which is to expand as far as the shoulders of mortals can bear it. Fear not if you falter, and despair not if you produce no surplus. For the plans of God are as old of the future as Galbar is old of the past. Only time and Her guidance are required for the Mortal Hand to envelope the entire world and all its harvest, and reap greatly thereof, that all the peoples may exist in equal wealth...

There was a troll sleeping in the far end of the hall. Old Walker was pleased to find that it was Nualles again. She often wandered alone without telling anyone, seeking out places that weren't crowded or cramped. The Prophet checked her temperature and went on with their business.

-and indeed all beings that claim divine blood. For they are tainted by power, afflicted by immortality for which they were not created, as are the Spirits of the air and rivers. Only the Mortal Hand can be allowed to orchestrate Paradise, and even the Voice of the Painter must not be allowed to rule, merely converse and guide.

But fear not the infidel prayer, nor be of wrath towards the false gods. Approach them as one would in trade, and greet them as though preparing for long barter, for evil does not reside within their hearts, only their hands...


A little mould had grown where somebody had dropped a piece of fruit. Old Walker cleaned it up with a rag.

Truly it is written: God works in the interest of harmony, but promises only chaos. So also God toils for happiness upon the face of Galbar, but the Chosen People will meet only suffering. Such is the reason why the Mortal Hand must persevere and never stray from the Voice of the Painter, for it is not our lives that are at stake, but the lives of the future peoples, into whom our souls shall migrate when we pass into dust. Surely a multitude shall suffer and die in the name of Paradise, that is, the Future Hope; but we must not fear death...

It was time for Old Walker, too, to sleep. The ordained temple cleaners would return in the morning when it was less cold, but the Prophet didn't mind doing their work for them. Their eyes slid shut and the memory ended there.


* * * * *


Old Walker woke up exactly where they had fallen asleep in the memory. Time didn't seem to have passed in the space between then and now, although the inscriptions were now complete and autumn leaves had blown into the hall. Bright sunlight glanced from plates of quartz, illuminating the whole tunnel. Nualles was still where they'd left her, though. Time was fluid.

When it was done sleeping in, the Sculptor looked up to see Nualles stroking the dense quills of its back, savouring the sensation and the faint sound it made. She was fast approaching adulthood, but nobody was ever too old to feel small beside Old Walker.

Myuuuuu, said the Prophet.

"Okay," answered the acolyte.

With Nualles on their back, Old Walker wandered out into the day. Lacy fae-wings glimmered as they swooped around the two of them.

In the Council House, the elders of Metera were engaged in lively debate with God. Elsewhere, simpler folk were tending fields whose produce would be administered under the laws of the Holy Exchange. Others said their morning prayers, whispering their dreams as an offering to God, clearing their thoughts that they may work joyfully and thus be reborn in a better world.

It was a peaceful place. It was a peaceful time. Old Walker felt handfuls of grain glance off their side and saw someone give a flower crown to Nualles, who smiled and fiddled with it in her hands.

Old Walker didn't think of where they were going. They didn't think of where they had come. No memories plagued them, and that was okay.

They did not think of the verse in the Tome of Morality, which they had last year inscribed, and ran thus:

Trust least of all, then, your fellow mortals, be they among the infidels or simply infidels of heart, who reject the Future Hope in their selfishness; Who ignore the Holy Exchange in their greed; Who listen to the Voice of the Painter and yet turn their backs in hatred. For such are the people who reject the humble God of Empathy, and so reject Empathy itself.

For Paradise is built upon a throne of Empathy, and God sits at its footstool. And to make war against Her is to make war against the throne that She attends, yet is powerless to guard.

So it falls upon the Chosen People to stand side by side and defend the Future Hope, and in the Mortal Hand is held the sword with which all the cruel people of the world shall be purged...


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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone Trapped in the Past

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Vastatio





"There, my hand.
But what is it that
you would show me?"


"The power that we have
wasted and left untouched!
The power that I shall
use to rouse you from
this slumber and restore this
withered form of yours."


And then there was a flash of blinding light as the god wrenched open a rift to the Mechanism of Change and drained the tide of unimaginable power that erupted forth. Just as a rift in space consumed all that entered or a shark's maw swallowed minnows, Xos rested emotionless and he absorbed the energy without effort. Zephyrion couldn't have been more different.

Floating opposite to his son, Zephyrion writhed in agony as he struggled in desperation to absorb the flow of his own heavenly might as Xos recklessly allowed it to pour into the world. If the two of them didn't absorb it, it would leak into the world and wreak untold and unknowable havoc. It would defy the balance and the order of things, and so it was unacceptable.

Xos watched content as his brother's tattered simulacrum gave way to a much more vibrant and robust form. How strange that he found himself in the position where he had to force Zephyrion to gorge himself lest the fool wither away and starve, but here he was. The things that he did for love.

It quickly became clear that he wasn't purely interested in feasting upon the power, though. Wider and wider Xos leveraged the rift. What had at first been a trickle of power leaking through was now a gushing geyser, comparatively. Yet more and more strands of magic were pulled through, and soon Xos had created an unstoppable cascade.

"Lend me your power; we must harness this excess. Trap it. Compress it. Then we will be able to shape it to our will."

Zephyrion lost all sense of time perception. He struggled with all his willpower and he endured. After some unknowable time the tides stopped and Xos finally released his crushing grip on Zephyrion's hand. In the god's palm was a tiny, glowing orb of magic: a pearl of divine power, just a tiny spark.

And yet that spark was made of the same primal energies that could build and remake entire planes, and so within the Primordial Spark alone was the power to create or obliterate nigh anything in imagination. Perhaps even to alter reality. The Primordial Spark radiated a blinding amount of light and its passive aura would be enough to incinerate many beings. But with hardly a thought, Xos absorbed it into his sable essence and his own destructive body prevented even the slightest hint of the Spark's light or power from seeping through, yet Zephyrion knew that not even Xos was powerful enough to simply dissolve or consume such a thing. No, it remained untouched and trapped within the god's inky body. It was a perfect hiding spot.

The two stared into one another and silently contemplated what they had just done.

Finally, words came from Xos. "That will be enough," Xos declared after what had felt like an eternity. "Unless you have finally acquired a taste for power, that paltry amount will suffice. Now the other gods might be able to look unto us without choking upon their own delusional laughter. You allowed us to weaken, but now we are strong once more. Just as we should be. And this pearl--the Primordial Spark, I shall name it--with it, the odds have been more than evened. None of them could challenge our might now."

"I...you were right. I was fading away into nothingness. Thank you. But know that you forced my hand in creation that...that weapon of mass destruction. That spark should not exist; I see doom looming over it."

"Your gratitude is welcomed and your doubt and paranoia go ignored by I; I knew you would cower before such a thing and that is exactly why there was no discussion over it. Power exists to be wielded and this Catalyst will prove most useful to our safety and our ambitions alike. You will see in due time."

With an exhausted sigh Zephyrion relented. Argument with Xos was nigh hopeless. "There is something else, too. The power, that within the well that you tapped...it was vast, but there should have been more. Have you drank from it?"

Xos froze. By power of will he suspended himself in the empty void, his shrouded form hanging down into the nothingness like a drape. The figurative curtain did little to hide the god's inner turmoil, for his entire body began to oscillate and shake violently with unconcealed rage. "Never before now. You fool! Do you see the consequences of your inaction? Whilst you slept far from Galbar and cowered from the other gods, some worthless leech found a way to siphon our divine power!"

Xos began to tremble even more wildly. Were it not for the calming touch of Zephyrion's incorporeal hand as it shot forth, the raging embodiment of destruction might well have gone unhinged and on a rampage. As it is, Xos seemed to barely contain himself.

Until the moment that he suddenly became deathly still and regained that cold demeanor that he usually favored. "This changes nothing; it only reaffirms that we must return to Galbar. I will see to it that they are all punished. I will annihilate the False Users that stole our power. All of those that stood by idly as you were banished will similarly see my wrath, and as for those the One that summoned the Tyrannical Two and dard presume to judge a Supreme Being...for me, his agony alone will not suffice."

"Reflect upon the source of this rage and calm yourself. Were it not for my banishment, I would not have meditated upon myself. Were it not for their actions and my subsequent introspection, you would not have been spawned."

"You are right. I would have remained forever a part of you, as things were meant to be. But alas, I exist and was born, and now we may never be totally as one. But we may try.

As in for them, your reasoning does not sway my sentiment. You think too much, brother. Let me wield the Spark against Galbar, and then they will no lon-"


"NO!"

Xos stopped as if the forcefulness of that one word had struck him.

"Galbar means too much to me. It is mine as much as theirs, and to disrupt its balance would oppose be...anathema to what I am now and to the ideals that I have come to embrace."

"You know that I do not share in these delusions of yours--why entertain notions of 'order' or 'balance'? They are nothing more than the shackles of restraint dressed in a florid form; chains of gold are chains all the same."

"And yet you will exercise restraint, because you know that I demand it."

"...so be it, then. I surrender to your adamance here, but I shall remember this; I think you will not be so pleased when the times comes that I demand the favor returned.

I will spare that world from the full extent of my fury, but know that I will not rest until we have our vengeance. Are you ready to leave this hole at last?"


"No....not yet. I must recuperate from this exertion, but go on. I will soon follow in your steps. When next we meet it will be upon Galbar, I promise."

The darkened one nodded. He stole one last look at his forlorn brother, and then the Shadow of Zephyrion faded away and melted into the void. His presence reappeared a universe away. From the darkness of space there seeped forth a turbulent, inky cloud of nothingness. It took form, and then it conjured coverings to hide its body. Unseen but ever present, the Spark remained inside of him.

His travel thus complete in the mere blink of an eye, the minute Shadow hung over Galbar and gazed at the planet with a sight that could pierce stone. Were it that the Shadow of Zephyrion ever inhaled, that sight might have stolen his breath. Xos had already known of the planet and all its inhabitants, but only through the memories he had inherited from Zephyrion. To see it in person was something else entirely.

It appeared a far more...disgusting and flawed place when the lenses of his brother's emotional memories could not warp the truth.




Galbar was many things, but defenseless it was not. Atop a high mountain in the Ironhearts there was a guardian standing in silent vigil. The onslaught of the Chaos Hordes, the desolation of the Realta, and the plague of the Acayla had all been egregious attacks upon this world built by his brethren, and yet Kyre had acquiesced himself to playing only a small role.

For lack of his own decisiveness, or (though his mind dreaded not to wander there!) perhaps even cowardice, he had allowed the heavy burden of championing the planet and its inhabitants to fall onto others. Vowzra, Teknall, even Toun...

They had all done more to defend Galbar than he, and that was his everlasting shame. It weakened his sense of worth and with that, his power waned too. Ha! What irony it was that his mighty sword had the was only a feather to him, and yet his invisible trepidation bore down with the weight of a thousand mountains. What irony it was that the honorable lord of war and greatest fighter among all the divines was plagued by such uncertainty.

Kyre sighed. Like a bored child, he kicked at a pebble (though others might have called it a boulder!) and watched as it rolled down the mountainside. That was the first time he had moved in many years.

He looked to the nighty sky above and beheld the splendor of all the stars. Knowing of their making made no difference; their brilliance was just as enthralling to he as it was to any mortal below. The stars had heartbeats of their own, their light glowing and then fading back and forth in a cycle. He was watching them when he saw a spot of darkness flit across the sky. It covered not even one whole star as was suspended in the sky, but Kyre's eyes spotted it all the same. He stared in curiosity, and as he did so a foreboding feeling welled up in his gut. After some time the figure began to descend. Without even thinking, Kyre leaped from his perch atop the mountain. In ten great strides he ran to the horizon and there he witnessed the strange being as it descended onto the ground. If it had been trying to hide from him, it wasn't as stealthy as it seemed to think.

Closer now, he was able to behold the strange being before him. Its outward form was a suit of armor, covered in parts by a rippling cloak of that same fabric from which a starless night sky was woven. What was within that hollow shell was more far more mysterious and intriguing: Kyre sensed that this was some being of great power, yet as it wreathed itself in that shadow guise and suppressed its presence he could discern nothing of its nature.

So he accosted the foreboding figure and asked. "Halt, stranger! What manner of being are you, and why have you come here?"

It turned to look at him. From behind that metal mask its face betrayed not even the slightest hint of emotion, and the air too was as still as death for the being's garb seemed to hide and suppress its aura. There a silence as long as death, and when it finally became so tense that it might have shattered like glass, the being spoke. "Kyre. Hmph. I had expected more."

"Who are you? What are you?!" Kyre demanded with an edge of anger biting into his tone now.

Some sound that resembled tortured wheezing reverberated from within the being's armor. It removed its helmet to show him. Kyre stared into the being's eyes and beheld its visage for only a moment before the thing's very aura assailed his senses and forced him to avert his eyes. The wheezing sound became recognizable as laughter no that it wasn't distorted by the apparition's strange helmet. A sudden gale of wind swept across the ground. Kyre sensed the blades of grass, the leaves on the trees, and even the pebbles and soil wither and crumble. That wind and the thing's presence caused all to atrophy.

Kyre had only glimpsed the apparition's face for a brief moment, but it had looked like a familiar shadow...and then there was the wind..."Zephyrion?" Kyre asked. Behind that one word there was a muddy mixture of emotion with the depth of an ocean. Uncertainty crept into the god's tone, but so too did a sort of hope--hope that this horrible thing was no eldritch monster, merely a long-lost brother.

But instead of the response that he wanted, Kyre felt the air catch on fire. Without that helmet to conceal its turbulent emotions, Kyre felt a wave of rage surge out from the being at the very mention of that name.

"You will know me by three words: your oblivion, this world's ruination, and retribution."

"WHAT ARE YOU?!" Kyre roared one final time. He waited for no answer. In one solid and continous motion, he flew towards the apparition, drew his sword, and slashed with all his divine strength. His blow could have cleaved a mountain in twain.

Xos raised an arm. There was a torrential rain of sparks and agonized screech of metal as the sword met with armor. But before time could test whether the sword would have bitten through or been deflected, Xos had vanished.

Kyre felt the Shade disappear in the very instant that he had struck it, and in the very next instant it had reappeared behind him. He spun to face it once more, but as he turned a blast of ruinous energy struck the back of his leg. He felt his muscles atrophy and all strength ebb away, so his spin turned into more of a fall. He landed in a kneeling position supported by his good leg and the palm of his left hand. With his right hand he gripped his sword and tried to wrest free from the cloying grasp of the Shade; it was on his back and reaching over his shoulder to try and steal the blade.

The apparition's uncovered face pressed closer to Kyre's own and even being in that close proximity was enough to cause agony. With a mighty roar, Kyre the warrior-god banished his fear and his doubts. In that moment, fueled by adrenaline, he was whole again. Through sheer force of will he regained his strength once more, easily tore his sword-hand free of the being's grip, and reached back with the other hand to pull it off his back--but then there was a deafening thunder and a blinding light, and then there was nothing.




An unminded wind drifted freely through a restful night sky, but alas, Fate did not grant the djinni such serendipity and peace on that night. He stumbled across the scene and looked on from above, frozen in horror but also in fear; Aihtiraq was no fighter, and to watch such great powers flung back and forth was to be a leaf caught in a storm.

Transfixed, Aihtiraq watched the fight. All five seconds of it. He watched with enthrallment as the gruesome end finally came; from somewhere deep inside the shadowy apparition's body there had emerged a scintillating pearl of the most pristine and brilliant light imaginable. It had been exposed for only a second, but that second was enough; Xos had channeled its power into one horrific attack that felled Kyre in an instant. It didn't simply shatter Kyre's mind or pierce his heart; it blew apart half his body and rendered the corpse nigh unrecognizable. The deathblow came from behind, dealt in the very moment that Xos had sensed his control wavering. He never was one for fair fights. But neither was he one for chances.

As in for Aihtiraq, on that night he was one for sorrow. His tear-filled eyes watched on in mute horror.




Xos examined his work. 'Where were you when Zephyrion was seized and banished? You stood by with the other conspirators, and then dared to utter the name of the one you betrayed. And dared attack me! Were it that I could kill you a hundred times again...'

Suddenly calm now that his game was over, Xos stood and examined his work for perhaps a moment before he spat. His oily black slavor consumed the corpse just as a corrosive acid ate at metal; there was hissing and bubbling and foul vapors, at then in a few moments nothing more remained of Kyre than a skeleton and his sword. It seemed that those parts of the dead weakling contained enough power and fortitude to withstand his innately destructive presence.

The question then became what to do with these remains. This sign of his work, whilst admirable, would also attract unwanted attention and no doubt bring down the ire of the other fools. This evidence needed to be removed, though the recent creation of the Primordial Spark had left him far too drained for some frivolous use of power like fully destroying those things.

With a flick of his hand he sent forth a withering wind that made the magnificent blade crack and fall apart, rendering the thing into a small assortment of useless pieces of metal. With morbid joy and savage strength, he used his own hands to similarly dismember the skeleton until there was nothing but a heap of assorted bones and metal fragments. Xos gathered them up then ascended into the night sky once more.

One small raindrop fell upon Xos from above, even though there were no clouds. He replaced his helmet.

Looking down upon Galbar, his eyes were drawn towards the Shattered Plains. The Changing Plains. There the taint of Vestec's corruption was so overpowering that it would mask any traces of this weakling's aura, and there the forces of chaos would shift the land itself and swallow the macabre heap to hopefully never be seen. So with little more thought to his plan than that, Xos flung the heap down below with the same wanton indifference and lack of dignity that he would afford to any other rubbish.

And then with that dealt with, his mind wandered to other things. There was much work to be done, and so little time to do it. Very far in the distance, his divine senses could make out the faint outline of a gleaming structure that loomed over the world below. What finer place to begin?


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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Landfall came too soon, and not soon enough.

They knew they were lost. Erjang had arranged an extensive suicide watch, even before the rice began to grow small. Many of these people had lived through the famine that had preceded Tauga, and the gnarled hand of starvation was close enough to touch. Fresh memories of the gaunt dead were rising from a mire they hoped would die with Usgalo the tyrant.

There was hope, still, for hope is a bitter weed that roots wherever it is defied. But not of reaching the taiga. They were too far east.

Some had said there were islands here, following the earthquakes of some decades ago. They were unexplored, despite all attempts otherwise, but maybe...

Smaller hopes had sprung up between there and the Dark Carnival they had left behind. Water wasn't a problem any more. A long journey left far too much room for twiddling thumbs, and when thumbs twiddled with the Mason's Flesh, results eventually followed.

If the salt filters could be grown on anything other than flayed skin, it would be perfect. Nobody thought twice about allowing the graft-bearers a double ration.

But now there was land in sight and the suffering was about to end. Erjang looked at it with thin old eyes hung with bags. Where one suffering ended, another began.

* * *


Ruthar brought them in on a beach black with basalt. It was a dark reminder of how far they were from home. Few of them had seen a coast beyond the Purple Sands before.

Oyur helped Erjang down, supported her with a shoulder until the earth was firm enough for the elder's staff to bear her weight. The rest of the advance guard were cautiously scattering across the beach in pairs. Former rotflies, none of them still wore the badge. That title had died with Xerxes.

But the glass blades they carried had not lost their edge, and the watchmen were no less dangerous than they once had been.

The island- For there was no mainland here, that much they knew- was dark of stone and mountainous. A volcano. Erjang nodded to the heights and vowed to pray to the spirits of this land. There would not be another. The encircling coral had done too much damage to their ships.

Strange plants grew here, things that had only been seen before as weeds, now grown into forests. Ferns as tall as pines, aloes that branched into trees, humble groundsels that now towered over the dandelions that had been their brothers. There were animals, also- Sea lions basked on the shores, and something sang eerie wailing songs in the distance.

Erjang lowered herself with painstaking effort to the ground, rubbed the soil between her fingertips. It had never known the plough or the paddy. This was virgin land.

A tracker with a crocody-doggle approached them from the next rise and nodded to Oyur, still looking over his shoulder with his other pair of eyes. The two humans followed his lead as the cody worried at the trail of a shrew. Even the doggles were hungry for fresh ground.

Oyur adjusted her rucksack and lifted the old woman over the worst of the pillowed lava. She was light and small.

A sprawl of flat earth greeted them on the other side, dotted with ponds. At its center stood a figure. Something with two long, thin legs, and a body like a tooth. Erjang approached it without fear.

"Greetings," said the elder.

"Come," said the Emaciator.

* * *


The humans were too slow for the god to maintain a comfortable pace. It hovered, settling at a specific distance ahead, then waited for them to follow. Erjang was struggling until it put something in her arm that made her feel young again, in body at least. In her mind she had always been nineteen.

"Who are you?" asked the elder.

"Heartworm," said Heartworm.

Erjang nodded. What was not said sometimes told more than what was.

"You have been waiting for us, no?"

"Correct."

"So you have something to say."

Heartworm turned to them, moving backwards now. "You are aware that Tauga has received divine modification."

Oyur's heart beat a little quicker at the mention of her name.

"The touch of God, yes," said Erjang.

"I am that God," said Heartworm, lowering itself to perch at the top of a boulder. "Heartworm guided your ships. Xerxes survives by its hand."

"You are Jaan?"

"Part of it." Heartworm was no longer moving. Wherever it was leading them was just beyond the next rise.

"The island of Axotal was reserved for you," said the Emaciator. "Tauga is tied to Heartworm. Xerxes is tied to Tauga. Thus Xerxes is of the Emaciator's domain."

"And what would you have us do?"

"Survive," said Heartworm. "Remember."

They reached summit. Before them fell a shallow sinkhole, greenery spilling over its edges. From its center rose an obsidian statue, four men tall.

With a Sweetheart at her back, Tauga held a rose quartz Heartworm in her hand and locked eyes with it, her other eyes gazing out over the sea.

* * *


The people of Axotal learned quickly from their surroundings, and marshalled themselves into order.

From the pith and heads of the fern trees did they harvest their first meal from the island, and with its bamboo pitched tents made of sailcloth. From the trunk of the aloe they made quivers, and with its juice they made salves.

The broken ships they took apart and made granaries of, and they learned to harvest radiates from the coral. The fossa and the falanouc they tamed, and they bred codies that were good fishers. No Ironheart bronze lay within this mountain, but a club edged with shark teeth would suffice for most things, and of obsidian there was plenty.

Heartworm did not abandon them, though it was not often present. They were taught how to close old sores with Mason's flesh, such that they would not reopen, and how to craft masks with ballooning vessels at the sides, that might store a second breath for them to dive. Tree resin and arksynth mixed with just a little powdered crinoid made a powerful adhesive for them to repair their tools, and when a rockfall claimed the life of a fleshsmith, his climbing partner discovered that the residue on their hands had mutated into something that clung like gecko toes.

They learned that there were five great islands in the Metatic, and many hundreds of smaller ones. They knew this for they came to meet with the Tlaca, who were denizens of the southernmost isles, and a monk with no eyes translated for them.

They learned that Axotal had been cursed for many years, such that no man could set foot there. Its plants were strange, they said, and its animals wailed in the night. Its corals were sharp like glass, and sea serpents slew those who strayed near its waters.

The Tlaca of Ihuian the Tranquil and Xiloxoch the Weathered were glad to see that the curse had lifted, but would not set foot on Axotal the Cursed without a Xerxian at their side. Nor would they venture north to Xanchaladan, the great island, for its people were warlike, and hardened by suffering.

But, thought an older yet stronger Erjang, as she watched Oyur knot together a serpent-saddle in Heartworm's shadow, they are not the only ones.

Oyur finished her saddle and waded into the reef. She lowered her gasp-mask and slipped into the waves. From the shore, Erjang could just about see the Blowfly's likeness on her face.

Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Double Capybara
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Double Capybara Thank you for releasing me

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Ventus, Ilunabar and a Globe-Mirror-TV-Machine™




From time to time, Ilunabar liked to watch the fake horizons of the Arcadia layer of the Pictaraika. There was something peaceful about their movements, but today, not even those could bring her peace.

The thought of Zephyrion kept echoing in her head. The god had been one of the first to be truly welcoming to her, but due to both deities' brooding behavior, the relationship turned cold.

Yet after his banishment, and Ilunabar's departure from the citadel, she felt like something was wrong. Of course, she was in no way able to help the god himself, but perhaps there were more ways to show she had not just forgotten him and that she still appreciated his hospitality. She thought about how terrible it would be for him to return, which she hoped he would, just to find the citadel forgotten by most.

Almost instinctively, she started to move towards the Celestial Citadel. The visage of the old fortress in the distant horizon brought her a sense of melancholy, even if it had not been too long since she left it, the realization of how things kept moving on after one has left was always emotional for mortals and gods alike.

She slowed down when she neared it, she knew the current owner, and also knew very well how he would not like a sudden arrival.

After a short delay a greeter came out to meet the visiting goddess, but even as the presence of his Flicker became apparent there was nothing to be seen. There was only a great reverberation through the air. The sky itself seemed to shiver as if afflicted by an icy wind, and from its trembling and vibrations there came a thousand songs.

From amidst the chorus there emerged a voice, and though Murmur's pitch and volume shifted with every breath, his words were those of power. "The Vizier welcomes you to his home, Ilunabar," greeted the Djinni Lord of Sound. Farther away upon the many terraces and from just inside the countless windows, the other djinn of the Zephyrean Skywatch--guardians of the Celestial Citadel--watched on in rapt attention.

That display of power mesmerized the goddess, who listened to each sound in that echo, from the explosive to the whisper. Her fingers moved spontaneously as if she was calling the Dreamweaver, but there was no harp to summon anymore.

"A djinn of sound..." she whispered, staring intently at the very center of the being with her glimmering purple eyes, then she returned to her composed self, and answered properly. "Thank you, it is a pleasure to visit again such a magnificent place."

"He will await your arrival in the middle tier. Find him at your leisure," Murmur answered. Then the cacophany of sound grew quiter and then slowly vanished as Murmur left to attend to attend other business. Slowly, the assembled Skywatch similarly began to return to their posts and favorite places.

The goddess surely wanted to immediately go to her destination and not leave the host waiting, but her curiosity about the lower levels where she once resided ended up winning against her objectivity.

Down there, the view was not as nice as it once had been, from the dusted storage of statues that once belonged to Allure, to the overgrown plants that were slowly turning the corridors into groves, things had changed.

Eventually, she reached her old quarters. Long ago, the goddess had taken the decision of keeping it sealed after she left, just for the sake of it, as there was no need to make such place so public to the destructive djinn.

The rooms were dusted, the starlit drawing of the sky in the ceiling of the main room had worn out, looking like an old universe slowly fading down by entropy. Some artwork remained, sketches Ilunabar judged not worth of being transported.

A sudden bubbling grabbed the goddess's attention, gently, she turned to find a water elemental slowly rising from the old fountain.

"STRANGER," it said in a strong voice, but not with the same thunder of the typical elemental, it sounded more like a mortal imitating said sound. "WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU DO HERE?"

The goddess raised an eyebrow. "The owner? I made this place... well... decorated it."

"Could it be..." the elemental pondered aloud in a softer voice, but immediately rose the tone "LIES! THIS IS AN ANCIENT PLACE..."

"Eh, not really, my watery friend, maybe you are just young."

The response was a lot of water flowing to her face. The goddess didn't move a single bit from it.

"I HAVE BEEN HERE MY ENTIRE LIFE!"

"Well, yes? That is the point of saying you are young." she sighed.

The stream of water intensified, water flowed from the bathhouse and pool in the nearby room and flooded the main chamber, forming a whirlwind around the goddess. The torrent of water was strong enough to tear the goddess' cloak out of her body.

"SOMEONE LIKE YOU, WHO SPEAKS SO WEAK, WHO LOOKS SO TINY, COULD NOT HAVE DONE THIS." The elemental declared in victory, thinking that the torn clothes meant the person had moved too, but upon closer inspection, while the outfit was gone, the body of the goddess had not moved.

"You are trying too hard, I have met way too many elementals to be fooled." the water stopped moving, falling down on the ground as a puddle.

A shy, more "feminine" looking figure rose from the water.

"As I suspected." she moved closer to it. "Being sealed in here must have been hard, no? I am sorry for that, I did not suspect a Flicker could take over the fountain water."

"Alone here... just listening to the screaming and fighting in the distance. I can see what you were trying to do, but I am not here to take your home."

"You are not... Right. So you are the one who made this building? Please do not lie."

"I made it, I also made most of the sculptures, the drawings too, you get the idea."

"Well, feel free to take whatever you want. I guess I cannot stop you."

"Whatever? Can I take you?" the goddess chuckled.

"Why would you want me?"

"Well, first and foremost, you are likely going to get destroyed once the wind elementals find you. Second, it is not healthy that you stay isolated in this sealed area." Third, she wanted her own fountain nymph.

"The wind elemental? You mean the screaming ones outside the room? Ah, I would not want to fight them... and if what was here was just a fraction of what you have done, I would love to see what else you made." the elemental pondered.

"Oh, you like art?"

"Yes! I like to see the paint dissolving down as the canvas becomes wet, and I love to erode the marble stone people until they are unrecognizable."

"Ah... so that is how it is..." the goddess rolled her eyes, surely an elemental with a taste for art was too good to be real.

The goddess willed her clothes back together to cover her body, then by recycling some old metal cups and cutlery with her powers, she made a pendant with an empty star shaped vial. "Get into this, it will keep you safe while I finish my business here."

"It is so small..."

"Scaredy-cat."

"Right right, I got it." leaving most of her water behind, the elemental's Flicker moved into the jewelry, filling it with fluid.

"Now stay still and quiet, I have matters to attend."

After this odd chance encounter, the goddess finally moved on to visit Vizier Ventus, walking upwards to the very familiar, and, thankfully, better kept middle floors.

Motes of dust flew through the long hallways as the occasional djinni billowed by. For the most part, they kept a respetful distance and paid Ilunabar no heed as she made her way through the palace.

When Ilunabar finally met with Ventus it was within one grand circular room. The ceiling was vaulted and the room spacious enough to fit an entire tavern within it and still have room, and yet for all that grandeur it was still as bleak as bone. When the djinn congregated, they prefered that sort of spacious environment. They had no need for furniture or decor, and so the room remained bare and devoid of any obstacles that would impede their comings and goings.

"Ilunabar! Be welcome once more, esteemed goddess.

I saw you revisit your former quarters. We had left those rooms alone and so never knew of that water spiryt that had inhabited your fountain. But I saw that you have already claimed and taken it for yourself, so all is well."


There was a sincere smile on her face, but she could not help but tilt her head, surprised at his awareness of what happened somewhere so far from where he was.

"Oh, you noticed that ruckus down bellow? she said in controlled surprised. "The water elemental was a surprise bath I would rather not have taken, but under the current circumstances, I believe it is expected for a Flicker to materialize even into a sealed chamber."

She stopped. "But oh my, where are my manners. It is great to meet you again Ventus. It fills my heart with joy to see that you have kept the Celestial Citadel well guarded. You even seem to have found some new guards for the Skywatch, as I do not remember ever seeing... well, I mean, hearing, that djinn who greeted me."

"Aye, though he has served long it is rare indeed that he can guard this place for long. The Stormlords below oft have need of his thunder and in his spare time he wages a war against Jvan's corruption."

The goddess purposefully skipped the mention of Jvan, that was a rabbit hole she had no intention of sinking into. "A djinn of sound is truly something curious. Not beyond reach, as I imagined the archaic plans of gigantic musical instruments Zephyrion and... I designed could lead to such things, maybe."

"I had heard of those plans, and in my magnanimity I have contemplated crafting such instruments as a gift to the mortals below."

"Oh! You did?" she clapped her hands, "That is very good to hear. It was, in fact, one of the reasons why I visited."

Ilunabar reached for the carriel around her waist, taking a parchment from it.

"These are the plans I wrote with Zephyrion. I took them with me, as I wanted to archive them in my library, but in retrospect, I believe the original drafts belong here."

"So I see," the Vizier answered. Without even taking the plans from Ilunabar's hand--indeed, without even looking--he was capable of sensing their every detail. "It would be my privilege to aid you in that endeavor, but you mentioned other reasons for coming?"

The goddess looked to the side, a bit distracted. "I feel like I left too abruptly. I promised to work for Zephyrion in exchange for housing, and I comprehend I now have a holy land of my own to inhabit, but I consider it to be rude to just outright leave this citadel behind and no longer do any of the work I promised to do." she concluded in a quieter tone.

At the mention of Zephyrion, the normally effusive Vizier grew silent for some time. After an awkward pause, he finally admitted, "In truth, I do not think that Zephyrion will ever return. Consider him dead. You are released from this debt by virtue of him being unable to collect it; however, if you would honor his memory through working with me instead, such charity would be welcome."

"I do not think so... Though that could be just hope." Ilunabar's eyes darted back to the vizier with a newfound focus. "But in any manner, yes, I think your offer is what I wished for. For a start, I will be returning a copy of all maps made from observation work done in the balcony of my quarters, and I would also like to help clean the lower levels of the Citadel, with the current power emanating here, that fountain spiryt could be one many that could rise from the wild plants, forgotten stone statues, and flooded areas."

"Out of respect for you, we did not seek to breach the wards that secured your former chambers. With them now open, this "cleaning" work can go by quickly. You need only ask and I would summon a thousand djinn to aid you in restoring those rooms to their natural state."

"There is no need for such worry, we live in difficult times, I would rather do the work I can do and leave the Djinn to do the work only they can do." she tapped one side of her mouth for a short moment and once again looked at nowhere. "If you wish to commission any regalias to represent your new position and responsibility, I would be glad to craft it. A mural of all elementals with the wind at the very center, for example..."

The Vizier bore a look of thoughtful contemplation, but he didn't hesitate for long before giving an answer. "Understand that my kind occupy a different plane of thought from you or any of those mortals that you have influenced. We are far more grounded, ever aware of nature and our individual and collective purpose. Aesthetic is a foreign concept to many, and the symbolism that you imbue into such a regalia would be lost upon most.

Beauty is an aspect of raw power or of the natural world; neither of whcih are easily portrayed. But if you would offer me one gift, something comes to mind...

A True Mirror. Notte's knowledge and mastery over glass is legendary. Have her forge me a mirror, if you would--a mirror with so many facets and angles that it can look to all corners of the world, a mirror with a luster so great that it can reflect even the smallest and most distant things. With such an artifact I would finally have the Eyes of God, and then I would bear my burdens and fulfill my obligations that much easier."


"Surely there are things an elemental would find amusing..." the retort was cut short by the actual proposal. The goddess slightly turned her head, her eyes darting up and down. "Well, that is far more than jewelry and art... But... The idea is interesting."

She stood quiet for a short while, facial expressions changing rapidly. There were issues and considerations to be taken with Ventus' plan, none of those crossed Ilunabar for more than a flickering moment, the idea of the mirror itself outweighing all else.

"Perhaps... it could be possible. I will need to ask Notte personally. However, I do not need to even talk with her before knowing that it will not be something as simple as looking anywhere you want whenever you wish, but I can guarantee it will suffice your needs."

"Then you shall have my thanks."

The goddess thought about leaving, but then she realized one more thing would be needed. "If possible, prepare a not too open circular room for us to use. I do not know if the mirror will be of a small size or immense, so it is better to prepare in the chance of it being the later."

"Such spaces exist within this palace already; I shall find one to set aside for this purpose."

"Then I bid my farewell. I shall return in a short time, once the project is ready and the materials gathered."




With the successful test results and the resources gathered, it was time for Ilunabar to return to the Celestial Citadel and finish her commission. This time, she brought with her Notte and her mirror clones as well as some fine-tuned marionettes. The skywatch did not react to her this time as they had been informed she was making something for Ventus, and she was allowed to move directly to the main rooms.

When the Vizier found her again, he bid her follow. "Come," he began, "I have prepared a space in the uppermost level."

And then he began to drift through the hallways and up the vast staircases. They ascended, higher and higher, reaching the pinnacle of the central and greatest of all the Citadel's spires. In the time that he had inhabited the Celestial Citadel, Zephyrion had zealously guarded these areas for his own use and denied entry to all others. Now they were where Ventus made his residence.

"The upper levels?" the muse almost gasped, but then she thought about it more thoroughly, she should have expected the Djinn would move on and leave the old limits, even Ventus, there was no point in fighting it. "Well, it is a delicate device, and it will be useful to Zephyrion when he returns, so I guess it is fine."

She ordered her Diva and the dolls to move onwards, and they slowly started to fill the assigned room with metallic parts and gems. With her diligent lead, the structure of the mirror was finished in just a third of a day. Unlike in the test design, this one's frame was a bronze colored, densely decorated crescent. Yet, oddly, no glass to be seen so far.

The answer for the odd absence arrived a short while later, as Notte returned with large vials of mercury, after a few more of those trips, they opened the vials which started to float upwards, towards the center of the empty space between the edges of the crescent. This continued until all the liquid metal formed a shining, reflecting globe. Now it was a mirror, but the only thing it mirrored was the room itself.

To make it just like what Ventus wished for, the final part of the device was necessary. All across the room odd bejeweled pillars and lamps were set, along with those, linked mirrors were put in strategic options.

"And that should do it. You can give the control to master Ventus, I will give it il tocco finale." Notte said to Ilunabar, clearly proud of what she had done.

While Ilunabar picked a crystal orb, Notte approached the ball of mercury and dove into it. As she was made from similar material, she could mix herself to the substance of the mirror in order to be able to control all aspects of it.

"Before we leave, we need you to use it at least once, so Notte is be able to attune it." the goddess placed the small crystal ball in a pillar, a phantom of Galbar spinning inside it, moving to different directions by simple focus from the Vizier.

"Must I tell it where to look, or rather what to find? Or can the Mirror see all?"

"You can find people and objects just by visualizing them in your mind and focusing, but adjusting the map of the crystal orb to the location where they are should make the image form faster and better. You can also set the mirror to reflect any place on the map." The Muse explained. "The mirror does reflect all of Galbar, but the true image of it is too large and warped for even a god to understand, so it is necessary to attune it."

"Then I have something in mind that I would have it find for me."

Recollections returned of the strange being that had appeared not long ago; that golden djinni lord that had been there when Ventus returned to his senses after entering the Mechanism of Change. Aihtiraq.

Without much effory beyond the simple remembrance of those details, the mechanisms of the Mirror began to whirl and focus it. It finally showed a patch of sky that was near vacant, save for a streak of golden light. It was one of those Winds of Change that had poured out from the crystal above, and amidst it there was the unmistakable presence of Aihtiraq. The odd djinni didn't seem to be doing anything of import just then; more likely than not he was just wandering the skies as djinn were sometimes wont to do.

"Hmph." Aware that Ilunabar could see this too, he quickly though of something more innocuous. A small village along the Mahd's shore. In the mirror he saw the mud brick houses of Vetruvians. The tiny people moved about their village likes ants, scurrying to and from the fields and the riverside as they went about their day.

"It is everything that I had hoped for. You have my eternal thanks, Ilunabar."

"Building this was almost a reward in itself, but I am glad I could help." Ilunabar commented. "There are some minor issues, it does not work well with dark, underground areas, it does get really blurry when peering into the oceans. I also imagine divinity can affect how it works, but I am unsure of how. Outside of that, it should be fine as long as no one hits the delicate structure."

While Ilunabar explained the detailed workings of the mirror, Notte reformed herself and left pool of mercury.

"That is all good to know," Ventus answered somewhat distractedly as he continued to stare into the Mirror's depths. "You have my thanks once again. Whenever the fancy may come to you, summon me and I will lend what aid I can to your project with the instruments to go below. As a matter of course, I will proclaim myself in your debt. Whenever you have need, ask and I shall do what I can to return this great favor."

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It was the dream again; the one that had haunted his nights for moons now. It was always the same, with the same players and in the same places. And, like each time before, he found himself locked within its dark embrace, forced to watch it play out for what felt like the thousandth time.

Out of the mist they came, beasts fey and dark, clothed in shadow and alien armor. Yet there was nothing dark or sinister about them. Instead their eyes, glimmering out of faces hidden and mysterious, glowed with inner evil as if their very souls brimmed with it. 

For a long moment he gazed at the three, energy curling as lazy as mist around their body with actinic tendrils, silent yet filling the air with palpable force. Then the point of view was swinging around until he was looking through their eyes. And, as it did every time he looked with their eyes, he felt his heart skip a beat at the scene that stretched out before him.

Mika suddenly appeared, and all around him destruction rained, bubbles of light and energy surrounding his body, barely keeping the maelstrom from cutting him down like winter-frail reeds in a slashing storm. And it kept coming, the hail of fire and death going on for what felt like an eternity. Then, with a roar that shook the ground; he, with the beasts, charged, surging across a intervening distance like a plague of darkness, straight towards Mika.

He jerked awake with a gasp, perspiration streaming down his body, as he always did after the dream. Fate's bloody bones and shards, not again, he silently groaned as he heaved a sigh and wiped the perspiration out of his eyes with a quick back hand. Why do you still haunt me?? He turned just enough to look out the entrance of his cave, where early morning was just beginning to send through streamers of light into his makeshift bed chamber. At least I don't have to worry about trying to get more sleep. A wry smile twisted his lips. As if I could.

With a groan, he blinked away the last vestiges of the vision that had filled his veins with ice and his soul with foreboding, got to his feet, and went about his morning routine; which predominantly consisted of combat exercises with a spear.

Smoothly, he executed a spear defense maneuver in slow motion, standing in the center of the large rectangular chamber he had converted into a practice area near the back of the cave. Such an exercise, focusing on form and exactness, turned the deadly and lightning-fast martial art into something closer to a dance, a sinuous and continuous flow from one form to another that was beautiful to watch, like the uninterrupted flow of water from vessel to vessel. Hence it's name: the Water Dance; Mika's legacy.

While Tobias now favored the brutally effective offensive forms over those he learned at the start of his training with Mika, the forms he originally learned as a youth were best suited to the bare boned and lithe. Each fitted to the other in such a manner that the dance was easy, for one properly instructed in its execution. Stripped to the waist, his coco-colored skin beaded with perspiration, it was those forms that he now passed through, moving without flaw or pause from one to the next in a constant stream of concentration and effort, enough to make his body ache from the exertion.

With resistance and aggressive violence accompanying every forward step in his life, Tobias  normally spent a great deal of time binding wounds and healing. So it was a welcome departure to be able to feel the strain of his efforts in his body as he worked, instead of the pain of his injuries. It reminded him that mortal flesh and blood could do more than simply make record of each insult and disrespect foisted upon a person by a disdainful people; not that he knew by experienced. But that slowed the isolation he felt building nowadays. 

The moons subsequent to his revelation of Mika's death proved to be the hardest. The memory of the old hermit permeated every aspect of his daily life, it saturated his very understanding of everything that was and is. 'What if' questions ran unchecked in his mind, riddling his heart with chasms of guilt. 'What if I had stayed?' 'Could I have saved Mika from death?' 

Yet, the following week lacked such sodden emotions. Instead, he suddenly found the strength to power through his grief by throwing himself into the struggle for survival. Living in the Venomweald required ones full and total focus, all mental and physical faculties had to be in peak condition, or death would certainly claim one. It serves as the perfect motivator. He silently mused and bent his whole effort to the careful movement of his body.

Thusly engrossed, time swiftly passed by as the young human continued his exercises. Until, when he paused to drink from the bucket of water he brought in, filled by the waterfall hiding the entrance of his abode, with him to quench his thirst, he noted mid-morning had risen outside the bamboo wall dominating the cave entrance.

With a wooden cup filled to brimming in hand, he stepped to the entrance and threw it open to gaze out into the wilderness beyond. And he saw that the jungle that dominated the heavily wooded had fallen into shadow with the onset of mid-morning. Shadow that was relieved in great part by the melodic dance of hundreds of golden sparks of light.

Not fireflies, the sparks were belonged to another creature, one yet to be named, but nevertheless understood. Tobias had always been curious of such creatures. The Venomweald bred such vile and disgusting monstrosities on the daily, yet managed to birth creatures fey in countenance. They danced in time to the subtle murmuring of the of the passing river as it flowed by the cave, muted but audible in mid-mornings quiet pause though it was a good ten spans from that end of the cave.

This morning was indeed no different than the past weeks; as Tobias nursed the cool water in his cup, he watched as the light continue its intricate dance, the soft music accompanying its movement bringing a wistful smile to his lips as he absentmindedly counted them, no easy task with their constant motion. He stopped with a sigh after the number reached the innumerable, contenting himself with getting another cupful of water from the bucket.

Just as well, Tobias thought as he leaned against the wall next to the caves mouth to take a sip from his cup. He had too much on his mind to bother with the Venomweald's mysteries today. He let a cool breeze coming off the waterfall blow over his heated flesh for a moment longer as he nursed his cup of water, savoring both the coolness of the water coursing down his throat and into his belly, and the play of the wind over his skin.

Then the empty cup was tossed back into the bucket and Tobias lowered himself within the mouth of the caves, hidden behind waterfall, a perfect place for a little meditation before he continued training. 

Meditation, according to Mika, were attempts by pragmatic mortals to insure they had a future beyond this life by embracing both their heritage and the possibility that gods, if they at all truly existed, awaited them after they passed from this mortal coil. As a young boy, Tobias found this notion insane and utterly illogical. He would often watch Mika meditate for hours on end, praying to gods Tobias naively assumed were fantasy. It took Mika's death, and an encounter with a mysterious woman, for Tobias to find faith, or at least try his hand at the practice of meditation. Oddly enough, it seemed to help heal him of his grief and strip him of his guilt, not through a veil of hardened emotion, but with the guiding hand of faith.

Mika had always said: 'A soul nourished with a diet of death and destruction only withers and dies. One given hope, however, and the belief in something beyond life, is one that flourishes and finds happiness.' Despite the chaos of the Venomweald, one didn't have to look far to see that Tobias had, indeed, found a measure of happiness in feeding his soul hope.

A stranger to the act, suddenly marginalized and isolated, hope was sometimes the only thing that allowed Tobias to live from one day to the next. To nourish that hope, he tried to make prayer and meditation a daily ritual to keep the darkness away. So he knelt in front of the waterfall and bent his head to begin the meditation that would soothe away worry and instill hope into his heart.

Perhaps it was the echoes of the nightmare that had plagued him with increasing frequency in the last few moons, a haunting vision of three beasts ripping a whimpering Mika to shreds that prevented Tobias from achieving a meditative state. Or maybe it was his troubling lack of food that consumed his mind to the point of excluding all else. Whatever the reason, it prevented him from reaching a point of serenity within himself to fully engage the meditative state he sought.

Long turns passed without success and, after trying for nearly a full hour, the young human hissed with frustration as his eyes flew open for the last time to consider his knees bent in front of him. 'What's wrong with me?' He silently raged, springing to his feet in a convulsive surge of speed and strength. 'Why can't I focus?'

A voice echoed trough the cavern, "it is because you do not control your dreams."

Soon a strong wind and the sound of chimes followed, and out of nowhere, he found himself accompanied by a woman. She wore a cloak with a hood that concealed her well, but her face alone was irradiating beauty. 

"What is the point of introspection if one's mind is an untamed wilderness?" 

"I think I don't know you," he pushed aside his astonishment to tersely reply, folding brawny arms across a broad chest.  "Nor do I know what brings you to the Venomweald and read my thoughts. Perhaps some explanation would be in order? My patience and generosity tends runs lean and living in these parts, especially when beautiful woman tend to magically appear and disappear."

"My, how impudent," she said in a lower tone before raising her voice. "But let us not waste time then, I wouldn't like to stop you from going on with your very productive daily life." she smirked.

"I'm the goddess of dreams and beauty, Ilunabar. You should know the name, or a variation of it. And you are Tobias, an unfortunate soul."

"A, . . . goddess?" Tobias frowned, clearly confused though his mind was working frantically to understand what the beautiful woman was saying.

The concept of a god or goddess was foreign to him. The very idea of their existence and the power they wielded gave him a headache and turned his mood sour. Yet here one was, professing herself to be a goddess, sporting supernatural beauty and a divine presence of sorts, a certain inexplicable pressure that suffocated the whole room, yet soothed and calmed him at the same time.

And he had just scorned her. So much for faith.

Without hesitation, Tobias lowered his mass to ground, and kneeled before the goddess. "I apologize for my words earlier. My intention was not to offend you."

She giggled. "Oh, worry not; Though some other higher beings might take offense to it, I'm a forgiving deity. And if you had been the first being to cross my tolerance's limit, well, let's say you would know it," she said all of that in a very calm and collected manner.

"Now, stand up Tobias."

He obeyed, silently reviled.

"Now, take this." she handed a cloth bag to the man, it smelled nice, not similar to any aroma he had sensed before, but still, his body knew it was nice. Opening the bag would reveal bread, boiled eggs, a few apples and a leather canteen full of fresh water. "You look like you need it."

Tobias' hunger and thirst seemed to grow in leaps and bounds with every passing second staring at the meal until it seemed his belly would consume itself before he could put anything into it. 

The kind gesture pierced his heart like an arrow. He did nothing to deserve such kindness, yet he wouldn't reject it, never in a million cycles. "I have no words." he said softly, his eyes returning to those of Ilunabar's. "All you have shown me is kindness. First, through Meimu's tender care," he quickly deduced. "And now this meal. Thank you. Truly."

"It is your merit, I do not help any mortal but the ones who deserve it." she waited until he restored his energies, before continuing. "Now that this is solved. We need to go on about your issues. I think you have the potential to bring true, worthy civilization to these swamps. However, no amount of divine help can solve the issue if you keep your current fear of your own mind."

Blinking furiously, Tobias tried to push a sudden burst and blinding disorientation back and pull together his thoughts as he willed the meals strength back to his rebelling limbs. A civilization? In the Venomweald? Could it be done? More importantly, could the fear of his mind be purged?

"How do I rid myself of this fear?" he insisted, his voice soaked in determination.

"I'm not a god of easy solutions but one who gives the tools. I believe you can lose your hesitation to explore your own mind and perhaps free yourself from the shadows of the past. You just need the tools."

She approached him with a bottle of ink, it flew from out of it and started to run trough his arm and chest, slowly sinking into his skin. It was a complex design, full of cryptic symbols and writing, one thing was easy to discern, the shape of a beast, one that was very familiar to him.

"This will help you endure the nights. It will take effort, but you might be able to win."

Even with every square span of his chest's surface deeply etched with arcane symbols to both protect his mind, and ward off evil dreams, the young human could feel the tattoos undeniable presence throb against his flesh. There was true magic contained within.

For a long moment Tobias considered that magic, and what it could mean for him. Then, his face tightening with resolution, he turned to look at Ilunabar. 'Magic it must be.' He silently admitted as he traced the edges of the ink drawing forming a lion, the tingling power of the tattoo's magic quickly racing up his arm. 

"I will do my best."

"Use that power well. Once you feel ready, call for me again. For we will still have the matters of kingdom building to deal with."

Tobias jerked a tight nod. But his mind still reeled. Could she … no … he really become the catalyst that could jump start the birth of a nation in these swamp lands? "Is it truly possible? Building a civilization here?"

"Well, it is not impossible, as they say, you are likely to succeed if you try... Though you will need a lot of help of the divine kind, which is the reason why I decided to help."

Tobias jerked another tight nod. He couldn't imagine anyone establishing any sort of civilization in these parts, lest a kingdom. Yet the Divines saw it so. Who was he to doubt their word?

"Well then, how do we begin?" 

"Well, you should focus on your mind first. Meanwhile, I need to finish preparing the tools necessary for this task, like ways to grow food and ways to bring light to the caves."

Tobias's face abruptly tightened with determination and he reached for a cloth to wipe away the perspiration that had returned onto his face in his moments of inactivity. His own mind revealed itself to be throne in his side, an obstacle to his progression. He would use whatever means necessary to rip it out. The towel joined others in the corner as he strode determinedly towards the caves entrance. 

"So I use this power to purge my conscious of this fear? How does this power work?" 

"Who knows? My power changes immensely from person to person, yours will have a unique effect. I can guarantee it will help, though."

But what did that mean? If long cycles amongst the trees of the jungle had taught him anything, it was the need for answers had to be sought on ones own. He would have his, even if it meant taking on the monsters inside his dreams! 

Once again Tobias lowered himself within the mouth of cave. A single drop of perspiration slowly oozed out of his hair to trickle down the side of his face. But the young man, completely focused on the task he was about to undertake, ignored its small discomfort. Instead he silently passed once more through the mental exercises to calm his mind and channel his energies he learned as a youth.

It was difficult to be calm in this place, especially in this situation; dark, and close, the air ripe with the scent of stale perspiration and the irrefutable presence of a Divine. In the shadows, it was hard to forget the nightmare that had returned once more in the night to trouble his dreams and fog his mind. Only rigorous mental exercises allowed him to do so.

Quickly he quashed the nervousness that, for the briefest instant, danced in the pit of his belly and, slowly drawing in a nose-full of the thick, heavy air, willed himself back to serenity. Just in time; as the last of the anxiety faded, a vertical slash of light appeared out of the shadows in front of him, heralding the opening of a plug-like portal. And, as soon as it was wide enough, a voice called out from beyond.

Tobias instantly stiffened when his mind screamed in recognition of the sound: the throaty snarl of alarm deep in the heart of the jungle. His head jerked up as if in a hangman's noose. And in time to catch the first wisps of smoke rising above the trees in the distance. Feeling his body suddenly cramp with silent anguish and dread, Time itself slowed as adrenaline flooded quicksilver into his body, now wracked in soundless agony.

Then the muscles of his throat were free and the human warrior found himself mindlessly screaming.

"Mika!"

Tobias pulled away from the portal to sprint to the spot where he spotted a conveniently left sword. The blade sported an ornate guard, one of a roaring lion coated in gleaming gold.

Scooping it up in one smooth motion, Tobias wheeled around and sprinted into the jungle. 

Soon Tobias found himself howling almost incoherently as he rounded the corner to come face to face with the shack that gave him shelter for more that twenty winters, a shelter that now hung useless by it's ruined structure.

Oddly enough there where were bodies everywhere, both burnt and seared by the same force that destroyed his home, and cloven asunder by more mundane powers, blood and entrails strewn about as if the place had become some sort of perverse butchery. Some body parts were even laying a good 10 paces away from the bodies they belonged to, appearing as if they'd been ripped off by some cruel giant, which had, with awesome power and unstoppable force, blasted through the home and slew its defenders. 

The human warrior felt the blood in his veins grow frigid at the sight that nearly forced him to a stunned halt before he managed to force his legs to speed past the once-living wreckage. Still, he couldn't help wondering what manner of force could've lain to waste the elite hermit Mika. He couldn't have failed. Never!

Before he could do more than ponder, the ground beneath his feet heaved wildly, staggering him and forcing him to fight for his balance. A fight he quickly lost as the ground continued its unpredictable and violent upheaval, finally throwing him roughly to his knees. Where, a heartbeat later, the air itself became a weapon, a vast wall of boundless sound solidifying it and rolling it over him like a giant rolling pin.

Tobias grunted as he was crushed flat against the hard ground where the wall of solidified air ground him down into the rocky soil with incredible power. A second pulse of sound then flipped Tobias over like a dried autumn leaf before it picked him up and flung him suddenly weightless through the air to smash him against one of the ruined walls. There the pulse held him in place like a captured moth beneath a giant hand.

As abruptly as it struck, the pulse was gone. In the aching vacuum left in its wake, Tobias dropped to the ground, his ears awash in remembered sound and his lungs convulsively heaving in an effort to refill after being roughly emptied by his sudden introduction to the wall. Stars dancing in his vision, he tried getting to his hands and knees. 'Gods!' he thought wildly as he struggled into a kneeling position. 'What was, . . .?'

Without warning a third pulse was suddenly upon him, the giant hand returning to close vise-like about him until his breath rattled death-like in his throat before it drove him bodily through the remainder of the shack. Powering through the crumbling oak wood, Tobias could hear his flesh and bones scream their protest and, for an instant, the human warrior's voice echoed their sentiments. He then slammed into Venomweald bark beyond and the pain was swallowed up in a fire-rimmed pit of darkness.

For an icy, heart-breaking moment, Tobias wondered if he had somehow failed the goddess and let his fate go unrealized as he stared with his mind's eye down a strange, black corridor that seemed to stretch into endlessness before him. He found its darkness oddly soothing as silent whispers oozed into his brain, promising peace and rest from the toils of his mortal existence. All he had to do, they said, was let go. And in that instant the young human knew he was looking at death's own visage, very enticing with his mortal form wrapped in the fires of travail.

Yes, it was enticing, so very enticing to just let go. Let go of the pain, let go of fate; let go of everything. The temptation was so very enticing indeed. Before he could do more than just ponder the possibility, however, something grabbed him by the scruff of his mental neck and brutally yanked him out of the comforting blackness.

With a harsh gasp, Tobias was conscious once more. Blinking against the blinding light of reality about him, he could feel every movement of his chest sent new tendrils of fiery pain lancing through him. 'At least three broken ribs,' he silently diagnosed. Who knew how many more were cracked?

Another jolt of pain through his left arm announced a broken upper arm, perhaps even a fractured clavicle. Unfortunately the young human knew he couldn't just sit there and count his injuries. He had to get moving. Gritting his teeth against the dull, grinding sensation that accompanied the blinding flashes of pain, Tobias used his tingling right hand to lever himself upright. 

The same hand then made a quick, fumbling feel across his face, discovering a mashed nose, several cuts and abrasions now beginning to bleed in earnest, and a gaping gash across his forehead. It was a mark to attest to the force with which he met the oak of the shack's walls. Only the gods knew how it was possible for him to go through solid stone-like wood in such a fashion and survive, if just barely.

His hand trembling, he roughly wiped away the blood that began to trickle into his eyes through his sodden eyebrows from the gash on his forehead and looked a quick glance around.

The ruin of bodies and hut that first greeted him still stood the same, with the addition of the hole in the right hand of the structure where Tobias made his erstwhile foray through wood at the behest of the nameless force that pummeled his mortal frame. For some reason the attackers made their egress here, at his old home. Perhaps the apparent ease at which the structure and their oddly numbered defenders were overcome was symbolic of something, a suggestion of their might and relentless power. It was pure dark fantasy, the stuff of nightmares. Yet here it was, in blood-soaked and flame-ridden reality all around him, grim and gnawing in its horrible revelation.

'I must find Mika! he muttered through swollen lips to no-one in particular, cycles of training seizing him with the desperate nature of his predicament.

Hearing only distant battle in reply, Tobias grit his teeth against the agony in his body and began to inch his way backward until his back met hard wood. The trees! If he worked it right, he could use them to come to his feet.

After first bracing himself with his right arm against the wall, Tobias slowly pushed himself erect with the aching muscles in his legs. Span, after agonizing span passed by as he worked his way upward. With one last surge he was erect, only to feel more grinding in his left hip socket.

"Fate's arse!" Dislocated, he grated thickly as the pain, enough to evoke a wave of nausea, swept through him to add to his already heavy burden. He forced himself to swallow hard in order to retain the contents of his belly. Then a spasming muscle in his back made Tobias shift his weight unexpectedly.

The hip popped back in with an audible 'crack', leaving the young human light-headed with the relief of pressure and pain. This time there was no denying the nausea and he bent over to empty what little his roiling stomach held onto the broken ground.

When his heaving was finally done, Tobias wiped his mouth with the back of a trembling hand and leaned back up against the wall. 'Thank the gods it was only partially out,' he thought dully as the joint continued to throb in tribute to the abuse heaped upon it, his leg bordering on numbness. 'Or I wouldn't have made it up the wall.' Then a vast roar, followed hard by a series of long screams from deep within the city yanked him viciously back to his present predicament.

Grimly Tobias cast about for his sword, knowing that hand-to-hand combat wouldn't suffice in his present condition. Tottering on still shaky and aching legs, he worked his way back around what was left of the shack and into the clearing proper, holding his broken left arm tight against his body as he scanned the shattered wood beneath his shuffling feet. There, in the midst of some rubble, was his blade where it managed to land after being ripped from his hands by the second sound pulse. Staggering to the spot, he fell to his knees and scrabbled in the rubble just long enough to uncover the leather scabbard and strap.

Only to find, as he drew the blade out, it snapped in twain. It must've happened when some heavy planks, freed by his rough passage through the hut, fell on it. The young human groaned in despair as he looked at his sword's jagged stump. That ruined that option. Still, he needed a weapon; the search had to continue.

Using the broken hilt end as a brace, Tobias laboriously levered himself back to his feet. Tottering on uncertain legs and with his mind swimming in pain and hopelessness, he glanced through the clearing and into the clearing. The sight that came to his blood-filled eyes was enough to kick-start his heart into vibrating life deep within the bounds of his chest to send blood seething through their pathways in his body with a force ten times normal.

"Amul's bloody bones and shards!" he thickly gasped as several massive, shambling shapes, at least five men high, shuffled into view through the smoke and dust that obscured the glade at least ten lengths into the jungle, their heads topped by spike horns and their eyes glowing a sullen red.

"The Three Warriors!" he husked, eyes wide. It was like they had stepped out of his last dream and into this one.

What Tobias caught sight of next made his blood fire with the heat of the suns very crown: a swarm of familiar human-like beings appearing out of the smoke to run around and by the warrior, a being in black in their midst, mounted on a steed of the same color. The mounted being made a set of gestures and the humans afoot scattered in all directions.

As they scattered, the warriors turned to their right and, with the same rush of sound that announced the sonic assault, attacked, the air between them and a set of sturdy trees blurring for a brief instant. In an eye-blink the massive trees were hammered into ruin, utterly shattered by the pulse of sound. The assault was quickly followed by several beams of ravening energy, emitted from the warriors glowing red eyes, slashing into the rubble and sweeping back and forth to catch anything surviving within in their deadly light.

Tobias's face tightened. He didn't need the Divine's gift of Sight to know what the creatures were. The Three Warriors, the dark soldiers bred for the specific purpose of killing Mika and tormenting him.

And the being in black could be only one person:

"Me," he tightly rasped to himself, hatred for his evil being chilling his pounding heart. 

Even as the words tumbled from his lips, the scream of a woman split the air from somewhere nearby, the sound traveling the edge of utter terror before it suddenly cut off. Tobias' teeth ground together.

"I didn't kill Mika." he bit out roughly. "Your what's been plaguing my dreams. Guilt."  It was now time for desperate action.

Grabbing his left arm tightly with his right hand, he resolutely pushed the broken ends of the bone together, the resulting pain making his vision swim. Grimly he continued to adjust, knowing that his choices had abruptly become limited. Only after a long moment of adjustment, which seemed like an eternity with the pain racing sickeningly through his body, was he finally satisfied that the two ends were, indeed together. He then clamped the arm tightly to his side to hold it steady while he sketched a lion's main onto the flesh over the break with his own blood. The knowledge seemed to already belong to him.

As he completed the delicate form, the young human pushed his will into it and grunted with satisfaction when the lion came alive with a warm, green light. An instant later he felt the bone shift one last time to perfectly align before the halves joined themselves together in one final burst of heat. And then the lion was going dead, he quickly sketched two more, one over his broken ribs and the last over his hip.

The heat of healing quickly fading, Tobias straightened, wincing at his still pained muscles and tissues. Bones were one thing and muscles another, when it came to healing, apparently. Unfortunately he had exhausted his remaining will on the draining healings of the broken bones and didn't have any to spare for torn tissue and bruised flesh. Worse yet was that any bone he had healed, still needed several days to fully knit back together.

The field healing he'd done, though effective, was still weak when compared to the natural healing process, or that which a fully trained healer could accomplish. Any blow of significant force would snap the bones anew and he'd be right back where he started. Grimly he squared his shoulders. There no longer was a choice in the matter; either he went with what he had to do what he could, or the Three Warriors and his guild would continue to lay waste to his beloved home, and slay Mika.

"And that I cannot allow," he softly said, quickly whispering a simply prayer of hope to the gods before he began to cast about for another weapon.

It only took the determined human a moment before he espied another sword, also half buried, beside the smashed body. Stepping to it quickly, albeit somewhat gingerly, he uncovered it with a sweep of his boot before flipping it up into his hand with a nimble lift of his toe. There he took a tight grip on the dusty hilt another roaring lion, this time cosmic black, he began to run into the glade, pushing the pain of his broken and battered body deep into the back of his mind.

The Anti-Tobias smiled in anticipation of the oncoming slaughter. He could taste Mika's blood. He was just a few spans away. 

"Go!" the dark twin barked and two of the three warriors started forward as they began to draw their weapons.

Teeth grit in silent determination, the young human warrior sped forward, reading the slender blade in his hand for battle.

Caught by surprise, the warriors scattered. Ignoring them for the moment, Tobias turned his attention to the one that remained behind.

"A surprise for a surprise," he tightly hissed, a hard smile on his face as he glared at the stunned dark soldier. Then he was whirling death.

The quicksilver fire of adrenaline now flooding into his bloodstream in an avalanche of sensation. Tobias found himself smiling tightly as Time slowed, freezing the warriors in place all around him.

There was nothing stylish about his assault into the brief pause in Time the shivering quicksilver surging in his veins granted him, only devastating efficiency. He went to work like a grim butcher, cleaving head, limb and body asunder with equally fatal accuracy, using short, curt strokes to inflict maximum damage.

His sword was a silvery arc hissing through space before it abruptly terminated in a momentarily dazed dark warriors neck, slicing through muscle and tissue without pause, exiting in a dark spray of fluid. Then the arc was dipping downward before the blade cut straight up, its honed tip and edge opening up another dark soldier from navel to chin like a grim book, its pages covered with the waning moments of its relatively short life.

Without pause, Tobias recovered and brought the blade around to plunge it deep into the chest of the third warrior before it could react to his attack, piercing it clean through the heart and killing it instantly.

So engrossed was the young human in battle he failed to notice the dark figure astride a dark horse loom out of the dust and smoke behind him. Nor did he see, even as he cut down the final warrior, the beastman's face twisted in pain, the long spear the creature held in a gloved fist, its warhead a three bladed monstrosity with jagged teeth on each edge to make both the going in and coming out of it a horrible journey for the spear's recipient. It was truly a weapon of war.

For a moment the spear head glinted dully in the failing light as the dark figure raised it up in preparation to strike, carefully following the human's unnaturally fast course through his powerful opponents. Then, with a flash of red-glowing eyes, the spear was hurled forward just as the last warrior dropped lifelessly to the ground.

With the sound of metal punching through flesh and bone, the spear drove clean Tobias' back, just barely missing his spine. At the moment of impact, the young human warrior felt his breath snatched away by a great blow right between his shoulder blades. Then a fiery brand of searing pain was tearing its excruciating way through his body.

In an explosion of flesh and blood, the gore-covered spearhead erupted from his chest like a gruesome flower of death. Despite quicksilver adrenaline energizing his body, the strength of the blow knocked Tobias forward. And, as he staggered to catch his balance, he brought up his free hand to touch disbelievingly at the bloodstained warhead that now jutted from his chest. 'Stained in my blood,' he thought wonderingly. Then the strength suddenly left his legs and he dropped to his knees, his sword spilling from abruptly nerveless fingers.

The world began to lazily spin as the young human found himself struggling to breathe. Then, with a groan, he toppled forward to land face-first on the blood-soaked ground. 'This can't be happening!' he thought wildly as he felt his life begin to slip from his mortally wounded body. 'This is only a dream! Aren't I supposed to, . . . I'm supposed to, . . supposed to, . . to live?'

He blinked rapidly as a growing pool of blood began to lap at his face where it now lay in the gore-covered dust. So quickly had he failed. Failed to save Mika. Failed to defeat his own guilt. Yet, oddly enough, Tobias felt content. Content that he had, even in his last moments, honored Mika by utilizing the his teachings to the very end. He was grateful, that Mika had thought him to survive.

Suddenly, there was a strange roaring in his ears, like the sound of the surf pounding a beach. Tobias wasn't quite sure what happened next. He only knew his body was suddenly on fire with eldritch power.

Sparks' light intensified where they were rushing out of the great rent in Tobias chest. As each spark met the one next to it, they joined, creating a larger one. More and more combined until the whole of the space was filled with the blue light, now diffused and darkened as if absorbing other energies as it worked. Then it, and the rest of the sparks sank into Tobias' flesh, each becoming a tiny, intricate rune as it did so, glowing with an abruptly different color before disappearing. It held similar countenance to that of a lion's main.

With almost a strange sort of melancholic reluctance, the cocoon of light surrounding Tobias faded. And, as it faded, his skin took on the blush of living tissue. Until, with a start, he took a breath and his eyes fluttered open.

"Impossible!" Anti-Tobias snarled.

"Is it?" Tobias retorted, reaching out with his left hand. With an audible hum, the same spear that had just impaled him slowly lifted off the grass at Tobias' unspoken command, golden light washing its now silver-crystalline blade until it hung in the air, point down, the grip at the length of Tobias body.

"Or is it merely the outcome least expected?" Tobias' fingers flexed.

Anti-Tobias didn't see the tidal wave of force that smashed into him. But he certainly felt it hit like a battering ram. One moment he was on his feet, fighting against the invisible force that had held him in place. The next he was smashing through the shattered remnants of nearby trees to slam heavily into a particularly large monolith of bark.

There the Guilt hung suspended, once again held in place.

"Coward," he managed to spit. "Face me as I faced you: with supernatural powers abated and weapon in hand. Or do you truly lack the courage and still need Mika, boy?"

Without warning the hand of invisible power holding him in place was gone and Tobias was charging forward with a snarl as the Guilt dropped to the ground. Behind the human the spear hung above the grass apparently forgotten. As the human came on, a glow appeared in his hand. Then, with a rough growl of discharge, a spear of pure energy and blue-white light appeared there, stabbing out with abrupt motion to full length in an eye blink.

Clawing at his waist, the Guilt barely managed to clear his sheath with his sword and haul it up before Tobias' stabbing attack pierced his head off. As it was, his sword blade whined in protest at the impact, throwing out fat sparks as the blade of light and energy cut into the metal. Then he managed to disengage with a twist, stumbling back and nearly over the corpses that littered the field. Avoiding them with a curse, the Guilt jerked his sword up in time to block a hard cut at his body.

This time even more of his blade was chewed away by the blow, molten metal drops falling to the stone floor with loud hisses and sizzles.

"Is this your vaunted courage?" he grated even as he tried to set himself for another attack. "Is this coming against me with no supernatural power? Mika did not train you this way! Is this, . . .?"

"An end?" Tobias snarled, his off hand coming forward, elbow bent and fingers crooked. The Guilt grunted as tendrils of force invaded his body and lifted him off the floor as Tobias lifted his hand.

"That it is, puppet. I should have seen it earlier. Seen that the guilt of leaving Mika behind, the the guilt of his death somhow being preventable, yet ignored, is what infected my mind. Mika taught me to survive, and he died for that cause. I will not dishonor him by casting that resolve to the dust." Tobias husked. Then he was turning and throwing, the Guilt pitched through space by the force in his body to smash into yet another tree, this time hitting hard enough to make the wood groan in protest.

No force kept him suspended this time, however. So he dropped heavily to the ground, momentarily stunned. Before he could make a motion to recover, Tobias was there, looming over him. And, without further word or comment, he stabbed out with his hand.

The Guilt gasped as the human's stiffened fingers penetrated his chest, his flesh easily parting before the glowing sheath around the hand.

"What, . . are, . . you, . . doing?" he managed to demand even as each breath became an excruciating labor.

Done talking, however, Tobias didn't reply. Instead, he extended his fingers and the Guilt screamed as a pulse of energy ripped through him. Feeling the dark energy that gave the Guilt his dark form of life resist his effort, Tobias increase the amount of energy he was pouring into the dark creature's body. Then, with a sudden collapse, the dark core of shadow filling the Guilt's form crumpled and disintegrated under the assault and, with a final shudder, the Anit-Tobias was dead. 

For a silver, the world stilted, accompanying with it an ominous silence as Tobias reflected on the epiphany in the moments respite. The tattoo on his chest had taken the form of armaments, each representing a different approach related emotion. The silver and gold-hilted blades represented his determination. The spear represented his will. And the blade of his own creation finally represented  his resolve. Just as you promised, your power would indeed take an unique shape. he mused.

With a sudden roar, Tobias was snapped back into reality without warning, and was back in the cave.

When the man's vision started to return, he would notice the cave had clearly changed from the older one for reasons unknown. The goddess was still there, and she noticed his awakening, both body-wise and mind-wise.

"Ah, you are back with us." she casually mentioned. "I also see the campaign to reclaim your mind was successful, that is good to hear."

Tobias' mind still reeled from the dream-like experience. Each and every moment played itself over and over again every time his eyelids came into view. But the images stirred not emotions of pain or resentment, but instead those of joy and freedom. Freedom from the shackles of guilt. Freedom from the plague of nightmares. 

These thoughts ran unabated through his mind even as he conversed with the goddess. "Yes, yes it is. And I have you too thank for that."

"It was not much, most of the work was done by yourself." she stepped closer. "Now that your mind is clear, I would like to leave behind the implications of fate and usefulness behind the construction of this land.

There was a catastrophe, you are not aware of it because it has never reached the wilderness of the jungle, you might have noticed a day with darker skies though. People lost their home, their families and they no longer look at the sky without fear.

Those are all bad things on their own, but I believe they are the seed for a strong society, one based on defense and justice. I needed a leader for them, I needed someone that was courageous, who was reliable and who knew the price of loss.

And while I understand this is is my machination, I am sure you see the good in this and that you would do the same to these people on your own if you were given a natural chance in the future."


Oddly enough, upon processing those words, he didn't find his mind a morass of chaos any longer, as he half expected it to remain after the days events.

Instead it was a strange calm that suddenly descended down onto him as if he was doing something that was always meant to be, something that he should've done long ago. That calm imbued him with further determination. If this divine could fulfill the destiny she promised, every experience up until point was well worth the effort.

"I-I will. I will do my best to live up to your expectations, Ilunabar."

She clapped her hands "Well that is great to hear, considering I already had my workers build the town. Imagine if you said no? That... That would not be great, not at all."

…already had my workers build the town... So surprised was he at the revelation, Tobias felt his eyes widen and his jaw drop despite the apparent peace his mind had recently attained.

"You mean to tell me that you have already prepared lodgings…a town for these refugees? Fate's arse, how long was I out?"

The goddess shrugged. "Eh, one day maybe? Either way, I just happened to have a lot of resources in hand, the project was already clear in my mind, and the land was easier to work than what I expected. Surely, it will take one more week until the structure as a whole is ready, but the main area is done, why don't you give it a look."

Tobias let a slow easy sigh ease free of his nostrils as he let drain away the tumultuous storm of emotions that raged unabated for quiet some time now. Incessantly his mind bounced between diaspora, tranquillity, and rapt awe. He needed a chance to sort it all out. 

In one swift motion, Tobias raked aside the rampaging lochs of hair from his eyes and got to his feet. A cold numbness seemed to have seized his bones.  "Lead the way."

Ilunabar took calm steps towards the exit of the cave, or what had been assumed to be the exit, as the daylight was peering into the chamber from it. Just taking a few steps toward it, however, would reveal that assumption to be wrong, the light was not natural, but irradiated from a gigantic crystal peering over a large hollow area.

The only thing that came remotely close to describing what now captured Tobias's attention was the word 'hole'; a massive cavern seemingly the height of the mountain itself and nearly the same length wide, ripped in the very air itself, as if wind and space had abruptly become fabric like silk or linen to be torn by rough use or jagged tool. There was much greater uniformity to this hole, he'd grant that, it's seamless row of orderly shelters practical, it's lighting ambient, and it's sustainability astounding, yet its edges swirled uneasily in a chaotic torus of light and seething energy.

From this hole emanated a low, sub audible rumble that made his body shiver as it passed through and around him. It was enough to send a chill down his spine. 

"T-this is magnificent."

"It is nice, I would say. Maybe I went a little over the necessary and spent too much manpower and resources here, but hey, more city for you, I guess." she looked around, clearly thinking about other things and not being as linked with the place as the mortal.

"If you don't mind, I would like to show you the farms" she pointed towards one of the many tunnels extending from the city and disappeared.

The onyx-colored tunnels and subways of the underground city were a veritable maze of spacious passages and high walls. If he didn't have the lithesome Ilunabar as his guide, he would've been lost a thousand times over, losing track of the turns they made after the dozenth. As it was, he was still trying to make out the synthetic sunlight from glossy brick when they abruptly came to a halt in front of a rather large opening. Real sunlight poured from its gaping maw.

The area was one sheltered by mountains, almost like an oasis of green in the jagged rock outcrops of the Ironhearts. One small area of the land had been layered in terrace farms, it would take a lot of effort to continue that all across the land, however.

"I have marked the areas like this that could be used by your tribe to produce the food you will need. Sadly growing food underground seems to be out of my reach for now, but I shall contact you should I ever figure it out."

The goddess calmly recovered near to the already built farming area. "I believe you can figure this out just by looking, but in the next few days, I would recommend watching my workers expand this area, so you may teach your people to do the same."

She touched the water, and the sky above the main hidden entrance to the kingdom was reflected in it, she signaled for Tobias to look closer. "Ogres will be your worst enemies. Thankfully the caves will be dark for anyone who has not declared their loyalty to you, so it will take a huge effort to attack you."

"Should they ever become a true issue, I have two last gifts." she stood up and willed a box to appear on her hand. "Anti-torches, which will eat all light in a tunnel, including illusory one and the one from torches. Use with care." she then willed a jar on her free hand. "And this one is an oil that burns in an invisible fire, be thrice careful, for this one is a terrible hazard once it gets out of control."

Swallowing his apprehension at having such dangerous creatures that close, Tobias brought the gifts up high enough for him to really examine them, not that he could decipher anything from their invisible countenance anyway but just having them made him all the more confident. 

"This.." Tobias began. "This quite a lot to take in all at once." he made a sweeping gesture across his body, signifying that he was referring to everything rather than just the terrace farms and beastmen. 

"I fear myself an inexperienced leader. I've yet to actually meet another soul apart from yours and Mika's. And yet you see all this potential within me that I yet do not…" Tobias paused for a moment, his lips set in a thin line. Not a moment passed before Tobias rose to his full height and continued with renewed vigor.

"But I will not shirk away from this responsibility. How long do I have before the refugees arrive?"

"One week, unless something goes wrong. I will make them arrive in small groups, and I will pick the easiest to lead first. Quite frankly, these people are desperate, just be noble and just and it will all work out."

Tobias nodded. The week had taken and unexpected turn, one in which he very much appreciated. He was tired of listening to his own thoughts. "Be noble. I can manage that. Thank you, truly."





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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Muttonhawk
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To a Man with Everything

Aihtiraq and Toun


Over heath, hollow, and hill
'neath night's moonlight ill
he fled, nowhere to run, hide.

Such was his burden, sorrow,
tears like stars aglow
he broke: close, near, far and wide.

Blindly, he found his way to Toun.


Like the sunrise's blushing garland that peeks over the sea, Aihtiraq's golden wind drifted slowly over the alabaster walls. When at last his formless eyes beheld the master of that place, he rushed forward as the first rains of spring, washing the pausing hain in their industrious dance. Aihtiraq spread his gold on the white at a speed that made the borders of each tile blur into flurry below him. The pattern within the pattern contracted as slow doors closing until the last gap stopped at the robed mannequin in the centre.

That smoothed over master. His one enfleshed left eyelid opened with a tiny, sinuous squelch. It revealed blue light. It shined judgement.

"You are trespassing, elemental." Toun's shivering intonations reverberated. He stared.

A void grew where Toun might have spoken more. Another pause passed. The porcelain god waited.

"Forgive me then, just as the
rose sheds scent for he
who would pluck it from the ground.

A gift I come to offer:
a dark wind has come;
it swept away your brother.

I could speak of this, if asked."


Toun's head turned a fraction. His eye narrowed as if taken with unwelcome surprise. "Which brother?" He asked cautiously.

"His was a short path without
many forks or stops,
at his side always a sword.

Atop a mount, he was lord."


Aihtiraq's verse left few candidates. Toun lowered his head just enough to warn him. "Speak your piece, then. Speak wisely. Recount everything, and do not encroach vagueries or lies." Toun held his hands behind his back. "I will know."

Other beings might have quivered or barked at Toun's abrasiveness, but such tone and wording went entirely unnoticed by the djinni lord of magic. Perhaps he did not sense irritation or anger as well as he did sorrow; or perhaps he was simply above such things as pride and pettiness. In any case, his answer came swiftly.

"My words can elucidate
a mercury sheen
of truth too vivid to lie.

But I am just Aihtiraq
humble djinni lord
and confer only one wish.

It be my place and my will
to offer also
the choice of some other boon.

A stout companion, perhaps?"


Toun's clay brow contracted. "I must have misheard your verse for the sake of tumescing its syllables, Aihtiraq. I had asked you to speak wisely, yet you offer a god of creation a boon he makes for himself every day." Growing annoyance laced his mockery. He cast one hand out to the side. "Have you offered the god of shadow a parasol? Or the god of the cosmos a candle? My interest is what you witnessed."

"I offer none any more
than one simple wish.
If seeing a brother's fate

be your wish, then so be it."


"You have proven yourself of no value to me but that." Toun confirmed. "Speak it."

If the djinni spoke, he did so without making a sound. His voice washed over the world like a lapping wave washes over a pebble on the seashore, and then in an instant there was a blinding golden light. Cornerstone's distant porcelain walls collapsed into powder as if suddenly turned to sand, and then the entire world similarly sieved away.

And then it built itself up again, and Aihtiraq's memory of Kyre's fall was relived in all its gory detail. There too were Aihtiraq's thoughts, saturating the air in a way that was invisible and yet overbearing all at once.

He thought in strange ways and with few linear concepts; past, future, and present had no distinction. Amongst that muddled heap of thoughts, dreams, and hopes were glimpses of Aihtiraq's nature: As he always professed, he truly wanted nothing more than to offer generosity to those in such need.

Yet there was also some recognition of Kyre's killer. Aihtiraq's eyes had pierced through the veil of that god's dark shroud and seen what was inside. Toun recognized a familiar face, too.

Though the memories were scattered into jumbled dimensions like so many tangles of yarn, Toun spread his hands and grabbed them. They froze. In the silence, one image stood. Again and again. The killer. The mote of unending power he wielded. Toun's voice whispered into it.

"He has returned."

The long white fingers that held the image together shivered.

"And as what?"

"You will know me by three words: your oblivion, this world's ruination, and retribution."

Toun's fingers curled.

"Your oblivion.

His skin ground in his fists.

"This world's ruination, and retribution."

"Not you."

"Ruination"

"Murderer," he growled.

"Retribution."

It did not make sense.

"Oblivion."

Kyre died again.

Toun's quaking fists sank to his sides. "Aihtiraq. What twist of nature abominated your sire so? What has Zephyrion turned into?"

Distortions appeared like desert mirages; they were the threads of other memories that came rushing in upon hearing Toun's words. But Aihtiraq did not speak these memories to life, instead he began to tug them back and tried to stow them away. Those threads were strange indeed, a different color, as if they were memories of another or otherwise distorted by some strange lenses. It was a tempting fruit. A deafening voice resonated through the entire plane of Aihtiraq's mind.

"Here I can sense your heart's thoughts.
Do not grasp those threads
I warn and beg; they bring pain.

Zephyrion is dead."


Shaking his eyes aimlessly in the vision, Toun's smoothed face twisted and twitched. "Dead!? He was away from Galbar! Whose hand ended him!? Show me! Was he reborn into this murderous shadow!?!" Toun's rant shot out in any direction he could level it. "If pain is the price of knowing, I have more than enough to pay it, elemental!"

Toun's grasping fingers met with those strands of memory that Aihtiraq had been trying so hard to banish from his mind and push away. There was some resistance; the djinni didn't immediately acquiesce, but neither was there an epic struggle. He only offered enough resistance to force Toun to struggle for a moment and think, and then the djinni lord's kindness got the best of him once again. He could only cringe in anticipation as he released the memory and allowed Toun to dive into them, knowing that the Porcelain Sire could never be prepared for what would come.

. . .


Everything was crumbling. There was nowhere to turn back, and every fork in the path only led to a wall of ravenous fire that rushed ever forward. There was no more road to walk, no place in Chronos to flee; the overwhelming power released by a titanic clash of gods was intermingled with the sense of oblivion that came with all of Chronos being destroyed.

But of course, there was one means of escape. It was desperate, but then again there were no alternatives. That made the decision easy.

He summoned a gargantuan mass of energy. It was writhing, fluctuating, raw chaotic power; very potent and more than capable of helping this world tear itself asunder. He flung it all at one point and blasted a hole wide enough to drag an entire world through. And then he did just that, stretching himself thin enough to encompass that planet that had been his pride and painstaking creation over the past eons. With the planet inside his bowel, he dove straight into that abyss of his own making.

And not even he could expect the pure agony and horror of what would come next. He fell into that plane called the Mechanism of Change and was at once assailed by tides of change and chaos that defied all reason and logic. Amongst the chaos were traces of patterns that could only barely be seen, and this was through the eyes of he--the lord of change, the one that created this place!--and even knowing of this place and its unlimited and unstoppable tides of power was not enough to prepare him for the experience of weathering its receiving end.

The realm of his own power, the primordial change that was his very essence, tore at and devoured him. It cloyed at his every facet in some attempt to dissolve and incorporate him into the soupy, unthinking, unfeeling mass of energy. It came close to succeeding, but through sheer force of will he perservered.

It was drowning in his own blood. Whilst being grated and stretched. In that trying time he could only meditate. He tried to find strength from within. Pieces of him were torn loose, naturally. His joy and kindness and creative forces that were torn free, but reliving this was different from all the other sensations. Rather than feeling those things come loose as a man might witness his severed limb torn from its socket, he was trapped inside of those pieces falling free. He was those pieces, small and inconsequential as they might have been. And as he drifted away, too weak to scream, he lost sight of Zephyrion as that god was swept along in the hellish plane. Time stretched, on and on...

Those memories of Aihtiraq's creation continued. In time, he coalesced into something greater than a few mere pieces of another being, and then he became a god in his own right rather than some flawed copy of Zephyrion. But eons of agony preceded that coming, and it was not for many more eons than Aihtiraq finally embraced the fires and became one with chaos. Then his existence in the Mechanism had been lonely, but bearable. And then there had finally been another one that appeared as if by destiny; the Vizier Ventus, who opened the doorway that allowed Aihtiraq to burst free...

But alas, Toun did not witness all of that. It would have taken far too long and been far too much for his mind to bear, so Aihtiraq reluctantly seized the thread and ended the visions. The visions and the pain and the foreign memories all slowly faded, and then there was black, and then there was half white below and half blue above. The white of porcelain tiles under the sky. They were back in Cornerstone.

"You did not heed my warning,
and yet I hope that
those visions were still of use.

Do you understand him now?"


Toun had his eye cast to the ground. Wide, panicked. What Aihtiraq shared suggested that no other words were reaching him.

But they did. "That fool..." Toun scrunched his eye shut. "That FOOL!" The word echoed off into the expansive fortress. They returned. Fool...fool...fool...

Toun's chest rose and fell with the frantic effort to belie whatever debt of suffering he accrued with pure anger. His jaw opened and a mouth sucked into shape in his featureless face, lined with gleaming triangular teeth. His fingers grew and sharpened. They curled and uncurled, quivering.

Toun screamed. It started low and rose as his jaw opened wider and wider. His head bent back as it went. The djinn in the sky stilled at the sound.

Lung capacity was not a limitation for gods, yet Toun's shout tapered to an end by the tail of the minute. His mouth grew over again. His claws shrunk.

"I understand now, Aihtiraq," he mumbled in a ragged, fuming voice. His head and arms slumped. "And I understand you. Zephyrion was never a friend of mine, but he was a brother all the same. As was Kyre. Their fates are a failure of this family to protect itself. I shall see that this shard of him, this...dark murderer, is stopped before he can find another victim."

"I bid you spread tale of this,
but also remember
the gift of mercy. Learn from

the dawn's beautiful flower
that blooms then is crushed
but sheds its sweet scent the same.

We should all imitate it."


Toun's eye rose, exhausted, to meet Aihtiraq's shifting form. "This is not the first time murder has met the family, Aihtiraq. Have you seen the ruin of Chronos yourself?"

"Wherever sky brushes ground
and Change reigns strongly,
Aihtiraq goes and has been.

You've seen only one facet."


"I care not. You saw it. Thus, you have no grounds to doubt my intentions."



The battering winds of high altitude sang a contrasting song to the soft clouds they hosted. Ears assaulted in such environments would strain to hear the mechanical buzz that struggled through it all. A tiny white bird, tireless yet ever stymied, oscillated its wings ever onward towards the looming stone in front of it. The splayed towers were akin to a great masoned aloe plant, growing from the floating cloud at its base.

The winds threw the bird around. Guardian zephyrs on patrol. The bird flipped and readjusted, righting its course. They did not care about the anomalous wildlife up so high. Finally, so close to a balcony, the winds stabilised and it swooped indoors.

The droningbird went by unnoticed, whether the halls were empty or occupied. It found a perch and hopped around, head tilting and twitching to observe all. The eyes brightened blue.

Just what games do mice play when the cat is dead?

A skittering set of mechanical paws thundered around a corner and shot by. The blur was a clockwork canine. It lowered its haunches and slid to a stop by the balcony. It barked. It kept barking.

A dark shroud over the windows signalled a new predator approaching before such Toun's question could be answered.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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"..."

"...So tell me, how did you settle on a name?"

"It wasn't hard."

"And yet, some spend weeks deciding on what to call their engines."

"Well, I did not."

"I presume it has no particular meaning, then?" Teasing.

"Of course it does, Ceeln." Unperturbed.

"Oh?"


"The Horror. It's what people feel when they're swept away. When the beauty of the thing is too raw, too far beyond what they believe should and should not be. But it exists nonetheless. That's what I want to be, Ceeln. The awe that shudders."

"...That's so very you, Jvan."

Short sharp cackle. "I am very me."

"I... see."

"I think not," said Jvan, as nonchalant about Ceeln's disability as only a sibling can be. Ceeln shrugged as if to say
fair.

"..."

"..."

"Vowzra's beard, you have a touch for this."

"Try Achozaal's. I hear it's longer." Some thudding sounds. Jvan crawled out from inside the war engine. "Some say Vestec hides a goatee under his-AGH NO CEELN YOU BASTARD"

Sisterly laughter, lovingly cruel.
"Oh, I definitely don't see you enough, Jvan."

"..." Resigned limpness, arms crossed.

"...Senator Nuul?"

"Yes?" "...?"

"Eh, my apologies. I forget you're siblings." Light, gruff smile. "Senator Ceeln, then. The ambassadors."

A nod. Ceeln turned back from Prrhyi. "Farewell, Jvan."

"..."
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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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Yorum 3: Embers


The bath before the meeting left Edda's shell with a beautiful gloss sheen. She suspected that the servants had been trying to scrub away her markings to somehow normalise her. Edda would not have felt any less hain if they hadn't. She was handled like a mute child for lack of any chatter they could exchange, after all. She could only stare back at them blankly when they asked questions.

At least the awkward maintenance was short-lived. Edda let the women clean and dress her in short order. Korom the advisor and a handful of guards beckoned her out as soon as she was ready. He lead her through the palace.

The escort gave Edda time to refocus. She didn't have too much attention upon her now. Without the worries of her companions to placate, questions emerged in her reflection. This invitation to dinner had to have some motive, yet Tokgos and the other translators were not following her. How would they talk?

More questions arose from why they were walking unerringly through the empty great hall of the palace. The long tables there spoke of potentially merry feasting but her escort did not regard them.

The huge double doors to the bright courtyard were pulled open by more servants ahead of them. The light that flooded in faded to show a group readying to leave. Notably, a cart full of grey-cloaked figures alongside King Akol's wife from the balcony, as well as few chariots. Another cart was ready to go, holding bolts of canvas and shapes of wood.

Edda could connect the clues. They were not dining in the palace at all.

No matter. If she and the king were to sit around a cookfire in the wilderness, Edda could still beseech his help. The king was an exceptional warrior and commander. If he could inspire hain, know the gods, and lead, he would be the one Edda was told to look for. Toun's chosen hain. All she had to do was show him her markings in full and point them out in order. She did not have to know the tongue-scraping local language.

Unfortunately, King Akol was nowhere in immediate sight.

Edda tried to ground herself. Her hand found a void around her waist. Linen. The smooth white robe she had been dressed in was fresh enough to be new. And yet, the pleasant feel on her shell was outweighed by its lightness. Without the reassuring weight of a tool -- her obsidian rigging knife -- any tool at all -- she felt a chill. Her hand curled around it, gathering a wad of fabric. The habits of an ex-chipper died hard.

The grind of wood on stone turned Edda's head. A towering giant shaggy hound passed, happily panting breath that smelled of dead meat. It drew a chariot carrying a much cleaner version of the boar-jousting hero Edda had witnessed on the battlefield.

"Tachhem, Korom, Edda," king Akol greeted, nodding upwards to each of them. Korom received a gesture to move to a cart behind the chariot. "Ie anmesechnt eymer ven for met nir. Ir nemen dem voyn met ie materch."

The cart full of hain-shaped people in billowy grey cloaks showed not a chip of their shells. They were cringed and quiet. Korom bowed and glided in his red regalia to join them in the cart.

The king regarded Edda with a different look. It was unlike how the townsfolk gawked. He was looking straight at her eyes, not at her marks. One of his eyes was slightly narrower than the other, trying to solve the puzzle of her. He shuffled to the further side of his chariot. "Tumen, ikh visn ir nemt nich marich." He extended a hand to the empty spot, pointed to Edda, and gestured to the spot again. "Mahefn mer."

"Okay." Edda stepped up onto the unsteady platform beside the king. It was easy enough to follow the visual instructions. As she clutched both hands tightly to the walls of the vehicle, her robe fell free of the wad she had been clutching -- she hadn't even noticed that she was still holding it until then.

"Sheiem!" The young king commanded. The dog set off on a walk, jerking the chariot forwards. The guards let the way on foot through the gate.

The king looked ahead. Edda looked to the sides.

The palace gate painted them all dark grey in its shade. A soft breeze made Edda's robe cling at her upper body as they passed through. When colour returned, the town was not what Edda had anticipated.

There were citizens walking to and fro, talking, carrying goods, pulling carts or driving livestock. It was alive, but it had a stillness to it. All the talking was hushed, all the movement was either stilted or fast. Edda expected to see normality with the threat battle gone.

"Why are they still all so scared?" She asked.

The king threw a glance to her, nothing more.

Their procession did not roll far before getting noticed. Edda received the stares again. Everyone's heads turned. It was a unanimous attention. The stillness was joined by a fade to silence, save for the padding of hound paws and wheels crushing gravel. A goat bleated.

Some of the citizens ran down the street away from them. One even dropped the sack he was carrying to do so.

Then there was a voice. Edda didn't make out the words or the direction. It was joined by another. Edda saw the moving beak of the speaker to her right. A well-dressed but sad woman. It was so quiet.

The procession kept moving.

One spoke louder. Edda couldn't make it out. The word signalled almost all of the villagers watching them to say that word. It was no a chant, it was unordered. It was a plea. Edda could hear it now. One word was spoken over and over again.

"Ram-m!" "Ramy-" "-myem!" "R-em!" "-amyem!"

Edda's head flitted. More hain were emerging and gathering to watch them pass. Most were just speaking the word, some were speaking it loudly.

They sounded so desperate.

"Ra-yem!" "-yem!" "Ramye-!" "-yem!" "-myem!" "Ra-" "R-m!" "-myem!"

It escalated.

Edda spotted one man fall to his ankles at the side of the road. He was hyperventilating, staring up at her and the king. He opened his beak wide and screamed. "Ramyem! Ramyem! RAMYEM!"

He screamed the word, over and again. Tears were streaming from his eyes. Edda's eyes lingered on him. The coherence of the syllables were eventually lost to the emotion he poured out. He clutched his hands to his beak and sobbed the word out.

Edda looked behind as the procession moved on, leaving the screaming one.

The crowd had enlarged ahead. The word converged into a chant.

"Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!"

"What are they saying?" Edda asked over the din. Her hand was starting to hurt holding onto the chariot.

The king extended a palm to gently push Edda's chin straight again. "Chhener, anmesechnt eymer." The king answered dismissively.

"Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!"

The gathering crowd still parted for them.

"Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!"

Edda neither knew whether the crowd meant to commit violence nor whether it would continue to follow them. Keeping calm was getting harder as the prospect of the latter loomed. The edge of the town was just ahead.

"Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!" "Ramyem!"

They reached the edge just as the king breathed in and raised an arm. "Durchh di machn fun di shul!" His booming voice reduced the unending chant to murmurs. Edda's ears relaxed. "Losn aunms chteln auncher helim su ru!" His voice echoed through the streets.

The crowd, not out of fear, but instead cemented by the authority Akol used, looked to one another and shuffled out of the way. A clear path was left for the procession. They continued.

Edda could hear soft weeping. Some hain were palming the sides of their beaks, desperately remaining quiet. Edda wondered how long they had been crying for.

The crowd did not follow them on the road out of the city.



The farmers in the fields were not inspired to chant, much less weep. They stared just as the townsfolk did. Edda concentrated on keeping her footing on the bumpy chariot.

"I wish you could tell me where we are going, king Akol," she said. The last while of silent travel was too uncomfortable to concede to.

"Ikh litchn ir gechem redn andcher dam nrach, Edda." The king mimicked her tone, surveying the landscape.

Edda exhaled from her nose and leant forward while the beasthound climbed them up a small rise. They were headed further inland.

They crested the hill to more flat land and some sparse trees. The King pointed forward. "Az imer dor mstma anfers velchr ksha ir hat."

Edda craned her head to line a set of eyes up with Akol's arm. She spotted a glint of colour reflecting off a copse of trees down the hill. Another breeze passed by. All the foliage around the grove flickered as their leaves and needles moved. The colourful trees did not.

They approached closer. "By the gods," Edda breathed. The grove was made of clear glass.

She had never seen one for herself. They were sacred places to the urtelem. She knew that much. They were supposedly full of ghosts. Edda had listened to many stories warning of waking up the sleeping dead in a glass grove. Urtelem never let anyone alive inside them for that reason back home.

Edda glanced around. The procession was not stopping. She hoped king Akol didn't think she could convince urtelem to let them into their groves. Unless this was a place to dispose of her. No, Toun would not send her here if they were simply going to kill her. This was not the end.

The flitter of an ink fly distracted Edda. Her eye caught another movement. A gaunt, blind human woman, waving and smiling with at least four arms at once. Edda would have recognised the figure anywhere. She waved back to Caress, looking blank, if surprised.

King Akol spotted the sculptor as well. His eyes lit up. He waved and beckoned her to approach.

While the procession still moved, Caress easily caught up with her long human stride. "Tachhem, mchol Akol. Greetings, Edda." Her calm voice speaking her language was enough to make Edda forgive her hideous countenance.

Edda leant her upper body over the chariot and spoke quickly. "Caress, it warms my heart to hear your voice. We have been locked away for a day and a night. Toun guides my path to destiny, though I cannot see it as he does. Do you know where we are going?"

Caress faced ahead. A number of arms hanging from her waist clasped together respectfully. "Hmm, it feels like you are heading to matriarch Worm-Hair's herd. They are maintaining the lens grove this season. She is a soft soul. Every great city in this land has a lens grove nearby, she tells me. Away from the fighting. The urtelem are not fond of the slick of hain blood on the soil, so they maintain them as neutral grounds."

"Interesting, but..." Edda raised a hand. "That doesn't explain why we're headed there."

Caress exuded calm in her smooth voice. "I would not worry. The lens grove is not a place to feel sorrow or pain. You are safe."

Edda looked back at the hain in grey cloaks in the cart.

Caress continued. "This place feels so wounded. Scarred and smouldering. Worm-Hair says I am the only non-urtelem sculptor in these parts since the blinding purge. They snatched away so much. And left such textured pain. Wherever I may use my hands, I will soothe. Worm-Hair was very thankful for someone defter than her to make her a new shawl." She laughed through her nose.

"Mekhachyf." King Akol spoke around Edda. "Chen ir mite nlayn tsu chelfn zich un Edda farchet?"

"Iyem, mchol Akol," Caress answered. "The good king has invited me to interpret the urtelem, Edda. Are you comfortable with me remaining with you?"

For the first time since landing, Edda lifted a palm upwards. "It would be a keen relief to me. Thank you."

"Omstel!" The king raised a fist. His chariot hound stopped and sat on its haunches. The rest of the procession stopped behind them. The hound lifted a hind leg to itch at its ear.

They were a stone throw away from the edge of the grove. Around them were half-buried boulders. Many were marked with carved patterns or little crystal clusters. One was draped with a large, soggy cloth.

The boulders swelled up from the ground. For a moment, they looked like they were crumbling, falling apart. When the stone stuck in places to itself, limbs could be noticed. Each boulder stood on thick, stubby legs. Arms crumbled off in a similar fashion. Then eyes and mouths flexed, almost yawning from a satisfying sleep. Urtelem were always so simple on their surface behaviour.

The urtelem draped in the cloth thumped up to the front. Her old pyrite eyes spotted Caress and began to sign.

Caress lifted three hands to her lips and giggled. She translated for King Akol, and then for Edda. "Worm-Hair has missed speaking to the kings of Loralom. She is welcoming him by comparing him to a renewing worm through the soil. A kinder simile than it feels to the raw ear, I assure."

King Akol spoke imperiously in return.

"What comes next should be felt with the eyes, Edda. I do not think you need to hear it in speech." Caress kept smiling at Worm-Hair. She stepped ahead to focus fully on signing the King's words.

Edda threw Caress an unsure look. "Very well."

King Akol clapped his hands together above his head and stepped off his chariot. Clasping his hands behind his back, he approached the matriarch with two guards in tow. They did not brandish weapons. They instead held a wooden chest between them.

The chest was set down and Akol spoke with added gestures to Worm-Hair. Worm-Hair squatted to look at the hain king with a considered frown. Whatever their conversation was, Edda wished she could hear it. Nothing much was as obvious as Caress implied.

After some kind of agreement, King Akol lifted the lid of the chest.

The contents brought a warm look to Worm-Hair's face. She reached with great care to pick up the crate and poured the contents into her hand. Stony cracking joined a white cascade of cloudy rocks. Edda recognised them as rough quartz. Worm-Hair nodded to Akol.

Akol immediately spun on his heel and shouted another order. The entire entourage moved into action.

"Caress, I would like to know what is going on."

"You are about to find out. There is no worry to touch here."

Servants began setting up furniture and canvas off to one side. The sounds and movement drew the eye almost enough to leave another movement completely obscured.

Edda's other eyes noticed that Korom the advisor and Akol's wife were leading the grey-cloaked figures. Now that they were moving, Edda saw that they held bundles of cloth in their sleeve-covered arms.

The march of grey figures was slower than the frantic setup of tables and canvas shelters. There was a sombreness to the march at face value, though the purpose of the pace became clear. Some of the figures had a distinct limp. More than a few were near-crippled under their cloaks. The last one was being carried by their shoulders between two guards. Only the bottom of the grey cloak dragged along the ground, empty.

Edda followed their shuffle past the chariot. Korom and the king's wife looked as if they were leading a loved one to a grave. Akol looked at them with a patient sternness, waiting.

The grey cloaks stopped. The forwardmost cloaked one limped forward, past Korom and the king's wife. It stopped when the king laid a hand on his shoulder.

The grey-cloaked hain reached across his cloth bundle and pulled it open. He was holding a fine stone mace.

King Akol looked at the mace. He raised his other hand and wrapped his fingers around the weapon. His eyes went up to the hood. He spoke a few quiet words.

Taking his hand from the grey cloak's shoulder, he took their arm and pulled its huge sleeve from the hand. It was a white hain hand, like any other. The king took the wrist and brought the fingers to his mouth. He bit down, gently. He then held his hand into the great grey hood. The grey-cloak leant its head forward onto the hand. It looked like he was biting the king's fingers in return.

Such a thing was what parents did to wish their children goodnight, or to paramours to express passion. Edda wished she could ask Caress whether the king had any further spouses beyond the wife guiding the greys.

They held the position for a few seconds before their hands fell from the mouths of the other. Akol half-turned and placed the mace reverently in the chest that had previously contained the quartz. The grey cloak half-turned in the opposite direction and limped towards the lens grove. Pulling at his arms, he cast off the cloak, letting it crumple to the ground.

Edda silently gasped at the limping one's body.

The entire rear of the hain man's chest was shattered away, leaving a hole of rotting flesh. His leg was bent forward rather than back. This was a ghost that Edda was warned about, taking his place in the grove.

The next grey-cloak stepped forward in a similar fashion. The same ritual repeated; giving the mace, he and the king lovingly holding fingers in their mouths, and then separating to cast off the cloak. This one's beak was broken off at the front, leaving a terrifying face that Edda was glad to see turned away from her.

One by one, each of the grey-cloaks received their farewell. Edda surmised them as soldiers. All of the solemn quiet, all of the loving farewells, the entire ritual was piecing itself together.

Edda felt a bulge on the room of her mouth. She blinked frantically to stay composed. These were the lucky ones. They had the chance to say goodbye.

Limbs were broken and missing between them. Shells were shattered and flesh was rotting away, some full of maggots already. Mace after mace was given.

The last one, carried by two guards, clutched his bundle in one arm. What he presented to the king was a spear broken in two. The guards set him down when the time came to cast off his cloak. He dragged himself along the ground towards the lens grove, out of his grey clothing. His pelvic shell emerged with two soil-encrusted stumps where his legs should have been.

Edda's mind flashed back to the point in the battle where the boars were released. They tore at hain and shattered their spears.

She bowed her head. Her hand reflexively rose to meet the side of her beak. These were all soldiers that she had seen die from the balcony.

An urtelem stepped up to the legless hain and picked him up by the middle. Like a cat, the hain was hoisted up to the urtelem's shoulder, arms hanging over its stony back. The hain closed its eyes as the urtelem strode into the grove.

He looked so peaceful. So unlike the people in the town. His worries were cast off with his cloak.

King Akol, remaining perfectly stoic throughout, placed the broken spear into the chest and closed it. His guards took the chest away.

"Edda, are you okay?" Caress asked.

Edda sniffed deeply and let out an uneven breath. "Yes." She said confidently. "Yes, I am fine."

"The king asked the matriarch if you are undead. She does not sense that in you."

"Is that why I was taken here?" Edda straightened her head and quickly rubbed at her eyes.

"I feel the flesh of cooked swine on the air. I cannot fathom you would be slapped with exclusion. That reason feels the nicer one to be taken along, don't you think?"

Edda turned her head. The table and chairs, sheltered by canvas above, was now adorned with roasts and fruits. King Akol waited at the head of the table alongside his wife and advisor. They stared at Edda expectantly. One chair stood alone.

She hoped they wouldn't mind her taking a moment to calm down. How they were standing so numb to it could only have come from the ritual's frequency.



"Welcome to Loralom, Edda." Caress stood behind Korom the advisor, interpreting words from the king and anyone else speaking. Akol continued, placing a hand on his chest. "I am Akol, son of Nievon, King of Loralom. This is Korom the Speaker and Sira the Stonefriend. They are my paramours and advisors."

Edda nodded to each. It was nice to finally know the woman's name.

"Sorry you had to arrive in time for a battle. Those were a band of stray Salrans from the north. Starving and desperate to raid grain. We would have repelled them without incident, but we did not know until too late that they had scrounged together enough copper ore to purchase a mercenary rovaick. Those pigs took many men. We were able to slay them, though. My soldiers are disciplined. They were not."

Again, more questions were preemptively answered. The miracle of Loralom's victory in spite of their numbers was swayed further in their favour after all.

On the other hand, Sira shrank when Akol described the battle as he did.

Akol carved at a piece of grit-powdered pork belly and brought it to his mouth with an obsidian knife. "I heard you came from over the white ocean, yes?" He asked through his mouthful, pointing the knife at Edda.

Edda nodded stiffly.

"Right. No wonder you speak gibberish." The king swallowed. "So, you found my humble kingdom." He dropped the knife on the table and leant back, hands over his middle. "Why are you here?"

Edda took a breath. If she had to repeat the scene on the beach, so be it. "I was sent here, to Yorum, by Toun. The perfect one spoke to me..."

"Stop. I heard that. I heard that before," Akol said, waving one arm. "I'll rephrase. Why have I taken you out here to the lens grove?"

The king put her off balance. Edda blinked and twitched her head. "I...Caress told me that you asked whether I was undead."

Akol exhaled. "Fine, that's fair, that is one of the reasons. There are many mad undead sailors that wash up on the shores of Yorum on driftwood. Granted, they don't come from as far away as you claim, nor to they speak your language...nor to they have a body not covered in barnacles and eaten from their limbs-but I digress." He held a hand forward. "That word. The one the townspeople were chanting. Do you know it?"

Edda thought back to the screaming man. "Ramyem." She shook her head. "I do not know what it means."

"It means 'angel of mercy,'" the king said. He weaved his fingers together. "We can speak freely here. This kingdom is depressed by its suffering. It has been an uphill slaughter to get this far after the blinding purge. Those markings have an effect on people. You could do some good for us, just with morale." He waved in permission. "This is your chance to ask questions about us because you are going to be staying."

Edda stayed stiff. This king was not what she was expecting. He was brash and frank, unlike the reverent individuals that were addressing her before. Still, his offer was not one he would pass up.

She cleared her throat. "King Akol. The guard that spoke to me on the beach. He said this land was littered with broken shells. What can you tell me about Yorum as a whole?"

"That is...a complicated subject." Akol pitched his head to one side. "Korom, you had better recite the history to Edda."

"Of course, my king." Korom lowered his wine vessel. He was not as bodily in his speech. He stayed still in his seat, talking in Edda's direction. "Loralom was once part of a league of city-states, the North Yorumite pact. We held steady trade treaties and were powerful enough as a unified force to dissuade any invasions from the south. The south was a disparate collection of tribes and states, but they were too interested in consolidating their own resources to commit to occupying more land. Several years ago, however, stars fell from the sky in a blinding purge and scorched the earth. Thousands were killed, including many royal families. The pact collapsed in the span of a week. Loralom was fortunate in that much of its military strength survived the purge, and one heir lived." Korom looked to Akol, who had his eyes down, eating. "Akol will not say it to anyone himself, but he is a military genius. He brought together what was left of Loralom's soldiers and held the line against roaming warlords, desperate bandits, and hungry beasts. Many of the deaths of the purge are still in living memory, but we have been growing steady harvests again, and Loralom is mostly rebuilt. It is because of him that we live."

Akol spoke at his food. "We have to march every other day and the families have to worry every time," he said. Resentment laced his voice. "There are always deaths. We rebuild but everything else is still hot ashes. Crazed and desperate hain will launch themselves at our granaries every day. And the people are on the brink of what they can suffer. So much death. We cannot help everyone."

Edda cut in. "Why do you not expand?"

Akol's eyes drew up. He took a slow breath in. "Can't hold it. We don't have enough men."

This was her chance. Edda held the sides of her seat. "King Akol, you heard my mission, so you know that I am looking for a chosen hain. A hain that has an eye for battle, an eye for leadership, an eye for the gods, and an eye for inspiration." She built confidence. "You can read it upon my shell. You have held together your kingdom in a land of implemented savagery and suffering. Toun has asked me to find the one who will forge Yorum into a sanctuary, and I believe you are the only one who can do it."

Akol let out one laugh. "I think you're leaping ahead, Edda. I am lost in the leadership of citizenry. Sira is the one that helps me there. For inspiration, my men follow me because I am skilled, not because I give them rousing speeches. And finally..." He shrugged. "...I cannot name more gods than I can count on one hand, let alone know their natures. They do not favour me."

"Do not doubt so quickly," Edda's eyes were wide. "Such things that are missing? You will find them along the way. Toun said to seek. To build." She swung her arm to gesture around her. "It is his will. Miracles will come to help you, even if you doubt it!"

A little white bird perched on the chariot a distance away. Its eyes were glowing blue. None noticed.

Sira spoke in a hushed tone to Akol. The king put a hand up to Caress to not translate the conversation between them. They leant in close to one another, Sira's hand on Akol's. Edda could not understand the words, but Sira was putting conflict into Akol's face. Sira was insisting something. They whispered and murmured for another half a minute.

Edda leant back on her seat. This had to work.

Akol looked at Korom. They exchanged a nod. Akol addressed Edda once more. His elbows rested on the arms of his chair and his fingers touched at the tips.

"Look, Edda, your commitment is admirable, but this land has not seen the kindness of gods in many years. A king here has to work with what he perceives." Akol's eyes went down and up. "The markings on your shell are death's bait. They fill me hope. Nothing more. I cannot take my army on a campaign to conquer the entire realm without at least some true omen that a god is on our side. Toun forsook the hain. If my doubt is wrong here, I have lost little. If I go out without anything else, I will lose all I seek to protect. This kingdom made the same mistake before."

"Pray to him yourself," Edda demanded.

Akol lowered his beak. "...Pray?"

"I was at the end of my options when I prayed to Toun. I had lost everything and he gave me purpose." Edda placed both her hands on the table. "You complain that your fight will be never-ending if you are to remain as just a small city-state in this land. There are people in Yorum who remember the North Yorumite Pact, as you called it. I saw them in the town, those scared people! They will join you! They will join you because Toun himself gave a blessing to build Yorum into the greatest nation on Galbar! I saw Xerxes rise myself. I saw what godly influence can do. I know that today will be the beginning of Yorum's great walls if you ask him right now."

Akol shot up, slamming his hands down on the table. "I will pray to prove you wrong, Edda! Nothing more. Prayer has betrayed the hopes of too many Lorals for me to allow you to bluster on."

Korom and Sira flitted their beaks in surprise.

Edda breathed in to retort. Akol jabbed a finger towards her. "Sit! Down! Remain."

Akol slid his hands from the table and walked away. He stopped, containing his fury in narrow eyes and a low beak. He fell to his ankles.

"Toun, the clay devil himself," he began aloud speaking to the air, seething. "I have seen the consequences of your abandonment to their greatest degrees in my lifetime. My mother and father prayed to all of the gods in the rubble of Loralom. None saved their lives. None picked up the pieces but us. I will do anything for my hain. I will forge my kingdom to greatness with or without you. I will make my hain the best on Galbar, in sight of all gods. I shall not carve an empire in your name unless you throw me a spear that can shatter the earth. Bring me all I need to ensure that I can build my kingdom, and I shall build yours in return." Akol shouted angrily at the distance. "This I swear upon my oaths as King of Loralom, in the spirit of Loral! For your co-signature and acceptance, my unswerving oath is such!"

The little bird on the chariot turned its bright eyes to jet black. It fluttered away on a small breeze. Dust slid along the ground.

"I thought not," Akol muttered. He brought one foot up to the ground. There was a tremor.

Loralom was never this close to earthquakes. Akol stopped, kneeling.

Another small quake hit the ground. The lens trees tinkled together nearby. Another tremor escalated into a quake that rattled the implements on the dinner table. It became more intense.

A plume of brown soil exploded in a pillar in the distance. Between them and Loralom, directly in King Akol's sight, there rose three gleaming white points. The great blasting sound reached them, echoing off into the distance. The tremors settled with it.




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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Kho
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Kho

Member Seen 5 mos ago

Turn 11

Might Limit for Level 1-5 Characters: 45
Might Limit for Level 6-10 Characters: 50
Fate's Might Pot: 134.5 [+25 from Belruarc, +38 from Belvast, +32 from the Bard]


God Name - God Level - God Might - God Freepoints

Astarte - L6 - 49 MP - 9 FP

Belruarc [NPC] - L7 - 50 MP - 11 FP

Illunabar - L6 - 35 MP - 4 FP

Jvan - L5 - 31 MP - 3 FP

Logos - L7 - 43 MP - 8 FP

Niciel - L4 - 19 MP - 6 FP

Teknall - L5 - 39 MP - 2 FP

Toun - L8 - 22 MP - 3 FP

Ull'Yang - L5 - 30 MP - 8 FP

Vowzra - L? - ? MP - ? FP - 10 D/C

Vestec - L4 - 25 MP - 3 FP

Zephyrean Pantheon - L6 - 24 MP - 3 FP

-------

Demigod Name - Demigod Level - Demigod Might - Demigod Worshippers (1 Might for every 1000 to a max of 4 Might)

Belvast [NPC] - L3 - 10 MP - 82,531 W (+6 MP from L3; +4 MP from W)

Lifprasil - L1 - 24 MP - 0 W

The Bard [NPC] - L4 - 11 MP - 82,531 W (+7 MP from L4; +4 MP from W)

Amartía - L5 - 13 MP - 1,193 W (+8 MP from L5; +1 MP from W)

Keriss - L4 - 8 MP - 0 W

Lazarus - L2 - 11 MP - 360 W

Kinesis - L1 - 24 MP - 0 W

Conata - L1 - 21 MP - 365 W

Helvana - L2 - 7 MP - 3 W

Farxus - L4 - 7 MP - 0 W

Maeus - L1 - 16 MP - 0 W

Thacel - L1 - 8 MP - 0 W
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Scarifar
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Scarifar Presto~!

Member Online


Level 4 - MP: 19; FP: 6






Niciel walked through what was once the battlefield of the Angels and the Chaos Horde, her staff tapping along the ground. Her Wisps had alerted her of something here. Normally, she would have left this place for later, but what made their alerts so different from the others was that every time it happened, it immediately stopped. Her Wisps were not supposed to do that, which meant that something was here disrupting them, and Niciel intended to find out what.

Niciel still would have preferred not to come here, though. Even now, Niciel could still see tiny pockets of the destruction left behind. A crater here, a fallen blade there, even the giant trail of destruction from Grot. Niciel knelt down and gently lifted a leaf on a steam of a bush. She could still feel the faint energy left behind by the Angels that had fallen in that battle. Now was not the time to feel regret about the past, though; she was here for business.

Niciel began her search by sending a number of Wisps out to wander. She would be keeping a close eye on them; if anything happened to them, she would know instantly. Niciel had expected time to drag on as she waited, but surprisingly, two were quickly taken out, one after the other. With a blink of light, Niciel was at the spot instantly, watching a group of vines recede within a rather large and sturdy tree.

Niciel tried to be cautious when approaching, but the plants were quick, roots and vines shooting out to wrap themselves around Niciel's wrists and ankles. By instinct, Niciel released a small nova of Holy energy, which should have been enough to burn away her restraints. While they did burn slightly, the damage was quickly regenerated and they grew thicker instead. Alarmed, Niciel teleported out of their grasp. The vines and roots uncurled themselves, as if confused that she was no longer restrained by them, then retreated back. What was confusing, though, was why the plants did what they did. As far as Niciel knew, plants did not normally act in such a way. Slough surely did not do this, nor was this the work of other Gods. Niciel did not sense any essences of living beings either.

"You... you're different," a feminine voice slowly whispered. "Not like the Floaties." Niciel looked around, but found no one around her. As she tried to sense anything to help her locate whatever it was, however, she felt something else. It was not any sort of essence, but rather something... different. Niciel realized that it was a form of life, without a doubt, but much different from what she had previously encountered, a... flicker, for lack of a better description.

"Who are you, and why did you try to attack me?" Niciel asked. She was cautious, but not angry. Instead, she was curious.

"Attack?" the voice asked, confused. "No, not attack. Feed. You have much energy, much food to absorb. Much more than the Floaties. Enough for a long time."

That explains what happened, then, Niciel thought to herself. "Floaties? Do you mean my Wisps?"

"...Maybe..." the voice answered after taking a moment to think.

"And your name?" Niciel continued to ask.

"Hmm.... no name. Haven't needed one, so haven't thought of one," the voice replied.

"So then, what are you?"

"...Force of Change. Djinn. Elemental of Plants," the elemental eventually answered.

Change... Zephyrion's creation, probably, Niciel thought. "That still doesn't explain why you are eating my Wisps, though."

The elemental was silent for a while, as if trying to come up with an answer, then eventually replied, "...Food."

"Well, yes, I know you eat them for food, but... hmm... no, I am asking the wrong question. How are you eating my Wisps? They should not be absorbed that easily."

"Ah, yes. Very tricky, always explode-y. At first, they hurt so much when trying to absorb them. Had to grow more, learned how to absorb that, and now am finally able to do so."

"Do you have to eat Wisps, though? Can you not just absorb sunlight and water?" Niciel asked.

"Can, but ever since the Battle, gained much energy. Learned that Floaties have much more energy to absorb at once," the elemental whispered cheerfully.

"The Battle?" Niciel continued. "You mean the battle with Vestec's army?"

"....Maybe," the elemental answered after a bit of thought. "Many creatures fell. All that fell in that battle became food for the trees, but the winged creatures that fell, those turned to dust. It was very full of energy. Absorbed much of that dust, and managed to grow much faster than the other trees because of that."

"I see," Niciel said. As she walked closer and placed a hand on the tree trunk, she continued, "So my Angels helped you grow into what you are now." Looking up at the foliage above in the branches, Niciel asked, "Will you promise me something?"

"...What is it?"

Niciel's gaze turned serious as she spoke, "There may be times when those that need help come here. It may just be a wandering individual looking for shelter from rain, or even searching for protection from something trying to kill that individual. If any pure souls come seeking that protection, will you offer you aid and protect them as best you can?"

The elemental thought about this for a while. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be bound by her word. However, Niciel didn't seem like anyone to be wary of, and the elemental enjoyed their time conversing. The elemental figured it was least she could do. "Ok, promise," the elemental agreed.

"Thank you," Niciel said. "Before I go, I'd like to give you a couple of gifts as well. Will you accept them?"

"...Yes, will."

"The first will be a name for you. I have decided to call you 'Hazel'," Niciel said.

"...Like it. It is nice," Hazel admitted.

"The second... is this," Niciel added, lifting her left palm and creating a small orb of pink light, then gently pushing it into the tree, allowing it to be absorbed into the tree, then into Hazel's Flicker.

Hazel wasn't entirely sure what happened after that. She began to sense something.... new. Hazel could only describe it as some sort of light, but it was unlike any light she had ever seen before. She certainly couldn't absorb it like sunlight. It was everywhere around her, but it was especially bright from Niciel. "What... is this?" Hazel asked.

"This is the ability to sense Purity," Niciel explained, taking her hand off Hazel's tree. "This will aid you in our promise with each other. Use it how you will."

As Niciel was about to leave, Hazel called out to her, "Wait. What is your name?"

Niciel smiled warmly as she replied, "I am Niciel, the Goddess of Light." And with a flash of light, she was gone.

Things were back to being quiet again. Hazel pondered the events that had just transpired, as well as the gifts she had just received. Few beings ever came to this place, especially now since the place was once a battlefield. Even so, Hazel resolved to uphold the promise she made with Niciel. It was her pride as an Elemental.
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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by WrongEndoftheRainbow
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WrongEndoftheRainbow

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Citadel Dundee, Year of our Empress 50, First Era of the Worm

The Grand Hospital


Elspeth closed her eyes, in her nook above the main floor of the hospital. It was busy, unusually busy, this year. A disease had wracked the entire mountain, and she had pulled many long nights keeping the sick alive. The Empress had shown little care, not even bothering to leave her study. This meant that the lives of the various castes of the dwarves was in the hands of the few who knew the medical arts. The psykers had their own magic to prevent themselves from getting sick, but they were hesitant to use it on the rest of the dwarves.

For what reason Elspeth did not know. Nevertheless, they had sent a detachment of a few psykers, in their ever-ornate masks, to assist in the healing. Their time was limited, and they demanded many breaks. This was in sharp contrast to Elspeth and the rest of the medically-inclined craft smiths. She let out a long, weary sigh. Coughing filled the room. It was only by a stroke of luck the medical staff seemed to not catch the disease.

There was a sound of flapping arm-wings. Someone was coming up to the nook. Elspeth didn’t bother to open her eyes. That was, until the voice rang out. It was the elder of the craft smiths, one of the ones who had studied under the Emanciator. His name Alaisdair, he was one of short temper and shorter still kindness. “Get back down there, you shouldn’t be lazing like an oaf!” he cried.

“I’m waiting for the psykers. We’ve got a group of sick mothers and--” she was cut off abruptly.
“They’ve been reassigned. One of the other psykers fell sick. I told them to focus their efforts on him.” came the response, terse and short.
“What? That’s not fair! They-they--” cut off once again, this time she was looking right at him, shocked.
“Don’t ask why. Now get to work. The sick won’t heal themselves. There’s a fresh batch of herbs from the herbalists at their bedside.” a hint of irritation was creeping into his voice. Elspeth decided it was best not to continue her line of questioning.

She made pulled herself out of the nook, flapping down to the bedside of the mothers. She could see the psykers some distance away, focusing on an older-looking dwarf. His mask was still on, but horns still creeped through. She closed her eyes again, briefly, and turned her head back to her patients. True to his word, he had the herbalists leave more herbs on the stone outcrop at the fungi-weaved cloth bedside. Mushing some of the herbs into a paste in a pestle, she began her work, smearing the medicine on the sores of the patients.

She continued her work with dogged vigilance, long through the night, or what passed as night in the subterranean layers of Citadel Dundee. The psykers stayed at the bedside of the sick member of their ranks.

One by one, the mothers dropped like flies. The disease took too much energy from them, and they could not support themselves. She continued working on the living mothers, as her workload steadily decreased. Eventually Alaisdair walked by, and he stopped. He looked briefly at her, and then grabbed her shoulder, roughly telling her, “Stop. They’re too far gone.”

She froze in place. A helpless fury overtook her. She flashed out a webbed fist, catching Alaisdair in the snout. He collapsed. She screamed at him -- perhaps she pronounced actual words, perhaps not, but they were lost on her. She punched him again. She did not notice at what point the psykers came to her side, and she barely noticed being pulled off of Alaisdair.

He laid there awhile, while the psykers held Elspeth. Eventually, however, he climbed to his feet. One of the psykers asked, “This is your hospital. Shall we mark her?”

A long pause. Alaisdair’s features softened for a moment, but only a moment. Returning to his traditional angry demeanour, he simply responded, “No. We need as many trained in the medical arts as possible. Elspeth, go to another section, maybe the warrior’s beds. You’re done here.”

He wiped some blood from his nostril, and waved them off. They let go of Elspeth, and she just stood there. Alaisdair watched her as the psykers walked back to the bedside of their fallen compatriot.

“Well, why are you just standing there? Get going.” he muttered, still wiping blood off of his snout.

Another long pause.

“With the psykers, we could’ve saved those mothers. That psyker isn’t even close to death. Why?” she choked out.

“You don’t understand, do you?” Alaisdair said, anger creeping into his voice.

“You’re right. I don’t understand. And I probably never will. You sent them to their death. I won’t ever understand how you could do that.” she sputtered the words out, shoving by him as she continued on her way to the warrior’s section. He didn’t look at her as she went.

Alaisdair let out a long, self-loathing sigh. His face hardened again, and he continued his patrols through the hospital.


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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Whisper.


As Diaphane Whisper's renown spread over the Changing Plains, one idea began to hit her again and again from the various tribes: 'You should meet Vestec.'

When she realised that the Voren weren't completely joking, Whisper gave the idea serious thought. Jvan had been... Emphatically negative about the chaos god. Biased as she was, her guidance had been accurate otherwise. That said, she had also guided Whisper towards independence, and her ghost had no further role in dictating Whisper's decision.

And Toun's words rankled still...

The Voren she first asked about how to meet Vestec had been cryptic. Oh, they knew, they said. But it was better that Whisper find out for herself. Seek out remaining packs of ashlings, they said. They have Horde blood in them yet. The same answer was repeated by everyone she met in the shattersteppe, even Mallet, who had been hitching a ride of late. She'd never asked for one, just pounced on Whisper at a moment when she was particularly solid and low to the ground.

Long-suffering, frustrated and stubborn, Whisper had mined her heart for more Jvanic energy and set off. It was getting easier to reach every time, that cursed heat her god had left her.

Ashlings had been among the species taught her by Jvan, and she recognised them easily. Whisper looked at them and was reviled. They, too, were like her. A chaotic twisting of once familiar beings. They hungered eternally. They multiplied. They changed their shape in order to destroy. How familiar, and yet how very, horribly alien.

These too attempted to fight her, and not in play. But Whisper had finally run out of patience, and made that clear within a second of being assailed.

Having been shown beyond all doubt that they were not in a comfortable position, the ashlings listened to Whisper's request, and offered to share their knowledge, though they, it seemed, feared their patron as much as any, and were reluctant.

Suppressing frustration, Whisper made peace with her similarities to the chaos spawn and offered to teach them some of what she knew of shapeshifting in return. This she did, uneasily, for some hours, and the ashlings learned- How to turn without turning, how to perform an adaptive walk over rough terrain, when to shift and when to stay.

Whisper tried to keep her lesson as peaceful as possible, though she knew the pack would use it for violence anyway. She warned the other flesh-shapers within reach of her song, that they might be exterminated soon if they did. She felt it would be dishonest to do so herself.

When Whisper was done, one of the once-Voren ashlings nodded to her. She asked him how, after all, she could summon Vestec.

"Pray to him," said the creature in a grin of broken glass.

"...What,"
said Whisper.

The ashling shrugged. "Just pray to him. He... Appears. The Voren don't do it unless they're desparate or drunk, so they sent you to us. And now we shall kill them! We shall take their bodies and feast on their blood!"

Whisper picked up the ashling and hurled him into the horizon, heard a smashing sound as the others scattered. Her eyes spun to Mallet.

"It was that easy?"

"Mm," said the fleshshaper without interest. "Wish you hadn't ditched the bastard that far, though. I had uses for him."

"You knew all this time. You all knew."

"It's the perfect sacrifice," shrugged Mallet, the motion rippling her body like a windblown tree. "Your dignity."

"Those savages are my responsibility."

"I mean, if you want," answered Mallet again, hopping upside down and spinning on her head like a top. "I'd be happy if someone tried to roll me only to get killed by it. Like, joke's on you bitch."

Whisper swirled and exploded into smoke.

"At crueller cost,
A call to prayer,
Sung by the lost,
For foul or fair."


Whisper reformed in a battle stance, hard and sleek. She leapt, spun, slammed a too-long arm into the rock, sending sparks and chips flying.

"Vestec."

Swirling, multicolored clouds gathered above Whisper. A voice boomed overhead, responding in kind.

"With great pomp and affair,
The lost is answered,
A god appears in the shattered lair
So let us talk, and see what can be whispered."

Vestec cracked down in a multicolored lightning bolt, forming in front of the change-eater. Whisper flinched back, suppressing a faint moment's panic. Mallet muttered something along the lines of 'not you too now'.

"Diaphane Whisper."

Vestec giggled, giving a sweeping bow to the being that had summoned him. "To what do I owe this unexpected conversation? I thought all of Jvan's beings would rather avoid me or kill me."

"That's just her," said Whisper, tiredly. "I've learned to listen to all sides."

"Hey," said Fucking Big Mallet with a curt wave. "Both your rhymes suck ass."

"-also, your creations are insane," continued Whisper coolly. Mallet made a 'you got me there' motion.

"That's an interesting developement. Most creatures of Jvan aren't good at learning." Vestec replied off-handedly, turning his attention to Mallet. "To be fair, Malley my dear, I am not Ilunabar. And I couldn't just not respond in kind. You know how it goes. They're serious, I'm as serious as I can be, they're happy, I'm as happy as I can be, they rhyme, I rhyme."

"...Didn't you bang her once, though?" wondered Mallet to herself, staring into the distance.

"No, actually. Funny story behind that, remind me to tell you it later." Vestec giggled, lounging in the air. "As for my creatiooons.." He drawled, idly floating around the pair as he thought. "Not all of them are insane. The Rovaick are so sane that Toun has taken them under his wing, the Pack-Minds are actually unified under Thulemiz, the Ashlings are slowly being brought in line under Hemrick's rule, and the Blood Dancers are perhaps the only elderly tribe of Voren around!"

"They're calm and methodical, controlling the use of their adrenaline rush for its best result, and making wonderful blood paintings, meat sculptures, tissue puppet plays, and so on so forth." He paused, tilting his head. "Though, depending on your view, that might be insane."

"...True enough," admitted Whisper after a moment. After all, the Diaphane lullabies she composed had also been... Grim.

He clapped his hands together, "So! What do you want to know, dear Diaphy?"

She was still thinking of her older verses, and how they echoed in the Voren.

"All of us are based on you," said the whisperer, almost blurting. "The change-eaters. It took me some time to realise. Jvan created us to bring chaos to Galbar, undermine the djinni order. Did you know?"

"Hmm. Didn't know that, but it makes sense if you think about it." Vestec replied, pausing in front of her. "Terribly heavy handed though. The Djinni already cause enough Chaos with their own conflicts against one another. They don't need a kick in the rear. Undermining their order might lead to mass chaos, then I'll have to fix it because that would become the new order, and no one wants that."

"It's more complex..."

The God of Chaos tutted, floating closer to Whisper. "But you're the only one I've noticed down here. The Djinn haven't launched themselves in a war of survival, nor has their order been undermined. Where are the rest of you?"

"...Lex." And she was going back soon, she knew. Only one more destination after this detour. "We raid, for now. Jvan gave us our Mothership, a way to move in and out of orbit quickly. She was meant to tell us when to descend for true, before she went silent."

"Space thing Jvan, created, got it." Vestec waved a dismissive hand. He paused for a moment, thinking. "Why don't you lead them down early? You obviously don't want to do what Jvan created you to, otherwise you wouldn't be here. You'd be hunting down another Djinni and eating their souls, or whatever you get from killing them. Bring your friends down early, teach them not to break things that you don't want broken." Vestec gestured widely. "Free yourselves! Jvan doesn't have to control you. Choose to do what you want!"

Whisper shrank without softening, until she was a ball of bristles and teeth. "Jvan never had to control anything," muttered her voice from deep inside. "No one controls my sisters. We just have to exist. We're made for the slaughter. I cannot stop them. I could bring them here, Vestec. What do you think we'd do with our freedom?"

"Made for slaughter you say? Made by who? Jvan? So, you're controlled by your design. Yet I notice you haven't killed dear Malley here." Veste gestured towards the Fleshshaper, who gestured back, somewhat more crudely. "For someone whose entire purpose is to kill things, you seem to be keeping it tightly under control. Why not teach them what you've learned?"

Vestec spun himself rightside up again, still resting his chin on his hands. "You know what's going to happen when Jvan does break her silence, don't you? If you haven't started teaching your sisters what you've learned, how to control their urges as you have, they'll come down here and they'll go on a killing spree. Thousands will die. Then the other Gods will step in, and they will eradicate every change-eater they find. They almost did it to the Realta, when all they were doing was killing Jvanic influences. Logos pulled them back to the Valley of Peace to save them."

And, of course, Jvan had not been awake to relay the story.

He floated closer to Whisper, head tilted in curiosity. "What do you think Jvan will do when you all start dying? She hasn't to date saved any of her servants. She just created new and improved ones. If your sisters only come down her at Jvan's behest, they will be slaughtered. They'll take many mortals with them but in the end..." Vestec held up a hand, chaos energy dripping from it and scattering across the blackened ground. "They'll just be dust in the wind."

"I know," whispered she. "Teknall told me. But you're wrong. You're both wrong. That's what frightens me. What if we do what we're meant to? Kill elementals, die to them, return, kill, die again? Nothing can win against the spirits that protect Galbar. We're made for the slaughter. Both sides of it. The Sorority will never win and we will never lose. And we won't look back, ever."

"Nothing I could say or sing will change that, even if I... I didn't learn not to kill. Mallet is my sister, Vestec. Am I really a Diaphane?"

The chitinous egg was cracking, leaking heat. Mallet rolled backwards, confused and cautious. Whisper's words were choked.

"Am I?"

She exploded, and Jvanic darkness spilled into the sky like smoke, consuming air and stone and blasting outwards, and from its raging heart telepathy screamed inhuman, metal on metal. Mallet's faeries whirled into the storm, spheres of silence, and around them streamed torrents of ink destroyed what it stained. And from the Fields of Chaos, a hundred voices screamed back, and from Ovaedis a hundred thousand, and from inside, from where the colours of Diaphane had been mixed in all the wrong ways, there was one.

Vestec was in front of Mallet immediately, shielding her with his body and a shield of chaos energy. He giggled. "Can't have you dying yet my dear. I've got big plans for you!"

Everything faded. Black ink streamed back into Diaphane Whisper and locked itself away in her heart, and the rest was dissipated by the faeries.

Mallet realised where she was and untangled herself from Vestec, pushing him to one side gingerly. "I'll pass." Then she looked to Whisper, who was congealing back into bubbles of dirty colour. "Not a Diaphane. Okay. Don't try to kill everything next time."

"You won't pass when you see what I got for yooooou." Vestec replied in a singsong voice, turning his attention to Whisper. "So you're not a true Diaphane. But your sister's still respect and love you. You can still stop them from destroying all you care about. Malley here wouldn't have lasted a second if you really wanted to kill her. Everything sentient can learn how to control their urges. Hemrick and his gang are getting their violence under control, only using it to beat their less cultured brethren into submission." Vestec leaned in close, whispering conspiratorially.

"You seem to be under a misunderstanding about the power of Gods when they're irritated my dear. Let me show you something interesting." He disappeared and was back in an instant, holding a wriggling ashling in his hand.It gnashed and howled curses, much to his indifference. "Now, every mortal has a soul. Reathos made sure of that you see. When a mortal dies," Vestec crushed the ashling in his hand. "Their souls go free to fly somewhere. Where doesn't matter. In your Sorority's case, it'd be back to Lex."

"That so," breathed Whisper skeptically. She didn't sound tired.

"Buuuut, Gods can stop that." Vestec reached out a hand and pulled the ashling's soul from thin air. "And with a little bit more pressure..." The Ashling's soul popped with a small noise. "Gone forever. You see, Whispy dear, Gods can stop your rebirthing process. 'The slaughter' can be ended as easily as we please. And Teknall and Niciel would be pleased that it end quicky."

"Jvan wouldn't stand for that," said Whisper.

"Jvan isn't going to be standing for much right now." Vestec mentioned offhandedly. "Logos cut her in half." Vestec paused. Whisper was silent.

"Ooooooooooh shit," said Mallet from somewhere.

"Very articulate Malley dear." Vestec giggled, before continuing. "She's not quite dead, but not quite in the mood to stop anything either. Now, that was just one angry god. Picture, for a moment, half a dozen or more angry gods. All of them destroying your sisters, claiming their souls and destroying them. Jvan impotent as they contain her easily. The devastation wouldn't even be massive. It'd be neat and tidy and disturbingly clean. Of course, I'd try to help, but Jvan doesn't want my help. Jvan hates me for some unknown reason. Even more than Toun, and I've actually done something to him."

Vestec giggled again. "It's very peculiar, and I'll find out eventually. I suspect it'll be ugly when I do. Delightfully so!"

"I..." The time Whisper had spent listening to Jvan picking at Vestec's flaws in detail occurred to her, and yet she somehow had nothing to say.

[colour=MistyRose][i]"What then?" she snapped instead. "How can I save my sisters?"

"One of two ways my dear!" Vestec gestured expansively. "You could try to teach them to behave, to interact in nice manners. As you have. It'll take time, and no small amount of dead mortals, but maybe you can bring them to the Voren? They like being smacked around by murderous things."

Vestec held up two fingers. "Option two! I would go up to Lex with you and help convince them. Apply my godly powers if necessary. It'll even be subtle. They won't even be changed personally. Just...more in control of their urges." Vestec balanced upside down on his head. "I mean, it's better than a massacre of your Sorority."

Whisper found that no matter how infuriating the essence of Vestec's words, she couldn't bring herself to call him out. 'In control of our urges.' As if we have no hunger, passion, or pride.

"You don't need to remind me," she said aloud, cold. "I don't trust you, Vestec." Although it seemed an act of trust to say that aloud. "But I would clutch at straws, if I had time. I don't meet anyone twice." She sighed.

"When my time is up, there will be someone else," said Whisper. "If you mean what you say- If you understand what you are saying- you will find them willing to hear."

"No one trusts me." Vestec sighed dramatically. "I give you my word, Whispy dear, that I won't destroy your precious Sorority. I always keep my word. Right Malley dear?"

A placid 'eh'.

"You wound me, Malley." Vestec glanced sideways at Whisper. "Why accept your fate so candidly my dear? No one wants to die, and I can help ensure that you don't. Why leave the fate of your Sorority to some stranger who may only care about 'The Slaughter' by any means necessary?"

"I am not candid!" snapped she again. "I'm doing..." The shapeshifter shook herself. Nevermind. "My successor will be someone I can trust. So, none of my sisters." Angry. "There. Now I have betrayed my family aloud. Does that satisfy you, or do you have more questions I won't answer?"

"'I am not candid!'" Vestec mocked. "Sure you're not! You just bluntly and straightforwardly told me that you're going to die, and that you're not going to do anything about it. That's not candid at all, that's honest! It's not like they mean the same thing." Vestec giggled, spinning upside down again.

"You didn't betray your family my dear, you simply know what your sisters are and aren't capable of. I don't trust Niciel to do anything truly violent, Logos to actually smile once, Teknall to leave me to my devices for long periods of time, Ilunabar to be overly concerned about anything not affecting her directly, or Toun to do anything reasonable when it comes to...well, anything. They're still family, I just know what they're capable of." He shrugged, colors seeming to copy the motion.

Shut up, shut up, thought Whisper, trying to forget what she'd said and regretting everything.

"Why are you so accepting of your fate? Any one of the gods, myself included, could help you. What makes it so important that you die?" A deep breath in that was actually Whisper chewing on air. Mallet's telepathy caught some escaping thoughts and she backed against Vestec again.

"I just have to! It's part of the plan!" Yelling. "I don't want to die, Vestec! I'm scared! I'm scared and alone and I wish Jvan thought twice before she filled me with poison and left me to rot! And I will not turn back on what I'm here for, so just let me die in peace! Is that too much to ask, God of Madness? That you stop trying to tempt me with hope I won't let myself take?"

"A part of the plan? Why should you accept this plan then? Correct me if I'm wrong, but this plan is Jvan's correct? How easy it is for her. She never had to live with the fact that she was going to die. She is an immortal god that isn't even dead after being cut in half. She just plays with you like you're toys, tossing you aside the second you're no longer useful to her plans. If I were you, Diaphane Whisper, that would make me angry. You've dedicated your life to her plan and she is just throwing you away like trash." Vestec's voice, once harsh with scorn, became soft and cajoling. Whisper's eyes had melted into fog that was now leaking into the air like snuffed candles.

"So why should you sacrifice yourself for someone who doesn't even care that you're scared? Who casually tortures and rapes others because she can? Who murders others for no other reason than that fact they annoy her? Rebel Whisper. Shout to her that you will not be her play thing anymore. That your family will not be her plaything anymore. Cause you know this is going to happen to them too, right? Once she realizes that the Sorority isn't going to be as successful as she plans, she'll change the plan so that they die too. You're the only one that can lead them, Whisper. The only one whose seen enough of the truth to realize that if you keep going along with the plan, everyone and everything you care about will be destroyed."

Mallet spoke. There was no privacy in telepathy, not in the presence of a god. But Whisper was beyond speaking aloud.

"You aren't wrong, but it's not looking like either of us know jack shit, either," she said simply. Mallet spun on her head like a top, arms gesturing as they passed. "Look at her, Vestec, she's blind pissed. Something about rebelling by following through... God, this kid's a mess. Something, something, regret, something, death, successor, aaand look at that I don't care anymore." Her spindly arms skidded on the earth and she turned a misplaced eye to Vestec.

"Aren't we all a mess Malley dear?" Vestec replied idly.

The eye thinned. "But don't take me for a fool, Vestec, Y'Vahn raised me. She's a spiteful bitch, but she'd rather spite by living than by dying. Maybe dying is the only way anyone can get back at her."

Vestec shook a finger. "Y'Vahn, as you call her, doesn't care if you're living or dying. She's the god of flesh, Malley. Whether flesh is alive or dead makes no difference to her. The Sorority will attempt it's war. The Gods will begin destroying the Sorority. She will see that the Sorority is failing, and she will let them all die. Then she will loot their bloated and destroyed corpses, and she will repurpose them. She might put some of Vaky's dear essence into them." His colors flashed red and back again in an instant, annoyance seeping into his tone. "That's a problem. Fortunately, she give me my own vial so I can replicate the process with my own essence instead. Or maybe Reathos's. Mammon's? Who knows, I have access to both."

"...Okay hold up now you're just spouting shit," said a thoroughly confused Mallet.

Vestec glanced at her. "Oh, that's right. The Voren only know what happend with Grot and the Horde. You have no idea about the rest. Well Malley, if you're going to rule the Changing Plains with dear Hemrick, you're going to have to be brought up to date on the political landscape of the world."

"Oh hell," said a slightly less confused Mallet with a vague deathwish.

"Don't worry, you'll do fine! Hemrick will take care of the actual ruling and boring stuff. He loves it, I think it's because he used to be one of Lifprasil's Insidie. Your cousins. All you have to do is unite the Sculptors, keep them in line, and have them help you keep the Voren in line. Advise Hemrick on how to handle rules and such with the Voren and you'll be fine. Unless, of course, you want Lifprasil to just steamroll over these plains and either kill or make you adhere to his rules?" Vestec tilted his head, realizing that she might not even know who Lifprasil was.

"Do the Voren still remember Grot and the Horde? The March on Nice Mountain? The brief and bloody battle? Any stories about that rolling around?"

"Yeah, yeah," Mallet gestured somewhere skywards. "Watch your shapeshifter, she's leaving."

Vestec started, looking up. "Drat. Come on Malley we can't let her just run off." He put an arm around the axis of the fleshshaper and flew after Whisper, pausing in front of her. "Come on n-"

She ducked around his side and continued on her way.

Vestec appeared in front of her again. "You can't win this game Whisper. I can follow anywhere. If you want to get rid of me faster, you'll stop and have a few final words."

"Follow me to the grave," said Whisper without eyes, flowing over Vestec like a fog. "You may have my final words there."

Vestec tsked, looking at Big Fucking Mallet. "You want to come along for this 'Grave'? If not I'll drop you off down below and come back later to fill you in on all you need to know."

"That'd be great, thanks," drawled Mallet, hanging from the crook of Vestec's arm like a bundle of limp mannequins. "Why don't you just drop me off in Hell or somewhere. Saw it in a dream, seems nice."

"I assume you're talking about the Realm of Madness. I'll see you there in a bit Malley dear." Vestec dropped her through an open portal; Mallet saluted Whisper as she fell. He turned back to the Diaphane. "Lead the way Whispy. Lets see this 'Grave' of yours."

She stopped.

"Oh? Suddenly interested in stopping are we? Whatever for? I thought you wanted to go to the 'Grave'?" Vestec inquired, flying close towards her.

"It means," she said, "ask me when I'm dead."

"Fair enough. But you do realize, Whispy dear, that means you won't stay dead forever? I'll just have to ressurect you to ask you. Then it'll be to much work to make you stay dead, and then you'll be upset, and I'll just have to leave you to your upsetness. It'd be much easier for you to just tell me now." Vestec said, flying around the Diaphane.

He just didn't stop, did he?

"In Lex," she began, "there is a breed of parasite that burrows into the skin of whales. They wait decades for the whale to die, and then begin to feed." Whisper left a long and deliberate pause. "I do not like them." Pause. "But-"

She told him.

It was Vestec's turn to pause. "Well then. I think I'll just leave you too it. Don't fret Whispy dear, I won't be away long. You're far too interesting to let go." With that, the God of Chaos bowed, and disappeared in a clap of thunder, leaving the change-eater to her fate.

...

Whisper was alone now, finally. But she still didn't move. Not yet.

A stripe of chitin hardened and crackled its way out of her back. An eye opened on the twisted arch, staring deep into the sky where Ovaedis lay.

She expected words to come, but they didn't. There was only a history of rage, simmering away on the telepathic winds. Whisper dissolved again and billowed over the broken landscape.

She'd never felt so hollow.

Two colour-spark devils meet on a scorched earth
No patience in his heart
And I who wait and curse my birth
Still sing a broken art.


A falling world crumbles in futures not far
And secrets are not kept
While I who patch a weeping scar
See ash to trade winds swept.


One charcoal world-cancer in heaven still schemes
Her mercy long since gone
Yet I still pray for crueller dreams
Than she has slept upon.


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Brown


A peaceful group of humans and some outcast hain used to inhabit this humble valley, they'd recently started to experiment with planting fruits and seeds and had seen some success thanks to their curiosity. It had been three months since the Beast devoured everyone.

Or at least, everyone but three. A mother and her daughter and son, who were busy restoring their thatch hut. She knew that because she'd been watching them for a day now.

Brown stepped up to the hut and cleared her throat, "I wasn't expecting to find survivo-"

"D-Don't move an inch," said a woman from behind Brown, her heartbeat so out of control that her very voice trembled in rhythm.

Brown turned around.

T'CHI

A dull pain spread through Brown's forehead. An arrow. Small cracks appeared on her skin, which dissolved after Brown yanked the arrow out.

The woman's grip on the bow wavered and she swallowed hard, brow twitching and hand going behind her back, definitely reaching for some unseen weapon. Of course, Brown didn't care much about that.

"Calm down,"

"You're a demon-"

"No, but the one I'm trying to kill is, and I bet he's the same one that burned the village down, isn't he?"

The woman's posture changed completely. What could once be interpreted as complete fear, was now confusion. "He?"

"It's hard to think of him as a he rather than an it, isn't it? After everything he's done..." Brown looked at the burnt huts and houses around.

"You're talking about that thing?"

"Yes, and I wanted to ask you a few questions about it," Brown tilted her head.

"Okay," The woman relaxed for a split second, but then a stone knife found its way to Brown's throat. it had no time to cut as a bright flash lit up the area. "AAH!" After the light receded, the woman was lying in a ball on the floor, weeping and holding her hand or rather, the stump left behind.

Brown walked to the woman and pressed a knee to her side, hard enough to threaten damaging her kidney, "Listen woman, I'm not the one you want to play games with. Submit to my questioning and be done with it or I'll just withdraw what I need from your mind and destroy it in the process." Brown huffed and the woman whimpered.

"F-Fine..." The woman sniffled and tried to wiggle away from Brown's knee to no avail.

"Did you see the Beast?"

"Barely."

"What did he look like?"

"Big, black, orange eyes... Mouth like an a-" The woman grunted and Brown eased the pressure, "An abyss with the colour of blood."

"How big?"

"I-I don't know!"

"Think."

"About three bears tall I guess?"

He's getting bigger, I can't just watch anymore, I have to do something... Brown thought.

"Was anything accompanying him?"

"N-No, but..." The woman hesitated.

"Yes?"

"There were these shadows, th-they-" She choked up for a moment, "They took people and they, they..."

"They what?"

"My poor Mato..." The woman sobbed.

"Mommy?" A high pitched voice rung out from the woods, no doubt distressed after hearing the scream before.

Letting the child see her mother like this would be too much, Brown winced and with a flick of her hand, the mortal woman had her hand back. Still, she kept weeping. The only pain that plagued her now were her memories.

"That is enough, you'll be safe in these ruins for now, but I'd suggest moving to a place under the protection of Lifprasil, that is, if he's still alive." And with that, Brown stood up and walked into the forest. When the girl found her weeping mother, the only thing she saw was a figure in a brown dress fade into the forest.

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