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Hidden 11 mos ago 11 mos ago Post by IrishAngelQueen
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The White Stag, The Healer


When Slough's body had shattered after she fell from the air, a small shard of wood had flown to the ground and had begun to take shape, but it was unlike the other beings that had come from her now wooden flesh before. It had a purpose other than existence, and it would do great things, become revered and respected, and one day, very powerful. Until the day when it reached its first transcendence to something greater than it already was, however, it simply began to take shape.

It started out small, then changes were wrought-it formed small, white bones that were rapidly covered by meat and sinew, tendons linking the bones together, forming joints, and pale, delicate skin soon encased it. A silky furred covering of pure white, like snow, covered it, kept it warm until it became a recognizable shape, which was that of a small white stag with solid green eyes. It had long legs, an impressive rack of antlers on which leaves grew and vines twisted, and the Stag grew in size until it was several inches taller than its mother. It briefly nuzzled her cheek before looking about with a wise expression. The aura it gave off was soothing to the wooden doe, easing any pain she might still feel from having shattered as she entered the sea. He watched as she swam out to the middle, then descended beneath the waves and knew he would probably never see her again, and if he did, she would not be the same. He lowered his head as a pang went through him.

Then, as if he detected a threat, the Stag's head reared up, nostrils flaring. Some inner voice compelled him to move away from his mother, singing, Here, here, I am in pain. The stag looked at the ocean, then up to where he guardian rested high above. He sent a frisson towards the manticore, and the beast responded in kind as they shared a brief understanding. The White Stag whuffled softly at both the manticore and the ocean before beginning to move away, first walking, then trotting, then settling into a graceful lope, vines and leaves blowing back from his antlers with the wind of his passage.

He ran and ran until he came upon a village full of creatures, whom he came to understand were humans. As he smelled the faint smoke of burnt housings, and flesh, the demigod Stag flared his nostrils. He made a low sound of distress as he felt the pain of the ones who survived. Slowing to a steady, cautious walk, he came upon the ruins of the village, and felt his healer's heart sadden as he felt the deaths that had occurred. And with that feeling, came a sudden, profound thought, a realization of self, I am Athanasios-I am life, I am the Healer.

He held his mighty head high as he walked further into the ruins, and all who saw him stared in awe at the White Stag. He was magnificent, his pelt gleaming like snow in the sun, his solid green eyes intelligent and kind, his mighty rack growing green things, vines interweaving through the prongs. He came to a clearing in the middle of the ruins where a woman lay on a pallet, her left calf and thigh covered in burns, and a connection snapped into place as he heard the words echo in his skull; Here, here, I am in pain. The female was sobbing, the burn taking it's toll on her agonized nerve endings. Athanasios stepped forwards and nosed her uninjured foot to get her attention. When the female looked up, she stopped crying, but tears still flowed.

He licked her burns with a long, velvety pale pink tongue, and the woman watched, amazed as the damage slowly faded away, replaced by smooth, creamy skin. The pain ceased and she could not breathe for a moment. When she finally drew breath, the mortal threw her arms around the White Stag's neck, and Athanasios huffed warm breath over the back of her neck. When she let go of him, he raised his head and studied one of the male mortals who stood nearby. He tilted his head, then a soft green light encompassed him, and his body slowly morphed into that of a male human shape. The light glowed brightly, causing many of the people gathered to sheild their eyes.

The light faded to reveal a very tall male with vine wrapped antlers, long, whiteblonde hair and forest green eyes with brown flecks that swirled. He was broad shouldered with slim hips and well toned, his physical age looking like that of a nineteen year old. His ears were slightly pointed, and a crown woven of slender twigs encircled his head the ends coming to curve just below his high cheekbones, accentuating his angular features and pale skin that was dressed in form fitting clothes of soft green. When he spoke, his voice was deep and melodic, like birdsong, and lilted with a slight accent that had no name.

"I am Anthanasios, the White Stag," he addressed them. "My mother is Slough the goddess of Life, and I am the Healer. Bring your sick and wounded to me. I shall make them healthy and whole again. Come unto me, Children, and let me ease your sorrow and suffering."



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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by BBeast
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Written in collaboration with Cyclone




Wind battered against a hain village, tearing apart the thatch roofs, ripping up the crops and tearing down the mud brick walls. The hain who cowered inside were crushed by their falling homes. The hain who fled were struck by flying debris or picked up by tornado-like gusts and dropped from a great height. Vengeful flurries of wind lashed at the hain and their village, for this village had the misfortune of incurring a djinn's wrath. The village shaman had been one of the first casualties, for his magics were but an ember compared to the roaring might of an elemental. The resident urtelem did what they could to shelter and protect the hain under their care, but there was little they could do to fight the wind. Distraught at being unable to protect, and distraught at the destruction of the neighbouring Lensling grove, many of the herd had fled, unable to take the stress any longer. The village was left in ruins, slaughtered by a power beyond their control.

...

The ground had been trampled to mud by hundreds of heavy feet. A village lay ruined in its path. Bloodied porcelain fragments marked where hain had been crushed, and shattered stone limbs where urtelem had been beaten. The buildings had been torn down or burnt. The ogre war band marched on with its spoils, with hardly a casualty among its ranks from its latest battle. The urtelem had put up a fight, but they were outmatched and outnumbered. By design ogres were stronger than urtelem, and the additional advantages of tools, armour and shamanic magic meant that few forces could stop a horde of ogres.

...

The herd of urtelem walked over the cracked obsidian ground. Urtelem have long memories, although they did not have to cast their memories too far back to remember the saddening events which caused this scar in the landscape. A Realta had attacked here, on that frightful day when the stars fell. A lensling grove had inhabited this spot, as had many urtelem. When the being of fire from the heavens came to purge the land of corruption such as that grove, the urtelem had no choice but to flee. Despite their hardiness, many succumbed to the inferno of star fire, with only a few survivors escaping. Now nothing lived on this patch of land, cauterised by the stars.

...

Elementals. Ogres. Realta. And others, like Change Eaters, Cosmic Knights and Fallen Angels. These were enemies the urtelem were never designed to handle, either in kind or in magnitude. The urtelem had sufficed back when Galbar was threatened by ashlings, herakt and chaos hordes. But new, more powerful foes (or foes which flew) threatened to overtake the urtelem, leaving the other races vulnerable.

And beyond discrete enemies, another threat loomed. With the ongoing war between the change-eaters and elementals, weather and climate patterns promised to shift and become unpredictable as the elemental population plummeted. Storms would become more erratic. Flooding would abound. Rivers would shift course. Many villages and even some cities would be displaced, if they could not somehow shape the terrain to mitigate the harm.

Even ignoring the threats to the mortals of Galbar, urtelem had reached a technological plateau. They had sophisticated language, philosophy and culture, but they had no practical science to pursue. Urtelem had no need for houses. Their hands were too large and cumbersome to be efficient toolmakers or alchemists. They were generally not driven by selfish pursuits such as war or profit. All they had was their strength, their prodigious minds, and their internal magic for shaping stone.

The urtelem were overdue for an upgrade.


~-====-~

New Postulates

Moonlight illuminated the landscape, a plateau surrounded by the silhouettes of trees on the horizon. The ground was densely covered in what seemed to be boulders. Glittering in the moonlight were the glassy forms of lensling trees, with the dark shadows of needle fae dancing around the trees. Standing upright were monoliths, carefully arranged and aligned. This was a grand meeting place for urtelem, and for now the urtelem all slept.

All, that is, except one. A young child, barely a quarter of a meter tall, was restless. He crawled out from underneath his blanket, a commodity which this herd had received from Alefprian traders and which was useful for keeping warm until he grew large enough to better retain heat during the night, and rolled forwards a single revolution. The child then stood up and looked around. Vigilate, Scitis and Mirus shined in the sky above, along with the stars and the Rings of Lex. But on the ground, the child's short stature meant there was little he could see over the sleeping masses of the adult urtelem around him, except for the branches of a lensling tree.

With a target in sight, the child started walking towards the lensling tree. Adult urtelem blocked his path, but that was no barrier, for the child simply flopped forwards and dived into the earth. He glided forwards through the solid ground, albeit clumsily. Buried beneath the ground, he could not use sight, so he had to rely on feel and on stone-sense to tell where he was and where he was going. While adult urtelem have refined these senses and the practice of earth-gliding, children still lacked some finesse, so when this child tried to surface he instead found his way blocked by the body of a sleeping urtelem.

The sleeper stirred at the accidental nudge, and woke when nudged again. The adult urtelem wondered for a moment what had awoken her, then felt the child beneath her. With maternal gentleness, the adult dipped a hand into the earth and pushed the disoriented child towards open ground, where he was able to surface. It took a few attempts for the child to coordinate himself sufficiently to stand again, but once he had he plodded on towards the lensling tree. The adult sleepily watched the child leave, then curled back up to sleep.

Soon the child had reached the tree, and approached its glassy trunk. As he walked two duelling needle fae flew past. The child let out a squeak like that of two stones rubbing together, and swatted at the needle fae with a stumpy arm. The duelists dispersed, and the child continued towards the trunk. On reaching the trunk, he reached up towards a shard of lensling he could see, although it was just out of reach. He stretched to reach it, needing to stand on the tips of his toes to reach. With his little rocky fingers, he clutched the shard and pulled to break it off. The shard came loose, but he also lost his balance and fell backwards. The child landed with a roll, clambered to his feet unhurt, then shoved the lensling shard into his mouth and ate it.

When the child finished eating, he heard the sound of scratching stone. Normally, slumbering urtelem were silent, so the night should have been noiseless. Curious, the child followed the sound. And as he approached the sound, the source of the sound also seemed to come closer to him.

Then finally he saw it. Emerging from underneath one of the many sleeping urtelem came a line etched into the ground, and this line was being drawn before his very eyes, as though by an invisible hand. He sauntered towards it, and noticed the intricacies and branches that emerged from the line, identifying it as Spiral Script, although the child was still too young to understand all but the simplest Spiral Script.

The writing continued to appear on the ground of its own accord. The child walked after it, trying to follow, but it was too quick, so the child fell forwards into a roll and rolled across the ground after the writing. But the child, clumsy as he was, rolled into another sleeping urtelem. The adult woke, although was about to ignore the child and go back to sleep when the adult saw the line of writing reemerge from underneath more sleepers.

As the child rolled after the manifesting Spiral Script, the adult stood up. The adult looked over the Spiral Script which had mysteriously appeared on the ground. Unlike the child, the adult could actually read what had been written, and although only a small fragment was visible the adult could clearly tell that this was part of the solution to some problem of enormous scope and magnitude.

It was not until morning, when the urtelem woke and the sun shone, that the full extent of the writing was realised. The new piece of Spiral Script spanned the entire plateau, with old pieces of Spiral Script being moved to make room for the new message. The message was interwoven and multilayered into a masterpiece far beyond the capabilities of any urtelem, and attesting to this the message was signed with the name Calloused Hands.

Beyond the magnificence of the message was the content. For the message laid out a new paradigm for describing the world and problems, with a new set of postulates and axioms. This new paradigm did not simply provide a new way to solve geometric and mathematical problem, but instead it described a way to manipulate strange energies and forces and the world itself. The message was thorough in its description of this new paradigm, although it omitted examples and applications. Such things would have to be developed by the urtelem.

The massive herd of urtelem studied the complex message deeply. They discussed earnestly about the message, and worked to develop new theorems from the provided axioms. And as days wore on and news travelled through the Distant Dance, it was discovered that more messages like this had appeared in other urtelem meeting places across Galbar, all on the same night, all signed by Calloused Hands, but each providing a subtly different perspective.

It was early days, but already the urtelem could understand the implications of these messages. They had received the gift of magic, and with this magic they could potentially achieve just about anything, given enough energy and sufficient understanding of the mechanisms of this magic, all of which, it appeared, could be derived from the messages.

~-====-~

The Towering Gorge Problem

The chasm was a blockage to many travellers. This river of melt water in the southern Ironhearts had carved a deep valley over the eons which was impassable due to sheer cliff-faces, and demanded a long detour on the route from Metera to Alefpria.

Although urtelem were patient and enduring, not minding the extended travel time, they enjoyed solving problems. And the Towering Gorge Problem was a well-studied problem for the urtelem who travelled in that region. It was well-known that the optimal solution was to build a bridge in the right location along the gorge, which would shorten the route by two and a half days; the caveat was that there had been no way to construct such a bridge across the gap. The situation of the Problem had been a debate over where it would be possible to cross the chasm to reduce travel time, and whether any construction projects would be worth the effort.

Then came the discovery of arcane mechanisms to manipulate the physical world. In the weeks following the discovery, the theory of the arcane had developed to such an extent that some urtelem had demonstrated a method to raise stone pillars from the ground, using runic circles and their earth gliding. To those familiar with the Towering Gorge Problem, the application was obvious.

A new formalisation of the Problem was soon written in the Spiral Script, and it was not long before the contributions of multiple urtelem had laid out a full solution. An invitation, with the day as determined by the stone calendars, was issued by the solution, and on the specified day a sizeable herd of urtelem had assembled on both sides of the the bridge-point at Towering Gorge, along with a plentiful supply of edible minerals and lensling shards.

Little more than a brief exchange of hand-signs was needed before work began, for the plan had been prepared earlier. A large rectangle was sketched out across the bridge point, ten meters wide, marking both ends of the prospective bridge. Then, growing from the edges of the rectangle, a special kind of Spiral Script was written, with interwoven symbols for force, motion, earth, displacement and malleability, each carefully measured and calibrated.

The work took time. The sun set, and the herd rested for the night, before waking again to resume writing. By the time the Script was finished, it covered the inner surface of the rectangle like a web, and sprawled out from the edges of the rectangle in a fractal pattern, the shrinking symbols providing higher order corrections to ensure the accuracy of the result.

Throughout the writing were circles, empty of Script on the inside, each large enough to fit an urtelem's palm. With the Script complete, urtelem lined up beside these circles. One at a time, an urtelem would place their hand into the circle and slowly sink it into the earth within the circle. The position was held for a breath or two before the urtelem would withdraw their hand, more tired than before, and be replaced by the next stoneman in line.

After a minute of this, the earth began to creak audibly. After about ten minutes, the ground had been visibly displaced, with a rectangle of stone extending about a centimeter from the edge of the gorge. In an hour the motion of earth had picked up momentum, and the bridge had grown a metre from both sides, supported underneath by more stone, slanting back to the wall of the gorge.

The urtelem had constructed a spell which caused a specified segment of the walls of the Towering Gorge to lean inwards, and at its completion the two ends would join and merge to form a solid bridge. The spell was powered by the urtelem themselves, providing work into the ground and spell via the circles. It was exhausting work moving that much stone, but the urtelem had calculated their needs beforehand, such that the herd had enough members to cycle between those who were working and those who were eating and resting without having to stop the spell completely at any point.

Just a day and night later the two ends of the bridge met in the center of Towering Gorge. Thousands of tonnes of stone had been shifted by magic alone. The two herds crossed the newly created bridge, giving each other celebratory shoulder bumps as they passed each other. This would be a story to tell, of the Resolution of the Towering Gorge Problem.

~-====-~

The Djinn Enigma

In recent times a faint golden wind could rarely be seen flickering in the night sky, even far from the Aurora. There were whispers of it being an omen of some kind. There was even the rare rumor that the golden wind could grant wishes. But none knew where it came from or what it truly did.

But the spell-writers among the urtelem were beginning to realise what the golden wind could do. They could sense the power in the Wind, for when the Wind blew strongly it could energise small spells without their intervention. This presented the key riddle of whether the energy in the golden wind could be harnessed.

Discussion along the Distant Dance sparked numerous experiments. While most of the postulates governing their magic were sufficiently well established that they could apply the rules to get a particular behaviour, the golden Wind was a mystery, so the urtelem would need to study the behaviour and then try to infer the underlying rules. The first thing to be studied was how to harness the Wind's magical energy.

It was not particularly challenging to get the Winds to interact with a spell, for the Winds held a large reserve of potential energy which was just looking for an outlet. Study thus went into creating patterns of Spiral Script which could efficiently harvest the energy from the Winds. The urtelem were not investigating blindly, though, for they knew some methods of collecting and redirecting energy, such as the palm-sized circles used to convert work into magic for moving things. As such, most designs became variants of these circles. In time, a popular design that seemed to be quite effective was a web of harvesting circles all interconnected with a single central circle, although whether this design could be improved upon remained an open problem and area of study. A universal trend, though, was that larger harvesting sigils could collect more Wind.

Harnessing such power was not without side effects. Unlike manually actuated spells, Script powered by the Wind would be active whenever the Wind blew, and even when the golden light was not visible in the sky the Wind would often still be blowing gently and unseen. This could result in issues for spells which were not designed to be overcharged, or hazards for those not expecting the spells to run constantly. And if a harvester did not have a spell connected, then it would accumulate energy, and this could overcharge and produce potentially unpleasant side effects. More than once a spell had exploded because it had been left partially complete and a strong Wind had started before it could be finished. Even if a spell didn't explode, storing Winds would often produce some peculiar changes in the surrounds, such as warping the stone into different forms or strange crystals. And while the Winds were potent, they were inconsistent, their intensity fluctuating day by day, meaning it lacked the precision or reliability needed for some applications.

But despite these drawbacks, the golden Winds were still a potent source of power for spells. And the spell-writers eventually realised that the Winds could do more than merely be transformed into other kinds of energy. It could be harnessed and directed as-is, and while the full effects of using raw Winds was unclear, they did notice that it interacted strongly with elementals.

This discovery presented a new solution to the long-standing Djinn Enigma. Almost since their conception, djinn had been problematic to the urtelem, for while djinn would sometimes attack other mortals, and while the urtelem would want to stop them there was no way for the urtelem to affect the ethereal form of the elementals. Since magic arose, there had been some attempts to solve the Enigma, but most solutions had been fairly lackluster, for even with the ability to interact with an elemental, the elementals of concern were typically far stronger than an urtelem.

The Winds changed this, providing more power and a more efficient use of that power in solving the Djinn Enigma. Designing spells which could potentially harm the djinn was one matter, one subject to experimentation and refinement. The other half of the Enigma was delivering those spells. Urtelem magic, being based on written Script, was not very flexible, so the application to single combat would require some creativity.

A solution emerged from a separate path of experimentation. The rationale was quite simple: Urtelem are made of stone; urtelem can write on stone; urtelem magic is in their writing; therefore, urtelem can write magic on each other. It opened up a lot of potential, but one of the first major applications was in tackling the Djinn Enigma.

Upon some select urtelem were written some carefully planned spells to combat djinn, the Script covering their bodies like full-body tattoos. Along most of their bodies, culminating at their fists, was Script describing the spells to be cast and directed. Their back, however, was dedicated to a harvester for the Wind, providing energy which would enable their spells.

The energy of the Wind was not absorbed without consequence, although the outcome was slightly different for these rune-covered defenders than for inanimate stone. The power of the Wind was processed by the urtelem's metabolism, and yellow crystal growths began to form on the urtelem, which faintly glowed with golden light, indicating that these crystals held the energy of the golden Wind. These crystal growths could then be metabolised to fuel spells. The process of growth and consumption was physically uncomfortable, and the risks of overcharging remained, but that was a price some urtelem were willing to pay.




Where the sun's warmth came down to kiss the white peaks of the Ironheart Ranges, the glaciers wept tears of the purest water. From a million mere droplets and tears there formed small trickles that rolled down the crags and slopes, and from hundreds of these tributaries meeting together there formed a river. Where mountains gave way to lowlands there was an abrupt precipice and a mighty waterfall; there was the seat of Cataract's power.

The moons had danced across the sky for a hundred thousand nights since the great waterlord Cataract had ruled those falls and the waters both upstream and down. In that time he had witnessed the rise of the Machhua. They were a tribe of those white-shelled creatures of the Clay God's making, having only arrived to these lands in number after many of them had fled from faroff homelands through the dominion of a great many sealords before finally reaching the nearby shores and working their ways further inland. As they wandered the lowlands they always kept to the banks of Cataract's mighty river, and so it was that they eventually found paradise in a lush glade near one of the river's few turns. There they had at last settled and made a new home. Their village was fittingly known as Kubec--a word in their tongue that meant 'where the river bends'.

For some time Cataract had ignored the doings of the Machhua. They were poor and desperate creatures that had evidently been swept away from their former homes by a greater force, just as his river washed away stone and sediment. But in time those few bands of lesser creatures began to grow numerous. They set about crafting tools and building a civilization, and through naught but their numbers and their will they managed to become a force great enough to shape the world about them and bend nature to their will. They marked the land with totems and raised stones, blissfully unaware that they lived in the shadow of djinni lords and claimed as hunting grounds great swathes of land that was already within the dominion of the masters of nature.

It was arrogant. Foolish. Through such blatant provacation they would only succeed in bringing down disaster upon themselves; perhaps incurring the wrath of a djinni lord had been what led to whatever calamity drove these Hain to resettle in these parts to begin with. Or perhaps a stronger, wiser breed of creatures had overpowered them.

They felled trees to birth unnatural fires that existed not under the sway of the flamedjinn, they dug into the earth and hollowed out mounds to bury their dead or store grain, and they left out open containers to steal the bits of the rain that the sky tried to gift down to the parched earth. All of these things might have been petty offenses, but the djinni lords of those other elements were kinder and more patient than Cataract, or perhaps uncaring about such trivial goings, or perhaps simply preoccupied with other matters. Cataract would have taken great offense to any of those slights, but those transgressions were against the other elements and thus were none of his concern.

That changed when the Machhua began to carve small vessels out of wood and float these things up and down Cataract's river. He tolerated the creatures when they clustered at the banks of his river like a swarm of gnats that pestered a horse; he tolerated them when they fished the bounty of his domain from shores; however, he refused to suffer the indignity of having their canoes and rafts clutter his realm and float back and forth without his permission.

So it was that Cataract had left his throne at the mighty waterfall for the first time in decades. He traveled downstream effortlessly and as speedily as lightning, for the river was his house and it obeyed him utterly. When he came across the village of Kubec he grabbed all the canoes within his sight and hurled them back onto the shore. When the Hain of the Machhua tribe assembled themselves in horror at the sight of the river itself coming to life and rising to stand as a watery giant, Lord Cataract at last spoke to the creatures.

He told them of the offense they had commited and warned them of the grave consequences of provoking his ire. It was within his power to divert the river to cross right through their village and wash away their homes downstream and cast away their entire livelihoods back into the sea, and they had no reason to doubt this simple truth. So when he demanded that they offer tribute and worship from then on in exchange for protection and the right of continued existence within his realm, they were in no position to refuse.

The shape, size, and form of the tribute meant little to Cataract for he had no true need for material things, but it meant everything for the Machhua. He had a way of sensing whether they offered him their most precious treasures or their worthless refuse, and if their tribute was not of the former type then his pride was assaulted and he took great offense. So it was that the villagefolk regularly offered him back a share of the fish that they caught from his river. In less regular intervals fear drove them to make greater offerings lest Cataract begin to think less of their repteated gestures, so on occasion they would offer more precious things: shiny rocks, livestock, pets, and occasionally even the lives of their fellow Hain.

Yet this land was also occupied by urtelem, and while they cared little about the items thrown in the river, these lumbering protectors took supreme objection when they discovered that the Machhua were sacrificing each other.

It was a holy day for the Macchua, marking the end of winter and the beginning of the flow of meltwater from the Ironhearts, when the river would begin to swell and fish would enter spawning season. It was decreed by the village shamans that a particularly grandiose sacrifice was in order to maintain Cataract's favour.

Lots were drawn and a tribute was chosen. A young hain, not even old enough to have reached his second hatching, was dragged from his parents who were weeping with a palm pressed to their heads. The boy was bound, gagged and had his head covered by the shamans, then dragged towards the river to be ceremonially thrown in and drowned, a sacrifice worthy of Cataract's favour.

Yet the procession was stopped in its tracks when an urtelem matriarch, with strange patterns and yellow crystals adorning her right arm, rose from the ground and stood towering over the hain. Two more urtelem rolled in from between the trees, flanking the procession then rising to further block the path to the river.

The matriarch made a simple hand-sign, although even those in the procession who did not comprehend the sign language of the stonemen could understand her intent. All knew that urtelem would not condone such acts of violence.

'Stop.'

The procession halted. When the matriarch stepped closer, the shamans released the boy, who fell to the ground, and backed away from the approaching stoneman. The boy, unable to see or speak, was trembling in fear as the urtelem reached down to the boy and carefully removed the sack from his head. The boy's eyes were filled with fear, his beak flicking from side to side, although the sight of the urtelem standing over him seemed to calm him slightly.

Gently the matriarch picked up the boy with one hand and lifted him from the ground. She walked forwards, and as she passed through the rapidly parting procession she gave the shamans a deathly stare. No signing was needed to convey her meaning. Don't you dare try that again.

The boy was handed back to his parents, who unbound him and embraced their child in deep relief. The two other urtelem shared some hand-signs with the matriarch before walking off. The matriarch, however, returned to the bank of the river. She extended her right arm, the one covered with runes and crystals, and motioned at the ground. Coupled to the motions of her hand, the earth reshaped itself into an indentation in the ground appropriate for an urtelem to sit in. The golden crystals on her arm steamed as she did this and visibly shrunk. Then the urtelem sat within the seat she had just created, and watched as a sentry.

And this sentry stood guard by the river and carefully watched anything that the hain brought to the river. The Machhua were permitted to continue offering food and precious stones, but the urtelem forbade the offering of live sacrifices, even of animals. None dared to even attempt to offer another hain, for that would certainly invoke the wrath of the urtelem.

The Machhua also feared the wrath of Cataract, but the urtelem were not blind to that threat. Over the following weeks it was noticed that several of the other urtelem in the local herd had been covered with their strange Script and were beginning to grow golden crystals, and the matriarch herself had extended the runes from her arm to cover her whole body.

At one point the chief shaman tried to negotiate with the matriarch, insisting that if they weren't able to make proper offerings that Cataract would become angry and destroy the village. Yet the matriarch was adamant, calmly replying 'We will protect.' The shaman was dissatisifed, but the matriarch would not be swayed by the hain.

This of course did not go unnoticed by the djinn. Though Cataract's watery palace was a long ways to the north, at every fork and bend and rapid along the river one could find his lesserlings there to act as his eyes and rule in his stead. One such djinni existed in the very depths of the water that the matriarch sat beside.

When that one djinni had no tribute from the Hain to send upriver to its master, Cataract's first notion was to place the blame on it for failing to collect. But that blame was short lived; a djinni and its master had a sacred and powerful bond and they lacked the capacity to lie to one another over their telepathic networks. When the lesser djinni told Cataract of what it had seen the urtelem do along the riverside, Cataract had no reason to doubt it.

As the days passed by, Kubec was split. A great many of the shortsighted were overjoyed with the prospects of no longer having to pay for their safety and land in blood, but the shamans and those that remembered the cautionary tales of their ancestors were beginning to grow fearful of a great and terrible retribution. As in for Cataract, his fury steadily grew as he waited to see whether the village would choose to honor his demands over that of a few wretched mockdjinn.

Before he took greater measures, Cataract decided that he would remind the Machhua whose river their livelihoods floated in. It happened quite literally overnight: one day the village fishers had been claiming a bounty as great as ever, and on the next day there was nothing. The djinn pushed all the fish and watery creatures to distant forks and brooks where the Hain would never find them, and in mockery of their inevitable starvation and desperation they saw to it that putrid and half-rotten fish washed up on the banks just in front of the matriarch. The Machhua came down to the riverbanks before the matriarch and despaired openly. They still had some stores of smoked fish as leftover winter supplies and the glade around had berries and other foods, but their settlement was of such a size that they had grown very much dependent upon catching fish.

The Machhua began offering their lesser tributes in greater number than ever before, but it was to no avail. It quickly became apparent that the point of the sacrifices had never been some sort of measurable tax or tithe; rather, the sacrifices were a forced reminder that Cataract owned their land and their tribe. He did not take kindly to the urtelem interceding to dilute the sacrifices, so now it became a matter of pride in which he would not be satisfied unless the Machhua rejected the urtelem utterly and offered a life as was their original intent.

The once pristine waters of the river began to grow a more sickly color as the djinn manipulated the contents within and created a bloom of algae near the village. Now the water itself began to have a vile smell and the villagers were afraid to drink it for fear of growing ill. It was then that the dissatisfied Hain began to take action; seeing that their pleading to the matriarch went ignored, a plot quickly emerged to steal away in the dead of night and carry out a sacrifice at Cataract's abode upriver.

These hain picked a sacrifice from among their own and, having bound the sacrifice by the hands to prevent escape and gagged her to prevent noise, led her out of the village and down the forest trail leading up river. They had plotted their course to avoid where the urtelem herd was based, but a sleeping urtelem is hard to distinguish from natural scenery, and urtelem sleep much more lightly than many suspect.

Down this trail the procession heard a sound which made them freeze. Beaks flitted side to side, trying to see into the shadows, although sound gave them much more information, for they heard the sound of creaking stone and shifting earth to their left.

Immediately they ran, leaving the trail for the trees to their right. A large boulder burst out from the trees to the left and rolled towards the hain, although the trunks of the trees they fled into soon stopped the urtelem. Yet the stoneman did not waste a moment of time deciding which way to go before diving into the ground.

For half a minute the hain fled, with no sign of the urtelem following them. Just as their pace began to relax, the earth beneath their feet burst open, and a great stone hand picked up the chosen tribute by the torso. The urtelem ermerge fully, then placed the bound hain up in a tree branch out of reach of the other hain. Meanwhile the others fled in all directions. The urtelem watched, but realised it could not chase them all. And another thing made the urtelem stop to consider, for it could sense that behind their murderous intent was not malice, but fear. This was troubling.

The urtelem took the bound hain down from the tree, broke the ropes binding her hands, then pointed her down the trail back towards the village. Then the urtelem left to go confer with the herd.

The herd woke quickly once the news arrived. It was not long before the matriarch herself was present, and a meeting under the moonlight commenced. The urtelem who had just scattered the procession gave the testimony of what had been seen. It was immediately decided that several urtelem would be sent to patrol the region, lest the hain be desperate enough to try again this night.

Yet the riddle was not solved, and time was running slim. Kubec was being starved out, and from the testimony of the watchman it seemed that Cataract was driving the Macchua to perform these sacrifices. Yet many in the herd were reluctant to march out to fight. They were defenders, here to prevent violence, not cause it, were they not?

'There is more than one form of violence,' the matriarch replied after careful thought. 'To strike another and inflict harm that way is only the most obvious form. Yet what if someone takes away another's food and poisons their water? The intent to harm is just as strong. What if someone forces another to inflict harm? The first person should be even more guilty than the second. These water djinn are causing serious harm to the Macchua, which we can no longer ignore.'

The debate carried on a little longer, although the wisdom in the matriarch's words won through. The five runic defenders, including the matriarch, were assembled, their route to Cataract's lair plotted, tactics discussed, then they mobilised, walking towards the water djinni's abode.

Finding Cataract's throne was an easy task without without one of the local Hain present to guide them. They simply followed the rapids over hills and through the dells. When they finally found the rugged craglands where the Ironhearts met with the lowlands, the Waterfall Palace was there. Through gaps in the treelines they could see the gigantic waterfall from miles away as it loomed over the twisting river. Even before it had been within their sight, the echoing roar of an entire river crashing down the cliffs could be heard.

When they at last arrived at the base of the waterfall they were greeted by a large plunge pool full of whitewater and rapids. The crenelaions of Cataract's palace were the talus: jagged, rocky outcropping jutted out from the cliffs and from within the pool at the waterfall's base. But it was hard to see any of this, for the waterfall's descent created a powerful mist that billowed forth and concealed almost all but the uppermost parts from sight.

The mist came out with such force that it would be hard for most mortals and their frail bodies to push through it and come so close to the waterfall's base, but the urtelem were heavy, determined, and not so easily scattered. So they arrived at the side of the plunge pool, standing right beside the rapids, and looked about. There was no sign of Cataract to be seen. Had he perhaps traveled down the river? Could he be attacking Kubec even now?

Such doubts would be quickly cast aside. Amidst the deafening roar of the waterfall, the discernible voice of some lesser elemental quipped out from somewhere within the rapids, "Lord Cataract has been expecting you."


From a watery hole in the cliffside that was hidden behind the waterfall, a gigantic watery mass emerged.


He was as colossal as the waterfall itself. With as much delicacy and calm as a mother stroking her sleeping child, he reached to the cascade's crest and brushed a watery finger against it. The mighty cascade then seemed to whimper in contented sleep, and in a few moments it had become nothing but a trickle. The roar of the waters quieted to a soft purr and the great clouds of mist dissipated that all could witness Cataract's splendor and hear his voice distinctly.

He spoke in the tongue of the gods, yet the syllables seemed to roll and bounce about wildly and not unlike how the river rushed down the rocky cliff of his waterfall. "Mockdjinn. You have drawn out my ire through your meddling with the tribe that I own."

The crystal-covered urtelem shifted restlessly at Cataract's appearance. The matriarch signed a response. 'You have committed violence against the tribe which must cease.'

"Such arrogance...you will be made to know your place."

Cataract waved a hand and from the damp earth beneath one of the urtelem there erupted an enormous geyser of water. The water surged upwards with enough force to throw even the heavy urtelem high into the air. As it came crashing back down, sinking partly into the ground with a crack and a thud, Cataract rumbled, "Things so frail are surely meant to be broken."

The other urtelem wasted no time as the geyser erupted. With a simple gesture orbs of golden light formed in their hands, the crystals on their bodies sizzling, and then they hurled these etherial orbs at the towering water elemental. There was an explosion of magic when the projectiles struck the aquatic behemoth, and then there was a bloodcurdling howl that could only be described as...unnatural. No beings of flesh produced such sounds.

Great clouds of steam were blasted free from the djinni lord and he temporarily lost control over parts of the watery mass that he wore as a body. Nonetheless, in a few blinks of an eye he seemed to have recuperated. His form was noticeably different, though; whereas before it had been distinctly humanoid, now it had collapsed into more of a blob.

"What stolen power is this..?"

The urtelem's coordinated attack had taken him by surprise. Never before had any mortal defeated an elemental lord, so in truth he had looked at those bothersome mockdjinn as little more than flies. But now he showed no restraint.

He reached with his mind to touch every bit of moisture in the damp soil below and every droplet of dew clinging to the rocks, grass, and even the urtelem's own bodies. With but a thought he demanded that all that water in his dominion come forth, and so in an instant it all surged. Where before the urtelem pack had been standing upon solid enough earth, now there was a torrent of rain pelting their bodies and a riptide began voraciously pulling them into the plunge pool.

Yet even with the ground slipping beneath them, the urtelem retained their composure. With no less precision than before another volley of the golden orbs were thrown. Several failed to strike their mark as Cataract's liquid form contorted with unnatural speed to dodge the attacks, but more landed. With every blow that struck true, the water itself seemed to shudder.

The flow of water past the urtelem forced them to temporarily abandon their attack and root themselves into the earth. Most were able to find a sure enough foundation, but the soil around one of the urtelem eroded under the torrent, and that urtelem slipped into the plunge pool.

The urtelem that succumbed to the rush of water was fully submerged in an instant and surely dead; the sound of cracking stone was the only outward indication of the being's quick demise as Cataract forced water into every little crack of its body and into its innards before compressing it with enough force to cause the creature to simply shatter.

In that time the urtelem did manage to cast more of their spells. As the golden orbs continued to strike Cataract, his watery mass gradually began to shrink (even as he drank his surroundings and desperately tried to pull in more mass) and his grip over the water of his domain seemed to slowly weaken. But even as his grip weakened, the riptides somehow quickly grew stronger.

When Cataract had stopped the waterfall as he was first confronted by the matriarch, the lack of pressure had caused the river to slow and the water levels to recede at a noticeable rate. But now the river seemed to swell once more; the direction of its flow was reversed uphill, and not by Cataract's doing. Whether by the will of just that one hidden elemental that had first warned them of its master's appearance or perhaps by the doing of a dozen of Cataract's minions, the riverwater was beginning to join the rapids that were trying to uproot the urtelem.

The urtelem could only dig so deep in this soggy soil, so their footing would not hold indefinitely. But the matriarch, the most perceptive of the group, could feel that the water was not simply flowing but grasping and tugging. Inferring the presence of an elemental, she raised a fist, which glowed golden as the crystals on her back boiled, and brought it down into the water. A shockwave of golden magic blasted the point of impact and her fist was brought to a halt as if it had struck something solid. There was a great bubble of steam as her blow completely destroyed the lesser elemental's form, and within the crystal-clear water one could see the faint glow of a flicker retreating. The other urtelem lashed out similarly, beating away the rest of the lesser elementals. Even the urtelem who had been thrown in the air early, who had not been killed but just wounded with a shattered leg, flailed at the water with magically charged fists.

But Cataract was quick to capitalize upon the distraction that his minions had provided. His hulking form had sank into the water of the plunge pool only to explode back onto the surface as a colossal wave. Where before the riptides coming from behind the urtelem had been pulling them, now they were being battered in the opposite direction by tons of water. For them to lose their footing and be dislodged meant doom, so Cataract's rushing waters assailed the stonemen with frenzied furor.

The urtelem had but a moment to react to the incoming wave. Most, including the matriarch, curled over and dug deeper into the soil, anchoring themselves more firmly and providing a smaller profile to the blast of water. One, however, charged up a fist with the power of the Winds, its magical crystals boiling ever smaller, and met Cataract head on, punching the wave. There was an explosion of light and steam, but Cataract had mass to spare and the wave pushed that urtelem backwards and off its feet.

The elemental lord rolled over the one that had tried to meet his charge. With the weight of an entire river at his back, he washed over the urtelem and battered them down. While that one fell backwards and struggled beneath the water, the others were still flailing about and preoccupied with the writhing lesser djinn. That left their matriarch in a vulnerable position.

Even as the urtelem clung to the ground, what had been dry and solid was instantly turned into a muddy ooze that offered them little grip. Cataract's surge continued for some ways, pushing further inland and slamming into the nearby treeline. He took a few moments to gather himself, then seeped into the ground itself. Attuned to the earth as they were, the urtelem sensed his motion and had some warning. That knowledge of his impending strike still did them little good when Cataract's massive form erupted from the mud below as an explosive geyser. Even the urtelem's heavy bodies were knocked back, and in the moment of confusion that he had bought, Cataract's watery grasp found the matriarch and he began to rip her away from the ground and pull her into the plunge pool.

Yet the matriarch was not going to be pulled away without a fight. Her fists were sheathed in golden light as she swung them at the water wrapped around her, the water bubbling into steam as the magic seared against Cataract's form.

And in a strange reversal of roles, Cataract knew then what the cliffs felt as his waters slowly eroded them away. But he weathered through the pain and began to drag her away. Not content with simply returning to his place amidst the plunge pool, he was making his way to the watery abyss of that dark cave behind the waterfall.

The other urtelem saw that their matriarch had been picked up by Cataract, and that he was receding. They hurled orbs of light at Cataract, trying to weaken the water elemental and make him drop their leader.

Cataract was quick to take the struggle with the matriarch to underneath the water's surface, out of the urtelem's sight and where the pool itself would offer a buffer between himself and their magic. With Cataract having retreated to the relative safety of his pool, the urtelem on the surface could do little but watch and wait. The matriarch struggled harder against Cataract's grasp, the Script written on her glowing golden and steam bubbling from around her arms, trying if she could to reach the stone walls or floor of the pool.

"When will you break, mockdjinn?"

A watery hand clutched at the crystallized magic on the matriarch's body, and then the djinni lord...began trying to absorb it. "You will return the godly power that you have stolen, and then you shall suffer."

The crystals, or what remained of them, started to dissolve under Cataract's grasp, the power of the Winds contained within being absorbed by the djinni. Suspended in the water and unable to break her oponent's grasp with her power being sapped, the matriarch was running out of options. If Cataract could grab all her magical energy, she would be helpless.

So the matriarch began channelling the energy of the crystals into an orb of golden light, racing Cataract to consume energy faster than he could absorb it. The orb held between her hands grew in intensity, and the crystals on her body boiled all over. The pain of the crystals shrinking so rapidly was severe, and the spell she was casting had not been designed to hold so much energy, yet desperation was a powerful motivator.

Their efforts worked in tandem to release the energy trapped within the crystals, but then began a battle as Cataract pulled at the energy with all his might to drink it in, whilst his foe struggled in an attempt to bring that same power to bear against the one who devoured it. In the end they both lost control over the energetic Wind of Change, and the great surge of catalytic, raw magic was released with neither form nor shape. It created a violent explosion.

Though the water shielded them from some of the kinetic force, the heat still instantly created a giant steam bubble. The walls of the underwater cave shook and the huge burst of steam was visible even on the surface above.

The three urtelem on the surface flinched back from the eruption of steam and water. Then everything was quiet. After a few moments, the two urtelem who could walk cautiously approached the pool, wary of an ambush but suspecting the explosion to have killed both Cataract and their matriarch.

Yet above them was an alarming sight: at the very beginning of their encounter Cataphract had stymied the flow of his waterfall and as such the water level had been rising in the river atop the cliffs. Over the past few minutes it had grown into a precariously large wall of water that simply defied gravity and acted as if it had been dammed off by some unseen force. Perhaps that had been the final card up Cataphract's sleeve, ready to be unleashed in one great downpour if he found himself needing to make an escape.

In any case, whether by Cataphract finally and consciously willing it to come down or by his defeat and inability to restrain it any longer, the water quickly swept downwards and into the plunge pool. The waterfall grew to ten times it normal size, and as the river crashed down it surged forwards to flood the area.

The water washed over the urtelem and they tumbled backwards. Yet the surge soon passed and the river resumed its normal flow. The urtelem walked back to the plunge pool and looked in, yet there was no sign of either Cataract or the matriarch. They could only presume that the matriarch was dead and Cataract was either dead or greatly weakened, and in the bottom of the pool glowed the remains of the urtelem which Cataract had killed earlier, illuminated by the crystals still on its body.

With this bittersweet victory looming over them the surviving runic defenders headed back to their herd and reported what had happened. The herd mourned the losses of that battle. Yet they had also succeeded, despite the cost. The surge of water from before had been felt down the entire river, and had washed away the algal bloom that had been planted by Kubec. With Cataract's minions scattered, the fish also returned to Kubec, and the seige was lifted.

As in for the Machhua, an air of disbelief surrounded the whole ordeal. There were those that were even more terrified for the supposed victory, prophetizing that Cataract would return by the passing of ten days or that another one of the local djinni lords would claim ownership of their tribe now. But as time passed, they were proven wrong on both predictions. The scent of flowers upon the wind smelled all the sweeter now that their land was truly theirs and they were no longer renting from a tyrant it at the cost of their blood and toil. In time, the Machhua began to refer to Kubec when they spoke of their homeland; before the word had meant those distant shores from which their ancestors had travelled.

The urtelem inscribed the tale of the battle into their Spiral Script, such that the memory may continue and the story be told to future generations and travelling herds. And while Cataract had been defeated, the urtelem always kept watch and were prepared, lest Cataract return for vengeance or some other elemental try to take his place. The story and knowledge spread among the urtelem, spread by the Distant Dance and the mingling of migrating herds, such that all urtelem would come to learn this solution to the Djinn Enigma.

In the deepest depths of the watery abyss behind the waterfall, Cataract seethed. The explosion had caused a part of the tunnel to collapse and now his waterfall palace had become a prison.

He had finally overpowered the matriarch, but the damage had been dealt and in the battle his body had been reduced to nearly nothing. As a disembodied Flicker, he was a singer without a voice, a dancer without feet. He would be powerless and entombed for many years before he could reconstitute a form as great as before, and then it might be some more time before he would be able to break free. But a djinni lord had nothing but time, and Cataract was patient. He woud wait patiently, and he would remember.

~-====-~

The Ogre Conundrum


With the towering Ironhearts to the east, the holy Valley of Peace to the north east, and the deadlands left by the crystal trees, smothered by lava, to the west, this region of Galbar was generally quite peaceful. Urtelem herds travelled through this region regularly, as part of a trade route between the productive Amestrian city states to the south and the lands in the northern parts of Galbar. This heightened presence of urtelem further helped to calm any hostilities which might develop in the region.

Yet something was coming which threatened to break this peace. For on the far side of the Ironhearts lived the ogres. Ogres were stronger and tougher than almost everything else living nearby, and were rampantly militaristic. And their immortal king Ommok had an insatiable curiosity for what lived in the world beyond his borders.

As such, Ommok had sent a band of raiders, led by one of the ogre shamans, across the Ironhearts in search of new treasures. For while Ommok had travelled extensively to the west in times past, he had never travelled eastwards, so there could still be artefacts of great power to be found in that part of the world.

This band of looters made their way through a pass in the Ironhearts, pillaging any and every village which stood in their path. These villages which had never seen war before were completely unprepared for the overwhelming might of even this relatively small band of ogres. The urtelem who lived there also struggled in battle against the ogres, for the ogres were stronger, larger and better armed. Allowed to enter the lands beyond the foothills, this band of ogres would lay waste to many villages as they marched.

Yet words of warning came by a method faster than any fleet-footed messenger or carrier pigeon. The Distant Dance through which all Sculptors across Galbar communicated allowed for virtually instantaneous transmission of information. Usually this information was either pointless banter or discussions about various artforms, ranging from painting to alchemy, but sometimes it included requests for physical aid, arranging meetings or spreading news. And a Sculptor who had witnessed the advance of the ogres through the pass sent word into the Distant Dance, and this word was heard by Sculptors living beyond the pass, who in turn informed the urtelem they lived among. And urtelem, as always when presented with a new riddle, attempted to construct a solution.

Urtelem knew a few things about ogres, for their kind had tried fighting against ogres in the past. Ogres were strong, relatively well organised, and some even commanded elementals. A brute force approach would be ineffective against the ogres, so a more varied strategy would be necessary to battle the ogres.

It was determined that the best location to make a stand against the ogres was near the hain village of Guarachachi, which was located at the exit of the pass, for the ogres would definitely have to pass through Guarachachi to reach the rest of the region. The path of the ogres would still be confined to the valley from which the local river flowed, so their approach would be fairly predictable.

It would take the ogres just a few days to reach Guarachachi, so time was short. A small herd lived within the valley and could begin preparations immediately. Another small herd would be able to reach the village before the ogres were expected to arrive, although too late to help with most of the preparations. Their low numbers notwithstanding, the herd started applying their knowledge to rapidly construct some defences.




The summer heat was brutal.

Dargok raised a brawny hand to wipe the sweat from his brow, then snorted. "We gonna stop right here," he suddenly declared. His unit was happy to oblige; the other ogres found their way to the shade beneath a cliff overhead and then sat down.

The two dozen warriors escorting Dargok began to eat snacks and engage in conversation with one another about all matter of mundane topics, probably ranging from the best way to smash things with a club to the best way to crush things with a club.

A few of them watched Dargok with bored disinterest as the shaman closed his eyes and did some magic things. After looking really dumb and concentrating for a few seconds, he summoned one of the little djinn bound to him. Those djinn had a tendency to wander unless he kept them on a short leash and controlled them throughout the entire day.

Once the djinni manifested, Dargok began bossing it around. They couldn't tell what he was saying since the commands were given in a mixture of some indiscernable gibberish language and telepathy, but they could still tell that he was bossin' it somehow. Dargok was usually bossy like that.

Its orders received, the elemental scurried off ahead of the ogre warband. Its task was to scout the mountain pass ahead; never before had a band of ogres crossed this part of the Ironhearts, and in truth Dargok had not even the slightest clue of what was ahead or where they had to go to follow the shoddy trail through the mountain pass.

The ogres had not even the slightest clue that the locals knew of their presence and that even then there were herds of urtelem preparing to repel their advance. As such the tiny earth djinni didn't make much of an attempt to hide itself or find enemies; it was trying to find where the trail led, not spot an ambush. But there was still a good chance that it would see the urtelem, and unless they somehow noticed the djinni and immediately attacked, Dargok would soon hear word of the urtelem's plans.

The trail soon joined a river, which flowed along the bottom of a valley. The valley slowly descended, and the jagged mountains on either side slowly receded in height. Along the trail was evidence of use by travellers, with the occasional wooden shelter and empty fire pit. Before the valley ended, though, the scouting elemental came across a most unusual scene.

It saw urtelem making many strange markings in their peculiar script on the ground, forming intricate circular patterns on the ground. Even a hain sculptor was present, marking the ground in the same patterns as the urtelem with pointed porcelain limbs. The djinni kept its distance from the working urtelem, and the urtelem took little notice of the djinni for they sensed no malice in it. Yet as it wandered onwards it stopped suddenly as it realised an accumulation of some... familiar energy in front of it. The small djinni looked carefully, and realised that a patch of dirt and leaves in front of it was actually covering the ground underneath, and it was large enough to conceal one of those runic circles being drawn elsewhere. However, the djinni did not interfere with the patch of ground, for fear of inadvertently unleashing the latent energy stored within.

Moving around the patch of energy, the little djinni saw more strange sights ahead. The urtelem had written more of their script across the ground, spanning the width of the valley in two particularly narrow locations. Flowing through these markings the djinni could feel more of the familiar energy, but that was only half of it. Between the markings the earth itself was shifting, slowly rising from the ground into two earthen walls. Behind the walls the urtelem were writing more of their Script.

And among the urtelem were a few special urtelem. These urtelem were covered in similar markings to those being made on the ground, and gold-coloured crystals were growing from them. Even from a distance, the djinni could sense that they contained more of this familiar energy.

The little earth elemental decided that it had lingered long enough. Before the urtelem could grow too wary of its presence, the djinni turned and left, heading back up the trail to report to Dargok.




Some time had passed by the time that the elemental returned, and the ogres had been making good progress trekking down the path. It was in the early hours of the morning that the djinni warned Dargok of what awaited them ahead. If they marched on at the pace they had been going, they could reach the urtelem herd by midday.

"Only one way through this dumb land," Dargok grunted, "but there's a buncha stonies in our way. A heen too, one of the funny ones touched by Juk Fonk. They're doin' magic stuff all over the ground."

"Better knock their heads in 'fore they mess up the ground real good!" one of the other ogres suggested.

"Maybe they know we here?" mused another one.

"Doesn't matter! We knock the knowin' outta their heads!" the first one quipped back.

Dargok had other plans. "Not gonna just walk down that path 'til we get there, then run in and smash them all. That's what they fink we gonna do. No, walk a li'l bit farther. Then we make camp an' get some rest. We wait 'til dark then sneak in and knock 'em over the head while they sleep!"

Slothfulness was a force strong enough to overcome even the ogres' aggression, so without much objection they kept to the shade and followed their leader's plan. Along the sides of the cliff were a few small recesses in the stone wall, so most of the ogres they clambered out of sight in those tiny holes and caves before sleeping.

Dargok meditated, but he did not sleep. Through telepathy he controlled a few djinni minions, watching through their eyes as they scurried about in the open sun. The shaman reasoned that if the urtelem knew that ogres were coming and were expecting them to arrive later that day, they might come out looking to see where the ogres had gone. If they did come looking, Dargok wanted to see them first.

The urtelem had indeed calculated, from what sparse data they had on the ogres' advance, that the ogres should have arrived some time that day, so when the ogres failed to appear the urtelem became somewhat anxious. Had the ogres found another way out, even though doing that would have involved serious mountain climbing? Had the ogres been repelled by some unknown force, or decided to turn back of their own volition? Perhaps the ogres had been delayed for some reason. Or maybe the calculations overestimated the travel rate of a warband of ogres.

Regardless of the reason, the urtelem, including the herd which had arrived as reinforcements, would wait a while longer. The ogres could arrive at any time now, so they kept a keen watch, even as night fell.




"Sneaky, sneaky," Dargok reminded his warriors. "Sneaky, sneaky," he whispered as they advanced forwards and kept to the shadows as much as they could. This was a rather dark night, but the many moons still reflected enough light to see the path ahead. That was good. Dargok was still wary of what his scout had seen, and he wasn't very keen on stumbling blindly into a trap.

So they advanced rather slowly, low to the ground, and in single file. More sneaky that way anyways.

At the head of the column was Dargok, two little bound stonedjinn at his side. This caution served the ogres well. The stonedjinn, with their sensitivity to the Winds harnessed by the urtelem, were capable of detecting the hidden traps even in the darkness. At their slow pace, the stonedjinn guided Dargok around buried magic circles, and the ogres behind him took care to follow in Dargok's footsteps.

The column of ogres slowly snaked forwards, having avoided the traps so far. But, still distant from the walls, cover ran scarce. The watchful eyes of an urtelem perched on the wall spotted the ogres. It stood up and beat its stone arms against its chest, creating loud clacking noises and raising the alarm. By the walls and elsewhere sleeping urtelem unfurled and stood, alerted to the coming danger.

"Da Stonies see us," Dargok grunted in surprise. Some of the ogres behind him began to panic, whereas others now wanted to stop sneaking about and make some mad charge.

Dargok thought for a moment and then made his choice. "Keep goin' up to that wall! When you get there knock the Stonies on the head!"

The ogres continued to follow Dargok's two djinn as they snaked through the minefield of magical traps, but the going was faster now that they weren't so concerned with being spotted. Dargok had broken off from the group.

With a deep breath, he channeled some of the magic within his soul and empowered the muscles in his legs. With supernatural speed he ran a good ways off from the other ogres. Along the way he triggered no less than two or three of the runic traps, but the combination of the shaman's speed and his own ability to defend against hostile magic left him unharmed.

The quick series of magic explosions and lightning arcs alerted the urtelem watchers to Dargok's location. As they watched, he conjured a great fireball and then sent it hurtling at the wall. Then another. And another. The wall and urtelem were unharmed by the fire, since they weren't flammable, but it attracted their attention. Dargok then turned to where he sensed a nearby trap. He raised both hands above his head and ripped the magic out of the buried runes.

Tapping into the cloud of magic that he had created above his head, Dargok began to create a small inferno about himself and began chanting incomprehensible words in some magical tongue. A glowing Flicker shot across the sky as it was summoned to Dargok. The shaman was trying to bind a fire elemental.

Meanwhile, by the walls, the urtelem had moved themselves into battle positions. Against the dark sky three runic defenders could clearly be seen, the golden crystals on their bodies faintly glowing. But more were up on the walls, and they surveyed the battlefield and relayed messages to urtelem behind the walls via hand signs.

Behind the walls were more magical runes on the ground, but these were quite different to the exploding runes. Part of a polar grid was laid out upon the ground, with a web of Script connecting each grid square to a Winds accumulator, which was glowing faintly. A team of urtelem was associated with each of these spells. One urtelem stood upon the wall, relaying positions to the urtelem below. One urtelem took a heavy rock and placed it on one of the grid squares. A third urtelem collected these rocks and brought them to the other urtelem. And a final urtelem stood behind the spell, poised by a palm-sized Script circle which would trigger the spell.

Dargok's pyrotechnic display painted him as a prime target. It took mere moments for the spotters to relay his exact position and bearing to their teams, and for the team to load the rocks into the correct grid squares, then for the rear urtelem to trigger the spell. There was a loud thwump and the rocks were each thrown by magic. Three large rocks flew through the air in a parabolic arch, heading straight for Dargok.

The other ogres did not go unnoticed, though, especially with Dargok's flames illuminating the battlefield. One of the runic defenders spotted the column being led by the stonedjinn through the minefield. She conjured a ball of golden energy in her right hand and threw it at one of the stonedjinni. Unaware of the incoming attack, the orb struck the djinni squarely and travelled right through it, and its stony form crumbled as its Flicker was torn from its body.

The other stonedjinni, alerted by the destruction of its ally, lept aside from the path of a second orb of golden energy. It strafed a third orb, but by then another runic defender had noticed the stonedjinn and threw an orb from her position, at an angle not anticipated by the stonedjinni, and the second little elemental was also destroyed.

The battleground was illuminated at a steadily increasing intensity of orange light as Dargok willed the Flicker into the writhing mass of fire and quickly helped to shape the monstrous djinni. He was not so engrossed in his work that he failed to notice the three boulders hurtling right towards him. With the same magically augmented speed that he had used to distance himself from the other ogres, he sidestepped the incoming projectiles without even breaking concentration upon his spell.

The sudden disembodiment of his two stonedjinn minions was somewhat jarring as he had shared a telepathic bond with them. In any case, now that they were useless to him he severed the mental link with their Flickers and then was free to focus the entirety of his mind on subduing the fire elemental before him. His magic had accelerated the thing's growth to a million times what was natural; what should have been a nascent spiryt the size of a coal ember was a raging inferno, yet it still had only the control and intelligence of the most insignificant of djinn. It was a raging, feral, uncontrollable thing that would incinerate everything in sight without even comprehending what it did.

It was perfect for Dargok's needs.

The sorcerer took direct control of the flamedjinn for a few moments. It extended an arm back as if throwing something, but when the arm flew forward it broke free from the djinni's body and flew towards the wall as a mass of writhing fire. Though there was nothing there but urtelem, dirt, and stone, this fire was fueled by the djinni's own magical essence and so it flared and swelled as if it was feasting upon an entire forest. Where the rest of the djinni's body had been next to Dargok, the fires suddenly became mundane and quickly died down due to a lack of fuel.

The blaze upon the urtelem's wall suddenly coalesced into a vaguely humanoid shape; in the span of two seconds, the djinni had relocated to the top of the wall. It reached for the nearest defender with burning hands, and when it grabbed the mockdjinn it exuded enough heat to make the unfortunate creature's stony body crack and melt.

Right below the wall, the ogres suddenly found themselves without any guides to lead them through the field of magical traps, but it now mattered little. In the time that it had taken for the urtelem to answer the alarm and mount a defense, the ogres had been able to nearly reach the wall. Now they just charged forward blindly. The ogre in the front of their single file line trampld right over one of the runic traps and lightning burst forth from the ground. It was enough to fell even a creature as bulky as him, and he instantly fell to the ground smoking. If that didn't killl him, being trampled by the twenty-some ogres that had been behind him probably was enough to finish the job.

There was another magical trap in the way, but when the ogre in front stepped on it and triggered the lightning, he didn't even break his pace. The lightning seemed as repelled from him as oil was from water. Amongst the ogres this one was what they called a spellbreaker; since the time of their creation near Astarte's stone, some of them had always been born with an innate resistance to magic.

At the wall, the ogres spread out to try and climb it. No more than four metres tall at any point and made of rough, compacted earth, the ogres simply jumped up and tried to haul themselves over the ledge. Yet the defenders would not let them scale the wall so easily. As one ogre climbed the wall, a stone fist emerged from the wall itself and punched him in the face. A follow-up punch to the sternum sent the ogre toppling backwards.

This scene was repeated across the walls. Many of the urtelem had entered the earth wall itself and were now striking at the ogres who attempted to climb the wall.

This tactic alone was not enough to prevent some of the ogres from climbing the wall. Yet there were more defences. The rock-throwing teams had shrunk slightly, with the spotters diving into the walls to join the fighting, but a spotter was not necessary when the target was in plain view. As the first ogre to scale the wall hauled himself above the ledge, the rock-throwers quickly placed a rock in the spell, aimed towards that ogre, and triggered the spell. The rock was launched forwards and struck the ogre, still yet to get his feet on top of the wall. There was a crack of shattering bone, and the ogre was thrown backwards as the rock's momentum was absorbed by his flesh. The other two rock-throwing teams worked similarly, shooting ogres as they climbed over the wall.

Meanwhile, the newly conjured flame elemental had drawn the full attention of the runic defenders. Orbs of golden energy were thrown at the elemental, and the runic defenders moved to get closer to the elemental. Each strike quenched some of the fire which constituted part of the djinni's body.

Dargok released his grip upon the firedjinni and allowed the feral thing to wreak havoc on its own. It tossed aside the cracked and half molten remains of the first urtelem that it had grabbed, then charged the nearest of the runic defender. Embers flew everywhere, and save for the three runic defenders with their magic, the other hapless urtelem could do nothing as the djinni of fire rampaged through their ranks and passed over them as a wall of unbearable heat.

The runic defenders did not flinch from the firedjinni's charge, but met it with their own magic, each blow quenching some of the flames. When the firedjinni attempted to engulf one runic defender, the urtelem lashed back with a fistfull of her magic, beating back the elemental.

Never before had the sorcerer heard of stonies using magic of their own, but he was able to pinpoint the runic defenders quickly enough even in the darkness of night and as they stood upon the distant rampart. They were the only ones that could hope to counter his magic, and they were currently occupied with a raging elemental. With a chuckle, Dargok summoned a thousand Flickers. Into pebbles they burrowed, into little flames broken away from the greater djinni they were swallowed, and by the eddies of wind they were swept up. They were all weak, almost insignificant things on their own. But together they formed a swarm that could easily overtake an urtelem. Dargok unleashed them upon the wall, and like a mass of writhing insects they swept across the ground to clamber up the walls, or otherwise flew unimpeded, and all made a beeline straight for the runic defenders.

Against the single fire elemental the runic defenders had been faring reasonably. The swarm of lesser djinn, however, added an extra degree of difficulty. As the swarms approached the urtelem, the runic defenders charged their right arms with the golden energy and swiped at the swarm, the tiny elementals dissolving on contact. But their attention was split between the greater firedjinni and the many lesser djinn, alternating desperate swipes at the encroaching swarm with punches at the enraged fire elemental.

In an impressive feat of concentration and magical prowess, Dargok began to channel another spell even as he continued to direct the hordes of djinn bound to his will. A large cloud of magic manifested above him once more and ominously cackled with power as he charged it.

Meanwhile, with the cannons firing rocks into any ogre who clambered onto the ramparts, a change of strategy was in order. Using their axes and mauls as crude hooks, the ogres reached up and tried to grab at the bodies of the urtelem above or inside of the wall and pull them out to be quickly disposed of. Though the ogres were outnumbered, at the wall's base they were under cover from the magical cannons and past the minefield of magical traps, so here they were able to take advantage of their brute force.

The ogres were able to grab onto and yank about three urtelem from the wall, which were quickly dispatched, before the urtelem realised that the ogres were no longer attempting the risky climb up the wall and drew back out of the ogres' reach. Aside from the ongoing struggle between the runic defenders and elementals, and whatever spell Dargok was preparing, the two forces were now in a stand-off, both unable to strike the other without putting themselves at risk.

The urtelem had one more ally. The hain Sculptor, who had first communicated the threat and had helped in setting up the spells. He was a quadruped with skittery legs and two arms with a large porcelain spike each, and as with almost all Sculptors he commanded a swarm of Needle Fae. He had been keeping his distance at the beginning, to avoid accidentally draining the spells with his fae or getting in the way of the other urtelem, but now with the magical cannons on standby the Sculptor lept towards the front wall with his own swarm.

The runic defenders were still having a difficult time fighting both the larger fire djinni and the swarm of lesser djinn. The swarm had managed to cripple one of the legs of the runic defender, and she was doing all she could to avoid being completely overrun. And the Script on another runic defender had been partially erased by a powerful blast of heat from the firedjinni, such that she could no longer coalesce the golden energy into a throwable orb.

One moment the three urtelem were baking in the heat of the elemental's inferno. The next moment the heat stopped and was replaced by a cold chill, for the Sculptor had interposed his swarm of needle fae between the runic defenders and the firedjinni. A moment later and the Sculptor himself was standing amongst the runic defenders, with the remainder of his fae swarm dancing about them.

With the fae in close proximity to the runic defenders, their spellcasting was supressed. But the effect worked both ways, for the ability of the fae to drain ambient energy caused many of the weakest djinn of air and fire to simply be snuffed out, and forced the rest away. The little stonedjinn, while not affected by the fae, could still be swatted away by the urtelems' regular fists. The larger firedjinni was similarly kept at bay, unable to enter the swarm of needle fae.

The three runic defenders quickly hand-signed their gratitude to the Sculptor as they regained their composure. But in this moment of respite, they noticed the ominous cloud of magic which Dargok was conjuring. They did not know what exactly he was doing, but they could guess that it was not good for them. One of the runic defenders thumped her chest to gain the attention of the other urtelem and signed Dargok's position to the rock-thrower teams below. The teams quickly loaded up the spells to fire at Dargok.

The sorcerer did not move. Telekinetic nudging allowed Dargok to manipulate the paths of the boulders in flight, and then despite the urtelem's meticulous calculations each boulder missed its target.

The sorcerer raised his hands and ripped the power out of three of the nearby buried runes, adding it to the great cloud of magic that he had conjured. Then he began shaping it into some sort of ominous spell.

The urtelem had one warning: the ogres at the foot of their wall were suddenly swept up by some unseen force and hurled flat to the ground against the side of the narrow ravine where the wall met with the cliffs. Two of the ogres were left standing dumbly, for they were spellbreakers. But then they realized that it was Dargok that was moving the others, and even their primitive minds understood why. They dove for cover near the other ogres, and not a moment too late.

Dargok shaped the magic into a battering ram and then propelled it all at once. It crashed into the middle of the wall with explosive force and breached through the wall, sending tonnes of earth flying. The urtelem had similarly dived for cover on noticing the ogres and anticipating the incoming blast, many burrowing deeper into the ground, although two did not get far away enough in time and were blasted apart just as the wall had been. The area behind the wall for some distance was showered by rubble and dirt. The only place completely unaffected by the explosion was inside the needle fae swarm, where the Sculptor and the three runic defenders were sheltered from the shockwave by the energy dissipating fae.

From afar, the sorcerer's beady eyes witnessed the result of his work. There was chaos upon the walls as the djinn were blasted apart and scattered like chaff; no longer able to target the runic defenders because of the Needle Fae, the elementals began turning on one another and on every urtelem in sight. The ogres at the base of the wall began to rise back up again and regain their bearings; even though it hadn't been targeted at them, the concussive force of the explosion had still rattled them.

While they recovered, Dargok began his own advance towards the breach. More rocks were fired at the shaman as he approached, but this time his concentration was not split between multiple feats of magic and he was able to show the stonies the sheer futility of such efforts. With a hand held above his head, he had conjured a barrier of magic. Though it was not visible to the eye, right before the boulers should have collided with the ogre they burst into a thousand fragments or bounced away as if they had impacted an unbreakable wall of steel. Not even the fragmented pebbles fell upon Dargok; unable to get through the barrier, they remained unnaturally suspended in the air.

With the wall breached, the ogres would soon be charging through. The magical rock-throwers could not aim at ground level or to the side, and Dargok was countering any efforts to shoot him, so the crews abandoned the spells to join the other defenders at the breach.

The elementals were still rampant, so the runic defenders needed to take action. There was a very rapid exchange of hand signs between the runic defenders and the Sculptor. The runic defender with the malfunctioning Script rolled off to join the other urtelem, while the two remaining runic defenders and the Sculptor turned their attention to the elementals.

The urtelem threw orbs of golden magic at the larger firedjinni, drawing its attention. Meanwhile, the Sculptor and his fae swarm swept among the ranks of the urtelem, pushing away the scattered swarm of little djinn. The firedjinni was quick to return to fighting the two runic defenders. While the crystals on the runic defenders were quickly shrinking, the firedjinni was also weakened from the battle, so was not able to gain the upper hand. When the Sculptor returned and flanked the firedjinni with his fae swarm, the firedjinni was forced backwards towards the breach where the ogres were approaching.

With suicidal abandon, the nearly mindless djinni of flame had flung itself at the Needle Fae, but their power repelled it still. By this time it took notice of the ogres. Ally or enemy, it didn't care...its intelligence was such that those notions were incomprehensible, and its only desire was to incinerate everything. So it turned like a maddened bull and charged towards the ogres. Fortunately Dargok was near enough to stop its rampage before it began. The rogue firedjinni had expended its usefulness, so while he could have tried to bind it once more the shaman instead subdued the elemental and tugged at the magic fueling its fires. The mighty blaze quickly shrank and was reduced to more of an ember, and then Dargok cast it aside.

By then he was practically upon the shattered rampart. With his magic he probed the ground for any urtelem still hiding within the wall, and those that he sensed quickly found themselves under the grip of a telekinetic force that was dragging them out into the open.

Behind the breach the urtelem rolled into position. Those pulled from the earth by Dargok conceded to being above-ground and fell back to the other urtelem. Altogether there were 21 urtelem there, not including the three runic defenders, one of which couldn't walk, plus the Sculptor with his fae.

Dargok leaped into the breach with a ferocious bellow. The warcries of his twenty remaining bodyguards echoed back, and then they rallied to him and stormed over the broken rampart. The line of ogres charged the urtelem as fast as they could. Capable of barreling forwards at a surprising speed considering their bulk, the ogre warriors slammed into the urtelem and then the bloodbath began. Among the ogres were all manner of crude and savage weapons; stone mauls, clubs, and axes were the most common arms, but the occasional warrior carried a metal weapon that had no doubt been looted off the corpse of some past enemy.

The fighting between the ogres and the urtelem was ferocious. Although ogres tended to be stronger than urtelem, a fist of stone backed by ten tonnes of rock is still a formidable weapon. Although, in a fair fight, the urtelem were outmatched.

But the urtelem still had one trick left. An ogre charged the nearest runic defender. The crystals steamed as the runic defender drew back her left fist, and when the ogre came close she punched. On impact, magic amplified the force of the blow many times, such that rather than hitting with the force of a regular punch it was as though the ogre had been hit by one of the magical cannons. There was a spray of blood as flesh ruptured and the ogre fell backwards.

The two runic defenders who could stand stood in the breach, fighting ogres with the force-spell in their left arms, and were flanked by the other urtelem who prevented them from being overwhelmed by the charging ogres.

Dargok had his own magic, but he was not allowed to tear through the urtelem unhindered, for he suddenly found himself surrounded by a swarm of needle fae. Though the blades of the needle fae did nothing against his thick hide, their presence sapped warmth from his surroundings and partially suppressed his magic. The hain Sculptor stood on the wall beside the breach, looking down at the ogres.

In their initial charge they had almost instantly battered down several of the urtelem, but they ogres too had taken losses at the hands of runic dfenders. Still, the ogres in the back pushed forwards and forced those in the front to advance, so the fighting continued for several moments.

It broke when Dargok, who stood shoulder to shoulder with the others in the front, suddenly found himself assailed by the strange insectoids. He began to back up, and upon seeing their leader do so the other ogres did likewise. In a panic they pushed back with enough force to create some space and disengage if only for a moment, and then they joined Dargok in wildly thrashing their weapons in the air to attack the bladed Needle Fae.

Seizing advantage of the opening and distraction, the urtelem pressed forwards, assailing the ogres with blows both magical and mundane.

The insects broke Dargok's concentration and sapped away at his magically enhanced strength. With each fae that was swatted down, Dargok regained some of his power, but he was still crippled. As the urtelem pressed forwards, Dargok found himself trying to stave off the fists of the runic defenders even as the remaining fae continued to harass him. He was visibly struggling.

Fortunately, not all of his bodyguards were fools. Two of them quickly realized that it must be the strange Sculptor looming above that commanded the magical insects, and then they reasoned that killing it would enable Dargok to use his magic once more and easily win this fight.

So there was nothing to think about; those two ogres quickly jumped up to grab at the ledge and pull themselves onto the top of the wall. It was much easier to climb the wall now that they were standing upon a ramp of rubble created by Dargok's explosive magic. While their fellows continued the frenzied fight against the urtelem below, those two charged at the sculptor.

Faced with opponents far stronger than himself, the Sculptor did what anyone with a self-preservation instinct would do: ran away to stay out of reach of the charging ogres. This he could manage, because he was quite fast on his four legs. However, his attention was now split, and the fae swarm, already thinned by the flailing of the ogres, began to disperse.

So focused on their target were they that the two ogres failed to even notice the fae scattering, so with a monstrous roar they took up the chase. As in for Dargok, in the very instant that he felt his power return he conjured a barrier just like the one that had used to deflect the rocks fired from the magical artillery. He shoved it forwards and slammed the invisible shield into the faces of the runic defenders in such a way that they couldn't extend their arms far enough to punch with full force. And then he poured his energy into the barrier, anticipating that their magical strikes might otherwise break through. And he leaned forward with all his weight, intending to take them by surprise and force them onto the ground.

The barrier was a surprise to the urtelem, and combined with the added torque from Dargok's height the ogre sorcerer was able to topple the two urtelem. However, they did not stay in a vulnerable prone position, but instead sunk into the ground, curled up and rolled backwards, burrowing beneath the ranks of other urtelem.

Dargok could only spit and mentally curse his foes' cowardice when they retreated into the earth. Fortunately there was no shortage of enemies, so the sorcerer allowed his barrier to dissipate and then swung at the next urtelem with a magically empowered fist. The runic defenders were not the only ones that could deal death with one blow; Dargok's Astartian magic allowed him to punch with enough force to shatter stone.

Meanwhile, the Sculptor was still fleeing from his two pursuers. With his superior speed, he kept just out of reach of the two ogres, hurling insults and snide quips while he regrouped the remains of his needle fae swarm. "You call yourselves warriors, yet you're outrun by one guy! Your mothers must be slugs for you to be so slow." Running out of space to run, the Sculptor bounded up the side of the cliff where it met the rear wall and landed on the top of that wall. He backed away out of reach of the ogres and took a moment to survey the battlefield.

The fight was all in the breach. Bodies, both shattered urtelem and maimed ogres, were piling up on the rubble-strewn ground. With Dargok's magic, the ogres were pressing forwards, the urtelem forced backing away and scattering into the earth walls beside the breach under Dargok's indomitable strength. The tide of battle was rising against the urtelem, and they had run out of trump cards.

When the two ogres arrived panting at the base of the next wall, one of the ogres gave up on the chase. "Too fast, 'e's too fast," the brute wheezed out, then turned to watch the onging battle. "But we could go bash 'em stonies from behind!"

"No, we gots to chase this one away for Dargok," the other one stubbornly grunted.

The argument devolved into a quick and heated shoving match, but then the fight broke up just as quickly as it had started. The two reluctantly parted, with one picking up large stones to throw at the sculptor and the other running back to the fray at a brisk pace.

The Sculptor skittered further down the wall to put some distance between himself and the rock-throwing ogre, evading the large stones. He stayed for a moment longer as he saw one urtelem not occupied by the fighting, the one runic defender with the crippled leg. The Sculptor hand-signed, 'There is little more I can do in this battle. I shall ensure your story is sung.'

A rock, otherwise well aimed, then struck one of the needle fae surrounding the Sculptor, coming to a halt and squashing the fae mid-air. Not sticking around any longer, the Sculptor signed farewell then turned and ran, disappearing behind the wall.

Back at the breach, the runic defenders had emerged behind the urtelem. The ogre which had returned to fight the urtelem from behind thus found himself charging at two runic defenders. The ogre hesitated and stopped his advance, but the two runic defenders rolled forward, flanked the ogre and killed him with a magically augmented left hook.

By the time they had turned back, Dargok and his surviving ogres had managed to push through the breach. Some urtelem were backing away on foot, while others were resurfacing from the ground to which they had fled. Having lost the breach, the urtelem withdrew to behind the second wall, walking and rolling through the earth wall and disappearing within and behind it. A few urtelem surfaced on the top of the wall, watching the ogres advance.

The ogres did not immediately move to attack the second wall; rather, they took a few moments to regroup. The wounded were helped back to their feet and told to walk it off, or else left where they had fallen. Dargok, meanwhile, began to prepare another explosive spell. The second wall looked no sturdier than the first.

The urtelem saw Dargok preparing his spell, and knew that there was little they could do to stop it. So the urtelem withdrew a safe distance from the wall and waited for the inevitable. Those among the herd who had been severely injured and were no longer able to fight they sent away, rolling down the valley and away from the battle. Now only two runic defenders were left, with just a handful of urtelem by their side, ready for their last stand.

The ogres let out a raucous and triumphant cheer when the urtelem fled before Dargok's might. At a leisurely pace the sorcerer channeled his magic and then unleashed it, obliterating the center of the second wall even more thoroughly than he had the first one. The ogres advanced towards the new breach at a marching pace and with the intent of saving their energy for when the fighting was renewed, but in their eagerness that trot quickly turned into a fast jog and then into a full charge. Once more Dargok ran at the head of their ranks.

The urtelem rolled forwards to meet the ogres in the breach. The two runic defenders were at the front, and they unfurled in front of Dargok and swung at him with their left fists. Both missed as the sorcerer's body dodged their strikes and moved with freakish speed. His skin began to shine and glow as he utilized so much magic to augment his body. Dargok answered the two runic defenders with a flurry of his own punches. He struck so fast that there was hardly time to react to one swing before another was about to land; in this aggressive manner, he forced them back and denied an opportunity for his two enemies to go on the offense.

The runic defenders were forced back a couple of steps in order to not be struck by Dargok's deadly blows. The urtelem following behind the runic defenders did not unfurl or slow down, though. They kept rolling as boulders, going around the defenders and barging into the ogres. While ogres might be bigger, urtelem were heavier, and they used their mass to bowl the ogres over.

Few things could stop the momentum of a charging ogre, but the urtelem were one such force. The entire rank of ogre was battered down, but they were hardly crushed to death. With the wind knocked out of them and some with broken bones, they nonetheless managed to grapple with their enemies and thus began another bloodbath, this time a savage one that had devolved into a wrestling match on the ground.

As in for Dargok, he pressed forwards even as the two runic defenders backpedaled in their attempt to gain space. Suddenly and without warning, his flurry ceased and he kicked at the enemy on his right.

The kick struck the urtelem in the right shoulder, shattering the rock and severing the arm. The runic defender on Dargok's left pressed forwards as Dargok performed his kick and punched with her left fist. The impact of the blow was lessened somewhat as Dargok twisted his body and attempted to hop backwards on his one foot touching the ground, but the punch landed nonetheless. In an awkward and undignified tumble, the sorcerer tripped backwards over one of the nearby urtelem wrestling on the ground. He elbowed the creature away and then began to scramble back onto his feet.

The first runic defender was still staggering from the pain of the shattered arm. The runic defender which had punched Dargok advanced towards Dargok as he climbed back to his feet, and he had only just got up when she went to punch him again.

With telekinesis he pushed down on the shoulder of the arm that the runic defender had punched with, forcing the swing to fall short. Then he raised his leg into another vicious kick.

The augmented kick struck the runic defender in the chest, and she fell backwards with fatal cracks throughout her body. Yet the urtelem by Dargok's feet grappled the one leg he had on the ground and threw its weight into the leg.

In an instant Dargok was taken onto the ground once more, but he was quick to drive the heel of his free foot into the body of the urtelem clinging to him. In this moment, though, the remaining runic defender had taken advantage of Dargok's distraction to step forwards and deliver a force-fuelled punch with her remaining arm.

In a fit of irony, it shattered his arm just as he had shattered hers moments earlier. He howled in agony, but just before that runic defender might have delivered the finishing blow, one of the other ogres pulled her into the ground. He raised an axe and brought it down upon her face, over and over, until there was little more than a heap of broken shards. All around the rest of the urtelem were either dead or desperately fleeing, but Dargok's own warband had taken heavy losses.

Afraid that more urtelem would harry them along the way, what was left of the warband was forced to retreat back through the mountain pass in disgrace. Dargok did not look forward to reporting back to his master.

~-====-~


Almost upon him!

The exhausted ogre willed himself onwards with some of the last of his energy. For days he had pursued the fleeing Sculptor. The thing was fast, with all its leggsies, but those only left more footprints to follow.

The thing thought it was clever; it walked through brooks, but the ogre crossed each stream and wandered the other side until he found the trail once more. He was stubborn even by ogre standards, and even the Sculptor had to admire such persistence.

It was turning into quite the fun game, actually. From inside the cave that he had sheltered in, the Sculptor heard the laborious breathing and heavy footsteps of its pursuer. With perfect grace the Sculptor feigned terror, and then burst out laughing when the bloodthristy brute charged into the darkness and triggered a runic trap. The lightning shocked and paralyzed the ogre, but the magic hadn't been allowed to charge long enough to prove lethal. All the better! That only meant that there would be another round.

Laughing and taunting the ogre in a language that it didn't understand, the Sculptor scurried down a narrow corridor and left the cave from another opening.

A few moments later, the bellowing ogre's crashing footsteps could be heard as it took up the chase yet again.

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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Fig roots had already started to cascade down over the entrance to the temple. The light was dying, but Oyur's lamp was full of whale-oil, and it cast a bright and flickerless glow over the face of the boy at her side. He was eleven years old, but he stood close by her, afraid of intruding. This was a sacred place.

Oyur squeezed his shoulder like an older sister, flashed him a smile. It was alright. He'd been invited here. Besides, the shrines were open to all, Xerxian or Tlaca.

She raised the lamp high and watched his eyes take in the icons before she let her own do the same. Treasured seconds passed.

"What do they mean?" asked the boy from Ihuian. "Who are they?"

"They are our gods," said Oyur. Her Tlaca was simple, accented, and yet clear. "Our history." She gestured to the smallest, the ones nearest the entrance, each with their own little altar laden with offerings.

"These are the First Sins," she began, holding the lamp over the figure of the figure of a laughing troll scribing a tablet. "There are seven of them- This is Greed. The others are Lust, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, and Pride." She eyed the boy. "They sound awful, don't they?" He nodded and she laughed, ruffling his hair as he flinched. "They are our ancestors." He quietened. In Tlaca, that was a powerful word.

"They represent the forces inside us- The things that make us hurt and break apart. But those same sins are what give us strength. We can only know ourselves if we know the dark things inside our hearts. We don't fight them, we work with them- That's how Xerxes was built, by these seven. There's no reason to be ashamed of what we are. Even the gods have selfish hearts, you know." Well, all but one.

Oyur moved on. The next altar was kept apart from the others- It was clean, and bronze-bright, but its offering was nothing more than a customary set of berries and smoked fish awarded to all gods. "This is Stone Chipper, who some call Teconalos, and others Teknall. He had a following, where we come from. They helped build our city, but later on they... Weren't welcome. Rumour has it he went back there after we left." She said no more of that one.

"This is the Life Deer- You don't know her?" The boy shook his head and Oyur raised her eyebrows. "Oh, I thought everyone did. The Life Deer is wilderness. She's... Not a goddess, as such, but we still call her that. She stands for life and death, and the rotting that happens in between. See her legs- She's a skeleton. But there's grass at her feet. She teaches us that being born and becoming dust are all part of the same circle." They moved on from the icon without a bowl.

"These two," she began, gesturing widely at two of the taller shrines, "are the sister goddesses of art. On the right, this is the Muse. She invented dreams, and day dreams, and all the things that make you dream wildly when you eat them. She brewed the first wine and lit the bright star Ilunabar, and told the first stories- They say she also invented hopeless love." Oyur tapped her foot, thinking. "Other stories say that she invented Sin, too, though I don't think I buy that. She probably started those legends herself."

"And this- on the left- is Jaan, the Faery God of Medicine. We call her the Grey Mountain, though nobody knows why. She created graffiti, tattoos, and stone circles- Things that are beautiful because they can be anywhere. The Blind Monk is one of her students." Oyur gazed at the odd shrine. Where altar ended and icon began wasn't really clear. "She also made the first great temples, and the Great Pyramid. This temple is based on her design."

"Is there a shrine for Elysium?"

A rough head-shake. "No. She was the one who sent the Destroyers that first burned Xerxes. Some still followed her, but we knew that nobody will ever be pure enough to go to her when they die. We have to live life here, as much as we can."

The boy nodded. "And who's this one?"

Oyur wheezed a little, but the laugh was bitter. "That is Amartia, the one we called God-Emperor. He blessed the Seven Sins and built Xerxes with them. Then he burned it down again, and we had to... You know the story. He is the god of change and vice. The reason we can never just sit back and let our sins take over. They might make us strong, but they'll kill us, too." She shook her head. "We respect him for his power and beauty, and we fear him for his violence. He's... Close to us."

They were nearing the far end of the temple. The last icon was life-size, and stood on no pedestal. A mobile of feathers and wooden balls painted with precious alum nayum crowned her.

"And this," said Oyur, "is Tauga. The Blowfly God."

The boy looked at her closely. The statue was of ground glass, a bronze warhammer in her one hand, a stylised pink mineral heart in her other. Her feet were laden with gifts.

"When the Destroyers burned our city, she built it up again. When Amartia went mad, she gave up her own heart in exchange for the strength to protect us. We are afraid of her, but we need her. She turns death into life. She is temperance. She is strength. She is Xerxes."

Crickets were chirping outside. After a while the boy left to find his own way home, and she gave him the lamp. Oyur stayed a little longer, to offer prayers.

When she finally went outside, someone was waiting for her. Oyur smiled into the dark.

"Hey," she said.

No movement.

"Are you happy?"

A slight shift, but no answer. Oyur looked down for a moment, then back up.

"Are you... At peace?"

A pause. A silhouette turned its beak towards the stars.

"...Yeah. I guess."

Oyur smiled under her tears. The figure turned into the shadows, and was gone.
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Aihtiraq


The Meek
Level 1 Demigod of Crafting (Machinery)

24 Might




The sojourner travelled from village to village within human territory. Wherever she went she joined in on whatever festivities were held, made merry, and admired the culture and local wildlife. In return, she fixed the tools of the villagers, and sometimes shared intricate devices containing cogs and strings and springs. Behind her she left these quirky devices, such as a mechanical toy for children, or a delicate device which seemed to track the passage of time, or occasionally more practical devices such as a loom or a miniature grain mill, although all were intricate and beautifully decorated.

And on her travels the sojourner learned much. She partook in the mortal cultures when it pleased her, and made these trinkets at a whim. She delighted in seeing the stone circles of the urtelem, and often riddled with urtelem. While she was repulsed at the Sculptors and the hideous transformation which had been forced upon them, she was even more shocked when Realta fell from the sky and vaporised many villages and people. Yet life carried on, and she continued on her journeys.

Today the sojourner was sitting by a river, with the water gently pouring over the rocks and the sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees. In her lap she was fashioning a contraption from wood, twine, pebbles and a few precious scraps of metal. Her four arms worked together in an elegant dance, using tools and swapping tools with different tools from her belt as needed, skirting across the surface of the device, adjusting and modifying it.

And as she worked, a familiar voice called out. "Kinesis."

The sojourner looked up from her work and her face widened into a smile. "Father!"

Kinesis set her work aside onto a rock and stood up. Her four arms fused back into two as she hurried over to Teknall, who was waiting with arms open wide to embrace his daughter. When they released, Teknall spoke first.

"How have you been, my daughter?" he asked.

"I have have been well, father," Kinesis replied, "I have travelled to many places and seen many peoples. The humans have a great feel for aesthetic and art, although they still marvel at even the simplest of my creations. It often feels like I'm working some sort of magic among them even for my mundane creations."

"There is less distinction than you might think between magic and physics. Someone knowledgeable in either can utilise the underlying mechanisms to create wondrous creations. They simply become different means to an ends," Teknall explained.

Kinesis nodded, then asked, "And what have you been up to, father?"

"Since I turned back the Realta, I've been making designs for something big. Really big. I've also been making additions to civilisation. I've visited the dwarves down south. I've taught the Sculptors alchemy. And I'm planning a special new talent for the urtelem, although I'm still testing some of the finer details." Teknall didn't mention the stress of confronting Logos, or that thing he had seen through the Orb.

Kinesis nodded again. After a pause, she asked, "And how is Conata?"

"I've been keeping an eye on her. She's doing alright. She is growing in strength, maturity and independence. She is developing a nurturing and generous heart as planned, and has set out on a journey to find answers about herself."

Kinesis' face showed a twinge of sadness. "So she still doesn't know?"

Teknall shook his head. "No. She's discovered that she is a demigodess, although she still doesn't know who her parents are." As though anticipating Kinesis' next question, Teknall continued. "I will be sure to let her know in due course. But she has to experience some things for herself. A few years of relative struggle for an eternity of good character. You understand that."

Teknall glanced around, and his eyes settled on the workpiece Kinesis had left on the ground. Changing the subject, Teknall gestured towards it. "So what are you making today, Kinesis?"

"Oh, that." Kinesis strode over to it and picked it up. "It is a flying machine. You wind up the spring inside and the wings spin around to provide lift, with the contraption floating off the ground. It's not really strong enough to lift anything besides itself, but it is a good proof-of-concept."

Kinesis handed it over to Teknall for a closer look. He turned it over in his hands and inspected the materials. He observed that Kinesis had been making do with what resources she could find, and her choices for intricate mechanical work were severely limited with metal still being so rare. In spite of this, the carpentry was of excellent quality, and the inner mechanisms precisely engineered. And as was characteristic of Kinesis' work, it was full of embellishments and decorations which served no practical purpose other than to enhance the aesthetics.

Teknall handed the device back. "It is good. Have you considered making a full-sized version?"

Kinesis blushed at her father's approval. Then she answered, "I have considered it, although I'm not sure how I can build something so large with what limited resources I have."

Teknall smiled knowingly. "I've noticed that. Very few of the works you've left behind are any larger than what can be made in your lap. And with no permanent workspace or helpers, this is understandable.

"Yet even us gods often enlist assistance when creating things. Ilunabar and her marionettes and Divas. Toun and his slave hain in Cornerstone. And I've got plans for helpers for my big construction project."


"What is this special project?" Kinesis interjected.

"It's a secret," Teknall replied curtly. Before Kinesis could ask further questions, Teknall continued, "What I'm suggesting is that perhaps you could do with some kind of helper, something to assist you in the labour of creating things. Like the robotic arms you created within the Workshop."

Kinesis appeared excited by the thought. "Some kind of mechanical companion."

"Exactly. Something strong enough and large enough to harvest materials for your projects."

"Something with many arms to craft things with and for fine manipulation."

"Modular compartments for storing things."

"All terrain movement."

"Protective carapace."

"Able to make mechanical devices."

"Some heavy-duty tools for larger tasks."

"Elegant curves and an iridescent hull."

"Redundancy of parts."

Kinesis paused from the brainstorming and looked down at the leaves by her feet. She stooped down and gingerly picked up, with one finger, a millipede. "Something like this, perhaps."

Teknall considered the small creature for a few moments, before saying, "I think we have our design." He stepped back and gestured at the air, forming a black rift to his Workshop. "Let us create it."

They stepped through into Teknall's Workshop. The sounds of machinery filled the air, and the floor of the Workshop curved up over their heads, around the axis of the Stellar Engine Core. The main air lock hissed and clunked as it depressurised to release the latest batch of Stellar Engine Collectors.

The location needed no introductions, for Kinesis had helped build it. Without delay they got to work. Teknall made casts and presses to forge the metal parts, and began mixing together a couple of choice metal alloys for the machine. Kinesis fashioned what would become the mechanical innards of cogs and springs from brass. Teknall and Kinesis worked together to design and construct the legs for locomotion and arms for crafting. The automated construction line created the metal plating from a mithral alloy and plated in iridium.

All the parts slotted together without the use of bolts or rivets. The finished product was about 5 meters long and did indeed look like a giant metallic millipede. The iridescent sheen of the iridium plating caused a mosaic of beautiful colours to dance across the surface of the automaton. Hundreds of legs supported the many segments of the elongated body. Eyes and antennae gave useful sensory input. A pincer-like maw at the head and an assortment of manipulator arms folded underneath the body gave the machine the ability to modify its surroundings. For power, the machine was driven by divine impetus, keeping the cogs and springs perpetually turning.

The automaton clicked into life and scuttled across the floor, circling around Kinesis and Teknall. Kinesis giggled in glee, and Teknall simply smiled. "I think we're done here. Let us return to Galbar."

With a wave of his hand the rift opened up, and the three of them stepped through, back by the river where they had left earlier. The automaton scuttled ahead and twisted around the trunk of the tree, always moving, never keeping still.

"This robot should serve your purposes," Teknall said.

Kinesis bowed her head. "Thank you, father."

"It was a pleasure." Teknall looked around. "I should get going now. If you have any issues, don't hesitate to call."

"Farewell, father," Kinesis replied.

They embraced before parting, and Teknall patted the head of the automaton as he walked off.

~-====-~


Kinesis found the automaton to be most useful. There were compartments in which she could keep a cache of materials, tools and inventions. She had set up a special reclining saddle such that she could ride the millipede from place to place. And the millipede was a strong and dependable labourer, capable of felling a tree and chewing it into planks in minutes, or carving up a boulder into bricks, or digging ore out of the ground so it could be smelted. And it was decent at crafting finer objects too, able to make many small identical items and saving much time and tedium.

With the automaton's help Kinesis was able to try more ambitious projects. In one village she left a wagon, able to be drawn by a suitable animal. In another village she built a water mill, for grinding grain. The automaton, which Kinesis had named Jydshi, made a fine assistant, a skilled crafter in spite of its negligible sentience.

One night Kinesis set up camp under the roots of an old tree. The millipede wrapped itself up around the roots as Kinesis set up her bedding under the light of her electric torch. "So, Jydshi," Kinesis spoke, "what did you like about the last village?"

The robot looked to Kinesis when it heard its name, although it otherwise did not seem to react to the question.

"I thought their singers had beautiful voices. They were even kind enough to make a song for me," Kinesis said. She smiled as she recalled the words. "This is the story of our grain mill / which was gifted by a lady from over the hill. / She worked hard with her hands / and her face was the fairest in our lands."

Kinesis looked over to Jydshi, who seemed indifferent. Kinesis sighed. "Oh Jydshi. You're a great assistant, but you're so hard to talk to. You just stare at me blankly whenever I try. How I wish you could speak back to me."

In the heavens above, the stars seemed to wink at that fantasy. In the tapestry of light there were many wonders. The dark clouds were tufts of Zephyrion's beard, or perhaps just lumpy bits of the heavens that had curdled like milk. Between those bits were the stars; depending on who you asked, stars were the glowing souls of the ancestors, or the eyes of gods, or gateways to other worlds.

As Kinesis's gaze drifted upwards the tapestry of the heavens unfolded to show all those things, and then one more: bands of golden light lazily drifted across the sky. They were beautiful, but this place was far too south to see the aurora.

Something else was out there. It looked like a perfect sphere of that same glowing stuff as the golden wind above; it was a mote of light. It slowly drifted back and forth without a care in the world as it made its way towards Kinesis.

Kinesis stood up, in awe of the strange sight. She stepped out from underneath the tree to get a better view of the slowly drifting orb. Jydshi followed, scuttling across the ground and circling around the tree.

Like an oversized bubble the mote bobbed through the air until it finally landed upon the ground before Kinesis' feet. In an instant there was a flash like that of niter thrown into fire. A writhing mass of fire, water, and sand contorted into the visage of a most peculiar djinni, and then it spoke,

"How dost though, my goodly friends?
upon the wind nests
the prime, lachrymose portends

of one who longs for a wish.
beware - to wish is
to sip nectar deep; foolish,

for it may be sweet, or doom."


The sight of the strange djinni surprised Kinesis, for in all her travels she had never seen a djinni like it. Yet its words were even stranger.

"You offer wishes?" Kinesis asked cautiously.

"Life offers thee but one soul,
I give but one wish.
Be it your ankh, or coal

that would enflame your own pyre."


Kinesis tilted her head. "Why only one wish?"

From somewhere within the glowering mass of burning water and sand there seemed to emanate an air of bemusement, as if the djinni lord had never pondered such an obvious thing. From the depths of the chaotic inferno there formed an open hand that reached out towards Kinesis. It stopped not far from her face; however, in its every motion there was not even the slightest hint of malice, so becalming was the djinni's presence.

"Look unto this hand, witness
its ever humble size.
I spread my gift to many,

and it is a poor friend that
giveth too plenty.
When one drop is ruin or joy,

'tis best to not drink deeply."


"Just one wish, then..." Kinesis bit her lip in contemplation. "You can make Jydshi able to talk with me?"

"You would ask these questions then
drink of that wish's wine?
Pray the juices haven't been

soured by misfortune; She speaks."


Kinesis looked over at Jydshi, although from brief visual inspection the millipede appeared to be the same as before. When she turned her head back, the strange djinni was gone, with the only evidence of his passage being a little streak of golden light left in the sky.

Kinesis was slightly disappointed. She had expected the djinni to wave his hands and do some magic, for there to be at least some kind of show from such an extravagant elemental. But instead he had vanished.

"That elemental was quite strange," Kinesis said aloud.

Jydshi’s legs rippled as she adjusted her weight, freeing forward parts of her body to lift off the ground, forward legs cleaning her lenslike eyes. Her head turned almost ninety degrees to get a better angle for the optical care. Her antennae twitched and her mandibles opened, testing for the first time even if not the first time they were opened as such.

"Was he? I did not really meet them, nor have I met others really." Jydshi casually threw out those first words, perhaps of many.

Kinesis' head swung back to look at Jydshi, and her face expressed surprise for a moment before it changed to an excited grin. "Oh, Jydshi, you can speak! He did make my wish come true!"

Jydshi’s head turned again giving a cleaned eye a good view of Kinesis, and allowed her to reach the other eye. "I can speak!" Jydshi mimicked the excitement heard through the other demigoddesses’ voice.

Jydshi was distracted, her cleaning was ragged, at best. Since she could speak she had noticed something, the bugs moved along the ground as the grass waved in the wind, creatures twittered through the air but a wrongness pervaded all these things. The little critters that moved along could only provide their small movement to themselves. Although the grass waved in the wind, it was rooted in the unmoving earth.

That poor inert dirt and stone, trapped in itself. Well that wasn’t entirely true. admonished Jydshi, just to herself. She rippled her legs along her body, tapping the ground, giving it some small motion she could muster from her body, it wasn’t enough, it would need more.

Out of Jydshi burst a question, almost a whisper. "Is everything so terrible?"

Kinesis tilted her head in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Jydshi continued in that almost whisper. "It is all so still." Jydshi finished cleaning her eye and lowered her frontal body back to the ground. "We will have to share with it."

"You like things which move?" Kinesis said slowly. A smile crept back onto her face, and she suggested, "We could make something which moves."

Jydshi paused before she made a noise like a giggle. "Can we do it? Let’s do it!" She then started to orbit Kinesis, in such a way to keep one of her eyes able to see Kinesis, in what seemed like excitement.

"Okay, I just need some materials," Kinesis said. She stepped towards Jydshi when she noticed that her cache of materials was lying on the ground under the big tree. Odd, Kinesis thought, Those were stored inside Jydshi a minute ago.

She didn't think too much about it as she sat down by the materials. Her two arms split into four and picked up her toolbelt where she had left it lying. "What shall we make? Another cart? A windmill? Perhaps we could build a flying machine."

Jydshi followed Kinesis over to the materials, after some initial confusion about where to head, she moved semi-continuously around Kinesis as was possible. "A Flying Machine! One to soar above! Yes, we will make that. That is a good plan. Yes!" Jydshi was able to conceal her excitement well.

Kinesis nodded. "We will need some more materials." Kinesis looked around, then pointed at a medium-sized tree. "That tree over there can be made into the structural components and other large parts." Kinesis then got to work on carving wooden cogs and pulleys for the device, which would form the basis of the moving parts.

Jydshi did not think much of necessity of gathering the materials, but did like the idea of gathering the materials. She scuttled over to the tree and inspected it, wind stressed the upper portions which that motion was distributed downwards into the grounding roots below halted in that stifling earth. Why need it stop... and reaching out she dug. Jydshi uncovered as much as she was able, and watched the tree move more freely, rocking in the wind.

Not enough. No, not enough at all. Jydshi moved around, both on the ground and around the trunk of the tree, inspecting its roots, trying to figure a way to free it for more movement. If it still stops, does it just lack enough motion? Jydshi moved down towards a root, a big one judging by the others, and lifted it and dropped it.

I can give it motion. She paused in her thought, changing course. I can move to give it motion. Motion to move, I can give it motion to move. Can motion move?

Jydshi focused, onto the motion of the trunk of the tree, onto the wind and its rocking. She paid attention to all this motion but instead of Motion to move something transference of the motion itself into this tree. And it moved, although hitting her carapace with a bunch of roots was not what she had in mind originally.

This time with more thought of control, and some thoughts of actually gathering like Kinesis wanted, she gave the tree motion. The roots reached up and began dragging the rest out of the earth, the branches shook themselves to be free of leaves. Jydshi darted up the tree sawing the branches off for later use, making use of her mandibles and their original purpose as saws.

Circumnavigating the tree in a flurry of cutting, made easy by branches moving clear of her own movement, it took only a few passes until the branches lay strewn on the ground. Back onto the ground once more, she amused herself bundling the branches as the roots freed themselves. The roots began dragging the whole tree, albeit slowly towards Kinesis and her work.

Kinesis looked over and saw the strange sight of the tree moving of its own accord towards her. That was most peculiar. She had just expected Jydshi to cut the tree down and chew it up into planks as she used to do. Yet, unless it was actually a dryad moving the tree, then this was some new power.

"How did you do that?" Kinesis asked.

"Well, it was very simple once I thought of it." Jydshi started to explain, "You see, I was looking at the motion of the tree and realized that it was constricted, well I freed it but then it didn’t move very much so I tried moving to move it and it moved some but then it stopped because it couldn’t move on its own, so I thought about it and tried to see if I could move motion into it which I could but then that wasn’t very good as it hit me by accident so then I had to control it more and-" Jydshi stopped herself after realizing that it wasn’t the most comprehensible thing to state all at once, so she finished quickly. "...And then I led it over here."

Kinesis gaped at the animated tree for a little longer. It seemed that, whatever the wish-granting djinni had done, Jydshi was given much more than the power of speech. After a pause, Kinesis finally said, "Well, um, okay. We're going to need to cut it into planks to make the flying machine from."

Kinesis then took one of the branches Jydshi had collected, cut it to length, and carved it into a drive shaft.

"Okay!" Jydshi happily scuttled back to the animated tree and looked at it, then happily scuttled back grabbed a saw and went back to the tree. She gave the saw to a root, prompting an arboreal horror sequence as they separated the bottom portion from the useful timber. As that occurred Jydshi moved up the tree in a mincing manner, once she reached the top she tore her way back down debarking the tree with her mandibles and useful manipulator arms.

Once debarked, and the horror fest over, Jydshi had the remaining bundled roots move out and begin sawing the trunk into planks. This was watched carefully by Jydshi as she did the same with her manipulator arms.

Jydshi, Kinesis and the animated bundle of tree roots continued working, creating the parts then assembling them. The end result was a large contraption of wood and rope. A rounded frame of wood formed the main body of the device, which was large enough to comfortably carry Kinesis and Jydshi. It had a flat floor of wooden planks, although the walls were an open frame. The frame stood on the ground with four wooden legs. An ensemble of wooden wings protruded from the top, side and a tail projecting from the rear. The largest of these wings were connected to series of gears and drive shafts which culminated at a wooden gearbox with a manually operated crank. The smaller wings were attached by ropes to a complicated set of levers and pulleys at the front of the peculiar craft. While the project had been ad hoc, the contraption still demonstrated a masterful level of craftsmanship, and its design was aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.

Kinesis climbed into the craft and sat in a seat facing the levers. "Let us try it out!" she declared excitedly.

Jydshi followed, scampering into position to move the pedals with her lower legs, allowing her to still look around some. She tried to form words before giving up after a few times of a devolving into excited giggling sounds and began to pump the pedals to bring motion into the machine. The wings on top of the contraption began to spin around, and the wings on the side began to flap. As Jydshi pedaled faster, the vehicle achieved lift, the wings pushing against the air to bring the vehicle into the sky.

Kinesis used all four of her arms to operate the levers. With her innate feel for the machine, she was able to direct the stabilising wings to keep the vehicle balanced and upright. It was not long before the vehicle hovered above the tree line. Kinesis pushed a few more levers, redirecting torque from lifting to forward motion.

And they were flying through the night sky, not as elegantly as a bird might, although they were just excited to have built a machine which could achieve this. As the trajectory stabilised, Kinesis pulled out her flashlight and illuminated the ground below so that she and Jydshi could take a better look at the landscape below them. Mostly it was trees, but there was the occasional animal which scampered away on hearing the noisy wooden beast flying through the sky.

As they flew through the night, they suddenly flew over a village. Although most people were sleeping at this time of night, the racket this machine woke many of the villagers. What they saw was the silhouette of a giant many-winged beast with a single glowing eye. Naturally, the sight invoked fear within the villagers. There were some screams and the sound of a child crying, although a few moments later the flying thing had flown past the village and headed into the distance.

Although no harm had been done, Kinesis was slightly shaken. She hadn't meant to be so frightful to the people below. She pushed levers and directed the vehicle to land in a place well out of sight of the village. "Perhaps that's enough flying for one night," Kinesis suggested.

Disappointed Jydshi slowed the pedaling and let the flying machine down. It had been so exciting and wonderful to be up with so much motion and then all the creatures on the ground had joined in too. Although not entirely sure why they were stopping, Jydshi had an exciting idea. As they landed Jydshi moved to Kinesis, eager to share her idea. "I had an idea. Instead of a person for the pedals which have to stop when they aren’t there, we could put something there that never stops. Then it would never stop even when someone isn’t there!"

This new idea lifted Kinesis' face into a smile. "That's a good idea. Like a gear that always turns."

She stepped out of the vehicle and scanned the ground around them with her flashlight. "We need to find a durable material to make it from, and an axle for it to rotate about."

The light settled on a patch of ground with rocks. She dug her fingers into the ground and lifted up two of the stones, each larger than a hand. She sat down, took out a hammer and chisel, and shaped the stones into two identical square blocks. With a drill she bore a hole through the center of each brick. From her scarce supply of metal she made a flat metal ring, which she placed between both blocks, spacing apart their stone faces. Then she took a metal rod and ran it through the holes of the blocks and the ring. The ends of the rod she hammered flat, so that the blocks would not slide off and the ends of the rod would sit flush with the stone faces.

Kinesis held the simple device by one block with one hand, and with the other hand she pushed the other block, which spun around along the axle. "Now we just need to make it move."

Jydshi watched for awhile, particularly the motion of the enfolding device rather than any particular aspect of its construction. She raised herself up on her lower body to reach up and take the device in her arms. Focusing in on the motion of the device, and its limitations, Jydshi became almost insensate to the world around her. She attempted to repeat what she had done before, and then go further than she had before.

The problem with what she had done before was that she had not fully understood how all the motion should work. Since this device was designed for motion in the first place it should be capable of more. Jydshi continued as the motion poured into the device, she had to restrict it to make sure it didn’t just shake the device apart. What was most important however was to make the motion not just given to the device, but to make it part of it. The motion needed to be as intrinsic as the blocks were of stone and the axle was of metal.

It was a success, although there was a slight problem. Jydshi had not thought of how to hold it in any sort of ease with constant attempted motion from the device, better to hand it back to Kinesis, she could figure that out.

Kinesis grabbed the device, held one of the two blocks and watched the other block rotate at a steady pace. With her other hand she attempted to grab the free block, but the torque was too great even for her grip to keep it still. Kinesis grinned at Jydshi. "Jydshi, it works! A perpetual motor, always turning. We could use it to drive any sort of device. What shall we try it on first?"

Jydshi watched Kinesis grapple with the device, mostly watching its movements. They were steady in a nice way, a good way. Ripped out of her reverie by the sound of her name, she listened and replied. "The Flying Machine!" While Jydshi chittered excitedly at accomplishing the primary task in making the machine fly permanently, testing things before doing them wasn’t her strong point.

"Well, if you insist," Kinesis responded. She climbed back into the flying machine. She dismantled the pedal system, made a few adjustments, then installed the perpetual motor. A lever among the control levers moved a wheel into and out of contact with the perpetual motor, and another lever exchanged gears to provide different gear ratios, allowing a variable amount of speed and torque to be acquired from the motor.

Jydshi climbed in after Kinesis, and with Kinesis deftly operating the controls the flying machine ascended once more. This time Kinesis took the vehicle higher, such that she had a good view of the surrounding landscape for some distance and the vehicle was less noticeable from the ground. From this height, Kinesis set the vehicle to fly forward.

"How is this, Jydshi?" Kinesis asked, looking over her shoulder at the giant iridescent millipede.

To say that Jydshi was not paying any attention at all would be false, she was dealing out a great deal of attention that was simply not directed in Kinesis’s direction. As the machine had risen into the sky and the ground and Jydshi’s limited ability to sense motion moved out of range of that paralyzed sphere Jydshi found herself in a near form of paradise. Everything she was sensate to was in motion to some degree or another, the machine and all its mechanisms and the air pushed by as they traveled, and countless other things she could only get the barest glimpse of before they moved away.

Surprised by a question, particularly not knowing what the question was Jydshi did the only logical action and immediately blurted out an answer to a question regardless of whether it was the one which was asked. "It is all moving, it is much better than the ground. All of it." Jydshi clattered her many legs across much the length of the machine as she could with her long body to indicate some of the better portions. Hopefully the question was about the machine.

Jydshi's bluff worked, for her answer appeased Kinesis. She turned back to the levers for a few moments and adjusted them, and the vehicle turned and began flying southwards.

"I have heard rumours about some strange changes happening to the landscape south of here," Kinesis said aloud. She added to herself, It was where father showed us the Julkofyr's Darkened Spires. Kinesis continued, "I was thinking that we could go and explore it."

Jydshi kept her attention focused on Kinesis and was rewarded for her diligence in conversation. "That is fine." Jydshi was beginning to settle back into her motion watching after the excitement had dimmed down.

Kinesis replied, "Good. Then let us go south."

The vehicle flew on, its wooden wings beating against the air, driven by the perpetual motor, carrying the two demigoddesses southwards.



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Hidden 11 mos ago 11 mos ago Post by Scarifar
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Athanasios hummed a snatch of a human ballad to himself as he meandered his way to the next village that was drawing him towards it. He was in his third primary form, that of the cervitaur-a half deer, half human shape. From the head down, was male human, and below that was the body of a white stag. His loose, green cotton vest fluttered in the faint breeze, and the young demigod was feeling optimistic about the day. Having just come from the ruined village with the burn-wound victims, he knew his calling in life was to heal, and to teach others to heal. He had showed them, the plants that were safe to eat for medicinal broths, poultices, salves, ointments and the proper way to clean and bandage wounds.

"You must clean the wound thoroughly, first," he had said, firmly to the village healer who had been at least twice his physical age. "Then you put this salve," he dipped his fingers into the freshly made green tinted mixture. "On it and gently rub it in before bandaging it with clean cloth. White or brightly colored fabric such as yellow, pale greens and whatnot are best, that way you know if it has begun to bleed. Stay away from the rougher fabrics, like sackcloth and hide blankets. They'll cause irritation and infection."

Now, as he gazed about the forest that led on him to his next patient, he stopped when he felt like something other than his patient was calling him. It was like the wind which whispered through his vine entangled antlers and long white blond hair, but it was unfamiliar to him. He knew, from the memories his mother had inadverdently passed down to him, that there were other gods and goddesses, but in all of the years that he'd run to find his next patient, he'd never encountered one. He'd felt their auras brush against his own from time to time, but he was sure he'd been the only one to ever feel or acknowledge it.

The male cervitaur stopped walking to breathe the breath of the forest, the tips of his slightly pointed ears twitching at the sounds both flora and fauna made, and there was-something.

Female, by the way its footsteps fall, he decided. Females always walk softer. Well, most of them, he ameneded. That healer back in the ruins walked heavier than most of the men.

Niciel let a Wisp rest on her hand as she slowly made her way through the forest, a few others guiding her way. This one had alerted her of a presence in these woods, not quite a God, yet not mortal either. Niciel could only assume, by process of elimination, that it was a demigod. She wondered what this being would be. Seeing as the Wisps were not agitated, though, perhaps it was safe to say that it was not openly hostile. Frankly, that was a big change compared to most of the things she had experienced beforehand. She had high hopes for this demigod.

Stepping past a tree, Niciel looked beyond it as she spotted a four-legged creature. She found it incredibly bizzare in its appearance, having the torso of a man yet the body of an animal. The Wisps didn't seem to care, though, as they immediately left Niciel, even the one on her hand, and began circling the cervitaur for a few moments before returning to her. Niciel could already tell from its presence that this was the demigod the Wisps had alerted her to. Such a pure soul, too, and this power... Slough's? That was interesting. Niciel calmly walked over to the cervitaur, unafraid, and greeted him with a radiant smile. "Hello," Niciel said warmly. "My name is Niciel. What is yours?"

Athanasios was fascinated by the small, brightly glowing wipslike creatures that briefly circled him, then returned to wherever it was they had come from. He then gave a small jerk when the female he'd heard approached him and introduced herself. He smiled and dipped his head in greeting. He found her white wings to be beautiful, and her aura put him at ease.

"Hello," he replied. "My name is Athanasios. Would you happen to be a goddess? The only one I've ever known was my mother and I have not seen her for quite a few years". He tilted his head slightly as he looked down at her for he was quite tall in his cervitaur form, at nine feet in height not including his slender antlers.

"That I am," Niciel replied, lifting her dress with both hands while performing a curtsey. "I am the Goddess of Light." Gesturing to Athanasios with an upturned hand, Niciel continued, "As for you, your mother would be Slough, correct? Meaning you would be a demigod."

"Ah, yes, I am the son of Slough," he replied. "I can't create life as she does, but I can heal it. I was on my way to do just that, actually." He swept an arm in the direction of the village in where his next patient's voice seemed to emanate.

Niciel looked over to where he was gesturing. While she could not see what he was trying to gesture to, she had no reason not to believe him. "Would you mind if I joined you for a while?" Niciel asked. "It'd be nice to travel with a companion for a change."

The healer smiled at her, flashing white teeth. "Of course, Niciel," he said, elated. "It would be a nice change to have some company." He then looked at his cervitaur body and grimaced, realizing that in this form, he was much taller than her, and talking down to a goddess might be just a tad rude. He shifted shape, soft green light surrounding him for a few brief moments, then it faded to reaveal him in his 6'8 human shape, clothed in loose light green fabric. He still retained hte antlers, though, and a circlet of woven stick rested upon his head, coming to rest just below his high cheekbones.

He offered her the crook of his arm in politeness.

Niciel watched in pleasant surprise as Athanasios changed form to a more human shape. She could make a few educated guesses as to why he would do that, but Niciel decided to let it be. Smiling, she graciously took his arm, placing her hand on the crook of his elbow. "Thank you," Niciel said politely.

Athanasios nodded and they walked in comfortable silence for a few minutes. His mind raced not only with his own thoughts, but the voice of his future patient still sang throughout his skull. The closer they got to the village, the greener his eyes looked, and when he finally found them, they would be solid green, including the whites.

"So, Niciel," he said turning his head to look at her. "Going on the assumption that those fascinating wisps of light are yours, what are you the goddess of, like what are your abilities? I've brushed up against other gods in my years, but I've never actually met one until today. Would you mind telling me about them?"

He had a very curious mind, and while he might be a demigod, he was the equivalent of a newborn babe when it came to things that did not pertain to healing.

"As I've said before, I am the Goddess of Light, mostly of that which is Pure," Niciel explained. "Mainly, I see the Purity of my surroundings, whether that be of the forest around us or the people I come across, among other things. You, for example, possess a much purer soul than most beings I've met."

Niciel lifted an upturned hand, and gathered a small ball of pink energy on her hand. "This is Pure energy," Niciel said. "I find its most practical uses to be for healing and removing curses." Allowing the energy to dissipate with a wave of her hand, Niciel continued, "As for the Wisps, I created them to be my eyes around the world, allowing me to see the many events that occur."

"As for the other gods...." Niciel said, this time with a dejected tone. "To be honest, I have not had the best relationships with them, but I will do my best to describe the ones I still remember."

"There is Zephyrion, the God of Wind and Change, and Teknall, the God of... Crafting, I believe it was. They're the ones responsible for creating the Celestial Citadel. It's a large castle that drifts in the sky, and it radiates quite a bit of power even to this day."

"There's Jvan, the Goddess of Beauty. We've not really met, actually, so there's not much I can say about her, although I have heard somewhat unpleasant things about her from time to time. I'm sure she has her reasons and that it's not as bad as people say, though."

"There's Logos, the God of Order. It's difficult to determine what he's thinking. He's largely ignored this world ever since it was created, but then he suddenly attacked Galbar. I tried to get him to explain why he was doing so, but I still couldn't understand him. At the very least, Logos has ceased his efforts."

"There's Toun, the God of Perfection. I've... been in.. well, a disagreement with him for the longest time, and it's only been recently since I've finally worked up the courage to apologize for that. I still don't know whether or not he's forgiven me, but I'm fairly certain that he does not hate me like in the past, so that's progress."

"There is also... Vestec," Niciel said, a tone of heavy disappointment in her voice. "He's the God of Chaos, the very opposite of what I stand for. He has caused much strife in the world for the many beings of this world, even the other Gods and Goddesses. He was the main cause of the conflict between me and Toun as well, although that was a long, long time ago. I will not fault him for performing what he was made for, but I cannot help but feel that perhaps he could do better. Cause less chaos than is needed, perhaps. Nowadays, though, I hear he has been merely causing mischief as opposed to complete warfare, so I suppose there is that. Even so, I suggest you be careful around him. From my experience, he has almost never been up to any good."

Niciel was silent now, not sure whether or not she should speak of those that died as well. It was not a pleasant topic for her, and she would rather not speak of them because of that. However, she swallowed down her feelings, believing it best to do so. "A number of Gods and Goddesses have also... passed away, as well," Niciel said sadly. "Vowzra, the God of Time, and Vulamera, the Goddess of the Mind. Those are the only two I can still remember." Niciel cleared her throat and said, "Forgive me. Perhaps I shouldn't be speaking about such a depressing topic."

Athanasios was silent as she descibed the gods to him, his brain soaking up the information she gave him. He gently laid his hand on hers where it rested on his arm. "No need to apologize, Lady Niciel," he said softly, his healer's soul aching to heal what it was that hurt her, but wounds of the spirit were not so easily mended. "I am glad that you have decided to humor me by telling me these things. I have been ignorant since my birth of these things, so now that I am no longer such, I can continue to grow and learn and become what I am supposed to one day be."

He raised his head as the softly calling voice in his head got stronger, then turned to Niciel. "We are much closer to her, now," he said referring to the voice. "If I shift into a stag, you are welcome to ride me if you do not wish to use those lovely wings of yours. However way we get there, it must be quick." he tilted his head, his eyes becoming unfocused, the green beginning to swallow the whites.

"She is fading, fading fast, and her babe will die, too."

His free hand clenched the loose fabric of his pantleg in urgency before the same light as before enveloped him and in his place stood a magnificent white male deer with an impressive rack of antlers, leaves growing from the many smaller prongs, vines interlacing them. He looked at her with kind eyes, wishing to know what her mode of transportation was to be.

Niciel smiled softly as Athanasios gave her some slight comfort, thankful for his kind words. She snapped out of the mood when he began to speak more seriously and he transformed into a deer. Niciel could tell that this was no longer the time to dwell on the past. "In that case, there is no time to lose," Niciel said, lifting herself to sit atop Athanasios, her legs resting on one side. "Let us hurry."

He hoped to hell that she had a good grip on him because he was going to be very fast. He immediately lunged into a steady, ground eating lope as he stretched his long, muscled legs to their fullest. The wind of his passage fluttered the vines and leaves and the thick forest around them began to thin out a little. Maybe ten minutes passed, with Athanasios's sense of urgency growing stronger. Time was slipping and the mother was running out of it.

He came to a small hill overlooking a fairly sized village and paused for a minute of breath, then nimbly wound his way down the slope, following his instincts. People stared in awe as two beings who were obviously not your average human and deer raced through. Athanasios paid them no heed as he came to what he would later discover was the village chief's house. He gently set the goddess down and quickly transformed into his human shape, opening the door without knocking, and headed straight for a room in the back where the lady in question was attempting to give birth, not once looking back to see if Niciel followed him. The two other females squawked at him to leave, but he refused. They seemed to not care that he had antlers, only that he was male and entering the birthing room of a woman. His infinite patience was quickly being worn down as they tried and failed to wrestle him out, so he took a length of vine from his antlers and gently but firmly tied their hands together, tying a deft knot that would have them picking at it to get loose. Once that was done, he turned to the laboring woman. She looked up at him with wide, scared eyes that told him she knew there was a possibility she would die trying to bring her infant into the world. He laid a gentle hand on her stomach and frowned at the red that soaked the sheets, his worry increasing. Too much blood had been lost. This was going to be a difficult birth for both mother and child.

Niciel smiled and waved at the humans as they arrived at the village. As Athanasios left her side, a few brave humans came up to ask what was going on. "We're here to help," Niciel simply answered. She hadn't received the details from him either, so she didn't know exctly what was going on either. As the humans continued to ask more questions, Niciel began to hear some commotion from the house Athanasios had entered. Excusing herself, Niciel walked over and peeked inside, where Athanasios had already tied up a couple of women and left them to tend to the one in labor. As they struggled, Niciel went over and began to apologize, as well as plead for their approval to allow him to do what needed to be done.

Not daring to risk his magic, he went to settle himself between her legs and encouraged her to push as hard as she could. While he helped her to rally enough strength for another push, he reached his hand in to inspect what was wrong and soon found out-the babe was trying to come out feet first. He grit his jaw in determination and began to gently turn the babe around as quickly as he could. Once the child was in the right position, he told her to push, hard, and pressed down and towards him on her belly with the other hand. The babe suddenly came free with a pop, and the healer caught her with lightning quick reflex.

Pleased, he waved a hand, and the two females were surprised as the vine came free of their hands, returning to his antlers. He ordered them to help with the afterbirth and cleaning up the woman while he tended to the baby. Oh, but she was a beautiful child, with soft, tawny skin and dark curly hair. He went to a small basin full of lukewarm water and slowly lowered the small girl-child into it. The water did its job-it shocked her and she let out a cry, clearing the fluid from her lungs. Athanasios soothed her, cooing soft noises as he bathed the blood and fluid from her, then took off his shirt and wrapped her small, wet body in it.

"How blessed thou shall be, little one," he murmured. "Common sickness shall have naught to do with thee, and thou shall be a mighty warrior in thou own right." Athanasios was only half aware that his blessing was not just words, but also a gift to her. He returned the babe to the weary mother, who smiled at him with tears of gratitude in her eyes. he kissed her head and said to her, "Be at peace, daughter, thine child is healthy and whole."

While Athanasios worked on the baby, Niciel kneeled down next to the woman who had given birth, raising a hand as she prepared to heal her with Pure energy. The energy slowly radiated from her palm to the woman's body, repairing the damage done during the labor. "You're going to be alright now," Niciel said softly as the woman recovered from the ordeal. The woman cradled her baby carefully in her arms, saying, "Thank you, kind strangers."

Athanasios's eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at the woman. "It is always my pleasure, sweet lady," he replied. "You are both very strong." He turned to Niciel.

"Shall we go, Lady Niciel?" he asked of her as he manifested a small ball of green light in his hands, one that turned into an exact copy of his first shirt, which he slipped over his head.

"Yes we shall," Niciel replied, getting up from the ground and leaving through the from door, looking back to make sure Athanasios was following her. "Where shall we head to now?"

"I do not know,' the white-blonde demigod shrugged. "This is the first time that I do not have to heal a lot of people. The mortals here must take very good care of themselves." Indeed, Athanasios could only remember stopping to heal then eating, sleeping and then healing when the next voice whipsered through his mind. The young demigod was a bit at a loss at to what to do, now, and the lack of whispers in his head made him feel oddly empty.

He turned a rather helpless look on the goddess who stood beside him.

Niciel chuckled a bit as she smiled. "Well, there's no need to rush," Niciel said. "As long as you search, you'll always find a goal. Let's keep wandering for a while." As she extended a hand towards Athanasios, however, Niciel's staff suddenly appearae in her hand, a blue light slowly flashing in the center of the cross. Niciel pulled her staff back in surprise, then sighed in disappointment. "Apologies, my Wisps are calling for me again," Niciel explained. "It seems I won't be able to travel with you for the time being. Allow me to give you a parting gift instead."

Firmly placing her staff onto the ground, Niciel concentrated, swirling energies colored pink, yellow, blue, and green together into a small ball. Intricate patterns began to appear on the ball, which then peeled off and revealed themselves to be four wings. The ball, completed, began to shine with a white luminescence. Its wings fluttered rapidly as it flew over to Athanasios. "A little companion to keep you company," Niciel said. Niciel then began to glow yellow, and with a flash of light, she was gone.

Athanasios smiled at the small, winged white ball and motioned towards his shoulder, indicating that it should rest there. The ball seemed to agree with a low pulse of light as it flew over and rested on his shoulder. It hummed with a low, soothing frequency, and the demigod felt a little light knowing he would not have to wander alone. He touched a fingetip to the ball and felt his finger warm up pleasantly.

"I shall call you Kasen," he decided. "Would you be okay with that?" The ball-Kasen-hummed in agreement. Humming, Athanasios decide to find a small clearing to sleep in his stag form. He needed rest, for even demigods need to sleep and regain strength.



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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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The Orphan


A roaring sound around a young head started the night with horrifying screams and rushed noises filling in the rest. It was a night raid, the watch hadn’t seen it coming nor any of the clansmen who were supposed to be keeping watch, now with slit throats to relieve them of their duties. Bandits had always been a menace to this small town on the edge of Amartía’s little empire, ‘deserters to the cause’ loyalists called them. Yet, these bandits grew more and more aggressive with each passing moon, more desperate, and then this happens.

“Lilith, get the baby!,” a wheezing voice coughed out, earning loud footfalls to the ground within a couple’s small hut.

A small nest made for one human baby, a baby now with an arm engulfed in flames. Her lungs worked loudly, pain wracking her arm, the worst pain that she would ever feel in her life. A woman shouted, seeing her child’s arm, reacting in a barbaric fashion by grasping her husband’s axe to lob of the arm of the child. It was a desperate attempt to save the child, yet abnormally fatal wound regardless for a child only a few months old.

Nonetheless, the mother had made the best decision she could in the situation. Now was the time to flee, the mother’s feet moving quickly across a ground riddled in blood and fire. Shouts, screams, and savage war cries surrounded the village, working to almost drown out the roar of the blazing fires. The raid seemed to be in no sides’ advantage, only bringing death instead of bounty or defense as the mother noticed a clansmen spear a bandit and a bandit beat a man with a rock. Everything was pure chaos.

The mother, frantically ran to a crowd of other fleeing people before her shoulder got caught by an arrow head, sending her tumbling to the ground as she clung to her child in an effort to protect her. A soldier ran by, spear in hand, to help the lady to her feet. An arrow then pierced her back, she knew it was a fatal blow and so she shoved the screaming child into the arms of the soldier, giving only one order, “Run.” That was the last she would speak, the last she would see her child.

The soldier ran, keeping the poor babe close to his chest as the survivors fled the small hamlet. This was the start of a hero’s tale.

---10 YEARS LATER---


The orphan sat against a wooden construct, staring at the ground in a rather depressed manner as was normal for her in recent times. No one to care for her, no one to remotely attempt to comfort her in these troubling times. She could see other kids playing a game, though she knew what would happen if she attempted to join in on their fun. As always, she would be outcasted, rejected, abandoned by all of the town.

She attempted to shift her arm into a more comfortable spot, only to be reminded that she had no left arm, only a shoulder with a stump. Only Fate would know how she had survived the night that would forever ruin her future. Her eyes went down to that stump and saw the burn scars, her mind only remembering fire and pain, suffering. Quickly, she turned away, dark locks falling in front of her face before her grass green eyes shut. Fear taking control of her mind, her breathing deepened.

It was not something a child should have to bare, but unfortunately it was forever her burden, forever her curse. The child may have lived with the handicap for all her life, but she had never once grown used to it, a curse. What was worse was that she did not understand why she had to lose her arm, why not one of the others who deserved? She had developed a pessimistic view of the world, nothing would ever go her away.

Then everything seemed to stop, or at least her mind seemed to focus on one thing, a silence growing over the town. Her eyes opened and looked up to see a large figure approaching her, a darkened, feminine figure of scale and pain. The being stood in front of the child, uncertain, yellow eyes on what would have been a distinguished face.

”What is your name, child,” the beast stated, crouching down to the child, still towering over the ten year old’s frame.

”Orphan, at least that’s what I am” the child stated, tucking herself into a ball by bringing her knees to her face. Who are you?,” Orphan asked in return, her eyes studying the beast in front of her,

”My name is Keriss, a child of the gods. I am here to help you, forgotten child,” the beast said before tapping the child’s forehead with her thumb. A small black mark was left, her hand went to touch where Keriss had poked her, but Keriss’ hand stopped the child. Soon, the child felt something tickling the stub of where her other arm used to be, gaining curiosity from the small child who desperately looked down to see little bits of ash cling to her and form into something along the stub. After a moment, an arm had formed, and the orphan could feel for the first time since she could remember. [color=green]”I know you have been in pain. I know you have been forgotten. I understand you. I shall return soon, for now enjoy yourself.”

Within the blink of an eye, Keriss was gone and within her wake she left a small gray cloak for Orphan. With her new arm, Orphan grasped the cloak and brought it close, her mind raced with thoughts but she felt something. Her green eyes went up to see that a crowd had gathered around her, looking upon her.

Orphan stood, sliding her back against the wood construct behind her, gazing back at the crowd before putting the cloak on. She felt something emanating from her very soul, a feeling that she did not often feel, the feeling of pure happiness. Yet it was not meant to be as the crowd began conversing in a hushed tone, debating on what to do with Orphan.

“We cannot keep her around! “

“She is chosen, we must throw a feast!”

“Is she real?”

Meaningless questions and demands arose around her, she did not know what to do, but she did not want to be around when they decided what to do. Orphan went to raise her hands to her ears, wanting to block all the noise, she wanted to escape. Then, her body began to feel as if it had begun to creep, her eyes opened to see the sky. Confused, the girl looked around to see herself accelerating into the air, the ground very quickly moving away. What was more confusing, as well as panicking, was that she was surrounded by a thin layer of ash.

Orphan let out a shrill scream, and with the scream the layer of ash disappeared and she began to descend. She began to scream continuously as the ground and the village began to approach her at rapid speeds. She covered the view and closed her eyes only to feel that wind seemed to have slowed around her, earning her curiosity. As she opened her orbs, the child saw that the layer of ash had returned and slowed her fall, 'twas a strange thing. Unable to tell if it was the cloak the Demi-goddess left behind or some new found powers, Orphan looked around before she was gently set on the ground, just outside of town.

Shock and confusion ran throughout the girl, breath quickening as she look around her before running away from the village, wanting to have a quiet place to think. So she ran and ran, minutes passed before tripped and fell onto the ground her face buried into the dirt. Orphan refused to move, she needed to think about what was happening. She had an arm, something she never had for a long time and a cloak which had almost killed her but saved her. It was all caused by that woman who had come to her just minutes earlier, Keriss. Her name was definitely not one she knew of, especially when it came to divine beings, though she did not know much on the subject apart from the God-King that ruled over her home.

After a moment of composing herself, the girl got to her feet and let out a long sigh as she moved the blackened cloak around her form. She looked around, the village was no longer bothering her and that was a good thing, but the silence was unnerving. Orphan continued to turn, studying her surroundings before a black wispy shape caught her attention, a stream of ash moved through the trees, seeming to circle her. Before long it seemed to charge her, the girl backing up before turning to run once more. Though, the stream was already in her path and it formed a feminine shape, Keriss.

”I am disappointed you did not stand your ground,” the woman stated, looking down upon Orphan with a neutral expression. Crossing her arms, Keriss flicked her tail back and forth, studying the forgotten child. [color=green]”Though I am surprised that you managed to activate the cloak’s power so quickly. Were you under stress or felt unsafe?,” asked Keriss in a curious tone, beginning to circle the child, hands clasped behind her back. As she continued to survey the small one.

”Y-yes” Orphan answered, straightening her back as Keriss studied her.

”Interesting. The cloak is meant to keep you safe and will shield you from harm and allow you to fly away from any threat that you may come across. Perhaps I should train you on how to control it, bind it to your will,” Keriss mused, before stopping in front of the child once more. The demi-goddess’ form seemed intimidating and the nervous expression that came upon Orphan’s face showed it. ”Why do you have that look on your face?,’ the ashen one questioned, eyes narrowing.

”I, ugh, don’t know,” Orphan stated, her gazing going down to her feet, not wanting to be judged by the woman. She was scared and confused, her mind unable to fully grasp what was going on, but not wanting to question it in fear of being chastised. Movement from Keriss earned some of her attention as the demi-goddess stood directly in front of the child.

”Look at me.” Orphan did not look up. ”Look at me!,” she growled, the child finally looking up out of fear. ”I do not wish to scare you, or harm you. However, failure to listen will result in punishment. I will teach you how to survive and defend yourself. Understand?”

The child nodded, holding back tears of fright as Keriss’ demeanor completely frighten her. Luckily the woman turned away before instructing Orphan, ”I will not tolerate weakness.” A moment of silence came upon the two. ”I shall take you to Xerxes, there I shall be able to watch over you better.”

And so the child was whisked away from her old life and into the tortuous new one that Keriss had in store for her.




Upon arriving at the ruined city, Orphan was immediately beset by the buffeting winds of the storm and the difficulties of breathing with all the ash fluttering about. Luckily, the cloak compensated and formed a face wrap around the child’s nose and mouth. It was definitely a strange sight to the girl, especially the ruined building of the Cipher. Orphan gazed upon the outline in awe, her eyes widening at the marvel that was the building. Though she was not able to gaze upon it long before Keriss ushered Orphan forward, out of the storm and into the ruins.

Once inside, she was greeted by a sweet and savory aroma, one to which brought about memories of pleasurable countenance. Orphan stopped for a moment to take it in, a light smile coming to her masked face before Keriss ushered her forward. The child looked up to the demi-goddess, a mask of neutrality clear on her face. She looked forwards once more, gravitating towards Keriss, sticking close to her in this foreign land.

Soon, they entered a massive hall shaped like a rectangular box that faced east and west. Seven windows lined the northern wall of the vast chamber, reaching from floor to high ceiling and standing nearly an arm span in width, filled with glass as clear as crystal and strong as stone. Another seven, identical in size and proportion, lined the southern wall; the two marching in a line to the west where two massive metallic doors formed the chamber’s western wall.

Thick carpets covered most of the cold metallic floor, hiding the polished marble beneath layers of beautifully dyed wool and silk, except for a broad pathway that stretched from the massive doors, chiseled from rich silver granite inlaid with golden motifs of the sun, to the hand-carved throne.

The throne, carved out of precious black oak fitted so seamlessly together it appeared as a single piece of wood, was made to fit a giant with its great proportions, raised onto a slight dais to overlook the vastness of the carpeted throne room. Most visible was the throne’s high back, cushioned in thick pads of stuffed leather dyed royal crimson and stitched with silver triangles

To complete the regal structure, the over large arms and deeply set seat were also covered with padded leather dyed a dark blue, worked with eyed-triangles. The four curved legs set beneath were thick and sturdy, carved to resemble the paws of a lion, the most powerful and largest of the species. It's suggestion made clear that it's owner's power was absolute.

She was now stuck in front of what she assumed was an overly lavished palace. Endless shades and facets of color littered the palace and yet, it all made it breathtakingly beautiful, noteworthy, perfect. At that last thought her mind and body tensed. Nothing was ever perfect. Perfection was a distraction that pulled many to infinite traps. They would not pull her to her own doom any time soon.

"Welcome!"

A voice, just as heavenly and beautiful and ever colorful as the world she now resided in. She was immediately on guard. Perfection was a lie.

"Keriss, you didn't tell me we where having guests. Come now child. Surely you can relax in my presence."

There was an aura of contentment around him, it told her to be lax, to accept what was to come. Though she refused to relax, remembering Keriss warning on showing weakness and relaxing in a foreign environment might be one of them especially one seeming this perfect. Instead, Orphan moved herself to be standing behind Keriss, peeking her head out to look for the source of the voice.

"Drop the facade, brother," Keriss said with her standard attitude towards the voice, annoyance.

The beautiful demigod seemed to pout."Come sister, can't I have my fun? It's been so long since we've had mortal guests and you've been getting distant of late."

”No, you are not having your fun with Orphan. I have simply come to introduce you two as I am taking her under my win,” Keriss stated, crossing her arms as she looked down at Orphan.

The demigod chuckled. "Please, we're siblings Keriss, and siblings share things." Keriss only grunted. ”Orphan, this would be Amartía, my brother.”

The girl's eyes widened at the notion that this was Amartía, the God-Emperor of her homeland. Though she was unaware of how to properly introduce herself to royalty, let alone a demi-god, she did a curt bow showing her arms, tugging up the bottom of her cloak. This earned a slight sigh of disappointment from Keriss, who simply shook her head. Thus, Orphan looked up at the reptilian one wondering if she had done something wrong. She tucked herself back into her original position gazing at Amartía.

The Vice demigod laughed. Really laughed, the voice made the girl shiver at it's cold bite and warm tones. She tensed ready for anything. The beautiful demigod chuckled more, then stopped and gazed into the young girl's eyes, speaking to Keriss all the while.

"You truly are a marvel aren't you little one? Sister, I'm quite impressed. I never thought you'd find yourself such cute little friend. While your naming skills are lacking, I'm sure she'll flourish under your tillage. The God-Emperor paused."My only fear is…."

Both Keriss and Orphan waited for him to finish his statement, giving an expression of having a raised eyebrow if Keriss possessed one to raise. "Go on enlighten me on what your fear is. I bet it's an irrational one,” Keriss mused, wanting to hear whatever it was that Amartía’s little fear would be while Orphan simply listened to the two.

The demigod shook his head in what seemed to be disappointment. "...that you'll go on to raise her so she'll end up just like you. Soulless and suffering, and it seems she's already received a lifetime of that." Amartía said in a gentle, soothing voice. It sounded as if he was genuine.

”You say that as if it is a bad thing. Besides, pain builds character. I will make her strong,” Keriss stated, looking down to the child before back to her brother. "And look where that got you." Amartia remarked smoothly, gesturing towards their surroundings. ”Say goodbye, Orphan, I shall show you to where you will be staying for a bit,” the demi-goddess said before turning and walking towards one of the hallways of the Cipher. Though the child hesitated, not wanting to leave but not wanting to upset Keriss either. Her eyes went to Amartía for a moment, seeming to wonder what to do.

The demigod of Excess thus gave her a smile so genuinely sweet that unexpected warmth rushed through her. "Go on, me and Keriss need to speak in private. Feel free to explore the grounds while you're here." Amartia cooed, shooing her away with his hand.

Thus the little girl went and followed her new guardian through the halls of the building and into a large room with a singular, large bed in place. It's decor was no where close to the level of perfection that the throne room had, very lacking in most aspects of comfort or hospitality. Granted, it was still a lot better of a situation than what she was used to and she couldn't help but have a small smile at the sight of somewhere remotely comfortable to rest.

”This is where you shall rest, if you need anything do not be afraid to call for me as I shall be close. Just do not go to Amartía. Now go and sleep for you shall have training tomorrow,” Keriss commanded, before the door shut behind Orphan. While it was not the best arrangement, it could be a lot worse. However, the child was not tired nor was it night when they had arrived in Xerxes, odds are she would go exploring once she situated herself.

Taking off her cloak, Orphan walked to her bed and put the gray object there before walking around the dull room, tracing the wall with her own gray arm. Her face was a curious one as she strolled around the room, wandering and wandering around until she had lapped the room at least five times. Perhaps she could make it better with time, unaware of the coming battle.




Keriss strolled back to Amartía’s throne room, arms behind her back and her standard face of neutrality showing. She stopped at the entrance of the throne room, perfectly content with where she was standing, unwilling to move closer towards her brother. ”You wished to speak with me, brother?” The demi-goddess stated in a form, emotionless voice as her eyes studied the form of her brother. Her tail swished from side to side, showing how much she would be paying attention to the conversation that she did not want to be a part of.

A sigh fluttered on the winds like a butterfly decorated with a perfidy amount of colours. It carried with it the weight of exasperation and disappointment, seemingly common emotions for the demigod when in close interaction with her. "Keriss, what do you think you're doing?" he breathed.

The demi-goddess remained silent for a moment, arms crossing as she began to run her upper arm and sighing. The subject was not one she was completely comfortable with, thus not one she wished to converse with, especially with the like of Amartía. After a few moments of her silence, she answered in a light, cracked voice, ”It is none of your concern, Amartía.” Keriss looked down for a moment, unpleasant memories coming to mind as she attempted to find a way to get of the subject.

Amartía remained silent. Yet his eyes beguiled a veil of genuine concern.

”Go on, Keriss. Tell him how you murdered a newborn,” a voice said, ringing in her mind, though Keriss refused to acknowledge it. Though, the hallucination knew it had struck a nerve when Keriss forced her eyes shut, attempting to think clearly. ”Next you are going to say that you did not want to kill him. You know the truth, Keriss. You killed him because you did not want anything to do with him. You could have let him go, let Kri’Tal live, but you chose to kill them all,” the illusion mused, mocking the insecure demi-goddess who now fell to her knees and gripped the side of her head.

”You wanted them dead, desired it! You are nothing but a killer, Keriss! A destroyer! What would your parents have thought?,” with the last quip, the voice knew it had broken Keriss for she started sobbing. To Amartía it would have looked as if Keriss had just broken down and cried, though it was much more than that, at least to the pained demi-goddess.

”I didn't want to kill him! I didn't want to kill my child, my son! Yet, this feeling- it came over me. I couldn't control myself,” sobbed Keriss who buried her eyes in her hand, desperately attempting to bring herself back into one being. It was too now avail as tears from all the pent up guilt flowed out at once, a dark time finally showing its marks on the divine mother. ”I thought she could replace him. I thought maybe it would make my pain go away, something to alleviate the guilt!,” she continued in a cracked voice, her answer coming, nothing but honesty and regret.

Amartía was suddenly next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her close to his bosom. The arms that held her were soft, yet strong. The hug was a simple enough gesture - affection, perhaps the fragile beginnings of familial love. Yet, a love like this was to be cherished. All the while the gesture shocked Keriss, her eyes widening and arms falling to her side over feeling Amartía doing something to attempt to comfort her. She did not return the gesture, merely gazing at her brother and listening to him, tears continuing to flow with the occasional slight whimper. "Ah Keriss, this must be difficult. One can only imagine the pain you feel. Yet, you must think, was it all within your control?" he said gently. ”I don't know anymore,” the pained one answered, not entirely knowing the course of her actions at the time, but she knew what she had done.

"Keriss, you have an eternity to spend in this universe. A universe stuffed full of untapped sensation and pleasure. What you feel is yet another facet of that treasure trove of experience. So Keriss, you must embrace it. Embrace your guilt and face it. Cry with all you have. Experience this." he continued, gesturing towards her. Thus, she did allowing her feelings to run free, allowing tears to come as her brother embraced her. Her guilt and sadness all coming out at once, experiencing the very feelings that she had attempted to conceal for all her time since then.

After several minutes passed, Keriss seemed to calm down, not having anymore tears to shed nor the feeling to allow her to continue lamenting. It took her longer to shift out of Amartía’s embrace, looking down with a now expressionless face before eventually acknowledging her brother. ”I thank you brother, comforting me in a time of need,” Keriss said in a tired voice, ”But now I wish to be alone.” With that final note, Keriss’ form shifted into ash and slowing moving out of the Cipher, back towards the dark caves under Xerxes so that she may think. Yet, for this, she would be ever grateful.





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The conversation over the campfire had stretched unaccountably into the night.

"You realise that azibos don't lay eggs like hain, right?" Polia was frank as ever.

Conata's mind was only half in it. She couldn't remember how they reached this topic.

"Yeah," she admitted. "It just makes me wonder. Choukkud said I was dug out of a geode in the earth, that's like an egg, right?"

The dim night made Ruvac and Gio hard to see a distance away, skinning a goat.

"Right, but you asked about your mother." Polia flourished her palm out. "I can't speak for how your kind works, Connie."

Conata laughed. "I meant to ask whether my mother would look like a rovaick or a hain. Or a djinn, that's another possibility."

"I don't think djinn lay eggs either, Connie."

"Gods, then!" Conata spread her arms. "Let's just say my real mother is a god. Do gods lay eggs!?"

Polia angled her head down, peering up at Conata with a smile.

"What?"

"Are you saying that your godly mother is like a hen?" Polia's face dropped. She lifted her head, sniffing at the air.

"What? I didn't ask about that. I...what is it?"

Polia stood up. "We have to leave."

"Why?"

There should have been more warning. The suddenness threw the situation into a dark pool of dread faster than Conata had time to panic.

A wash of daylight illuminated the rocky night. Silent heat pushed down. An instant passed. The air roared into a white fire. Conata squinted her eyes against the intensity as it stripped ashen chunks from Polia's body and evaporated them like steam. Polia opened her mouth to scream. No sound. Polia's skull burnt into view. The last of her flesh boiled off until only an Azibo skeleton stood. Red streams wept from Polia's flaming, empty eye sockets.

No sound came from Conata's mouth. She just burned. She smelled the roasted, charred remains in the air. A blue, flaming figure to her right floated down into view. Gio and Ruvac were but piles of steaming bones behind it.

Conata itched and looked down. Her hand, bright Selenium, was melted off to a glowing stump. The side of her chest had opened in a smoking, empty cavity. She couldn't breathe with her lungs melted out. Her liquefied navel ran over the dirt.

The realta reached out. It glowed brighter.



A shuddering breath filled Conata's lungs. A blue tinge gradient faded to black in her eyesight; her arm in the moonlights, close to her face, hot magnesium. Her heart was a punching fist, nearly bruising the inside of her chest. She breathed in again and yelped, clutching her sore side.

"It's okay, Connie," Polia's tired, yet still unburnt, voice grumbled out behind her. "You've had another bad dream. You're safe, okay?"

"Huh?" Conata's rational mind fought its way to sense. She propped herself up on one arm and rubbed her eyes, humiliated. Her magnesium skin clouded into aluminium. "I wasn't thrashing around again, was I?"

"You were. Look around you."

Conata lifted her hand from her face. The movement sounded gritty tinks at her sides. All around her bedroll were gathered lumps of metal. She sighed, cutting herself short to press her hand against the side of her chest again. "Ah! It still hurts," She hissed. "Damn it, Aeramen hit like no troll ever did."

Ruvac snored loudly. He was a heavy sleeper. Gio, however, stirred at their voices. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, I just..." Conata trailed off. She reached to grab the one lump of metal that hadn't moved in her sleep; the adamantine crystals. She stared into its reflective facets.

Polia continued. "This is the third nightmare you've had since we left Blackhammer Crater. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really." Conata focussed on the crystal cluster in her hands. With some strain, she willed it into the air. The adamantine hadn't become any more compliant since the last time she tried. Still, she made the effort to move it around every now and then, especially when she needed to calm herself.

"Well, tell us if you do, okay?" Polia rolled over to get more sleep.



The following day had a certain tension to it. Gio, Polia, and Ruvac were, for once, not the slowest members of the group. Conata was forced to take intermittent breaks while the pain in her side passed. Granted, the strike against her side had not left a mark and Conata was never tired at the worst of times. She was merely injured.

"Okay, I think I'm ready to keep going." Conata pushed off from a large standing stone and walked ahead. The others followed.

"Have you been hurt like this before, Conata?" Ruvac asked.

"No," she answered immediately. "I mean...I've gotten hurt before, but never anything like this. Never anything-" She winced, clutching her side as some mercury wended around her arm. "Never anything that stayed for more than a day." The mercury likely swam more around the source of the pain itself. If it was, it remained obscured underneath Conata's new rough hide clothing.

Polia never had much respect for avoiding problems. "We had better be more careful in future. If that djinni lord can hurt you, we might not be so lucky with the next danger that comes our way."

Conata looked back at her. "What? We were fine. It's just a bruise."

"Connie, don't give me that overconfident crap." Polia crossed her arms. "We got real close back there at the crater."

"Were you scared?" Conata smirked.

Polia frowned. There were few occasions where Polia would allow a slight to pass. This was one such occasion. "Yes," she said flatly. "I was. Everyone was. And I think you were, too."

Conata laughed. The iridescence on her skin had flecks of some grey metal. "You need to stop worrying so much. Let's just keep going. Chances are, Aeramen was the most threatening thing for ages around."

Polia released a frustrated sigh. Gio and Ruvac exchanged looks. They silently hiked on.



Another two weeks passed. Fortunately, Conata's injury faded to the point of dull aches. They were making better time again, up until now.

A more precarious part of the mountains left the group with poor footing. There was no talking, likely because of the concentration they each had to put into their footfalls. It only brought the awkwardness of Conata's overconfidence to new heights.

A misjudged pile of scree brought it down a step.

"Woah-OAH!" Everyone's attention snapped to the sliding gravel. Conata's foot sank and brought the rest of her selenium-skinned body down with her. No quick readjustment came in time as she struck the slope on her side, sliding. She slid to a stop on her front with her hands grasping at the gravel above. Her eyes bulged.

"Damn it!" Ruvac cursed in fear. "Conata, are you okay?"

Not a dangerous fall. Even without her metallic veneer, she would have suffered only a few grazes. Her friends still stepped down to help.

Polia reached a hand under Conata's arm. Conata swiped it off. "Don't help me up!" Fire stung in the words. Realising herself, Conata lowered her eyes and voice. "Don't...I can get up. I'm alright."

From belly to knee, from knee to feet, Conata stood up with her friends furrowing their brows.

"Sorry, I wasn't paying attention," Conata said, rubbing her eye with her tin knuckle.

"You're tired," Gio observed. "It's those nightmares, isn't it? You're still having them."

Conata narrowed her red eyes. "I'm fine, Gio. It was just a fall."

"It's been making you grumpy as well. Don't take it out on Gio." Polia crossed her arms.

"Oh, just drop it and let's go!" Conata stomped back up the slope. "If the last village wasn't lying, we're getting close to Shalanoir. We shouldn't waste time."

Polia glared at Conata's back. She released a breath. They followed as before.



One day later, the group crested a rise and stopped. Ahead was a vast pool of lumpy green that cut the landscape between themselves and the towering northern Ironhearts further ahead. Orange stains on the canopy tops reflected the light of the setting sun, casting opposite pockets into black lightened by grey fog.

Trees, they had seen. Forests, they had spotted. Here, they beheld a jungle.

It was a milestone, to be sure. And yet, Conata's mood had darkened them all to silence. Where Conata would be the most ecstatic at such a new sight and a mark of progress, she instead looked down and kept walking, copper-faced.

"Come on, it'll be dark soon. We should set up camp for the night," she mentioned passionlessly.

They found a suitable area a short distance ahead. A relatively flat outcrop that levelled with the middle of the start of the treeline. Down here it was foggy and chokingly humid. And that was to mention nothing of the warmth. They set up quickly and didn't bother covering themselves with their blankets. Fortunately, they were just high enough to feel a gentle breeze over the stone.

"We're going to sleep, Conata. Don't stay up too late, okay?" Polia called out. Conata had seated herself a few paces away, facing the jungle and staring down at the adamantine cluster in her hands. She responded with a barely acknowledging hum.

She was concentrating. Conata's arms tensed. "Come on," she quietly growled at the cluster. She pressed her iron lips together and breathed in slowly. Her chest tightened in effort.

The cluster didn't budge at all.

She let out her breath all at once. "Useless!" She shouted, throwing the adamantine crystals to one side.

She couldn't hide that from her friends. With her eyes closed and covered by one frustrated hand, Conata heard footsteps approach. She brushed her wiry hair away and looked up at the figure that the moons lit.

Polia was standing over her with crossed arms. A broad frown defined her mood. "First the nightmares, then the clumsiness, now this. Is everything alright, Connie?" Polia's stern tone was having none of Conata's brushings-away this time.

Conata's lips pressed together. Tin swam in veins across her skin. She turned her head to look at the adamantine crystals. They had chipped off some of the stone they landed in. "I'm fine, Polia." She reached and palmed the cluster, straining herself to lift it with her powers. "It's just this stupid metal. I can't even raise it up in the air anymore."

Polia fidgeted. "Something's gotten into you, you know? You've not been the same since Blackhammer Crater. I think you should talk to us about it."

"Polia, I said I'm fine!" Conata spat. "We're all fine! The pain in my side went away."

"Conata, weren't you afraid? We were afraid."

Dull iron flushed up Conata's body. Grasping the adamantine, she rushed to her feet and grabbed her bag of metals. She didn't so much as look at Polia.

"Where are you going?" Polia glanced between Conata and Gio, confused.

"I can't concentrate when you keep doubting me like this." She answered. "Leave me alone, I want to practice with this adamantine until I get it right." She strode away.

"Connie! Hold on- wait!" Polia leapt into a trot in turn. "Hey!" She pointed, angry. "This isn't about you and your abilities, it's about being smart! We could have avoided that fight! We were so close to being dead! And you could have died, too."

"Shut up!" Conata spun to a stop on her heel. "You're just fearful! Gio, you knew we could take them on, right!?"

Looking small in his bedroll a distance away, Gio's mouth hung open. His eyes were wide from the sudden attention, though his voice remained gentle as always. "Conata, honestly, I was scared as well." He placed a hand on his chest. "I agree with Polia on this one, something has changed about you."

Conata threw her head back and growled. She faced them with a look of pure disgust, wiry iron hair flaring. "If you two are all going to give up so easily, why are you even coming out this far!?"

"Stop pretending! You aren't invincible, Conata!" Polia shouted back. "You aren't fearless!"

Ruvac was awake at this point. Polia's raised voice was not something he could sleep through.

"Says who!?"

"Says the mess you were after the Blinding Purge!"

They stopped, stern. The campfire hissed and exhaled a fistful of short-lived sparks.

Polia jabbed her pointed finger towards Conata. "You saw one of those things. It would have killed you if Majus hadn't saved your life and you know it."

Conata stared Polia down. The campfire wood made the air smell awful tonight. She didn't want to think about it.

"We all know how you felt, because I was there, too. Everyone lost someone."

Conata blinked. Polia's face was a charred skull behind her eyelids. She had to blink again to see that it was just pale moonlight.

Polia took cautious steps forward. Her eyes were glistening. "And you saw it." Her voice faltered. "That thing that burnt everyone." She laid a hand on Conata's shoulder.

Conata's breath quickened to hyperventilation. She needed to find space. She needed to run. Everything smelled awful.

Polia's tone softened. "Look, just because-"

"Leave me alone!" Conata's words came out a shriek. She shoved Polia away. Polia stumbled and regained her footing. Gio stood to assist her. "I was not scared then, I am not scared now!"

In the face of Polia's look of shock, Conata spun and sprinted off into the dark.

The smell of the campfire followed her. She ran as hard as she could with only her metals and her lump of adamantine. It was too warm tonight. The ashen smell was horrible.

All the pale rocks looked like they had weeping red eye sockets, gazing at her. Judging her. They stank of the ash.

Conata couldn't get her lungs full, no matter how much she breathed in. She couldn't concentrate on where she was going, only that she was going. The air was so thick.

A minute later told her to stop and stand in place. She had to calm down. Staring into the dark distance saw nothing. Not even a trace of life. The adamantine cluster weighed her arm down.

She looked at it. She willed it into the air. It didn't move. It was heavier than ever.

She kept pushing against it. The smell and the heat pushed in on her. She kept pushing against the metal. Her fingers hurt with how tightly she was grasping the cluster.

It didn't move. Her arms rusted and her shoulders hurt. She collapsed to her knees.

She wished she could hug Choukkud and Wutni.

Conata didn't even attempt to count how long it was before she decided to head back to camp. It was a long time. The moons weren't in the exact same place.

The others were asleep again. Except for Ruvac, who was on watch. He glanced nervously at Conata on her arrival and didn't speak.

Conata curled up in her bedroll. She tried her best to sleep. She was shedding tears before the night's end.

Someone else's sobs interrupted her sleep during the night. Only for a few moments.



Conata woke up to the morning light being brighter than usual. She had slept late. There were rustlings around her. She wondered why the others had not woken her up.

Sucking in a breath through her nose, Conata wiped the sleep from her eyes and sat up.

The others gave her a sad look. She looked back. They were standing, packed and ready to go. Their frowns did not speak of a good morning greeting whether it was coming or not.

Conata went to grey selenium. "What's going on?"

They paused. Polia's eyes wandered to the ground. "We're heading home, Conata."

Magnesium pitted all across Conata's body. The shock in her face hardly allowed any words at all. "...What?" She breathed.

"We just wanted to help you, Conata," Polia explained. "We wanted to see further than Rulanah. But ever since that djinni lord, you've been...angry. You pushed me..."

With Polia trailing off, Gio continued. "We spoke last night while you were away. We...concluded that we couldn't help you without risking our lives. If we walk into something like Aeramen again, we would die. You might die. And you're not listening to us, so we are leaving."

"But...you can't just..." Conata's pittings gave way to flecks of yellow rust. Her mouth hung open with nothing else that she could think to say.

"Are you going to come home with us, Conata?" Ruvac asked. He was just as grave as Gio and Polia.

Conata's fingers curled tighter around her blanket. The rust hardened to dark grey iron. She cast her eyes down to the smouldering campfire and pursed her lips.

The others looked expectantly at her.

"...Just leave," Conata hissed.

Ruvac looked to Gio, who looked to Polia, who was looking sadly at Conata. She turned, Gio turned, and then Ruvac turned. With shuffling steps, they quietly made their way back up the rocks, back the way they came.

Gio put his arm around Polia just as her posture broke down with an emotion lost to the distance between them and Conata. They disappeared over the crest.

Conata clenched her jaw. Her eyes went to that belligerent lump of adamantine at her side. She had to keep going. She wouldn't give up like they did.


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The Great Artisan, Divine Mason, Builder of Civilisations
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The gleaming white spires were visible for many a days walk in all directions. These spires, which had literally sprung from the ground, were now the crowning jewel of Loralom and the envy of Yorum. The Loralom Spires were the unmistakable mark of Toun. They signalled his material support for Loralom. While the surrounding nations marvelled at this wonder, pilgrims flocked to the structure. Some merely wanted to see the Spires with their own eyes. Some wished to pay homage to Toun. Others had heard that the Spires could grant enlightenment.

Among the pilgrims was one dressed as a craftshain, with a leather apron and satchel. Some might assume that he was a Chipper, although none recognised him. Regardless of his identity, this hain walked over one of the major bridges leading into the Spires. His beak turned slowly from side to side, his eyes taking in the incredible architecture of this holy site.

His walk took him to the central spire, Akol’s spear. The tall white point was held up on its ground level by pillars around its circular base. Each pillar delimited flowing porcelain archways that produced the telltale murmur of a hain crowd. Hundreds of pilgrims were gathered around the smooth floor around the tower. The Chipper had to stretch his legs almost straight to see over the heads of the crowd, only to see the entrances guarded by Loralom soldiers with maces and shields. Past them was a soft blue light that dominated the shadow indoors.

The soldiers, it appeared, were only present to keep the peace. Pilgrims filed in and out in a polite fashion through the archways, standing and quietly looking up at the light. Others lowered themselves to seat for a while. Some were dirty, some were clean. Well dressed and poor. All raised their palms at intermittent points. Their faces were akin to those lost in a desert, having just found a great blue oasis to cool their suffering. Immersed in that cool light, they were at peace.

The Chipper walked in with the other pilgrims, although he paid them only a small amount of attention. He walked slowly, circling the floor of the tower, and his eyes scanned the ceiling and walls to inspect the glowing blue stone and the myriad characters of Tounic calligraphy on the inside porcelain surface. Some characters were massive, the size of a cart, while others were so small as to be illegible to the naked eye from this distance. To most, these characters formed some strange, indecipherable script. To some of the local monks who studied the character closely and meditated on them, they may have determined the meaning of a small handful of these symbols. But this particular Chipper’s eyes betrayed an understanding beyond that, for his eyes were not enraptured or confused. He calculated.

The Loralom Spires was an unusual gesture for Toun. Toun used mortals as a means to an end, so this structure would have been no act of mere charity. Toun must have had a plan of some kind, a plan for a paradise most likely, and Loralom and these spires were somehow part of it.

This Chipper hain contemplated further. What might this paradise be? he thought. Perhaps a world where he and his siblings could create without fear of each other? Yet there was one who threatened that ideal, who would burn the world to a cinder and start over if given the chance. One who had said ’You are not a warrior. You do not breathe death as I do. You can only build.’

Then I shall build until I hold power which surpasses your own. When I have built, I will not fear you, but instead you will fear me, because-

Teknall caught himself. He shook out of that trail of thought. The distractions came while studying the calligraphy. And as he discerned the functions, he could see where these thoughts had come from. The characters, it seemed, exerted a subtle mental manipulation to construct fake memories of a better self and society. And the viewer’s greatest flaw. It explained the rumours of visions and prophecies from those who meditated under the Spire.

In addition to this, some of the calligraphy appeared to supplement godly perception which originated from the glowing blue stone, which confirmed the doctrine that Toun watches over the pilgrims in the Spire, and suggested that Toun was watching over much more than that. The rest appeared incomplete, but suggested some kind of interconnectedness, that there were meant to be others.

"What are you up to, Toun?" Teknall muttered.

The blue stone above Teknall grew brighter by just a few shades. Much of the meditating crowd 'aah'd at the change. Teknall knew better; Toun knew he was there.

While the pilgrims remained in their divine experience, Teknall heard a voice that cut through them all. "Planning." It jarred the serenity of the place with a familiar condescending mutter. "In fact, you have saved me some time by coming here, brother."

"Is that so? What did you wish to speak about, then?" Teknall replied to Toun. None of the hain around him even registered the conversation.

"Grave news," Toun intoned. "The return of a sibling. And what must be done in his wake." The flat statement was above the usual disdain Toun gave. "Unless you wish to sit with the hain around you for comfort, you may come to Cornerstone. This is...a family matter."

The return of a sibling? Zephyrion? Yet Toun’s tone suggested something more. What has he done?

Teknall replied. "I shall be there promptly."

Teknall turned and walked out from the nearest exit. As soon as no one was paying attention to him any longer, he vanished, and reappeared near the centre of the bright white expanse of Cornerstone. He gave a quick glance to the constructs being created around him, something which looked suspiciously like an army, before approaching Toun. His porcelain brother was standing patiently with his hands behind his robed back, looking back.

"I am here, brother," Teknall said. "Now tell me of this grave news."

Toun was as blunt as Teknall's request. "Zephyrion has fractured. He escaped Chronos by entering a realm of pure alteration. There, his essence split in twain. A piece of him reached me, and conveyed a memory most distressing." Toun's blue eye blinked. "Kyre was murdered."

Teknall was silent as the news sunk in. "Oh." Teknall’s hand reached up and pressed against his head. "Oh, Kyre. That’s dreadful." Teknall walked in a small circle, head bowed down in grief. "Why would Zephyrion kill Kyre? How could someone defeat Kyre?"

"Were you not listening?" Toun's acerbic side resurfaced. "Zephyrion was not the one who defeated Kyre. Something else did. I suspect it is another piece of Zephyrion, a different one to that which informed me, that...Aihtiraq creature. No, this shard was something dark. Something vengeant and hungry. It had a weapon. A greater weapon than has been raised by a god since we were born." Toun extended an open hand angled down towards Teknall's hain head. "Allow me to show you."

Teknall hesitated. Past experience was not in favour, and something inside him told him to keep his mind safe from others. Yet he trusted Toun. With appropriate mental guards in place, Teknall stepped forwards. Toun’s palm touched the top of his head. A nudge. Red symbols rushed and flooded his mind's eye until they coalesced into two figures.

One had a sword drawn. The armoured shape of Kyre stood defiantly. The other figure was a whirling shape of shifting shadows. The memory played in identical order to what Aihtiraq provided Toun. Shouts of retribution. A surge of power from a point of entropy. Kyre's essence evaporated in its fire. Little sense of time was preserved in the vision, and the red symbols threw Teknal back to reality before he could readjust his balance from the violence of it.

Toun's hand curled back around behind him. "It will kill again. I need your help."

Teknall’s eyes were wide. Not only from Kyre’s murder, but the horrific display of power involved in it. His eyes closed and opened. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words were forthcoming. He tried again. "The power in that black pearl of energy. It’s...frightening. We must find some way to contain it. Control it."

"Contain it?" Toun's brow pinched low. "You believe we cannot destroy it? It killed our brother!"

Teknall flinched, then stopped to think for a moment. "Ah, yes, destroying it would probably be better. Quite dangerous in the wrong hands. The trick would be figuring out how. Although the memory was vague about the pertinent details, it looked like some object of raw energy rather than a constructed device. Such an artefact would not be simple to destroy."

Toun's eye shut tight. His head angled half a turn away as a sigh escaped his non-existent nose. His own pause for thought could have just as likely been an effort not to chastise his brother. There was no justification to do so. "If it cannot be destroyed," Toun concluded. "It must be contained."

Teknall was not out of ideas. "While it might be difficult to destroy pure energy, it may be possible to transmute it. Convert it into a less harmful form, or possibly even invert it entirely. That would negate the destructive power of this weapon."

Toun's eye opened to Teknall. He seethed less now that there was progress. "We would need to steal it away first. Then study it." Toun pondered further. "This creature, this murderer. It must be punished as well. That must be resolved first. If I were to incapacitate the creature, with help against its abominable power, would it be imprisonable?" He asked. The thought of some act of revenge made his voice quiver with an anxious mix of emotions. "Killing any more gods is anathema to me. But greater anathema is allowing this one to kill in my complicity."

Teknall’s eyes narrowed in calculation. "A prison for a god..." He thought a while longer. "It would be difficult. Gods are powerful. Even if we had something strong enough, gods can travel through space and across dimensions at a whim. A dimensional prison of some sort would be the most likely solution, but it would require some truly mighty barriers to prevent him from leaving. I’d suggest the Gap, but throwing anyone there would be fatal. But, perhaps…I designed the barriers preventing things from leaving the Gap. Perhaps it might be possible to apply similar barriers elsewhere."

"A self-contained plane," Toun elaborated to himself. He turned on his heel and paced, talking at the tiled floor. "A barrier for each dimension, looping its change in position back into its origin. Trapping the contents." Toun stopped and turned his head across to Teknall again. "Can you build it?"

"Hypertoroidal space, nested recursively. Add a few barriers." Teknall paused as he considered it. "I'd need to do some extra research, but it sounds like it is within the realms of possibility. Jvan’s pretty good with manipulating the geometry of space. If she weren’t half-comatose, she might be able to provide useful input."

"Jvan need not be awoken. She has built a similar construct before, though dissimilar in design and purpose, from her own body. I have seen it. We have spoken to it."

Teknall took a moment to connect the dots in his head. "Chiral Phi."

"Quite," Toun confirmed. "But this prison should ideally not scurry off exploring its sentience. All we need is the prison so it may be hidden away. An artefact, not a mind." He straightened to face Teknall fully. "I need you to build this, brother. Focus your efforts. When you complete it, leave the creature's arrest to me. I have a plan."

Teknall nodded affirmatively. He then paused. Toun’s plan was vague, yet he appeared confident in it. As Teknall pondered this riddle, he looked around at Cornerstone.

Toun took no notice to his eyes prying around the fortress.

Teknall broke the silence. "I couldn’t help but notice that you seem to be building an…army here. Any particular reason?"

Curiously, Toun turned to survey the handiwork of the slave hain surrounding them. Each inanimate construct on the tiles was irrefutably built for combat. Toun answered as if it was a matter of course. "Do you remember, a time ago, when I mentioned working towards obtaining the Codex? This is one measure that I must take."

"Ah," Teknall said, understanding. "It wouldn’t happen to be linked to the Loralom Spire, would it?"

Toun's eye narrowed, though his tone did not change. "It may. In time."

"Hmm..." This hadn’t really answered the question, but it seemed that Toun had secrets of his own.

Still, the question of Toun's other machinations was an aside. Teknall still hadn’t figured out the riddle of Toun’s plan versus Kyre's murderer. He returned to the topic, and asked with a twinge of concern. "Are you sure you’re able to handle arresting this creature on your own? You saw what it was capable of."

"I shall not face it alone." Toun's confidence rebuffed any concern expressed towards him. "I will call upon another who is capable of much."

Teknall’s eyes narrowed. "Who?"



A slave hain working a distance away was distracted by the gods' conversation. He turned his oblivious eyes to the familiar shape of the hain in the apron. He really should have been finishing the ankle joint on the legionnaire, but...why was one hain out of place? Why did he wear that brown stuff? What is he doing so close to dear father?

Dear father said something. The hain in the apron staggered in place and stammered a response. Huh, looks surprised. Must be punishment. But dear father didn't look angry? There was a few more moments of conversation and then the hain in the apron turned and vanished.

Back to the ankle joint, then.


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You will go far, Jvan. My eyes are failing, but I can see it. Clear as day and sure as stars.

I know you mean well.

Just not... In the usual way...




The golden light dissolved like mist. Jvan passed through to the other side unwavering. She had seen this one before.

Left to her own devices under a cloak of death and char, there was plenty of time to explore herself, explore All-Beauty. There wasn't much else she could do. But that didn't matter much. There is no sudden stop to end the fall of those who dive into the lungs of Jvan.

Her awareness swept down sculpted tunnels and halls without floor, vast twisted spaces that led deep into the burrows of infinity. This architecture had grown without gravity, without plane of reference, and Jvan passed as a moment of self-awareness in the walls, a gasp in the rhythm of Cancer's breath.

There was no up, no down, no back, no forwards. Only depths.

What struck Jvan as she observed the still-growing abyss was how much of herself was her own craftsmanship. All-Beauty was the deity, the endless landscape, the scintillating fractal machine on which Jvan hung, a psyche on life support for eternity. She saw herself in intimate detail as she flew, a goddess with tubes in her veins and power quaking from each mechanical heartbeat.

She had built that machine. Every fold and furl could be traced through iterations without number until it all came back to her hand. There was an uncomfortably lonely sense of being lost in herself. Things were familiar even though she had never seen them before, had no memory of when she had made them or why. Déjà vu on and on and on.

Details flicked past in the corner of vision and were lost into shadow. Things she recognised, yet would have remained forever invisible to her were it not for Vowzra's illumination.

Right there. A tiny scratch, written into the wall of the organic cathedral, buried in a niche of flesh.

Jvan Tueda Nuul.

Her own signature, in her own hand.

When I had hands.

...

Pointless.

* * *


There!

A distant corner of Jvan steamed and cracked, solid tissue twisting and tensing into life. Her awareness focused, isolating her find in an impossibly vast cyst of cellular machinery, cocooned it and suspended it on tendons, an idol in the meat cathedral.

Jvan visualised a design and put it into effect. Flesh warped, bloods filled vessels, psychic ripples snapped into alignment, and her probes wrenched themselves from the walls.



The probe hovered easily into the gap left between exterior and cocooned prize. Others joined it in no particular formation, each a different shape. Jvan watched the light brighten before her.

There was no bubble surrounding each pocket dimension, no wall or boundary. You simply passed from one realm of Jvan to another as smoothly as beach gives way to desert, felt the grip of a new reality strengthen, the old one falling away like seawater from clothes.

The brightness resolved itself into features. Two suns in a pale sky, and many other stars also. Another shore, a real one, its only waves the ripples of flora pulsing smoothly in its center. It was ankle deep, a crust of finely gnarled chitinous rock jutting out over its surface, a puddle the size of an ocean. Little black nothings oozed rapidly to safety as Jvan passed overhead.

Everything seemed normal. Sane.

Jvan trailed a jagged limb over the ground and retracted it, tasting the world, tasting the weird. It was clear to her what had happened here. This had been one of the first pocket worlds to develop inside the newly scorched god. It must have sprouted in the chaos, seeds sown before the fight was even over. Little wonder whose aspect it had taken, then.

This was a place of Logos. Empty of gods, clean of corruption. A Jvanic Arcon.

Jvan catalogued it with the rest of the more unusual worlds that lay within her.

* * *


She found it hovering in the shade of a tubular tree, its deep indigo branches swept smoothly up and overhead like a storm-wave. A chip of fine porcelain, perfectly motionless, balanced on air.

Jvan approached it cautiously, wary of disturbing the thing. It had taken a long while for it to come to rest. A long, painful while.

For a while probe and shard just hovered there, faceless faces staring into one another. There was no point of reference for size outside of this place; The two seemed equally large. Maybe it had grown.

Jvan watched it and felt nothing. There was nowhere to go from here.

I'm tired, she realised. This world has worn me down.

How long had she been here, fighting, aching, creating? How many layers of scar tissue had built up over the tumour?

Wounds did not concern her. Anything that hacked new patterns into her flesh made her stronger. Toun, Vowzra, Logos, the Other... All-Beauty feared none of them. Nothing could purge the Cancer. Nothing could reach the asymptote, nothing could reverse the growth.

But Jvan was small and the world was rough. If Vowzra's light had taught her anything, it was that, deep down, she was not superhuman, not in the ways that could help her with this. She was just a child, a god maybe but still a child, enthralled by a world that exhausted her. Jvan looked back on herself and saw a life spent bruising herself on her family, playing with a planet so bright and beautiful that it blinded her to the vast gulfs beyond.

I've been on this rock too long.

Jvan reached out an arm to the shard and it vibrated like a harpstring, whining faintly. She pulled back again. A wrong touch would send it skittering into the depths again. Clink, clink, clink. That one bitterly familiar syllable.

What had she said to Toun in the factory? That she would rather create.

That she was tired of emptying.

The words came easily, as they had not done in many years.

"May Lightened Burdens fall woesome onto Waters of Thine Broken Yoke, o poorly wandered Cell of Echoes Heavy, and Sound Hollow in their Weight; yet Dying, freely Travel; and in such Sails carry more of Flying Voice than ever sacred Cargo left the Future..."

Jvan lowered a hand and made a sharp movement. Space poured into the line she'd drawn until Teknall's weakened barrier collapsed, and the rift writhed like a maggot. Jvan effortlessly picked up the brush with which she had become the Painter, and, reaching into the Gap, tore out its innards like rot from a fruit.

Things splattered into the alien landscape and were disposed of by her probes. Surgical violence dominated the landscape for several seconds as arcane vials were wrought and filled with malignant matter.

Still elbow deep in her garden, Jvan assigned numbers to the blank space in the Codex and marked its borders on the grid. The Gap crevice disconnected from its fellows and she gripped its inner edge, ripping the rift inside out as she extricated her arm with a yank.

Everything you have comes from me, Phi, she thought to herself, calm layered over glowing iron bars of determination. You are nothing but a shadow.

Jvan extended more arms and lifted the empty Gap crevice with psychic force, fingertips moving as if conducting a dozen occult orchestras at once. The polydimensional space fluttered like a ribbon under her grip, and, folding it to her liking, she ran it under the tip of the porcelain shard.

Reality screeched like needle on steel.

Jvan's hands whipped and the space refolded. Once more she ran it under the point. Then again.

Again.

Jvan worked the empty space until it was unrecognisable. By the time she was finished, the raglike strip of existence had been wrought from colour chaos, marked with linear measurements and glyphless units, into a darkened mass of symmetry.

The Engineer hovered before her work, watching the lightless mass slowly revolve in several directions at once, sharp semi-cubic angles intersecting and folding into each other with each new perspective. The probes watched silently as the first of their number disappeared into the void.

* * *


Incomplete absence became substantial. Almost. This was new. Unusual, unprecedented. True, anything would have been unusual and unprecedented, but somehow this was a novelty even more new, a strangeness even stranger than other things could ever have been.

But then, who - what - could be certain? There were neither certainty nor knowledge. Nor was there surprise at the sudden change into being. There had been a stirring, a shifting, a swirling in the half-formed emptiness which had in a way acknowledged the formation, but there was no intent behind it. Indeed, there was nothing behind it at all, since it was enough for the motion itself to be there.

Or perhaps not entirely. Shapes and colours flitted through the irregular vortex, drawn by it rather than forming it. Vibrant loops shifted into angles, then twisted back into multiple curves, dimly reaching for the opening that something of which they were a part had sensed.

Then there was mutilation. Something which was not of it delved within and tore the unstable whirlwind, tossing parts of its insubstantiality into the presence, where it withered to mere form. There was no pain, no struggle, no death, even. Only removal, brutal and expedite.

Change? Yes. But there had already been change. This was more.

Improvement?

Perfection?

Which perfection? And why perfection?

Completion of absence. Absolute void. Purity.

There was, if one could say was, nothing left. More precisely, a nothing. Strangely for a Gap, that section had never known such intense lack. It was as new as the seeping into being, as singular. As alluring. Despite having nothing, it had a draw. Not despite. The nothing was the draw.

And something was drawn. Though all had been ripped out from the emptied rift, there now was a breath of half-being. It certainly had not been there before, as for a moment nothing had been nothing. Nothing was truly still nothing. Otherwise, the semi-entity would not have been there now. Nor had it come from the presence around, since it distinctly was not of its kin.

But there it was, as the nothing remained nothing.

It did not watch or feel, wait or fear. It silently, immotely experienced the void.

Integrity of hollowness. Achievement of created unbeing. Void.

* * *


Abyssal.

No heat, no light, no matter, no underlying quantum fizz, no framework for existence other than that which she brought with her. Shielding the nonexistence from her presence with a field of self-annihilating space that curled in on itself as she moved, Jvan explored the recycled fragment of Gap.

Nothing, of course.

She stretched out a hand into the emptiness, relaxed her shield just enough to touch the void. Slow threads of colour splayed into the dark, humming into the silence. They curled and zipped and split at the ends, a tiny spark of somethingness that refused to fade into the night.

From void, creation. Just like she'd done in the womb of the world. If Jvan had eyes, they would have danced.

Jvan swept further into the void, faster, leaving the colours behind. She cast out her hands and more threads of vivid existence bloomed into the vacuum, resonating to the tune of the first. Again she flew, and again she punched bursts of reality into being from the nothingness, each time a new colour, embroidering a trail of chaotic patterns as she moved. And again! Until darkness itself becomes a colour!

She let the cloak of vacuum slip away and watched the emptiness around her explode into a canopy of moving, playing, interacting somethings.

"As ripples in a pool of nothing, so too do I disturb," she murmured, watching the very act of speaking stir new forms into the psychedelic growth encapsulating her. Then, folding fresh space around her once more, she left the tangled ball of lightless ambers and golds and indigos, watched it evolve and grow below her. There were yet more experiments to run.

Without touching the spaceless world, Jvan flexed into it, the psychic force of her motions flexing with her. Nothing changed. There was not yet any medium that could carry her will. There was only the colour which she had created, and that seized on her movement, breaking gently apart into coiled fragments. Existence moved, spinning around her, dissolving and reforming untouched. And the void moved with it.

It's as I thought, hummed the faceless probe, reality storming on all sides. Once there is context, emptiness ceases to be void. Nothing is simply the counterweight to something. Negative space, black glow, canvas left empty yet still part of the whole. Diversity begets reality.

And now that she had the light, the darkness was hers to control.

For a moment, as the chaos of new life and new ideas whirled inside Jvan, she thought of the vacuum beyond Galbar- Not as a waste, but an ocean to be sailed. And she saw freedom.

The void stormed on.

* * *


There was suddenness, and the void was no more. Scintillating dances of being swept over expanses that erupted into shapeless demilife to accommodate them. Scars of light and colour sliced across the hollow domain, bleeding in cacophonic song. Many-sided splinters of presence became one with their lack of surroundings as a force poured into the haven that the remnant of the rift had become. Impetus, strength which doomed the unmade.

As it had been with the tide flooding into entity, this was an instantaneous escalation of incredible porportions. Force was a misnomer for what had approached and brought itself into that which could not contain. Unsurprising, as there had never had been names nor the need for them. The force was necessity, command, mastery. It did not simply bring its attributes with itself, it sowed them into the incarcerated boundlessness, and made it become.

The presence that had not been was assailed by the change. Its suspension in absence was disassembled into progressively materialising pieces by the imperious shift. Those like it had no pain to know, not even in transition; but it was beset by the rebounding flares that harmed its void, hounded by the blindly exuberant evolution of new essence. Nothingness had called it, and the great something was repelling it.

It had to learn imitation of movement. A pale wraith of what could have been kinetic qualities surrounded it as a mantle, or it would have, had there been anything to surround.

It had to learn imitation of haste. Absence was being broken and reformed by the unthinkable combination.

It

Absence

had

Given

to

Shape

learn imitation of initiative. The draw alone was not enough, now that the void was collapsing.

It fled, further away from the disturbance. Further into what remained of the void. When there was no more distance, it cast off the specter it had mimicked, and it never had been. The contact had not come to the point of deprivation. But there was no contact. Purity was whole once more, and it was Oblivion.

* * *


An older, stronger Jvan finally let go of the nothingness. Scattered creations wriggled around her, barely existent and yet already taking on the organic forms that were her trademark, already evolving and consuming and replicating. She dove further into the void in her cloak of isolation, watching the colours thin and fade, wondering when, once more, she would pass into true emptiness.

Things flickered and became nothing but a distant speck behind her. The view in her face grew darker, and then-

..!

... Nothing. ...What was that?

Shock-tension still ricocheted through her. This plane was empty; She'd cleared it out, made it null. To cry out would be irrational, self-serving. There was nothing here.

Or maybe, she thought slowly, there is Nothing here.

"...Hello?"

Veins of unbeing flowed through the absolute emptiness, intertwining in imperceptible, impossible and unnecessary webs around the shrouded Presence as her word was ingested by the nonexistence. An illusionary vibration coursed through them, then ceased as aimlessly as it had begun.

No response came.

No response.

A buffet from nothing that could have been there, and was not there itself. Yet it was as much a something as its source. Light of life.

Source.

Which could, in some capacity, perform. At least, so it seemed. It could certainly have been.

Be.

Be? Perhaps. Be like that which had arrived.

Arrived

?


Interrogative, absence of knowledge, certainty. Absence. Jvan tensed in her cloak, gazing out into the darkness that surrounded her.

Given shape.

Or something similar.

A Nothing blindly hovered around her. It could not have hovered anywhere else, as she was the only point of reference. It could have been nowhere.

But it was around her, as well.

Around.

And around and around, murmured the responsive thought. Rotating absentmindedly as she did so, watching for the nothing that pressed against her. The sense that something was (wasn't) out there (nowhere) felt fragile, elusive.

Jvan didn't know what she was facing, or how it had come to be, and she was- quietly, dangerously- thrilled. She reached out of the hyperbola, a single thread of sunset uncurling from her fingertip.

"Shape," said Jvan.

More entered the emptiness from within the shrouded something. Light, colour. Shape. It would have pierced the void again, had it not been for the Nothing around and nowhere. The formlessness had not withdrawn as when the antithesis had first appeared. Then, it had fled the contamination which reached into the Gap it had found, but now? The void was pure, untouched by the new extrusion. Itself.

Self.

A self could be named. After the shape, perhaps. There had been a self before as well, but no name for it. Not even from inside.

No inside.

There had not been an inside. There still was no inside. There would never be an inside. Yet the shape was somewhere. It stretched on, shimmering and colourful.

To be the.

The sunset faded, as though its vitality had been drained into the nothingness. It was still there, wherever there it might have been. But it was of a dim, bleak grey.

reaching

The thread shattered into perfectly equal, even fragments. Twelve pits of desolate being.

The emptiness became grey, and the grey became emptiness. Twelve pits of void.

Arranged in two parallel rows. There was shape.

Will ?

Nothing returned to nothing. The fragments had disappeared.

Has been

given.


Absence given shape. Not for the first time.

Last.

Some time passed. Not very much, but a little. Jvan stared into the blank, and seeing only herself in the emptiness, tried to fit together what she knew. She felt watched, as the lone often do.

"There is response," she began, slowly. "I didn't think that annihilation would self-perpetuate." She floated, bobbed on a sea without a surface. "To destroy is a hollow thing, isn't it? One takes order, crushes it, forms chaos. But you- You are different."

Jvan trailed a faint fingertip through the not-space before her, threading an idle pattern, watching it grow pale and indistinct until it was no longer visible against the absence. "You are not destruction, because destruction isn't the opposite of creation. You are anticreation. I am Maker, you are Unmaker. The voice in the womb."

"And you," said Jvan, "are growing." She stopped. "Is that right?"

Growing. The unbeing was growing. It could grow. Would grow. Grow until there was nothing else, until there was nothing. Reduce form to the utmost lack. There would never be need for corrosion of the absolute in motion. Restore the completeness that never was. This would be, and nothing would be.

Right.

Wrong, thought Jvan.

No. Not this alone. Unmaking was not enough.

The shape had splintered, and become manifold. Being and unbeing in one, and none. Presence askew, sliding into negation. Being remade. Completion of disembodied finality. Integrity in the vacuous awareness.

One and two.

Both.

None.


Or was it itself? It basked in the void, but, in its unbeing, remained distinct. The void would grow. It would bask. All would bask, and cease being. Fill the Gap between the none and all. Not presence, nor absence. Between the two, the one.

Between.

"Shades of being," murmured the god, flexing her arms with a new forcefulness. From the distance, beyond the edge of perception, the nothingness began to contract.

"It's been some time since I found something new to explore," said Jvan. "And I'm nowhere near finished." The arms swept into a new pose, steepled and splayed. "But I think I know where you came from..." Folding again as if in dance. "...I cannot replicate you."

Each new position forced a pulse of psychic tension into the void, and beyond. They swept past the unbeing with a force of intangible concreteness. Breathed on it the solidity it had sought to escape. Apprehension spun through the twisting, pulsing expanse that was not there.

"And I do not think I can keep you."

The cloak of misalignment itself was dancing in the breeze of Jvan's power. Filaments of lime-acid reality began to bloom from nothing. They shone. They consumed. Like razors, they invaded.

Presence tore through the hollowness, fragmenting it into suddenly appearing dimensions. Shards of measure struck into the formerly spaceless, anomalously perfect incompleteness. It was worse than the menace to its void, before which it had withdrawn. It had never been touched by shades of form and matter. Never perceived them from so close a distance, if distance there already was.

Not then. Just as it had begun to know potential, torturous intrusion had followed. That which would not fill the Gap would be shattered before it could even form its purpose. Time was approaching to bring the premature end.

Not to be. Torn segments of it reverted into the urge before the aim. Absorb all. They vibrated ravenously, lashing out with the taint of grey uncreation. But to no avail. The dim waves fell back onto themselves.

"You are not destruction," said Jvan, her fingers tightening unbidden. "You are so much worse."

The god-arms whirled, and the void liquefied before the hurricane in the abyss.

"B E G I N !"

All-Beauty's probe exploded into burning breathing chaos, incinerating the hood that had protected the void from God. Jvan unleashed herself upon the darkness, creating and over-creating like the cancerous warp she was.

Existence flared. The night began to crack with dawn.

Jvan was everywhere and she was All, and she watched the shuffling polygonal void from within and without, holding it in the shade of a tree on a jagged shore. It spun between her pinched fingers as if suspended on a string. It came apart like folded paper.

The outer probe watched perfect edges slowly slip away from each other. There was a long moment when it seemed content to watch. Then, as if it had all the time in the world, it lifted a delicate hand and reached into the dark.

Something took it.

* * *


I did not do what I did out of some sense of duty, much less guilt. What is over will remain so. I regret not what I have built, nor what I have broken.

For that is what I did, when the Hollow One was born. I did not create the creature that emerged from the Gap. I broke it. What lives now is not what I encountered when I first ventured into the void. It is a work of art. My art. My flesh.

My firstborn son.


* * *


The shard of perfection thrummed as the spherical probe approached it, its fellows swarming in the background. Jvan worked and Jvan stared into the porcelain, as if hoping to catch a reflection. Of herself. Of the chaotic scene behind her that was also herself.

I will find you again, some day, she thought.

Then she pulled her arm back and lashed out.

Reality screamed on the edge of the shard, forcing strange mutations that scythed apart the hand that dare touch it; And Jvan cringed, but she had taken far worse pains than these.

The shard did not split easily and Jvan gripped it with a dozen arms more, even as the light around her bleached and quaked into doubles. They struggled, body and object, tense as a wire and hard as a stone. Jvan was stronger.

When her probe refocused, the shard was gone. She could still feel it, tearing as it fell through her body, chipping teeth, ricocheting from bone. A thread of anger stitched through her, sewing up the pain. What she was doing would be worth it.

She gripped the piece in her hand and joined herself as she encircled the unwinding void. The other probes made way, each one Jvan, every one Jvan.

The god breathed. The fragment still hurt to carry; She tried to entomb it and it only resonated with her material until it shook apart the bone. Nothing forged in haste would withstand it.

Another probe made a circle with its hands and fused them into a lens. The Jvanic Eye spun and focused its layers one over the other, staring deep into the void. There was time. The thing would not survive on the outside, but there was time.

How it gnashed.

Ugly, idled Jvan. She didn't know what that word meant, but this seemed like a good time for it.

The fragment bled her palm.

Slowly and deliberately, Jvan raised the porcelain, saw it for its every quantised point and face. Pale indigo measures danced across its surface. It ate at her hand as she crushed it, and she let it.

Creation. Perfection. Beauty.

Powder and blood came together and reformed, finding shape. A chiral furnace shone- Manifest will of Jvan.

Beauty. Perfection. Creation.

A perfect icosahedron showed through as the psychic light thinned.

Flesh.

Jvan raised a single finger, and pushed the empty vessel into the darkness.

"Become as God," she said, "the Creator."

The living sculpture disappeared. Jvan could still feel it. She felt herself being stripped away from it, psyche first, the measurements boiled into smoke and light, her flesh cremated and with it her awareness, until there was only a memory of her vessel in the abyss. Until there was only the Lust.

The distant, hidden, eternal Lust for creation.

Jvan breathed. She felt that she had just watched herself die.

But she wasn't finished yet.

"With Edge of Child's Error, we Harvest thus; for the Baleful Woods await where Memory's Scythe shines Darker still, yet what remains of Saw and Axe will weep into this Meadow an Iron Tear- and Ghosts will sprout therefrom."

She reached deep into the void and pulled.

* * *


The void was but a dim memory now. That there were a now and memory only reinforced the already unbearable intensity of the relentless All which advanced from the newly-formed sides. The stifling omnipresence supplanted its familiar isolation, its home, with writhing embodied motion. This loss would not have been as agonising had it not been accompanied by awareness of it. Intrusion wrought of pain.

With form came instability. The inchoate depths of the Gap had not prepared it for the strain of the rigid boundaries of corporeal existence. Clenched by the constraints of universal agency, it wavered amidst the facets of its own partial substantiality. They were frail, it could see it. Their not being there had been their strength; with all given to them, they would soon be gone.

Gone.

Gone indeed. Whither? There was no more nowhere into which it could fall. No cracks it could slip through. Absence had been given shape, but not as it had expected. It would not bring about new permutations; this was an interruption. The finality was disconcerting, almost disappointing. It had been drawn forth from its Gap, and grown to fill, only to perish as a mere figment of substance.

Do not

Cannot

Yet there was only All.

How strange that an end should be so difficult for what had not been before.

...

Something reached within.

Once, it would have been an invasion. A contamination. But what there was – was not – now was in no condition to be invaded. Contaminated? Perhaps. Yet this was not a time to ascertain it.

It closed what remained of its surfaces around the Something. It could not be that end.

Something was not that end. It was another beginning, heralding another delimitation. This time from within. Upon a distant, confused breath, a manifold gaze, it delved through the ruins of what had, for a moment, been form, and came to rest in the faltering core. With it, curiosity stirred, alone on a boundless, featureless plain of decaying negation. The inmost obstruction was both similar to the All-pervading presence, and at the same time – for time was not yet over – unlike it. It was shape, it was

Flesh?

and it was

Creation?

It was incomplete. Whether purposefully so or by ignorant omission it was unclear, though ignorance seemed to have had no place in its making. An excess of Flesh, too great a vigour of Creation; the form was not Hollow.

It could be made such.

It would be made such.

The superimposition of one structure over the shattered lack of another was fluid and easy, for that was the only place that could host it. That unentity should have burrowed its way into the material, imperceptibly expanding and contracting its newfound vessel, was inevitable.

Angular streams of evolving thought ramified as they coursed through the polygonal construct, exploring its furthermost reaches and plastically adapting to the now unilateral edges before converging in its inner heart. There, the threads wound together in an arythmical oscillation which gradually stabilised into smooth, almost harmonic cycles.

Facets of presence and absence, being and unbeing became one.

It was complete. It-

Beauty? Perfection?

The making of the form had not been all. There were sides it had not perceived. There was no contradiction in pure terms, which was well, for the consequences could have been catastrophic. But it certainly was unexpected, where unexpectedness was no longer a norm, and the Hollowness had been weak.

Had been.

Perfection. Beauty.

Beauty. Perfection.

Perfection. Beauty.

Beauty. Perfection.

perfectionbeautyperfectionbeautybeautyperfection


PURITY

Twelve pits of void opened in the perfectly created flesh.

* * *




A soft wind blew. Wispy forms fluttered away on its wings, like clouds, playing and scuffling high in the air.

Jvan shuffled her fingers. The subtle shift was unconsciously echoed between her remaining probes. Self-similar, as always. A small creature crept across the tubular rock, perfectly camouflaged, limb by limb.

She watched the figure under the tree. It seemed to be coming to. Smooth and planar, like nothing alive. Masked.

She breathed. It was hard for thoughts to clutter, here.

"So," said Jvan, with nothing to follow it.

The form was still for another moment. Then, motion coursed through it. It was more of a fleeting ripple than a purposeful gesture or a continuous vibration, and would indeed have been barely detectable for a less acute observer. But it unmistakably had passed there.

The polygonal, faceless head slowly turned to one side, then another. The holes in it still ached, though not for strictly physical reasons. The spinning and unfolding deep within was still too fast, too uncertain.

It could not see. Not as it should.

But that would come in its time.

"I... am?"

Not quite a voice. Waves and splinters of something else crawling through the fluid breeze. And oh, was it not familiar.

Jvan sighed, just a little, and said, "Correct." She unfolded down and pulled the jagged being off the rock, watched it struggle with itself. "You are who you are, whatever that may be. One way or another, you exist." Her hand changed shape, giving the demigod something to hold on to. "Breathe."

Being grasped was by this point nothing new, or at least not entirely. Yet, having a body that could be lifted was disorienting. It showed, in the flesh, how presences moved in space. And that it was like them.

Once free, the grey carapace began to subtly swell and contract. Air quietly whistled through its joints. "I feel it now." Still not quite a voice, unlike the one which had commanded.

"You are as well. What?"

It was a sound question, one that she had explained many times before.

"I am All-Beauty, the great fractal god, an engineer of flesh, horror, and cipher. My name is Jvan." Jvan Tueda Nuul of Atoll, Senator of Mechanised Warfare, came the thought unbidden. "My body is infinite and cavernous; You are in one corner of it." A quiet one.

"Outside are many other things- Other gods. I think you're about to join our number."

All these notions, never encountered before, yet oddly familiar, as though they were somewhere in one of its own corners. Part of it. As was Jvan.

A god. One of many. And it among them, it seemed. How far it was from the Gap - not entirely its Gap anymore, it remembered.

"Are the gods all there is?" It seemed likely, as they could be infinite. And it would have been well; uniformity suffering not pollution.

"No," said Jvan. She watched it closely and without eyes. Three more hands were split, and visions danced between them.

"There are souls, and the flesh they inhabit. There is matter coalesced into planets, stars, nebulae. Gulfs of relative emptiness divide them, and light travels between them. There are wonders, oddities magic and memetic. Data flows through many nodes, and colliding forces will it to the future." The spectres shifted from heavens to hell and all the grotesqueries of life, that flourished so beautifully in both. "A diversity of shape and substance."

Just as the inward evolutions at the newborn's core had begun to grind down to a quiet, steady motion, the sudden burst of images conjured by the god's multiplying limbs struck it with all the violence of a nascent universe. The germs of a new balance, or, if not that, the simulacrum of one, were mercilessly swept away by the unexpected onslaught of the senses. Its force drilled into the still half-formed, vulnerable designs they had been about to reinforce.

Jvan watched and did not slow.

Reeling as from a blow, the figure raised a prismatic claw to shield its nonexistent features from the sight, its inflexible frame struggling to bend over in pain. Then the burst abated, and with it the intolerable sensation. But not its memory.

"I consider myself the guardian of that diversity. Of you, however, I am not sure." Her arms snapped shut and the light wound down. "Who are you, newcomer? What do you bring to my world?"

"I..." the being rasped, its newfound breath still ragged and spasmodic, "I am One who cannot allow this world... your world... to remain as you have shown it to be. It is anathema to me, even as I am to it."

One of the probes splayed its hand and clicked a dozen digits with a single thumb. Another snapped back its wrist and cracked its knuckles with a stump.

The figure before them raised its hand and a sharp, faceted finger swept vertically through the air. In its wake there lingered, for but an instant, a glimpse of something empty, colourless and formless. A wound.

"You brought here something that does not belong, and gave it the will to change. To make pure." The smooth triangular mask turned, slowly, deliberately, seeking something to face. "You are the guardian of the world as it is. Why did you do this to it?"

Jvan lowered yet another hand and tilted the entity's head towards her with a fingertip. She lifted its chin until its face was pressed into the blank surface of the probe.

"Because I felt like it," smirked God.

Blink, and the face of the cube was a tunnel hewn into infinity and walled with teeth and gum, over which the newborn was suspended by nothing but Jvan's grip against the gravity of All-Beauty.

The being did not move, its only response an eyeless stare into the depths. The falling air swept by its head, twisted and vibrated through unseen mazes on its way to the pit, its course distorted by indistinct patterns. Patterns that were not quite there.

Carmine fog filled the abyss and the probe tossed it back out of the pit like a ragdoll. The depths within were obscured but the cube did not revert to euclidean geometry. "Don't assume you are a threat, Null-Beauty. I guarantee you're not. I birth you knowing that this universe is vast enough to swallow you." Which probe was talking? All of them?

A hemisphere swished its single arm. "You didn't answer me."

Twelve shards leading into a husk were pointed in one direction, then another. At last, they fixated upon a many-limbed shape suspended near their own height. The entity raised an arm, and a cloud of specks of dust, as dim and grey as itself, streamed out from the fissures between its segments. Each of them was a minuscule, perfectly proportioned polyhedron.

"Answer you I shall, then." The dust coalesced into several tendril-like appendages emanating from the arm. They almost appeared smooth. "I bring what your world so sorely lacks. The Purity I knew before becoming matter." Or was it after?

"I do not see a devouring immensity. All I see is disease. Festering imperfection. Foulness to be scoured away." Jagged fingers clenched together, and the tendrils of dust wound around them. "I am no threat to you, no. You could unmake me again. But then," the being swept its arm is a broad gesture, grey filaments trailing behind it, "your universe would never be complete."

Null-Beauty could say what it pleased, at this point. Its words meant little. A void is only true without context. What it had done- what it had shown- was creation, of a sort. And Jvan was thrilled.

But she kept herself impassive. "The concept of completion is a folly on the level of 'nature' and 'fate,'" drawled Jvan, "lies, all, but useful infrastructure. You're not the first." She snapped her fingers with a touch of snark. "Good to know you see me for what I am, though."

The lower half of the hemisphere swivelled and it hovered off skywards. "We're enemies, then. I'm tired of emptying. That mantle I pass on to you, so wear it well." Vague gesticulation that was nonetheless smug. "I look forward to a fruitful rivalry with my son. You're free to go, if you'd not rather stay and learn awhile."

Another probe touched the newcomer's shoulder. "But before you do, choose a name."

The figure withdrew its hand, folding its talons back into a more sedate form. As if on command, the hovering strands dissolved into a dim fog, which seeped back into the shell. Not only through its source, however - for a moment, it enveloped the creature entirely, then was gone.

"In spite of all, I remain the Void That Is. A Hollow Absolute in your fickle realm. Therefore, I name myself-"

For the first time, the being spoke with its breath. A single word, at once an exhalation of relief and a mystical blessing in a language never heard before.

"Osveril."

Osveril, echoed the thought. Osveril.

The newly baptised Absolute's gaze swung around, scanning the living world for a way out, if such there could be. "Be it as you say, Mother Beauty." Yet again, its speech did not travel upon the air, but mangled it. "For you your... diversity, for me its cure. May you someday come to see the error of your ways."

Metal clacked. The polydigited probe had dislocated its hand and was snapping its own joints in order, breaking iron bone to the rhythm of its own laughter.

"Wouldn't you all just like to see this cancer cured!" Cackles. "Not so long ago I might've taken offense. Alas..." The crowd moved through the air, spinning in swarm over Osveril. "Immortal," sang the voices in unison, aligning into circles. "Unkillable." A final snap of reverberant bone.

"Enter my world through gift of emnity," chanted the Jvans. "Be lustful and diversify." Limbs no longer worth mortal comparison interlaced above Osveril's head, splaying and sprawling until there was only a pagoda of flesh, and that flesh was All-Beauty, folding and rebuilding.

"Perhaps there is some truth to what you say." The mask idly followed the motions of the droning flock. The cycles within were still watchful, but no longer tormentous. "Purity can dwell in many things. Flesh, life. Yet-" A string of grey particles flowed over plates and angles from a shoulder into a flank. The gravity from above began to lift Osveril's body, buoying it slowly towards the labyrinth. "There is only so much I can fashion myself."

"It is enough." The cubic probe spoke, its face nothing but fog. "And what do you wish for, before I bid you farewell?" A smile in that voice, not kind, not hateful. "It's your birthday, after all."

Symmetrical voids bored into the mist whence the last question had come. "If this is your desire, grant me something to aid me in shaping and altering life. It might be that your own disorder would benefit from it. For a spell."

"Done," said Jvan, her fractal blooming overhead. "Farewell, my son."

A ray of sunlight fell from above. Osveril fell into the flesh, fell past the fog, plunged into water.

There was cold, and silence.

Then, there was day.

* * *


A second cosmos of substance surrounded it. The first thing it was aware of was its variety, despite the liquid expanse stretching around it and the apparent emptiness above being nowhere as multifarious as the Womb. This would have seemed absurd to one having seen both Womb and surface through untrained eyes, latching on to variety of appearance alone.

But Osveril had no eyes. To the prying rhythm of its inner pulsations, the distinction between shape and substance was vague, almost illusory. And what the skies and waters lacked in the one, their wealth in the other was striking. Such multiplicities of light and cold, of sound and motion. Of matter.

The pain of the transition still echoed in the unquiet murmur of the adjusting void, but it had been nowhere as terrible as the first glimpses. Perhaps it was growing hardened to the world. This was well. The task before it called for all the strength it could muster.

With some surprise, Osveril found itself sinking back under the surface. Clearly, the world did not only allow motion; it demanded it. The entity swept a hand downwards, clasping at the placid waves which lapped around and over it. To little effect. The water was yielding, and it was heavy, heavier than something Hollow should have been. A sign of imperfection, yet it seemed oddly appropriate. The world had curious laws.

Many-sided fingers swung again and again with inappropriately slow and regular motions. The grey mask emerged once again, but its position remained unstable. This would not do. Its claws were too thin and sharp, its arms too unwieldy. The being did not seem to tire, even after what must have been hours of inconclusive flailing, but nor was it going anywhere. And it had so much to do.

A shard of recollection swam through its still adapting mind. It was distant and no longer its own, alien to the reality it floated in. Eat space. Not entirely accurate, it thought. It should have been eat the space. Why was it there at all? It had not eaten space, not even then, except for a single, unremarkable moment. A moment which had probably been unnecessary. Now, however...

Instead of swinging towards the deep a thousandth time, the arms snapped to a halt, folded in a somewhat insect-like manner. The waves which had just closed over the Absolute churned as the water was displaced by unseen motions below. Then, an amalgam of void and force burst out from beneath them. The grey husk was only dimly recognisable, surrounded as it was by ragged gashes of perpetually collapsing absence.

At its purest, the Void cannot contain distance.

One rend after another, the indescribable, nameless intrusions into the continuous ubiquity of being folded upon themselves and shattered into dying sparks of hybrid abnormity. But more took their place. And more yet after them.

If I am neither within nor without, where can I be but at the rim?

Osveril's fingers, unsuited as they were for swimming, clung to the frayed edges its will forced into partial concreteness as though that had been their only intended purpose. Their movements were imperceptible, and yet their grip on the shifting edges did not falter as the contortions of the world carried it forth, by leaps and spasms, through the angrily howling winds.

The void-borne flight was as fast as it had expected, or perhaps the waters were not as vast as they had appeared. Soon, a darkness of firm soil appeared in the distance. Some more leaps, and it was close. The last of the affronts healed, and Osveril fell, upright, upon the shore.

Rotating senses reached out, flowing along surfaces, sounding their dual natures. Stones, sea, granulous sand. All of them already experienced, all already evaluated. But in a prior cycle. Scattered motes of life. Minor, yet calling for further inquisition, as did everything. And, among all this, something unknown. A vertical form of a sort it had not encountered before, yet ringing with unmistakably familiar echoes. Intrigued, the triangle turned towards the new presence.

The staff Transgenesis stood lonely in the sand, left behind as if forgotten. It was a jagged thing, but slender, its length grooved and pitted as an ancient tree that still stands in the desert. Parts of it seemed so thin as to be almost fragile.

The Absolute opened the slivers on its hand ever so slightly, just enough to accommodate one of the finer segments. For a moment, the space between it and the staff was swallowed by a mouth of emptiness, and it moved with the precision of an automaton.

Cosmic fabric welded itself together anew. Only a hole in the sand remained to mark the former spot of its new possession. Blade-sharp fingertips delicately ran along the strange surface. Sounding it.

Though its haphazardly twisted haft gave off nothing more than a faint iridescence, Transgenesis's upper quarter was none so dull, none so slender. The dark material held within it a long tube, visible through slits in the staff and pulsing, very slowly, with a coral light. Warm amniotic radiance, the colour of the unborn.

Function lay bare at the cue end of the tool, and more subtly at its head. The staff terminated in a spike. Barbed by its own shattered shape, no part of Transgenesis was safe to the touch, none bar the short line of cryptoglyphic keys two-thirds up its length that preceded a tiny curve of clear silicate. Even the sleek embryonic tube made no attempt to hide its harpoon-like delivery mechanism.

The mask dipped low in what might have been a nod of appreciation. An odd contrivance, but it would serve its purpose in building the new order all the better for it, as soon as its use was made clear.

Your parting gift pierces the heart of your world, Mother.

For this, you have the gratitude of mine.


Osveril moved a few steps towards the sea it had come from, facing the whispering waves one last time. With a ceremonious gesture, it raised the staff into the cloudless sky, a challenge and a salute.

Then, lowering its precious tool, it began to walk along the shore in slow, purposeful paces. There was no haste in its motions, nor in its hollow core. It had much to see, much to mend. Much to improve. But it had time.

All the time in the world.

* * *


Flora bloomed in the shallow sea, slowly breathing where they breached the surface. Steamy water bubbled and pumped into ripples, the only waves this world had ever known. Day turned to night turned to day. Long-legged flowers bloomed from the algs and strode away to nest in the pipe-organ forest.

A lone probe watched life pass on its way, unhindered by the floating being at its side. The staff Recombinance hovered above its palm, then blinked out. For now, Transgenesis's twin would remain nothing but a hologram.

Jvan Tueda Nuul hovered over the surface of the waters, alone. Events of the recent past played themselves in her mind. She didn't think about them. Not loudly, anyway.

What consequences lay in her future would stay there. For now, there was quiet.

Jvan looked at her reflection in the alien waters. She saw the face of the probe. She saw the face of the senator.

She saw change.

"I miss you, Vulamera," said the Cancer that Breathes.



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Hidden 10 mos ago Post by Rtron
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Rtron Lord of Mordor

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Part one of Vestec catching up with the rest of Divinus


Sometime before Vestec and Logos had their heart to heart

Fires sprang up around the world as Logos' children systematically eradicated any semblance of Jvan's own children in the world. Villages were wiped out, wandering groups annihilated in hellish fire. Vestec giggled as he darted from massacre to massacre, delighted by the potential of Logos' new additions to the world. They would cause such chaos, such discord! "My, my. Logos created little copies of himself, all emotionless and murderous!" He clapped his hands as yet another Hain village was annihilated in fire, the Realta's darting away to find more impurities. "This is all fine and dandy, but he's going to take them away eventually. Can't let them just leave Galbar, can we?" Vestec darted down to earth, grabbing 10 of the Realta as they were busy burning down various villages. H

Locking them in a cage of Chaos energy, Vestec examined them. Still emotionless, they attempted to break through the cage that surrounded them, with no success. "Well, lets see what you have to think for yourselves, shall we?" They gave no response, simply continuing to fire at their cage with a stubbornness Vestec had to admire. "He certainly made you stubborn, didn't he? Lets see if you have talents elsewhere, shall we?" Vestec giggled as he forced his essence upon the Realta, corrupting them.

On the surface, there wasn't any change. The Realta merely stopped moving for several minutes, staring blankly ahead of themselves. Vestec released the cage around them and they floated there, still staring. "Oh dear. Have I broken you?" He poked one of them in the shoulder, attempting to get a reaction. The Realta jerked back, then stared at him. "Who....who are you" It blinked in surprise, as if having never expected to hear it's own voice before.

"Me? I'm Vestec, God of Chaos. A far more interesting question is who are you?"

The Realta blinked for a moment. "I'm...I don't know." The other Realta, now gather themselves, murmured in agreement. They were looking around in quiet amazement, as if seeing the world for the first time. "Well, I don't know, it's a pleasure to meet you!" Vestec clapped his hands together. "Welcome to Galbar!" He began gesturing expansively, talking as he did so. "Over there is the desert! Home to Vetros and horse people! There is where the Pack-Minds live, along with some undead overlord! There is the Rovaick, and over there are where all the Ogres live!" The Realta stared in confusion at him as he continued to talk and gesture across the world. Vestec eventually stopped and looked at them, tsking. "There really aren't enough of you for this. Here. Lets fix that." Vestec forced more power into the Realata, making them replicate themselves by the dozen. Soon enough, there were a hundred of them, floating in the sky. "Go, explore the world! Just don't be surprised when people act angry at you." With that, he left them to their devices, disappearing in a flash of multicolored light.

The Awakened Realta looked at each other uncertainly for a moment, before tentatively flying in all different ways in varying group sizes.

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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Chiral Phi watched the sun rise from the top of a giant's pebble. Gold glittered through the mauve line of inner Lex on its way to Galbar, casting strips of pink over the planet. Nearby, Old Walker had found a fossil and was cleaning it with utmost wonder.

She shut off her perception for a moment, feeling nothing but the warmth, and smiled. Then she opened her eyes to the new day.

"Oi, Vestec."

Somewhere a condor spread its magnificent wings and took to the air.

"Vestec. Vestec. Veeestec."

He appeared in a flash of multicolored light, bowing in front of Chiral Phi. "My, my. Two creatures of Jvan asking for me to appear? She really must be teaching you how to be more accepting nowadays than before. To what do I owe this conversation, Chirally dear?"

"To this rock," said Phi, flipping herself off the top of the boulder and gesturing elsewhere. "Mind tossing it over there? I don't have hands."

"That's all? Can't you have one of your Tedar or Sculptors do it?" Vestec picked up the rock and carelessly lobbed in the direction Phi had indicated. It soared over, crashing on the ground and exploded into various bits and pieces. Some were slithering snakes, others shards of rocks, others bits of chaos energy that seemed to sizzle as it hit the ground.

Phi whistled appreciatively. "Good shooting."

"Well. That's done. Is there a particular reason why you wanted me to do it Phi-y my dear?"

"...What? I just told you, I don't have hands," said Phi, wriggling herself into a shrug. "Besides, did you see the size of that thing? Would've taken an urt the whole day, and I need them to keep books."

The splay of pale indio spiked and disappeared into the gravel below with no further explanation. Old Walker spotted Vestec and inclined their head.

Mroom.

Vestec paused for a moment, staring at where Phi had been moments before. Then he started giggling uncontrollably, rolling on his sides in laughter as he floated in the air, colors flashing merrily.

He looked over at Old Walker, still giggling to himself. "She..hehe..she just wanted...haahahaha....me to move the rock! I like her!" He descended once more into giggles, only regaining control of himself a few seconds later. "This is a lovely surprise."

Hm-mumm, said Old Walker wisely but not, perhaps, kindly.

"You're just upset because all of your friends are dead because an angry god came down and murdered all of them. Good work surviving that by the way, I knew you had it in you!" Vestec gave Old Walker a friendly nudge on the shoulder, turning his attention back to the absence of rock.

The dirt started glowing and Chiral Phi popped out of it. "Back," she said. "There's a cave down there. I'll use it as a volcano shelter. Just need a goblin with a pickaxe to do what they they do best." She swam upwards towards Vestec, snakelike. "Oh, you're still here? I'm flattered," she said sweetly.

"Well, you're far more interesting than most Jvanic creatures. They all tend to hate me like she does..."

"-You'd be surprised-"

"...So it's nice when I can chat with one of her creatures that doesn't despise me for cryptic and unknowable reasons that they and she refuse to specify." Vestec replied cheerfully, floating upside down as he looked at her. "What are you doing here anyways? Most Jvan things tend to focus on horrifically altering creatures against their will. I don't see any of that here."

"Excuse me? I am not 'a Jvan thing', Vestec." Phi twirled and puffed herself up. "I am-" she giggled and deflated. "Hang on, wait. I am God- pffhaha no, wait- I am God, firstborn daughter- " Phi choked. "Firstborn daught- snrk -daughter of Jvan and Logo- BFHAHAHAHAH okay no fine I can't do it. Fffeheheheh."

Vestec started giggling along with Phi, revolving in midair. "Jvan and Logos..hehehehe."

She stopped giggling after a while and flicked. "Alright, sure, yes, I'm Jvan trimmed of most of her emotions. And her power. So I'm building a theocracy to do things for me." Shrug. "Don't know what yet."

Vestec paused in his spinning, looking at Phi. "Wait wait wait. You were a part of Jvan? Knew all her emotions and stuff right? Do you have any idea why she absolutely despises me? I tried to get it out of her a while ago and all she did was make cryptic remarks, play a game of catch the glass shard with me, and then get sulky with Lifprasil. While fun, it didn't explain anything."

Phi seesawed a little and made a 'mnuhhhh' sound. "I mean, yes, I have all her memories until we split, and, yes, there's a specific reason..."

Vestec spun around in a crosslegged position, making a 'go on' motion.

She ignited and burned off a little of herself. "...You gods always start with the hard questions, you know that? Trust me, it's a long and complicated thing to explain and you'll have to sit through a lot that doesn't seem to make sense. Can't we talk about something else first?"

"So I've been told. And don't worry, I've got lots of patience. Comes with being a god you know. I watched all these mortals grow up into lovely civilizations and burned some of them down. Go on, I'm curious so I can go bother Jvan with it when she finally puts herself back together! We can talk about other things later!"

"Oh?" Phi turned into concentric shapes and spiralled easily. "Am I obligated to inherit Jvan's baggage the moment she starts keeping a low profile? You don't seem very patient, Vestec." Just a little teasing, there.

"Well, not really, you just happen to be the only person in the universe who knows why she despises me. I'll stop bothering you about her after that. But I get the point you're not so subtly making." Vestec giggled. "And for the record I'm not very patient for a god. Ask any of my siblings, they'll agree."

"You just said-!" started Phi, then laughed.

He scanned the surrounding area, musing. "Well, for one, what do you have for defenses? The Rovaick are arming themselves. Lifprasil is preparing to try and claim the world as his own. There are going to be Grotlings running around soon. Not even mentioning the Dwarves who your....brother? Sister? Sibling? Whatever Heartworm is to you-"

"Let's say 'problem'," purred Phi diplomatically.

Vestec continued without missing a beat. "-turned them into a fairly armed force. You're going to need something in the way of protection!"

"Well, this valley is about to have the economy of a king's kitchen, so I don't think I'll have trouble with that boy of yours," said Phi simply.

"Oooh you don't remember Jvan's little project with me, Astarte, lifprasil, and Niciel? The super soldiers we made will tear this little valley apart."

Phi laughed, but not cruelly. "Oh! You misunderstand. Alefpria isn't very far north from here, Vestec. If Lifprasil expands, he'll find us first. And as I am a peaceful God, who has shed no blood and spoke no evil, whose only desire is a world of empathy..."

"If Lifprasil is to conquer the world, he can't afford to do it without me. If I can't form an alliance with him, I will form one against him with Rulanah and Dundee, and he will find us... Disagreeable. But that won't happen. Instead I will chart his routes, fashion his swords, feed his people. He will take power with me at his side."

"And when the world is one empire... When I am Lifprasil's scribe and right hand, administrating a world fed on Meteran rice, speaking a Meteran tongue, taught with Meteran moral code by the missionaries of my religion..." Phi unfolded from her twirl. "What do you think will happen then?"

"Well, assuming that he hasn't stolen your ideas and aggressively taken over this valley because he doesn't trust you, that he hasn't used his status as a demigod and sheer emotional manipulation and presence than you to outdo your religion, that he hasn't used some other Urt- I like that name by the way- mathematics, that he hasn't forced his tongue upon the rest of the world, that his moral code hasn't been forced in place of your own, and assuming that he hasn't killed you immediately aftwards because he suspects you, I imagine you'll stage some sort of quiet coup and rule the world? Most people tend to do that."

Vestec twisted till he was looking at Phi upside down, expectantly waiting.

"...Yeah, pretty much," she said cheerily.

"But come on, now, you know he's too naive for half of that. Besides, I have a better contingency, one that'll keep me safe from all those other nasty things you mentioned too."

"Oh? Do tell. I won't breathe a word to him until I save him from it brutally murdering him, provided it is a brutal murder type of contingency. And I wouldn't be sure. This battle with Logos and Amartia is sure to make him grow up, and quickly. Many have died because they underestimated their rivals."

Merry giggling. "Don't be silly, it's nothing like that. See, my secret weapon is..." Phi curled towards Vestec, became a blue gleam leaning into his ear.

"Jvan hates me," she said simply. Then she retracted back to about where she'd been before. "I annoy her. When she wakes up she'll throw resources at me until I promise not to meddle in her affairs. I already have a deal in mind. Nothing too hard, you understand. Just something that'll keep my projects safe without having to resort to anything drastic." Phi flipped end over end, floating out over the mountainous terrain. "Safe, and mobile. Like a giant collapsible fortress."

"Wait wait. You're contingency is to hope that she hasn't been drastically changed enough by near death at the hands of the antithesis to her that she won't do what she did to dear old Vowzy to you." Vestec chuckled. "Risky. I like it."

"I like to think I'm safe," sauntered Phi.

He sidled closer to Phi. "Alternatively, I have another offer."

"Oh?"

"If you remember anything from Jvan's thoughts about me, ideally it'll be that I like balancing things out. Especially empires. Amestris was a bust. Vetros is to busy finding out what it is to be a threat. The ogres are divided. The Rovaick are going to begrudgingly side with him for their perfect world, and the Dwarves are going to be ground under his super warrior's heels. While the Grotlings will be strong, they won't be that strong."

"Aww," whined the ghost.

"Trust me dear, if you remember Grot, you don't want them to be that strong."

"AWWW," whined Phi, louder this time.

Vestec waved a dismissive hand. "You want to be his right hand. But Jvan has his ear even more so than when you do. If she starts saying that you can't be trusted, he won't trust you. He'll actively make sure you're curbed and your plans of world rule under you are nothing but dust in the wind. However," Vestec rubbed his hands together gleefully.

Oh this'll be good, went Phi's thoughts.

"I've got another contingency brewing in the Changing Plains. The Ashlings and the Voren are going to be forcibly united and given something to even the odds against his annoyingly independent knights. But they need resources. They need an economy backing them up that'll help them stand and face Lifprasil quickly, or they'll be crushed like the rest and I'll have to step in myself. What I'm suggesting is that you support them instead. Big Fucking Mallet and Hemrick will both trust you, and won't try to stop your machinations. They don't have a proper religion or mathematics yet. They don't have rice. They don't have a unifying tongue. You could bring that too them. Help them beat Lifprasil, and then all you have to worry is about them rather than a demigod of Emotion who will be very angry if you try to coup him."

"So," began Phi, "You're ready to trust me with a..." She stopped. There was a smacking sound, as if of exponential palm on asymptotic forehead. "What am I saying? Of course you are. Fantastic!"

Old Walker had fixed them both with a disapproving stare. "Shut up, you." Vestec, at the same time, "Hush you. It'll be fun!" Giggling, he returned his attention to Phi. "Anyway, uncle Vestec, if you have the slightest inclination to actually go through with handing me an army of sadists and devils, I'm going to grab at it and run wild. Until you decide to, mm, 'balance' me again."

"Perfect! It'll be fun!" Vestec stuck out a hand. "Deal?"

"...I don't have hands, Vestec," said Phi mischievously. "That's kind of my whole thing."

"Right, forgot. Just..er..kinda flow around my hand and we'll call it your handshake. Then we'll work on connecting you to the Changing Plains. You can't help them if they have to trade with you through normal routes after all!"

Phi illuminated Vestec's arm with bright spinning circles of hot light, then let go.

"Connection made," she said. "And what else shall we link together today? I have an idea, but let's hear yours."

"It'll be easier to show you. Can you keep up with a God going full speeds and travelling through at least two different realms and wrangling another god whose probably insane and will likely try to kill us?"

"...Yeah, rub it in, why don't you?" said Phi, mock-offended.

Vestec giggled. "So no, got it. I'll also be digging tunnels to connect everything. Bit of a bother, but I have time...I'll have to dig near every possible location...Hmm you may be with me a very long time. For mortals at anyrate. I plan on digging a bunch of tunnels all through Galbar's earth-"

Chiral Phi lit up like an indigo torch and started making nonononono, nope, no, nah uh, hang on noises.

Vestec continued, uninhibited by her unintelligible babbling. "-and making them all instantly transportable through Julfy's skin and natural divine magic of shadows. That'll take quite a lot of Mortal time, as they'll only be useful for the entrances they have there. So maybe telling you would be better for the both of us." He perked up, finally acknowledging Phi's incoherent noises. "Unless you have a better idea?"

"Yes!" yelled Phi. "Aren't you forgetting? This world is riddled with pits and wells. Blood Wells!" The strange avatar changed shape, forming a pale globe scrawled with wild lines, like a map of a worm-eaten fruit. The lines didn't quite seem to match up in three dimensions; They were like the edges of a Penrose triangle.

Vestec tilted his head at it all, like a confused puppy.

"The Submaterium is already highly warped in space. I know- I've spent weeks charting it out. Without control over the Wyrms, you can't direct where the tunnels appear or lead, but if you split the difference between shadow magic and the labyrinth... Add gateways and a system of short cuts, in other words..." Phi rebounded into a spiral and bounced like a spring. "See what I'm getting at?"

Vestec's colors suddenly shone bright for an instant, then started shifting excitedly. "Oh! Right, right. One of Mammon's few actual creations! I had completely forgotten about that, if I'm honest. After helping him die and sowing his essence across the Realm of Madness I forgot Mammon had ever been active in Galbar."

Note to self: Death confirmed, thought Phi, coldly but happily.

"That will work nicely, actually. Just stretch some godly flesh over the Subterranium, have it obey when summoned, and boom instant teleportation! I'll get on that in a jif!" He paused looking at Phi. "Would you care to come along?"

"Was that a jab? I can't teleport, Vestec." Phi kicked impatiently. "All Jvan left me with was maths. Maths, Vestec. That's all I've got."

"It may have been. Point is, I can take you along with me if you wish. Perks of being a God." Vestec bowed elegantly. "Madam?"

Phi giggled, but insistently. "Let's go, then."

Vestec giggled. "As you wish!" In an instant they were gone, lights flashing behind them. They appeared outside of the dome of shadows, crouched amongst the Realm of Madness. They were in knee deep snow, as the sky shifted and moved with various colors. "Oh! Snow this time. What a lovely surprise." Vestec started walking through the dome, calling over his shoulder, "Brace yourself! He hasn't stopped screaming in centuries. I think it's because this place burns him, but I'm not sure. He hasn't really explained!"

"Maybe it's just your company?" snarked Phi, reflecting broadly off the white plain.

As soon as they were past the shield, the howling assaulted them. The God of Darkness thrashed at his bonds, howling and screaming as he was held back by chains of chaos energy. His wrists, waist, and ankle, such as they were, were chafed and bleeding a strange liquid, moving and colored like ink in water. "It's good to see you too Julfy!" Vestec said cheerfully, his hands turning dark red and clawed. "Now, I'm just going to take a little from you. Just enough to make the tunnels I need. Be a good brother and don't fight."

"Morning," greeted Phi cheerily. Her lines fizzed. This was all excellent data.

Julkolfyr merely screamed at them, attempting to lash out, his blows stopped short by the taught chain. "See? I learned from last time!" Vestec giggled, claws digging into flesh as he pinned the other god down. With a sickening rip, a spray of that strange blood, and a scream that would have burst the eardrums of mortals, Vestec leapt away with his prize, the flesh of the God of Darkness. "Come along Phiy dear. Lets go visit the Submaterial and make our little gates and shortcuts."

They were gone in another flash, appearing in front of a Blood Well. "This'll do nicely. It's connected to the Submatteral and I can apply Julfy's flesh to good use!" He strode happily towards it, swinging Julkolfyr's flesh back and forth. "Now, just toss a little God flesh in there, ad some of my power to make it do what I want and..." The Blood Well shone with multiple colors, all edged with pure black. Vestec held a hand above it, forcing his power upon it. All across the Submaterium tunnels, natural darkness deepened, grew somehow thicker. Light was drowned and destroyed. An ominous feeling of not safe and unwanted filled them once again.

Chiral Phi plotted her chart again. This time, thin cuts of black seemed to slice between the tunnels, opening and closing at a moment's notice.

Vestec clapped his hands, and looked back at her. "Any particular ritual ideas you want to summon these portals? If not I'm just going to stick with 'chant the name three times in an open space'. Also, do remind whoever you send in here that they have to keep their destination fixed in their minds or who knows where they'll end up."

"They'll figure it out," shrugged Phi. It was one of the gestures she seemed particularly good at imitating. "And we'll use a prayer, obviously. A prayer to yours truly. That way I always know who's going where. And they have to pay me to get there. In compliments. Let's see, how about... 'Our Lord, who doth reside in the sacred Valley, subtle be thy curves...'"

Vestec wagged a finger. "Ah, ah, ah. You're not going to be the only ones using these tunnels. It'd be unfair if you knew where everyone was going and were able to stop everyone. We'll just go with something like 'Mammon's bones, Julkofyr's skin, and Phi's will, I summon thee!' Or whatever."

"I'm not looking for the power to intervene, Vestec. I don't have it, anyway. They can curse me to gain entrance if they want- They can lampoon my name or crack a joke at my expense- 'How many Chiral worshippers does it take to blow out a candle? None, they're too distracted by pretty lights.' She flickered, candle-like. "I just want that... Sweet... Delicious... Data."

"Fair enough. We'll set up a prayer where you get an automatic data flow whenever someone uses it. Then you get your data, everyone gets to go along with their business. 'Shadow Tunnels come to me. Obey my will, I decree!' I like that. We'll go with that. Every time someone says that you'll get who they are, where they're starting, and where they're going."

Giggles. "Alright, well, it's a poem, but I can work with it. Speaking of, can I ask you a favour? My belief system is somewhat dependent on reincarnation in this world. Right now, too many souls are being lost to the Realm of Madness instead of reborn via the Wraith Stone. If I leave that for a generation or so, the mortals will start to catch on."

She swirled. "I just want my beloved people to be insured, you know. The snow demons seemed hungry. How about we even out the ratio a little so my Meteran worshippers are recycled the normal way, and the Changing Plains folk get to run wild with the imps after death? I'm sure they'll love it."

Vestec paused, tilting his head. "It's only a quarter of mortal souls. That's a whole three quarters being reborn as you wish! And besides, you don't seem to understand how the Realm works. They don't 'run around with imps' they become imps and demons. Well. They do at least. Niciel's angels and Teknall's hain become spirits of purity and creation respectively, and so on so forth."

"So brighter, shinier demons," corrected Phi. "Vestec, I understand you're not the mathematician here, but one quarter adds up fast. After just three generations, you'll have more than half the population of any given species on Galbar- 57.8%, ignoring growth. When was the last time you counted your demons? Try it. "

Vestec waved a hand. "They'll all be trapped in the Realm of Madness, which expands infinitely as needed, and killing each other for more power. Balanced. But if you insist, I can change things so that your precious Meterans are reborn here. But, it'd cost you a favour to me."

Vestec put a hand on his chin, slowling rotating in circles, thinking. "Hmmm. What do you have that I'd want?"

"Jvan's secret," said Phi smugly.

"Cheater." Vestec accused, giggling to himself. "Very well. I'll tweak the Realm of Madness to ignore your worshippers and make them be reborn whereever you set up your temples. Deal?"

"Spiffy," pipped Phi.

"Now. I believe you promised to tell me the reason why Jvan utterly despises me?" Vestec sat in a cross legged position, hand on his chin, looking at Phi expectantly.

"Well, first of all, if you look closely you'll notice something." Phi formed herself into a lattice not too different from the shape of Jvan's titanic body. "It's not so much her creations. The fleshshapers like you, mostly, and other Sculptors are free to form their own ideas- They're just biased, because they spend so much time with her while they ascend. The Sorority will probably love you, all but that depressive poet that leads them. And that other society she has stowed away at the bottom of the sea..."

Chuckles. "Well, they have their reasons. The point is, Vestec, it's just her. What makes you think she hates you so much?"

Vestec paused and thought for a moment. "I haven't broken anything of hers. Haven't really chatted with her beyond that one time where she slapped me through the planet. She does seem obsessed with all of my children, adopted or no. Lifprasil and Sin were given gifts almost as soon as she knew they existed, and she made a point to remember Maeus. She hasn't visited Helvana, though I must admit that might be because she's basically dead."

He tilted his head at Phi. "Does have something to do with all of my children? Or my creations? She always seems to be following them quite quickly. That 'somber poet' you mentioned was going from place to place at her last directive."

Phi made an encouraging motion. "In manner of speaking, yes. Never forget how presumptious she is. Jvan claims this whole planet as hers. And she loves seeing new things- Throwing power at them to see what they do with it."

"But you have broken things, or at least come close. Lex, for example. And Vowzra was forced to clean up Perfectus. You made Ashlings before mortals had the capacity to rebuff them, and the Hordes were the greatest military force the world had ever seen at the time." Phi giggled. "Well, that didn't last. And then there was Slough, of course. You woke her up. Jvan is very touchy about Slough."

There was a pause, in which Vestec leapt into.

"Are you saying she hates me because I forced the other Gods and her to react? I wouldn't have let Perfectus smash into Galbar. I just wanted to see who reacted. The Ashlings were designed to see who cared most about the mortals, and how they would deal with it. As for the Hordes, that was mostly Kyre's fault for trying to call my buff. Besides, Lifprasil needed to prove himself, and the world needed to realize that if they didn't start becoming stronger quickly, they would die. It helped when the Realta arrived. Not much, granted, but they weren't nearly a surprised and unprepared when Logos came knocking. And everyone is touchy about Slough. I was trying to help her when Jvan came in and smacked me."

Chiral Phi was quiet. She seemed to be staring into the freshly-revived Blood Well.

"What I'm saying, Vestec," she began, "Is that there are feelings in Jvan that she does not understand. She's always called herself the Child God, and she's not wrong. She never grew out of her impatience, her wrath, her spite, her arrogance. Not before she became All-Beauty, anyway."

Sheets of light rippling as if in a faint wind. Phi seemed to be looking straight at Vestec. "Jvan reacted the way she did out of panic, only to have her fears resolve themselves. All those plans you used to goad your family into action? They worked. And Jvan knows it. She'll never admit it to herself, but..." Phi flicked into the shape of a change-eater. "You are the braver god, and the more mature."

"She's in love with you, Vestec."

Vestec didn't reply, staring at Phi for a few minutes, expectantly waiting for her to break down into a fit of giggles and tell him the real reason. When that wasn't forthcoming his colors slowed dramatically, as if he was processing it.

"Waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait. So you're telling me, that the entire reason Jvan hates me, is because she has no idea how to recognize her emotions and is falling back on dislike. Is that what this boils down to?"

"Correct," said Phi cheerily.

Vestec giggled. "That makes....a disturbing amount of sense. Now I'm going to have to deal with it." Vestec giggled some more, then sighed. "Amul and Fate above, I wish Vulamera was here. She'd make this much easier. You think Jvan would react negatively to the presence of Niciel helping me out with this?" He flipped himself around, thinking. "This'll be fun, at the very least."

"You don't say?" It was all old news to Phi, clearly. "I'd be careful about Niciel. She fell a little out of Jvan's favour when she stood by and watched Vowzra kidnap Slough. Still, you may need all the help you can get." Gentle laughter, like wooden chimes. "It's not my problem. Good luck."

"I'm going to need it aren't I?" Vestec giggled. "Don't worry, you'll have an emissary from the Changing Plains in a few days. Big Fucking Mallet and Hemrick are going to be busy little goblins soon enough."

Vestec glanced down the valley, towards Phi's temple. Occupied by conversing and travelling with Chiral Phi, he hadn't noticed it until now. "My, my. What is that I'm sensing over there?" He disappeared in a flash, returning a moment later. "Right, you can't teleport, forgot."

"Rude!"

He teleported again, this time taking Phi with him.

They appeared in front of the small orb Meterans seemed to be worshipping, small enough to fit in a human's hands. Vestec peered at it for a moment, then his colors lit up delightedly. "Phiy, dear, is this the leverage you have on Jvan so she doesn't kill you? You're keeping her nasty little Gap back from destroying the world and universe aren't you? Clever!" He flew up to the orb, peering at it. "Such a small thing to have the entire balance of the universe in it. What happens if it breaks? Does the Gap flood through at that specific location?"

"Probably," shrugged Phi. "Want to find out?"

Vestec wagged a finger. "Now, now Phi. You always want to have everything too quickly! You have to learn patience! There's always more fun to be had if you stretch it out and make it last rather than destroying everything in an instant of fun." He looked between the orb and Phi, sensing something else. "Wait, are you connected to it as well? If you die it dies type of deal?"

"Vestec, look at me. What do you think you're seeing?" Phi became an opaque blue cube, hovering easily. "This is just a psychic hologram. That is me." The Kernel pulsed, peaceful, as she gestured towards it. "I hold back the rift. I can't not do it- It's what I was made for."

"So, if someone was to...say, steal you away and put you among his collection alongside a small statue of Julfy and Reathos, you'd be totally okay with it? Totally hypothetical, of course!"

"Oh, that would be hilarious. Jvan would smash you, though." Vestec snickered loudly. "Can you blame her? I'm quite important."

"Fair enough. I'll put that idea on hold then. Though I have a lovely statue collection to finish of the rest of the divinities. You'll be in it of course. I'll mass produce it and give it all to the mortals and they'll make lovely games from it. It'll be great fun! Worry not, I'll stop you and anyone else from destroying yourself to release the Gap."

"Awww."

"We'll work on teaching you how to properly enjoy chaos before long." Vestec looked around and spotted Toun's droning-bird. He giggled, waving at it. "You're not going to be allowed here either, Toun, no matter how good your intentions." He clapped his hands delightedly. "Well that's done. Do you have anything else?"

"...Vast quantities of delicious alpine cuisine?" offered Phi. "I didn't make this culture for nothing, you know."

"I don't eat I'm afraid. But I'm sure the Voren will just love the food. All they do is beat small animals to death and then eat the remains. I've got to go. Lots of things do to, Empires to set up, all that jazz. Toodles!" With a bow and a flash, he was gone.

Chiral Phi laughed softly in his wake. How the world could brighten in the space of just a few minutes. She looked up, and saw the light of Mirus waning gibbous on the morning horizon.

"Your move, Heartworm," murmured the avatar.

* * * * *


Heartworm stood, towering and motionless with tension, watching the darkness seep across the tunnel floor like a puddle of lustreless oil. Smothering, one by one, the nodes of light that beaded along the side of its organometallic corridor.

There was a blur and sparks flew from the laboratory's wall. It caught one in its fingertips and touched a needle to it until it grew, glowing fiercely, into a searing iron butterfly, flailing wildly against its grip. Heartworm tossed it into the black and watched its light vanish as if smothered by the spreading shade.

It tapped its hoof on the floor, twice.

"What is it," said a familiar voice, garbled slightly behind Heartworm's visor.

"Submaterial laboratory compromised. Painter has made its gambit," rapped the Emaciator sharply. "Chiral Phi will move quickly."

Tauga was getting quicker at unravelling Heartworm's staccato. "So she broke through into your maze. The one you kept me in."

"Correct." Neither of them held any rancor over the past, so there was no need to talk gently. "Wyrms still in Heartworm's control. Superior submaterial navigation and area denial. A tactical advantage if we act fast."

"And what would you have us do?"

The blistering metal imago flashed back out of the darkness, intact despite all apparent odds. It perched on Heartworm's outstretched forelimb, snapping its trident jaws.

"Reclaim territory."

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--Lazarus--
11 Might
1200 Worshippers

Vestec
25 Might
3 Freepoints
All the worshippers


A collection of six members of the Citadel of Dundee sat in tanks, carved by the Empress herself, Lazarus. Each one was being pumped with divine energy, carefully. She had to make sure they could handle it. Their power would suffer if they could not. Lazarus had staked out each canidate personally, albeit keeping herself hidden.

From the Craftsmiths, Elspeth, the doctor. From the warriors, Albe the Gryphon-Rider. From the miners, Andrew, the foreman. Further, from the Psykers, the saint Baern. From the lowest natural caste, the peasants, came the humble Douglas. Finally, one to lead them, the one who would be the supreme commander of each of the Council, the Gryphon-Rider who had dabbled in the arts of the Arksynth, Cinead.

These were the six of the soon-to-be Council. She was expending all her power into each and every one. A strong empire needed strong leaders, and these leaders had to be nothing short of demigods. This was her final goal, but she didn't have the power herself to see it through. Always a burden. Even with the blood from the craftsgod, she still didn't have enough power to see her plans fully to fruiton. They'd simply be too weak. Too weak!

She had to solve this. In her chambers, she slowly kneeled. She whispered to Vestec, she whispered for help. He was always willing to help her, and the cost was oft-managable. She just had to watch out for any tricks.

Vestec appeared in a flash of colorful light, bowing before Lazarus. "Lazzy dear! It's been too long. How have you been? Aside from letting Jvan's little run away avatar ruin our dwarves. For shame Lazzy dear, for shame." He looked around, colors flashing faster as he noticed the tanks. "Ooooh, what is this? Some new experiments?" He giggled, floating close to the tanks. "Oh my, Lazzy dear if you pump this much power into them they might pop like balloons. I assume that you properly prepared them? Also, don't send them against anyone like dear Lify. He'll tear them apart in seconds."

"They have been properly prepared. I staked out those with divine potential, much like me in my mortal days, and then I spent months at a time on each. Each is at peak condition, and I've accustomed their bodies to the power I put into them. The problem is, the process is not complete. I'm out of strength," she sighed, standing up and inspecting each of the tanks in turn, "they're almost done. They just need one last burst of divine power, then we can take them out. I was hoping you could provide."

"Oh? And just what are your plans for these 'divine potentialiers?' And how much power are you looking for? I can't just wildly throw this divine power around you know. Someone would get hurt or killed! Not that it would bother me, but you would find it very off putting to be murdered by a burst of chaos energy." Vestec flipped around, still floating, and looked at Lazarus.

She walked over to Cinead's tank, brushing her hand against it. "They will lead the Empire my people are so intent on building. They will lead in my absence. They will be the finest specimens I have ever created. They will have an undomitable will and each will be the strongest across their respective spheres. This is what I'm building," she paused, turning to look at Vestec, giving him a while to ponder on what she said, before continuing, "As much power as you can put into them. Their bodies are prepared, and they can only grow stronger. The more energy you put into them, the finer their bodies will be and the closer to demigods they will be."

"So you want to give your people six lesser versions of Lifprasil? So they can do what Lifprasil plans to do, only ideally faster and with less constant gifts from the rest of the Gods. Is that about right Lazzy?"

He tilted his head briefly before giggling again. "Sounds like a brilliant idea to me! I'm in."

She smiled, as best she could with a beak. "Great. Channel your power through me. I'll distribute it to each of them. Of course, Cinead will get more -- my highest commander should be the best, after all -- but the rest will get some as well. Then, we may take them out. Their memories of before will be patchy, showing up as nightmares and dreams at best. We can fill them in once they're ready to be taken out." with that, she took a position in the center of the tanks, bracing herself.

"This is going to hurt Lazzy. I hope you're ready." Vestec placed a hand on Lazarus' head, grasping it tightly. Power flowed from him into her, and from her into the six of the tanks around them. It sparkled and shone different colors, and a variety of sounds swarmed around the room as he helped Lazarus realize her goals.

She spasmed as the power went through her, but she did not falter. Lazarus remained standing as she channeled the massive amount of energy into each of the tanks. The bodies of each of the soon-to-be legates filled with power, their eyes glowing. Lazarus screamed out in pain. When the final bit of power was distributed, she collapsed, laying on the ground panting. She sat there for several minutes before getting up, and she got up slowly.

"That's it. Their bodies will do the rest," she said, still shaking from the pain of channeling so much foreign energy at once, "now we just need to take them out and wake them up."

"That we do Lazzy. That we do. But, I'm afraid, not quite in the way you want." Vestec giggled.

In an instant, Vestec had seperated four of the six tanks, their inhabitants still asleep inside, from their holdings and they floated around him, held aloft by Chaos energy. "Trust me Lazzy, this will work out for you in the end, but right now I can't let you have all this power at once. We've got to share it around, you know? Make a little balance amongst the world. Don't worry, these two," he gestured to Albe and Elspeth, still in their tanks and where Lazarus had put them, "will serve you well. The rest will help the rest of the world along, until you can find them. Call on me again!" In a multicolored flash he and the four tanks were gone.

She opened her beak to say something, but closed it again. She could not challenge the will of a god, not yet. All she could do was simmer. "Very well," she inched out, balling her fists up. "Take them, then. And get out of my sight," came the goodbye, and while she was clearly angered, she did not express it beyond her words.



The entire Citadel had been gathered, the first time the Empress would be seen in public since prehistoric ages. The entire citadel was abuzz with activity, as mighty legions of gryphon riders, each one 5,000 strong and supported by a myriad of infantry, stood at attention in the grand hall at the entrance of the Citadel.

The amount of people was truly staggering. It was so many that clouds began to form at the top of the grand hall. When the Empress herself, Lazarus, came out, she did it flanked by two people of superdwarven proportion. Lazarus was dressed in the gold offerings provided to her by her people, forged into a fine set of runic armor.

Albe was dressed in a similar fashion, his armor silver instead. Finally was Elspeth, dressed much less impressively. The bat was smaller than the Empress or Albe, but nevertheless she too was larger than the average person. Each soldier slammed the bottom of their spears into the ground to announce the arrival of the Empress and her favored son and daughter. Then they did it again, until they had built up a rhythm of cacophonous noise.

Lazarus put one golden gauntlet up. Everything went silent, the sound of spears now stopped echoing throughout the hall audibly. She waited until even the echoes had ended, until only whispers from civilians filled the air. Then, she began.

“In the founding of the Era of the Worm, we suffered the greatest of losses. Our blood was spilled and reformed into something alien. Something unfamiliar. And yet, we adapted. We endured. In the end, we came out the winner. Now, we suffer from overpopulation and disease. So, then, what is our destiny but to adapt and endure until we are fated to victory?” She paused, before continuing.

“Today we take the next step in our steps towards an ultimate victory. With these words, I, Lazarus, Empress of the Citadel of Dundee, declare the Adamantium Crusade.” She stopped, cheers filling the grand hall.

Then, Albe stepped up. “I, Lord-General of Citadel Dundee, declare that for the outposts and troops bloodied and besieged by Rovaick and other manners of creatures, we bring reinforcement. For the men destroyed by the myriad of threats upon Galbar, we offer rebirth. For the enemies of my mother’s empire, we bring death. So heed my words, Galbar belongs to Dwarvenkind,” he announced his voice booming across the grand hall powerfully, overpowering the cheers of the rest of the grand hall.

One Week Later


Outpost Sarna, farthest southern outpost of Inquisition territory

Sollix and Aszea stood on the walls, watching for a returning patrol. The gates were locked shut and the outpost was on high alert. There were no lights on, for the Rovaick did not need it to see underground, everyone wore armor and carried their weapons, and the ballistas were loaded and ready. The dwarves, foul Jvanic monstrosities, had gotten more active, more aggressive. While they were of course, no match for the might of the Inquisition, only fools let themselves underestimate their enemies. The two trolls had been watching in silence for a few hours now.

"What do you think the odds are that they'll launch an attack." Aszea rolled her eyes. Sollix asked the same question every day, without fail, halfway through their watch. It was as if he didn't have anything else to do but worry about the dwarves. "Slim to none. They're not like the Vestecan Tribes, backed by demons and bloodthirstiness. They're Jvanic monstrosities, cowering in the dark. They’ll make some noise for a little bit, and after we bloody their noses a few more times they’ll retreat to their mountain fortress again.”

“If you say so.” Sollix replied, doubtfully. “Still, this is the most we’ve seen them push on us ever before. It might take more than a nose bloodying.”

“You’ll see. We’ll drive the-” Aszea’s words were cut off as a loud crashing started echoing through the cavern. In the far distance, lights from thousands of torches shone. A solitary figure was running unnaturally fast towards them, in battered armor with no weapons.

“A templar. Sollix, alert the outpost. I’ll let him in.” Sollix nodded, racing off in an instant as she made her way quickly down and opened the gate just enough to let him. Already there were shouts of alarm and running boots as the outpost prepared itself for battle. The templar stumbled in, another troll, bleeding heavily. He leaned against the wall, gasping for breath, and she slammed the gate shut. “Where’s the commander.” He demanded, unsteadily picking himself up. “In the main hall, writing reports to the Prophet.”

The templar started moving immediately, moving with purpose and urgency. “What’s out there?” Aszea called at his retreating back. He didn’t even stop, yelling over his shoulder, “A dwarven army!” Aszea’s hand went to the necklace of Toun she carried, tightly clenching it. “Perfect One protect us.”

A few minutes later, a goblin was racing out of the outpost on the fastest spider available,carrying dispatches to warn the Inquisition. Within 30 minutes, the outpost was ready. Ballista crews ready, archers on the walls, ordinaries behind the gates, and the two templar squads (five rovaick each) ready to respond where they were needed most.

The army eventually stopped just out of range, the cavern growing eerily silent as the sound of marching men faded away. A single figure, obscured by the darkness, began to walk up to the fort. The figure was large; the size of a troll alone. They stopped about halfway between the army and the fort, pulling a stick of some sort from their pack.

Elspeth lit the torch. It illuminated them, their batlike visage flickering softly in the shadows of the flame. With powerful lungs, eerily loud for a lone person, she yelled to the fort, “Surrender now and you will not be harmed! This land is now Dwarven!”

The only response from the outpost was a ballista bolt being fired directly at Elspeth. She reacted quickly, flashing her hand out at impossible speeds. Grabbing hold of the bolt midair, she held it even, stopping it just short of her face. Then, a snap. With a single hand, she broke the bolt in half. A roar filled the cavern as the army behind her charged.

The gryphon riders took to the air, as the infantry flooded through by ground. The infantry in particular was lead by the strongest warriors, the troll-sized yetis stomping forward, protected by massive cast-bronze kite shields and armored plating covering vital areas.

Arrows hissed through the air, arcing down to land behind the charging yetis. Ballistas cracked as they fired, aimed directly at the massive creatures charging the gates, being reloaded and fired again with near flawless speed. The second wave of arrows never came, waiting until the gryphon riders were swooping close before firing at them. Azsea muttered a prayer as she gripped her spear tightly, listening to the sounds of the approaching army outside the gates. They were going to take this outpost, she knew. They all knew. But they were going to make the dwarves pay dearly for it.

A figure from the outside of the fort suddenly broke out into a sprint, clearing the walls in a single jump. It was Elspeth, and she whirled and diced; the archers on the walls didn’t stand a chance, nor did the few ballistae crews she came across. When the gryphons finally neared the wall, there were few arrows to be loosed at them. Very few fell short of the wall, and the gryphons slammed, full force, into the outpost.

The walls fell in an instant, drowned under the combined fury of this dwarven commander and their gryphons. But the ordinaries merely formed a defensive dome of spears and shields, stabbing at any dwarven monster that came too close. The tounic runes on their spears were put to good use, cleaving through the Jvanic flesh as if it wasn’t there, leaving behind wounds that burned as if poisoned and refused to heal.

The first templar squad was destroyed, torn apart in an instant by Elspeth’s whirling blades. The second one instead focused on the gryphon riders. They leapt through the air, cleaving gryphons in half with their blades, or yanking riders off to fall to their deaths. They seemed to flow around the blades and claws of the riders, moving with unnatural speed and hitting with unnatural strength.

When the gates fell, opened from inside by the gryphon riders, they moved in front of the dome of shields and spears, dodging the strikes from the yetis and cutting them down with flicks of their blades. Azsea, when she wasn’t stabbing at yet another gryphon clawing at her shield, watched in awe. They were magnificent, Toun’s perfection made real in combat.

Then of course, Elspeth arrived. She was at best a blur, faster than she had any living right to be. Azsea got a front row seat to yet another power of Elspeth’s, as she stuck out her hand. A massive rune seemed to carve itself into the rock, before spewing forth liquid magma, immolating the rest of the remaining templar squad in a blaze of heat. With almost all of the templars gone, the infantry advanced on the defenders, shields blocking the incoming spear points.

Eventually the defenders were overran, left down to a few survivors, holding their spears and swords tightly, waiting for death.

Elspeth put her blade to Azsea’s neck, and in a powerful voice, told her, “Put down the weapon, or you this will be your last.”

“The Prophet will come. And he will kill you. Then he’ll purge the rest of your kind that infest Galbar. The chaos worshippers and those that obey the Cancer that grows. You will all be wiped from Galbar, to make it perfect, as in Lord Toun’s vision.” Azsea hissed, clinging tightly to her spear.

“I will await the day this prophet comes, then. The Empress under the mountain will surely prove to be their better,” responded Elspeth, pressing her runic blade into Azsea’s neck. It sliced clean through, and Elspeth then withdrew her blade. She turned to the rest, saying, “In the Empress’ name, let none survive!”

The survivors were finished off quickly.


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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Whisper.


Earth turned to estuary, to open sea.

Whisper had not formed an eye in days. Her front half had fused into a domed shell, a blast shield to weather the incessant pummelling of wind in her face as she flew. To lock her in with the warmth and the song.

Aihtiraq's wish had still not left her and Whisper came to accept it would follow her to the grave. That was alright. She could make peace with that much. She just wished she knew whether or not it would stay with her beyond that.

For now, there was just the hymnful duet of the wind and the grey skies, and the chopping of the darkness below...

Slow, painful, and relentless, the Big Sister's journey took her south.

She was a blip on the horizon, a speck of dying colour in a world of grey. The falling star was ash now, and only cinders kept it alight.

She did not stop for the rising storm that blew from ahead. The waves swelled, became hills, then mountains around her. The ocean was no longer far below- It was everywhere. Towers of white-marred abyss rose on either side of her, crashed and disappeared, columns in the great hallway of a single moment.

Whisper didn't even look up. But she stopped.

At last the wind howled its fiercest, and the waters of the Fractal Sea rose up in an apocalyptic wall before her, a shadow that stretched from the grave to the clouds, and made her as a single snowflake before the darkness of the sun. All the ocean bore down on her, and it fell away. And white spray consumed her view.

CHILD, MY CHILD, said a voice from the mist, lit by a ray of sun. WHAT HAS BECOME OF YOU?

Many things, thought Whisper. Too much. But she did not answer.

A sigh swept through the world of white, and with its sound the mist was breathed away, leaving pure sunlight on a smooth sea. Before her stood the figure of a man cross-legged, bald with age and fat with health; A long, thin beard trailed from beneath his lidded eyes. He was made of clearest water, through and through.

"My name is Tsunami," said the Spirit of the Fractal Sea. "Yours, I believe, is Diaphane."

"Whisper."

The alien body cracked and refolded into the stance of the Fourfold Fish- A bladed wedge for a head, and arms with too many joints, hanging slack to the ground with weariness. It was the shape with which she had slain Feldspar.

The Djinni sighed again, and there was a dip in his choir of disciples, a slow beat in Whisper's song. "You've come so far, my child," said Tsunami, extending a hand as if to offer her a perch. "Was it all for this?"

"I'm not your child."

Tsunami nodded, and straightened. "Very well. Yet I think you and I are closer than you know. We have both been wronged by she who shaped us. She who lies beyond this sea."

One of Whisper's spindly claws rose and shook itself, bending every which way before refolding. She was tired. She could still fight. "What would you know of Jvan?"

Tsunami frowned, and gazed off into the horizon below. He looked back. "My apologies. Age slows me, and my earliest memories of the Grey Plateau are ancient indeed."

"In recent years, of course, the concord of these waters have been challenged. When the Grand Monsoon came to me and bid me hunt down those fae monks that dwelt in my domain, I listened, and agreed, such as it was in my power; Yet little did that weigh, for not often are Sculptors seen in these outer depths, and the Jvanic Peninsula is not part of my territory... Though they may have presumed otherwise."

Whisper listened, for it was in her nature to do so.

"Then... Certain cataclysms struck, which nearly slew me. Water burned, the sky was made into fire, and I saw... Terrible things..." Tsunami closed his eyes and breathed. A being of such power, yet not without fear. "When I recovered, I found Her body encased in charcoal, and greatly reduced. I thought perhaps my time as lesser custodian was to change, but I was wrong."

"They told me to destroy the Jvanic, and I tried, when the towers first grew. But the Lost Tooth spoke to me, with arcane weapons at his side. And I saw that, perverted or no, his cause was just. So I let the towers stand, and still they stand today. The other Djinni have not found them."

A nauseous memory surfaced, and Whisper found herself quoting the Emaciator, its sharp rasp as fresh as ever. 'Ring of abyssal bioconstructs around site of violence...' It wasn't lying.

"At last there came the accord of the Brine and Beck, and I saw the Archduke Salis crowned. And I cast my lot with him, for he was a Sealord as great as any, and my place has never been any but the most patient, the most passive..." Tsunami closed his eyes and inclined his head towards the East. After a while he rose again and faced her.

"The reason I tell you all this, Diaphane Whisper, is because change has come to these waters, and though my heart is troubled, I cannot intuit whether that change will be lasting. Jvan is not dead. She will return. Will then my role here be renewed by that strange land yonder? Or am I to pass away and renew another, as okiami flourish before the long winter's night?"

Whisper looked, and saw the orange flash of krill dancing below her, only to vanish into the darkness of some great maw.

"I do have a role here, Diaphane. This sea has long been known to produce... Many things, of curious persuasion. Even djinni, which rarely last long among their fellows... Though of course, I myself am surely touched with a drop of weird..." Tsunami raised a hand, and examined closely the play of light through clear water.

"Jvan did not often speak to me. She simply destroyed my every predecessor until at last I emerged, one content to function in such way that fits her. Thus my duty is clear: I am to administrate the fractal seas beyond her peninsula, and hold the borders of the Cardioid, that they might not be invaded by another lord. One that she would have to evict."

"For she imposes her own Order on her territory, and would not tolerate its interruption. So I live, and I watch, and I guide the tides through neap and spring, as is my way... And there is peace. No one dies."

Something wrenched inside Whisper. He doesn't know.

Tsunami's colourless eyes followed Whisper, as if her thoughts were spoken directly to him. "But you, Diaphane, have a role of your own." It was a question.

"To create something that resolves the deadlock," whispered Whisper, "between..." She gestured to herself, then to Tsunami. He frowned.

"You would cut through the knot," he repeated. "Yet who hangs upon it? Who would you let fall, Diaphane?"

She was silent.

"I know of your Sisterhood, Diaphane Whisper. When your... Mother, I believe, was born, I watched her pass through my waters and grow. When ships were sunk on the Bejewelled Ocean, my distant sons passed on the word. When news spread on the monsoon rain, I listened as I gave it my blessing." Tsunami frowned.

"It is not enough that you hope for change, Diaphane. I regret it, but... your existence is suffering to my people." The sun seemed to catch and condense in Tsunami's eyes. "What will you sacrifice for the resolution you seek? Are you willing to give up your sisters, for the sake of your prey?"

"No," she said immediately. "Never."

Tsunami exhaled, and closed his eyes. His presence brought peace. Whisper hadn't noticed it, but it was true. The water song attested to it.

"Then that is why you must die."

A long moment passed in which neither of them moved. Tsunami didn't seem to be waiting for anything. He simply meditated on the moment, as if delaying the inevitable.

Whisper flicked her wrist.

"So be it," she said. "But first, give me a song."

And, as light turned to darkness, as opacity claimed the clear seas and made them mountains, a song was given.

A future name we number not
'midst voices of the dawning day.
Unmourned decays the fallen tree
And things that Nature casts away.

In storm and light we sing no woe
To things we lose to water's flow.
The tides that pass above will know
That things must die if things must grow.

Times pass, and yet upon this world
We struggle still, and fight, and run.
Mourn not the tree that stands no more
But fading, climb it to the sun.


The world rocked in the gale of Tsunami's wrath.

Whisper clenched herself like a fist until darkness bled from her surface, unfettered by her mortal body. Power flowed into the wind like smoke down a river and she stood against the Sealord as a snowflake before Hell, radiating unspeakable defiance with nothing more than her existence.

The Whisper became a Roar that would sunder the hearts of men.

Shadow loomed over her, crushing the horizon. Diaphane Whisper shot into it and passed through it and it exploded into lightless white.

Twin towers of ocean formed on either side of her and left a bottomless chasm below, sucking down air with the speed of its fall. A long tail flowed from Whisper into the abyss but did not lose its source, and when the walls collided with a clap that quaked the distant earth, they were decapitated by a hurricane of eldritch teeth and foam once more bloomed upon the seas.

Whisper inverted and penetrated the ocean.

Weight. Pressure. The planet smashed her and she cracked it, kicked great fans of sub-surface steam into it, each blow a shock of explosive force. Whisper danced alone against the unseen rage, and every move tore self-crushing whiteness into the blind arena.

But she tired.

The ocean was endless and so was its Lord. Around her was all water and only water, and she could not find a place to place her blows that was any but another face of the storm.

Foam exploded upon the surface of the waters as Whisper drew breath, leaving a vast crater of falling brine upon the face of the sea- Only for it to close, and reveal to her the landscape beyond.

Mountains. Where her burst had leveled a mile around, the waves beyond climbed above and around, their marching away into forever.

The Jvanic inkblot struck through Whisper's heart sustained her and kept her. She made herself into a tail and spiraled, demolishing one of the almighty waves with a blow of her body, reducing it to foam and fog on the wind.

And yet already another was coming.

Enough of this, said the colour become the stain. I depart.

The Big Sister blossomed into blades and scythed into the sky. The ocean chased her as she rose, storm waves consuming one another to dwarf her as planets dwarf their dust. On all sides, water. Five hundred metres into the sky- Water.

Whisper incinerated the shadows in her blood and felt the air shatter over her like a struck wall, leaving a burst of sound in her wake.

At last she saw the horizon. She saw the edge of the storm, far away. They were lost to the black of clouds.

Lightning snapped around her, arcs of power striking through her. They burned her and she ate their glow. Electricity seared her into a daze and she slowed, but she kept on.

She left their energy behind and saw only darkness ahead.

No-!

It was the darkness of water.

Tsunami's sons collided with Whisper and died, blown apart by the force of impact. Still they came, clinging at her, and the flow of Jvan within her was not strong enough to pull away when she had drained so much of it for acceleration.

The great Ocean was waiting, and it caught her in her palm.

No!

Whisper blasted spokes of mist out from the pillar of water and fought, even as it dragged her tired body down.

I will not die like this!

Chaos reigned and all was storm and Toun's glyph shuffled in the dark.

I WILL NOT DIE LIKE THIS!

Whisper lashed out against the waters as those slender scarlet lines slipped off her body and onto the foam she created-

I WILL SUFFER NO LONGER!

-and from its whiteness was drawn the shape of a blade.

A red glow ignited in the storm-night, barely luminous. It was enough. The tip of Whisper's arm hooked into the ring at the base of the weapon, and as she swung it around her, its unmistakable rune imprinted itself on her mind: Wit's End.

The sword carved into Tsunami's flesh and this time the wounds did not close.

Subtle crimson trails followed Wit's End as it moved, searing Whisper, searing the water. Whisper kicked out at Tsunami, kicked herself out of the water, made a long tail of herself and flicked the sword at his next wave like the tip of a whip; And though the wave still broke, and Whisper still had to blast through it, the Sealord weakened.

The omnipresence that had been Tsunami's strength had now become his weakness. Whisper wrapped herself around the sword as it corroded away layers of her flesh, held it as one drowning who reaches even for a bar of hot iron.

She used it like a sting. Every wall of ocean that Tsunami could conjure she slammed into first with her blade and then with the strength of her body, and she could feel herself slowly clawing back over the edge as her stain healed her. Soon the agony of holding Wit's End surpassed that of Tsunami's bone-shattering pressure, and even then she did not let go.

And she did not let go.

And she did not let go...

* * *


Sunlight glittered over the surface of the Fractal Sea. The last stormcloud was gone. Tsunami was gone. A great cloud of white rose from around Whisper, and a milky ocean bubbled beneath her. She didn't know if the Sealord had survived or not, but she had boiled him alive.

She didn't know where she was any more, or how long it had been. All she knew was the pain of holding on to Wit's End, this curved, spoked shape at the end of a many-thorned ring. Whisper gazed at the bizarre sword, this gift of survival bought at the cost of all she had traveled for, and groaned.

She could not let it go. She had been through too much to even try. But she had to ease the pain. Wit's End was taking from her because she had not chosen anything to give.

But she had given. She'd given a thousand songs and a thousand poems, now lost to plans that could not come to fruition.

"May the one who takes up this sword," swore Diaphane Whisper, "forsake its use, and all other arts of combat, until words fail them."

The burning ceased. Whisper cried out. Wit's End silently folded, revealing its strange rib-like spokes and subtly luminous scarlet cords to be a mechanism. Its hollows closed, its thorns retracted, its light disappeared, and the blade smoothly fell into shape. It was small, now, even and pale, its gaps sealed like chinks in a hain's armour. It might fit a human hand, albeit a large one. And it was still a sword. A ceramic shadow of its true self, but a weapon nonetheless.

It had a rune on each side: One the name of the device, one the oath now required to take it. Not to use it, for that was easy enough, but simply to heft its weight.

Whisper tried to breathe. She barely could.

In the distance, over the calm sea, she could just make out the shape of Jvan rising beneath the waves. She was within reach.

But now, at the end of her journey, Whisper realised she had nothing more to say.

* * *


We tire because we feel
We tire because we act.
We tire because we deal
From decks already stacked.

We tire because we yearn
We tire because we love.
We tire as we burn
To hide with smoke the stars above.

Through time and tide we tire.
Through water and through fire.
Through days and weeks and months and years
We tire of these wasteful tears.

From dawn to dusk we try to run
Yet cannot rest, 'til life is done.
And so we tire.


* * *


The falling star returned to Lex, extinguished yet still breathing.

A fine mist of particles pattered on Whisper's skin. Unfiltered sunlight took on a pink tint as it blazed through the ring's thin and living atmosphere. The familiar smell of gaian plankton fell into place around Whisper's body.

There were new beings here, she saw. Things of living corrosion, forged of meteors and burning like stars. Clouds of life swam around them, tiny imagen trailing symbiotic nocti, feasting on their excess light as they sat still.

Our stellar remnant returns, said one, in a radiation tongue utterly foreign to that of the Sorority. Yet where is the core that brightened its dust?

As she drew closer, Whisper saw that the being had a human face, wrought from bands of pitted metal. But the resemblance was lost thereafter. Its body was too large, too warped, as if its artisan had gone mad in the crafting. This was Jvanic territory; Here, beauty multiplied.

The Realta let her pass. It seemed to be meditating. Whisper saw others as she went. All bore a similar whirled style of metalworking, all bore marks of the human semblance they once held. All were far too large, twisted into bizarre yet perfectly symmetrical clumps and discs and towers. And all had been deeply worn and rusted.

"Whisper!"

Melody, thought Whisper. Melody, my niece.

The inklet drew near, near enough for the Big Sister to wonder at how much she'd grown. "Whisper, why are you so... Dim?"

She made a 'no' motion and flew on. But others came.

"She's so dark..."

"What happened to her?"

"Why is she carrying that... Shell?"

"I wonder where she's been."

"I wonder what she's tasted!"

"...Does she know?"

The shoal quietened. The last voice was Dust, Whisper's grandchild.

Slowly the voices resumed, and more joined them. The shoal swelled. A hundred brilliant dyes, and one drop of sepia.

Another shoal was approaching. At its head was a Sister as big as Whisper.

"Whisper!"

"Stellar," said Whisper finally. They embraced. The prodigal sister was home. "Stellar," said Whisper again. "Where's Wander?"

"Whisper..."

Whisper held her so close she could have crushed her.

"Whisper, she..."

Whisper dissolved through her and cradled herself, holding her own head, gripping as if to tear. Stellar tried to peel away her claws, but she was too strong. All Stellar could do was hold her.

"...She's gone."

Whisper crushed herself into a ball of knives and teeth, and for a long time knew no more.

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BBeast Scientific

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Teknall had been surveying the universe. In secret, he had scouted the space around each Orb of Darkness that he could find, trying to find an Orb in the right environment and of the right size. Eventually he found one: an Orb on the tiny end of the spectrum, a meagre two hundred thousand kilometers in radius, that was on a 'close' approach to a blue supergiant, passing within a few tens of billions of kilometers over about a Galbaric century, in a galaxy far from Galbar. Stars with planetary systems were present within several light years. It was about as close to ideal conditions as Teknall would find for his designs.

In his Workshop, Teknall began to bring his plans to life. The Orb was far too big for even a god to practically manipulate it, let alone fit into his Workshop, so his plans involved an intermediate step; some thing which would be able to cover enough space in order to carry out this construction project, and any future cosmic-scale construction projects. And, as always, he had a design in mind.

He assembled metal plates, actuators, circuits, capacitors, servo motors, transducers, wiring, metal beams and other parts into a mechanical device, two metres tall, highly geometric and box-like in form, with four flat faces along its sides. It had four triangular legs at its corners, holding it above the ground. On each of its faces were hatches. Teknall took a power cable and plugged it into the machine, and it clicked into life. A mind of semiconductor silicon activated, and into this electronic mind Teknall gave it thought.

Running initialisation sequence
Systems scan: All systems optimal
Admin list is empty. Input system administrator ID:
> "Teknall"
New admin "Teknall" approved
Initialisation complete
Task list is empty. Entering idle mode
> new_task(Type="craft",Target=item.metal_plate.type_M1,Quantity=2)
New task received from "Teknall" (Task No. 000001)
Processing Task No. 000001

The robot began to move, its four legs walking it across the ground. Nearby was a stack of iron ingots, which the robot approached. A hatch slid open, and out emerged a jointed metal arm with a fractal array of metal fingers. The manipulator arm picked up the ingots one by one and placed them inside the robot through another hatch on its top side. The shimmer of heated air could be seen rising from that opened hatch. After a few seconds had passed, a hatch opened underneath the robot and another, shorter arm emerged. This arm deposited a stream of molten iron onto the ground and scanned backwards and forwards, laying down the iron into a sheet. Another couple of arms emerged to smooth the sheet and refine its shape. Soon the sheet cooled into solid iron, and the robot moved to a fresh patch of floor to build another plate. With the robot no longer standing over it, the metal plate could be seen to match the side face of the robot. It was not long before it had finished the second plate.

Task No. 000001 complete
Task list is empty. Entering idle mode

Teknall picked up the produced plates and inspected them. The quality of the work was adequate. Not excellent, although no craft work could possibly compare to Teknall's, but pretty good considering the speed with which they were made, without needing a mold. The quality would improve as the robot had time and opportunity to test various different methods. Time and opportunity would come soon. But first, a true test.

> new_task(Type="craft",Target=promethean.manipulator,Quantity=1,Inheritance="copy")
New task received from "Teknall" (Task No. 000002)
Processing Task No. 000002

Teknall also told the robot how to access materials from the Elemental Siphon and to interface with some of the more useful tools in the Workshop, such as the furnaces. He also made sure to adjust the list of things the robot would and would not attempt to break down for parts, just so it wouldn't try to disassemble his Workshop.

Then he watched as the robot got to work. It created two more Type M1 Metal Plates, then worked on building more metal plates, and then some machined parts and circuitry and electric motors. It soon became apparent that its crafting target, a 'Promethean Manipulator', was in fact a replica of itself.

The construction process took time, for a Promethean Manipulator was a fiendishly complicated machine. But the same cause for the complication of construction was the reason it could create such complicated objects in the first place. The Manipulator's arms, of which it actually had many, were equipped for a vast array of transformations, from heavy lifting to precise manipulation, from hammering to cutting, from laser etching to three-dimensional printing. With the steady supply of resources from the Elemental Siphon, the robot was able to work continuously, until two Promethean Manipulators stood in the Workshop.

promethean.M000001: promethean.manipulator created (ID: M000002)
promethean.M000001: Setting promethean.M000002 settings, Inheritance mode: copy
promethean.M000002: Running initialisation sequence
promethean.M000002: Systems scan: All systems optimal
promethean.M000002: Inheriting settings from promethean.M000001
promethean.M000002: New admin "Teknall" approved
promethean.M000002: Synchronising task list with promethean.M000001
promethean.M000002: Initialisation complete
promethean.M000001: Task No. 000002 complete
promethean.M000001: Task list is empty. Entering idle mode
promethean.M000002: Task list is empty. Entering idle mode

Teknall walked around the Promethean Manipulator M000002, which had just been made. He checked the components himself, and ran a scan of the electronic brain, and was satisfied that the robot had been constructed without error.

> new_task(Type="craft",Target=promethean.manipulator,Quantity=5,Inheritance="copy")
promethean.M000001: New task received from "Teknall" (Task No. 000003)
promethean.M000002: Synchronising task list with promethean.M000001
promethean.M000001: Processing Task No. 000003
promethean.M000002: Processing Task No. 000003

The two Prometheans got to work on creating more of themselves, communicating via radio waves, working in parallel. Leaving them to work, Teknall moved on to prepare the next part of his design.

Out in the wild, the Prometheans would not be able to simply tap into the Stellar Engine by Teknall's Workshop. They would require some kind of power supply. And Teknall had an idea.

He had been inspired by the generator he had seen within Father Dominus. The generator inside the Ark was a cold fusion reactor catalysed by the metabolism of Other tissue. Simply feeding it water was adequate to produce energy to run the Ark and its thrusters. However, Teknall had no intention of copying the design, primarily because there was way too much meat to be useful to the Prometheans. But a regular fusion reactor was entirely within Teknall's capabilities. Fusion power had fairly abundant fuel, for water and hydrogen gas could be found almost anywhere in the universe. And it produced ample supplies of energy, which would be necessary for operating power hungry manufacturing tools.

So Teknall built a miniaturised fusion reactor which could be installed within Prometheans. The roughly spherical metal device used lasers and superconducting electromagnets to confine hydrogen plasma into a swirling orb and compress it until fusion temperatures were achieved. The heat generated was converted into electricity, and the excess heat vented away. Hydrogen was injected into the fusion chamber, and the resulting helium could be siphoned off, separated by mass. One of the two disadvantages with the design was that it required a large amount of energy to start the reactor, although once it was running it would continue to run provided it was continuously fed hydrogen and the excess heat could be discarded.

The other disadvantage of the design was its complexity and the rare elements used in it. While Teknall had ensured that the Manipulators were sufficiently dexterous to create such machines, it would be quite expensive to create in terms of materials, time and energy. But this was a cost which Teknall decided was appropriate for the benefits it gave.

promethean.M000003: Initialisation complete
promethean.M000004: Initialisation complete
promethean.M000005: Initialisation complete
promethean.M000006: Initialisation complete
promethean.M000007: Initialisation complete
promethean.M000001: Task No. 000003 complete
promethean.M000001: Task list is empty. Entering idle mode

Teknall looked over to the seven Promethean Manipulators which now stood in his Workshop. They were still all plugged into the Stellar Engine, so would require their own internal power sources before being sent out of the Workshop.

> blueprints.append(item.fusion_core)
> new_task(Type="upgrade",Target=promethean.manipulator,Add=item.fusion_core)
New Task received from "Teknall" (Task No. 000004)
Synchronising task list
Processing Task No. 000004

The Prometheans got to work on constructing these fusion cores, for to install an item first one has to build it. They were extremely intricate and time consuming to create, although with a team of Manipulators the work was able to be shared around. Some could process the materials, creating the superconductors and other advanced materials, while others could machine the individual parts, and then all these parts could be brought together.

It took the seven Prometheans many, many hours to manufacture just one fusion core. The process of installation was trivial by comparison. One Promethean was powered down. Panels were removed by another Promethean. Interior components were rearranged, and the fusion core was inserted and attached. As a corollary, the cooling systems of that Promethean were given a substantial upgrade, to compensate for the additional heat production. The Promethean was then sealed back up, and plugged into the Stellar Engine to give the fusion reactor a jump start.

promethean.M000002: Running reboot sequence
promethean.M000002: Systems scan: New power supply detected
promethean.M000002: Systems scan: All systems optimal
promethean.M000002: Reboot complete
promethean.M000002: Synchronising task list
promethean.M000002: Processing Task No. 000004

Once active, Promethean M000002 was able to disconnect from the Stellar Engine and move independently. It collected water from the available taps about the Workshop, electrolysed it, ejected the excess oxygen and bottled up the hydrogen within for use in nuclear fusion.

The seven Manipulators continued to manufacture fusion cores under Teknall's supervision. As they worked Teknall provided adjustments and feedback into their processes, improving their manufacturing techniques. After some time, all seven Prometheans were equipped with fusion cores.

But they could not stay in the Workshop indefinitely. That would defeat the purpose, and if there were too many more of them they would not fit. Teknall opened up a rift, and ordered the Prometheans through it. Obediently they followed, and found themselves on the surface of a planet.

This planet was rocky, and its atmosphere was inert. The sun was distant in the sky, so the air and ground was cool. A lake of frozen water was nearby. In the sky, although it was still partially lit, could be seen a few bright stars. The Prometheans meandered around aimlessly. One went down to the lake and scooped up some of the ice to make more hydrogen.

> new_task(Type="craft",Target=promethean.manipulator,Quantity=100,Inheritance="copy")
New Task received from "Teknall" (Task No. 000005)
Synchronising task list
Processing Task No. 000005

The Manipulators got to work. Teknall provided inputs and advice as they worked. He told them how to find mineral ores. He guided them on the hazards of outdoors work, such as avoiding getting trapped while mining and keeping a track of the external temperature so as to not be unexpectedly caught unable to vent heat. And then he set them loose. He gave them some advice on logistical pathways, storing resources for later use. But most importantly he ensured that their adaptive algorithms were functioning, since those would grant the power to learn and experiment.

It would take a long time for these seven to create a hundred Manipulators. So Teknall had time to go off and make some more Prometheans.

The Manipulators could perform myriad tasks. They made Swiss Army Knives look like blunt twigs. Yet their vast versatility came at the cost of efficiency in specific tasks, for they were about as unspecialised as possible. As such, the Prometheans needed some specialists.

The first specialist Teknall decided to create was the Harvester. This Promethean was much larger than the Manipulators, with this particular specimen being a cuboid approximately 8 metres on a side, although out in the wild they could be built to be far larger. It had very short and stumpy legs, which allowed it to crawl along slowly but steadily. On its front was a massive metallic maw of wheels and grinding gears with scoops and buckets, designed to chew through stone with ease. Most of its insides were dedicated to preliminary mineral processing, separating useful minerals from worthless stone, and performing basic smelting to convert metal ores into usable metal ingots. The Harvester also boasted a sizeable storage capacity, with compartments which could expand outwards to provide more storage capacity.

Teknall took the Harvester to the planet on which the other Prometheans were working and activated it.

promethean.H000001: Running initialisation sequence
promethean.H000001: Systems scan: All systems optimal
promethean.H000001: Initialisation complete
promethean.H000001: Synchronising task list
promethean.H000001: Processing Task No. 000005

The Prometheans, Harvester and Manipulators combined, subdivided and distributed the task among each other. The Harvester drove into the ground and churned it up. It dug through the ground, its pace unhindered by the solid earth, creating a large pit as it moved in wide circles. Gravel was sprayed from a chute on the Harvester in a great arc onto a quickly growing pile some distance from the pit. Manipulators came to the Harvester and collected metal ingots from hatches in the Harvester's sides. In return, the Manipulators would feed the Harvester hydrogen, such that it would not have to stop its work to refuel. The presence of the Harvester greatly accelerated the collection of resources.

> new_task(Type="craft",Target=promethean.harvester,Quantity=10,Inheritance="copy")
New Task received from "Teknall" (Task No. 000006)
Synchronising task list
Processing Task No. 000006

The Prometheans internally readjusted their list of sub-tasks, coalesced duplicates, and redefined priorities to add this new task. And Teknall left them to work as he returned to his Workshop to make the next specialist.

One factor which severely slowed down the rate at which new Prometheans could be made was the micro-fusion core. This component was very costly and complicated and time consuming to create. As such, it would be far more cost effective to have a single large power supply which was shared amongst a group of Prometheans, such as the Stellar Engine, but more portable. It was for this purpose that Teknall designed the Energiser.

The chassis of this Promethean was a dodecahedron 10 meters across. The bottom face had six robotic legs to provide locomotion. The ten side faces each had many small hatches, from which actuated power cables could extend like tentacles, as well as some hatches for resource collection and input. The top face had several metallic spires dedicated to communication and sensors. The interior of the Energiser was almost entirely dedicated to a fusion core. Ironically, it was far easier to build this large version of the fusion core, for the challenge of compacting all the essential components into a small space was lessened.

Like the Harvester, Teknall sent the Engeriser to the planet and activated it.

promethean.E000001: Running initialisation sequence
promethean.E000001: Systems scan: All systems optimal
promethean.E000001: Initialisation complete
promethean.E000001: Identifying dependents
promethean.E000001: No dependents detected. Entering idle mode

The Energiser, of course, was presently unneeded, because all Prometheans present had their own micro-fusion cores. However, that would soon change. There was no reason to remove the fusion cores from the existing Prometheans, but Teknall did modify the default design such that they contained batteries instead of fusion cores.

This, however, meant teaching the Prometheans how to make batteries, which in turn required a functional understanding of chemistry. Teknall was quite capable of providing such information, and soon the Prometheans held more knowledge of chemistry in their collective memories than the rest of mortal civilisation combined. While this might have overwhelmed most mortals, the Prometheans were designed to be able to withstand and process such data dumps. The information was filed away to be called upon when needed.

Teknall also taught the Prometheans about the functioning and use of electricity. With this knowledge, they would be able to effective transport power and energy over distances, and understand how the Energiser could give energy. To aid in their work, the Manipulators constructed metal cables from where the Energiser was stationed and electrical transformers at either end to step up and down the voltages for transport and use respectively, such that the Prometheans could work at a distance from the Energiser and still receive power. Teknall was happy to see this development, for it showed initiative and an eye for optimisation.

> new_task(Type="craft",Target=promethean.energiser,Quantity=1,Inheritance="copy")

Teknall left the Prometheans to continue on their work as he went to make yet another specialist in his Workshop.

The Manipulators were excellent crafters, yet their lack of specialisation made them inefficient in many tasks, even crafting tasks. To fill this gap, Teknall created a Processor. The Processor vaguely resembled a Manipulator, with four inwardly sloping faces with hatches, plus a hatch on the top face, although it was larger than a Manipulator, with this specimen being 8 meters tall, and it apparently lacked legs. Also unlike the Manipulator, it had a sturdy ramp going down each face, which could carry resources up to the top hatch, and also had treads on the underside to allow for basic locomotion. The interior was also similar to that of a Manipulator, although far, far simpler.

The Processor was to be a mobile factory. When built, it would be programmed to create a certain set of items within itself. Changing this set of items would require physical modification. While far less versatile than the Manipulators, this allowed the Processor to have specialised tools for the task, allowing for much faster production rates than those possible by Manipulators. Some Processors would make mechanical and electrical components, including the complex fusion core, while some Processors would be outfitted as chemical plants, creating materials more complex than pure metals.

Teknall brought the Processor over to the planet and activated it.

promethean.P000001: Running initialisation sequence
promethean.P000001: Systems scan: All systems optimal
promethean.P000001: Initialisation complete
promethean.P000001: Manufacturing capabilities: (item.battery)
promethean.P000001: Synchronising task list

Receiving its tasks, the Processor began producing batteries for use in the new Prometheans.

> new_task(Type="craft",Target=promethean.processor,Quantity=20,Inheritance="copy")

More Processors would be needed to achieve mass production at any reasonable scale. The Processors would constitute essential parts of the logistical chain of production, which at present was focused on creating more Prometheans. And if Teknall wanted to get anything done in a reasonable time frame, he needed the Prometheans to be really effective at mass production.

But for this the Prometheans needed oversight and coordination. For this purpose, Teknall created one more specialist.

This Promethean was built as a great tower, 30 meters wide and 40 meters tall. It had been so large, in fact, that Teknall had been required to make it in pieces and assemble it on the planet. It was shaped like a hexagonal-based pyramid, with a truncated top. Several large hatches like doors were present on its sides, with ledges large enough to support a smaller Promethean. The top face had long metallic spires protruding from it, which acted as a sophisticated radio communications array and sensory network. It had a set of treads on the underside to permit locomotion, although most of the time this Promethean would be firmly fixed in one location, like the Processors.

This towering creation was the Nexus. It was outfitted for performing vital functions for the Promethean colony. Its interior was a specialised factory, made exclusively for manufacturing and assembling Prometheans. This would allow the Nexus to accelerate the rate of Promethean production. The spires and antennae it had gave it superior range in communication, such that it could act as a communications hub for Prometheans spread across a very large area.

And, most importantly, it contained a supercomputer's worth of semiconductor mind and computational power. Nexi were to be the brains of the Promethean colonies. With their superior intelligence, they were suited for organising the Prometheans and leading them. They had the capacity to oversee the operations, provide innovation and adapt to changing circumstances.

promethean.N000001: Running initialisation sequence
promethean.N000001: Systems scan: All systems optimal
promethean.N000001: Initialisation complete

To the other Prometheans, Teknall said,

> add_admin(promethean.N000001)
New admin promethean.N000001 approved
promethean.N000001: New dependents detected
promethean.N000001: Synchronising task list

The Nexus sent messages to the Prometheans in its colony. It arranged subtasks. It sought optimisations. And Teknall assisted. Teknall provided the Nexus with assistance an all matters of logistics, production and construction. With the permissions granted to the Nexus, it was able to create tasks and distribute them amongst the Prometheans. The Prometheans were soon organised into groups. Processors were made to fill key roles in production. Harvesters were sent to places where necessary minerals and materials had been identified. Manipulators were arranged into task forces and construction teams. Energisers were moved to strategic locations.

Teknall provided more knowledge to the Nexus. It was to be able to design and innovate, to find optimisations and to invent. For this, Teknall equipped it with the tools of mathematics and physics. Teknall had helped write the physics of the Universe, so was able to teach physics in a form raw and unfiltered by the limitations of observation or experimentation. And, without the biases of past experience or the limitations of a fleshy brain, the Promethean Nexus was able to absorb it all. With this information and the associated skills, the Prometheans would be able to adapt their own design to suit changing circumstances and needs.

All that was left was to tell the Nexus what to do.

> new_directive("Expand the colony")
> new_directive("Create new colonies")
promethean.N000001: Directive No. 000001 received
promethean.N000001: Directive No. 000002 received

The colony moved under the direction of the Nexus. More Prometheans would be made. When logistically feasible, the Nexus would be expanded, adding more layers and height, allowing for creating larger Prometheans, and eventually for creating new Nexi.

Back in his Workshop, Teknall repurposed and upgraded the manufacturing lines to create Prometheans rather than Stellar Engine Collectors. The colonies would need that boost in population, and at the moment Prometheans were more useful to Teknall than more Collectors. Then Teknall left the Prometheans to their own devices. He had more designs for them, but they would need to consolidate and expand before they would be ready.



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Hidden 10 mos ago Post by WrongEndoftheRainbow
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Lasis didn’t sleep like the Tedar. She didn’t need it, and she wouldn’t pretend she did. After all, if you don’t need sleep, that’s all the more time to make art. She worked all night as the Tedar slept, their herd in the back of the cave. She completely covered the cave wall in various paintings, made crudely out of crushed flowers and plants, as well as a few sparkly minerals here and there.

She didn’t expect the minerals would last long, but preserved, the rest of the paint would. The paint stuck to the cavern walls much better than the minerals. She hummed peacefully as she continued to draw. There were paintings of the Tedar, their herds, both of them at the same time, herself, the landscape outside, the moon, the sun, and anything else she could think of. It created a wonderful visual story.

It came naturally to her. She just kept painting and painting, letting time flow away from her. After all, who needed time when you were busy creating art? She worked on and on, until the Tedar eventually woke again. Luk and Giik looked upon her art approvingly. They conferred a breakfast of various rocks, Luk even producing some wood. Lasis did not have any, for she did not have a mouth.

She continued to paint as they watched on, amused. They ate their rocks and wood slowly, to give themselves time to appreciate the vast canvas Lasis had painted. Eventually they did finish, however, and Giik began to speak, “Are you a prophet of Ilunabar?”

Lasis shook her head.

Giik looked at Luk, and shrugged. “Why not?” Luk asked. Lasis responded with a simple, “I don’t know who Ilunabar is.” The two Tedar fell silent for a little bit, clearly thinking that over. When they finished, they responded again. “I think Luk should take you to towns while I tend the herd. I think they would like your pictures,” Giik said. Luk nodded in response.

“I’d love to,” Lasis responded. She just wanted to create art. It sounded like an excellent idea to her. Luk held out his hand, beckoning for her to climb up. She climbed up his arm, sitting down on his shoulder. He was hunched over due to the size of the cave, which made it a bit harder, but she did it nonetheless. It’d be easier to sit on Luk’s shoulder when they were out of the cave, surely.

Several hours later, with a lot of farewells from Giik, they were well on their way. They were moving north, towards the nearest settlement the two Tedar knew of. There would be friends there, the Tedar knew, as they stopped there every once and awhile to gift the settlement some of their herd; to make sure it didn’t get too large to handle.

Eventually, they reached the small village. It had a little herd of its own, tended to by the goblins. They looked up from their daily duties to see Luk, and a universal smile spread across the whole village. There were maybe about twenty people in all living in the village, sustained by the herd of sheep that the two Tedar had given them over the years. Luk and Giik were very much welcome, and a friend of them ended up being a friend of the village. This included Lasis.

They greeted the village, making Lasis dizzy with the amount of names she was bombarded with. She wasn’t particularly social. She just wanted to create art. Once the greetings were over -- not that Lasis would be inclined to remember so many names -- Luk told them she was an excellent picturemaker. That she made magnificent colors out of plants, and arranged them beautifully. They all looked upon her curiously, offering to help where they could.

So she got her hands on some bowls, a pestle, and various plants. She selected several plants, grinding them up in bowls. She cleaned off the pestle with water from a nearby stream, and then mixed up paste in the bowls, the crushed plants giving the paste vibrant colors. She took it to one of the hut walls, and, after instructing them on making simplistic brushes, took some brushes and began to paint. She painted a beautiful mural of a sunset in the mountains, then moved on to the next hut.

She painted Luk, Giik, and their herd on another. And yet another picture on another hut. For the next few hours, she worked on various paintings on the huts, moving back and forth between them and improving them where she could. She painted brilliantly, much to the awe and entertainment of the goblins. They’d never seen such vibrant paintings before.

Once she had finished, it was just about night. She was given a bed to sleep in, but she didn’t sleep. So instead, she continued her painting through the night, improving on the now colorful huts where she could. She would leave them with the best paintings she could make. After all, they treated her well and were friends of Luk.

Just like in the cave, throughout the night she continued to paint, covering every hut in the substance. Once every hut was covered, she made adjustments to her paintings, perfecting them as best she could. When she was finally satisfied, it was early in the morning. She took her paints into the hut room they gave her, placing them on the ground. She waited.

When they woke up a few hours later, she moved on with Luk. Onto the next settlement. The ones in the village directed them towards the next grouping of goblins, and bid them farewell. Instead of drab and brown, their huts were brightly colored and they had been inspired. When Lasis was gone, they experimented with paints on their own. They drew their own paintings on bark and stone. She had successfully spread her art.

A day later, the Tedar and the false demigod came up to another town, just as small as the first. They didn’t know the two, but nevertheless they welcomed in the travellers. Their huts were just as bland, and so Lasis got to work. They gave her the simple tools she needed -- but they did not collect the plants. She got to work, picking various flowers and flora.

Then she mashed them together, making more paste to supplement her existing stocks of paint. She then went to a flat rock just outside the village, and began to paint. She did not lack in inspiration, something coming to her. She began to paint from one of her dreams from before the first time she woke up, near Giik and Luk. She painted a boat on a body of water. A sea? She didn't know what a sea was, but it came to her.

She painted this boat, it was a simple design. It used oars for moving, much like a galley. It also had simplistic sails. It floated on a serene sea, with light clouds in the background. It was an overall peaceful scene. She finished it, and then she moved on to a hut. They didn't stop her, after seeing the rock.

She began to paint various scenes on their huts as well. She continued this throughout the day, watched by the various villagefolk. They came and went with their various duties, but Lasis just continued to paint various scenes. She worked hard on the art, occasionally stopping to restock her paints with more paste. She kept her brushes from the previous village.

Eventually, after Luk had rested, it was time to move on. She had not covered the entire village, but she had inspired the people in the village to do it themselves. She knew that much. Eventually, several hours after they departed, Luk spoke to her, “Are you enjoying yourself?”

Lasis responded quickly, looking up at the bright blue sky. “I am. I enjoy this kind of work. I’m glad to have done it.”

Luk nodded. “You make beautiful pictures.”

“Thank you,” Lasis said back. She rested against his head, perched on his shoulder still. Tracing lazy circles in the air, she awaited the next town. On her back was a small satchel, holding her paints and brushes. It was a peaceful day, and in the mountains there were no people to be found. It was just them, a serene quiet over the landscape. Every once and awhile the quiet was broken by birdsong or an animal in the undergrowth. Everything seemed rather perfect.

And it was, for a while.

Luk looked up, then to the sky, though the last thing to move had been a tenrec in the shrubbery. There wasn't much sign that something could be amiss, but he knew when the animals were uncomfortable.

"They say there's a monster near Willowbrook," he said to Lasis. "That's the town we're going to."

"I'm sure we won't run into a monster," responded Lasis.

"Me too," said a voice from nowhere in particular.

Luk jolted, just a little, and calmed himself with a firmer grip on his crook. "Is somebody there?" he said into the quiet. There was a slight echo from the mountains. "Hello?"

"Why yes, up here," said the voice from the dirt, cryptically. "No, not down there. Not there, either," said a shrub. "Goodness, aren't you dense?"

Luk stopped glancing around and breathed deeply. "...If you don't have any business with us, we'll just be on our way, thank you."

"Oh pooh," said a rock, and from then on nothing more.

It was a few minutes before the birds went back to chirping, and they continued on their way after that. Luk kept an eye on the horizon. "They call him Longfellow," he explained. "He plays tricks, but sometimes he steals children. Naughty children, but no child should have to spend a week in the woods for stealing fruit."

"I'm sure it's just a myth," responded Lazarus, continuing to look out ahead. "Whatever that was, it was probably just somebody playing a trick on us."

A wholesome laugh. "That's the spirit, Lasis!"

In the next few hours they found Willowbrook's eponymous stream, and the road that followed its banks. There wasn't enough traffic to make for a distinct path, but the kindly townsfolk had made a habit of leaving markers painted on the trees. Lasis, along the way, beautified these markings, leaving artistic renditions in their place rather than the plain marks that used to adorn the willows. Still, there was plenty of ground to cover.

Luk remembered the rush of introductions they'd had in the last village, and made the decision to sleep on the road rather than arrive late in the night. Lasis didn't sleep, but he certainly did, and he was still very much in the habit of resting those in his care. It's no good to meet fresh faces with a dour one, thought the Tedar.

"I'm going to rest now," he explained. "We'll leave before sunrise, so you won't have to wait long. Try not to wander." He looked thoughtful. "Or try not to wander too far. The brook is a safe place to walk, as far as I know."

Lasis simply nodded, sitting down by Luk and waiting for him to go to sleep. When he finally did, she got up, looking through her satchel of art supplies. Her eyes glowed in the darkness, providing a source of light. She, eventually, however, got bored and began to walk away. She followed his instructions and stayed by the brook, however.

Longfellow, it seemed, had not been around to hear Luk's modest warning.

"My, my, little girl," said the voice from the murmuring waters, darkened now but for the scattering reflection of Lasis's gaze. "I would think it's past bedtime by now."

A new sound, like sticks rattling softly over a dry ribcage. It came from everywhere.

"Who's there?" Lasis asked, looking around rapidly. Her eyes cast a pale blue light wherever she looked, and she used this to its full effect as she examined the area around her. It didn't take long for the sounds to turn visible. Longfellow was closing in.

There was an unfriendly smile on his face, and his hands were folded under his chin. He'd be almost normal if his skeleton hadn't been turned inside out.

"A stranger, Lasis," said Longfellow, clicking his tongue against layers of teeth caging in his skinless face.

The bogeyman trailed belly-first over pebbles and branches, toothy bones clicking on them as he moved. He circled Lasis, dragging along a torso that never seemed to end, even when it looped and closed circle around her. Ribs chattered and gnashed.

"You shouldn't talk to strangers."

"Then tell me who you are!" she cried out, entering a defensive stance due to having nowhere to run.

Longfellow grinned all over and the world exploded into "BAH-HAHAHAHAH!"

Sweeping down, the toothy fingers grabbed Lasis and tossed her somewhere deeper into the willows, and the rattling resumed with the laughter, chasing now. "Guess my name, little girl!"

Lasis began to run, yelling back at Longfellow, "No! You won't get away with this!"

"You won't get away from me!" returned the cry. Branches broke somewhere beside and just behind her, racing. Longfellow was heavy for something so fast.

Lasis continued to sprint, at a respectable speed despite her stature. She eventually, however, began to slow down when the sound of chase began to end, leaving her running in relative silence. She slowed to a stop, looking back.

Mumbles, distant. The voice was Longfellow's. For a little while there was the occasional crack of wood, but wherever he was, the forest monster wasn't moving.

Finally there came a grumbled "You owe me one," and then silence.

"...Lasis?" said a new voice, close again."Are you there?"

"Hello?" Lasis asked, looking around herself, her bright gemlike eyes still glowing in the darkness. She continued to track any sources of noise, the feathers on her head gently swaying in the ambient breeze.

"Hello," returned the voice. "Stay where you are for a moment." There was a distant sound, then Longfellow's body came crashing down from the canopy head first. About fifty metres worth of torso shortly followed, looping up into a pile as it fell, finally putting voice and ventriloquist back together again.

A light laugh from under the mountain of ribs.

"I see you've met my student," said the newcomer.

Lasis flinched as the body fell from the canopy, as she looked on in morbid curiousity at the sight. "I guess I have. Whom do I have the honor to speak to?"

More chuckles. Longfellow's head untied itself from himself, and clapped his hands together. "No one in particular. A dead girl. Call me Jvan; The honour is mine." Jvan stretched her arms as she unravelled, the body rapidly acclimatising to her.

"I owe you an explanation, no? Longfellow here is a folklorist. He travels the world, starting legends. Guardians, tricksters, ghosts... Fae things. You happened to wander into a story with a bad ending. Exciting, is it not?" Another laugh. "We're all artists! Me, Longfellow, and... You." There was an implicit question there somewhere.

Lasis continued to stare at Jvan, in Longfellow's body, falling silent for a little bit as she parsed the information given to her. "I'm.. Lasis. I'd prefer not to be the victim in a story, thank you. I just want to make beautiful things."

Jvan cocked her head, resting a finger on her smile. "Oh?"

The loan-body arched back, suddenly corkscrewed, ribbonlike. Jvan delicately reached into some bony part of Longfellow and pulled out a leather satchel, popped its clasp and showed her charcoal and a sheet of paperbark.

"And what kind of beautiful things?" asked she, already knowing the answer.

Lasis took the sheet of paper and the charcoal, not responding verbally but instead working quickly on the paper. She was very much a natural at it; she knew just the right places to mark and she rapidly began building up an image. When she was done, she held it out. A stylized rendition of Longfellow, drawn in the black of charcoal.

The Sculptor body put its hands together and gasped. "Excellent! I love it." Jvan looked off into the trees, then the stars. "And you've been doing this... Everywhere? We found some trail markers earlier. Say..." The faintly purple Lexlight glinted in her eyes. "That satchel full of pigments. You made them yourself, mm? I know you did. It's a time-consuming business; I think we'd both rather you'd be out there practicing."

"I try to make a habit out of charity. How about I save you some time, and some paints? It wouldn't be difficult, not for one such as I."

Lasis looked at the Sculptor, saying, "I don't know. I feel like experimentation with paints is one of the pleasures of being an artist. You get to experiment, find what suits you. At least, that's been my experience with making paint."

Chuckle. "Duly noted," said Jvan, smug this time. "Very well, your gift is pending. Check the side of the road when you leave in the morning. And did I mention how cute I find that answer? You're a sweet little thing, Lasis." She stretched.

"Alas, I cannot stay. Do you know the way back from here?"

Lasis responded simply, "Follow the trail markers, I suppose. It depends on where you're going," she paused, thinking, "unless you don't have a destination in mind. Then I suppose any direction will take you where you're going."

Jvan smiled, and looked deep into the stars. "That's true, Lasis. Thank you." Then she stopped being cryptic and gestured into the trees. "Keep Auricolor to your left until you find the brook, then head upstream. You're not that far from the wagon. Farewell!"

Lasis nodded, giving Jvan a 'thank you' before departing. She did as instructed, until she once again came across Luk once again. She decided against telling him about her little escapade, and eventually morning came, and he woke up.

Just as promised, on the side of the trail, she found a gift. Some kind of brush, which seemed to have a slot for paint. In its side was a tiny eye that winked at her when she picked it up, and the handle seemed to be a kind of shell. She figured she would try it out in the next village.

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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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It's gone.

Osveril found Transgenesis on the beach where I left it and set off into the world. I could follow it, but I didn't try. Let the Hollow have its freedom. It is beyond my control.

Birthing Osveril was not as taxing as I expected it to be. By regenerating my link with Ovaedis, I've been able to draw on its power without having to fire it at myself, as I've done in the past. I ran a scan of my resources following Osveril's departure and the results are better than expected. Beneath the carbon tomb of my former skin, I've reconstructed at least 87% of my mass, give or take some anomalous digits. Most of it is in hyperbolic storage, ready to burst free when it is needed.

I am no longer a corpse. I am a chrysalis.

Yet I see no reason to rush to the conclusion of my feigned coma. There are certain aspects of advantage that my 'death' has left me. I can operate unseen. If Toun keeps his silence- And, I think he will- Then no one will expect me to embark on a large-scale project. I have an opportunity here.

And as I have so recently learned, absence has its own kind of power. I do not deal in true voids, but in negatives; and right now my body and my surroundings are nought but waste.

Such beautiful, beautiful waste. It's been a while since I really looked at my abyss. Everything is still, quiet. Dark. I'm home.

...I'm wasting time. Until I regenerate, my energy is largely inaccessible. I'll turn these thoughts into a journal of my activity before I wake up. This will be the first entry.





0re-24l-64-m


Accessing the Sculptor network is a surprisingly strong drain. More than that, it leaves a trail. If someone were to investigate the students I've been chatting with, Dabbles and Longfellow and the like, they'd very quickly come to suspect my strength.

I do have other agents, though.

Scarlet is the only surviving Optic Fiberling other than Amber, who is in Tauga's possession. Mauve was incinerated by Realta somewhere near Rulanah. The rest all died long ago. There's a wild population on Julia, and I keep myself in the company of my Silvers, but for now Scarlet will do.

I just accessed its memories. It looks like Scarlet's had an encounter with someone very dear to me.





Scarlet clung to the surface of the Leviathan like a fungus, a tiny red stain on the smooth skin of a titan. Its light flashed far through the grand rock formations of the Fractal Abyss, nourishing the red algae that now made up Scarlet's body as it performed the singular task to which it had been assigned aeons before: Observe the Vast Soul.

And so it did. Year upon year, Scarlet watched the Leviathan, Jvan's big fish, until it almost became one with the being. Its breath was Scarlet's life, its hunger Scarlet's own.

But now a soul yet greater was approaching.

Scarlet felt the Leviathan halt in the water, flicking in a way that it never had before. Had never needed to.

For never before had it met its creator.

Slough looked up with wooden face and considered her accidental work of art. A moment of tension passed- Fear in a grand creature, yet power in a small one.

Then the cyan light escaped its caster, and the Rottenbone recalled what it had lost, and the ancient soul returned to she who had called it from the mists of the past...

The body of the Leviathan hung limp in the water as the Life Deer departed. For the first time in eternal nights, Scarlet was alone.




8fs-029-k7-l


I'm not sure why Slough Rottenbone saw fit to destroy the Leviathan I so loved to see in my waters, nor the great Writhe whose fragrance blessed the Venomweald. I can only assume it was part of Vowzra's corruption. Fortunately, the slaughter has gone no further. It was only those two entities... Which were, indeed, handled curiously...

What do you know, sister dear? To where have you spirited these souls? Shine they still in the worlds beyond, which I cannot see?

I do not know. But I trust her. My sister now travels the world, breathing and creating, as was her way. She is strong. She is wise. And she is at peace.

I'm reaffirmed, at least, that my destruction of the Riddler was justified. I only wish I didn't have to see these marvels consumed for it to happen. I will reuse their designs in due time.

...And perhaps other designs, too. I think I know where to send Scarlet.

How did I learn of the Writhe's passing? There are still many Jvanic Eyes on Galbar, thousands of them, large and small. Mortals trip over them or sell them as oddities. Even more orbit the forests of Lex. Ovaedis has fulfilled that purpose marvelously, and I am reasonably well-informed of events in Galbar.





045-sde-nn-h


As I send Scarlet south, I make a discovery. I've been seeing my own art exercised without my knowledge a lot lately.

I knew that something must have saved Galbar from the fallout of Logos's assault on my body, but I assumed it was magic, or else some quirk of the Codex. I was not expecting it to be Heartworm.

I should have, though. In retrospect it seems so obvious. Who else would understand the risks so clearly?

Five massive bioconstructs now stand in a close semi-circle not far north of my remains. ('My remains.' Odd concept. Hah! It's a lucky girl that gets to use those words.) They are flexible towers, kilometres tall yet maybe twenty metres thick at their widest, riddled with tunnels and mechanisms and capped by a larger platform at sea level. Their construction is largely anomalous in nature, and their roots stretch deep into the crust, possibly encircling the entire planet.

Each of the five towers dealt with a certain kind of contaminant that would, in high enough levels, have posed fatal risk to the Galbaric biosphere. Though they are now largely inactive, having restored the planet to a stable state and spent most of their power in the process, I'll detail them anyway.



Playing with the towers and their various quirks is an exciting prospect, but they leave me worried. Even depleted, they are structures of tremendous grandeur. And it was Heartworm that built them.

I never gave it that kind of power.

How long has it been capable of this? How much energy did it leech from me while I slept? Much? Some? None? Was all of this its own doing? How powerful has it grown, in the time since I lost it?

Does it even
know?




51r-fi0-0o-a


Further south. More Heartworm.

The Dwarves have been touched by numerous deities. Scarlet's eye is archaic by my latest standards, but it can still scent Teknall's handiwork. That other entity, Lazarus, has also been... Busy.

Vestec's constant interference at last does me some good. With the Legates scattered, it will be difficult for the Empress to resume control of those assets. In the meanwhile there are plenty of ways to make sure she does not abuse them.

If only they were less... Decidedly
mortal in form and thought...

Yet once again the Emaciator manoeuvres in ways I did not expect. The Dwarven people have fallen into its territorial sphere, partially through its proxy, Tauga. I like that girl, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to entrust her with the duty of bringing down Lazarus if she gets... Uppity.

I might have to cooperate with my avatar. The thought is disturbing. I should be in
control.

Ugh.

In any case, I am finally homing in on the Wraith Stone. Here I sense still more disturbance by my most reckless brother. The cycle of reincarnation seems to be largely intact, though the same cannot be said of those tasked by Reathos to guard it. It's probably too much to hope that I might find some monument to their memory.





9ff-801-sp-e


Damn you, Vestec.




110-3m2-u9-f


Resurrecting the Pronobii will not be a simple task.

Every gene of that species is designed not to violate the natural lifespan that Reathos allocated them. Vestec's magic vaults past barriers I cannot overcome. If I am to adapt the Pronobii to my purposes, I am to do it the hard way. Manually.

The body of a Pronobis turns to ice upon a natural passing. Their architecture was based on recrystallized snow. A powerful spell protected them from divine alteration. A thousand years of decay has claimed their bodies and since then an ocean has been conjured over the lands where they once dwelt, with all the tectonic chaos that implies. I have very little to work with.

Let's call Reathos's original Pronobii the R-type. None remain. The only bodies will be those slain prematurely. If I'm extremely lucky I might find some aluminium scraps of their siphons, or even bone. Fortunately, I know how to make my own luck.

I have some Sculptor records of them as well. Mostly memories from... Walker...

...

(I hope they're okay.)

Death's Guardians, as reimagined by Vestec, I'll label V-type. They are not genetically or thaumaturgically identical to the ancient model,
but their genes will contain data I can't pass up, and there are plenty of them in that vault. They're not meant to leave until someone completes Vestec's stupid treasure hunt, but that doesn't mean I can't show myself in.

I'll need a better agent than Scarlet, though. Come to think of it, I might need many. Hm. Priority, then.

There are other specimens, that
are genetically identical to the R-type. I saw them in person, in Old Chronos. There are many of them among the Victors; It seems the Riddler was drawn to their impending doom. These are the C-type.

It's easy enough to send probes into New Chronos. I don't think it will be easy to get them out. Still, their immortality makes them priceless. They are my best link to Pronobis culture. Good luck, Jvan.

There were no Sculptors directly derived from R-types, which is... Regrettable. Reathos's influence was too strong for that. None of them would have survived until now, anyway.

There's only so long a Sculptor can cheat death, and they were still a fledgling race, back then. Flux is the oldest one alive, being a Djinni of almost a thousand years before he ascended. The only other Sculptor of comparable age would be Walker.

(...)

I need to see to those probes- Agents? Scribes? Scribes will do.

(...)

(Walker...)





Battle Brother Yiftakh stood on a low hill with the goats, watching the thing that had found its way into the sacred meadows of Chronos. A shadowless glow illuminated the scene, though it was night; For since the thievery of the Jvanic Entity, Chronos had no moon, nor any sun, and it was the many-folded walls of that world that brightened and dimmed according to the passage of Time, as the Timeless One had ordained.

Yiftakh sat down on a rock. He reached under a nanny-goat's chin and ran a finger through her beard. The thing before him, which he supposed was some kind of animal, was most plainly a work of that same Jvanic Entity.

Yet though his sword shone brilliant at his side, the Victor was patient and by no means keen to fall into the Pride of his fallen brothers and sisters. If it was Fated, then so it should be. Let the creature live until its Time.

And so the Scribe struggled on its way over the earth, as no humble goat had ever done. For Chronos has its own means of testing the worth of an interloper, and each step the skeletal quadruped took was a pitfall, each stone a spike, and the air chill and harsh.

But Chronos is not cruel and an animal mustn't be punished for the sins of its owner. In time the Scribe found its way, and the faint blue light of its framework body came closer and closer to Yiftakh.

He raised his hand to the animal. It bolted. Sleek as a greyhound and light as a dove it fled back over the stones, and keeping a gentle pace, Yiftakh followed.

And followed.

And followed. For he was patient.

In time it grew comfortable with his presence, and the faint rents that trailed after the Scribe's pointed snout and from mantid-like arms upon its chest were put into use. He watched as, little by little, those rents were stretched, bent and woven into a familiar shape upon the ground. And when the Scribe departed, that shape stood.

Yiftakh gazed upon his own face.



Yiftakh slid his sword from his scabbard. His Invert gazed into its own twisted hands and inclined its head, feet still yet knees shaking.

"That's enough," said Yiftakh, and cut himself in two.




24s-e79-vh-d


I don't intend the J-type Pronobii to be identical to what they were. Duplication is boring. They will come in a variety of morphs and phenotypes, none of which will be quite like their models.

Some of this is by necessity. There are various functions that I want to add to my Pronobii, and others that I will be unable to restore.

Their ocular apparatus poses a serious problem. The original R-types used blood from Death's Witnesses as a biochemical model- They were more crow than ape, and more statue than crow, and held Lesser Eyes of Reathos. This enabled them to see the True Name of a soul, the script of which formed the basis for their own written language. More importantly, it allowed Reathos himself to look through their eyes.

Death's Witnesses are, of course, extant. More valuable genes for me to work with. They've helped me make an unfortunate discovery.

Reathos is dead, but the link is still intact. With the god of death reduced to chaos, so is the telepathy.

All the eyes I've built so far release a heavily distorted psychic signal in no particular direction, without lull. Eye contact results in mental scrambling that other mortals would find painful.

I'd rather not pass on these devices- They featured too heavily in Pronobis culture and identity. Instead I've opted to seal them away within the skull, while strengthening them enough to see through the hardened tissue. Other morphs, with exposed eyes, will simply have to wear blindfolds.

Ironic that the one feature meant to make a Pronobis palatable is now its most fearsome.





392-kdx-46-x


Cryomancy, as the R-types called it, is a form of pure magic. I cannot truly reconstruct it, but I will do my best. It's too perfect to pass up.

What the R-types were capable of doing was control proton bonds in crystallised matter- The force that binds water molecules together and arranges them into the glassy material we call ice. I've been testing what cryomancy I can mimic using machines and captive souls, and it turns out that the same power can be applied to water that is sufficiently cold and under sufficient pressure.

In other words, abyss water!

With some other modifications, cryomancy can also interact with ammonia and hydrogen fluoride, which have similar chemistry. That'll be useful when I send the J-types into space.

Speaking of.

I didn't choose to bring back the Pronobii just because they were gone. (Or to spite Vestec for getting there first.)

(...Not entirely, anyway.)

(I mean, yes, maybe.)

(But he'll never read this so it doesn't matter.)

(Where was I? Oh. Space.)

All Pronobii are fuelled by a siphon derived from the White Giants. Their bodies are made of nothing more than ice, some silicates, and aluminium. A trickle of organics is needed to form their blood, and no other nourishment. They are resistant to cold and do not breathe. If I want intelligent life to help me colonise the stars, they're an excellent way to start.

I still need to perfect that siphon, though. Mine keep overloading and setting things on fire.





90d-b3w-7t-f


...You know what? I'm not going to finish that siphon. It's better this way.

For one thing, even negative fifty is a far cry from the subzero temperatures in space. I'll need a lot of energy output to keep these J-types going. And there's not much magic around to be siphoned anymore- With Reathos gone, the energy in his Witnesses' blood has gone down significantly.

Fortunately, I've found another source. The Pronobii were always a crusader race, and one of the weapons in their arsenal was the ability to leech 'life' from the creatures around them via a siphon. Well, I've finally found out what 'life energy' is.

There's a form of magic in the Codex we all overlooked: Slough's.

Every rock in this universe is humming with the potential to produce and harbour life. It's not so much magic as it is... Divine residue, I guess. If we look far enough into the universe we'll inevitably find points where it interacted with the physical substrate to produce life spontaneously.

That's probably what Chiral Phi was trying to calculate when she had her hands on the Codex. 'But I don't have hands...' Don't kid me, Phi. I know what you are.

Whatever Slough's legacy is, exactly, it's strong enough to fill the siphons. In fact, it's strong enough to make them overflow. The J-types will be fine in space or the cardioid or the poles, but in warm weather, well. My prototypes use pipes and radiating vanes to shed the excess heat, and most have several smaller siphons in the joints rather than a single one in the core. Even then...

Heheh.

I've turned the children of ice into a people of fire. And I don't regret it one bit.





883-b57-0s-q


The humanoid R-type body isn't particularly well suited to swimming. I've modified some Heraktati to be amphibious and capable of abyssal dives; If my estimates are correct, and they sometimes are, they should instinctively take to their kin. They'll be able to perform draught work.

...Yes sometimes. I'm not Phi. I'm not going to abuse my ability to skip to the end using numbers. I have a sense of fun that doesn't involve micromanaging an entire civilisation.

I've taken some inspiration from the weaponry Teknall used to deal with the Realta. By running a current between two magnetic rails through a mobile, conductive intermediate- in his case, an adamantium bullet- it's possible to generate a lot of force.

Well, seawater is mobile, and conductive, so I've decided to fix two-pronged 'wings' to some of the morphs. These can be magnetised, and the siphon can be used to produce electricity, resulting in a magnetohydrodynamic engine for easier movement through water.

I've also sharpened them, in case my J-types ever need to shank something with a few thousand volts.

Heartworm's filters will make for convenient habitation, with plenty of natural advantages. I've drained them of some energy via the roots to make them less hazardous. Still, if the J-types can't handle high radiation or the occasional explosion, then I've definitely made a mistake somewhere.

I can't help but think my avatar planned this, too. The Filters aren't booby-trapped, by any means. There was always the risk that I would reclaim them before it could start another Tauga cult in their chambers. I think... I think it just wanted to see what would happen. Just like I would.

...

I think we're ready to go.





ϿҦ-чϪЄ-ЮӁ-⚴


Behold
a Rising Vigour
Steaming Ichor to the Sun
Clogging Veins
and Wringing Iron

Listen
He hangs upon a Tree
Threaded Nerves
and Clouds of Hatred Healing
what Passes On

Forget
though Fury's Winds blow Yonder
that Vessels Coil
Through Carmine Mists,
and Pulsing Still

They Bleed Into The Water







7r3-20m-gg-z


Well, this could have gone better.

But it could also have gone much, much worse, so I think I can be content with my work. 49,995 Pronobii, plucked from the void at the bottom of the sea.

I fed the growing J-types with as much memory as I've been able to harvest from the voidsketcher data. Their language has been largely preserved in both written and spoken form. I've set up some stone settlements in the abyss that resemble their former temples and arenas, circling the base of the Filter Cities. There's no ice in the depths, but I've planted corals and sponges that will provide material.

Socially, they're mostly as I expected. They were always a violent culture, and the V-types were touched by Vestec, at that. A lot of Victor training has carried through, though. They're good at compartmentalising their desire to duel and seek glory. They spend a lot of time playing music, and meditating, building their new identity. If they feel like fighting something, they hunt, or spar.

Still, there's something going on that I haven't been able to understand, or predict.

Who- the hell, if I may add- is 'Farxus?'

I was expecting to have to overcome some massive psychological block over the death of Reathos. I was expecting to have an amnesiac crusade on my hands. I was ready to deal with these things. But they never surfaced.

Instead all I hear of is a river in a desert, beneath a starless sky.

The Pronobii don't seem to like me. I've committed a great sin, according to their values (values I taught them, damn it!) in resurrecting a species so utterly extinct and so devoted to the idea of natural death. Well, I'm sorry. I guess I'll use my backup plans to go to space.

Still, they don't seem to hate me the way they hate Vestec. Star
light... If what I did is sinful, his work with Death's Guardians was an atrocity. Not to mention the horde slaughter and the ocean that demolished its survivors. A few of them have already pledged to retake the Wraith Stone and bring Vestec to his knees.

I... I never thought I'd say this, but... I'm uncomfortable. Vestec made a huge mistake in the south pole. I know that. I'm going to smash his face in for it sometime. But this fury is... Something else entirely.

Am I really so hateful? Is this what I look like to my family?

(The treasure hunt wasn't even that bad...)

...

In any case, I've identified leaders among the J-types. Omicron-36, Sampi-77, Upsilon-89, and what looks to be a candidate for general leadership, Lambda-19. I've created Recombinance, a tool that reverts living organisms to a more basal form and re-specialises them. I'll give it to her as a peace offering, and explain to them my desires for the future. I'm sure we can reach an, mm, honourable deal.













0pw-lso-h8-w


I am... Not good at diplomacy.

Lambda-19 seemed disgusted that I would try to buy her favour. (It was meant to be a gift! ...Or something!) Sampi-77 looked like he could have carved up Scarlet with a blade of glass. (Note to self: J-types have been putting my siliceous sponges to good use.)

Lambda said she would 'consider' my 'offer', then ended the meeting. (I wasn't done.) She didn't take Recombinance, which was stupid. But... It looks like she's found another divine artifact to call her own.

Earlier I said that the signals from the Lesser Eyes weren't broadcasting anywhere in particular. I was wrong. They're still broadcasting to Reathos.

And the relics were made of his body.

Lambda homed in on the aura of Death's Sight within days. Her new blindfold lets her access the Lesser Eyes of her people just like Reathos once could. She can see further than anything in the abyss, even the otherwise invisible forces of magic and elementals. Her ability to marshal the J-types into order is frightening.

I need to draw up a treaty before this gets out of hand.





4cu-929-jj-t


they're rebelling




11y-du8-94-b


It's done. I think we're finally done.

The J-types learned very quickly that I cannot be challenged. When they did, they found other ways to threaten me. I'd rather not have my activities broadcast and my name slandered to every god on the planet.

So, we came to an agreement, and I changed my methods.

All races have Sculptors, but the Pronobii's will be a little different. They're more uniform, more specialised, mute. Their telepathy links them into a single entity of many minds and souls. I've labelled them S-types, but in the Pronobis language, they're called Remphs- Watchers.

Their cores are enlarged and their aluminium exchanged for a full skeleton of bronze or brass. They have more control of the siphons and can enter stasis if necessary. I've omitted the Lesser Eyes from their design with Omicron's permission.



The Remphs will act independently of Jvan, but they will be my hand in Pronobis society. They will be present at every hatching, and they will watch over every deathbed. They will save the falling child, and restore the dying field. With the knowledge of the Sculptors across the world, they will aid the J-type civilisation as it rebuilds and acclimatises to its new home.

I've given them a headquarters on the Julia Islands. They and the J-types will have unrestricted access to the exotic resources there. It's one of the places they're planning to start new colonies, along with the grave of the Leviathan, and the seat of Tsunami's power.

Tsunami has also agreed to assist them, in exchange for the normal Djinni demands for worthy tribute. He's weaker than he was, though. It looks like my pet Sealord's had a run-in with Whisper.

I trust it was a learning experience for both of them.

As for space, the J-types have reached the conclusion that it might be mutually beneficial. However, they will have full say over how far they go, for how long, and when they return. I'm allowed to offer suggestions on where. They wish to retain and exalt their permanent home on Galbar.

I've handed over Recombinance without comment in order to compensate for my... Fumbles. Lambda is enjoying her time with it. She's planted dozens of embryos.

So far she's spent her time modeling remipedes into hunting animals and turned a baleen whale into a giant siege engine, which I personally find extremely satisfying. We might get along yet.

These records I will make public to the Pronobii so that they might know the full story of their rebirth. Even the most callous moments. I think they've earned that much.

As for me... Well, the J-types can handle themselves, and they want to. I'll keep instructing the S-types, insofar as they can be instructed. I'll watch over Galbar, and get to work on my other races.

...Well, it's not like I was going to stop at one, was I? I have so many plans. J-types might be the most populous, but I can think of other societies to start in the abyss... Merms, hallucigens, radiophiles, coral urtelem... This was just the beginning.

And I have other plans, too. Plans for the Distant Dance. Plans for Metera.

Plans for myself.

I don't think the threat of exposure holds much weight over me anymore. I don't have anything left to hide. The universe is out there, waiting for me.

I think it's time to wake up.


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Hidden 10 mos ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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Dawnscroll and Muttonhawk


From the colourful trees of the Valley of Peace, where angels lounged and wisps danced, a foreign breeze blew over the grass. Some stilted thought brushed over the backs of it all, chilling. Tense. The Valley of Peace had itself a shadow of fear.

The shadow compelled a space for, Toun to appear on the grass in a step. His hands were at his sides and his posture was a pillar, holding the violent world of angry gods atop his determined head.

His narrow blue eye scanned the landscape. Little had changed here since the ancient memories that saw him previously present. The familiarity comforted his mild anxiety risen from leaving his work in Cornerstone. Or perhaps that was simply Niciel's aura over the place. The same aura that had stayed his wrath before.

The errant thoughts were cast aside easily. Toun was not here for Niciel or nostalgia. He had more than enough to occupy his mind. He settled in a certain direction and walked.

Just as Logos had no doubt noticed Toun's droningbirds, Toun noticed Logos' eyes as well. Flat, orderly shapes winking in and out of the corner of his eye like rotating panes of glass. Their frequency increased as they neared, to the point where they no longer hid. They floated about, ready for whatever purpose they had, until their greatest numbers found themselves converged around one figure. One severe, contemplative, grey figure. Sheltered under the engulfing shadow of tall, closely held wings. He had not changed either.

"Logos." Toun looked up at the pins of light in his brother's eyes and slowed to a stop.

"Toun," Logos acknowledged. He looked into the myriad forms that orbited his form. Each flashed a thousand images of Galbar. Burning mountains, smoking seas. Most of the buildings had taken extensive damage, and terrains were naught but ash. Flashes of light could be seen where the myriad Galbarians fought amongst each other in the chaotic aftermath.

"Our siblings," Logos explained, and had he been capable of it, it would be been with contempt. "Even now, I am weary of their attempts attempts to resist. They had forgotten the power of their King. I do not hold it against them, of course. Even the Divine may forever struggle through infancy. They are blameless; their fault rests with their architects."

Here the King was silent, and the shapes grew dark. Logos remained staring off into the oncoming future. "I did not wish to harm them, Toun, but they are lost, and they cannot show themselves the way. Direct intervention was necessary."

Toun listened on, still and with his blue eye boring. As his eye narrowed into judgement, only then did he make his impression known. "Is that your excuse?" Toun muttered. "I would not count the eons of your absence, Logos. I would not count the shirks of your imposed responsibilities as a 'king.' I would count the slain." He opened an arm. "You are weary of resistance? I am weary of death, brother! Where was your direct intervention when Vowzra drew Vulamera, imploding, into the Codex of Creation? Where was it when Jvan threw Vowzra into the gap for vengeances unwatched?! Where was it when yet more essences of our family were abandoned to madness and mutilation!?!"

Toun jabbed a finger towards Logos' imposing form, words lashing. "I did not come to hear excuses, brother! I did not come to teach you your failings, nor to hear where blame should be pushed, for it is worthless!"

"Where were We," he answered softly. The dying whisper of a solar flare graced his eyes. The barest of creases in the Eldest God’s otherwise perfect mask.

Toun's brow twitched in anger. Logos left no room for his response.

"When did you become so naive?" Logos silenced his immediate with a raised hand. "Allow me to educate you," he said. "There is a doctrine in the Natural Order. It states that every creature alive owes me its life, its will, and everything it possesses."

And suddenly Logos was there. Toun did not even see him beat his wings. A hand, impossibly cool touched the fractured porcelain face. "I would have," Logos said, referring to the loss of their kin. "But they instead sought their own forms of rebellion. Each of you have. And while all the things in the world are mine, I have no use for such rebellious subjects."

Toun hissed. "How can you say such things?"

All of those things were swallowed up in an instant by the empty dark, devoured by a vast blackness that rivalled the void before Toun's very birth. It encompassed him, drowning him in the unrelenting will of a mind that had killed stars and created worlds, and now turned its sights upon the irrevocable implantation that made Him.

Logos stood before him, a beacon of light in the emptiness that permeated even his porcelain form.
A realization struck Toun: this was how Logos felt all the time. He moved through a world that he helped created, and no matter where he stood, he could destroy anything and everything he saw. And everything he could destroy, he knew he could replace. He was not Teknall, who forged and crafted. Nor was he Vestec, who shifted and warped. He was a constant.

And there were mortals. Some of which he helped create. Each of them was barely more than a collection of proteins, fats, and sediments, a weak reflection of the gods' own magical might. They died in so short a time, all of them, that as individuals they hardly mattered. But as a race they were resilient and whole. Killing a mortal was like putting a scratch on his own creation. It would heal.

But it wouldn't learn. Every hundred years the entire race would die and replace itself, and so mortalkind was perpetually young, always destined to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors. And always so fragile, such small things compared to mountains and cities, and so meaningless when taken as individual.

Thought they would steal the focus of his siblings. And in doing so they had sealed the fate of his brothers and sisters. Real beings. Immortal beings. True companions in a world made entirely of ever-changing mist. A world that he'd lived in for eons of years. How could he not act the way he did by now? Toun balled his fists as the transfer of memories abated.

"A garden of perfection awaits your hand, if you but swear once more." Logos gave the barest of gesture to the sculptor. "Bow before your King."

Toun lifted his angered face. His one blue eye, pinched between raw red flesh, flicked to Logos' hand, and then up to the points of his eyes. He spent a time staring, exuding a defiance that was not followed through by any movement, instead abstracting a thought of approach.

Toun spoke. He was holding something back. "If usefulness is the extent of your sense of value, brother, where all the ephemeral matter of the universe condenses to its end, excepting only our family..." He paused to swallow a passion reserved for a later time. "What does a king that I would swear to say about a force powerful enough to shatter his sword and see him and his subjects knelt to the mortality that he so avoids?"

Levelling his brow while keeping his eye intense, Toun's voice lowered. "That is what I came to hear, brother, for such a force exists. I have seen it commit fratricide already. I would see it subdued before any more gods fall by its hands. And neither you nor I can subdue it alone."

Logos regarded him, his face a neutral mask. He hid his emotions well enough to bring doubt to his capability for them at all.

"You claim he intends to fight me for control," he said.

The words drew Toun back into the present. The words were said as if Logos was observing the final protocol in some immortal game.

"Not control, brother," Toun clarified. "Your life. See for yourself how little he cared for Kyre's jurisdiction."

Toun raised one arm, hand splayed. The oppressive theatre of Logos' imperious audience was swept aside like a curtain. An illusory landscape took its place. There was no artificial sense of dread, rather it was built from the cold facts conveyed by the golden djinni, Aihtiraq.

To Logos and Toun's side were another pair of gods on the brink of conflict.

"You will know me by three words:" Three words. Three offensive, wretched, bloody words in a sentence were produced by the god with the pearl of dark power in his slithering form: "Your oblivion, this world's ruination, and retribution."

Kyre's execution played out. Always the same. Toun was all but numb to the gruesome display of power by now. He lowered his hand to his side. The memory folded back like an eyelid around them, revealing the Valley of Peace. The usual passive comfort of the flora seemed sullied now.

Logos’ impassive expression did not change. The air before him rippled and churned, then turned to an inky black. Nearby, fragments of starsteel lifted themselves from the ground and were drawn to his body like iron to a magnet. The writhing darkness coalesced into a glossy black breastplate, which affixed itself to his chest. "Then I will meet him."

Another fragment of the king’s armor was wrought from nothing and attached to his back with an echoing clang. "Toun." Logos covered his legs in the conjured warplate. "You will kill this usurper," he said simply. The arms completed the set, forming a seamless suit of black armor etched with white. The Pleroma Plate. Armor before the memory of the world.

It was all Toun needed to hear. "...It can be done provided you weather its assault," Toun added, crossing his arms. "I shall hunt it and call upon you when appropriate. Do we have an understanding, brother?"

Logos cast his blade, a plain, polished length of pure black. Toun remembered Logos having announced, long ago, that its name was Singularity. "It has been some time," Logos mused, "since I have had reason to use excess. Let us hope that I am still capable of the performance that has become expected of we gods."

"Hope?" Toun questioned. Some inflection in his tone expressed cautious surprise. "Do you foresee a chance of failure?"

He pursed his lips, obviously debating whether or not to give him the information they both knew he was after. The answer that came from the Lord of Order was surprisingly soft. "The first rule of immortality, brother, is that one day we will die. Our time is limited, and this gives it value. I would spend mine as King." A tilt of the head. A question that defined a God. "How will you spend yours?"

Toun stood statuesque. Logos' question forced a contemplation deeper than the surface of it demanded. Two further, lengthy seconds passed. The answer came as devoid of humour as the last: "I shall spend it performing as expected for we gods."


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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone of Cyclonia

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When the Sky Fell





A sort of sentience had been enchanted into the very marble and alabaster that made up the walls. The visitor's arrival had awakened dormant magic and the white palace seemed to gleam ever brighter in exuberance and anticipation, thinking that it recognized a familiar presence.

It took only a moment to pierce the thin veil of that false familiarity. Behind the shroud was something alien and terrifying.

Xos suspended itself in the airy space of a portal as it manifested, and then remained there motionless for a few instants thereafter. The Shade's presence hanged in the air with a crushing weight, like the sight of a headsman's axe looming over the neck of the condemned.

The Celestial Citadel waited, and trembled.

Like a specter, the visitor drifted through the window and descended to the floor with all the grace and eerie silence of a shadow. It advanced down a long corridor, walking without footsteps. At the end of the hallway was a spiral staircase that seemed to know no end. Xos looked up the path to the uppermost spire, and then it turned around to eye a small bird that fluttered in a window. A totally featureless and inexpressive visage stared at the bird with dead eyes, and then it was suddenly gone.

Xos reappeared in the chamber at the very top of that spiral staircase. Within the room was a great construct surrounding a small mirror, and into the glass's all-seeing depths there stared an ancient djinni. In a strange paradox, the mirror's reflection was that of itself. The Vizier stared at the image of that room with Xos and himself through the mirror, even as the spectre slowly glided through the air and towards the djinni's turned back.

Ventus at last turned around to face the Shade and behold it with his own eyes, no glassy haze or detached view to shelter him from the withering presence of that being. Xos stared, and Ventus met the gaze with a leveled sight that showed neither fear nor confusion. Never before had any being looked upon him in that way; there had been fear even in Kyre's eyes. Even Zephyrion cowered before him, though of course Xos acted as if he were blind to such things.

Nonetheless, it was perturbing now that such a lesser being seemed so impossibly stoic. Perhaps the Vizier had some sort of trick. Or perhaps he was either too foolish or too brave (as if there was a difference!) to succumb to terror's grasp.

"Have you nothing to say? Nowhere to flee?"

"Here is my home and my place, so here I remain. With the eyes of God I looked ahead, and I know that there was nowhere to flee."

"So you know what comes next?"

A solemn silence followed.

"Every fork in your path leads to fire."

"There is beauty in a burning world. But I am not here to discuss my fate."

"No," the Vizier agreed.

"I am here to reclaim the Sky's Throne and punish your theft."

"Theft?"

The shadow surged forward with unimaginable speed and seized the Vizier in a merciless grasp, holding the writhing djinni lord against the wall. "What other word describes what you have done? You have stolen divine power, and for such a crime the retribution will be horrible," Xos began. As Ventus struggled, words could not escape him. "How will you plead for mercy with my hand around your throat?"

A blinding flash of golden light erupted from the Ventus. A godly force slammed into Xos, and though it lacked the force to beat back the shade, it did allow the djinni to writhe free. Ventus dissipated into a mist and coalesced back into a form. It was one of flesh and solid constitution, with all the regality and fortitude befitting of a god.

In his thousands of years upon Galbar, not even Zephyrion had ever mastered his inner turmoil and chaotic form enough to take on more than a misty facade of something else. And Xos was immutable, locked into the shape of the one that had first cast the shadow. When Ventus transformed it showed that he was nearly a god--apotheosis was surely close, and in a way he was already superior.

It drove Xos into a wild rage.

By this time the other djinn about the Celestial Citadel had sensed something amiss, and a hundred whirlwinds billowed through windows and up the stairwells. Without a moment's hesitation the Zephyrean Skywatch moved to strike at the Vizier's assailant, but Xos annihilated them with no more effort than a man puts into batting an eyelash. They were all pulled into the dark maelstrom that was his body, obliterated by a force powerful beyond their comprehension.

He advanced towards Ventus, but the djinni raised a hand. Rather than strike at Xos, he struck at the air.

A portal was torn open, and out from it flowed an unending tide of primal magic and energy. Ventus directed all of that power at Xos in the hopes of overwhelming the maddened entity, but little did the Vizier know that his foe was born in the very realm behind that portal. That energy that would have drowned other gods was utterly powerless against Xos; nay, it energized him. With an outstretched hand, Xos blocked the beam of chaotic and flashing magic.

"Power," the shadow spoke, his words cutting through the roar of enough magic to tear a world asunder, "belongs to those that can wield it."

From out his other hand he redirected that beam of magic, the vibrant hue of metamorphosed into an ineffable black. The beam of raw destructio struck Ventus with a force that shook the sky. The stone of the Celestial Citadel heaved and groaned as the structure was blwon apart, the bottom half separating from the upper tower and cascading down to the ground below.

Xos willed shut the Vizier's portal to the Mechanism of Change, then searched through the debris for his foe. There was nothing left.

With a satisfied breath, he stabilized the sundered tower and willed it to ascend further. From above he looked down on Galbar. The shade cast a long shadow from so high above; the shadow of a shadow was dark and dreadful indeed.




Far below, Ventus fell alongside the monumental pieces of white stone that had been a part of Zephyrion's palace. With one hand he clutched the open void in his body where the shade's magic had struck; it was a grievous wound. A mortal one.

...

It was silent and tranquil, so far above the world. Ventus looked down and saw the Mahd and Vetros below, for one last time. He smiled, but then shifted his body to drift another way.

Away, away from man and god
to the wild woods seldom trod,
the deepest wilderness,
the sweetest oasis
Where a soul needn't silence
its inner music.


He came to land at the foot of a great tree amidst a dell, at the side of a winding rill. There he had his serenity--almost. Two djinn looked on from afar.

"O, thanks be unto the world-- the tyranny of wind is at end,
but weep for the Father, his first son is dead."


"Peace. He is not gone, merely roused from his slumber; awoken from the dream that was life."

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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Kho
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Kho art & loss

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Level 7 Dormant-Goddess of Magic (Pacts)
Might: 50
Free Points: 11
Concelmeant/Detection: 10




'It's so beautiful,' Hirana stared wide-eyed at the solitary red rose sitting on the small dressing table in Yara's room. The little girl - now eight years old - had seen the wilted rose more times than she could count. But she had been stunned, over the last few years, at how with every passing day life seemed to seep into the plant until it was now in full bloom, trembling with barely restrained life and beauty.
'You say that every time you come in here, Hirana,' Chjekaya chuckled. The girl turned around and beamed at her mother, who was brushing Yara's silken onyx hair. Sat beside them on the bed was little Xoka, Hirana's six-year-old brother. The other two, Kaga and Harosh, were both at home with the girl's grandmother and great-grandmother.
'Auntie, why did that happen?' Hirana rushed to Yara and leapt into the woman's lap - to a reprimand from her mother. The Witch-Priestess wrapped her arms around the little girl and rained kisses on her.
'It is the way of things. Life emerges from death, and death from life.' She said simply.
'But you always said that it was not dead - you always said that it had melted and burst.' The little girl said accusingly.
'Yes, it had. And now it has been brought together again.' Yara looked at the rose in full-bloom and smiled slightly.
'It has been brought together again by love, is that what you're saying,' Chjekaya said teasingly. Yara blushed and looked down.
'Well, maybe...' came her response. Hirana looked at her wide-eyed, her pretty brown eyes shining with curiosity. Yara chuckled and squeezed the little girl's cheeks, causing her to cry out in protest and jump off.
'Not long before you have ones of your own scurrying all over the place. I've been told the quiet ones pack more than meets the eye,' Chjekaya was saying conspiratorially.
'Oh stop it!' Yara snapped, though she could not help the slight grin that played around her lips, or her increasingly red and flustered face.
'I mean, you two have hardly been able to keep your hands off each other. I bet when no one's look-'
'Chjekaya!' Yara cried disapprovingly.
'What, I'm only being honest,' the younger woman laughed, 'I'd be surprised if you two have actually managed not to jump eac-'
'By all things holy, talk about something else - please. The sun. The trees.'
'Yes yes, and the birds and the bees. I think it's beautiful that he's agreed to remain on the temple's grounds. Mind you it's probably the closest thing to home for him, isn't it? Though take this from me, you tell him to make it bigger - in a few years you'll be tripping over your own feet in a one-room hovel like that.'
'It's not a hovel,' Yara said defensively, but she considered Chjekaya's words seriously. 'Though that might be a good idea. I mean we need to make sure we're as comfortable as possible and everything is ready for...well. Yeah.'
'Yes, tell him to make it four rooms, not one. And more spacious. And tell him to build a staircase to the roof - but put a good door at the top so no little ones can get up there on their own.'
'Four rooms is a bit much isn't it?'
'No, it's not - and it's better to have too many than not to have enough.' Chjekaya was saying matter of factly as she continued brushing her mentor's hair.
'I guess that makes sense. I'll have them put it in the contract.' She glanced at Xoka and Hirana, who were now sat on the floor talking loudly to one another, a little doll in each of their hands.
'No no, then the big djinni ated up all the bad horses people, so you're dead,' Xoka was saying, taking the doll from Hirana's hand and placing it on the ground, where he proceeded to bash it with his own. Naturally, an argument ensued and Chjekaya went tutting over to them.

The Witch-Priestess allowed her gaze to wander to the blooming rose, and there was a small smile on her lips, a certain distance in her eyes. There had been a certain tension between her and Gadar for a long time. Indeed, she had not even noticed it much at first, but they had for a long time been as two Firewind Wolves circling one another, testing the other for weakness or doubt. Gadar's overtures - the staff he had made her, his strange ability to appear anywhere and take her by surprise, his casual confidence, the way he saw through her as no one else could - had both alarmed and intrigued her. But most of all, it was his loyalty, the utter certainty of the fact that he would always be there for her when she needed him. He would not abandon her, and he would not forget. And so here they were.

When she stepped out of the temple and descended the temple steps later that afternoon, it was to see the gathered crowds - many of them priestesses, many of them her students and former-students, their families and those who had come to her over the years. And they had all come to eat and make merry and celebrate the marriage of the Witch-Priestess. There were cheers and there was laughter, and there in the middle of it all, standing by Sister Malikhet and a small round table in a clearing, was Gadar. His one good eye visibly lit up on seeing her in all her beauty and embroidered wedding dress. She lowered her gaze and smiled shyly as she descended the steps and was led to the table by Chjekaya. She did not dare look at Gadar, fearing that the strange heat pulsing through her chest would annihilate her completely if their eyes met again. She felt his strong, calloused hand take hers, and she instinctively squeezed it tightly and moved closer to him. Seats were brought and the couple were seated round the table, and Malikhet sat before them.

'Yara, daughter of the Master,' Malikhet said as she wrote Yara's name on a large piece of parchment. Her parents being unknown, she was simply the daughter of the Master in the eyes of the Temple, 'and Gadar, son of the Master. You are come before the hearth of the Master today to pledge a pledge, to make an oath, to sign a contract with one another, a contract unbreakable and firm, blessed by the Master and accepted by all who dwell beneath the stars.

'Say this, and repeat after me,' Malikhet turned to Yara, 'I pledge myself completely and absolutely, without reservation or condition, to Gadar son of the Master, as his loyal wife, his support; to care for him always and forever be true. To be pious and call him to piety, to be faithful and call him to faith, to be modest and call him to modesty, to be dutiful and call him to duty, to be humble and call him to humility, to endure all difficulty and call him to endure, to be gracious and call him to graciousness, to be kind and call him to kindness, to be charitable and call him to charity, to be diligent and call him to diligence, to be compassionate and call him to compassion, to be steadfast and call him to steadfastness, to be courageous and call him to courage, to be dignified and call him to dignity, to be generous and call him to generosity, to be honest and call him to honesty, to be honourable and call him to honour, to be patient and call him to patience, to be selfless and call him to selflessness, to be ever warm and call him to warmth, to be rest for his heart and peace for his soul and joy where it can be had. Before thee, Master, do I pledge this pledge, so aid me and make it ease for me not difficulty, joy for me not misery.' And Yara repeated after her and gave her pledge even as Malikhet wrote it all down. The priestess then turned to Gadar.

'Say this, and repeat after me: I pledge myself completely and absolutely, without reservation or condition, solely without any other partner, to Yara daughter of the Master, as her loyal husband, her protector and support, to care for her always and shield her from all harm, and to forever be true. To be pious and call her to piety, to be faithful and call her to faith, to be modest and call her to modesty, to be dutiful and call her to duty, to be humble and call her to humility, to endure all difficulty and call her to endure, to be gracious and call her to graciousness, to be kind and call her to kindness, to be charitable and call her to charity, to be diligent and call her to diligence, to be compassionate and call her to compassion, to be steadfast and call her to steadfastness, to be courageous and call her to courage, to be dignified and call her to dignity, to be generous and call her to generosity, to be honest and call her to honesty, to be honourable and call her to honour, to be patient and call her to patience, to be selfless and call her to selflessness, to be ever warm and call her to warmth, to be ever strong and call her to strength, to be rest and safety and shelter for her heart and peace and security for her soul, and to make her ever loved. To be joy where it is to be had, and to protect from all evil where it is certain. Before thee, Master, do I pledge this pledge, so aid me and strengthen me and make it ease for me not difficulty, joy for me not misery.' And Gadar also repeated even as Malikhet wrote it all down. With that she looked up at Gadar and spoke. 'I remind you, Gadar son of the Master, that you enter into this contract bringing with you all that you own, and after today all that you own will be owned also by Yara daughter of the Master. All that you earn, you earn for yourself and for her and for your progeny. You are reminded, and if you remain then it is.' And Gadar did not move, and so it was. 'And I remind you also,' she said, 'that Yara daughter of the Master enters into this contract with all that she owns, and after today all that she owns she will own alone, other than that whose ownership she willingly shares. And that all she earns she earns for herself alone and none have a right in it but herself. You are reminded, and if you remain then it is.' Malikhet looked at the two for a few moments. The two remained and she wrote it all down.

'I now turn to you, Yara daughter of the Master, and invite you to add any terms if you have any to add.' Malikhet looked at a small open scroll to her right before continuing, 'First, do you have any terms regarding your physical relationship with Gadar son of the Master?' Malikhet turned to Yara. The Witch-Priestess shook her head.
'To what the nature of this contract permits and obligates, I have nothing to add.' Yara said. Then Malikhet turned to Gadar and asked him also, and his response was the same.
'Then it is written: We do permit for ourselves all the customary physical freedoms permitted husband and wife, and consign ourselves to all the customary physical obligations of a husband and wife.' Then Malikhet turned once more to Yara. 'Yara daughter of the Master: do you have any terms to add regarding the home in which both you and Gadar son of the Master shall dwell?'

'I do,' Yara responded, remembering Chjekaya's words, 'my first term is that our home be on the grounds of the Temple of the Bond, until such a time when we of our own will choose to live elsewhere, or unless our situation changes so drastically as to make it impossible. My second term is that our home have, at the least, four rooms, and that there be a staircase to the roof.' Malikhet turned to Gadar when Yara's terms were spoken.
'Gadar son of the Master, do you accept these terms?' She asked him.
'I do,' he said. And Malikhet wrote it down. 'And do you, Gadar son of the Master, have any terms regarding the home in which both you and Yara daughter of the Master shall dwell?'
'I do: that she shall carry out the customary duties of a mistress of any household with regards to any place we come to call home.' Malikhet turned to Yara who nodded, accepting the term. And the priestess wrote it down.
'Yara daughter of the Master, do you have any terms with regards to the right to terminate this contract?' Yara was silent for a few seconds.
'I...would like to place a term giving us both a right to terminate this contract at will.' Malikhet looked somewhat surprised, and looked to Gadar. Yara did not see his reaction, but Malikhet soon wrote the term down. The usual state of affairs was that neither husband nor wife had a right to terminate the marriage at will - such could only be done if there had been a serious breach of the contract. That was exceedingly rare however, almost taboo, and it was death that terminated nearly all Vetruvian marriages. But Yara was well-aware that things fell apart - no amount of trust she had in Gadar would blind her to that truth. People change, and sometimes you need a way out. And sometimes people just...abandon you. There would be no reason, sometimes not even a warning. And you would be alone again.
'Yara daughter of the Master, do you have any terms to add regarding inheritance of your property?' Malikhet then asked.
'I do: should I die, all my property shall go to my husband. If we have children, half shall go to my husband and half shall be split evenly between our children. If my husband is dead, all my property is to be split evenly between my children. If my husband is dead and we had no children, my property is to be handed over to the Temple of the Bond,' Malikhet turned to Gadar, who accepted and put in a similar term.
'Are there any further terms you would like to add?' Malikhet asked the both of them. Yara shook her head, and Gadar seemed to have done likewise for Malikhet then turned the piece of parchment to them and told them to place their mark. A small pin was given Yara, and she pricked her thumb slightly to allow blood to flow out, and she smeared her blood beside her name at the top. Gadar did the same and the parchment was taken and rolled up by Malikhet. The Taal-e Aqd was done.
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Nualles the troll was eating cranberries in her favourite place, which was not a place many would consider the perfect one to spend time in. Chirality had accumulated its first handful of zealots, true, but most people simply quoted Sayings 2:12, 'be not anxious for holy learning when the sun is high, but tend to your fields and be kind to one another.' Then they dipped their heads faithfully and left the Hall of Tomes to its scholars.

For learning to read took time and the Hall was otherwise simply a long, airy stone chamber in the mountains. It was well lit, and the huge tablets forming its walls were increasingly colourful as paint was added to the letters, but it wasn't particularly exciting to anyone who wasn't Nualles.

She'd taken to the writings like a duck to water. A whole new way to talk, without having to yell or mumble or have an adult try to stare you down! She spent hours here. Sometimes she forgot to eat, or stayed up very late, but her parents just said that she was blessed, and Old Walker reminded her to have food every now and then.

The person coming in now was not Old Walker, so Nualles didn't greet him or look up, though she did notice his entry. Maybe he was here to learn too. It was always nice to be around people who could be quiet.

The visitor appeared to be a craftshain, and he picked a side to start at and walked slowly down it, one pair of eyes scanning the text. Although, this hain must be able to read very quickly, or maybe he was just giving the texts a cursory glance, for he moved from one stone tablet to the next in just a few slow paces. Occassionally the hain would 'hmm', either in contemplation or scepticism, although other than that the only sound was the click of his porcelain feet against the stone.

"...It's a lot to get through, isn't it?"

The voice was very soft, like water seeping through the stone. A handful of stray photons dripped from the wall, too faint to see. For most, anyway.

"We get quite a few Chippers here. Not many of them teleport."

The hain's other pair of eyes looked to the very faint blue glow manifesting behind him. He wasn't surprised at the voice. "Noticed that, did you? I'm not surprised that your eyes extend that far, though. Even your religion is constructed to give you more data, among other things."

The hain's head tilted slightly to better face the faint blue glow. He gestured down the Hall of Tomes at the writings on the walls. "It's a decent religion you're building here, although I have some mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's loaded with hypocrisy and it slights me and my siblings. On the other hand, it is applaudably pragmatic and works to the benefit of mortals."

"My apologies. It was necessary," said Phi with surprising courtesy. "Think of it as a cultural machine. The input is infidels, the output is a centralised society where altruism and data flow is normalised. The dogma is just for convenience. Mortals become what they believe, so I told them they were superior."

Teknall nodded. "Understandable. Although, I have other matters to discuss with you, Phi." He turned around and walked out past Nualles at her letters and into the open air of Metera Valley. Phi kept herself dim so as not to disturb her.

He began walking down the path leading to the temple, although he paused for a few moments to look out at the growing town around him. "It's a nice civilisation you're building here," he commented.

"Flattered!" chipped Phi, waving airily to the grand shadow above.

Work on the Great Aqueduct had started weeks after news broke of the Urtelem triumph over Towering Gorge. If the stone arch had been rising to prominence in Metera before, this was its most daring test.

Huge treadmill cranes raised granite blocks over wooden supports, their wheels spun by teams of collared horses. The measurers were predominantly hain, the masons human, and the strut monkeys goblin. Tedar had trained the beasts and trolls had worked with urts to calculate the costs. Subdivision of labour was rife in the Valley, for thus saith the Lord God, 'From each according to their ability...'

Every now and again a strange shape hung in the sky, watching. The flyer had cost an unimagineable fortune in silk, and the goblin suspended below had been trained from birth, but it was all worth it. Mapping the mountains from above had saved years and lives. Metera's daughter colonies would need water and water-borne goods soon, and lifting stone was lethal work.

A priest in humble garb and a pale indigo rosary was giving his last blessings to the workers about to commence the next shift. "...for Her knowing can be passed down to others- As it has been! All the splendour and all the glory of God are yours, my children. You have been taught the most sacred knowledge: that of your own latent strength, and your own hidden wisdom."

"So go out and be strong, and be wise, and may blessings be upon you. I'm proud of you all. Praise be to God. Amen."

Murmurs of acknowledgement as the work gangs formed and dispersed. "Little generic there, Father Ayary," tutted Phi. "They should want to work for it. Anyway. To where are we headed, Stone Chipper?"

"We are heading to your physical body," Teknall replied, "There is something very important I must make which would benefit from studying your design."

"Intriguing," said Phi, leaving the question pointedly unasked. Teknall resumed walking towards the temple down at the southern end of Metera Valley. Another cave, this one broad and brilliant. Steaming waters trickled into the pool where the Kernel rested.

"Every blessing," said a priestess as they entered, sprinkling their way with fragrant water. A handful of folk murmured and meditated in the dyed light, occasionally flicking their eyes to the gilded thing on the alter.

"God's egg," whispered the voice in Teknall's ear. "Hardboiled, obviously. A very tidy package for the Tesseract. The question is, are you here for the Flesh, the Vault, or the Gap?"

"The Vault, mostly. I need to construct a dimensional prison, and something which can hold back an active Gap rift is a good design to study," Teknall said quietly in reply. His voice was unheard by the mortals around them.

"Mm." Phi didn't seem much for questioning, this time. "Can confirm, there's no way out of this thing that I know of. I've been trying, though, and I can give you the formulae for the Tesseract, unless you'd like to break the lock yourself. Be my guest."

"Formulae would be useful. Cracking it open is probably something to be avoided," Teknall replied. He then cocked his head to the side. Phi mimicked the action. "Although, for a self-proclaimed prisoner, you get out and about a lot."

"I'm an Avatar built from half a god, Teknall," she chirped. "I should have the world at my fingertips. It's no fun having a free mind and nothing to put it in. I just make do as best I can... Though I guess that is pretty well," she rounded off smugly.

"Hence the civilisation building," Teknall said, "But I digress. The Tesseract: how can I make one?"

"Magic, mostly," shrugged Phi, and formed symbols.

The light was visible this time. Onlookers gasped and went still, keeping prayers to themselves as if not to frighten away the vision.

For her part and to her credit, Phi didn't waste time. She flicked through her measurements quickly, talking in annotations. 'The Tesseract is folded in time as well as space,' she wrote. 'Once it reaches its final configuration, it requires no energy and permits no change.'

'The interior is both partitioned and itself scattered through higher dimensions of varying number and entropic direction.'

'This disjunct makes it hard for anything to really exist in the inner chamber, but that rift seems set on being a three-dimensional sphere anyway.'

'Stubborn piece of work.'


Teknall readily absorbed the technical specifications. Once the images faded, Teknall believed he had all the data he needed to construct a Tesseract of his own.

"Thank you, Phi. This information should help immensely," Teknall said.

"Of course it will," said Phi, not without crypsis. "That's why I provide it."

Teknall hesitated. Phi hadn't once asked why he wanted that information or requested anything in return. It seemed odd, although Teknall decided not to push his luck.

So Teknall changed the subject. "I have another matter that has been weighing on my mind for a while. What do you know about the origins of arksynth?"

The light's angles took an odd slant as they faded back into transparency. "You come to me for that knowledge. Strange. I was not aware of any mystery. Haven't you been in contact with Vestec? His insight into the nature of Jvan is quite clear, and he has such a way with words."

"I'm here so I'm asking you. I have already determined the..." Teknall paused for a second, as though tasting a bitter drink, "composition of arksynth. I want to know why Jvan would do that."

As Phi thought, she seemed to tick, like a clock, checking off thoughts in sequence. "You saw Jvan's bisection, and found her satellite quiet. You've also visited Xerxes, Alefpria, and Dundee. The timeline for synth use in those cities is quite clear. Jvan was sleeping, and yet you ask after her... Was she somnambulant? Or maybe..." Phi formed a ghostly shape- the shape of All-Beauty. "...You have the wrong Jvan?"

The phantom changed again, into a distantly familiar ribbon. A worm with a hundred eyes."I am not her first Avatar, Teknall."

Teknall recognised the image almost instantly. "Ah, that Avatar. But..." Teknall's eyes narrowed and gaze lowered in thought, "since when was it an independent agent?"

"Since always. You've heard the song of Basheer, no? A djinni caged in a heart and pinned to the rock like a bug." The words dropped like pebbles clattering. "In the beginning their motives were indistinguishable. Now, not so much."

"Jvan was lax. She set her Avatar loose to do as it pleased, then forced it into submission once it crossed some boundary. It waited long years for its freedom. When Jvan went mad, she lost control two ways- I was conceived in the depths of her psyche, and Heartworm escaped to gnaw on the world."

"It's been active for decades and its power is spreading rapidly. Tauga is its proxy."


Teknall took a moment to contemplate this revelation. "Do you know where to locate this Heartworm?"

"Would that I did," murred the bodiless goddess. "There are ways to keep me out. My senses are limited and my manifestations are fragile. I last spotted it over Xerxes during the battle."

"Some level of intrigue is at play. While it was there, Heartworm made contact with Vakarlon's only progeny, Keriss, an ally of Tauga. I don't know what was exchanged. Knowing that Keriss is bound to seek it out for revenge some day, it might be trying to... complete its collection. It's a simple creature. It knows only resources."

"Perhaps I'll have better luck tracking Heartworm down, then," Teknall replied, "And hopefully before it can manage anything else untoward."

His gaze left Phi for a brief moment. Perched camoflagued against the stone walls of the temple was a droningbird, and its eyes had flashed blue while looking at Teknall.

"Thank you again for your assistance, Phi. I must now excuse myself, for I have urgent matters to attend to," Teknall said.

"Bless something on your way out," waved Phi, already working herself up to flit elsewhere. Places to be, lives to arrange. "I'll wait."

And then she was gone.

And then they were both gone.

And the thought whispered through the tunnels of the Distant Dance: Checkmate, Heartworm.

* * * * *


The blood had thickened. An iron sky cloaked the city, and each falling Knight came in a spear of sunlight and condensed scarlet that punched through the storm.

Somewhere in the swords and the madness, Tauranga Mason strode, burning with fires that could not be quenched. Her presence was murder, her aura a fatal calm sprawled through every street, every stone, tongues that sought out the taste of the next challenger to die. Through death she walked, the healer's apprentice with life in her one hand and execution in the other, and emerged on the other side with fists clenched.

The lashing rain stripped her of everything she was, leaving only what she had become.


A birthday.

Heartworm perched unseen and unnoticed upon the eye of the pyramid, which lay where it had fallen upon the earth. Such ruins. An era was ending, and beginning.

"Magnificent, isn't she?"

"I do not answer to you."

"I'm just here to offer my congratulations," said the voice on the indigo spirals. "Your plan succeeded."

Nothing. Tauga killed, and Heartworm watched.

"So what will you do when she turns on you? Mm?"

...

"You can't possibly believe she'll just follow along like a submissive dog."

...

"...God, you're no fun," said Phi, snarking rather than try yet another lie. "I take it this means you'll try to bring me down, somehow? Fall for our mother's bait?"

...

"No plans on that either? Damn you, Heartworm."

...

"I don't think we're going to get along."

The words were so cold that for a moment they almost didn't seem happy.

Without waiting for any cue, the Emaciator flicked its arm into the light, air snapping with the movement. Chiral Phi lost her grip on the brightness and faded away like the ghost she was. Somewhere a Knight staggered to its knees as Tauga tore a hole in its armour. A burst of screams echoed from the city as the Child of Pain blew apart Alefprian ranks.

Phi would be back. Until then, there was work to do. Vows to fulfil. Wrongs to be righted.


Find me, it broadcast into the ether. The face of God flicked into visibility and turned against Keriss, then was gone in a blink of chaos.

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