Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by BBeast
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BBeast Scientific

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The Great Artisan, Divine Mason, Builder of Civilisations
Level 5 God of Crafting (Masonry, Carpentry, Smithing, Alchemy)

25 Might & 1 Free Point


The centre of Cornerstone had its industrial rhythm warped by a rapid, out-of-sync tink-tink-tink-tink-ing on the floor. Toun's tapping foot was the small release of anxious anticipation he could afford after his meeting with Logos.

"Get thee down from it, brother," Toun muttered to himself. "Chiral Phi's pet projects can wait."

Looking down on his spinning wheel, Toun observed a horizontal window into the view of his spy in Metera. The hain in the apron was finally taking his leave from the scene. Toun turned around.

On the gleaming white floor in front of Toun materialised the figure of the same hain. He was just as out of place amongst the slave hain as the last time he appeared. He took one step before Toun hurriedly closed the distance in an unseen pace and loomed, blue eye bright and wide.

"You called," Teknall stated up to him. "I assume that means you have met with Logos."

"Correct." Toun's terse pace was for once out of more hurry than derision. "He will fight the murderer, but our plan must be adapted."

Toun knelt, craned his head to be on Teknall's hain eye level, and took Teknall firmly by the upper arms. "The trap. What is your progress on it?"

Toun was rarely this anxious. Teknall didn’t dither. "Phi has provided me with full details on the workings of the Tesseract rift. Construction of the trap can begin immediately," he reported.

"You have not begun?!" Toun scrunched and relaxed his brow. "No matter. This way there is no retracing steps. We have little time to waste."

Teknall shrugged his way out of Toun’s grip, flicked his hain beak from side to side checking for any prying eyes. Then, with a wave of his hand, an inky black rift opened beside them. "Through here is my private Workshop."

The pair stepped through, Toun after Teknall.

On the other side of the portal, Teknall’s Workshop was abuzz with activity. Curving overhead, the manufacturing line was operating continuously, with the roar of furnaces, the grinding of lathes, the hiss of pneumatics, the clunking of tools. The line was producing Prometheans and queuing them for export. A handful of Promethean Manipulators had been set aside from the rest and were helping to build the other Prometheans. Toun gave them a curious glance, as if he was too preoccupied to comment.

"Welcome to my Workshop, Toun," Teknall gestured around himself. Toun's eye traced up around the circular construct, apparently too distracted to fully appreciate it.

Teknall snapped his fingers and the Promethean Manipulators left their current task to go build something else. He strolled over to a nearby desk, pushed aside a stack of used designs, and began transcribing the formulae he had received from Phi onto paper.

"So, tell me about the meeting," Teknall said.

Toun clasped his hands behind his back and read over Teknall's shoulder. His recount was rapid. "Logos has barely altered himself since the beginning. He has neither given up his desires to rule in spite of our family's behaviour, nor has he filled the hole in his heart." He took a second to scan at the edges of the workshop. "He made as much clear to me upon our meeting. However, a crack appeared in his manner when I showed him the truth of Kyre's death and spoke the reason why I sought him."

Standing up straight, Toun took a moment to centre himself. He paced over to a desk littered with tools, and lifted one end of a pair of calipers with one elongated finger. "Seeing the power the shadow held, seeing Kyre bent before him, Logos did something curious. He said no words. He gathered an amount of power great enough to see the end of planets and projects divine."

Toun lowered the tool without a sound and hovered his hands over the rest. "The power condensed -- as he does with it -- into lustrous plates of realta flesh and..." Toun pointedly tapped at metals that rang at different notes to emphasise his words. "...covered...his...body."

Teknall paused from writing for a moment. "Armour," he commented almost instinctively. He would need to acquire the specifications later.

Twisting to face Teknall once more, Toun angled his head upwards, looking down. "To complete himself, he cast his blade before me." Fingers raised and straightened to sign Singularity. "That line of consuming matter stretched to the length of a weapon." His tone lightened, after a pause. "And then he asked me to kill the 'usurper.'"

Toun spread his arms, raising his voice. "'It has been some time since I have had reason to use excess,' he said. 'Let us hope that I am still capable of the performance that has become expected of we gods,' he said!" His voice lowered to a quiet growl. "And still he will fight. Because he must."

Toun took a step to glide closer to Teknall once again. The lower half of his eye grew obscured by a faintly amused cheek. "Is it not telling of him to behave in such a way, brother?"

Teknall tapped his pencil on the desk a few times as he processed Toun’s question. "He feels threatened," Teknall observed. "He considered it necessary to expend an exorbitant amount of power for his own protection and as a show of force. That is not the action of someone who feels safe."

"Our thoughts are aligned, brother," Toun said quietly. He turned towards the desk. "Make no mistake, he has fostered great power. But telling it is that he feels fear at all, in spite of the mask he has shown to the family. Such a thing should not be forgot when entreating him."

Toun quickened his words, looking at Teknall's notes. "For now, it is inconsequential. Logos has done more than enough to ensure he will be a match for the murderer. Our concern at present is the trap. What do you need from me to enact its design, brother?"

Teknall finished writing and picked up the equation-covered paper. "The Tesseract itself is relatively straightforward. Some of your Calligraphy would definitely help make that process easier. The hard part, however, is getting the target inside the Tesseract." He looked up to Toun. "Once fully formed, nothing can cross the boundary of the Tesseract. This means that the Tesseract must be formed around the murderer. The trap must physically encase the target before the Tesseract is completed."

He put the notes to one side and sketched on a fresh page. "As such, the trap needs to be sufficiently flexible to cast its snare over the murderer regardless of its motions. It needs to be able to survive being struck by that weapon. It needs to be conducive to forming and containing the Tesseract. The trap should be able to inhibit movement even before it is fully formed. And, of course, it should be something you can wield effectively. I have a few possible implementations, but perhaps the one which fits the criteria best is..." Teknall lifted his sketch up for Toun to inspect. "How are you at weaving?"

The blue eye narrowed. "I cannot fault the elegance of this, yet..." Toun's head stretched from the base of his neck in a slow, silent inspection. Sincere confusion slowed his voice. "Is this what it appears to be, brother?"

"In a sense," Teknall replied, "The needle embeds a thread of power into physical space. Once this thread has been woven into a closed surface, the Tesseract is formed and the shape pulled taut."

"Stitched to the cloth as the garment is made," Toun observed. "No escape."

"Exactly," Teknall said. "If this design is satisfactory, we can make it."

Toun's eye flicked to Teknall's. "It shall suffice. We have not the time nor the resources to practically experiment with further designs, if my prediction of required effort in its construction proves even partially correct."

"Excellent." Teknall put down the paper and moved over to a furnace. Metals were deposited into it to form an alloy rich in orichalcum and other magically-conductive elements.

"And the device in action..." Toun tracked Teknall's movement. "It shall falsely appear to annihilate the essence it traps?"

Teknall poured the molten metal into a cast for an ingot. "It should. The Tesseract should block any essence. That said, Logos would probably realise that a Tesseract was made, considering that he built the first one."

"Then he may be flattered." Toun held one arm behind his back. "So long as he shall also be deceived."

Removing the red-hot ingot from its mold, Teknall carried it over to an anvil. One of the mechanical arms which serviced the workshop handed Teknall a hammer and he beat the metal into shape. The hammer drew out the hot metal into a metre-long spike. Expertly aimed taps created facets and edges. The god-sized needle quickly took shape.

Teknall left the needle aside and stretched out a hand to the Elemental Siphon. Carbon and various trace elements streamed out and formed a black ball in his hand. Teknall then brought his other hand over the ball and squeezed. The carbon sphere blazed with an iridescent-swirled white, and the roar of superheated air echoed through the Workshop. When the object cooled, Teknall removed one hand to reveal a transparent eight-sided crystal. A diamond -- a flawless carbon lattice save for the intricate and precisely placed patterns of various other elements, which gave it a gentle blue hue and a peculiar iridescence that shifted as different angles were viewed.

Teknall settled the gem on a bench and chiselled out geometrically precise facets. Taking this fist-sized cut diamond over to the needle, which was being kept hot by a robotic arm with a blowtorch, Teknall attached the diamond by hammering over metal claws placed specifically to hold that diamond in place.

Now Teknall returned to the bench with the plans and scribbled in a few lines of text next to the sketch. He then handed the piece of paper to Toun. "To grant the needle its function, I need you to program it with this Calligraphy."

Toun floated his hand to pinch the top of the paper between his thumb and forefinger, holding it aloft and letting his eye shudder as it took in the words. "'Trail divine webbing at refractive index dissimilar to the tangential quotient found in conventional…'" He exhaled with frustration. "Too many steps. I could do this in half the time by tuning beyond your rounding errors."

"Then do so. We’re making this together, aren’t we?" Teknall said.

The page crackled as Toun tossed it over his shoulder. "You have been principled to making machines by a detrimental habit, Teknall. You are lucky I am here." A twinge of offence only briefly flicked across Teknall’s face. Toun took up the needle in one hand and inspected its surface. "In future, do not feel obliged to design my calligraphy beyond terms that come most naturally to your communication, lest you waste your mind and our time."

The familiar red ink beaded on Toun's extended, claw-like fingertip. With flow resembling the grace of spinning galaxies, his writing inscribed onto the needle exact symbols that hissed and dried in the leftover heat. Each one brought the oversized needle further from a natural physical object and closer to an instrument of extradimensional manipulation. To Toun, who had not studied the Tesseract further than overlooking Teknall's notes in a cursory manner, he was merely implementing modules of counter-reality that would feed into one another. The end result was an ornate pattern, with only one piece missing.

"Anything further, brother?"

Toun lowered the side of the needle to Teknall's eyes. Though his feedback was characteristically rude, even he had to admit to himself that the calligraphy on the needle lead itself into efficiencies he did not previously think possible. It was not so much a programmed machine as a set of new rules. Their domains of understanding and power were as distinct as ever.

Teknall lifted the needle out of Toun’s hands and briefly read over the rest of the calligraphy. "Only one more thing. It needs power."

He summoned over the Workshop Prometheans with a wave of his hand. They had made a pair of large coiled orichalcum wires wound around an open void. The devices were set in place on the floor and Teknall placed the needle between them. Each end of the needle was held at the apex of the coils by what the learned would know to be the unseen force of magnetism. The Workshop’s mechanical arms plugged the pair of devices directly to the Stellar Engine Core via thick cables. All that remained was to flick the switch.

At Teknall’s will, various devices in the Workshop shut down in steps of clacks and thuds, conserving power. A strange silence came over the Workshop when the main manufacturing line came to a halt. Even the lights blinked out, until only the light nearest to the gods was on. Above their heads, starfire built up in the heart of the Stellar Engine Core. The accumulators hummed with electricity.

Teknall’s hand hovered over the switch which would activate the machine. "Ready?"

"Eager to witness."

Teknall’s hand closed over the switch and pulled it down. There was a clunk as the circuit closed and electricity crackled in the air around the devices. The coils hummed to life. At this point it was clear that these were not some simple electrical devices, for the coils cast out a golden light. This glow crept along the needle from either end until it met in the middle. There was a dazzling flash. The circuit of divine power closed and godly might arced through the needle. The hum of the apparatus amplified to a roar, and the metal of the needle shone incandescent. The patterns drawn on the needle and embedded in the diamond were highlighted by the energies coursing through it.

After a few seconds, the glow dulled, and the coils powered down, and the rest of the Workshop slowly blinked back to life. Teknall snatched the needle while it was still hot and plunged it into a trough of water, quenching the metal in hisses and bubbles and sealing in the power. He lifted the needle up with a slosh and held its dripping, steaming form aloft.

While Toun’s Calligraphy had given suggestions of its extradimensional nature, the empowered needle was unmistakably hypergeometric. Its surfaces seemed to rotate through time and higher dimensions, and ordinary space appeared to part aside from the sharpened point.

Experimentally, Teknall weaved the needle back and forth a few times in the space in front of him. Trailing behind the needle was a glowing, white-blue thread of twisted space suspended in the air behind the 'spool' of the diamond in the needle’s head. Teknall flicked the needle, and the thread was pulled from its position and retracted into the diamond.

"It is finished," Teknall exclaimed, with some excitement in his voice. Never before had he held a single item with so much power in it, and it was somewhat exhilarating for the craft god. Toun was naturally harder to please and stood stoically, yet appearances were not all.

"Teknall, with such a device, you may have saved the life of a god." Toun dropped any trace of insincerity and disdain for a monotonous moment. "Though not a virtuous life today, it is a divine life nonetheless. My worded appreciation cannot scratch the depths of my gratitude. I am sure Kyre's memory would give similar thanks."

Teknall nodded solemnly. "I hope so as well." He then held the needle by the middle and offered it to Toun. "What shall we name it?"

Toun took the needle near one end and held it vertically to read the symbols on its length. The sheer power caused his eyelid to twitch on contact. "A tool to seal a murderer in an inescapable net."

The needle spun under the flick of Toun's little finger. Under his will, it shot away from him in erratic directions, trailing a thread as before in the space before them until the pattern of a closing fabric took shape. Two seconds later, Toun lifted a hand and closed his porcelain fist just as the needle abruptly stopped between his fingers.

"A Tomb Weaver."

The threads in the air violently collapsed into a displaced wind and were sucked, thrashing like a flailing snake, back into the diamond.

"This I swear: Kyre's murderer shall be stopped."



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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Rtron
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Rtron Knight Radiant

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Grotlings appear (after Realta invasion, before Xerxes showdown)


Vestec landed in the middle of the Venomweald, next to the Writhe. It looked around, growling and thrashing, a resurrected monstrosity of it's former glory. "Don't worry. I'll get you a nice powerful soul to replace that place holder Astarte put in you. Never fear." Vestec crooned, petting the giant plant. It snapped at him and he dodged, giggling. "But for now, I'm going to create you a lovely little race to protect and keep you alive. And carry on Grot's legacy. I think everyone has forgotten him in all the excitement, but we won't let that happen will we? He'll live on, even if it's only in his descendants."

Reaching into his clothes he pulled out two chunks of dried flesh (one much larger than the other), ripped free years ago. "One for dear old Grot, and one from his parasite that lived inside of him. I meant to do this ages ago, but then Logos and his Realta started burning things, Amartia threw away his potential like a spoilt child, and I got distracted. Don't worry Writhey dear, nothing will stop me now." He put the biggest one on the ground first, and began shaping it. Chaos magic shone around the chunk, molding it as he desired. It grew and shifted to huge size, an identical image to the massive Grot from years past (albeit only a few feet taller than most mortals rather than several hundred). It was still a shell though, life absent from it's body. Vestec examined it for a moment, the clapped his hands together. "Perfect, now to add the second piece."

Holding the second chunk of flesh in his hand, he began to shape it's form as well. It shrunk down to an even smaller size, taking the sizer and shape of a large tarantula. This he put into the body of the first. Looking at it, he giggled in delight. "Perfect! Now to give you life." The creature glowed brightly with Chaos magic a moment, then began to look around and move, exploring it's newfound life and surroundings. "Now, dearest Grotling, to make you friends!" Vestec snapped his fingers, and hundreds of clones (of both males and females) appeared throughout the Venomweald. Vestec flew into the air, going to observe his creations.

"They're missing something. Something that makes them...them. Hmmmmmmm." Vestec spun in slow circles, muttering to himself. Suddenly, he shot straight up. "I got it!" He was gone in a flash, teleporting to the moons around Galbar. "No. No. No. Useless. No. Damn it where did she...aha!" Stopping at the one designated to Teknall, he looked at all the minerals on and beneath the surface. "Perfect. Juuust perfect." A clap of his hands and a large amount of them were gone, buried beneath and on the Venomweald.

He moved back to the Venomweald, staring at the Grotlings again. "Now too...there we go. That should be the perfect amount to balance things out, more or less." His magic shot into the entire race, such as it was, again, blessing them with powers. Then he left, leaving the Grotings to their own devices.



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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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...
You sensed it, too.
It is no trick of the ashes.
Another divine presence.
It is not the same as the others. It is weak.
It may be a mere gambit of one of the generals.
There are two presences.
If they are weak, it is inconsequential.
...
You wish to see them closer.




Consciousness flew into Cinead's mouth a second behind the burnt dust. He showed his teeth and coughed violently, pressing the crook of his arm against his face. His next breath in dragged in rough and slow, producing more coughs before the sustaining air could fully prosper in his lungs. He held his breath to hawk and spit the stuff from his dry feline mouth.

Finally breathing slower, he propped himself up on one hand and wiped the grit from his eyes. He felt around the bone dry dusty floor and found what appeared to be a rag. He shook it clean and pressed it to his face to breathe. Only a little dust was on the inward side. He finally opened his eyes.

Everything was made of grey powder on an unceasing wind. He laid on his side on what felt like a stone floor, carpeted with a disturbed inch of grey powder. Around him were the burnt, yet still standing, wood and stone foundations of a small rectangular building, also encrusted in grey. More dust swirled in through the empty doorway and small window gaps. Above, he saw as he craned his neck, was nothing but the open air, choked with uncountable flights of the same dust.

He shook his upper body, clearing a cloud of the dust from his fur. He batted at his beard fur three times to knock off more dust.

The alien world he woke up in brought Cinead's panicking mind to only one thought.

"Inga!" He called out to the dust-choked sky. He had to cover his face again. The walls around him allowed barely an echo.

He stood up. The gritty dust itched at his armpits and legs. It tasted like ash. "Inga!" He tried again. "Where is she?"

Cinead stumbled to the doorway as his leg only partially obeyed him. He had pinched a nerve in his previous position. Shielding his eyes from the ashen wind, he shouted again. "Inga!"

A guttural shout in the distance made Cinead's yellow eyes and ears light up. He threw himself out to run through the swirling ash storm towards the sound. The dust slid like sand under his feet, piled up to the point of slowing his high-legged sprint. He lost his sense of speed as the dust obscured his vision.

"Inga! Where are you!?"

Another deep roar shouted out back to him. She was scared. Cinead threw his free arm forward and back harder to redouble his pace, pushing through the dust below. He ran by a blackened stone wall. He knew of no place where the brightness of the sky touched the dwellings of people. Everything was scaled an arm higher. It was not dwarves that lived in this ruin.

A deep yelp echoed close by.

"Inga!" Cinead shouted. He stopped at a ledge and, looking into the trench before him, finally found her.

Three lanky humanoid beasts in pungent and tattered rags, each nearly twice as tall as Cinead, raised clubs and stones against a creature on the floor between them. The creature had a gryphon's tail curling out between the group's feet. They stopped their beating to turn their animalistic faces to Cinead.

Cinead was a warrior, but only pure panicked fight tightened his fists. "Get away from my sister!" Cinead screamed. Whether they understood or not, the beastly creatures snarled back as Cinead charged into the trench unarmed and unarmoured.

He shot forward intending to deflect and strike the first. He was there in a blink. The first beast was so slow that Cinead's fist ripped into its abdomen with a snap. Its voice broke into a pained squeal. Cinead didn't process the power of his strike until he batted away the incoming club of the second hard enough to strike it from its hands. His torso swung across to whip the back of his fist against the side of the creature's jaw. It stopped, dazed. Cinead took the opening; he jumped and bit into its exposed throat. The blood that poured onto his pallet was hot enough to burn. He hardly felt it. The third and final beast threw its stone square into Cinead's head.

White shapes flared in Cinead's vision on impact. He let go of the second beast's throat and staggered back, clutching his head. He opened his eyes and looked at his fingers. Deep red soaked into the ever-present ash on his hand. He couldn't regain his balance before the final standing beast howled up into the sky.

The howl abruptly stopped with a shadow. The beast's head was engulfed by gryphon's teeth and crackled with a twist. Inga swung her head to throw the limp beast aside. She had apparently stood up during Cinead's interruption -- and gained ten times more strength since the last he remembered her for no apparent reason. All the same, the beating had left her bleeding and bruised. Her wing jutted notably at an unfamiliar angle.

Cinead lost his rag in all the confusion. The trench was sheltered from the wind, at least. That meant he could speak.

"How in the Empress' name did you do that?" Cinead breathed.

Inga stepped to turn and winced. A pained trill bubbled from her throat. She lowered her head to touch Cinead's forehead and brought her arms forward. Cinead closed his eyes and embraced her tightly. Cinead almost drew tears. The initial shock of the encounter was washed away in reunited relief.

Inga trilled.

"I don't know," Cinead said. "I don't know where we are, what these things are, or what's going on." His eyes turned to catch Inga's. "But if we can find our way out of this storm, we might..."

Inga's big yellow eyes were avoiding Cinead's. He turned and realised what she was looking at. The first beast he struck lay lifeless on the ground. The side of its chest was caved in and its mouth oozed red blood. The beast he bit was bulging at the eyes and completely torn at the throat.

"...I can't have done that. That's impossible."

Inga clacked her teeth and growled. Her eyes and ears scanned around impatiently.

"Huh?" Cinead let his arms slip free and stepped back. "What do you hear?"

Ear's flattening, Inga squat her head down and bared her teeth in one direction of the trench. Cinead followed her gaze and balled his fists again.

The beastly creatures would have been stealthy as wolves if it weren't for their shouts, barks, and bays of hungry fury. There were more than a few of them. Cinead saw at least five charging over one another in the direction he was looking.

"That last one must have raised the alarm," Cinead remarked. He realised that the bead of sweat running down his head was blood from the rock.

More beasts flew out of the flying ashes. Some had gleaming black crescents in their hands. Most others held a bludgeon of some description. Some were sprinting on all fours.

"There are too many!" Cinead tapped Inga on the neck and turned into a sprint through the trench, away from the incoming beasts. The thud of Inga's larger following footsteps lifted ash into a low cloud behind them.

Some shapes emerged from the ash ahead. Cinead and Inga slid to a stop. "Damn it!" Another crowd of yipping and barking beasts cut off their egress.

The walls of the trench were too high to climb without allowing the creatures to catch up. There was no escape.

Inga whined.

"What?"

She shuffled and whined again.

"If you can't fly, we'll have to fight."

Inga's ears pinned back she lowered towards the enemy and growled, eyes wide with fear. Cinead turned to face the other incoming crowd. His breathing quickened and his legs quivered.

"Inga, sister," Cinead said. "Remember what Douglas said. Need not die afraid; Fate seals us all in the end."

A high-pitched yowl of protest sounded from Inga. She snapped her jaw at Cinead.

"Fine, I'll shut up."

The beastly creatures with black bladed weapons trampled in around them. Closer and closer. There were strategies in his studies of warfare for all manner of situations. Not for this. Nothing but a prayer to Lazarus and the fight of one's life. Cinead bared his pointed teeth and let his mouth slowly open in a defiant yell. Inga threw open her mouth in a roaring screech. The beasts didn't flinch.

Cinead jumped forward to throw a punch at the first beast closing in.

He would be cut by the other five closing behind.

A resigned relief of sure mortality drove any compunctions away.

And yet.

As if such a thing signalled a choice by the gods, the scrape of taut chains snapped and Cinead was pulled up by the ankles. The ground fell away. All his blood pressed against his face as the crowd of beasts below clawed and jumped to snatch at his ascending body. They disappeared behind the ashen winds below in a heartbeat.

Something snaked up Cinead's chest, around his neck. He couldn't move. His eyes caught Inga's panicked visage beside him as gleaming white chains tightened around her neck. He couldn't breathe either.

His mind dully reaccepted his death. Sparkling black swallowed his vision.



...
Report.
The divine presences have been secured. They are mutated dwarves. Father showed me through his eyes; they are twins of the warrior caste.
Inconsistent. Lazarus and the Dwarves have no stake in Xerxes.
Yet they appeared.
What is their divine nature?
Further mutations. Godly essences are grafted to them. Vestec and Lazarus. Jvan remains with vestigial influences but only in caste biology.
Their risk?
Inconsequential.
Then stand by. Xerxes has become inaccessible.
Inaccessible?
The battle has been abducted by Vestec. I shall continue the mission.
...
Is there a problem?
No.




Cinead squirmed. The crisp blankets were pleasant against his fur. Strange piping songs tweeted into his ears from outside, but they were pleasant enough. He wanted to stay in bed, dipped halfway into a dream. Training could wait this morning. Inga would wake him up before he slept in too late. As usual.

A time passed. The soft cacophony piped on, with its high-pitched chirps. The artisans must have invented a new musical instrument for a festival. They were better with the arksynth than he ever was.

He could keep sleeping. All the cooking normally finished later in the day anyway. He licked both sides of his jaw as the thought of celebratory baked trout and fungus sauce tickled his anticipation. He did love festivals.

That was always Inga's favourite, too. He made the fish for her when she was sick or injured. She probably would appreciate it with her broken wing.

Those beasts must have been strong to break her. But they died so quickly. But there were more. That was no dream.

Cinead's mind rose from his dream into the cool morning air. Those songs were not from dwarves at all. He opened his eyes.

He was in a bed of soft furs. He sat up to behold a room hewn from stone and orange clay. Beyond the door was a blindingly bright yellow light producing the distant songs. As the top blanket slid off his chest, the cool draft touched his body -- bare-furred but for a cloth bandage tightly wrapped around his head where a small, painful bruise bulged. His brown spotted fur was completely clean -- no dirt, sweat, not even any of that ashen dust.

"Where am I now?" Cinead mumbled to himself.

A chain tinkled lightly from the corner. Cinead jolted as a lithe figure stepped into view, illuminated by the yellow light at the door. It looked like a warrior dwarf, like him. A woman of the lynx and leopard. The brightness and symmetry of her black markings on her soft yellow fur granted her an exotic beauty. She wore a set of white, red-trimmed trousers, a buttoned up jacket, and a doublet. While its colours were different, the pattern was identical to Cinead's own uniform back home. Her footsteps made no sound at all. Indeed, she did not have the physique of a trained warrior at all.

"Thank the gods, you were asleep some time." The warrior said evenly. She clasped her hands and her lips spread in a warm smile.

"Who are you?" Cinead asked.

The warrior quirked one ear. "You may call be Mira. What is your name?"

"...Cinead." Cinead looked at her with a lowered brow and his head slightly turned. "Where is your twin?" he asked slowly.

There was a pause. Mira stared. "On a mission," She answered tersely. She tilted her head. "You are fortunate that I was able to get you out of the city. You surely would have fallen-"

"Where is Inga?" Cinead interrupted.

Mira's head levelled. "Your twin? She is sleeping in the next room. Her wing was broken by the dagons."

"Dagons?" Cinead huffed out an exasperated breath. "I have to make sure Inga is well."

Cinead roughly twisted to throw his legs over the bed and tried to stand up, pulling the fur blanket with him to preserve his modesty. He stood halfway up before a pain lanced into his temple. He sucked in a breath and pressed a hand to his skull. "Ah! What...!?"

Mira's face dropped with concern and she gestured forward. "Do not overexert yourself. You do not have as much blood as normal."

"And why is that!?" Cinead growled.

"You tasted Dagon blood," Mira continued. She glanced around the room nervously. "I had to bleed you to make sure it did not overwhelm you. Amartia's curse spreads in the city and you and Inga will both require further treatment."

"None of what you just said made any sense..." Cinead relaxed his jaw and took a slow breath. "Look, Inga and I have to get back to Citadel Dundee." He sat back down. "Where are we?"

Mira looked out of the door. "It does not exactly have a name, as far as I am aware. I am told that Empress Lazarus resided here for some time before moving south."

"Does that mean we're close to Dundee?"

"Uh...we are about three-quarters of the way up the Ironhearts here. Far north of Dundee."

Cinead's brow lowered. He shook his head and pouted his lips to mouth a confused question that didn't come. The bruise under the bandage kept throbbing. "Three quarters? That would mean we're halfway across the world."

"Correct." Mira nodded and curled her lips between her teeth.

"I don't understand." Cinead lowered his head. His subconscious mind wished in that moment for multiple mouths, for he could not pin one to ask amongst the tumult. He eventually managed, one that sounded important. "You mentioned something about treatment, what do you mean?"

"You and your twin bit into dagons. Their blood is tainted with Amartia's curse, that transforms intelligent beings into creatures driven by the extremes of their base instincts and desires. You may have been given power, but it will overtake you if it is not treated."

Did she have that line memorised? Cinead sighed. "What will you have to do?"

"I will have to take you to the Rovaick tribe closest to us. They have remedies for Amartia's affliction."

"Rovaick!?" Cinead bared his teeth. "Those savage creatures from the north and their clay god?"

Mira winced and turned her head. "I would not say such things when we find them. You need them to save your life."

"They are our enemies!"

"Have you met one?"

Cinead breathed in to shout and then held his tongue. He ran a hand over his head and sighed. "No," he reluctantly admitted. "But I have heard enough about them."

"The ones this far up north are friendlier, I promise." Mira gave another smile. She was far too warm for a stranger.

With greater care to avoid a head rush this time, Cinead stood up. "Can I at least see my sister?"

"Of course, Cinead." She finally moved, gesturing elegantly at the folded clothing at the foot of Cinead's bed. They had either appeared when he wasn't looking or he had not spotted them in the first place. "Those are tailored to you and you may make use of them to dress. Please take your time."

Her preempting Cinead's question about clothing was strange. Cinead glanced between Mira and carefully reached for the garments. They were uncannily identical to the brown and beige loincloth, tunic, breeches, and jerkin that he normally wore off-duty. If a little newer.

Mira cleared her throat. "On this part of Galbar, away from the far south, the sun rises and sets fully on a basis of several hours instead of on the seasons. We will leave tomorrow when the sun rises. The journey will take four weeks by foot and we have no access to flight. I will leave to source provisions. And I shall give you privacy for now." Mira took gliding footsteps into the yellow light of the door.

"Hey, I haven't finished asking you questions!" Cinead reassured his grip on his blanket and reached out. His head swam on the first step forward and he scrunched his eyes shut in frustration.

Mira paused, looking back to show Cinead a wincing face. "Do try not to exert yourself. I would not forgive myself for letting you get hurt." She raised a hand. "There will be time for more questions later. I shall return soon, just try not to wander too far in the meantime."

As Mira walked out into the yellow light, Cinead watched her gait. Her balance was that of something more than a warrior. It was too even. Too elegant. She was unnatural.

Errant thoughts were distracted in Cinead's mind as his eyes adjusted to what the bright light had obscured.

Beyond the door were rolling hills, covered in a soft, shining green. He took careful paces to the door. "Ah!" He hissed and covered the exposed sun as it his eyes. The sky was a clear blue. The ground was the greenest he had ever seen. Dirt carpeted by sticky blades of green hay. The piping sounds incessantly repeating were not musical instruments but small, feathered creatures that fluttered away on sight.

Mira was nowhere to be seen.



Dressing and looking for Inga's shelter did not take too long. As Mira promised, Inga was resting in her own bedding, similar to Cinead's, with tight bandages holding splints to her wing and covering other wounds. Whatever painful process of resetting the bones there was, they had taken place before Cinead awoke.

Mira had to have associates around. No gryphon would allow resetting their bones without injuring the doctor attempting it. Especially without their twin around to comfort them.

Where was everyone else? Cinead thought. Where exactly did Mira go? Who was Mira? It was all to say nothing of the ruined city in ashes. And those beastly men. Those dagons.

Cinead knelt down near Inga's large head. He placed a palm gently on her neck. "Inga," he murmured. "Wake up."

A grumbling purr announced Inga's eyes peeling open and looking at Cinead.

"How are you feeling?"

Inga partly opened her jaw and elicited a nasal groan.

Cinead breathed a laugh and grinned broadly. "Well, being alive is always a good sign."

As if only realising herself, Inga lifted her head to peer around the stone room. She gave a confused trill.

Cinead looked around as well. "I don't know. I just woke up in another shelter nearby. There was this warrior woman dressed in white and red, she said her name was Mira."

All of a sudden, Inga showed her teeth and hissed in a way that made Cinead's ears twitch. His face turned to attention.

"You met her?"

Inga snapped at the air and droned a low, quiet yowl. The protest ascended for a short crescendo and droned further, like a recount of a child sitting to get her teeth checked if she could only make the sounds of a large feline.

Cinead eyed the splints on Inga's wing and he realised. "So it was just her?"

Inga hummed angrily.

"If she could do that without help, she's hiding something. I don't trust her, either." Cinead caught Inga's eyes. "We'll keep on our toes. We have still to find out if that strength back in that dusty place is still in us, and how we got here in the first place." He sighed. "If only I had some arksynth. I could make something to fix your wing and we could fly home. Or maybe find out more about this strange situation."

Cinead blinked as Inga blew a breeze in his face. He smiled and leaned down to hug her neck. "It's good to see you, too, sister."

When Cinead pulled away, his smile faded and he stood up. "Careful getting up. Let's explore this place and I can tell you what Mira told me, whether it's true or not."



The final count of demons slain to protect the warring armies amounted to one thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven. Their full numbers made a sealed defence impossible, resulting in casualties in the armies exceeding those inflicted by the opposing sides on one another.
And the objectives?
Amartia remains neutralised, presumed dead. He could not be spared with the demons distracting my attention. Lifprasil was weakened by the anti-divine artefact, is still living. Keriss was defeated, is still living. Though higher than a demideity, Logos' appearance did preclude his retreat, was unharmed. The Tauga anomaly was defeated, was abducted by Lifprasil's army, was still living upon her last appearance. Summary: Amartia objective failed. All other primary objectives complete.
...Father will not be happy.
His emotional reaction is inconsequential.
And the other divine presences?
All other divinities above objective threshold consideration remain alive.
Understood.
You have received your objective for the entities you found before the battle?
Yes. I am in the process of establishing rapport.
When shall you begin transit?
Dawn.



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


Might: 35
Free Point: 4
Level 6







The Quara Korala had a curious uniqueness to their existence. All species had direct deep intervention from a god or another, even the elementals that posed as a natural phenomenon were still the design of the divine whim. The Korala, however, were born from the land, survival for them was not proof of a god's perspective but the result of a long and arduous journey that started when the first Furl in the Deepwoods found itself peckish for better habitats. The scars of such "parade" were still present, be it as vestiges in their bodies, or old instincts that still caused them to fear long gone predators.

It was a blessing they were not blessed, that was the only conclusion Chronicle could make. They lacked the physical aptitude of the god-crafted species and were hardly specialized to do anything, yet they had a unique mind, free from divine-logic. Perhaps, that was why she did not see many temples among their cities, even the Grand Parade, supposedly a holy order under Ilunabar, felt more like two parties seeking a common goal than worship. Oftenly the parading priests' sweet words toward Ilunabar lacked true devotion, even if still rooted in respectful views.

| What do you feel about all 'Quara' | Chronicle asked suddenly to the Quara Korala who was waiting by her side while both waited for Piena.

"You mean, my people?" The elder asked.

| I mean Quara as it is said in your language, Two Legs. |

"Hmmm. I have no strong feelings about the subject. Quara Harcnon seems to be a diverse sort, hard to judge, I do wonder if they truly have a counterpart living in a distant star-world. Quara Nounlelic seems to be the most widespread race, I wonder if they will ever become aware of this. Quara Gesteq are sincerely quite rude, but we live close by, and we trade, and as long as we sometimes send illusionists to keep them in control, it seems we can live in peace. Quara Jousel... Quara Qnast... I have never seen, as they live in distant lands. There are others too right?" The elder was just excited to have a chance to talk.

| Right, but do you ever feel different from them? Perhaps, in a sense, superior? | she teased out of curiosity.

"Superior? Oh no, not at all. Everyone has their place and..."

| But do you find them odd? Is there anything in their behavior you do not like? |

The elder who was once relaxed was now tense. "Well, they can be uncanny at times, and they do not seem to think too well, but nevertheless, just because they are different, that does not mean they are undesirable."

| Right. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. |

So there was some realization of it all, even if they could not pin point where. It was understandable, Chronicle herself did not know what to make out of it.

"The portal and boats have both worked as expected," Piena said as she suddenly landed near them.

"So we will be moving out soon?"

"Not yet, we need to gather the volunteer colonists first. Set up designs and landing zones. Among other things." She turned to her sister. "Until then, I would like to stay here with the Siddhikarah Clan"

| I will be staying too |

Piena took a second to understand what she had read. "You want to stay? Surely you have more work to do back in the Pictaraika..."

| Nothing that I cannot do here first. |

The Diva of Steel felt like arguing, there were still many things to do by Ilunabar's side, but she was exhausted from quarrels. "Do whatever you want." she dismissed.

=====

Most things that pleased a mortal were nothing for a god, however, there was a certain legendary level of quality which could bring joy to even the divine. The thermal waters of the Ironhearts combined with the delicate design of the dome roofed bath-house, with round walls covered in carmine colored clay, large marbles frame, and gold plated wall decorations in the shape of the sun and moons, their auric color contrasting nicely with the raw and dull red of the walls. In the corners of the marble frames, pearls the size of a man's head gave the finishing touch.

"Is it not amazing? How despite being a somewhat weak race, lacking in so many aspects, they are still able to build such wonderful structures beyond their time?" Piera declared as she turned to look at her red haired sister, who was relaxing under an artificial waterfall.

| I truly am amazed, though I have a small suspicion it might have a thing or two to do with the copious of divine subsidy given to them. | she answered sarcastically.

"Oh, don't be unfair, it is not that much... I just gave them some food and materials, compare it to what the other gods do!"

| I am not judging you for creating one of a kind wonders like these, but do not deny they are a result of you pouring materials and food into this society. If not for those, they would be hunting beasts and banging rocks together like 98% of Galbar. | While it was true Quara Korala never had their bodies changed, they were perhaps one of the most comfortable races in all of Galbar, thanks to their small demographics making it easy for the goddess to amply support their species.

"Most Quara do not even enjoy this easy life, just the five great clans."

| It is not an issue, sister. | Chronicle sighed and left the bath, seeking the nearby balcony so she could gaze upon the realm which they were using as a base for their diplomacy at the moment.

In this cloudy day, most of the palaces nested in one of the Ironheart's peaks was hidden, even then, the spires of the building could easily be seen, all made with bushbeast ivory apparently. Needless to say, trimming in gold or details in gems were to be expected.

The Quara Korala that lived there were all born from the Siddhikarah clan or taken into its wings. The group was one of the most influential entities within the species, along with the Mrigakarah, the Shantipala, the Vaishya and the Swapnatranta. Each surname was quite literally the name of what the clan did or what they dealt with, which just showed how crucial they were to society. There was, of course, the majority of the Quara Korala population, paraders, who lived in the fishing villages or out in the world, carrying the Grand Parade. Those had far less contact with the higher planes of the world and had more arduous lives, even if still fully within the shade of being akin to lapdog species.

Korala numbers did not rise rapidly, either way, so keeping them oversupplied would not lead to overpopulation anytime soon. One that desired to leave the straw and bamboo villages behind, just needed to prove themselves to be good enough of an artist and soon enough a clan would approach them and apply their skills where they were needed.

Siddhikarah, for example, focused on jewelry, tailoring, and illusion, as well as materials such as paint, dyes, and ink. They were also very brooding, their mountainside palaces with rooms far larger than their small population could ever use, all meant to be used for meditation and such activities.

Even from up in the balcony, with the fog all around her, she could see the typical "Siddhan" walking by. Their body scales were smooth, small, and almost pearlescent. Pastel blue, yellow, beige, green. Rougher back and limb scales, smooth belly scales, the later being typical of a contrasting gray-white color, sometimes with a hint of purple due to the gleam and Glamour, and other times their color was the same as the rest of the body. Their head crest had far more edges/"spikes" than their siblings.

"The meeting is going to start soon, sister." Piena suddenly interrupted. "Let us get dressed, and see the terms the Quara Korala will provide us."

=====

"Are you sure this is fine?" Piena repeated, she expected a hard deal, she got something else entirely.

Chronicle was also somewhat confused. | This is quite a massive place, would be a shame to leave it abandoned. |

"We do not wish to split up the clan, and if we are to move to new lands, well, why not go fully into it?" One of the elders told.

"Someone will eventually find this palace one day or another, maybe that could help some of those Quara Gestec to have better taste." Another one added. Chronicle thought it was a woman, it was hard to tell, gender dimorphism was small in this species.

| They will break the gold off the trims, and mine the gems out of the walls. |

"What can be done? This zone was getting stale, and this will be a white canvas for us to build new wonders." Wanderlust was a common feeling within the species. From the lowest to the highest, it just seemed to build up in their blood with time.

"Quite frankly, I do not know what to tell, but if you are okay with this, I will be behind your project. Even so, a couple of you need to stay behind, the clan disappearing would be a disaster for the local economy."

The discussion continued until the night until finally the sisters were left alone in the room.

| Quara Korala housing will take more effort than the template temples at this rate. |

"It will be an experience for sure. A lot of the workforce will be the same nevertheless. Furthermore, they have clear designs in mind, unlike the temples, whose projects have been as consistent as vapors for a long time."

| Well, won't disagree. Anyway, under this situation, we will need to pay visits to all the other clans, no? |

"I am unsure, clans are tightly knit, information will spread fast, and I see that this will sadly be a general thing. They are proud groups, it would take a lot for one to stay behind, I fear the socio-economical repercussions of all this... Ah, maybe you could help me with this..." the diva turned to her youngest sister "I need to go back to Pictaraika, there are certain things I need to finish soon, you perhaps... could visit the other houses? I need a report on their situation."




Far away from all, in the farthest reaches of the Raka, almost in the borderlands between the many planes and Reality, Ilunabar gazed back onto her work, allowing herself a moment of introspection. It seemed like it was moments ago, but it had been a long while since she finally found the answer to the dream question, bringing a new age to Galbar, setting the path she would follow in the future.

Raka had grown, once it was a seedling you could easily see in its entirety, now analyzing the sheer amount of dream flowing through the skies was beyond the goddess, yet she could see a faint glow, the roots that formed the Pictaraika and anchored Raka to Reality, the tower, Arpeggio...



Suddenly the goddess dove back, greeting Notte who had just teleported into the plane.

"Lady Master, I brought what you asked, are you sure it is safe though? I would hate to start an apocalypse..."

"Do not be foolish Notte, the very implication is like a mockery of my work. I held Croma here, an Other made to feed on dreams! A normal one is no issue."

"Why an other though... I understand you wanted to pick something that had caused enough damage so it might deserve to die but..."

"What? This was not a moral choice, I just needed the most... adaptable creature from the branches of Reality." Ilunabar picked the Glamour-charged mirror in which Notte had captured the creature. "Stand back a bit."

The diva shivered at those words, rarely Ilunabar was this cautious, but she had no other choice but to believe her words. The goddess released the mirror to float away from both before releasing the small, 1 feet tall other onto the very raw flow of the Raka. No glamour aura on it or shielding of any sort.

The creature immediately writhed and flailed its tentacles, eyes racing from one side to the other. Before the first second, its body started to shake, phantom tentacles moved and disappeared in the paths its own tentacles had decided not to take, its very form started to shake, a Beyond Color aura that looked like red, green and blue around it. By the dawn of the first second, It started to release a sparkly magenta dust cloud, flashes of locations appearing near it.

"Have you ever noticed, Notte, that when we try to describe something we go directly for describing what it is, yet, all the times we had to create a new word, we defined the concept by noticing all the things it is not thus finding the need to give a name to the silhouette of the uncovered area" the goddess told. "I find the latter method to be more precise, but I am biased, Raka is subtractive, Reality is additive."

The otherling shifted its shape, the smoke continuing to encase its body, its body starting to change rapidly between a variety of substances and positions, while the cloud flashed all sorts of imagery. This continued to pace up, becoming increasingly harder to follow even for the goddess until the cloud and body collapsed onto each other. A flash of white, a flash of black, and the creature was gone, merely seconds after being released on the Raka.

"What just happened?" Notte gasped.

"It became too unstable, being everything therefore nothing." Ilunabar took a minute to ponder "The creature's conceptual existence was not compatible with how things work here, the same is true for the other way around... When both meet rawly, you have this odd effect, might call it anti-reality? counter-reality? All the wording sounds too grand. Glamour seems to be the link between both sides... How does it truly work? Is it raw concept? Is it translated dream? Realization...Realizitification... Hmmm" the goddess became distracted with the thought.

"Che... This is all a bit beyond me." the Diva sighed.

"For now, in the future perhaps you will find a hint of usefulness in this. Once the concept is easier to grasp."




The Mrigakarah home was impressively comely in comparison to the flamboyant and magnificent of the previous clan's home. Fortresses nested among hills near the coastland. Brown and beige stone buildings, walls and terraces forming the clan's compounds, though this being a Quara Korala noble land, jewels were still everywhere, such as encrusted in the very walls of the terraces with impeccable even if mortal symmetry, as well as one dotting every single archway between coves or buildings, the sapphire being the one of choice for such.

Green dominated the area, trees, hedges, including mazes made from those, and many, many artificial hills. One could easily believe those to be natural from one side, as the Korala gardening here really shone its ability to make nature bloom, however on the other side, there would be walls, certainly man made due to their use of carvings, bricks, and gems.

Mrigakarah were farmers, simple crafters of wood and stone and herders of sheep and ostriches. The shepherds here were the first to have dog companions to help them deal with the livestock, such ability was discovered by accident with a Pixiehound that Piena had gifted to the clan, now wild canines were being tamed as they were more reliable than the somewhat clumsy hounds. (Not that the Quara Korala didn't love them, though they fit better in a lap or pillow than in the fields.)

Most of the Quara Korala here have very earthly solid colors, green, brownish red, gray with some blue here and there. Their Patagium is naturally of either a red color, or a shade of their main bodily color. Their bellies typically are formed in rows, forming "stripes" of a beige color with a clear division between the main body and the belly, though a minority has rough scales, like cobble, with the division unclear. Their most unique feature, however, is their plumed sides, giving them something that can be said to be close to sideburns or a beard.

All these things considered, one might conclude this to be a poorer area, which could not be further from the truth. Each mrigakarah area was a castle, made typically from rough brown stones or a soft beige plaster, both materials just making the gems encrusted in the designs more stand out even more. In the Siddhikarah clan, you might not even notice the large head-sized jade gems atop posts and spires, but go to a place like the Mrigakarah's Crows Island Fortress and you will probably see the fact every single merlon in the walls has an emerald before you notice the bright red roof or the stained glass windows of the castle.

Chronicle ended up meeting the leader of this clan in one of the sheep heard fields, it was an oddly designed place, buildings going down into the earth, only their roofs and domes sticking out, all green, perhaps to not disrupt the still landscape outside. The meeting hall, which the leader begged pardon for being "very simple" was one of the few non-bejeweled areas she saw: A circular room, marble floor of two colors and distributed in a pleasing way, the wall was part of the dome roof, starting in raw rock, an adorned lime division then ornamented concrete with intricate design, then a layer of smooth rocks, before ending the rest of the roof with another layer of carved rock, a sculpted symbol of the clan at the very center.

| I take you have heard the news by this point? | Chronicle wrote.

"Ah yes, most curious information, even if they were a bit odd timed." the elder told.

| Will you be moving too, I take? |

"Of course we will, though we will not take all of the family there, some are fearful to engage in castle building again."

| Fearful? Of what? |

"Oh, you know, walls collapsing, elementals raging, unforeseen natural disasters or ancient beasts being unleashed."

| Oh... that. |

"Nevertheless, you will have our support, it will be quite exciting to see new lands, even if in the end of the day it seems we will still be near the warm ocean water."

| Well, you will be near the Fractal Ocean instead, it is a bit different... Don't go for a swim |




The great chieftain gazed upon his subjects from atop his hillfort as they worked continuously into the great monument. A long time ago, when the mysterious traders first appeared, he had his doubts, confusing them with the other sort of wandering trader caravan, but now, gazing upon the large circle of rocks and how they aligned perfectly with the great sky above, his mind felt at ease.

He picked the necklace and crystal ball gifted to him long ago, wearing the former, he could see the vague shape of the full building within the first one. An amazing shrine, which would forever remind others of his brief time on the earthly realm but also guide him and his kin to the heavenly domain once the time to depart arrived. Or so he had been told.

Many new devices had to be taught to him for such endeavor to be possible, for example, the use of logs to roll the rocks across the ground or better and more durable ropes. In a certain odd timing, which he could only guess was a blessing of the gods for his good work, hunters in his village were able to develop an empathic relationship with one of the most fearsome creatures within their area, the elephant. Now those beasts showed their use not only helping to create the monument, but also as a handy addition to the raiding groups of the village, the sheer power and mobility quickly overpowering lesser neighbors within the area, providing the chief the slave workforce he needed to be able to produce such grandeur.




The goddess walked into the main tower of the illusory city of Em'Ef. Greeting the only Diva present at the moment, Piena.

"Oh, you are back from Shalanoir already? What are these guides in your hand?"

"Everything went easier than the expected, Chronicle is dealing with the last few minor issues." The diva turned to her lady master. "As for these papers, they are the guide for the next four temples."

"Oh! I see. Can I see them?" The goddess asked, but had already basically seized the project papers for herself before the question was finished.

The first four temples had been nicknamed Pond Garder, Glass Shrine, Sturdy Temple and Helix Tower. Piena had initially complained about such naming scheme, feeling like it took away from their value, but in the end, even she found it easier to talk about them with such terms over each Diva creating their own name. As a result, the new projects followed the naming motif.

Meimu had designed a vine garden, the design contained within a glass pyramid like building, multiple floors with terraces of hanging plants or even floating plants, such as the chime lily. Ilunabar could recognize re-used designs for planned gardens for the Celestial Citadel, which in the end never flourished.

Notte's design was odd, the Flare Shrine at first glance, it felt so simple, a square zone, the main shrine directly across the door, some side-rooms... but the details of the shrine made her mentality clear. "Fireworks...?". There were notes on various types of substances that could explode into bursts of colorful flares in the sky, a chemical one was possible but very hard to produce, so the Diva was forced to focus on other similar concepts, such as the glamour one, which created micro-aurora storms in the sky.

Piena's own design was something called "Adamant Temple". It was the one with the shortest description on maintenance, as Piena boasted about how the temple could last "10 millenniums after the initial construction with no effort put into maintaining it." Construction was perhaps a strong term to refer to it though, as it was fully carved from the mountain, gargantuan stairways and pillars leading into the temple de facto within the mountain.

"If we are to have a gateway from the outside world into the Pictaraika, I think this would be the most fitting area for the gateway" Piena added upon noticing Ilunabar reading the project. "It is higher than usual within the mountain range and..."

"Have you read my report on how mortal reacts to raw dream reaching their real bodies?" the goddess asked.

"Not yet, I fear."

Ilunabar nodded "Well, your project might work, but I fear it will not be as easy as we initially predicted." with that, she continued onto the last project.

Chronicle had built a tower again, and yet again, the design was unclear of purpose or aesthetic message. It was a "Ring Tower" with multiple floors spiraling up in increasingly smaller sizes, this time with far less content, outside of a few stained glass windows. all floors contained holes, the base floor's one being meant to be built into a 'pond' in the future, Chronicle noting she still did not have the material to fill the pond, but that it would come soon enough.

"With these, we will be halfway through the construction of the temples, that is good, the more the Pictaraika is concluded, the better it is for what I will do next."

Piena raised an eyebrow "And that is?"

"I have been thinking about design lately. My designs and the designs of my siblings... " The goddess explained carelessly. "Do you ever look back and feel like you could have done better? I am feeling that right now."

"Well, of course! If I were to build Alefpria today, everything would be so much different thanks to all I learned since then as well as the materials and techniques available. What is the project you feel like is becoming outdated though?"

"Something older than Alefpria, something older than many things. If the Pictaraika is the Crown of Dreams, then I can describe it as the Sceptre."

Piena's eyes widened. "The Arpeggio? Do you want to change it? Master, I... are you sure it is necessary? Given the current situation, and all things considered, I cannot be certain that would be wise."

"It is. The Raka is not simply a plane idly floating around Reality, it was not made to hide or control, it was made because it needed to exist, like a reflection or a shadow... In a sense, not dissimilar from death and afterlife to life. Do you understand the responsibility that implies?" the goddess touched the crystal table in the middle of their luxurious meeting place within the top of Em'Ef.

"I understand the Arpeggio does its job well, and that it is still my most advanced and delicate design. But why wait until it shows its limitations and flaws?" images started to flash above the table.

"We have mastered so many things since its creation! We now understand colors, the visible ones and the ones beyond. Flowers too! Can you believe it? We projected the Arpeggio with no idea of how nature worked. And I won't claim I understand the gift of Life bestowed upon this world, but we sure understand natural designs so much better. And what can I even tell about Aesthetic? The Arpeggio does follow many of your rules Piena, but why not bring it to its limit. Glass and Jewelry? Do you realize that Piena? There are no mirrors or gems in the Arpeggio."

Even the Diva of Steel was having issue fully following her master as she shared her thoughts and designs. "Well, when you put it on that way..."

"Beyond that, we have so much more experience now. So many more planes have risen around us ever since, there is no consideration for spatial changes within our universe, similar to Orbs of Darkness and the Submaterium. Julia has given us glimpses of life beyond, the current Arpeggio is very limited in the realm of the non-euclidean even though dreams often bend all notions and senses. Further considerations must be taken about the Gap, defenses mostly, but it would be neat if we could replicate the leaking factor better with our Glamour. Also, were you with me when Conata and Kinesis were made? Have you ever seen Teknall's workshop and how everything connects and has all sorts of responsive behavior?"

"I do not think I have..." she was not allowed further room for response, as soon Ilunabar interjected.

"And what can I even say about mortal behavior? Vestec and Niciel have provided some interesting insights on how these things work, also Reathos. Lifprasil too... How could I forget, Lifprasil, maybe Amartia to an extent? Emotions, Sin, such concepts provide me with deeper insight into the mortal mind, how it reacts, how it thinks. Of course, I have my own feedback, the Index itself is worth so many changes, but I cannot imply all my investment into Lifprasil has not paid dearly. And the Grand Parade, heh, Galbar is now flourishing under my influence, and it resonates back. Phantasmagoria was merely the first step."

"Right. But outside of the realms of ideas... Do you have a concrete design? Not to doubt you..."

"I do. It is ready. Improved, far better interaction with the rest of my work and room for further expansions without much effort, there is just one piece missing. The reactor, the very heart of the Arpeggio. I need to expand it to be able to withstand the expanding Raka, I need to design it to be more potent, as simply the collapsing logic of the Touneric Reactor is not enough."

"Hmmm. I fear I do not have anything to provide on that area. Please pardon me, but it seems like you already took all my aesthetical considerations into the design."

"I did... Do not worry. These things simply show up eventually. We just need to continue our work, for the greater beauty of this world. That alone provide all the answers."




Next on the list was the Vaishya clan. Deep within Shalanoir, in perhaps one of its less scenic areas, where if truly felt like a marsh made from the biomass of countless dead beings instead of a lush jungle of gleam and life. Buildings here were oddly contrasting. On one side, you have large, squarish buildings made from large stone bricks, around these buildings though, straw huts far more common to the lower classes of the Quara Korala. It was still a noble clan though, while that was clear in the large fortification, the huts were not as simple as they looked, most of them containing a terracotta chamber within them.

To fight the dim murky swamp, vibrant colors are employed where possible. The thatched roofs of the huts are typically mostly of one color, but with the details made using rarer sorts of fibers, either as part of the thatch or interlaced rings adding a horizontal line to the vertical lines of the roof. The same can be seen in the stone buildings, which typically use two types of stone in their design for the sake of not looking like boring blocks, sometimes, they also have colorful details in terracotta or painted carvings on the walls. The inside of one of the straw buildings is typically of a deep copper color, typical of the Shalanoir Terracotta, and will typically house at least one metallic brooch with one of the prides of the Vaishya clan on them: The Swamp Pearl, most of them so big that a human teenager would have trouble hugging them. The other pride was the Candle Amber, of a vivid orange color and a soft glow. Fun fact, the pearl is actually amber and the amber is actually a pearl.

Quara here are typically shorter than average, their scales are rough, and the belly area has scales with a certain sheen to them, forming horizontal lines like the Mrigakarah, the difference these are more curly instead of straight. One unique sight on here are the spotted crest patterns, where in most other clans they follow the color of the face, even on the ones without a spot, their crests still have a gradient scheme, the shape itself is a bit taller and longer, forming something almost like horns. Body colors are typical of muddy brown, moss green, copper orange and purple-ish blue.

Chronicle met the locals here in a fortress, the compound starting out in the swamp, before going shortly into a broken mountain section, finally opening up in a large open sky hollow formed long ago by the collapsing of this small bit of the Ironhearts. Needless to say, of all clans, this one was the one with the least amount of willing members to move out.

| It is a good thing you are less in a rush to move though. Your group will be the one the closest to the Panthalei swamp, so we would like to explore it with a limited number first and be sure it is colonizable. |

"The prospect of a new swamp to colonize is surely interesting, please do not take we holding back as an insult to that land. It is just that here is nice, unlike our siblings, we have just recently built this compound. The wanderlust is not really boiling in our blood yet."




The earth rumbled and the dust danced as the elemental followed the caravan's trail, quickly approaching the group of Quara which stayed calm, following their path as planned. Not many parading bands existed in the world, and while Ilunabar had been clear they would never be fully protected, it was also clear their path was blessed, premonitory dreams warning of dangers ahead, and one time the Diva of Glass outright appeared and persuaded a dozen of raiding bandits to turn the other way with a mix of charisma and a thousand obsidian blades floating over their head.

"Wanders, I demand you to stop!" the elemental told, and the travelers did as they were asked, the animals being a bit hard to stop due to the thundering voice, but eventually they all complied.

"Something amiss sir?" the marshal asked, stepping out. "I hope we did not trespass into your lands. If so, I am sorry and I guarantee we will be gone as soon as we can."

"That is not it." the elemental took form, a giant the size of two humans and a hain. It looked down on the squishy mortals with a huge frowning face. "You all are followers of the goddess Ilunabar?"

"We are in good terms with her, yes. Though I'd say it is more about two entities following similar objectives."

"Yes would have been enough, wander," it told at its own slow pace, it was thankful this one was still a fledgling earth elemental, tales of the infamous times the older ones took to speak were told way too often for it to be just a mean stereotype. "As most elementals, I am not interested in most of the work of that deity. However, the last group of your people that traveled these lands gave a hain chieftain the idea to build a gigantic likeness of her face on a rock. I found that to be in poor taste, I have yet to react to it, as it is so close to the Hain Village that the falling rocks from the monument would likely crush their little heads. However, holding back has been hard."

"Oh, so you want a monument for you?"

"That... Is a possible solution. As long as my face is bigger, it would turn that insolent thing into a reminder of the hierarchy of this land." The face had not shown any expression yet. "Would your group built it?"

"Ah, no, not really. We are not the stone chipping sort of people really, we lack the stamina. However, why not just demand the hair village to build that for you? They are already used to the idea, surely they can figure out how to copy your awe inspiring semblance onto the rock."

"You think the mortals would do it if I proposed it to them?"

"That would imply giving them a choice. And I am not saying for you to threaten them, but surely you have kept the strong winds, raging floods and voracious flames of your siblings away from this land, right? That got to warrant some sort of payback from the villager's side."

The elemental thought about the proposal, staring at the little lizard man for a good time, unmoving and brooding, the whole caravan by his side becoming increasingly bored to the point they set up camp. "You have a point, mortal. It just adds more to the offense caused by that chieftain too. I will need to set things straight."

With that, the living boulder started to move away, sinking into the ground, and darting towards the village. The marshal smirked, just as predicted by the muse on his last night's dream.




Among the dry lands of the north-eastern shores of Shalanoir, one of the great clans of the Quara Korala lived. After visiting so many great palaces and luxurious castles, one might look at the base of the Shantipala and feel like it is a dull region, a quick trip across Galbar and most of its towns should fix that, as this land is full of great fortresses with advanced structures and a sense of aesthetic, there is no running away from that fact it does not sport as many riches as the other clans, that is easily understandable when one considers the role the Shantipala play, they are the diplomats and the frontline. It is here that trade with other species happens, so the whole land is built with ruggedness in mind.

Most of the buildings are built with a dark red-brown stone, used in a rough manner. The secondary material, typically showing up only in the frames of windows and in some buildings, is what is called sandstone, because of its sand-like texture and color. Interiors are simplistic and clear, again, lacking gems except for a few below average sized swamp pearls, all of them taking looking black instead of green due to the local dry and hot climate. Abundance in metal was still a thing even in this martial area, large spiked towers of iron were built, and many buildings had some sort of iron band, ring, trim or spike in its structure. All always looking perfectly sharp and placed in high areas so one doesn't touch it and reveal the illusion behind it all. Noble buildings use another sort of trickery in their design, still being Korala, the Shantipala clan could not stand for no sort of nobility in their design, so they were given a method to make a paste with a metallic gleam to it, they place that in the borders of their highest and richest buildings and call it "Summer Bronze" due to its bright yellow-ish white color.

Being the martial clan, this is also the only compound where you can find armor and weapons in the open. Bronze is the rule here, though, as always, trickery is the key. Fog and Mirrors come into battle to blind opponents. Poison is used to absurd extents, not only on the tips of spears and arrows but often stealthily added to supplies of enemies. Armor is made to always look to be in a better condition than what it truly is, and many Korala in leather is made to look like they are wearing bronze armor. They themselves created the legend of the Phantom Wing, a supposedly elite force above all else, wearing armor made of Summer Bronze and sending rains of cursed arrows with gem tips. In truth, there is no such thing, being merely an aesthetic change that is made in the soldier's uniform when the battle is assured to be won with crushing advantage. While it is surely less brave than most Galbarian species' methods, the Quara Korala have a clear weaker body than most, caused by the lack of blessings or direct divine will in their creation.

The Shantipala have by far the bulkiest body structure of any of the Quara Korala clans, wide torsos despite the average size make them look far more imposing than the sleek ethnicities of most other clans, while also having a far more muscular look than the swamp dwelling Vaishya. Their bodies have a very leathery texture, with rich lizard-like colors of grays and greens, with some desert orange and beige here and there, this is the only group where their main bodies show patterns, typically spots, but some stripes are a rare sight. Their belly scales are rough, with a line pattern, and often in sand-beige or clay-orange colors.

"Ah, so we are truly moving between continents huh?" the elder told. "Ever since we first landed here, we have expected it..."

| You expected it? |

"Expected what?" the elder shook his head "Nevermind that. Moving out will be nice though, we will, of course, keep watch here, but to move away from those ugly trolls and goblins will be nice."

| Yes, you will be quite far from those in the new land... |

"Shame we always used so much poison on their bandits though... We are too used to use poisoned arrows... I have always wondered..."

| Wondered what? |

"You know, they might look hideous... But I think they could hide something nice inside them... Hmmm. With some pepper, and herbs, grilled just right."

| Please don't eat sentient beings. |

"Huh? I am very sure crocodiles are not sentient. We always fight them off the rivers. Their teeth make nice necklaces, want me to get you a fresh one later?"

| No thanks, sadly I kinda need to get going now, to do things at somewhere very far from here. |




"Are you truly fine with the current situation? The reports of the Parade are somewhat worrisome. Slavery is becoming such a common thing in Galbar... It is saddening. And I know we must have the megaliths done before the dawn of organized societies and metal warfare, yet, I feel we are just legitimizing something we all agreed was something bad."

Ilunabar stared at Meimu for a few moments, nodding to her conclusions, drinking a fresh serving of tea made in The Garden. "I understand the worry, but we must not nanny Galbar. It would be joyful for us to simply make all governments into more open places that do not persecute their citizens, yet, that would steal mortals from natural growth and a genuine path into such heights. Furthermore, there is beauty in oligarchy and nobility we cannot allow ourselves not to explore."

"Yes, I understand the later point, but we had limits, did we not? Not selling certain substances in exchange for work, for example." Meimu countered. "Such levels of subjugation do too much damage to local culture and... it is bloating civilization too much, they are advancing fast, like grasshoppers."

Ilunabar smirked softly. "Ah! So there is the reason of the complaint. But surely, I admit I am being somewhat negligent and allowing even my own projects use slave work. It is a child of the situation, I will work against it when trade and organization become more robust." she placed a hand on her chin. "Though you do raise the question of the empires... Logos did solve some of our problems in a sinister way, but we need to think our next step carefully. I do not wish to see cultures being subjugated far and wide, yet, with so many dangers on the horizon, I need the stronger pieces to stay in the game."

Meimu sighed "I wish this was as simple as gardening."

"It will be. We just need a larger sample. Which is why, as I said, we cannot be too protective, otherwise, we might end with a Valley of Peace or Korala situation on a global scale."

The diva nodded. "Well then, if you excuse me, Lady Master, I need to prepare some Fine-Tuned."

Ilunabar saw her diva stop the Caurosel-like brass tower which had appeared along with Chronicle and The Orgel, once she was out, the machine started to move again. With the silver gleam of the evernight bathing the Iarapahira Ocean, it was quite a charming location, especially when the artificial light of the pseudo-machine shone in a bright metallic color. The muse looked up, observing the drawings, of the second floor moving in the opposite direction of the larger roof of the first floor. Then it started to dawn on her, the synchrony of that design, the way it worked in opposite yet harmonic manner.

Quickly, the goddess willed a few project sheets to appear on her hand, and she started to sketch something new on the Arpeggio. Upon completion, she looked at the paper and smiled, quickly teleporting away from Reality and deep into the Raka.

The Arpeggio had a quite simple structure, fully made from the substance that felt like metal and root combined, which was also the component of the "roots" that grew from the Raka into Pictaraika. While that worked as a core tower, Ilunabar felt it was safe to now give an outer shell. Not only now she could use metal, gems, mirrors and flower-like structures, but after studying the endless flow of dreams within the Raka, she knew much more about forming solid substances within the ever-changing plane.

She clapped her hands and sparkles flew toward the tower, a glittering frame work formed around the immeasurable tower, from near the burbling and murmuring chaos all the way up to the solid roof of collapsing logic. In the spaces between the frames, blurred figures started to form, waving like the vision of an object underwater when seen from the surface. Slowly, those gained definition, huge walls forming.

The goddess expected many things for this upgrade. A better defense of the mind of mortals. A better hold onto nightmares, which she hoped to study better soon. The ability to create facilities within the Raka, either within the tower, which now had a hallowed zone within it fit for construction, but also with the use of permanent dreamscapes, which she hoped would now be so easy to make, they could even for naturally. Maybe she could even get more dream beings such as The Griffin. The Arpeggio now ran on the same logic as the Pictaraika, which made things easier to work with, for example, the use of mirrors.

The flew upward the tower, shooting more sparks that created large details, some aesthetic, like rows of statues, others with use. All of the effects would need to be studied later though, as she needed to focus on the core component of it all.

Flying into the Tounic Reactor, which continued to churn logical paradoxes into chaos, the goddess started to build her structure around it, dull mirrors and crystalline frames raising from the ground, forming a perfect circle.

"The phrenic vortex of the oneiric callikinesis machine is almost ready, the addition of raw additive logic should increase the capabilities of the machine once that is converted into the subtractive rules of Raka." she started to focus her energy on her palms. "I just need to kickstart it all, and the deep ethereal surge should start. If my theory about reflections is right, it will all move smoothly."

With that said, the goddess infused an absurd amount of energy into the structure. There was a strong flash of pure energy that overtook all of Raka, forcing Ilunabar to close her eyes for a second, when she opened them up, the crystalline structure had started to move and the mirrors were no longer dull, now instead reflecting all of Reality at once, the image whirling at speeds beyond comprehension even for a god. The goddess could feel how that increased the range of the Raka and the power within the Arpeggio.






Swapnatranta. The name alone, loosely translated to dream weavers, told Chronicle what to expect in the last area she was visiting. It was obvious artists would be the top of the society in the society one of her Divas influenced, though a mere glance into their home would reveal that of all the pampered Quara societies, this one was the one at the top.

The Quara Korala here have large round scales with an almost metallic sheen to it, the main body colors range between blue and green tones, sometimes being mixed into aquamarine, while sometimes lacking both, resulting in a platinum color. The sides of their crest, crown and also their spine scales usually take more vibrant colors, some even show something like a gradient change of color in their body. They are about as tall as a siddhikarah and are the one group with colored eyes, while most outside have black or silver eyes, here they have varied shades of blue, green, orange and purple.

The constructions are in an area of ragged valleys among the land the remains of the many hills and mountains violently torn by Toun when he made the white ocean. Being over Shalanoir, this land has a true "castle over the clouds" feeling to it, the ground below rarely seen.

The architecture blends many styles of other clans while also adding many unique features. Buildings are typically built from bricks made using two materials, the pearlstone is a rare white stone with a very faint iridescence to it, as such, this stone is typically seen only in details such as the quoin on the corners of buildings, the other material is a very white-pink limestone. Some rare buildings, typically temples, use a mauve colored plaster. Both of the stone types are very sensitive to daylight coloration, as such, in the morning they are typically pink-ish, in the evening, they have a more beige if not brown tone, and when under artificial light or on an overcast day, they look far more white.

The roof of the castles is far more pointy than in other regions, and like in Mrigakarah, it is typical for each building to use a different roof tile color. Like Siddhikarah, there is a high use of round towers. Like Shantipala, the illusory summer brass is a favorite for the structure of windows and archways. Finally, the swamp pearl is very common, typically in raw green or tinted to orange or violet. Most glass here is colored green, even when used for stained-glass art. Another common visage of green are the many statues, archways or even furniture, such as benches and tables made from jade.

Life for swapnatranta is perhaps more idyllic than the already idle life of most clans. Most are artists, such as writers, musicians or painters. They have a distaste for more heavy or even medium work, so professions such as tailoring or even sculpting are not all that common, though they know how to create plans for outfits and statues. Their most valuable resource, however, are architects, with their great notion of space and savvy aesthetic, they are the main providers of construction plans, which is why the best of each region can be found in their own manors.

"Hmm, I have to say you are quite late to share such news." the elder of this clan was a quite young one, in truth, they cycled through a lot the position among themselves.

| I suspected I was late the moment I left Siddhikarah. Which is why I left your home for last. |

"Ah I see, it is logical... So, that new land... I have already been shown the so called temple the grand parade will be using by the Diva Piena. It is... not too bad, though I would have preferred if she had called us to design it, all in all, it is only fair the headquarters of the Parade is within our style, and not, you know, that. So much bare rock, and granite walls are so hovel-like, we could do better."

| Well, it was supposed to be a personal project, for the first one she wanted to focus on the basics. |

"Mhmm, the basics indeed. Well, it seems our clan as a whole will not be living there so maybe we could make our homes elsewhere. Perhaps near that shrine with the pretty stained-glass windows?"

| Oh, I do not think you will be living within the temple's region, some Quara will, but we are not managing those with a pure clan-bound workforce. |

"Ah, that is actually relieving, that means we can continue to focus on what matters instead of, you know, maintenance and other earthly tasks."

| Oh for sure. I do not think it was a plan to ever use your kin to do such tasks. In fact, those temples probably won't even be full Quara workforce, we might employ some Humans and Hain along with the Marionettes. |

"Ugh, really? The bone-beaks and the nipple people... Oh, sorry, did not mean to be too mean..."

| Not the worst I heard, honestly. |

"Well, I mean, if you leave the basic tasks to them, they can probably do it. Rovaick ... ?"

| Cannot say those are not considered, but right now that are no clear plans of employing them under the Parade. |

"I see. As always, most things seem to be planned out well. Nevertheless, even if that was not the case, we cannot leave our siblings... all out for themselves. I mean, not to insult, but without our plans, it will all be bare rock and simple walls. Furthermore, across the time our architects have thought about new ways to deal with old problems, surely we can improve where before we failed."

| Speaking of which, is it truly fine for many of the castles your clan designed to just be left behind to slowly fade into ruins? |

"Of course. We do it more for the sake of doings in, furthermore, it is not our resources which are being wasted anyway. Maybe some outposts will be taken over by other species who will finally get a glint of what life is like out of their hovels... but they probably will just chirp the marble, steal the gems and melt the metals, fully wasting the opportunity to have something akin to comfort and glory." the elder sighed. "Again though, not my problem..."

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Tira's fingers trailed lightly over the smooth surface of the wall, feeling the faint indents where a mosaic ribbon looped its way around the corridor. In the early morning cloud, high stained-glass windows could only do so much to clear the mystery of night, and the Alefprian palace was dark. Bare feet fell slowly, firmly, heel first, as if unsure. Blessed with the gift of silent walking by her past life as a nomad, Tira could hear all the more clearly the sound of her own heartbeat in her temples.

Geye. Breathe.

She stopped. Felt her posture, rolled her shoulders and tried to loosen the tension in the muscles that lay dormant under her nightshirt. Breathe. Eyes flicked open- For all the darkness, it was easy to tell when her eyes were closed. Tira's night vision was keen, though she only noticed how much it had developed since the night she'd been found, cold, burned and spidery, in the city. Had probably been improving subtly since- Since she met-

Runati as-nu, Dansa?

Damnit. Tira forced her hands into tight fists and breathed deeply. It rattled. Her hands splayed as far as they could and then balled again. Geye. Geye, Tira. She lost track of time, but the moment subsided. Her heart was still moving too fast. Wetting dry lips with her tongue, Tira let her thoughts flow by, clearing her head the way she'd been taught, and inched along the rest of the route. Near the end, the determination to make it the whole way without breaking the quiet finally faltered before the need to find help. Besides, the door was in sight.

She'd hear her from here. "Lakshmi?"

Lifprasilians required lots of sleep, mostly due to their sheer size, a lot had to be organized in such a massive person's body, so Lifprasilians often rested a lot. In the middle of a cold Alefprian night, Lakshmi was sprawled out on a quaint nest of extravagant pillows, crimson, violet, and teal in their vivid coloration; each one created a mound of comfort for the tired Hero. It took a few more cries from Tira to draw Lakshmi's attention, as her weak voice was whisked by the winds from the bay.

"A-ah...?" Lakshmi sighed, and pulled from its perch on one of three pillars, a thick coat that draped over her like a cascading waterfall of dim, heavy clothing. "H-hello?" called out Laki in the darkness of the night, pacing towards the sound of her name being called outside. She expected a Djinni, or some sort of specter, but what she found was the little girl, Tira. "Oh, h-hello," greeted the Lifprasilian, cute. "Do y-you need h-help?" she questioned, and extended her arm to the helpless girl.

A good question, maybe, but it wasn't always the easiest to answer. Tira stopped for a moment. It was a rare thing for her to hesitate and she knew it, so she forced a faint bark of a cough and turned it into a smile. Showing teeth, as always. "Ow'm," said Tira- 'no'-, and tried to fall (falling don't fall) into Lakshmi's coat, misbalanced, took a half-step nearer instead, and just pushed her head into the fabric. Coughed again, the laugh a little more honest this time, and much softer.

"...Maybe."

Lakshmi smiled a meek smile, tired from a long day of drilling, she opened a gap in her coat, as if sucking the smaller human into a warm embrace. Which she did. "W-walk with me," said Lakshmi, taking small steps, while holding Tira up in her gentle grasp. "I want t-to show you ss-something." she stated, regardless as to whether or not the tiny nomad could understand her. Tira's grip of the First Tongue, once growing at an uncanny pace, had fallen apart since the night in the city.

The gait the two took was stinted and odd, but soon enough the pairing reached the balcony within Lakshmi's temporary quarters, a half oval that extended slightly from the vast walls of Lifprasil's palace, with a stone cusp circumventing the sides to create a bowl. Lakshmi was sure to allow Tira's head to escape the confines of her coat, just so that she could see the view. "Even though I-I am s-s-sssure you have s-seen this view man-many times, I just w-wanted to g-gaze upon the c-city with you," Lakshmi said, attempting to be deft in her speech as a face peered out of her coat like small bird, flinched back from what she saw, then looked again, slowly. "This is h-home," she said, motioning to Alefpria in its entirety.

Tira gripped tightly on the inner folds of the coat, dimly aware that she was backing up into the Lakshmi's towering ribs. Grounded herself in the warmth, inhaled, and opened her eyes. She could do this, she could look, no matter how high up they were. She was safe.

"To m-me, and I hope t-t-to you, one d-day, it becomes something w-worth f-fffighting for in this chaotic world, n-no matter how weak it makes you. Do you have s-sssomething you would fight for?" asked Lakshmi, feathers upon her horns flickering in the evening breath of Galbar.

"..."

Owt-as-ne ojanan 'fighting'?

It was true- Tira was always fighting. Struggling to live and breathe and run and jump. That was how she lived, every moment, every day, fighting to outpace herself if no one else could. And sometimes she had tried to think why. Not in her darkest hours, but in the memories of them. She could never find a real reason. It was just who Tira was. 'For myself,' maybe, was an answer. In-ly kara. Or- Tira held the coat a little tighter- maybe in-nu. 'For you.'

"Dunno," Tira said out loud.

Lakshmi shrugged, twin fires granting ambience to the two from either side of the balcony. "F-fffair enough, I guess it t-takes time to f-figure out these t-things-ss." she said, and held Tira tighter, droopy eyes gazing down at the top of her smaller head.

* * *


Thwap

The Lifprasilian in front of Lakshmi found a crude cut on his head, followed by a blazing headache as the hero exploited an otherwise minute fault in his defensive stance. Only days from from that moment of comfort, and the First General of Alefpria was back in the Eastern Barracks beating up Alefprian trainees.

How tiresome.

However, Lakshmi found it appropriate to bring the small Tira on her excursions into Alefpria as of late; she thought that maybe the variety would be good to help her recover, and rebound stronger both physically, and socially from whatever had stricken her.

"Tch... You're so cruel, Commander." sighed the Lifprasilian opposite to Lakshmi, before the Bay Commander himself sauntered to center stage, giving the incapacitated trainee a motivating kick in the ribs. "Bah! You younger types don't try hard enough, go lay down in the shade, it'll do ya some good." ordered the fat Lifprasilian, before he adjusted his large straw hat.

Watching from close by, and perhaps far less depleted than Lakshmi might have assumed, Tira tilted her head at the Commander, musing as she sat on the ground in a loose sprawl. Lakshmi, bless her heart, was always more hesitant with her than her friends in the city. It was relaxing. Tira's energy, though, was starting to grow pent up.

"No n-need to beat him up anym-more, they aren't very u-useful if you break them." reproved Lakshmi, giving the Bay Commander a swift bop to his nose with her quarterstaff. An unexpected second bop followed from a smaller, brightly decorated pole. Tira gave a small cackle and stepped back, bouncing slightly on her heels. Quiet though she was, she'd covered the distance between the wall and the Bay Commander with some speed.

The Bay Commander paused "And who are you?" he asked Tira, adjusting his pants with both hands. "That's Tira," said Lakshmi with a surprising lack of stutter. The girl waved vigorously. "Ah," he nodded "Hello Tira, I am Hogarth, the Bay Commander of Alefpria." greeted Hogarth.

"Does she speak?" he asked Lakshmi, pointing down to Tira, who found the comment richly amusing, and threw a wide shrug; grinning without saying a word.

"Bah," said Hogarth, simply. "I'm gonna lay down in the shade, why don't ya show her a few things while she's here?"

"M-mmaybe I will." Lakshmi said in turn, while Hogarth hobbled to a spot nearby, next to a pair of exhausted trainees. Tira waved him away. "W-would you like to learn sssomething?" Laki asked, "S-something about fighting?"

The comment pulled some slightly more serious attention from Tira, then eagerness. She could never refuse offer like that!

"Okay," she said with a nod. An old habit came back unbidden, and she settled into a loose guard stance, holding the tent pole low and horizontal in both hands. "Now?"

"Are y-you ready?" Lakshmi asked, prodding at Tira's belly with her worn quarterstaff. "I w-wouldn't want to hit-t you with your guard down. You n-need to hold it higher." Her eyes widened.

"Ne as tlareuk nu?" A note of disbelief in her tone. "I mean- I can fight- You? I mean." Faint giggle, and Tira raised her hand as high as she could. "You tall." The idea excited her more than she knew how to really say. Rare and precious is the parent who lets their kid fight them.

"I'll g-go easy on you, you haven't been g-given mmuch training," Laki reassured Tira "I'll c-count down from three." she explained, holding her weapon at her side. "One, t-two-"

Tira punched her in the belly.

Lakshmi grunted, her torso nearly taking a bend. "Bah! That's a smart girl!" yelled Hogarth, summoning a few whoops from the surrounding trainees.

"Hold it higher!" There wasn't time to laugh, though some of the trainees in the sidelines had. Tira's fists had already snapped back to her staff as she moved to sidestep her adoptive mother. There was a twinkle in Lakshmi's eyes, and despite the pre-emptive attack, her reflexes were quick. The quarterstaff that was at her side hopped along the sand, and met Tira's ankle as she stepped aside. Once it made contact, Lakshmi simply sweeped the leg with an arm. Realisation hit Tira only an instant before the ground did.

A wheeze upon impact. Had Tira been wiser, she might've rolled to one side, but Laki didn't trigger as many danger impulses as she rightfully should have, so Tira simply clambered up to one knee and twisted to the side where she had last seen Lakshmi, two-handedly sweeping the tip of her pole with her.

Lakshmi simply drifted backwards, her quarterstaff remained stiff at her side, moving stock within its position. It did not move to punish Tira, however, Laki bent a knee, and struck the girl with her foot. She didn't move to injure the vulnerable human further, instead, she backed towards the opposing end of the arena, at this point in her extended lifetime, Lakshmi never really thought about her movements. It all felt like base instinct.

Tira's crouch had lowered her center of gravity, and when her newfound trainer knocked her upside the ribs, she soon caught her weight with a palm on the ground. Still, she was glad for a chance to stand up.

"Occip, ow'm?" It felt like it was too soon for Lakshmi to step out of the bout, though Tira had been squarely put in the ground twice; and, much that she'd never admit it, probably needed a moment's rest.

"Come again." Lakshmi asked with intense clarity. Language was, admittedly, a blind spot to Laki's stead on Galbarian knowledge. "S-sspeak the first tongue, Tira d-dear." she sang, the language of Lifprasil's knowing cascading from her mouth, to her adopted daughter.

"'kay," said Tira, and came at Lakshmi again, bouncing lightly on her heels until she was close enough to bat Laki in the waist. Her pole glanced dishearteningly off toned Lifprasilian muscle.

Lakshmi huffed, she tilted at the impact, but her stance hardly wavered beyond that, she then swiped Tira's feet out from underneath herself, again, as punishment for her overt aggressiveness. "Say it again, pleasss-se." she requested, keeping the weathered base of her quarterstaff pressed to the small, vulnerable human's forehead, who blinked.

"O-kay?" Tira cycled through her vocabulary, looking for the words. They'd come naturally to her, a while ago, but not any more. It was an easy enough sentence, though. "Ow'm- No- Occip- More. More, no? All done?"

A smile graced Lakshmi's gray lips "Well - do you w-wwant to take a break?" she asked Tira, retracting her quarterstaff. "Y-you received quite a b-b-beating." Her enthusiastic charge gave a wheezy laugh, nodding, taking Lakshmi by the hand and pulling herself up, leaning on her foster mother's thigh. "Woo-oo!" came the sound of excess excitement draining from Tira's body. She'd probably ache the next morning, but she'd enjoyed herself.

Her legs gave way and she slid down Lakshmi's knee. "Woooooooo," breathed Tira, dizzily, as the adults fussed. She raised a tired arm and gave them a comforting sign-of-horns.

It was the first time she'd take an injury on the stage. After the seventeenth, she stopped counting.

* * *


Night glowed. Scitis and Vigilate competed with Periditus to see who could cast the most light. The result was clear vision, the stage visible almost down to the fine colour on its banners, though the hour was well past midnight.

Tira stood on the packed earth, watching her feet trace circles over the chalky ground. A blanch of moon-white illuminated the stage behind her, where her new clothes lay. She'd passed it about eight times now and still managed to avoid looking at it.

Her toes made smooth arcs without thinking, lunged and kicked and bounced. She wasn't in day clothes, let alone uniform, but her body knew the way. She exercised herself without even thinking.

A stray kick brought her front back to the stage, and she faced it in a guard stance, as if she were fighting the arena itself.

There they lay. A suit of bronze scale, and a black staff with a silver blade.

Tira released her muscles and let them bounce as she walked, winding down her heart rate. She leapt onto the old wooden fighting-ground and sat crosslegged before the weaponry. The naginata fit easily into her hands, like her quarterstaves always had. Only a little heavier towards the one end. It had been left behind by a beautiful Hero, and was now being given to her.

Because, Lakshmi said, they were going to war. And Tira had to fight...

Tira reached into her shirt and pulled out the obsidian knife that now hung on a cord around her neck. It shone in its sheath, sharp as it ever was, and she saw a glimpse of her own face in its blade. Her teeth still gleamed through the slash in her cheek.

...Again.

She could remember every moment of the Breaking of the Peoples. It was a day non-urtelem called Angelblood Ridge. When demons spanned between earth and sky, when faeries and seraphim took to the air, where chaos and order met and a girl named Tira lost her only friends.

All her wounds had healed, and still it felt so fresh.

Runjon leep toh-dne?

How long had it been? She remembered the guards she had met when she woke up in Alefpria. She remembered the first time she met Lakshmi. She remembered introducing herself to the street gang of Lifprasilians who had become her earliest friends- Tyufik, Kunonok, and Lonar.

She remembered training with Lakshmi and Susa. She remembered finding Dabbles when he first came to the city, a panicked, lonely mess. She remembered her waking nightmares, and how a gibbon with tails had guided her way to health.

She remembered Lonar's decision to enlist as a warrior. She remembered Dabbles rising to notoriety as the friendliest and slickest money-changer in the city. She remembered the second and third visit of the Grand Parade. She remembered Tyufik and Kunonok getting married.

Tira sat and put her head between her fists, gripping the knife.

She remembered a drunk Susa shooting a bull yeti for a bet. She remembered Lonar being promoted to officer and towering over every other soldier at the ceremony. She remembered when urtelem began to write. She remembered the sixth and seventh visits of the Grand Parade. She remembered Kunonok adopting his first child, Tyufik yelling for joy. She remembered the Sculptor den before it burned down.

Tira began to rock. All the days between then and now came streaming back to her.

She remembered the light in the sky that they said was two gods fighting. She remembered Kunonok dying at sea. She remembered the first wrought iron, the great secret of Alefpria. She remembered Lonar and Lakshmi fighting as equals. She remembered running through the streets with Tyufik's daughter, like she'd always done with her gang...

How many years? How many years did all those days add up to?

And now Tyufik's daughter was getting married, and the Grand Parade was marking its thirteenth Alefprian exhibition with elephants and standing stones, and Dabbles was in charge of a giant ship, and Lonar armed her forces for a great war...

Tira clenched her teeth and buckled, shaking, then threw her head back and-

"GRAAAAAAAH!"

She'd kept her knife to remind herself that she was a fighter. That this was the core of her being. And no matter how hard she tried, she knew she could never forget. The truth stayed still, even as days turned to years turned to decades and Tira played in her city, sixteen years old for ever and ever...

And now those years were gone, and her friends were gone, and she was on the bloodstained road again. And she was still sixteen.

Tira grabbed at her dense black hair, hair that had been short and ragged not so (so, so) long ago. She brought up the knife and slashed at it, felt the familiar tug, the exact same sound her hair had made when she'd done the same thing generations ago. She let it fall to the ground.

Now nothing had changed. Now she was just another wandering child, off to kill for the friends she had made.

So be it.

Tira picked up the naginata and was in scale armour before she knew it. Her knife disappeared into her shirt and she flexed her lean muscles, ready to fight once again, like she always knew she would. Ready to take up the burden she was so perfectly made for.

A shadow appeared on the wall.

Tira turned, and saw Oevadia, the Emperor's mount, perched in her silken robe and looking down with curious moonlight eyes. She broke into a smile.

Alright. One more day of childhood.

Tira slipped off the bronze cuirass, and soon enough Oevadia spread her lightless wings, and raced into the dawn.

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A girl wrought of living iron padded over the leaf-choked jungle floor. Her bejeweled eyes bored a defiant path ahead, navigating around the broad roots and stepping over obstacles. None of the wonders of nature calling out, green and animalistic, wavered her stare.

She had to keep moving, step by step. She had been walking all day.

Behind was a past rather left alone. Nothing she left destroyed mattered so long as she did not look back at the rubble.

The memories caught up to her at times, much to her frustration. The repetitive walking allowed room for faces to flash into her mind. More often than not, she had to stop the bronze and silver that would creep onto her skin by scrunching her eyes shut and shaking her head free of it. None of it mattered.

Not home. Not dead Rovaick. She was a demigoddess. She had to find out about herself, that was the whole point. There was no point to any of it if she looked back.

Rust yellowed in spreading patches on her shoulders and arms. Choukkud and Wutni didn't matter. The rust scraped against the inside of her clothing and made her cheeks itch. She scrunched her eyes and growled it away.

Gio, Ruvac, and Polia didn't matter. She walked faster to get them out of her head. The experiments with her old goblin friends didn't matter either.

Her foot pulled a jutting root. The detritus-covered ground came up to meet her arms as she flung them up to protect her face.

The thud against the ground was soft, yet shocking. It hurt. It made it all just a bit harder. The very prospect of getting up was just that last fraction harder. She had suffered worse things, she thought, but getting up was now like climbing a mountain.

Her entire dermis flaked with whorls of yellow and ocre rust. She squeaked words at the dead leaves. "Why is this part meant to be hard?"

She bent her arms and slammed her hands onto the ground, pushing up. One knee forward. She stopped still.

The ocre rust swallowed her. She sobbed.

Her head hung and her wiry hair drooped around her neck towards the ground where her headband did not keep it held back. She hated this. She was stronger than this.

"Why is it hard now?" she groaned through a strained throat. She sobbed again. A cool, clear droplet beaded on her brow as it hung down. No matter how Conata tried to turn her mind around, she couldn't find the energy to stand up. She couldn't even breathe without diving deeper into crying.

She had to breathe eventually. Only more sobbing came. Frustration built with sadness.

The forest didn't wait for her. Even as Conata corroded, the world around seemed to forget her, trees rustling without sparing a thought. Leaves falling. Branches cracking.

She perked up straight, kneeling into a flash of selenium. Cracking?

Conata scanned around with a newfound focus, mouth slightly agape to keep her breathing quiet. Her tears felt sticky on her eyes.

A fluster sounded in the canopy, then loneliness again. The rust crept back to Conata in a sigh. A moment passed before the next rush of foliage- It was closer.

Somewhere, a muted 'ummf.' Selenium lit up Conata's face again.

The banyans bent and there was a flick of pink before the figure crashed into view in a cascade of fluttering leaves. It smiled broadly and swayed above Conata's head.

"Iyaaaa," said Tira, hanging from a branch by her knees.

Conata yelped and shuffled back on her hands and feet. By reflex, her arms threw up a lump of silvery metal from her bag, tapering it to a spike. It wasn't until she aimed through her raised fingers at the brush of hair before her that Conata realised what it was.

Tira prodded the spearhead out of her face with a knuckle, startled but otherwise unperturbed. She waved her hand.

That smile made Conata tingle. She lifted her head just enough to peer over her quivering fingers. Around the edges of her ears and panicked face, magnesium and copper whirled in conflict. It looked like her. Different colours and a different face, but it wasn't rovaick, hain, or even djinn. It looked like her.

A human.

Conata's hands carefully lowered, the metal spike lowered with it. Her skin settled to a uniform copper, though she remained tense. She tilted her tear-streaked head to one side, curious and wild-eyed.

For the strange girl's part, it was safe to say that she was fascinated by Conata's skin. Her eyes kept rolling over her from shoulder to shoulder, flicking up to the glittery light caught in her hair and tracing the lines of gunmetal grey until they vanished with her settling heartbeat. She began to swing a little as she watched.

Soon enough her hands got involved, and as Conata watched, she swung herself just close enough to stretch out-

"Booo-"

-And touch her nose. Conata blinked back.

"-oop!"

She lost her balance and tumbled from the tree in a bundle of legs. "Boop," repeated Tira breathlessly, still upside down, just in a different angle.

The girl- the human- was really very much like Conata, except in all the ways that she so clearly wasn't. Her skin was the shade of deep river water, with a slight gleam, and marked with dark scars and folds along her face and arms. A tunic that had once been beige and was now vivid with dye and dirt hung loosely off her. She was hard to age, especially for one such as Conata. She looked at least a few winters younger- or much older, but underdeveloped.

"Um..." Conata had a few more questions than she could keep count of. "Are you alright?" Asking whether the girl could speak the southern rovaick language was probably a better first choice.

Judging by her accent, it wasn't too likely. Regardless, she seemed to pick up the question immediately, though the girl clearly wasn't so sure of that herself. She brushed her hands firmly along her torso and legs, then sat up and checked her back, then grinned. "Ow'm," she said, shaking her head, then stood up.

Her eyes flashed wide for a second and she gripped her hip. "Umm. Eipap?" All smiles again.

Conata stared up blankly. She turned up her palms and shook her head a tiny amount. It was a language she hadn't heard before. Taking a sniff, Conata realised how she looked and swiftly wiped her face dry with her sleeve. She tried some words she picked up from the coastal White Ocean hain. "Celecreco, hain su?" Do you understand hain language?

Heavily accented to the point of hardly being understandable, but Tira nodded immediately- "enl!"

It didn't even look like she was listening too closely. She returned the hain-smile and soon took the opportunity to grab Conata's hand and pull it towards her, ran her thumbs along the cuprous 'skin' as she peered into the older- older? -girl's face, bemused.

"...Are you? Alright?" she asked, with a hesitant tilt of the head.

Conata's face lit up bronze. "You speak like djinnis, too!?" she spilled out. This time in the language she had known without learning.

"Enl!" yelled Tira in response, flinging her hands out wide and beaming. "Keu wa Skulpem keu wa Ale'pirya!"

That language again. Conata's smile half-faded back to confusion as her previously grabbed arm curled back and went copper again.

The girl put a hand on her heart. "As-ne Tira! Nu?"

Well, that much was understandable. "Your name is As-Ne Tira?"

She burst out laughing. "Nuh-uh. Just Tira!"

This was too strange. Conata stood up with one hand, taking her iron spike in the other. She pat the tip of the spike against her chest, forcing a grin. "Conata."

It clearly wasn't a name Tira had heard before. "Conata! Iya," she greeted again, glancing around into the quiet undergrowth. "Just Conata?"

"That's right," Conata said with a single nod. For a fraction of a second, the misinterpreted possibility that this Tira girl was asking after Conata's companions brought a lump to her throat. She swallowed it down before any rust became obvious. "You're a...human, aren't you?"

"Uh-huh!" she nodded, stretching her arms over her head as if to demonstrate.

Conata lifted a finger from around her metal spike to wave it over Tira's shape. Conata's once-again-copper skin swam with slivers of grey that were too narrow identify. "I've not seen a human before. Everyone says I look like one but you...well...your skin isn't changing."

Tira's head cocked curiously. She lifted a forearm and pointed to her scars -- Are they stretch marks? but she's so small -- then at Conata's alloyed surface. Before she could move, Tira tapped her forehead with her knuckles, making a satisfying dink dink noise. Once again, Conata blinked back, recoiling a tiny amount and smiling at Tira's curiosity.

Tira laughed. "Occji na owt-he uygup, silly! Ghighi Djinni he osh." Her head tilted. "You a Djinni?"

"Nuh-uh," Conata said without realising her mimicry. At least Tira was using enough words that she could understand this time. "I met an earth djinn before. I can't control all kinds of earth like he could, just metal. The only other clue I got was from Majus. He said I was a demigoddess." The corner of Conata's mouth twitched. Was this too much information? "That's why I'm here, actually. I've been trying to find my parents."

Tira tapped her chin again, looking up high into the canopy. "Nup. Never heard," she said, without breaking wherever her chain of thought was scurrying off to. When she finally looked back, it was into Conata's eyes, and with a surprising sharpness. "How'd ya get here? Long way from any place."

Conata huffed with enough amusement to spread a film of bismuth over her skin. "I walked. What, did you think I...?" She could technically fly. Conata shook her head, only slightly tinned. "Never mind. I came from the south, in Rulanah. We don't see humans there."

"Oh!" This surprised Tira, maybe more than encountering a girl made of metal. "Rovaick liiusi! Runosh toh osh eug?" She was practically bouncing with curiosity; Her meaning was easy enough to catch.

"There are rovaick there, yeah," Conata answered unsurely. With Tira still hopping, she angled her head partly away and rubbed her pitting shoulder. "Um...its a bunch of caves, hewn into the mountains. There is farmland and lots of people...It's nice? With more people moving in, though, the Toun worship can get a bit intense."

Conata peered down and up. She had no idea whether it was what Tira wanted to hear. She didn't seem at all unhappy with the information, though it seemed that she'd heard that much before, and was signalling for more.

After a pause, Conata pushed out her lower lip and shrugged. "My mother and father are rovaick- well, not my real mother and father. They raised me. They're Tedar." With the topic becoming more personal, Conata's eyes darted. "But what about you? I want to hear more about humans!" She changed her tone and held her head forward to Tira, who noticed the slip and went quiet again, despite her attempt to change the subject. Conata spread her forearms and smiled. "Are there any more of you? Where do you live? Can you shape metals? What do you do for fun?" The rapid fire questions turned Conata bronze once more. The wiped tear streaks over cheeks were now barely visible dry marks.

"Enl, wa ati, ow'm, wa elk," answered Tira, helpfully, in short succession: Yes, everywhere, no, everything. "Jorku yiil!"

With somewhat more insistence than she'd been holding on to so far, if that were possible, Tira latched onto Conata's wrist and yanked, only to find that she had a lot more inertia than her human shape would suggest.

"Woah!" Conata laughed and stepped forward to keep her balance.

Tira yanked harder. "Jorku!"

"Okay, I'll go with you! I get it!"

* * *


Despite the terrain, Tira had an excellent sense of where she was. With an obsidian knife she pushed through the undergrowth with the ease of long years -- she can't have lived that long, surely -- keeping Conata on her toes and yelling from time to time to hurry up.

For Conata's part, navigating the jungle at speed was a new and stimulating experience. Her touch was less graceful than Tira's; bursting through the foliage by swiping spinning blades of bronze through air and branch in an effort to keep up.

The way grew rough and somewhat steep; they crossed a rise and then a stream that flowed between it and the next hill. Tira waited long enough to drink and splash water on her face before moving in. It wasn't yet time to rest.

"Tired already?" Conata quipped, whipping the bronze back into her hand. Something about Conata's grin made Tira forget the strain in her legs, if it was there at all. Maybe it was because the metal girl was barely even out of breath. They moved on just as quickly as they stopped.

After that second crest, though, the jungle changed- Trees still stood here and there, but the ground had been scraped some time ago, leaving only leaves and scarred rock. At last Tira slowed. A bright something glinted just ahead. She picked it up by the haft, flicked its blade and stuck her tongue out at Conata.

The blade on Tira's polearm made Conata double-take. "Hold on, is that…?" She lowered her brow and pointed half-heartedly.

It was nothing of consequence to Tira. She tapped its cue end against a rock, signing energetically. A sleepy arm uncurled and pointed northwards.

"Yiil!" she repeated, gesturing to where the urtelem was pointing, and faint blue smoke was rising above the leaves.

Keep running, Conata!

Conata's red eyes lit up. They flicked from the blade, to the smoke, to the blade again, and to Tira. To the ash to seeing one thing at a time. Conata's open-mouthed smile preceded some jungle moisture steaming from her heated bronze head and shoulders. Her hair even stood like an angry cat. More humans and more metals. "Don't just stand there, lead the way!"

Tira didn't need telling twice.

Papaya Village was situated on an Alefprian road, one that its people had made a living from. Empty now, wheel ruts were still visible between the well-cleared undergrowth, and at its side were stalls, troughs, and huts. But the life of the village was in the trees.

Humans waved at Tira as she yelled up from below. Humans called out their own greetings as they let down wooden platforms on ropes. Humans scurried between trees that had been trained into bridges and ladders for many years. And humans waved bright yellow fruit that had to be shared before they went bad.

Conata blankly waved to each she saw. She could barely take in how many there were -- and all their different shapes and sizes. Conata recognised the small ones as children, though not all of the adults were shaped like her and Tira. Some were wider or narrower, hairier or smoother. The bigger ones even looked like Aeramen, but less muscular and with skin closer to Tira's than any djinn. Perhaps the oddest were the squat, grey-haired ones that held themselves up with sticks. They were the fewest. Conata speculated that humans must have different subspecies, like rovaick.

While the platform was hoisted up, Conata stared agape at the structures in the trees. Bismuth splashed over her skin in waves as laughter bubbled up her throat. "Humans live in trees!? That is amazing! You're all so different. All...smiling!"

"We do that!" bubbled Tira, catching a thrown guava and biting into it. She said other things, but they were lost between the barriers of language and food.

Conata's face was sign enough that she was a newcomer, and the more clear-minded villagers who weren't fawning over her appearance quickly debated helping her up even as Tira clambered away on her own. But the trees were huge enough, and the jungle folk had strong arms. Conata's weight wasn't a problem for long.

If she'd been expecting answers, she would maybe be disappointed, but of questions there were plenty- some in loose pidgin of the languages she knew.

"Daso where from? Sudi? Arefpi?"
Conata blinked. "Uh, down south, I-"
"Timurib ka tosou?" Another one asked.
"Sorry," Conata shook her head. "I'm not sure I-"
"What is your reityo?"
"Uhm, Conata! My name is Conata-"

Grinning tensely, Conata was an oddly confident mix of bronze and mirror-polished iron. She was no stranger to this kind of attention from hain and rovaick, so she was not overwhelmed. Rather, she didn't know where to direct herself. The endless words came and went in scraps of gibberish and understandable queries. She tried to snap her attention to those that she vaguely understood, only for another to start elsewhere.

"I...thank you for the welcome but I..." Conata raised her palms to keep the humans at arms reach and out of hysterics. Rather than being deterred, some of the younger ones ran their fingers over her arms. They were just as curious as Tira, it seemed. They were thankfully not as fixated on poking her nose. The questions didn't stop and the crowd kept growing.

An ingot of bronze poked partway out of Conata's bag, just in case.

"Ey!"

Tira's face popped up from somewhere in a way that suggested either stepping on something or lifting herself up on the shoulders of villagers. Though she was somewhat familiar to the townsfolk, she still had to press to get through to Conata. She fortunately proved pretty good at that.

A hand was extended and grabbed. Tira pulled again, although this time it was merciful.

"Hey, don't-!" Conata shut up when she realised Tira was rescuing her. She awkwardly waved back at the gathered humans as she was pulled away by the wrist. Tira let go once they were away from the throng.

Tira's mood had changed now that they were out of the canopy dim, now that the sun was visible. Time was running short. "Jorku! Ati," she beckoned, pointing to the highest tree, a slender thing that had been made into a lookout.

Conata peered up and showed her teeth. The view would be great from up there.

They proceeded, their escape complete. At last, Tira caught her breath. "Humans, eh? Eh?" she grinned, nudging Conata in the ribs and glancing again into the bright. Conata giggled and recoiled at the jabs. She had always been surprisingly ticklish for one made from metal.

"You humans know how to give a warm welcome. That's for sure," she said.

Tira nodded excitedly. "Nhn!"

Conata's eyes drew to the closer view of the lumpy green carpet that was the jungle top. It was easier to see the scale of the place from here. All of the trees were huge. If she didn't know better, Conata would be fooled into thinking that the jungle stretched on without end.

Tira's foot tapped, or jittered. "So… Runati in-ati? Where now?" Her eyes followed Conata's over the jungle, but didn't dip too far down. Then they settled back on her. "And… Just Conata?"

This time the meaning was unmistakable.

Conata's wiry hair flattened back as she hued to copper. She remained looking out at the trees. "Well, Majus told me to go to Alefpria. See this emperor guy named Lifprasil. Apparently he can help me find my parents."

Tira smiled for some reason. Not grinned, just smiled.

The copper lost its colour until Conata's smile disappeared with a sigh. Iron, rough and shielding herself, reflected a blurry grey of the orange-green before them. Conata breathed in and held it, considering whether to answer at all. She did. "And, yeah...Just Conata now." The monotone spoke more. "I...My friends went home."

For a while it didn't look like Tira had much to say. She chewed on her tongue, thinking. Maybe she was just trying to remember the language. "Li'piryasil is… Not there."

Conata flicked her face to Tira.

"He'll come back. Owt-kiki. Don't follow us." She sighed. "Hey. I went out wandering too, long ago. And I-" Giggle. "I found my moms. You know?"

Tira went back to chewing. "I had to… Diesh dne, leave someone. A friend. I still wish..." She grinned, as broadly as she could make herself. "Friends aren't ojanan, they don't stay for ever. Not even nurts. Try 'n not lose them, okay?"

Eyes cast down, Conata broke out in tiny blotches of brown rust. She swallowed hard. Learning that Alefpria might have been a waste of time already put a lump in her throat. Piecing together a response to Tira made her monotone shiver. "I didn't want them to go," she murmured. "They came with me all the way to the jungle edge. I...Look, it's not a simple thing. I just have to not let it bother me." Conata blinked and tried a smile. Some irrational part of her mind skimmed over the fact that Tira's could clearly see her rusting complexion.

Din wus wan, muttered Tira in her head. "Well, it's gonna," she said. Her foot kept tapping. "Worst thing of all is to be alone."

Conata's lips tightened.

"Conata, I'm…Going. With Li'piryasil. And Tira might not… Elk uygup wiu ghorg." She smiled, but it was clear that she was trying, too. "I can say to him, 'someone's looking,' but 'til then… Runpudne sin py-nu? Who'll be your friend?"

The tarnished metal girl ran into the answer to Tira's question hard enough to break her nose. It certainly covered her nose -- as well as her cheeks and neck -- in a flush of brown rust. The errant detail of Tira knowing Lifprasil personally was lost in Conata's silent despondency.

She turned her eyes ahead, blinking away welling pressure as her face tensed against her will. What was meant to come out as level as all the other times she had spoken instead wheezed out in high breaks. "Tira, I'm not sure if I can have friends anymore." Conata sniffed deeply. "...I pushed away Gio, Ruvac, and Polia. I'll just push away others."

Tira's eyes widened.

The rust crept over the rest of Conata's face so virulently that Tira could just about hear it.

The implications fell into place in Conata's head. Her weaknesses -- her experiences -- would make her lonely. She remembered to breathe. A limit broke.

Conata breathed in too quickly. She pressed the back of her hand to her lips. "Oh gods..."

Two thin, strong arms wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her close to Tira's warmth.

Conata's head lowered and her eyes pressed shut, pushing tears down her cheeks. The merest flecks of grey iron were left against the encroaching rust. She squeaked. "I don't want to be alone..." She had to hold her breath. Tears pat quietly on the wooden platform.

"Shhh," came the now familiar wanderer's voice. "You're not alone." Tira's hand strayed into Conata's hair, moved the wrong way and gave herself a shallow cut on the wire, but didn't hesitate to go back and stroke her head. One tiny, suppressed sob was emitted near Tira's ear.

"And you're not gonna be alone, kay?" she reassured. And there she stayed, holding a metal girl as tightly as she needed to be held, and then a little more.

Conata kept her arms held against herself like a cradled child. "Yes I am," she whined. Where she paused to continue, she stopped. Words on the tip of her tongue shied back into her mind, over and over.

"No you're not," repeated Tira firmly, taking her pitiful face in both hands and lifting Conata to look her in the eye. "Conata. Look. Hear. Every one and every person, every occji and nurtal and skullpem, every gobbilin and everyone, has a friend. I met some sista in the wild with three whole faces, and Tira was their friend. A really really tall mom met a sad girl in hak ghorg and she was Tira's friend. And then Tira met a metal girl in the trees and she was Conata's friend. And if you push me I'm gonna push back and I'm gonna find you. I promise I'm gonna come back and find you! And other friends will too! Okay? Promise!"

Tira swept up Conata into another tight squeeze. For having only met earlier in the day, Conata cried in Tira's arms as fully as a lifelong friend. Perhaps it was the gesture of acceptance. Perhaps, Conata realised for the first time, it was the relief of company. A brighter metal scarred into the rust on her skin, split open by the sobs that shook her torso. Polished silver.

It lasted for another half a minute. Enough time for Conata to shudder out the worst of her sadness from her lungs. She trusted Tira with a vulnerability previously hidden to the solitude Tira first found her in.

After a breath in and a sniff, Conata croaked out what she had been avoiding. "There's something wrong with me, Tira." She half-opened her ruby eyes. "Something that gives me waking nightmares. I...made a mistake with my friends while having one. I was panicked. Are you sure they would..." She adopted Tira's way of putting it. "...push back and find me after that?"

Tira pulled away a little and nodded vigorously. "Good friends don't just go. If Conata's… If Gio 'n Ruvac 'n Polia are still out there, then you can find 'em, and they can find you." She looked down at the wooden planks below her, away at the sun, back to the metal girl. Tira tapped her head, then Conata's. "Tira knows about the… I say 'pyibi garn', uh, fear dream, bad thought. I've had one for ever."

Conata's eyes turned from one blank space in the air to another. Though still frowning, her silver-scarred rust smoothed, in blotches at her temples and around her body, to copper once more.

"It's a like a bruise on a part of your head, and when a thing taps that part… Then it hurts! And what do you do when it hurts? You yell and hit. You're not broken, Conata! You got hurt. And you can get better. Dabbels's friend taught me so. She's a fizz- fizzy-" Tira stumbled on a word. "Physician! She helps people. And people like her help girls like you and me. You'll get better!"

More copper spread. Conata's eyes turned up to Tira as two curious windows on her corroded facade. Tira described it with a close enough simile without Conata elaborating that she had to know what it was like. "So it's just like a wound?" It was making more sense to Conata than her tone suggested, though she didn't know who 'Dabbels' was. "I never thought of it like that before." Conata's arms slid free from her chest. "You're sure it'll heal? It just feels like it's gotten worse over time."

Tira was quiet for a moment and then smiled sheepishly. "It, uh… Osh nu-as iul," she said, without making it any clearer. "But… Hey!"

She let Conata go abruptly and pulled down her sleeves, spreading her marred arms wide, and stuck out her tongue through the long gash in her cheek. "Things get better! Just look at me! It was bad, but I'm okay now."

Conata's eyes and mouth widened in brief shock. Magnesium pits prickled and disappeared in a wave down her cheeks and neck as if she had caught a splinter in her hand. Something about the absurdity made the last bits of rust rebel in a short bismuth wave, and Conata chuckled thoughtlessly. "I guess you're cheerful for someone with all those scars. Point taken."

After another sigh, the copper and rust assumed their still whorls on Conata's face once more. "All this time, I had it in my head that my friends were doubting that I was capable of coming this far. They kept bugging me about it." She lowered her eyes. "I guess that made me frustrated. If I told them more about the nightmares, I thought they would make me go home 'cause I wasn't ready. But if it's just a wound...maybe I am still capable. I don't have to be scared that they would be right."

Tira broke eye contact for a moment and bit her tongue. "Yeah, uh… You still gotta rest some time. Getting better hurts too. You know?" She looked back up. "Home's a good place to be. If it's a bad place, then it isn't home. Don't hurt yourself, Conata."

Conata pressed her eyes shut for just enough to tame the dull iron that broke out on her forehead. "I'm not going home," she declared firmly. "Not yet. It's not a bad place. I'm just uncomfortable there. Like, jittery. Trapped. Like I want to just want to jump and run but I can't." She lifted her hands towards her navel. "But it's not for running and jumping. It's for finding out who my parents are. I'm not rovaick. Or human. I need to find out what I am, Tira. I need to know." Her red eyes met hers, pleading. Rust flung under her eyelids and her arms dropped. "When I was with my friends, I thought I could take on anything. I haven't even spent much time in this jungle without them and it's been...Well, you saw how I was when you found me. But it's still something I have to do."

Tira opened her mouth and then closed it again, wary of finding the wrong words. Conata was such a mix of different complexions flowing in waves and crashes that her conflict was as external as internal. Magnesium broke out from copper, whirled with iron and rust. Circles of lead even bulged out, only to be washed away by aluminium.

"...You're you," Tira said at last, touching her nose again with a shrug, though not a dismissive one. "Tii-ne, tii-nu." She could feel Conata's turmoil, literally feel its heat from where she was standing, but she struggled to put herself in the other girl's shoes and she knew it. For once, Tira didn't trust her own actions.

"If you have to do it, it's gotta get done," she said finally. "And if Conata needs her friends to go and do it, then you need to go get them. If you think you can take on anything, then you can." Tira lifted Conata's hand and ran a finger over the twisting metals. "You're made of some really strong stuff. All girls are."

While Conata was still and looking down, her palm changed before Tira's eyes. The whirling and shifting metals slowed and folded until the surface was an odd gradient between iron and magnesium, changing as peaks and troughs on water. They, too, slowed until there was less and less iron. The iron stilled, containing residual patches of magnesium, and then faded to rich, shining copper.

"Tira," Conata's small voice asked. "Do you think I can do it?"

"Yes I do," said Tira, nodding without a moment's hesitation.

Conata wiped her nose with the back of her hand and sniffed back the last of her tears, letting out the breath from her mouth. Whatever was left unsaid to Tira clearly culminated in a positive conclusion, as her copper polished and yellowed to bronze. This time, Conata was the one who opened her arms and wrapped Tira in her pleasantly warm embrace. "Thanks. I'm sorry that I got all rusted and sad."

She made a supportive noise and slapped Conata's back.

"I'd better find my friends," Conata said. She slid away from Tira to look her in the eyes with a brighter aura. "I think I can catch up to them if I move fast. I want to apologise and tell them what's going on with the..." She waved her fingers around her temple. "Fear dreams. I wasn't fair to them. First, though...can I ask you one more thing?"

"Enl?"

Conata's cheekbones lined with tin. She lifted her finger to point up behind Tira. "Can I take a closer look at that blade of yours?"

The request took Tira by surprise, but not very much so. With a nod and an 'mhm!' Tira took the simple wooden haft of the naginata and let it fall smoothly into her palms. The ease was practiced. "Janup. It is sharp." With that she let it balance on her fingers and let Conata take the weapon.

* * *


The upset and sympathetic girl Tira had met turned into something else over the following half hour. Gone were the emotional issues and internal conflict. The metal girl almost hypnotised herself into focus on the silvery metal blade.

Wide-eyed and shining bronze, Conata talked as much to herself as to Tira as to how strange the naginata was. One after the other, every test met her with failure. The metal, she patiently surmised as she ran her hands over it, was new. It was not iron, it was not bronze, not adamantine, silicon, nor alumnayam.

The inspection halted briefly -- Conata took some time to correct Tira as she called it aluminayam. Though she admitted it rolled off the tongue better. The thought brought her mind to exactly what to call the new metal.

"I'll name the metal Mi Tira'l. It's southern rovaick for 'Tira's Blade'- Well, more like 'Tira's Knife,' but we don't really have these things in Rulanah." Conata said with a smirk. "...Call me uncreative, but it's easy to pronounce. Admit it."

Tira blinked. "Is me, is good," she said, as if it were the clearest thing in the world.

Conata looked down at the naginata and only held it out halfway. The bronze on her temples roughened into an ambivalent green patina. "I could improve it if you want. I'm pretty good with shaping metals. I've got to repay you for helping me somehow."

Tira tapped the floor with the back of her foot for a moment, hesitant. Then she shrugged, her conscience clear. "Okay! You're the metal girl," she said simply. "What are you gonna do?"

"Hmm..." Conata's voice belied the burning heat radiating from her as her skin polished to a mirror-smooth bronze. She let go of the weapon, yet it hovered in the air. "I think I'll just anneal it a little better," she said, looking across to the sharp of the blade with a widening grin.

The soft crackling that followed might have been a breeze through the branches around them. Tira and Conata felt nothing of the kind on their skin. The true source was all too apparent when the two rivets holding the tang of the polearm in jolted up from the wood in the shape of two silvery pins. Conata grasped the haft to allow the blade to shunt itself free.

The violent disassembly was like to make the most passing of warriors cringe, though Conata was nothing if not an expert. Her movements following were a mix of elegant sweeps of her hands and concentrated stares, broken by roughly rubbing the blade with black or white stones and continuing. Conata did more than line up the metal's grain. The blade's curve was drawn out and further back at such a careful pace as to be almost imperceptible. Whatever the stones were that Conata applied to it, they may have had something to do with the strength and spring of the blade remaining the same as it was -- or better. Lastly, she cast her heating hands over the blade at different intensities to harden the edge to a wicked sharpness.

The whole show was over in the span of several minutes. A few sliding snaps later, the naginata was reassembled. Conata extended it with both hands, back straightened and smiling with pride. "That stuff this is made from, it's really easy to shape." She glanced down at it. "Almost like it wants to be shaped. Anyway, try it out! Tell me what you think."

"Sat-ra jin," said Tira at a murmur, her eyes still wide on Conata's fingertips. Wherever and whenever she came from, she had surely not seen something like this before.

Wordlessly Tira took the haft in her hands and let it fall into her palms. Tira took it out from the lookout, beckoning Conata to follow as she balanced it on the side of her hand, under her thumb. One way or another, the day had grown a little older, but standing on a bridge of rope and plank, there was no longer any haste in Tira's step.

Conata stood on the edge of the bridge. Her hand anxiously found the side of her magnesium-pocked neck to rub.

The naginata rose on thin arms. Tira let it span across her back, then swung it slowly out, passing from one hand to the other without pause as it completed the arc. It swept again, higher this time, orbiting until the weapon spun above her head. Her eyes were closed.

"Kiai!"

Tira slashed at a mark unseen, tumbled sideways down the planks, staff flowing with her asking no space at all. Tira stood, parried, lunged and double-lunged five steps down the bridge, then butted back, turned, let the naginata spin in her hands as the planks disappeared beneath her, without pause and without hesitation. She advanced back four steps, then-

"Ale'pirya!"

-With nothing beneath her but wood and rope, Tira leapt, kicking out at the air as the blade spun across her arm with barely a touch. She landed in a fighting stance, her eyes far away from the ground.

"Occip eik kia," she laughed, relaxing again, waving at Conata. Her glance clipped the forest floor and she looked up high, exhaling with a 'wew'. "Beautiful!"

Conata laughed into a grin, shining bismuth bronze and clasping her hands together. "You're amazing, Tira!" She bowed in humorously flavoured modesty. Tira promptly bowed back, martial style, as if she'd been expecting it. Conata added in the same tone. "Thank you and you're welcome. I'm glad you like it."

Tira smiled again, though she'd never really stopped. But her foot was tapping. She'd stolen a moment to spend in the sun, but the sun was still dipping.

"Ne owt-ho kint," she reminded. "You…We have things to do."

Conata coppered. "Yeah."

* * *


Conata peered at the yellow horizon through the trees. It was easier to regain her sense of direction with the village around her. She and Tira stood on a straight Alefprian road that cut through the forest. One that only made travel easier.

To save time, Conata politely refused anything but a small amount of food and water. She needed to move fast. But, there was still time for goodbyes.

"I think I can catch up to them before midnight if I sprint." Conata's copper complexion scarred with some yellow rust as she gave Tira a smile. "I'll see you again some time, yeah? Like you promised?"

There was no reason to hold back. Conata stepped up and squeezed Tira in a warm embrace. Her skin glowed to a happy polish once more. "Thanks again for your help, Tira. I won't forget it."

"Nu hals occa!" she replied, grinning. There wasn't much she could do to squeeze Conata's metal frame, but she tried her damnedest.

The moment passed quickly. Tira wasn't one for a long farewell. Within a heartbeat, she was halfway down the road, diving into the sun.

"Bai!" she yelled, waving widely as she ran. "Find your friends, Conata! Bai!"

Conata laughed and waved back. "Goodbye, Tira!" The mirth faded into a smile on Conata's lips. She almost wished she was human after all; they were fun. And Tira had such a warm heart.

As she turned her head to the opposite direction on the road, Conata hardened into a determined polished iron. She had no plans to go against Tira's word.

One long stride accelerated into a trot, a run, and then a sprint. Her hide sandals clapping on the road quickened to the pace of a drum roll. Within a few seconds, her arms were throwing back and forth and her upper body leaned into the air rushing past her. The mountains wouldn't be so distant for long.

Not so far behind her, a smaller set of feet broke into a mirror-twin run. Tira felt urgency rising, her calves burning as she ran into the sun. With thoughts of Conata now buzzing away into memories, there was an odd drain in her. As her boots slammed earth, she realised that the same weight was there yesterday and the day before, but -- like a tiny malaise mouse -- it had been hiding from Conata's company.

What a strange girl.

Somewhere in the distance, a pair of silky black wings flashed moonlight behind Conata's head, and flicked into the horizon.

* * *


Sleeping grey giants slouched below the clear blue night that had fallen upon the Ironhearts. Little black shrubs hissed in the wind, singing a peaceful song to the moons above as they did in such nights. Then a new rhythm faded into the area, similar to the shrubs in sound, but with a metallic ring. Conata did not have the time to readjust the strands of wiry hair that had escaped from her headband. She had to keep sprinting with them singing against the rest of her hair like sticks on the strings of a metal harp.

She was breathing heavily. Pushing herself further than she ever had over a long distance. Her only pauses were brief as she regained her bearings and searched for her path up the mountains in the dim moonlight. Now that she had retraced her steps this far, all there was to do was run. Her footfalls were bare enough to suggest that she was flying more than sprinting. Perhaps she was.

Some wisps of smoke from a relatively flat pan of grey rock was her first hint that she had found them. "Hey!" She shouted between rapid strides. She held up a hand. "Polia! Gio!" Three amorphous shapes sprung to life, clambering out of their bedrolls and turning their heads to look around. "Ruvac!" They all turned to Conata.

One of them pulled out a stone and flicked it to produce a bright light. Ruvac's face was illuminated first, showing astonishment as he held the shining stone up. Gio and Polia both hung their jaws open in surprise.

Conata slowed to a stop in front of them, breathing so heavily she could hardly speak or stand. She even fell to one knee and leaned on her other knee to stay upright.

"Connie?" Polia said faintly.

"I...have to tell you all something." Conata paused to swallow hard. "I should have said this before." More heavy breaths. She had plenty of time to think on what to say, so she wanted to start as soon as possible.

"Back...when the realta attacked. I was up on a rock with Polia when we saw it fly in. We saw the hain village get scorched away in a second. When we ran..." Conata paused and closed her eyes. A rush of rust wrapped around her upper face. "When. We. Ran...People...screamed. They screamed, they were afraid. They were burnt. They were looking for people..."

The smell of ash rushed into Conata's nostrils. She noticed and fought to speak the words in her head.

"We barely got into the caves." Conata put her shivering down to suddenly stopping her run. "I tried to seal the entrance but...I saw it up close. It looked at me. I thought it was going to melt me to liquid and then kill everyone. Then Majus killed it. Shattered it to pieces. Then I went inside..."

Conata pressed her face into her palm. Her voice choked up as more tendrils of rust tried to wrap around her. "Everyone was...burnt...c-cooked..." She could hardly get the words out. "I saw one of my only friends at the time. Half his face was gone. It was just red and bone. They screamed."

Polia was clenching her jaw so hard that veins were bulging on her temples. She blinked and two tears silently crept down her face.

"I can't...think when my mind recalls it." Conata continued with a high voice. "I panic. In truth, I thought the same thing was going to happen with that djinni lord, Aeramen. I thought I was going to melt away and he would kill you. I was going off instinct. But...I didn't want to give up and go home. I didn't tell you because I didn't want to admit that I was scared. Being scared was admitting that I should go home."

The three azibos stood silent, unsure of what to say. Polia balled her fists to the point of pain.

Conata drew in a deep, shivering breath and drew up her tear-streaked face. There was still some iron left, fighting between the pauses in her speech. "But I'm not invincible. It wasn't fair for me to put on a face like that. I was just as scared as all of you. And I was an idiot because...well...you guys are all I have, really. Being alone, that's scarier than Vitrum, the realta, and anything else on the road. Without you, I'm stuck. I can't handle it."

Conata breathed in a second-guessed herself, letting the breath out through her nose. She looked at the ground as one more set of tears dripped off her nose. "What I mean to say is...I need you guys. And I'm sorry."

The quiet night paused to end Conata's conclusion. She stayed knelt, at the mercy of her friends.

Naturally, it was Polia who made a proactive response. She stepped up to Conata and with great effort pulled up by her armpits until she was standing again. Conata turned her gleaming red eyes up to see Polia's stern, tensed-up face still weeping.

"You're gonna promise me you're not going to run in headlong anymore, alright Connie?"

Conata's eyes widened. "Uh...I'll try to be more careful."

Polia's face twisted into teary smile and threw Conata against her in a tight hug. Conata glowed silver and wrapped her arms around Polia's broad body in turn. She couldn't hold in a sob, neither of them could. Gio and Ruvac smiled and joined in the hug.

Conata's pains had not ended, but neither had her journey.

* * *


It was impossible to tell if it was dawn or dusk. Beneath the clouds, everything was dark. But Tira could see the gleam of her own scale armour, and the wet footprints she had left behind, and even the ruins that lay across the glistening river.

"Shhh," she whispered to the head in her kneeling lap. "Shh."

Lonar convulsed, throwing her shoulders up and back down into Tira's thighs again; Tira gripped her as the muscles finally slackened, sweat running from Lonar's arms in rivers, her groan tailing away into heavy gasps.

Tira smoothed pale hair from a grey brow, talking soft happy words that meant nothing. Slowly her eyes began to wrench open.

"You..." The old warrior trailed off, lifting her arm as far as she was able. Her voice was like sand rasping. "You found me," she finished, cheeks twitching in attempt of smile.

"Ne sin ojanan, ojanan ny," said Tira, smiling back, showing teeth through her scar. She drummed her fingers over Lonar's head, feeling every welt, every bruise she had taken.

She was too big for Tira's hands. Tira was like a child beside her, but only Lonar could feel it. To Tira, she was still the feisty Lifprasilian tomboy she'd found on the street one hundred years ago.

"I'll see you again...? In the summer?"

Tira nodded. "Keu Tyufik, keu Kunonok, keu nu'ne sin al," she said. "Just like we used to."

Lonar smiled- Really smiled. The effort made her wheeze and moan. Tira held her and promised everything they'd ever known together.

Then she kissed her best friend's forehead and left her body where it lay.

With one hand on her weapon and another balled away in her pocket, Tira walked down and away, heading to the river. There she sat on her heels, pulled out her cup, and began to wash her hands. She washed all the way to her shoulders, shedding bronze scale to do so, then started on the naginata. She took two strokes of slick blood off its blade and froze up, gripping the cup.

She'd never felt so old.

She'd never felt so young.

She'd never felt so empty.

Tira balanced the cup on one finger and let it dangle over the water. Its skull eyes grinned at her from the dark.

She could drop it, she knew. She could just let it go. It wouldn't care. That was her choice to make, and there was no penalty to saying no.

The Godkiller would find another.

But now was not that time. Tira picked up the cup and scooped some water over her hair.

"Tira?"

She turned her head, just enough to let him know she was here. But her eyes were still over the river.

"Your mother is worried about you," said the voice, without approaching. They never did. As long as she held the cup, the Knights never touched her.

Tira turned back out towards the river, and stood. The warrior shuffled and waited.

"I'm not going back."

There was a pause.

"Tira, there's-"

"No. I'm not going back."

She could see his shadow in the glinting waters, shifting its weight, twice her height and waiting for her to move on. An arksynth mouth opened and closed several times, yet only left an uncomfortable silence.

Tira turned, faced the Cosmic Knight for true. He met her eyes and fell still.

"Tell Lakshmi that I love her," said Tira, and he nodded. "Tell Lifprasil I said, 'thank you.'" Then she faced the river again.

He left.

Alone in the twilight, Tira shed her armour and leapt into the waters, never again to pretend that she was young.

A floating brown waterbird bobbed along, not chirping or fishing like the others. Its bright blue eye faded to jet.

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The sound of the waves had always remained regular, almost like breathing. Even the shifts in its rhythm had been steady and gradual, a slight respite from the jarring, erratic fluctuations that seemed to be everywhere and in everything. Everywhere and everything. The very words seemed unpleasant, unnecessary. But, as it had been forced to admit, they could not be avoided, and it had to come to terms with them. It could not change what it did not understand.

Osveril walked on beside the murmuring sea, its steps more uniform than the waves and tides. Smooth, square footprints were trodden into the damp sand at constant intervals, but not a grain was lifted from any of them. It marched on by night and day, never perceptibly swerving from its perfectly straight path. Sometimes it clambered up and down dunes; at others it found itself wading through the shallows. It did not seem to mind, nor care.

It walked on. And it thought.

This universe of force and matter had shown itself to be slightly less chaotic than what the visions conjured by Mother Beauty had led it to expect. There seemed to be a constant, if vague, proportion between the magnitude of changes and their frequency. Small ones, like the motion of minute bodies, were fast and ubiquitous. Those were the worst of all. Larger masses only slid over one another rarely and gradually.

It was probably an effect of time. Time, Osveril concluded, was there to regulate these exchanges and transformations, imparting to each the speed and quantity that fit it best. Clearly, it was not doing its work well, and would eventually have to be changed or replaced. Or removed entirely. A truly pure world would have no use for such influences. For now, however, there were more pressing matters to attend to.

Substance would be the first to be reduced to a state free of taint. Inevitably. Everything here flowed through that filter. Not at all like the Gap, which erred in excess of media. In a way, it pondered, this would make the first steps of the cleansing much easier than they would have been elsewhere: since matter was so crucial in the life of the cosmos, it could easily focus the bulk of its efforts on its structures. Many of the minor facets would then probably collapse, having lost their foundations in reality.

Besides, it sensed that most of the impurities lay in this great universal stratum. All these aberrant shapes of concreteness, supernumerary bulks of substance, wayward, pointless vectors of force. The more Osveril perceived, the more surprised it was that all of this had not yet collapsed and suffocated under its own diseased weight. Clearly, there had to be pillars and supports built to sustain this mass, skeletons blindly reared by Mother or the other gods.

It did not take the Hollow Absolute long to find them. Or, rather, it. There was something just beneath the smothering blanket of the manifest, something robust, yet elusive. It knew its senses were not made to grasp this sort of construction, but it could dimly guess at its full shape and purpose. The web gave integrity to the space over it. And - order. A malformed, limping parody of pure order, put there by someone who did not know any better. Yet it could now be certain that someone had, for all their being unsuited to such a task, attempted it. You're not the first.

This discovery complicated matters. Osveril knew it was not yet strong enough here to affect those laws with anything approaching precision, and precision was key. Nor could it neglect them, as their continued existence was a threat to anything it could create. Indeed, if they allowed itself to remain intact outside the Womb at all, it was only thanks to this fleshly shell it was now bound to. At the same time, their presence was a sign that, somewhere, there might be divine minds more malleable than Mother. Minds that could be made to receive the grey absence, and enter the final vision of Purity.

Purity. What is Purity?

Osveril stopped.

When it thought about making the cosmos, its matter and its web of substructures pure, the terms were as clear as it was meet for their subject to be. Things could not be allowed to remain as they were, and measures had to be taken. This was all. There could be no doubt about this verdict, no appeal to it. However, as soon as it lowered its attention from the whole to the singular components of this great directive, it found them lacking at the very core.

Purity was the centerpiece of more than merely its desires, since those latter were not distinct entities unto themselves. Nor even its duty, which was one with them. Purity was, quite simply, itself. Ever since it had faced destruction in the Gap and been born as the new Void - perhaps before as well, but it could not remember - the carapace it inhabited had tinged its emptiness with that meaning. If Osveril was anything at all, it was Purity.

What am I?

Mother had been able to answer this question, and, at the time, it had replied to her own. She had been satisfied with the universal summation, and did not need anything else. But it could and had to understand in full.

Osveril raised a hand and swiped a finger through the air, cutting the world. This time, it did not let the void close upon itself, but pried it open and pushed it apart. The sky groaned at this outrage, the breeze, which was just then rising from the sea, shimmered at the edges of the anomaly in a flurry of displaced motion, the soil at its feet, unexpectedly relieved of its burden, heaved liquidly. Within there was none of this. Only a weak echo of the space the formlessness did not occupy, and even that soon faded.

Despite its stolid and unfeeling nature, a pang of something that might have been remembrance coursed through the Absolute as it cast its spinning perception into the emptiness. This was not what the old absence had rested in, incapable even of suspecting that there could be anything. It was clean, and this cleanness defended itself with almost touching determination.

It gestured again, and a ripple of unstable voids tossed a handful of sand into the rift. The grains scattered as they flew forward; then they were still and grey; then they were gone. It followed their rapid deterioration with interest, its mask tipping forward in satisfaction. Clean. Pure. There could be no question of it. The cycles within, which had until then pulsed discontentedly, hovered perfectly still.

And yet, something was amiss. If Purity was so easily found, why had it, who Was the Void, been so perplexed when it had first sought it? Why was it still not ready to march forth and consume all this ocean of matter with numberless mouths of hungry, cleansing emptiness, but stood meditating before this single tear in the cancerous skein?

What else is pure?

Once again, it seemed entirely clear. Here, before Osveril, was Purity. Nothing else, no other nothing, was necessary.

Or was it?

Purity is universal. It must be.

This cosmos, in its current state, did not contain more than faint traces of it. But there could be potential. Things that were malleable, like the minds of order-seeking gods. It was itself breathing proof of this - standing with a solid foot in the world of matter, yet nurturing the yearning for what was untainted in the coils that were inside. To reduce tractable substance, as well as that which resisted, to complete absence would risk being wasteful, and risk and waste were impure.

It cannot be bound, for it must bind all things.

This was not the Gap yet?. Other laws, it had felt it, were at work here. More diversity, more flexibility, more adaptability were needed to fulfill its mandate. No one constant, however perfect, was enough. It demanded more, for Purity and for itself.

This, then, was the second answer. Osveril was potential. Superior to that which was in the world, as it could – would – realise itself, and all else, alone.

Realise into what? The first question remained. What was Purity here?

Osveril cast its senses back into the world, feeling, seeking. Matter was everywhere, but in one point, especially, it jutted up in harsh, defiant lumps. Rocks. The forces in the water had hewed off an unknown portion of them, but their bulk stood still. It seemed to the Hollow One that they were waiting, patient in the agony of their position, to be mended.

Leaving the gaping void behind itself, it moved a few steps towards the stones. There was life crawling all over them. Small and ubiquitous, like the equally microscopic changes. It could probably perceive the shapes around itself just as well by touching life alone. So much of it to purge. All in its own time.

It raised a hand, and the particles of dust it had called forth in the Womb flowed out from it, then from the arm behind it, the shoulder, the entire body. The grey cloud was so thick it seemed to be an extension of the Absolute’s form, swelling monstrously into a pulsing, wavering mass. But that only lasted a moment; once again, the dust wove itself into threads, then grasping tendrils stemming from the immobile claws.

Moved by a single will, the innumerable specks wound through the air towards the rocks. The filaments were solid, many-faced and eager. They spun around the eroded boulders, circling ever tighter like hungry snakes. The dust began to scatter as it touched the stone, spreading upon it like the tiny motes of life. The darker, wave-scarred grey was swallowed by this new, alien tide.

Each grain of dust was a perfect, angular shape. And each angle was an impossibly sharp edge. Innumerable fragments of Osveril gouged the universe, shearing away all that was foul and superfluous. Sparks of void flickered through what had been for millennia. Now it was not only the sky, but stone and life that groaned as they were ground together, pierced, sheared, erased.

It could feel the rocks changing under its influence. Not only in shape, nor only in substance, but in how it stimulated the cycles. Or, more precisely, did not stimulate them. The deeper the filaments burrowed into these clots of existence, the slower became the gnawing, drilling motions of the essence in its frame, which mere instants before had still been just barely endurable. It reacted to the potential that became truth.

In a blink, it was complete. The tendrils drew back, gathering themselves from the unrecognisable faces of rock and winding into the fissures whence they had emerged. In their wake, they left Purity.

The stones were no longer ungainly growths moulded haphazardly by fickle elements. They were intricate structures of rigid, perfectly chiseled rhomboids, symmetrical both in and between themselves. Long, narrow slits ran through these figures, giving both them and the whole they formed the appearance of fragile, yet stable grids. No excess, no lack. Exactly as much as necessary.

Within, the rocks were hollow. Not merely empty for the wind to blow through. The indistinct, inchoate shadows of voids, stretched into the realm of form - a necessary concession - to leave no figment of space among these forced walls, filtered through the many identical openings.

As Hollow as their maker.

Osveril contemplated its handiwork. All of the demigod, both outside and the non-existing inside, were, for perhaps the first time since its coming into being, pleased. It drank in the origin and the goal, the beginning and the end of all its striving. How close it was. How simple reaching it had been, after all those doubts and questions. A wave of the hand, a projection of will, and Purity had come.

Purity has come.



has Purity come?


The rotations, which had almost become immobile, suddenly jerkeв back into motion.

A multitude of flaws, previously hidden, now leapt to its senses. The shape was impure: too many edges, not enough faces. The substance was impure: the stones of the world could not be relied upon to be suitable vessels; their composition itself was flawed. The core was perhaps worst of all: why had it given shape to the void? How could it have believed that this was in any way necessary?

Absence

given

shape


No, this was justifiable. But the rest? Incomplete. Imperfect. Impure.

It had been mistaken when it had thought that there was nothing but gods in the universe. Yet this was more alarming. It proved that it could be mistaken about itself.

This could not be allowed. No more.

Osveril struck the staff it was carrying - it was carrying the staff, it remembered - into the sand, and moved a step backward, leaving it standing. Its arms folded into right angles, hands snapping into a predatory, menacing position. It seemed ready to spring on something, like a feral creature, and sink its grey blades into yielding flesh, but it remained still.

For the third time, dust flowed out of its body. Not in a steady, quickening stream, however. It breathed in, and the small grey clouds hung immobile in the air. It breathed out, and new myriads were exhaled from the joints and cracks of its shell. In and out, slower and slower, longer and longer. The strands of dust became mist, then walls, then a vortex. Then it did not inhale anymore. Air whistled out, stirring the inexplicable soundless storm that raged around it. When there was no more air, came dust; and when there was no more dust, no one could have seen what came next.

The grey blight rose as a towering pillar, high into the darkening sky. Clouds shrank from it, and a wind died against it. Time and again, a cold, dim light seemed to shine through its crawling walls.

Slowly, excruciatingly, Osveril tightened its grip on the world. Incorporeal arms were mangled and severed by substance, and the void screamed for them. And more of them came. They crushed and stifled, forcing space to withdraw and be replaced by waves of nonentity. There would be no half-measures. The Absolute would be hollowed out in full.

The storm lasted for as long as Osveril was out of breath.

***


When the last of the dust had withdrawn into the purified shell, it was night again. Of the major, rare changes, this alternation in the heavens was the one Osveril preferred above all. With the tremendous source of energy overhead hidden behind the horizon, its surroundings became much less flooded with vibrations of heat, and the pitilessly scorching light became stunted and indirect. Darkness, however relative, was a relief.

Yet this time, as the triangular mask swept from side to side, regaining its bearings, it was clear that something was different.

There was no relief in the dark, as there could be no relief at all. Relief was a sign that it was weak before something, and sought to rest from the struggle. Weakness was impure, and so was relief.

Weakness will be purged.

The absence of a face came to rest on the void it had opened before. Before, it had awakened memories, as fond as they could be, of the timelessness before being. Though Osveril did not know the meaning of that word, it had been pleasant. A recollection of peace amid the gibbering havoc that advanced from all sides.

Now, there was no memory, only awareness that such things were unnecessary distractions. It was not anymore what it had not been, as it had repeated more than once, and clinging to that was hindering. All it needed was knowledge that this void was pure, and of where it could be found. Everything else was superfluous. Memory was impure.

Memory will be purged.

It was not only thoughts that had become so distinct and transparent. The senses which were cast outwards from the Absolute’s presence were so much sharper, more focused, more certain of their purpose. It felt all the threads of the great, aberrant design laid bare before itself, open to being taken, one by one, and tugged to see how strong was their potential. Whether they could withstand Purity, or were fit only for annihilation.

And Purity itself would be found. All in good time.

Time. When had it first thought of time? Soon after encountering it, as was meet. It and life. Both things that had to be altered, but which it could not reach itself. Not alone.

The staff still stood where Osveril had left it. It had been just outside the circle of the grey storm, and continued to pulse, unperturbed, with amniotic light. It lifted the gnarled stem and passed its hand along the jagged surface, this time tapping it slightly with the tip of a finger. Something was inside it, altogether unlike the exterior, but what exactly it could not detect. Complex, for certain, and capable of shaping life. There seemed to be only one way to discover it, the same one it used in the search for Purity.

The probing limb met with an even surface, then several yielding spots, crammed tightly together. Access to the workings of the core? It pressed one of them, marked with a circular symbol. Parallel lines appeared on the flat - screen? - above, then were almost immediately replaced by a dozen of rectangles. It tried another of the spots - these must have been buttons, then. One of the rectangles grew larger than the others, blinked, and the lines closed over it again. And thus for all of them.

The staff was missing something. It did not have anything to work with. No life.

Osveril lifted the tip to its mask. There were traces of purity of purpose in the thick, robust spike. Odd for Mother, though irregularity was to be expected from her. It could be improved.

Not before the full extent of its functions was clear.

Life was all around, but not all of it was suitable for the first test. A safe margin was preferable, and in this case it was to be sought in physical extension.

A step, and the staff was thrust, with a single fluid motion, into a heap of fresh seaweed gathered by the rising waves. Spiral-like patterns enclosed in a square flashed briefly on the screen, then the entire shape shrank to almost invisible proportions.

A second step in the opposite direction, and a small, winding shape, unprotected by the sand it had so arduously burrowed into, was chipped just deep enough for the staff to take effect. Once more, the square appeared and shrank, now containing a slightly different scheme. And another one for the clam Osveril pried open. Another for the swimming forms that were brought into reach by skein-twisting void. Another for the large, carapace-bound creature that had crawled out of the water to scavenge. And another. And another.

It did not stop until it began to dawn.

When, satisfied with its work, Osveril examined the screen again, part of it was now dark with the diminished catalogue of signs. The first experiment had then been successful to a point. Life was there to be moulded.

The Absolute pressed a sequence of buttons. Some of the squares grew to fill the screen for a second, the patterns within them superimposing and combining into something new.

Suddenly, the lower end of the staff vibrated, as though to expel something stuck in its interior, and a small body fell onto the sand. Osveril hollowed out the space between its hand and that form, and lifted it into the focus of its senses.

The body was alive, or, rather, it had been a moment ago. It was too small, frail and undeveloped to endure the world without protection.

As was I.

It needed a womb.

This, then, was how life would be reshaped. A birth brought on from outside, in manifold imitation of the coming of Osveril.

The Absolute closed its hand, void wisps consuming the stillborn creature. It did not resemble any of those whose likeness it had gathered. A combination of them? This would be ideal. If even some living things had a measure of potential in them, it could select their best traits and build new entities from them alone. Perfect vessels for Purity.

Osveril sounded the sea for one last time, then turned away from it. There was much more to evaluate and correct, and now it knew how. Piece by piece. Step by step. Life by life.

The Void That Is walked on.

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

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"Jvan?"

"Hey."

"You look so alone."

"Mmm? I'm alone most of the time."

"But now?"

"What do you mean, 'but now?'"

"Oh. I see." Ceeln sighed, but it turned into a smile. "Heh. I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

Jvan's head cocked, mimicking Ceeln's smile, but didn't say a word. Ceeln looked out over the city.

"Is it beautiful?"

"Yes."

Atoll spread out like a jungle before them. Vivid ribbons of people and animals crossed between each tower, lay restful in the corals and hung gently from the buoys. Here there was no ground, for the buildings only grew denser and more connected until the streets between were tunnels; no roofs, for citizens congregated on every surface and even in the blue-water sky; no murals or flowerbeds, for every wall was a garden and every stone was alive.

Ceeln could see almost nothing of it, but that didn't matter. Jvan's wonder was eyes enough.

"When you look at this..."

"Mmm?"

"Jvan?"

"I'm listening."

"What do you wish for?"

"..."

"...If y-"

"I wish for more."

"More?"

"Yes. More like this. Not... this, in particular." Jvan put two hands on their own heart. "This. This feeling. I want to see worlds like this. Galaxies. I want to take the cosmos in my arms and make it live. Make it wild, make it strange. Make the colours and the shadows. I want to be like this forever. Exploring. Creating. Just..." Jvan exhaled, gills shuddering along their entire body. "Breathing."

Ceeln smiled. Almost cried. Looked into the sky and could just about see the midday sun.

"I don't think I can give you that. No matter how much I want to. But..."

"..?"

"This is the least I could do."

"..!"

"The lensmaker said they were the best money could buy. I don't think he was lying, but..." Laughter. "It's not like I would know, anyway."

Jvan's hands trembled slightly as they danced over the goggles, then slipped the band over their gills. Ceeln's sister gazed out into the distance with eyes like liquid mosaic.

"..."

Ceeln laughed again. Jvan didn't say a word, but Ceeln could feel a heartbeat quicken in the water, and grinned. "So I wasn't duped! Excellent. The technology is called Fractal. Within optimal range, there's virtually no limit on the level of detail you can see."

"...I-"

Ceeln ran a spare hand over Jvan's head. "It's our birthday, little sister. Enjoy it."

"But I don't-"

The elder twin swept a massive tail and was gone into the waters, leaving only laughter, swirling away on the wake of a hundred fins.

"-have anything-"

Jvan trailed off, arms wrapped together, and watched their sibling go, feeling things they did not understand.

"-for you."


* * *


Dabbles lay in his hammock, watching the full moons through a porthole. They shattered over the water, a stream of broken white that lay upon the darkness below.

"Things change, do they not?"

Himpledonk was silent in her coop, sleeping as soundly as a pigeon ever could. Dabbles blinked slowly, brilliant green eye shining in the dark.

Yes. How things change.

The Sculptor turned and buried himself in his cloak, and the bright green light winked out.


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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by BBeast
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BBeast Scientific

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Gerrik Far-Teacher

Level 7 Hain Hero
34 Khookies


Rain fell lightly on the verdant fields around Tallgrass. Some of the villagers stayed in the shelter of their tents, doing a little crafting or cooking, while others braved the elements to complete their work. Among those outside was Gerrik, his leather jacket providing some protection from the rain. He was digging in the dirt of his farm, uprooting plants and muttering curses. This was the second time he'd had to uproot and burn half his yams because of a blight which had infected the crop. Apparently replacing the plant was not enough to remove the blight, for it seemed that the ground itself retained some of the blight. He would have to plant his yams elsewhere. Perhaps another crop could be grown in this patch of soil in the mean time. Setbacks were expected, considering the experimental nature of his task, but that didn't make them any less frustrating.

Gerrik's attention was pulled from his work when someone announced, "Trader!"

He perked his head up to a peculiar sight. A white giant was walking by the village, but it was no ordinary white giant. On the giant's back were many sacks and bundles tied down with rope, and more rope and rigging attached itself to the giant's back and limbs and a bridle attached to the head. On a wooden structure of sorts on the giant's back sat a hain, dressed in fine leather and adorned in jewelry. As the white giant passed near the village, the hain pulled some ropes and a thick sack unfurled over the white giant's head.

The white giant, effectively blinded, started walking backwards. It lifted a leg to try and paw the sack off, but the hain pulled another rope attached to a pulley and tugged, the rope pulling on the bridle and lifting the white giant's head out of the way of its foot.

"Some help here, please," called the hain on the white giant.

Already other hain in the village had gathered around the white giant and were pulling on ropes dangling from it. These ropes ran through pulleys to the white giant's head, and by pulling the ropes the white giant's neck craned upwards until it was looking up at the sky. Disoriented, the white giant sat down, wood rattling and ropes wobbling. The trader tied off the ropes so they were secure and taught. Only then did he descend from the back of the white giant.

As Gerrik approached the scene, the trader was bartering with the villagers around him, opening sacks and displaying bundles of commodities and goods.

"Yes, I do have some lovely red cinnabar, although it's travelled a long way to get here so you'll need to offer something valuable. Something for special occasions? I have some fine Vascogne wine for you, Arlen. I'll take 20 arrows for it. Fine, fine, 12, but no less than that. Ah, that is some nice leather, which should sell nicely further south. What would you like for it? How about some wool for the winter? Oh hello there, I don't believe we've met."

The trader stuck out a hand in greeting to Gerrik. Gerrik shook it.

"I'm Dibbler the Trader," the trader greeted.

"I'm Gerrik Far-Teacher," Gerrik replied.

Dibbler's eyes widened slightly, and his eyes darted briefly to the Eenal Bow slung over Gerrik's shoulder and the Guardian Shield strapped inconspicuously to his arm, before resuming eye contact with Gerrik and turning his palms upwards. "Oh of course! The Gerrik Far-Teacher. A pleasure to finally meet you. Please, take a look at my wares. See if anything takes your fancy."

Gerrik looked up at the bundles stacked on the sitting white giant, which still attempted to reach a foot up to its bound and covered head occasionally, although lacked the flexibility to succeed. Gerrik was able to catalogue Dibbler's entire inventory in mere moments with his Perception, and he spotted a couple of items of interest.

"What's in that bag up there?" Gerrik inquired.

"Ah, yes, I've got something special up there," Dibbler said as he climbed up the stack of bags to reach inside. He pulled out a strange mechanical contraption. "I got this trinket from a trader in the far north. It was made by the hands of a demigoddess, or so I've been told. Observe the unmatched craftsmanship! Marvel at the unique and advanced technology! It can be yours, for the right price."

Gerrik took the device and turned it over in his hands. He twisted a key, which wound up a metal spring inside it, and the contraption sprang out of his hands with a click. It landed on the ground, and after a few more faint clicks it jumped again, hopping forwards. It vaguely resembled a frog, albeit made from a material similar to star-fiend carapace. Although, for Gerrik, who had never seen clockwork before, it was a wondrous contraption which he wanted to study, among other things.

Dibbler bent down to pick up the clockwork frog, and addressed another potential customer ("No, this quality wool is worth at least two hides.")

Gerrik withdrew a knife of star-fiend carapace from his jacket and held the blade between two fingers. "How would you value this in exchange?"

"An alum nayum knife? Alum nayum's normally too soft to make decent knives," Dibbler said. When Dibbler took the knife and felt its weight, and tapped it and heard the different tone, his eyes widened. "This isn't alum nayum."

"It is star-fiend carapace."

Dibbler's mouth gaped ajar for a moment, but quickly snapped it shut. He was here to barter, not gawk. "It is good craftsmanship and rare materials, I will admit. However, it pales in comparison to this marvel of divine craftsmanship. I'd like a little bit more for it."

Gerrik was not so easily swayed. He took his knife back. "While that toy frog may be an exceptional piece of work, it also serves no practical value. I bet that you've been trying to sell it across all of Mesathalassa with no luck because nobody wants to make that steep a trade for something which doesn't do anything." Dibbler tried his best to retain a neutral face. Gerrik continued, "And besides, this can do more than an ordinary knife. Watch." Gerrik took from his jacket a regular flint knife and scraped it against the star-fiend blade. Red-hot sparks were produced.

Dibbler dipped his beak down and bared a palm to Gerrik, a signal of defeat, although really he was happy to finally sell the contraption. "Alright, your knife for the toy frog."

"On one condition," Gerrik added. "You must tell people how the knife was made."

This was strange to Dibbler, but did not materially impact the value of the deal to him. "Huh? Oh, must be a Chipper thing. Sure, if you insist. Tell me about it and I'll share it."

Dibbler stayed in Tallgrass for the rest of the day, receiving and selling goods. Gerrik showed him his forge as requested. In the late afternoon, Dibbler climbed aboard his white giant and departed. He could not stay in any one place for long, otherwise the white giant might get restless, and if it spotted a creature it didn't like while bound it could cause serious damage to the rigging as it flew into a rage. The village waved Dibbler farewell and got back to their daily lives.



The sounds of sticks clapping together and voices singing rang out across the village. The smoke and embers of a bonfire rose into the starry sky, mixed with the aroma of roasting meat. The light of Auricolor and Vigilate and Scitis shone over the grassy planes, with the glittering rings visible in the heavens. In the village the illumination of the moons was mixed with the dancing light of the bonfire, and in that light hain danced also. Moving in time with the rhythm of the music, pairs, trios and quartets of hain spun around and weaved through each other. Laughter rose from the dancers and the onlookers. No one knew the steps, so frequently the dancers would collide, but that only added to the jovial atmosphere.

One of the trios was Sharon, Arlen and Gerrik, and really this celebration was for them. The other hain of Tallgrass came to Gerrik to pat him on the back and welcome him into the community, and to Sharon and Arlen to congratulate them on the new addition to their family. After a few rounds of the dance, it came time for Gerrik to say a few words.

Gerrik stood atop a log next to the bonfire, and the crowd hushed when they saw he was about to speak.

"Thank you very much for hosting this celebration for me and Sharon and Arlen. I have been with you for almost a whole season now. I have been to many, many villages in my life. And I'll admit, Tallgrass isn't the biggest, or the richest, or the most advanced. But Tallgrass does occupy a special place in my heart. And that's because Sharon here has taken it." Gerrik looked to Sharon, who looked down bashfully. Once the fawning of the villagers subsided, Gerrik continued. "It is for that reason that, while I have been a nomad for many years, I will now call Tallgrass home."

This elicited a cheer from the villagers. Then food was served, with meat cut from the spit roast, imported wine poured into wooden cups, and other delicious meals prepared by the village. The feast began, and the festivities continued.



It was calm in the forest. The moons were still shining against the star-covered sky, and there was the sound of a gentle breeze rustling through the canopy. Along a familiar path walked Sharon, who seemed to be looking for someone.

"Up here," called a gentle voice. Sharon's heart skipped a beat as she looked up and saw Gerrik sitting on a branch up in a tree. He held a palm up, then gestured for Sharon to climb. She did so, and while she wasn't as acrobatic as Gerrik, he had taken care to select a tree which would be easy for Sharon to climb. Soon Sharon had made it up to the branch Gerrik was sitting and took a seat next to him. Once steady, Sharon put her fingers in Gerrik's mouth and Gerrik put his fingers in Sharon's mouth- a hain kiss.

Eventually Gerrik took his hand back, wrapped it around Sharon's waist and pulled her close, supporting her on the tree branch. Side by side, they were able to look closely into each other's eyes.

"You're looking lovely tonight," Gerrik cooed.

"You're looking pretty good too. You must have washed up for a special occasion," Sharon teased.

Gerrik suppressed a chuckle and rubbed Sharon's side. "The stars are lovely tonight too."

Sharon tilted her head to look up at the sky. Gerrik had also chosen this spot to have a good view of the stars. They sat snuggled together observing the heavens above in all their splendour. The Galbarian night sky, with its multiple moons and the prismatic rings, was particularly beautiful. If one looked closely at the right part of the sky, they would notice the burgundy wanderer Ilunabaras. There was a momentary short streak of light in one part of the sky, a shooting star, and Sharon let out a soft gasp of fear and cuddled closer to Gerrik.

Gerrik held Sharon comfortingly. Few people on Galbar had been able to see shooting stars the same since the night the star-fiends attacked. Gerrik decided to speak. "Did you know falling stars aren't actually stars? Not even normal falling stars," he added.

Sharon cocked her head. "They aren't?"

"No. If you watch carefully, you'll notice that they don't start at a star. They appear from nowhere, or so it seems."

"Then what are they?"

"I don't know. Maybe they're something falling from the heavens. Maybe they're some effect with the starlight. Maybe they can be either."

"A Chipper once came to Tallgrass and mentioned that the stars were like a sheet wrapped around the world, and that the moons floated between the sheet and the world. Is that true?"

Gerrik cocked his head noncommittally. "I remember when I came up with that idea. Perhaps I was a bit brash then, for really I don't have enough information to make such a statement with any degree of certainty. Other possible scenarios include the stars being tiny, separate objects, or perhaps very distant large objects; the moons could be either disks or balls, or perhaps they are embedded in the firmament and swim around with the stars; or maybe our world is but a single object in a great cosmic dance and it is only our limited perspective that makes it seem like the centre of everything.

"There are a few things I am sure of, though. In the heavens we have objects moving differently. The moons move independently of the stars, and then wandering stars like Ilunabaras or temporary objects like falling stars move in their own manners. Most of the stars don't seem to move at all. It is likely, although not certain, that these different objects exist in different layers of the heavens. The other thing I am sure of is that our world is round, like a ball."

Sharon peered at Gerrik quizzically. "Really? How do things not fall off?"

Gerrik stroked Sharon's shoulder and gazed fondly at the moons above. "Stone Chipper and I figured it out while travelling. If you're ever somewhere flat, you will notice that at the horizon objects appear to drop away, as if going over a hill. This effect is particularly obvious at the ocean, which is quite flat. This led to the conclusion that the world must be round. As for how things don't fall off, it must be that 'down' is always towards the middle of the ball, which would make everywhere feel flat."

Sharon snuggled closer to Gerrik and rubbed her head against his. "I've heard of the ocean, but never been there. What's it like?"

Gerrik ran a hand over Sharon's chin and mouth. "You've seen a lake, right? Now picture a lake so big that you can't see the other side. The water stretches as far as the eye can see with a beautiful blue that reflects the sky. Around the edge of the ocean you often have sand. The sand is gritty yet soft underfoot. And the water pulses back and forth, surging up the sand, then receding back, as though the sea itself were breathing. Perhaps someday I'll take you to visit the ocean, so you can see it with your own eyes."

"That would be nice," Sharon purred. She took Gerrik's hand and gently nibbled his fingers. They sat there for a few minutes simply staring into each other's eyes until Sharon spoke again. "You've spent a lot of time travelling. You've seen so much of the world. And most of that time you spent with Stone Chipper. And yet, one day, he left. How did you cope?"

Gerrik's head bowed down and his eyes closed. "Stone Chipper. I left everything to follow him. When he came to my original tribe, I realised that the world was so much bigger and grander than what I could possibly see staying at home. And Chipper was famous and healthy and intelligent, and I was still young and I wanted to be like that, so I went with him. He took me under his care, and my expectations were fulfilled. I got to see so much of the world, although I know that I've only seen a fraction of all there is. He taught me what he knew, and was the best mentor I could possibly ask for. But it could not stay that way forever, for he was training me as an apprentice. This meant that one day I had to go off and do his work myself. By the time that day came, he had already trained me to be independent, so I was prepared. He gifted me with my bow and shield, which aside from being useful tools are reminders of him, and blessed me with power, vitality and intellect to carry on this work. He still keeps in contact, and helps me when I need it.

"Although, it's sometimes hard being alone. I had all the skills and capabilities to survive on my own, but that didn't make it any less lonely. Hain aren't meant to be alone. It wasn't too bad, though. I travelled from village to village, so I was rarely alone for too long, but with Chipper gone I didn't have anyone with whom I had a really personal connection, and that was tough."

Gerrik inhaled sharply and his eyes grew damp before he continued. "I've told you about the Battle of the Tempest. I had never seen so much death and violence in one place, and I saw every detail of it. Every single..." Gerrik screwed his eyes shut. "It was horrifying. For days it haunted my every waking thought. I left Hillfort as soon as I could to leave the memories behind. With no-one to speak to, all I could do to stop myself from thinking about it was to keep busy, and while travelling all I could to do keep busy was run. So I ran. I ran, jumping over logs, skipping across rocks, swinging under tree branches, anything to keep myself occupied, to make myself so exhausted I wouldn't think. The images faded over time, but I never forget. The nightmares still trouble me occasionally.

"And I've told you about Fibeslay, and the star-fiend I fought there. It was not the battle that shook me, but what came afterwards. The Chippers of the village blamed me for the catastrophe. They blamed me, who saved them from the star-fiend!" Gerrik gritted his teeth and clenched his fist. "And they said Stone Chipper sent the star-fiend as punishment. They had the audacity to think they knew Stone Chipper better than I did! They clung to their false beliefs and banished me from Fibeslay. They rejected me, and it hurt. I had been rejected by other people before, but never by Chippers, never by those who were meant to be my own people. Not that they deserve to be called Chippers, but..." Gerrik's head sagged. "It's tough with no one to support you."

Sharon wiped a tear from Gerrik's eye, then embraced Gerrik and hung her beak over his shoulder. "You're not alone any more. I'm here. You can tell me these things. You don't have to hold them inside. I'm here for you."

"Thank you," Gerrik said gently. He brought Sharon's hand into his mouth and bit softly. He held it there for a few moments before letting go.

"I have a secret I should tell you," Gerrik said. Sharon's eyes, right in front of his own, told him to continue. "When Stone Chipper left and gave me the various blessings, he gave me a special power. I can see everything."

Sharon jerked back in surprise. "Everything?"

"Everything within ten-score paces. Every single detail. Plus the ability to remember it all. It's how I can find buried food so easily. How I know which branches to climb on without checking them. Why I'm always aware of what's going on in the village. Why the Battle of the Tempest was so traumatic for me. How I know so much about plants."

"How you're always able to notice when I miss a weave, even when you're not looking."

"Exactly. It is a very powerful gift, although you can guess why I keep it secret."

Sharon looked down bashfully. "You see everything?"

Gerrik nodded. "There's one thing in particular I can see..." Gerrik leaned in and whispered something into Sharon's ear. Sharon's mouth gaped open.

"You mean we can-? and I won't-?" On receiving a nod from Gerrik, a cheeky glint appeared in Sharon's eyes. "Oh come here." Sharon took Gerrik's hand in her mouth and pulled her body close to Gerrik.



The village of Tallgrass was packing up their tents. With the changing season, the abundance of scavengable food would drop, so the village needed to move to their winter territory. For this reason everyone was packing up their tents and belongings to carry on their migration.

Everyone, that was, except Gerrik.

With the blight finally quashed, Gerrik's farm was growing nicely. Gerrik expected a preliminary harvest soon. However, it needed supervision and constant tending, especially if he wanted it to be large enough to support multiple people throughout the year.

Sharon, Arlen and Tami came to Gerrik to say their farewells.

"You sure you want to stay?" Sharon asked.

It was a tough question, but one Gerrik had answered before. "Yes. I need to if I want to make this farm work."

"Five-score days is a long time to be alone."

"I know. But the result will be worth it. If this works, you won't have to migrate ever again." Gerrik took Sharon's hand and kissed it lightly. "Besides, I have your return in the spring to look forwards to."

Arlen stepped up and patted Gerrik on the shoulder. "I know you're more than capable of looking after yourself. We'll see you when we return."

Sharon, Arlen and Tami all gave Gerrik one last hug before picking up their belongings and joining the rest of Tallgrass migrating away. Gerrik watched them leave. Once they were out of sight, Gerrik went back to digging in his farm. If Gerrik was going to be alone, he had better keep himself busy.

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

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A new day dawned upon the Fractal Sea.

Dolphins sprang from the water in glittery kicks. Algae waved and wandered on currents never mapped. Somewhere beyond, an albatross circumnavigated the globe.

And the following words echoed from the depths: Though Gallows Fall, and Love may know yet Strife, still a Rope of Thorns Ungardened locks us to that Romance of the Young, and a Noose that Tightens only strangles Roses of the Future.

...

Like a seedling chasing sun, Jvan began to slough her shell.

Charcoal ruins cracked from within, casting black ichor into already-lightless water- Dark clouds that crept back into the labyrinth whose breaking brought them forth. One wall at a time, the cathedral quavered and fell, and unseen currents pulled it inwards.

Carmine light ignited in the darkness.

Great spires long burnt were pushed outwards to sink in the ocean. They fell like dark pieces of sky, a motion that defied their awesome scale, morbid memorials long-standing now torn down for resurrection.

Reality fizzed and began to condense.

Water swept into the core in hurricane currents. Beneath the carbon, grey distortion bubbled, spread like oil on water, sank back and arose again and again.

The grey became iron and the iron pooled and dissolved over the surface of All-Beauty, forming plates forming walls forming volcanic forms that collided and hardened, organic and inorganic, spreading layer over layer until they split at the center and the void yawned within.



And sprawling in the darkness, Jvan took her last breath, and burst into the light.

The ocean swelled as twisting metal tore it apart.

Unending plains and walls of iron rose fell warped and plunged back into the water only to rise again streaming with white, steaming and screaming with fatigue as it split open to reveal the heaving flesh beneath. From the gates into infinity reached great hands, hands like trees rooted in shadow, hands that dwarved mountains with too many wrists and too many fingers, and grappled the fizzing plates.

Jvan gripped herself and tore. Ferrous bone ripped into endless, jagged blades. The hands bled into the fog.

And growing still, the ball of void and shrapnel teeth began to laugh.

* * *


In the place that some call Hades and others the Abyss, where the depths of the earth and the depths of the sea are one and the same, where carbon pyramids fell from above to pile up in great heaps on the pitted sea below, a new life began to stir.

It was life born of hatred, life born of pain. It was life barely living, and life full of rage.

It was a being with breath and thought, and that thought was, 'B̸̨̡U͜R̀N͠ ́̕TH͢E̕͘ ̕B̵̨RI͢͢D͞G͠͏É̵͘'.

The great worm uncoiled, and stretched from the tearing iron that had been its silent home, emerging from a cavity long since dormant. It grew as it moved, and in the folds of its body five slits emerged, and they opened wide, became eyes.

And the rippled face of the being split open, and was filled with teeth.

The worm began to move.

B͘͝͡UR̡͡N̴̨ ̢T̷̶H́E̢͠ ̶̴BR̴̀I̛͝͞DG͘͢E̕̕.

Whole reefs crumbled beneath its weight, and great floods burst at its sides. The wrinkles on its surface split further, deeper, and branched tentacles ripped from its body.

It travelled east.

A cliff stood before the being, and a cliff was surmounted. The sun scorched its back, for so huge it had grown that only the abyss could support it. It crawled towards the land. Its head began to bifurcate.

And before it stood a wall.

B̷͢U̷͏͝Ŗ̷̕͡N͟҉̡͠ ̡͝͠T̶̀͡͏͞Ḩ̸͠Ę̀͟͠͏ ̢͟B̶͘͏̕R̨̢I͝͠D̡҉҉̴̛G̸̨E̕҉͞

The great worm started to accelerate, for that was what it was made to do.

Stone rose above and beyond it, stretching towards either side for ever and ever.

B҉͘͝U̴̡҉̧Ŗ͘͠͞N̵̛͘͜

Unstoppable force met immovable object.

T̸̨͠H̡͜E̴̡

The being collided with the wall with a shudder that rocked the globe.

҉̸̸͏B̶̸҉̧R҉̶͘͠I҉̵̢͘͜D̛̀͢͞G̡͠҉͟͝E̴̡̢͘͝

From end to end, the land bridge stretching between the Firewind and the southern ice began to crumble. The worm chewed and thrashed and roiled, and did not cease falling to pieces, but split again and again into halves and quarters, worms upon worms that latched on to the great stone wall, and crushed it with their teeth. By the time the moons were full, there was nothing but dust.

Dust, and the mountainous shells of worms, rising like islands across an ocean once halved.

* * *


Jvan laughed, and the void laughed with her.

Where Diaphanes flew and Realta bobbed upon a glittering river, the great island of Ovaedis once more began to swivel. Splashes of colourful stone swept up over its side as its gate spun outwards, into deep space.

The portal opened, and into the darkness spat.

Noiselessness once more. Nothing but a carmine streak, blurring into the night.

Yet through the emptiness, cackles carried still.

* * *


As Jvan grew, her hands stretched not just into the sky and flesh, but speared into the earth.

Like roots they grasped, and pulled into the fiery soil. The stone gave way like softened glass, warm and supple. Cthonic spirits swarmed around the disruption and were powerless.

Jvan pawed at the mantle, sensing the way it moved.

Was she not vast? Could she not map this darkness by its echoes? Was there not here a heated shadow, a quiet core that had long years spun and spun, winding up like a toy?

The hands of God laid claim to what was theirs. They shivered, and like light, their sound did pulse through depths unknown.

Unfelt and unheard, the void below shuddered like the void above. Jvan's body moved like a heart, singing a tuneless beat, one that ricocheted through earth and fire and iron and earth again.

With each beat the echoes grew stronger, collided and bent around bubbles of nickel, exploring Galbar. Jvan's weight collided again and again with the stone on which she sat, her mass a stick upon a drum, until the planet was moving to her rhythm.

And the music climaxed, as she knew it would, and kinetic energy focused, as she knew it would, like sunlight through a lens- On a named and numbered mountain, where pressure had been building since the beginning of time.

On a plateau of wind-carved rock, Bormahven began to shake.

* * *


As calculations rang true and mass showed its worth, the manufactory gazed once more upon the blue of the planet below.

Where a great white fog had risen to hide the body of All-Beauty, swept up by heat and motion, a second cloud was rising over the Ironhearts. It was grey and brown, a streak of taupe that carried with the wind and swept far over the ocean, and where the sound in the fog was rending metal, here there were only rumbles and cracks.

Djinni rose and roiled in the ash. Fire swarmed out, its kingdom wrecked; Air came to meet it, fearing invasion; Earth raised its hands, warning chaos; and Water swore vengeance for the pollution of its realm.

And in a shining Heaven, the change-eaters massed like sharks. It was time.

The great grub descended, its blasphemy complete, and spilled forth colour from its womb.

Unnatural light spilled into the ash. Gaudy and twisted, its tongues scorched the world, desiccating the planet they had been promised.

A thousand predators made ten thousand shapes, and the Sorority laid claim to its own.

Its voice was sweetest laughter.

* * *


Ovaedis watched with its million eyes. All of Lex watched with it. The world reposed in a net of marbled spheres, motionless above the planet they had been set to watch.

The array seemed to blink.

A moment of true vision was taken and locked. The core of the satellite kicked once more, its umbilicus whipping in the factory as the fetal mechanism stared into the worlds beyond.

A slick of glass spilled over the planet and rained in unbroken streams.

Unseen needles were flying from the maw of the Cancer's Womb, long enough almost to stretch between Lex and the world itself. They liquified in the upper atmosphere, forming pools as if to imitate the oceans below, or even the clouds between. And as the seas and mountains bent in their grip, like shapes seen through a twisted lens, they brought forth a monsoon.

The torrent struck deep into the ashen cloud. Droplets collided and began to coalesce in the sun-halting grey, as if to form a storm of their own within the volcanic haze. Obscured by the heat and dust, the twisted rain began to form into sheets, bending into whirlpools.

Matter warped in their grip, and was siphoned away into stony beams. Vaporised stone collected on the winds of distortion and was reassembled under its own speed and weight. Dust called to dust.

One particle at a time, the twisters began to build.

* * *


The cackling carmine streak flew on. At its back gazed the night, and at its face shone the sun.

It was headed for a certain star.

The morning star, so it was called- Revered by some traditions as the Sun's lost twin, or the spirit of a king.

It was a planet, and it was growing closer.

Night sky turned to red. Collision was mere moments away. The voidborne blur began to smile.

" B A H A H A H A H A ! "

Impact.

The creature smacked into its prey with lethal force. Flames engulfed the atmosphere, leaving a fiery wound where it had entered, and fragments flew to orbit and strike down once again.

Isonymph did not slow. Once past the solid crust it slipped deep into the core, settling like a seed at the heart of the planet.

The Cancer bloomed.

From within, a dozen tendrils spun out into the magma, branching into roots and threads. One by one they reached the burning surface, and sprouted into stems.

Like ferns they rose, but dark and venous, swaying purple arms from a slick, sprawling base. Each root became a forest, and in the heights of each forest the fingertips opened, and steamed into the fire.

Eggs were pushed through the pores. The ground became saturated with foaming, living bubbles. All was snatched away on the wind.

Make It More! Make It Faster!

The tendrils bulged and burst with the weight of the life being forced through them, and the seed at the centre thrust more and more into the clouds...

Until there was a change.

The seeds hatched in swarms and hordes. Great chimneys of steam encrusted the volcanoes, their graphite skin glittering in the glow of phosphor and burning sulphur. Strange acids fizzed through their veins.

From the peak of the mighty tunnels strode creatures like castles, with porcelain bodies that shone in the green-and-blue riverlight, and they feared not the wind, nor the sour rains. They strode to the basins, where valleys had filled up with tar and with pitch, and drank deeply...

And sailors ballooned from the sky, where hot air was cheap and the gale was strong, where the lightning flashed with nourishment. They settled with bodies of sulphur and beryl, and regrew their synthetic wings.

The isonymph laughed, and cut off its own limbs. It burst through the surface as the first forests fell, and leapt to the stars once more.

* * *


The air screamed with winds grinding against one another.

Rocks tore through the sky. In total darkness, the ash fused and shattered, becoming shapes unseen anywhere on land, let alone so high above the waters.

Something flew through the towers of smoke.

Ducking between falling ghost-shapes of basalt, over and around the space-tearing needle rain, between the great anvils of airborne stone, it settled in the corner that had been made for it.

"With the scales and sword of Amul'sharar as my witness and yours, swear this: That you shall accept this gift that I grant you, and while it stands never work mischief against me, or against mine."

"Agreed," said Phi without listening, and reclined on her shadowed throne.

The ash began to fall.

Somewhere over the Metatic Ocean, a grand shape was cast down from the cloud, billowing with smoke. It hit the sea with a momentous splash and sent white pillars into the air.

When the sky cleared up months later, it rose again.

...

See you not the power of your souls, that even gods should grant concession?

See you not the truth of my words?

I shall find you in your shelters. I shall find you in the caves.

I shall find you in the dark places it was foretold you would go, and together we shall rise into Metera, the city of the sky.


* * *


A carmine blur swept deeper into the night, thinking: Do We Desire What We Love ?

Impact.

White plumes of shattered ice and vapour shot vertically into the sky. Too weak to recall its lost mass, the moon soon gained a ring that drew lines across the sight of its mother.

Isonymph splattered in its own crater.

The force of impact had smashed it into a pale green fluid that now rode the wave of its own collision. Chunks of frost tumbled in the spreading cloud, a ring of steam that grew only denser as it moved. Denser, thicker. More vivid.

Chartreuse threads leapt and coiled between the scattered icebergs. They bit, they clung, they chased the wind. The Isonymph swept across the planet in a pulse, from one pole to the other.

Tundras watched the wall of fog approach, give way to acid green, then empty into life.

Sporewalkers chased the midday sun, the length of their stride more than enough to match the planet's spin. Between their gargantuan shadows grew razored hollow cages, spheres of wax and water with nuclear light at their core, studded into the ground like fallen stars.

The spindly giants strode on, and others followed in the shade of their disc-like skulls. Pale orbs grew glassy, revealing the fetal eyes within, and began to spin, thousands of wheels and gyros chasing the next geyser to erupt.

Vivid red plumes of ammonia and methane shot into the atmosphere, sending clouds of microbia into low orbit. They clustered, they drank the sun, and in great billowing sheets like silken tents, collapsed once more to the ice. There the frozen ground grew arms, and shining xenon blood pulsed through the veins of those who came to scavenge.

Isonymph reformed at the opposite end of the planet, the ring of life closing up in a puff of steam. Pale green bubbled away into carmine, and the Avatar leapt off into the sky once more.

It saluted the bright star Ilunabar on its way to Galbar.

* * *


Under a veil of white cloud lay a god born anew.

All was mist and steam. Wisps rose from bubbling waters and danced around colourless shapes. A great ghost rested in the waters, barely a silhouette in the sunlit fog.

The Cancer breathed, and the veil was blown away. Noonday rays glanced upon the simmering body, and the clouds fled outwards, collapsing into a ring of grey. All was still but for the patter of gentle rain.

A million layers of torn iron lay upon a twisted body, a shell of metal bone ripped apart and healed again. Her canyons were like demon maws. Her mountains were like barbs.

Between the shining grey, dominating the chaos all around, great portals yawned into eternal darkness. They were no more than holes, great circular pores edged with knives, filled with a bottomless nothing. What Logos had destroyed lay fallow- A deep layer of negative growth ripped into All-Beauty, empty space without a pattern.

Jvan sighed. Reality fizzed.

"Hear Ringing from the Strangled Mines, and Chimes; look beyond and Fall, still Striking, into Treasures of the Chasmal Bells."

The shadows blinked into light.

A million scenes flickered over the void in the space of a second, and









Things not seen before or since passed through the dark in the blink of an eye. Worlds confined to the deepest depths of All-Beauty now played just under its surface. The endless plunge at the core of Jvan had been dredged, just a little, enough that something strange should drift through the voids and perhaps show its flowers where their bubbles touched the sun.

The flickered worlds faded to static, then came to a halt, showing a place, perhaps, where



One by one the other great open portals of Jvan filled in with worlds. Their sea level matched hers. The gravity interlocked. With nothing more than a few crackles of distortion, the Jvanic Heartlands showed their face on Galbar.

This is what they came to destroy, thought Jvan.

The worlds blinked out, leaving only an echo in an empty shell.

So let them come.

Jvan tuned into the worlds once more, knowing that the infinite pit was still warping, still morphing, deep enough to absorb a universe and then some.

A carmine mist seeped through the iron and crackled over the sea.

"...It's good to be back," said the Horrorsome Engineer.

* * *


Isonymph swung itself around the moons like monkey bars, leaping from one to the other with orbits and half-orbits. It moved so fast that its body would have cracked like a whip if it could.

At long last, the avatar's sprint came to an end. It circled the ring of Lex and slid to a halt where it started, just above the towering megastructure that was Ovaedis. There the carmine creature rested.

It was shaped like a bulbous fungus, a many-faced head above a bell stalked with spindly limbs, but its shape was changing rapidly. Its texture was bizarre, like origami, or perhaps the knitted roots of a thicket. It had no true surface- Only fins and ribbons of living tissue, layer upon layer. Somehow, as it breathed, it didn't move; it furled.

The creature unfolded, and unfolded, and unfolded some more, without pausing or even really losing its form, whatever that happened to be. The more it opened, the more there were layered gills and tendrils to be opened, and what was new rapidly disappeared under a layer that had once been below it. Its size and silhouette were gradually replaced as if through a magician's trick- Everything hidden had been there all along, neat and perfect, waiting to come out.

Eventually the Isonymph settled on a shape, perhaps half again the height of a man, and covered itself with folds of translucent skin. It resembled... A flower with legs, maybe, or a human with a blossoming skull, or a virus of some kind.

It had a stem, or a torso. It was stretched at the waist and had neither leaves nor arms. At its lower end were jointed roots that branched at the tip, about eight or nine of them, each with two segments almost as long as its thorax was tall. Though its skin was pale, the life below was black and red, and threaded with purple.

For a head, it had only an eyeless, sightless bloom of tissue, opening and closing, petals shuffling in and out of its bottomless fractal throat.

A change-eater drifted up with a curious glow. Isonymph inclined its head.

"You're strange," she opened.

"Heh Heh Heh," said the Flesh Lily.

The sister spun easy loops around her find. "Where did you come from?"

"Places. Nowhere. Dreams."

"Like... the ocean?"

"More Like The Void."

"Oh," said the Diaphane. "All my dreams are in the ocean."

"There Are Other Seas," said the isonymph.

The shapeshifter gasped- "Where?" -then started forming teeth. "Tell me!"

"Heh Heh Heh."

"Don't tease me! I'll bite you," warned the sister, who was now mostly jaws.

"Come Back And I Might Show You," said Isonymph.

"Alright," said the change-eater, with her curious blend of innocence and brutality. "But I'm bringing friends."

"Do," said Isonymph, drifting back over the satellite. Gazing at the stars.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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Yorum 3 (Epilogue)


The villa burned. Hain screamed as the berserk hain Gaash and his fraternity of monstrous brothers raged and rampaged. Everyone they saw had their skull shells cracked by mace and stony fist. Blood, pain, and death soaked the world, covering the worse depravities.

Goading them from the centre was a hain looking cooly on beside them. They didn't care that he looked nothing like any sculptor they had seen. Gaash barely had the sense left to question his survival of the Blinding Purge those years ago. But that hain had helped him with magical fruits and insidious advice.


That demonic hain was the one who pointed with a dripping claw at where the most pain could be inflicted. He advised how the mind could be destroyed. The most succulent revenge was directed by his expertise.

Although, he never raised his palms. He never lifted his beak. He was not angry or laughing with glee. He looked at the hung corpses and the running organs like a banal routine.

The grey stones of the villa were dipped in red by the time they found Reesa herself.

The demon looked on. Gaash breathed rage through his teeth.

Reesa was in a spattered green dress. Her beautiful smooth shell was blemished by the tear-rimmed red of her eyes. She hung her mouth open, breathing only as shallowly as she could as Gaash's brothers raged with maces at the others still halfway between life and death.

"Reesa," Gaash whined. There might have been regret. Or just desperation. "I have wanted nothing more than to be with you. I will do anything for you. See how much I have done for you already, to be with you."

Reesa's teeth chattered. A tremoring hand lifted to her beak. She barely whispered. "You killed them."

"Now they will not come between us," Gaash said, lifting his free palm up. "Now you can be honest, instead of having them speak for you. I noticed how you looked at me at the last harvest festival. I know your feelings to be true."

Gaash stepped forward and extended a hand. Reesa stepped back.

"No, Gaash!" Reesa shrieked. "I liked you." She wheezed a breath in. "I thought it was unfair that my family didn't let me see you! But now I see why..."

Gaash slowly closed his extended palm.

She scrunched her eyes and screamed out in as much pain as her expired clan. "You are a monster!" She screamed out the last word until she had no more breath in her lungs. "You KILLED THEM ALL!"

Gaash looked to the demon hain. The demon hain looked back. He made a small, almost meaningless gesture.

Reesa dropped to her knees and sobbed. Her loud crying echoed with the other tortures. "YOU KILLED THEM ALL!"

Gaash saw the demon hain's gesture and remembered what he had said. He looked to Reesa, bawling in the puddle of her family's blood. He stepped up to her, dropping his mace with a red splash. He grabbed her roughly by her arms.

She was lying, like her meddling family.

The following hour was enough to break the minds of those with a scrap of emotion. Reesa was violated to a similar state as her sisters, before being ground by Gaash's passionate fists until her beauty was destroyed and subsumed by the red of her insides.

The demon felt a small twinge. He watched on. His red eyes turned in disappointment.

Naturally, Gaash blamed the demon. That announced the final chapter as all turned on him.

The looks in the brothers' eyes only gave the demon a dull twinge, too, when they realised their mistake. The demon took them all. He subjected Gaash and his brothers to all the tortures they had inflicted. Their pain and suffering may have been worse, seeing as they were taught all the things they were now being subjected to. They expired with as much fear as their victims.

The demon sighed. He walked out of the burning villa dripping blood.

A trail of red dapples trailed to the tree on the hill. Here, some careful words to a frustrated man sparked the entire story.

The story which was now complete.



The demon sat. He wrapped his cloak around his grotesque form and settled in for his least favourite part of the story; the epilogue.

There were no characters left but him. All the excitement was over. He sat and didn't breathe much.

Nor moved. In the past, he would weep that the fun was finished. Nowadays he just sat and stared at the orange glowing on the plume of smoke he left behind.

He stared. He waited for the emotions that would not come. His mind seemed a black void now. Silent. Idle. He was not tired. He didn't feel like moving.

So this is how long it takes.

Ruminating thoughts didn't usually come up in the epilogue. This might be new and exciting.

How long it takes for what?

It was better than the idle abyss.

To get bored.

I think not. I shall just try something more.

More wanton pain and suffering.

More temptation.

Greater tests.

There is much work to be done with the Adversary so silent.

What, is this about duty now?

No, pleasure. As always. Appreciation for being alive.

There was a chortle. What pleasure, you pitiful creature?

The demon hain jolted up to his feet at the base of the tree.

Master?

No, it couldn't have been. It was too crisp. Too cutting.

Not quite him, blossom. But! Blessed you are to target this place. Your presence in this part of the world is more an opportunity than a nuisance, as it happens, Cherry Eater. Welcome to South Yorum.

"Who are you?" Ch'eater asked to cover his shock with curiosity. "And how do you know my name?"

I am the only friend you have left, darling. Friends know each other's names. I might not be as old as you, but I have known you for long enough to be a friend. Call me 'Friend' for now.

Ch'eater liked to think he knew of the gods of Galbar. This did not sound like any of them in tone or wording. He splayed his claws in and out, ready to pounce at the patronising being.

So, do not be rude, my dear. You did not answer my question, did you?

"I'm more curious as to why you want to know it. What drew you here?"

A high, shrill cackle echoed in Ch'eater's skull. He clutched his horns in a pain he had not experienced since his adoption by the Adversary. The pain faded when the voice of 'Friend' continued.

Always the twister of minds. Allow me to speculate your answer, then? Is it that you do not wish to answer me for fear of the answer itself?

No amount of concentration could expel or control this 'Friend.' He tried a different approach. "I did not know that I had such a fanatic. I am flattered."

Oh, you are too kind, honeycomb! Another question, then. Did you enjoy tonight?

Now Ch'eater paused. He blinked slowly. "I did. But I am more interested in-"

Is that the truth? You seemed so distant. So...disappointed. And it was quite the bloodbath. Quite the...punishment. Mmm, very creative, what you did.

'Friend' was deflecting him handily. "I would think you already know that. You know so much about me already."

Hmhm. Well, doesn't that have implications, hmm?

"I am afraid I do not follow your point. Share yourself, so we can be equals."

You do not follow? Oh, it is nothing much, do not worry yourself, 'Friend' said sarcastically. It sighed into its next words. I just wonder sometimes. I wonder the reasons that you continue.

"It is a concept that can only be experienced to be known. I do what I do for the Adversary. I am his Sinon-"

The voice snorted.

"...I am the Horned Hain. Mammon is my patron."

I hate to test you further, little gum nut, but your Mammon has not even defended his own holdings. His submaterium is infested with Jvanic entities and nought but the odd demon has been seen to mark his presence for ages now.

Ch'eater held his breath.

'Friend' sounded like it was speaking through a pout. Mnaw, my adorable manipulator, sorry. I know he has not spoken to you in some time. How long has it been? How many years?

"I..." Ch'eater closed his eyes. "I lost count. I need you to help me-"

The cackle resumed even louder than before. Ch'eater grunted as its reverberation wracked his mind.

You do not care about Mammon, do you? You hate him! You always resented him. The last throes of 'Friend's' laughter bubbled up. Admit it, you silly little sadist.

"Please!" He said with red eyes quivering. "Stop...Laughing. You're hurting me."

I shall try my best, but you are just too amusing, hmhmhmm. 'Friend' breathed in deeply through an unseen nose. So...I suppose your purpose is coming to an end, isn't it?

"...What?"

'Friend' spoke as a matter of fact. Well, you have no duty, no legacy, no family, no base instincts to pander to, and not to mention little left in the way of fulfilment. A few more years of depravity and drama and you're as good as an ashling -- a mindless husk blindly thrashing about the earth.

Ch'eater clenched his jaw.

That's right. Only the void will be left.

He would not be scared. He could not allow himself to be defeated.

And the only way to escape that fate, well...the wraithstone has been waiting for you for some time now.

No answer.

You have no escape, it seems. No hain left in you to trade away for another chance. You have nothing left to give.

The void gaped wider in Ch'eater's mind.

'Friend' teasingly sped up. One more question, my cute little chestnut. This one is easy -- you've answered it before. What would you give to stay alive?

Ch'eater clenched his entire body in determination. He spoke with a flat honesty so disused it felt foreign. "Anything. Make the void go away. Just let me live."

He felt a broad smile from the unseen 'Friend.' A dreadful smile. But you have nothing left to give.

"Then why do you even ask?" He responded in a low, seething voice.

Because I do not want you to give, my sweet. I want you to take.

"Anything."

Can you take an Oath?

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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Vec
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Vec Liquid Intelligence

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Burned by Midnight

Having finally obtained the information she wanted, Luna left the village and that annoying djinn behind. The sun had yet to set at the time and thus, she reckoned she would be able to cover a fair amount of the distance to her destination. However, after walking through the desert for some time, Luna realised that her previous thinking was way off. The sun was already setting and she had yet to find any new traces of another village, much less a city.

“Whoa, time flew by so fast…” Luna though. “Of course, that's nothing really. Galbar has a much milder climate when compared to Cygnea, and plus, there's this as well...

Luna concentrated her thoughts, and her spiritual essence, the divine gift that Ull’Yang had awakened inside of her formed a stream, at first, a stream that slowly widened and grew more forceful with time. As her essence flowed through her veins she felt as if she was a small mountain with a surging river passing through it. Much like how a real river carries water and deposits nutrients to the earth over its entirety and up until it finally meets the ocean, spiritual essence courses through the veins, nourishing the body and the mind, strengthening and protecting the user.

The moment a cycle was completed Luna could instantly feel the effects, as a faint light shone over her fur, shielding her from the cold. She set off once again into the night, travelling down the length of the Mahd, a name she got to know very recently, from the memories of the village shaman she'd come in contact with earlier.

Like that, running through the desert became a breeze. Of course, constantly drawing on her spiritual reserves would eventually wear out even her, and so she took the occasional break here and there to rest and re-energize. It helped that she had a source of fresh water literally next to her as well.

— — — — —


Luna had been travelling for a couple of days when she noticed a change in the stars. Galbar was quite peculiar, in that it was not contained inside a small plane of existence, or so Ull'Yang had said. No, Galbar was but one speck, one particle of dust before the grand Universe that contains everything and all that is, the Universe he and his brethren gave birth to.

She also knew about Ull'Yang's godly domain, the stars. She could not, of course, understand and delve deeper into the profound nature of the divine, she was but a blessed being in the end. Nevertheless, what she did know for a fact was that the stars never behaved in the manner she was witnessing at that moment.

"Those are not simple falling stars..." Luna muttered as she stood up. Above her, countless stars were streaking across the night sky. Fiery tails of myriad colourings formed behind them, the friction from their descend onto Galbar manifesting unique phenomena.

Wherever the wolf's eyes darted to, Luna spotted a falling star. After a minute or so the tremors started coming in, confirming her suspicions. Quick on her feet, Luna grabbed the Sunderer from where she had planted it in the sand and made a beeline towards the direction of the desert empire.

Or so she would. Luna's ears perked up, and when she turned her head around, she was greeted by one big flaming ball of plasma heading right at her direction, seemingly having deliberately strayed from its previous path.

Luna had but a few seconds of precious time available to her to dodge. She circulated her essence, gathering it on her palms, and with a shout infused it all into the Sunderer while pointing towards the ground. From the end of the divine rod, a blinding beam shot out, the force of the propulsion launched her high up and in an angle away from the epicentre of the explosion that followed the landing of the ball of fire, with the shockwave generated by it carrying her even further beyond.

Luna landed several hundred meters away from ground zero with a solid thud. She tried to stand up but soon realized that would not be possible, for the sheer impact of the fall, along with the crushing force of the shockwave had resulted in her having most of the bones on her skeleton broken, rendering her immobile and in excruciating pain.

However, as if that wasn't enough, Luna found herself unable to call upon her essence to heal her wounds. No matter how divinely blessed her natural regeneration was, it was simply unable to heal her broken body without the support of her spiritual essence.

Unable to heal herself, unable to fight, unable to do anything but lay inside the pit her body formed when she landed on the sand, Luna found herself utterly vulnerable for the second time since her coming to Galbar. The first time had been when she was caged inside her own mind while Ommok seized control of her body, and now this.

She knew her injuries were fatal, a mortal being would have been disintegrated even before the plasma ball had landed, much less survive the shockwave following its landing like she had, even with her being so close to death because of it.

Thoughts of Ull'Yang immediately sprang up in her mind as she realized that might be it for her; that she was probably never going to see him again....

Her body unable to properly sustain brain function, Luna started slipping in and out of consciousness. It was at that time that she heard it. It was walking towards her, and probably had been for some time, but was reaching her location just now.

Luna could feel the sheer heat it radiated. Unlike the kind of warmth she felt when standing close to Ull'Yang, this type of warmth seemed... alien, and distant. And that was when it appeared.

Thick carapace shielding a fiery interior, graceful in appearance but menacing in her eyes, the Invader peered at the wolf-girl from above, slightly tilting its head to the right. After what seemed like an eternity to Luna, it raised its hand, its finger pointing right at her forehead. Its finger started getting hotter and hotter, the being clearly charging up for the finishing blow.

Then there was light. And warmth. Familiar, but foreign. Old, but new.

Yet it was still oh so warm.

And then there was darkness.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Rtron
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Vestec was travelling through the Changing plains, heading to Hemrick to deliver the good news about his empire, idly singing to himself. “Hemrick, I’m coming! Hemrick, I’m arriving! Hemrick I’ll be there sooooon. To help you with, your empire of dooom!” Suddenly, he screeched to a stop freezing in mid air. “What the…” He raced to the surface of the plains, landing softly in front of a pile of twisted stone and metal.

The God of Chaos stood in silence, staring at the remains. “You stupid bastard. Never could run could you.” He searched about, looking for a trace whoever killed Kyre. It’d have to be someone powerful. “Logos? No. He wouldn’t have done it so subtly. Everyone else is either on Kyre’s side, dead, or been gone for years. Who could have done this..?” He suddenly paused, tilting his head. “Who...Zephy? When did you come back? Why did you kill Kyre? And why didn’t you visit me?”

He began gathering the bits and pieces of stone and metal, separating Kyre’s remains from the remains of his sword. He hummed idly to himself until they were perfectly separated. Securing the piles in individual orbs of chaos, Vestec giggled. “Time to take them to their rightful owners!”








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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by LokiLeo789
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Vestec tossed Amartia's body onto the snows of the Realm. Already it was shifting and changing, the snow melting and being replaced with desert sands. "Tsk tsk Amy. You had such a perfect plan, and then you had to get greedy and ruin everything. You destroyed your people, your culture, and your civilization all in one successive series of tantrums. It was really quite impressive."

Vestec circled around Amartia as he pulled himself together, giggling. "Then you sell your soul to Logos, whom is an enemy to everyone else, and use his dubious gift to eradicate what remains of your city. When the only person you could consider an ally shows up, you proceed to abuse her and deny me as your father. Sorry, Amy dear, but you can't escape who gave you life. I'm more your father than even Lifprasil."

"Then, rather than actually building your defenses, you decide to destroy your city and make in capable of being rebuilt. You fill the ruins with the horrificly warped monsters that used to be your loyal followers. And most, if not all, of them were killed in the following war. Which, I might add, you were horribly unprepared for. The only thing that saved you from being annihilated in minutes was dear old Tauga's preparation, slight home turf advatange, and the fact that the demons killed everyone they found. You got your ass kicked, Amy."

Vestec giggled again, stopping in front of Amartia. Suddenly, blackness covered his entire body. "To make an unnecessarily long monologue short, your crimes are; Stupidity. Arrogance. Childishness. Lack of Control. But I can forgive all of those." His voice was ice cold, every syllable precisely prounounced and controlled. It began to rain, washing away the sand and turning it into a small lake, rising around their ankles.

"I can even forgive your insistence that you didn't need or want my help. What I can't forgive," Flickers of blood red began to arc through Vestec, his voice becoming rougher, angerier. His fists clenched, newly formed claws pressing into his palm. "Is how you dared to bully Astarte. She would have done what you asked. I would have helped you do what you asked. But no. You had to make yourself feel powerful by manipulating and hurting an innocent God. For that, you will not be forgiven."

The red retreated as he straightened, hands unclenching. "But I'll let you say your piece, be it in your defense or in your defiance. Speak, Amartia."

Amartía managed a chuckle around loosened teeth and torn and swollen lips. "When was the last time we spoke like this, Vestec?" he simpered, grinning up at his father.

Blood was slowly oozing out of numerous wounds all over his body, a small yet relentless flow of crimson, but however, he felt no pain; he was numb to it. Even the casual mending of broken bones and reattaching of torn ligaments didn't so much as garner a reaction.

"How many centuries has it been, since I've last seen you?" he continued. His grin disappeared and his voice steadily rose. "I've long since lost count."

He struggled to seat himself upright, yet his body refused and he fell back into grass. The terrain had changed again.

"Not once Vestec, not once have I petitioned you for help in my eons of existence. I forged Xerxes with my bare hands, with only two godly signatures to account for! Yet the rest of you have the gall to reprimand me!? To talk down at me?! Did your hands toil day in and out, building a culture, a nation from nothing?! No! You have no right speak as if you're a father reprimanding a child!" He was screaming now, each syllable emphasized by the rattle and quake of a broken body.

Yet for all his anger, his next words were oddly calm. "I have no regrets, Vestec. Everything I did, and everything I will do serves to fulfill my life's ambitions. My purpose. Astarte, was just another pawn in my game. How she or how any of you feel during my making of it, is of no concern to me at all."

"And what were your life's ambitions? To tear down everything you've ever built in fits? To disregard the fact that Tauga was the only reason your hard built Xerxes didn't scatter and tear itself apart in your long absences? To mutate some and scare off the rest of your loyal citizens?" He chuckled darkly.

"Your nation was kept alive because the gods deemed it merciful to do so. Vowzra's Victors could have destroyed everything you built, but he decided to only take you prisoner. Teknall could have smote everything into ash, but you were going to finish that job yourself. I could have destroyed everything in chaotic fire, but decided to let Lifprasil prove himself."

He waved a hand, Vetros wavering into view. "You talk about only two signatures? Vetros only has one. Zephyrion was barely active in it's creation and they're still more powerful and more stable than you ever could have been." The image wavered again, focusing on the Rovaick at work. "The Rovaick only had Teknall to show them how to forge metals, and Toun to give them discipline. More stable and on their way to being more powerful." The image shifted, focusing on the dwarves. "Until Heartworm showed up, they had no one but Lazarus. You remember her, don't you? Disciplined, and more stable than you could ever dream." The image disipated and he turned back to the demi-god.

"You had no ambitions. You were a child, playing with toys and tossing them away whenever they bored you. Breaking them whenever they annoyed you. Pathetic. You are not worthy of my divine gift." Vestec's hand reached out, as his voice boomed across the Realm of Madness. "I retract my gift of life to you, son."

Vestec's hand reached out and he ripped Amartia's soul from his body, guiding it too his hand. It began to snow as he impassively watched his son thrash and die in agony.

For what seemed like an eternity, yet only spanned a single moment, a red haze of pain pulsed through Amartía's body, making even thought torturous to attempt. Then, with a palpable jolt, something clawed through the haze of torturous sensation to push at his back. He almost wept with relief when he realized it was the feel of cold snow. As he became aware of it, Amartía's senses spun as his perception of how he related to the environment around him sickeningly changed until everything that wasn't consumed by the pain was telling him he now lay on his back.

And, much to his frustration and chagrin, the strength and power he once had to speed him through the Battle of Xerxes was now gone, leaving him weak and virtually powerless. It was as though his limbs were made from unwilling clay, not flesh and bone, taking enormous will and strength just to make a finger twitch. In fact his entire body now refused to respond to his demands, sluggish and torpid. If it weren't for the fire burning through every finger length of him, he would swear he was, ...

"Dying?" he whispered out loud and surprised himself by actually being able to do so. The strength and sound of his voice, while much stronger than what it was in divinity, was still hollow and weak in his ears.

Amartía gritted his teeth and relented. Everything he worked so hard to attain, had been whisked away within the blink of an eye."What are your terms, Vestec?"

"There are no terms. You are going to die. Your empire's bones will be crushed into the dust. It's culture obliterated. Your people will be assimilated into other, far more successful, nations. You will be a footnote in history, a petty tyrant who destroyed his own nation and was executed by the stronger Alefprian Empire. You. Are. Nothing." Vestec's voice was cold, disinterested. This wasn't personal anymore. It was a sentence being carried out.

"Then so be it." Sin whispered. All the fight had left his body. He had nothing left to give.

Vestec watched as his son died, the life leaving Sin's eyes. A few moments passed, the snow gradually covering Amartia's body. The God of Chaos mused aloud to himself, staring thoughtfully at the soul in his hand.

"I am not, however, going to let your soul die."

Vestec was gone, reappearing in a tribe of humans. "One last chance. One last chance to prove yourself worthy." He threw Amartia's soul into the body of a boy, one day away from manhood. "Make yourself king. Your goal is to build and empire. Rule it. Bring a balance to the world because you know the Alefprian Empire is evil and will destroy your people."

Burning that desire into the boy's mind, he left, a whisper in the wind.


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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Rtron
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Vestec and Teknall, after Realta Invasion, before Xerxes showdown


Vestec was floating above the Venomweald, watching as the Grotlings proliferated through it at a rapid pace. The little friends inside of them were perfect for surviving the horrors of the Venomweald, to a certain extent, and their natural combative bloodthirstiness helped them thrive in it, to a certain extent. Nothing could truly thrive in the Venomweald. But they could live there and keep their population in check due to the sheer lethality of the place.

Still. They were missing something. He just couldn’t put his finger on what. It was beginning to bother him. They had everything they needed. Adaptability. Toughness. Savagery. Magic to forge metals without risking burning down the forest. A ‘god’ to worship and build their religion around. So why did he feel that they were incomplete?

Vestec stared at them for a while longer, before suddenly sitting up in excitement. “I know! I’ll bring in Teky. He’ll help me complete my little creations. He still owes me from the hordes anyway!”

He reached out and contacted his brother, mentally poking him. “Teknall! Teky! I’m calling in that favour you owe me. You need to come to my location please! It’s time to make good on our deal!”

There was a long and reluctant pause in which nothing seemed to happen. Then Vestec heard a dejected sigh from behind him. ”Fine. What do you want making?”

Vestec whirled around at the sigh. “Teky! When did you get a taste for dramatic entrances?”

”I’d hardly call that dramatic,” Teknall replied dryly.

“You appeared behind me, then ominously sighed. That’s dramatic.” Vestec replied, spinning around on his head.

Teknall took a few steps and glanced around at the dense jungle around him. He could sense the presence of the Grotlings nearby. ”I see you have created a new species. I’m guessing your request has something to do with them.”

“You’d be correct Teky dear! I call them Grotlings. They’ll be right at home here, violently surviving and all that. But they need a little more in the crafting department. Preferably weapons or armor, but whatever you think would help them best at doing their best. Which is, of course, violence and war.”

”Hmm.” Teknall clasped his hands behind his back and took a few paces off to the side. His eyes closed as he concentrated his Perception on the Grotling tribes. ”You want me to grant the Grotlings the ability to craft some kind of armament, correct? Do you have any preferences?”

“No.” Vestec waved a hand. “I leave it to your expertise. You’re the one who knows what’s best for building things. I just roped you into a favour with me. So long as it’s something that helps them with fighting and what not, you can do whatever you please.”

Teknall paced a few more steps. ”Well, you picked the right god for the job. No one knows more about weapons and armour and similar things than I do.”

From his apron pocket Teknall withdrew a long thin stick and began sketching in the dirt. Vestec was in the privileged position of being able to watch the Craft God go through his design process. ”The Grotlings place particular cultural emphasis in combat, so some way for them to express themselves through their weapons would be appropriate. They also have quite a high population of spellcasters of various sorts, so magic can be used. It needs to be something simple, though, so that it is accessible to the whole population. Simplicity is a challenge, but it can be overcome. Some mix of Astartean Magic and Occult can fulfil those criteria and would produce some interesting effects.”

Teknall put the finishing touches on the drawing, which was of a sword in the centre of a magic circle. Phrases that had been written on the Codex long ago could be seen in the designs, indicating the deep principles at work in the design. Teknall pointed at parts of the diagram as he spoke. ”A relatively simple ritual can create a permanent bond between a weapon and a Grotling. The occult ritual will involve infusing the weapon with the user’s blood during creation of the weapon, with some accompanying ceremonial steps. This binds the weapon to the Grotling’s soul, at least while the Grotling is alive. This connection steps into the domain of Astartean Soul Magic, which will allow for some special effects. Namely, the weapon will gain partial sentience on account of sharing a soul; it will refuse to be used by anyone but the maker; and it will express some simple magical property related to the individual. There are a few caveats, of course. Each individual can only have one such weapon, a ‘Soul Weapon’ we could call it, and they gain an extremely deep empathic connection to the Soul Weapon which might override baser instincts, such as self-preservation, if faced with the prospect of losing the Soul Weapon. But, overall, these Soul Weapons would fill a special place in Grotling culture and provide unique flavour in combat.”

“Perfect!” Vestec clapped his hands in delight. “I couldn’t ask for better Teky dear! Perfect!” Vestec spun around. “They’ll be the belle’s of the ball in the battlefield! But first, how do you want to actually give them the magic. We could just magic it in their heads, but that might break them. We could just pass it from tribe to tribe, but that might result in unforeseen variations.” He sat cross legged next to Teknall, hand on chin. “How do you want to do this Teky?”

As he considered his options, Teknall twirled the stick above the sketch. The lines in the dirt were illuminated in golden light, then the glowing image lifted from the ground and spun slowly in the air before Teknall. The holographic symbols drifted about in three-dimensional space, and Teknall prodded them, gently adjusting the text and images. ”The Grotlings are fairly religious. I can use that. The information can be spread to them via visions, including instruction for those who receive the visions to share that information to the others in their tribes.”

Teknall looked out through the forest, Perceiving the Grotling tribes and constructing the vision to grant them. Surveying the entire population of Grotlings, even for such a short period of time, provided great information as to their culture and society, but there were a few details that Teknall found odd.

”Why did you decide to portray me as feminine?” His tone held genuine curiosity.

Vestec looked at him, tilting his head. “Are they portraying you as a feminine? That’s funny.” He giggled. “I didn’t give them any genders to any of us. Nor any true idea that we were specific things. Just gave them the general impressions of our existence and let them run wild with the rest. Most of the ‘gods’ they’ve created don’t even exist. Ular, The Venomweald Writhe, Valun, Zalan, none of them are gods or exist. The only two they made parodies of are you and Kyre.” He shrugged. “I don’t know why they portrayed you as female. Maybe they felt they needed more female gods?”

Teknall took a moment to contemplate this before shrugging. ”Maybe.” Teknall then swept his hand upwards and closed it, capturing the hologram and condensing its information into a point. ”After nightfall, I shall visit several select Grotlings via vision, appearing as ‘Tesnald’, which is how they have personified me. They will receive instruction in how to make use of this ‘gift’, and they shall share Tesnald’s gift with their tribes. Acceptable?”

Vestec clapped his hands. “Works perfectly for me! Go wild Teky!”

”Good. Aside from that, my work here is done.” Teknall slipped the stick he had used for writing back into his pocket and scuffed out the sketch in the dirt with his foot. ”Was there anything else you needed to speak with me about?”

Vestec shook his head, waving a friendly hand at the craft god. “I’m sure I’ll annoy you later at some point, but for now, go enjoy my lack of breaking your things.”

”Very well. Bye, Vestec.” With that, Teknall disappeared with a silent pop.


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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by BBeast
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The Great Artisan, Divine Mason, Builder of Civilisations
Level 5 God of Crafting (Masonry, Carpentry, Smithing, Alchemy, Armaments)

16 Might & 1 Free Point


Power beyond mortal comprehension clashed in the uppermost floors of the Celestial Citadel. A torrent of prismatic energy outshone the sun as it boiled matter into energy, and it was met by a beam of darkness so absolute that all was destroyed upon contact. These forces clashed with an explosion that would have maimed gods and felled mountains. The architecture in which the battle took place, well-built though it was, was blown aside like dust. Walls were turned to gravel, and chunks of masonry were flung away at great speeds. The tower in which the shade and the djinn fought was obliterated, and many other rooms were demolished by the shock waves.

The greatest loss to the floating palace, though, was its connection to the brilliant sky blue gem which pulsed with Zephyrion's essence. This gem's gentle glow had mingled with the air blowing through the roomy corridors for millennia, and calmly guided the winds around the castle and kept it aloft. Yet the explosion had sundered this spire, and rent apart the combined craftsmanship of the Eternal Sky and the Divine Mason. And as the spire soared higher into the stratosphere, gravity took hold of the Citadel and pulled it towards Galbar below.

At first the stratospheric air was thin, and the palace fell unhindered, accelerating under the force of gravity. Yet soon the air thickened, and a second shock wave echoed through the halls as the hurtling stone structure tore through the air faster than the speed of sound. Supersonic wind ripped through the passageways, scattering furniture and loose debris. The turbulence caused the building to rock violently, threatening to fall into a tumble, although each time it tilted the air caught in the cavernous halls and pushed the Citadel back upright. Fractures in the masonry, caused by the initial explosion, caused chunks of the palace to slough off, the fragments of building spiralling away from the hurtling Citadel.

This turbulent descent lasted for less than a minute before the Celestial Citadel was violently reunited with the ground from which it had been made. The foundations impacted the ground with such force that the Citadel did not stop until it had hit bedrock. Sand sprayed outwards forming a crater, and the earth shuddered many kilometers from the point of the collision.

The Citadel was further dismembered by the crash. Spires were thrown hundreds of metres from the palace, digging great furrows into the desert dirt. Several of the towers collapsed, becoming nothing more than rubble. Bridges were snapped into pieces. Walls shattered. Ceilings crumbled. Towers toppled over. Quartz and marble of the Citadel was mixed with sand and tossed high into the air, raining pebbles miles around. The force of the impact was so devastating that it could have levelled a city, and it was only by a miracle of divine engineering that any part of the Celestial Citadel was still recognisable, let alone standing.

And Teknall had felt every crack, every shattered brick, every collapsed column. He had been painfully aware of each explosion and crash, of the horrid lurching as the palace fell. His essence ran through the very masonry of the Celestial Citadel, and the catastrophic damage dealt to it had been felt as acutely as a physical blow to his own body.

The craft god emerged from the clouds of dust as they settled around the crash site and he stood on the ridge of the crater where the ruins of the Celestial Citadel lay. His mouth hung open in shock as he saw the destruction with his own eyes.

He then looked up to the sky, and high above he Perceived the perpetrator of this destruction. The echoes of that divine clash lingered still. The shade had battled against Ventus, who had wielded the forces from the Mechanism of Change, and the shade had won. Teknall could sense Ventus's fading divine trail (was it not concerning that Ventus had collected such power without him even noticing?), marking the wind-djinn's fall, but as expected for an elemental no body remained. The shade now ascended with the severed spire which had once crowned the Celestial Citadel, laying claim to Zephyrion's power (which, in a sense, was the shade's own).

"Your days are numbered, foul shade," Teknall snarled, although his curses drifted away on the wind unheard.

As Xos flew further away, Teknall turned his attention back to the wreckage before him. He climbed down the lip of the sandy crater and approached the Citadel to inspect the damage. The exterior damage was obvious, for whole rooms and towers had been demolished and torn off. Teknall climbed over chunks of granite and entered a section of the palace which was still upright.

What had once been pristine hallways was now a quagmire of shattered architecture. The floor above had collapsed onto this floor, which had half collapsed onto the floor below, and a whole wall was missing. Teknall clambered over the rubble and entered a tower, which was leaning precariously but was in slightly better condition than the surrounding structures. The staircase, perhaps one of the stronger parts of the building, was still mostly intact, although that only meant that the destroyed furnishings were not hidden under a layer of rubble. Teknall had planted trees and flowers in the Citadel, and this tower was no exception. The plants and the dirt they had been planted in lay strewn across the base of the tower. The trees had been reduced to splinters by the final impact. Tangled amongst the dirt were the remains of a marionette, one of the servants who had tended to the plants, its fibres twitching occasionally.



Teknall climbed up the stairs until he came to a landing which led to a collapsed bridge. From that vantage point, looking inwards to the Celestial Citadel, he saw more destruction, a maze of rubble and destroyed passages and towers. Splinters and dirt could be seen mixed among the piles of granite, quartz and marble, marking where trees and gardens once were.

Teknall clambered down the ramp of rubble and dropped down through a broken floor into a lower level. The twisted remains of a marionette dangled from between two chunks of rock, its fibres drooping lifelessly. Teknall stepped around it and descended deeper, ducking under a half-collapsed ceiling. He came to a larger room which had been half-crushed by a collapsing tower, and half of what was left had been buried by its own ceiling. The rubble strewn across the floor of this room included not just fragments of wall but also artistically carved statues, all shattered. Teknall knelt down and inspected one fragment, which was the likeness of half of Notte's face. Allure had made these statues, long ago, while the Citadel was still inhabited by beings of flesh. He had long since vacated, along with Lifprasil, all the Lifprasillians, and eventually Ilunabar too, leaving little behind. In its final years the Citadel was inhabited only by wind elementals, who had no need for anything other than airy halls, and all of them had either fled or perished in the brief battle which had led to the Celestial Citadel's fall.

Heading up through a hole in the ceiling, Teknall continued wandering the halls until he came across another mangled wooden wreck crushed under a chunk of masonry. Yet this was no marionette or tree. He effortlessly lifted the rock and put it aside, revealing the remains of a wooden clockwork dog, made from an assortment of scrap materials.

Until this point, the destruction of the Celestial Citadel, while it had shocked Teknall deeply, had also been somewhat impersonal. Ventus had been right when he said that Teknall had barely ever walked the halls of this palace, that he more often came as a guest than the landlord. He had once tried to liven the place up by planting trees and gardens, but they were only appreciated by a single generation of High Lifprasillians. While the palace held a special place in the lives of Zephyrion and Ventus, it was but a footnote in Teknall's portfolio, something he had completed long ago and had no interaction with the rest of Teknall's work.

Yet there was one memory in the Celestial Citadel which Teknall did cherish. This was where his daughters had first seen Galbar. This was where they had met each other. This was where they had created their first machine, which now lay in pieces before him. A single tear rolled down Teknall's cheek as he held the splintered paw of the wooden dog. He remembered their smiles, their laughter, their joy. And now this memory had been shattered under twenty tonnes of stone.

Teknall ran a hand over the broken machine. "It need not end this way." There was the sound of wood cracking, except in reverse. Splinters slid back together and the clockwork corpse began to shift. "I can fix this." Pieces of wood reassembled themselves, twisted metalwork straightened out and strings reattached to the mechanisms. In mere moments, the wooden dog had been reconstructed, and its head tilted to the side and canvas tongue lolled out of its mouth, oblivious to its recent demise or the destruction surrounding it. Teknall patted its head and looked up. "I can fix all of this. And make it better."

The rubble in front of Teknall lifted itself up and and began piecing itself back together, slotting into the ceiling above. The floor shifted as the section of castle straightened itself out. Teknall advanced through a corridor, which cleared and repaired itself as he approached. The end of the passageway led to open air, until the ground floors of a tower grew from the stone foundations. He entered the tower and began climbing the rapidly reassembling stairs. Above, a fallen tower lifted itself up and attached itself to the top of this half-tower, and Teknall continued to ascend. Cracks in the walls healed over and missing chunks of stone regenerated as Teknall passed by, his divine aura now casting a visible golden light across the masonry.

Teknall soon reached the top of the tower, and looked over the parapets at the panoramic view of the Celestial Citadel and the surrounding landscape. It was near the eastern border of the Firewind, with the ocean not far to the south. The sand here was mingled with dirt and desert shrubs, and the collision had exposed the bedrock below. A river flowed not too far away. This was a good location.

Teknall cast his eyes back to the ruin of the Citadel around him. He lifted his hands and his voice boomed with divine command. "Let this Citadel be made anew."

Obediently, the shattered masonry shifted and moved. What structures still stood straightened up, were repaired and shifted their positions, sliding along the ground with the sound of grinding stone. Those towers which had fallen were lifted by unseen forces and stood upright once more, positioned strategically. Shattered rubble was swept up, clearing the ground and the halls and merging into the buildings, pushing the spires to grow higher and thickening the walls. The reformed cluster of towers held all the grandeur of the original Citadel, yet the architecture was distinctly more robust, giving the feel of an earthen fortress rather than an airy palace.

The castle around him growing and the rubble being swept up, Teknall stretched his hand towards the ocean to the south, turned his palm downwards, and pushed down. The earth trembled, shifted and sank, receding back from the ocean. Under his hand a bay was carved into the bedrock, one large enough to shelter a fleet of ships. The stone taken from the bay was pushed inland and bulged up beneath the fortress, lifting it out of the crater and onto a hill, overlooking the surrounding landscape. More of the stone was moulded into walls, which rose from the ground around the Citadel and loomed as an impenetrable bulwark.

With his other hand, Teknall made a sweeping gesture to the north. The river diverted its course by a few kilometres to flow next to the walls of the Citadel then onward into the newly created bay. The waters seeped through the soil, and at Teknall's command trees and plant life grew in the gardens of the Citadel, bringing life and greenery to the stone and sand, and providing a source of food, fuel and lumber.

With the structures assembled and the landscape sculpted, Teknall turned and descended back down the tower. The walls were thicker and the windows narrower. Embedded in the walls were crystals of quartz which cast a warm glow into the rooms and corridors, powered by the divine essence flowing through the masonry. Teknall walked down the newly reconstructed hallways, braced by sturdy pillars, with fortified windows looking outwards. Doors were a new addition, made from strong wood reinforced with steel, partitioning the interior into rooms.

No longer was this Citadel the lofty palace for a creature of wind. Instead, it had been reincarnated as an impregnable fortress. Mastery of design and construction of the masonry, carpentry and fortifications ensured this, and the walls themselves pulsed with the creative power of Teknall. The stone itself was alive, and could change and adapt over time, to ensure that this new Citadel always maintained its grandeur and superiority.

Soon Teknall came to a large chamber, centrally located within the fortress. In any ordinary castle, this would be the ideal place to put a throne room. However, it required furnishing and decoration. Teknall stretched out his hands, and the stone walls shifted.

"The mortal civilisations would pay nearly anything to have a citadel so heavily fortified, a location of such immense strategic value. Impenetrable walls. A safe harbour for a grand fleet. Imposing control of the surrounding landscape. This fortress will be a great boon to the empire who occupies it."

Along the sides of the chamber rose ornate pillars, stretching from floor to lofty ceiling. The floor was covered in a geometric pattern of stone tiles, marking a path from the front of the room to the rear. A grand doorway constructed itself behind Teknall, with a giant fortified double-door to match.

"And so I will let them have it. A gift to Civilisation. Let them quarrel over it. Let them have a target to direct their warmongering to. Let them spend resources and ultimately become stronger. Yet let none of them be so pretentious as to think that this place is theirs. Let none of them forget who owns these walls."

Opposite the doorway, down the far end of the chamber, manifested a giant stone statue of Teknall as a hain, complete with apron and satchel, standing to the right. Standing to the left emerged a similar statue of Teknall as a human. Between the two statues, embedded into the wall, was a giant stone maul of the same design as Teknall's own maul, standing upright with the handle protruding from a stylised mountain. Conspicuously missing from the furnishings in this throne room was a throne, for to include a throne might give the mortal who sat on it a false sense of ownership.

"To those who have my blessing, this fortress will be a safe haven, totally impervious to all assault. Yet to those who displease me, the stone itself will revolt against them and evict them from these walls. And this time, there shall be no doubt as to my sovereignty here."

The chamber was illuminated by Teknall's golden glow, and the stone soaked up his power. In the walls, along the pillars and above the doorway a message carved itself into the stone in every written language on Galbar: Alefprian, Vetruvian, Ogre, Grotling, Rukbian, Amestrian, Spiral Script, Yorumglot, Meteran and more. Even for those who could not read, messages in Tounic Calligraphy could still be understood. And in the centre, upon the stylised mountain on which the hammer stood, was the message in the Divine Language.

Blessed are they who reside in this Terrestrial Citadel
With Teknall's favour this fortress cannot fall
Yet remember that these halls are only borrowed
And these walls will not protect the unwelcome
Teknall is sovereign over the castle
Residence is given as he pleases


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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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Before Teknall reconstructed his citadel, terrestrial.


Teknall could keep his excitement. The Tomb Weaver's use would wait. Even past Logos' new armour, even past an inescapable trap, the dark creature could do something unforeseen.

Toun needed a plan.

With eyes closed and the arm-length needle in one fist, Toun ran a clay finger along its length. It rang out with a clear, haunting note.

Toun did not know the creature's name. Only what the golden elemental had shown him. It had most likely been rent from its original body as Aihtiraq had. In that vision where the only constant was change. It was a piece of Zephyrion, for it carried his essence.

He shifted his grip. Running a finger along the metal gave a different note. He tried another note. And another. He repeated the same four notes over and again.

For all the clarity of the vision he was given, Toun knew little else with any useful certainty. It was a divine being. It was, on appearance, weaker than him. Except when it brought forth that pearl of burning entropy. That weapon must be avoided.

The notes of the needle took on a music Toun had only heard once in a dream. A dream about a dancer in white. The comfort of it was no matter.

There was no telling whether the weapon would be trapped with the dark creature. Securing it from any other deity would prevent more blood being spread upon it. It was guesswork. Toun did not enjoy being restricted to so much speculation.

The chase occurred once more with the same music. Danger rang in Toun's mind. The dancer in white would not be stained, yet his efforts were for nothing. She dodged, she jumped. He could not hold her. His focus drew him away from minding his own feet. They were caught in the reaching fleshy arms below and bitten painfully in a razor-toothed maw. His body cracked in maroon flaws strengthened by shifting lights.

Toun shouted up to the dancer in white.
"Who are you!?"

The dancer's mouth opened. She mouthed silent words.

You knew.


The rhythmic industry of Cornerstone brought him back to the present. His fingers halted the needle's music.

Toun's blue eye snapped awake. He viewed the working hain around him.

Toun inspected the gem on the needle's end. He then looked ahead, and he stepped across Galbar. The hunt was underway.



The first step was to find the site of Kyre's death. Toun knew the stench of dead gods all too well by now. Yet Kyre's essence was deliberately scattered. To where or for what purpose was not clear. Toun's anger suggested it was a deliberate attempt to hide, though the cunning of the dark creature could not be confirmed.

A few steps to triangulate found another clue entirely.

In the snowy northern reaches of the jungle tree, Toun's skin and robe made the snow look blemished. Around were black-barked trees sticking up like hairs on a colossal cotton spider. Toun strode in wide, deliberate steps, gliding through drifts that would have a human struggling at their knees.

The presence was here. He could smell the smoke.

A flicker of blue against the bark drew Toun's eye.

There.

Just as the flame hid away, Toun cast his arm forward. The Tomb Weaver flew in a blink with a bright thread behind it. It exploded through the tree trunk and swerved back. It turned and blasted through another tree. One more burst of wood splinters through another tree and the needle halted in Toun's extended fist.

"You think you can elude your great uncle, elemental?"

The shining threads connecting the shattered trees flickered with blue, before bursting into bright yellow flame. Toun abruptly pulled Tomb Weaver back. The flaming threads contracted into a single flume of orange power that coalesced into a struggling humanoid form. The great flame's arms and legs were bound by the thread of the needle.

Toun extended his free hand and let the djinni's throat dock between his thumb and finger. It thrashed and burned, melting snow and painting the white and black in waves of yellow. It saw its own flames reflected in Toun's featureless porcelain skin, and yet an angered blue glowered from the god's eye socket. That eye burned brighter than he.

"A fire does not smoulder in ice but for fear of a force greater than water, earth, and air combined!" Toun accused. "You saw it, did you not!?" He shook the throttled flame in the air. "SPEAK!"

The word boomed with a power that wracked the djinni's mind. Its struggles fell limp.

The flame giggled. The titter grew into uncontrolled gallows laughter.

"You ask but alas! I am at a loss
You took me from ross with an almighty poss
But not snow and not wood and not stone and not moss
Could move
him if he had but a handle-like boss!"

"Did the dark creature speak to you? Answer me clearly or I shall feed you to the flickers!"

The demand fell on maniacal deafness.

"The sphere in his woss, he hides with his doss
and in fire and power, he makes gods into dross!"


Toun squeezed his fingers to silence the djinni. "Enough nonsense! Where is it!? What is it?"

"A slayer of swoss and viziers and tross
and bricks and clouds and winds and frost!
Chaos will cross the lands and the stoss
and this and the thoss and stars up abo'ss!"


"Bricks and clouds and winds?" Toun murmured angrily. "He is still at the Citadel..."

"Flickers will call his great noss in the hoss
for the coss and the quoss he is Xôs, he is Xôs!
DIE ON YOUR SLOSS! HE-IS-XÔS! HE-IS-XÔS!
HE-IS-XÔS! FOR WOSS TO UNFLOSS ON THE JOSS!

HE-IS-XÔS! HE-IS-XÔS! HE-IS-XÔS! HE-IS-XÔS!
HE-IS-ÔS! HE-IS-XÔS! HE-IS-!...ock..."
Its face bulged.

Toun's hand closed into a fist around the djinni's throat. A crackle and choke and it was extinguished in a flash and a rush of displaced air. Where his body was, small motes of light fell like luminescent snowflakes. They floated into the ground.

"Annoying creature..."

Toun took a step. The jungle tree was quiet again.



All the other hiding djinn Toun found were similarly maddened. Their verses were all tainted by meaningless sounds, bearing no further information than the wildfire in the snowy forest.

"The matter, of course, makes the clay one go hoarse
to speak and live up to the name -- he is Xōs!"


And elsewhere...

"Close is the most and the wildest of coasts!
His mind, his tide, makes you blind -- he is Xós!"


The fourth djinni neck Toun crushed was the last he would suffer in his investigation. It had borrowed the accent of the local humans who spoke their language with the full length of their mouths:

"The end of the term begins with the worst
of your portents and verse -- that name! He is Xøs!"


Every single one repeated the last three words over and over until they were killed. The image imprinted on their mind, Toun found, was not one a djinni could fathom. It was defined more by its voids than its substance. And in those voids, there was an unease and horror that shattered their sanity.

It was a piece of their god. But a parent missing an arm and half its chest and head is no longer the comforting protector and guide. It is an abomination to the eyes.

He is Xos, he is Xos, Toun repeated to himself. Murderer, your name is known to me now.



With nothing else for it, Toun used his full capabilities to approach the ruined Celestial Citadel with caution. He understood this universe in its causes and effects to observe from a distance beyond mortal senses. And beyond Xos'.

Some spires floated on threads of clouds. Most had plummeted to the ground. A great cannibalistic feast of unseen flickers took what scraps they could, for many elementals were torn asunder. There were traces of trails left by gods. But no divine being was amongst the ruins.

Toun looked further. He scanned every meticulous detail he could from a distance. Only a most powerful being could hide from his eye.

Still nothing.

There were two trails most recently made. One was wrought with undoing. The other was chaotic in a more familiar manner.

Toun scrunched up the bridge of his porcelain face. "What is the meaning of this?"

Whether or not Xos was to return to the citadel ruins, he was not here now. Toun needed to investigate. He took a step into the still-settling dust and he was there in a blink.

Toun's suspicions were confirmed. The familiar trail belonged to Vestec. He followed their unseen marks through reality; both trails were twined in a melee. Toun's eye scanned up and around. He walked a gliding walk to follow them.

Vestec's trail stopped but for a tiny leap through space. The entropic trail scattered, determined not to be followed by many time-wasting false paths. Xos' next move was less of a concern to Toun than the glimmer on the ground beneath him.

He knelt down and waved away the dust. A puddle of deep, multihued ichor lay drying in the gravel. Toun extended a long finger, ending its taper in a tiny curl, and picked a sample of the ooze from the ground. He squinted his eye.

They had fought. Vestec was wounded.

Toun peered off in the direction of Vestec's escape. A sibling had beheld Xos and lived. His mind would gather more than a broken djinni.

Toun's turning feet crunched on the gravel as he stood. He flicked the divine blood off his finger.

Vestec, Toun called out cordially with his mind. His words reached his brother over time and distance similar to how Vestec had done before to him. We must have words. Expect me.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Malchivo
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Malchivo Scholar of GM Weaponry

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For a god, Pictaraika was a short flight away from Cornerstone. After a short while traveling through the glimmering blue sea, Thacel would see a wide archipelago of coral islands, followed by the mainland, where the swamps and hills would become increasingly more colorful as they neared the large chain of mountains that nested the throne of beauty.

The landscape was racing beneath him as he was being transported by Ilu, flashing by at such a breakneck pace that he could hardly notice any details. It certainly didn’t help that save for the occasional break everything beneath him was a shimmering blue, causing stars to erupt in his vision whenever he did look down. This changed when the archipelago broke way through the sea, new color blooming the closer they came.

Then, it was a short dive into the sparkling magenta clouds and then into the root-caverns that led down into the lower layers of the Pictaraika. They reached an area where gardens could be seen as far as the horizon, most inactive, but the progress was clear, in its center, was a monumental building in an imposing classical style. That was the index, the library the goddess had promised to show the newborn god.

When they finally landed, he took a moment to gain his footing having never flown before it was quite a difference to get used to the rapid switches in movement. Once he was adjusted, Thacel allowed his gaze to drift around the immediate area, ignoring the largest focal point in the area. This land was a massive contrast to the home of Toun, filled with vibrant life even in the depths of the caverns.

”I would like to thank you for earlier. If it were not for your actions I doubt I would still be drawing breathe. Regardless of the reason behind them, I appreciate it nonetheless.” Thacel’s voice retained its baritone quality, but it was considerably softer than when he had been speaking to both his parents. No matter her motives his mother had saved his life, he could not ignore that. ”However, we came here with a purpose, and I am certain it is deeper than merely educating me about this world.”

"You are welcome. Quite sincerely, I just hate wasting potential like that, especially if for the sake of pettiness." She said calmly, focusing more on finding her divas and servant Marionette.

His second point made her tilt her head and pay attention. "I am unsure of what you mean. I have helped other demigods in similar ways before, it is not much." she narrowed her eyes and raised an eyebrow.

”I am new to life, but my mind is growing. It is rare that charity is given without an ulterior motive. One of the core concepts of life is give and take, by giving me the knowledge you offer I am in turn indebted to you. Twice over in fact, as I owe my life to you as well.” Thacel paused for a moment, considering his next words. ”If that is the case I have no issue with it, as I said it is a constant in this world. Regardless I do thank you for the opportunity to become familiar with the world at large rather than throwing me to the sharks.”

"Again, you are welcome." she calmly stepped into the marble halls of the museum. "And I think you are seeing this from a too battle-wise strategic point instead of the long term which goes even further than the war-wise long term. Sincerely, yes, I find you could help me in certain areas, but still, the question should not be why I helped, but why would I not help."

He followed after her through the halls, his gaze focused on the floor as he thought over her words. It would be natural for his mind to settle into a mindset of war, it was the very core of his being. For a reason unknown to him he felt his emotions spiral downward as he realized that his mentality was flawed. He had to view the world beyond the scope of simple war. War was more than battle; everything had to be taken into account in order to formulate a proper stratagem.

While his emotions remained in the negative he used the sour mood to reinforce the fact that he had to find all flaws that existed within himself and eradicate them one by one. His slate gray eyes lifted from the marble floor beneath him to place them upon the goddess he followed. ”You are correct. At the moment my view is too narrowed. I did not even consider that the absence of reason could itself be a reason.”

"You are young. There is time to learn. she said, and then continued to walk down the paths of the index.

Eventually, they reached a room full of maps. "This, in my view, is the best way for you to start getting the context of where we live. More is to come, but I find that knowing the world is the best of bases."

Thacel took a moment to walk among the maps, studying each one briefly as he attempted to decide where to begin. After making his way through a few dozen, he headed back to the middle to lean closer to one labeled ’Gilt Savannah’. ”What is your opinion on this region here? As you mentioned I am still young and unaware, and I would greatly appreciate the chance to get information from someone whose wisdom far surpasses my own.”

The goddess stopped moving and turned back. She expected him to see the archives on his own, surely, but the chance to tell someone her opinion was not one she would miss."The Gilt Savannah. There truly is not a sufficient amount of written information about it here, understandable, as civilization lives mostly on its borders and Meimu seems to not be compliant with observation and note-taking work." she said, approaching Thacel.

He had remained completely silent as Ilunabar broke into as deep of an explanation as she could given the severe lack of information on the region. While she was speaking he once more moved closer towards the map, one finger tracing along the borders of the land. Given the lack of significant sized water sources in the area itself, it was easy enough to understand why those that called the place their home stuck to the outskirts.

"This land was created by Slough, goddess of life when it first ventured outside of the endless deep jungles of the Deepwoods. Personally, what I like the most from this regions are the gigantic Brush Beasts. And when I say gigantic, I mean it in a mortals-could-make-enough-houses-to-fill-a-city-out-of-its-bones sense."

She took a clean sheet of paper from a nearby drawer. "There are also Tender Birbs, which I always wanted as pets, as their cuteness was unmatched before the Pixiehounds arrived, but alas, they always died soon after I captured one." she drew a few more creatures. "There are also a lot of unique fauna to there, as it is typical of Slough's early work. But I fear I never paid much attention, here is a quick sketch though."



When the goddess took out a blank piece of paper Thacel focused his attention fully upon her and the drawings she was creating upon the paper. The first couple she drew were of little interest to him based on their designs, and her own descriptions of them. Adorable creatures had their place, but at the time he saw no practical use for them. The ones that came after that she had little to no information on did catch his eye. At least a few of them did. Taking a step closer to his mother he examined the last few drawings with a critical eye, noticing their general shape and how they related to one another. Much like when he had first been tested he felt a connection form between the images and his mind. More specifically it related back to one of the items she had presented him with, the hoe.

”For some reason these few creatures are important. They would make an excellent source of not only food but labor, though of what kind I cannot say as of yet. Do you happen to know how abundant they are in the Savannah?”

"The Pearskin herds are common, the Feathered Slouch is somewhat rarer." Ilunabar commented, impressed at that new view on the region, as she had not considered such possibilities.

”Then the Pearskin holds more value over the Feathered Slouch.” Thacel ran his finger along the picture. ”If creatures of this size and the size of the Brush Beasts are capable of surviving out there it means there are sources of water or they have alternative means of surviving without it. If it is the former it would be more than possible for humans to survive deeper within the region.”

Turning his attention away from the pictures drawn by the goddess he once more focused in on the maps. ”What about the regions bordering the Savannah? Geography, flora, fauna anything you are able to provide with your extensive wisdom.”

”Hmm, that is a good theory. I do have a lead of where the water sources are, but I fear mortals have yet to figure out the means to properly use them.” she glanced over to the areas near the map which he was exploring. “West of the Savannah is the Deepwoods, as I mentioned before, home to the deity of life, Slough, mortals do explore this area from time to time, but as the cradle of life, it will always be too wild to be tamed by civilization. South of the Savannah are the changing plains, home to the god of chaos, Vestec, imagine a wasteland of shifting dunes, filled with degenerate beasts and demons, that is the overall idea of it.”

”Of course it is a solid theory, look at who created me.” His tone was dismissive, brushing off the first words. ”Mortals are simple creatures, but they can be taught and shown what they do not yet know. If they were to migrate more towards the center of the Savannah there position would be more secure, boarded by both the Deepwoods and the Changing Plains. This added with the lack of knowledge to acquire water among other mortals would provide additional protection.”

Putting aside the one map he moved onto another, showing what appeared to be the other side of the main landmass of Galbar, connected to the first via the Changing Plains. ”What of these areas?” As he spoke he traced his fingers along Great Steppes, Golden Barrens, Firewind Desert, and the Ironheart Ranges.

”The first two are somewhat similar, great plains inhabited mostly by humans who mastered horseback riding. Surely a place you'd like to visit, as it is a very volatile land, where power is not rooted. Down into the Firewind you have some semblance of civilization, Vetros is probably one of the most wonderful cities in the world, but I would avoid it if I were you, as its ruler seems to wield a lot of power. Outside of those river cities it's all a lot of sand, some oasis here and there.”

”You are correct. Once my time here is finished I intend to visit both of them. I will likely start by traveling around the Steppes before making my way south to the Barrens. The Firewind Desert will be avoided as you advise until a later date. I rather not test my luck by making an appearance in an area that is firmly settled. I need an area in which to practice my knowledge. Stability would be counterproductive to that end.”

She tilted the map to the side ”Ironhearts were mountains created by Teknall back in the primordial times, it is the home of the underground dwelling Rovaick and some other groups, such as the human city of Leonia. Good place to mine, and to raise llamas.”

Thacel was silent for a moment. While it would be advantageous in the long run to make connections in the city of Leonia it would require him to delay the practical experience he could be gaining in the other two regions. ”Much like the desert I think I will leave visiting the city of Leonia and the Ranges in general until a later time.” Moving away from the maps he glanced around the large room. ”That is enough of locations, what do you think we should move onto next? This place is simply massive.”

”You seem to know what you want to do next, so I will leave the rest of the map open for you to figure it out alone.” the goddess stood straight, thinking about her next step. ”“I believe the better thing to do would be to meet the Divas, come with me” carelessly, the goddess took flight and started to go down deeper into the Pictaraika, where the force of dreams became more present, if not outright intoxicating.

They approached a phantom looking place full of light and towers. Em’Ef.



They reached the top of one of the towers, where the Divas idled in one of their few moments of respite. They noticed Thacel, each one giving him a glance, but all of them waited until he introduced himself.

Thacel paid little mind to the fantastic sites that flew briefly beneath and around them; he had found that the deeper they went, the harder it was to focus on them as the surroundings became more surreal. Instead, he turned closed his eyes and simply waited out the flight, taking the time given to him to focus on solidifying his plans once Ilu was through with her education plan for him.

Once his feet found solid ground he opened his eyes once more to be greeted by the site of four women, each one emitting the same presence as his mother. While it should have been off-putting to have them all staring at him silently it was nothing compared to the first incident that had occurred following his creation. As it appeared that they were waiting for his introduction before making their own he took a step forward.

“I am Thacel, it is a pleasure to meet all of you. Or at the very least I hope it will be.”

The divas side glanced him for a moment before exchanging some looks between them. The close-knit group was as judgemental as their creator, though far more social about their opinion-making about outsiders.

Notte nonchalantly asked, "What is him?" to Ilunabar.

"A newborn demigod of the realm of war. A collaboration between me and Toun, you might say."

"Hmmmm, oh well, hello there." Notte shrugged.

"Interesting." Piena pondered aloud. "Well, I hope we can work together, preferably contributing to this world more than the previous god of war.” she extended her hand.

Given that Piena was the only Diva to offer her hand Thacel reached out and gave it a firm shake. In response to her words his free hand reached out towards Vigilance, which hung at his hip, on instinct. “I have already vowed to one half of my creation to do just that, and I look forward to working alongside you all.”

Releasing her hand he took a step back to once more let his gaze wonder over the other’s in attendance. “As I have already made my introductions may I ask what I am to call all of you? If we are to work together, whether often or sporadically, I believe it would be useful to have names to put with faces.”

“Of course.” she stepped back, “I am Piena, diva of aesthetic, I am also the curator of the museum you visit earlier.” she pointed to the diva clad in white, “That is Meimu, diva of flowers. To her left, is Notte, diva of glass. Finally, that is Chronicle, diva of rhythm."

Chronicle found that introduction curious. | Doesn’t it go Diva of Steel, Diva of Petals, Diva of the Night and Diva of Brass? | she wrote.

“I would rather he knows right now what to expect from each of us, that is all.”

With each Diva that Piena introduced he turned towards the one indicated and dipped into a stiff bow before rising to continue the process with the next one. After the fourth, he drew himself back up to his full height. “I believe I have been given confirmation that it is, in fact, a pleasure to meet all four of you.”

His head returned to meet Piena’s gaze once more, as she had been the one to take the lead of the Diva’s and ultimately the only to actively speak to him. “I would like to say that you have done a wonderful job with the museum. The method of organization is superb, even from the small section I had the privilege of examining. I do hope to explore it further one day.” There was a brief lull in the conversation before he continued once more. “Now would you be able to explain what you all are? Divaa's alone is an impressive title, however you are clearly not mortal nor demigod.”

Without thought he tilted his head to the side slightly. “This area at large was created by Ilunabar, your presence here means that you were either created by her as well and or are important to her for one reason or another.”

“I believe you could see us as managers, or, in terms more familiar to you, lieutenants, deputies. We work to improve our master’s reach, administration and decision making. We do carry divine powers, though we are not considered an independent divine being like you.” Piena explained.

As Piena spoke Thacel nodded along, his thoughts turning inward at the revelations she was showing him. Lieutenants are mandatory for anyone who intends to influence events beyond their reach. It would stand to reason that a god/goddess would have at least one at their disposal’ His thoughts began to drift away when the next Diva started to speak.

“A good comparison would be the difference between a plant born from a seed to a plant risen from a stolon. We being the later case.” Meimu added.

“Yes. Many gods have also generated derivative beings like us, many stay at their employ or are merely puppet or branches of their own mind, but there is a not non-negligible amount of ones that were generated by accident or who showcase rogue behavior.”

“So if my understanding is correct, you four are all representations of Ilu wherein I was created by the mixture of the essence provided by her and Toun along with their goal to recreate their fallen comrade.” Thacel paused a moment to direct his gaze toward Meimu. “Or as you put it I was born from a seed while you Divas sprouted off of the main branch, in this case Ilunabar. Simply fascinating.”

Focusing once more on Piena he continued. “Your last explanation is a bit confusing, so I would like to confirm. From how you made it sound you four are autonomous, outside of still being bound by the will of Ilu. Is that correct, or are you four simply manifestations of her mind given form?”

’Regardless the ability to create Lieutenants whose loyalty is certain rather than a risk would be a massive boon. I must make strides towards attaining more power so I can at least achieve a similar result.’

Ilunabar interjected “It is a hazy zone, I am a creator goddess after all, and my skillset is exactly the one which could write a character down so perfectly that one would not be able to tell them apart from a real person. So no matter the Diva’s situation, it is impossible to tell.” there was a hint of pride on her tone. “And do remember the cases that were mentioned, it is not as simple as having your own personal command chain.”

She stopped and sighed. “But I do not want to block your desire to become a greater god with tales of the many things that went wrong with others.”

Thacel resisted the urge to wave off the goddesses comments as he had already been shown multiple times that his arrogance needed to be tempered if he were to reach his lofty goals. “You are not creating a blockade, rather you are ensuring that I have access to information. One cannot hope to carve a path to the future without knowing the roads that lead to the present. Otherwise, they shall repeat the errors of their predecessors.”

His attention shifted back towards Piena, gracing the Diva with a tight smile followed by a crisp bowing of his head. “Thank you as well, all of you. While my time here has been enlightening and it was wonderful to meet the four of you I believe it would be best for Ilunabar and I to continue on. I have a great many things I wish to accomplish after all.”




Thacel closed the book within his hands having just finished it and placed it off to his left, atop of a massive pile, while reaching towards his right. He patted the desk a couple of times before finally turning his head. His eyes widened a bit as he noticed that there were no more books to be grabbed. A content sigh slipped through his lips shortly followed by a bright smile.

After they had left the company of the Diva’s Ilunabar had set him to the task of learning of the various gods and the significant events that had occurred throughout history. He had combed through countless books and tomes for an unknown amount of time and finally, he was finished. It was the first time he felt accomplished, though it would be far from the last.

Knowing that his ‘mother’ would be able to hear him he called out without moving from the seat. “I am ready to depart when you are able. I would leave of my own accord but this place is massive and I haven’t the slightest idea where the exit is. I am going to see what can be done in the Steppes and Barrens.”

Ilunabar suddenly appeared by his side with the typical glimmer and chimes announcement. “Oh, I see you are done with them already. Impressive.” she took a moment to think. “And sorry for accidentally trapping you inside, sometimes I forget the Pictaraika can be a maze to those who are not me.” with that said, she started to walk out of The Index, and once they were out, she would start to float upwards, towards the roof of the layer.

Thacel fell into step with her the moment she turned, not having the desire to remain lost for any longer than necessary. “Under different circumstances I wouldn’t have any issue being left to find my way out without your guidance, it would be a perfect opportunity to discover how honed my sense of direction is. However, I have spent too much time dawdling. While it was a valuable use of time there is something gnawing at me, I need to keep moving forward.”

He took a brief moment to look back at the Index along with the surrounding area, unsure when he would be there once more. Brushing away these thoughts he resumed following his mother, body becoming weightless. As they neared the roof his lips parted. “Thank you for giving me access to so much information.”

“Giving you the chance to properly shape your potential was the last I could do. The pathways of the Pictaraika will always be open to you, Thacel.” she tells, calmly starting to traverse through the maze-like openings and caverns that let upwards through the holy site, until finally, Thacel would see the true skies of Galbar, out of the land of illusion.

His eyes took a moment to adjust to the sudden influx of natural light, blinking it away within seconds. With his vision cleared, Thacel’s gaze moved along the horizon. He hadn’t had the time to properly view the lands of Galbar when he and the goddess had first transversed the skies from Toun’s domain. Now that he was stationary he couldn’t help but smirk slightly, envisioning the great battles that would be fought across the landscape.

With his observations complete, he turned to face Illunabar. “I will certainly return, there is a vast amount of knowledge within your domain that I am eager to delve into. But first, I must put into practice what I already know. So, for now, I bid you farewell.” Thacel bent his upper body in a shallow bow before resuming his flight, fading into the horizon.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Sampi Seven Seven. A Heartland seen earlier. A probe of Jvan.






Lambda-19 rammed a whalebone spike into the yielding flesh. Each crack of her hammer thrust it deeper still, and she held on to the cliff face with one hand as she worked. She looped her rope around the spike and tightened the knot with her teeth.

Her exhausts steamed with hot effort as she kicked off from the wall.

Lambda let herself fall until the rope swung her back into the cliff, watching her feet land between geometric chaos. Half of this surface was too smooth, half of it too sharp, none of it stable. As she watched, another gangly quadrilateral shape peeled itself out of the living landscape, whip around in the wind and throw itself down to the chasm below.

Only eight more jumps 'til the end of the line.

When she was finally within reach of the opposing wall, Lambda gripped the rope and loosened the straps holding her bladed crucifix. Recombinance sat dull in the sunless light, cloudy amber, a winged spearaxe with a glowing harpoon at its butt.

One more jump...

Lambda let go of the rope and leapt for the cliff.

She missed.

The wing of her blade slashed into the dull surface but did not catch. She was falling.

She saw the chasm spread out below her for miles in perfect detail.

Lambda angled down and spun with Recombinance in her hands- it impaled a spidery imp from above and she thrust it into the cliff as she fell. There was a sound like sand against metal and she cried out as her elbows caught her fall, eyes shut in her blindfold as she dangled from Recombinance by her arms. The imp had fused with the cliff and absorbed the spearpoint with it as it regrew.

Gasps.

"God damn it."

"Nice save."

"Thanks," said Lambda, dry but appreciative as she hauled herself up onto her spear.

It took several minutes to climb back up to the plateau she'd been aiming for, but silicic acid joints reset fast. By the time she took Sampi's hand at the top of the cliff, she was hurt, stiff, and frustrated, but far from agony.

Sampi insisted on checking her anyway. She appreciated the attention.

"Bleeding?"

"No."

"Lost anything?"

"Nope."

"Dislocations?"

"You just spent five minutes feeling up my joints, Sampi."

"And I'll do it again if I have to. It should be me doing this stupid journey, Priestess. That's what I'm here for."

"I'm sure you're good for other things."

Sampi scowled. His eyes were hidden inside his skull, but that didn't stop Death's Sight.

"Oh cheer up," said Lambda, slapping him over the head with a grin. "You know I'd be going even if it was that fallen castle again." She pointed across to the pit at the center of the circular plateau and spoke loudly. "Think we can go see what's in there?"

"I don't know. Can you?"

Awkward pause.

"For someone with no taste for permission, you spend a lot of time asking it, Lambda," said Jvan. "You need to grow out of the idea that I'm a person. I'm not. I'm a god. I'm a million worlds worth of living landscape. I don't even know what's in here. If you want something then take it. Don't wait for me to care."

Lambda stood, then shrugged. "Nice! Let's go then."

Sampi followed, folding his arms and staring into the nearest Jvanic Eye in the hope that she would notice his disapproval.

"Lambda, your boyfriend is side-eyeing me."

"I am not her boyfriend," he muttered.

"Yes you are," said Lambda, falling backwards into his arms to kiss his forehead. Sampi looked away.

Lambda strutted ahead.

Between her long legs and the crablike mobility rig Jvan had given Sampi, they crossed the plateau with ease and good time. The pit yawned before them, another cliff leading into a far wider abyss; It was easily a hundred metres across. Lambda ran a hand through her ice-crystal mohawk.

"...Another Heartland?"

"They do tend to intersect."

"And we haven't even gotten to know this one..."

Sampi shuffled. "What do you see?"

Lambda leaned, adjusting Death's Sight over her skull. "It's deep," she said. Sampi saw her grow a faint frown. "I can see something. I think..."

But her time was up. The depths flashed to mirror the pale amber clouds, and



"Back!"

The fiery creature shed its shell and soared, trailing brilliant streams from its halo. Lambda slashed wide with Recombinance, but the blade met only laced energy and hovering beads.

Sampi drew an obsidian sword and threw it. It sank deep into the flying creature's chest and it gave a noise too alien to be described. The entity turned and swept into its second dive.

The Pronobii ignited. Jets roared from their back and skulls, and the world around them grew that much colder- But it was not Slough's footprints they were treading. This world was barely alive enough to be drained.

Sampi threw another blade, and a third. His scimitars hacked into its wings. The entity's left side began to list.

"Sampi, brace!"

Lambda tore off her blindfold and met the creature's gaze. Unliving it might be, but it was not immune to this.

The entity shrieked (cackled? chorused?) and recoiled as whatever passed for its mind was overwhelmed by a rush of chaos. It curled and tumbled, crashing across the plateau as Lambda met it with her spearaxe. It toppled towards the edge of the pit.

And it recovered fast.

The creature's fin stretched out and stabbed itself on the wing of her spearaxe before it fell. Stripped of the silken relic, Lambda was too blind to see more than a blur until the sudden jolt that yanked her after the falling being.

She did not let go of the staff. It was not in her nature.

She fell.

Sampi roared as he sprang to the pit. He could see nothing more than the blaze, fading along with the heat of their departure.

Then there were only hearts, pounding in his ears. Sampi slammed his fist into the earth, where it left a dent an inch deep, and stood.

"Bring her back."

"...I do not deal in resurrections, Sampi."

"I don't care what you think your role is!" Sampi was no longer glancing out for Jvanic eyes. He was staring at her- At the sky, at the distant depths, at the infinity that was itself Jvan. "You have the power, you know what she's worth! She's not even dead! Her aura still echoes!"

"I am not your patron," said Jvan, louder now, speaking from all sides. "And I am not your playground. She played the fool, Sampi, and I'll miss her. But she is gone."

Sampi stood still, staring. "You think you can pretend to be neutral because of your shape. You think mortal morality does not apply to you because only your mind is mortal. You only respect your own power," staring eyelessly into the face of God. "You bitch."

"I'll return to you her staff and 'fold," said Jvan, "as the law dictates."

There was a faint rasp to Sampi's breath. It was the air, scraping through his gills. It had always been there, and yet never had he heard it so closely, though the wind was rising and the warrior's chest was calm.

"No," said Sampi. "No. Enough of this friendship. Enough of your games at honouring us as an alien. You are our enemy, Grey Mountain. You hide it behind your lust for us. Your need to have a people. Your god damned loneliness! But you are. And you always were." He breathed deep, the straps of the mobility rig suddenly constrictive on his body.

"So I'll deal with you, Ya-Ahn."

"Oh?"

Beneath his feet, a patient probe glowed under the rim of the pit, watching its fingers tap together unseen.

"And with what are you planning to deal with me, Sampi?"

He looked down at the still-burning light of the pit.

"How much are you willing to lose?"



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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Frettzo
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Kadir Khouri, son of Dabir Khouri, Wheat Village's Craftsman


Kadir sighed as he ran his hand through his long, jet black hair. He was sitting atop a hill near the southermost part of Wheat Village, where he could overlook everything from the Chief's hall in the north down to the Wheat Fields right at the foot of the hill. It wasn't a big village, but it was his home. And, according to his father, they made the best bread in the world in spite of being so close to the Deepwoods.

He groaned and stood up, today was a dull day. Work had been scarce and both Butros and Caliana were busy with helping their families in their respective areas, those being carpentry for Butros and herbalism and medicine for Caliana.

Kadir's father was the village's craftsman and he usually spent his day in his father's hut, helping him build the next set of tools or whatever, but today was different. His father was working on his own private project, a project he wouldn't even tell him about, and it annoyed Kadir to have nothing to work on.

As he stretched his shoulders, Kadir heard something. Some kind of shuffling of feet was coming from the woods behind him.

"Butros man, you done polishing handles?" Kadir chuckled, but there was no response.

"Butros?" He asked and turned around. There was no one there.

'Odd.' Kadir thought, raising an eyebrow at the treeline. He looked back at Wheat Village and then back at the trees and shrugged, 'Oh well, I'm not doing anything here, so lets go for a walk and check that out.' And with that, he stepped into the woods.

He walked for minutes, following the shuffling on feet which only got louder and louder, at one point sounding like he was only a few feet away from whatever was making the sounds. But they always moved before Kadir could reach them.

And then he saw them. Tracks, some small spots of blood on the odd blade of grass here and there. He stopped that instant. What was it that he was following? A wild animal that had caught prey would have confronted him by now.

"...elp..."

It was a murmur, and it came from behind Azzam. He froze.

"... Help...!" It got louder, and the shuffling of feet got too close for comfort.

"Help me...!" He felt the warmth of another person's aura behind him.

Finally, he turned around.

It wasn't a monster. It was a man, looking pale and pressing heavily on his chest with his left hand. Blood leaked from between his fingers, and his voice was strained.

"Help me, young man...!" The man croaked out, falling to his knees. Kadir reacted and tried to help him up, but the man pushed Kadir away, "Not like that..."

"Then h-?"

"Tell them.... Tell your people," The wounded man regained his breath, coughing up some blood in the process, "leave before the Beast arrives..."

"What? What Beast? What happened to you? I can take you to the Village to heal!" Kadir felt his heart start to beat faster, doing his best to pull the man up to his feet, but he seemed to grow heavier by the moment.

"G-Go, young man... The shadows grow longer, sharper... Go before they see you-" he coughed up more blood and let his left hand fall to the floor, covered in blood, "... d-don't touch the shado-" He started gagging. Then he went red, then purple.

Kadir tried to help the man, and that was when he noticed the tendril-like shadow around his throat. It squeezed so hard that it looked like the man's veins would explode any second.

So Kadir tried to set him free from the shadow but the moment he touched it, a chill went down his spine and he fell backwards. Suddenly, he felt a weight hit his back. The man was breathing now, but when Kadir looked at his shoulders, he saw it. The shadow.

"Shit!" He panicked and hit his back against a tree. The shadow kept crawling towards his neck and chest. "Fuck, fuck!"

He rolled on the ground. The shadow was now wrapping itself around his neck and it was getting hard to breathe.

Kadir started screaming and crying, his heartbeat going insane and his brain shutting down. In his panic, he hit the back of his head against a tree and fell down in its shadow, dazed.

Though dazed, he felt the weight disappear. Then he heard the screams, the sounds of ripping flesh and a wet pop.

Minutes later, Kadir recovered and looked at where the wounded man had been.

There was now a body missing a hand and with a huge hole in its chest in the small clearing, blood smeared everywhere and tears streaking down its face.

Kadir doubled over and threw up, then he stumbled his way back to the Village, to his hut and fell asleep.



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