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

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Teknall reclined on the workbench which had been his operation table, inspecting the flask of softly glowing opaque red liquid in his hand. A pillow angled his head upwards slightly and provided a measure of comfort. The lustrous red potion simmered and the fumes burned Teknall’s nostrils with their spicy scent. Teknall hesitated for a few moments as he considered his choices.

After being restored to consciousness, Teknall had said he needed to rest. His daughters had also needed to rest, and they had found a spot to sleep. Ilunabar, having departed a while ago to attend to other matters, delegated a diva to bring bedding for Conata and Kinesis. Even injured as she was, Conata was characteristically difficult to convince to lie down -- that was up until her head touched the pillow and her consciousness blew out like a candle. Ilunabar had also wanted to get Teknall some bedding but he still struggled to move, so they settled for just a pillow.

Even in this state, Teknall did not sleep. Rather, he was healing. But even the nanomachines were not enough to treat all his wounds, for while they battled against Xos’ decay they had few resources left to reverse the existing tissue damage. So Teknall turned to alchemy, which he had used to treat very similar wounds for Vestec.

Most of the ingredients Teknall procured from his satchel. The Workshop’s robotic arms and Promethean Manipulators were quite capable of following the alchemical recipes, and Goliath was just as capable of crafting when guided by Teknall. The burn cream had been easy to make. Applying it had been more difficult, but they had managed. As for the red potion, Teknall had made the decision to use the other half of the essence of Violence he had collected, leaving a tiny amount only suitable for analysis. To enact the tempering ritual to make the essence fit for consumption, he had sent Ilunabar (who had sent one of her divas) to collect a rodent of exact specifications: one year old, born under the springtime noon sun, spotless and white, without scars. Goliath had performed the ritual on Teknall’s behalf, and the tempered essence of Violence had been incorporated into the potion.

Now Teknall held the potion above his face and contemplated the risks. If the tempering process had not gone perfectly, he would be ingesting another god’s raw ichor, which could be catastrophic in his weakened state. Even tempered, there was no certainty about the side-effects, besides the intense itching sensation the regeneration process would cause. Yet as Teknall took another breath, his diaphragm spasmed in pain, his lungs burned and he had to restrain himself from coughing. If he did not drink the potion, his recovery would be slow and painful, if he ever recovered at all. He could not afford to be bedridden for years.

Teknall glanced over to Goliath. If something goes wrong, you know what to do, Teknall said silently. He then looked back to the potion and drank it all in one swig.

The potion was sweet and spicy. The sweetness soothed, while the spice burned. The warmth from the spice then spread out through Teknall’s body, from the top of his head to the bottom of his toes. Wherever the potion went, flesh pulled itself together and tissue regenerated. And throughout this process, Teknall squirmed and writhed. Vestec’s wounds had been comparatively superficial, but for Teknall every part of his body prickled and itched torturously.

There was nothing Teknall could do besides wait it out. His adamantine hand gripped the side of the workbench tighter and tighter until the surface creaked and bent. His other hand clenched and unclenched in mid air. His head twisted from side to side while making pained expressions and his legs kicked and squirmed. All over Teknall’s body skin regrew, wounds closed and scars vanished. His flesh became full and firm. As the potion finished its work, Teknall took a deep breath in. A deep, refreshing breath uninterrupted by scarred lungs.

Teknall let out a whoop. “Okay! Let’s go!” he declared. He rolled over to get out off his bench. Yet his legs were not as responsive as he remembered them to be. He fell to the floor, comically slowly under the Workshop’s low gravity, and landed face first with a dull thump.

He exhaled a dejected sigh and lay there. Goliath stepped up and helped him to his feet. His stance was still unsteady, although the low gravity helped him avoid falling again.

"Are you okay, father?" Conata revealed herself leaning around an idle furnace, looking a dull copper and curious. "Mother said you would need a long time to heal." She said as she stepped out and towards Teknall, revealing a white fabric sling to hold her heavily-bandaged arm and shoulder and wearing a new outfit with a shine to it. "I don't know if it's a good idea to..."

Conata trailed off when she noticed the conspicuous absence of Teknall's wounds.

The pause gave Teknall time to recognise Conata's new clothing as a diva's handiwork. The lustre of its deep royal blue at first struck the eye as a kind of satin, inlaid with bright bronze embroideries of four-pointed stars evenly spaced upon the shirt and leggings. A cute pleated skirt going down to Conata's knees was highlighted at its hem with the same bronze, though her character was maintained by a small, heavy apron of the same shining weave down her front, similar to any garb she preferred. The apron did not look practical in design, true, but Conata had already fashioned a style-breaking belt for herself out of brass to secure it. All the same, the true practicality of the clothing stood out in the material: pure, nigh-unmeltable tungsten thread. Nearly pure, if it weren't for the lovely colours Ilunabar ensured.

"How did you…?"

Teknall looked down at himself, then back to Conata. “I brewed up something to speed up the healing process. I’ve treated similar wounds before. But it’s good that you’re up now. I want to make things, and you can help.” Teknall’s natural eye had burning determination behind it. He took a few steps forwards before he tilted precariously and had to be steadied by Goliath’s hand. He grunted. “First things first, something to support myself.”

Teknall hobbled over to a workbench with Goliath holding him upright. Various tools were brought over, including a lathe. A tree branch was also brought over, and Teknall began the task of carving the branch into a wooden rod.

Conata scurried up beside him. "So...how are you feeling? What happened?" She glanced at the dust flying from the lathe. "Is the thing that hurt you still out there?"

Teknall was quiet for a few moments as he continued to shave away at the wood, although there was palpable tension in each movement. “Not long ago, Zephyrion, god of the elementals, had suffered some form of catastrophe, leaving a murderous shade in his place, along with the more benevolent wish-djinn you saw earlier,” Teknall eventually explained. “This shade, whose name is Xos to our best approximation, has killed one of my brothers and wounded four more gods. He or a proxy sent a band of wind elementals to capture Kinesis. I could not allow this, so when the defences set up by Ilunabar, Kinesis and myself eventually failed I intervened personally. Ha! Serves those wind-bags right for messing with the gods!” After that momentary outburst, Teknall became more sombre as he continued. “Of course, it was a trap. We knew it was a trap. Xos was trying to lure me out to where he could shoot me. Xos was stronger than me by far. Toun had also known of the trap, and if he had been there…” Teknall’s hands trembled in barely contained rage, although the task of carving forced him to steady himself. “But Xos was too fast. By the time Goliath got to the scene, Xos was gone and Toun and Ilunabar were left to pick up the pieces. You know the rest of the story.”

Conata looked at the red marks on the back of her hand. After all the commotion, Piena had confirmed that the porcelain god had indeed been Toun. Conata hesitated to respond. "...Why does Xos want to kill you and the gods?"

Teknall paused as he removed the wooden rod from the lathe. His grip around the rod tightened as his memory recalled what he knew of Xos. “He seeks to bring oblivion, ruination, retribution and death. He sees us as little more than bugs and himself as the true supreme being. As to why he targeted me, perhaps it is because of my affiliation with Zephyrion. Or perhaps it is because he took the Celestial Citadel which I had built, or because I had defended Galbar in the past, or maybe he suspected that I am conspiring against him. As to why he feels this way, I don’t know.”

Angsty after speaking, Teknall picked up a hand saw and started to shape the handle of the rod. “Now, to make something. Get me a sturdy hollow metal rod, about this size. High-carbon steel should do it. While you’re at it you may as well make the other components too.” As he finished speaking, one of the Workshop’s robotic arms brought over a freshly printed schematic.

Conata took the design and looked closely. It depicted several precisely machined components which would form a mechanism on one end of the hollow rod. Now with a measure more practice with such diagrams, Conata squinted her eyes. "Seems kind of complex for just making that thin bit poke in one end, but alright."

She strode over to the Elemental Siphon to gather the materials. It felt like cheating to have it all right there for casual use. She spoke as she mixed the steel. "I never heard of a god called Xos before today. If he could do that to you, and even kill another god, then..." She shuddered as magnesium broke out around her face and lower neck. "It's not really safe on Galbar, isn't it? All my friends. My family...Can we do anything about Xos?"

"You wouldn’t have heard of him. The elementals are the only mortals who know of him," Teknall said, finishing the stick’s wooden handle. "And we’re already doing something about Xos. Toun and I and a couple others have prepared a plot against him. Toun is probably tracking the shade down as we speak."

"Right," Conata sounded unsure as she drew the steel between her hands. "...Toun...sounded like he was just as concerned."

Conata was quiet for a moment as she slid together a mechanism of tiny springs and levers before fixing it to one end of her newly cooled steel pipe. She tugged on the largest small lever with one finger -- it made a satisfying click.

She handed the whole product to Teknall. "Can I ask what the plan is? For the plot against Xos?"

"I… cannot share any details. Collectively we are adequately equipped, though," Teknall said. He took the steel device from Conata’s hands and ran a finger along its length.

Conata turned her head to the other end of the workshop and her eyes lit up. "Heya, sleepyhead!"

At this point Kinesis walked into view. She had woken not long after Conata, but had been slower getting out of bed. "Morning Conata," she greeted with a smile. Then she looked to Teknall. "Father, you seem to have recovered remarkably."

"Indeed I have. Still struggle to balance, though," Teknall replied.

Kinesis then eyed the length of metal in Teknall’s hand. "Is that a…?"

"Yes, it is, although I don’t think Conata’s figured it out yet," Teknall said with a wink. "But it’s good you’re up now. Let me show you both a trick I saw someone else do not too long ago."

Teknall heated a few metal bands in a forge and brought them over to the walking stick and steel device. He laid out the walking stick and steel device parallel to each other, both having roughly the same length. Then he brought them together, but in a manner which defied physical reasoning. The wooden stick bloomed open along its axis to accommodate the steel rod, which Teknall affixed in place with the metal bands. Then Teknall rolled the object along the bench, and the object folded and unfolded along its axis with a strange twist, leaving just a wooden walking stick.

"There's no way..." Conata breathed.

Teknall picked up the walking stick with a manic glint in his eye. He walked a few steps supported by the stick, although his eyes were searching. "Now, for a target..." he muttered. Then his eyes found one. "Goliath!" he barked. The robot bounded away from the girls, over Teknall and to a patch of open floor some metres in front of Teknall. "Shields up!"

A mirror sheen surrounded the robot as Teknall lifted his walking stick. As the stick rose, it underwent a strange axial twisting-folding until it became the wooden-handled steel rod with a small lever right under Teknall’s finger. As it drew level, there was a clunk, followed by a deafening BANG! and a surprised shriek from Conata as she shielded her face with her arms.

Smoke and fire flashed out the end of the steel rod along with a half-dozen speeding pellets of lead, too fast to properly see. They ricocheted off Goliath’s mirror armour, denting metal or spraying up concrete dust where they struck in the Workshop.

Teknall let out a whoop, then hastily lowered the shotgun-walking stick (which turned back into a walking stick) to steady himself. "Yeah! That’s how it’s done!" he said, pumping a fist in the air.

Kinesis, meanwhile, was still poised with tension. She had tested and used firearms before, but this had been reckless. She had noticed other signs, too. "Father, you don’t seem to be yourself," Kinesis said.

The worry in his daughter’s voice seemed to sober Teknall up slightly. "Eh?" he said, then shut his mouth and furrowed his brow as he concentrated on his last few minutes of actions. "No, I haven’t been acting myself. I’m not sober," he explained. "I made a potion to drastically speed up the healing process. The central ingredient of this potion was essence of Violence, which is one quarter of Vestec. I had made an identical potion for Vestec when treating wounds he received from Xos - this arm you made me was also first designed for him. However, even though I had tempered the essence to not suffer any catastrophic effects, it appears I hadn’t completely removed its side effects. I should sober up in an hour or two."

Conata slowly straightened up. Spots of calcium faded from her temples and neck. "Isn't Vestec a...bad guy?" she asked.

"Well… yes, usually," Teknall said slowly, "But he’s more of a nuisance than an existential threat. I wouldn’t trust him or want him meddling with my stuff, but he’s still family. And he’s sometimes helpful."

"Huh." Conata quirked her head. Copper neutralised the look on her face. "I grew up knowing Toun and Vestec a lot differently." She held the red-inscribed back of her hand up to look at it again. "I'm starting to think I shouldn't have shouted at Toun."

"I wouldn’t worry about that," Teknall said, "Goliath relayed to me all that happened. Toun seemed to take it remarkably well. As for your mortal perspective of the gods, well, it is only natural. What you knew were the gods as pieces of culture, religion and history, not as family. Mortal institutions tend to filter and even distort how us gods are perceived." Especially when the gods who established said institutions were acting with ulterior motives, although Teknall decided to omit that part.

Teknall’s hand holding the walking stick fidgeted as he spoke. ”But enough banter. Goliath needs more weapons. Kinesis, start making some guns. Conata, I’ll show you how to forge adamantine.”

Conata's ambivalence was washed away in a flash of excited bronze. "Without burning down anything?!"

Teknall nodded. "Without burning down anything. At least, not uncontrollably."

"Yea-! Ow..." Conata clutched her slung shoulder right before she could jump for joy.

Teknall led Conata to a forge as Kinesis got to work elsewhere creating firearms. "The thing about adamantine is that it is extraordinarily resilient, even to most supernatural influences. But while you might not be able to magic it as easily as other metals, it still behaves like a metal in every other way, just a metal with superlative qualities," Teknall explained.

An ingot of adamantine was brought over along a conveyor belt, which Teknall picked up with a pair of tongs and placed in the forge. He then twisted a dial and the flames being channelled from the Stellar Engine into the forge intensified from a dull red to a white-hot inferno. Even Conata had to squint her eyes.

Teknall continued. "When you tried shaping adamantine before, you tried to manipulate it cold like any other metal. But unlike other metals, it resisted. It took you an enormous amount of energy to overcome this resistance directly, even with Helvana’s curse dampening the resistance. And afterwards, it reverted to its natural state and all that energy had to go somewhere, hence the explosions. But in between, when you had applied enough energy to break the resistance and were keeping that energy there, you could manipulate it as easily as any other metal."

"I guess." She twisted her mouth. "I did try to heat it, but it wasn't enough, apparently."

Teknall looked into the blinding light of the forge and said, "Okay, it should be ready now. Get it."

Conata made an uneasy glance towards her father. The metal tongs would have been hard to use with just one hand had she not the ability to will it into the forge, but when the metal quickly drooped like a wet stalk of grass and came out of the forge looking bright yellow and sulking, she sighed. She almost reached in with her own arm. The radiating heat made her think twice.

"You're saying I can move it around now? Like any other metal?" She asked.

"That’s what I’m asking you to do," Teknall said.

Conata rolled her wrist and grew determined, skin turning iron. She half-reached with her hand and curled her fingers up.

"That's weird," she remarked with confusion. "Are you sure this isn't just more tungsten?"

On a whim, she brought the ingot out of the forge and into the open air. While it began as a white-hot ball of pure light, it quickly hissed and crackled before abruptly falling down. Conata jerked forward as if trying to catch it but the adamantine thudded upon the floor without a trace of its former compliance. However, even the bright light it gave off could not hide its distortion from its previous bar-shape. It had been distorted by Conata like a knobbly lump of clay.

Conata's senses did not lie to her. "Well that was easy." She let out a single, bewildered laugh. "To think how this stuff really bothered me back before I made my hammer."

Teknall simply nodded, then asked "Now, can you tell me why it was easy?"

Her copper face grew little lines of tin out on her cheeks. "Er..." She rubbed her fingers behind her head, making her hair wire hair lightly jangle. "I'm not so good with the words like you are. It's a feeling. Like when other metal ores get heated up...The word I've always used for as long as I can remember is 'awake.' It's like heat makes metal wake up. But the adamantine wasn't an ore beforehand." She gave Teknall an unsure look. "Is that it?"

There was a brief pause to let her reflect on her words. Conata's cheeks pitted with magnesium.

"Yes, that is an adequate description. Teknall answered, "The tricky part is that the adamantine needs to be heated naturally until it is awakened. My Workshop uses starfire for that, but on Galbar you’ll need to get creative. You could try heating a tungsten sheath. Although once you have awakened the adamantine, you can keep it hot by your normal means."

Conata's slowly nodded. Her mind already ran with ideas as she turned her eyes away.

The corners of Teknall’s mouth twitched. Teknall turned down the furnace then walked up to the adamantine ingot. He bent over stiffly and picked up the still-hot piece of adamantine with his adamantine arm. A couple of steps brought him within reach of the furnace, where he deposited the metal and turned the furnace back up. "Now, make a weapon for Goliath," Teknall said, almost commanded.

"Huh? Oh! Sure." Conata snapped to attention and brought her good arm up. She drew out the adamantine with her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. She was much more careful with this than anything else she had smithed, whether it was necessary or not. "But what should I make?" she murmured to herself. "I could make an axe or a pick or a sword...but he's already got those...Hmm, maybe..."

Closing her eyes, Conata wordlessly made gestures with her unslung arm. It took her some time to shape whatever she intended to make. The light of the furnace made the weapon impossible to see -- Teknall worked it out by godly senses alone. The ingot was drawn into short rods capped with rings that linked them all together in a chain. The final rod only had one ring to link it, the other end being capped by a spike that sported barbs that hinged open.

"I heard the fishermen near Alefpria attach ropes to the ends of lances and stick them in big sea creatures to try and kill them," Conata explained. She finished her movements and looked up at her father. "Maybe Goliath could use this if he doesn't want something to get away?"

Teknall’s eyes lit up on seeing Conata’s creation. Goliath reached forwards and picked up the weapon and gave it an experimental heft. "How wonderfully creative," Teknall remarked. "Yes, that will be very useful. Now..." Teknall nodded to the Elemental Siphon, and a stream of adamantine powder poured out and along a channel towards the furnace where they were working. "Make more weapons."

Conata beamed and shone in polished bronze. "Can do!" she said enthusiastically.

Setting to work, Conata went about shaping with free reign. All sorts of creations came out of the furnace, from blades and spikes, to strange claws and projectiles. Many of the designs were impractical and discarded to be reshaped once Conata had Goliath tested them, but her spirits never wavered. She took a joy out of iterating on her ideas that was all too familiar to her father.

Kinesis too had been developing weaponry at her father’s behest, adapting blueprints used by the Prometheans to be integrated into Goliath. However, it soon became apparent that the manufacture of guns and missiles could be left to the Workshop and its mechanical workforce, so Kinesis joined her sister to better integrate their ideas. Conata’s harpoon received a mechanical launcher, and many other designs were brought to fruition by their combined talents.

The two girls leveraged the resources available to them and pooled their prodigious creativity to fulfil their father’s request. In the end, Goliath was equipped to at once serve the role of a small phalanx, a siege engine, a beast killer, an unstoppable plow through formations or just about anything Conata and Kinesis could fathom.

Teknall watched all this with intent interest. He was practically giddy from all the weapons being made and the possibilities they represented (although this, he reasoned, was an effect of the potion) and he was immensely proud of what the girls were achieving. Yet, while they toiled, he had another task to work on. His maul had been damaged in his fight with Xos and needed to be repaired.

Teknall’s weapons had been unceremoniously dumped beside a stack of spare machinery. Goliath took a moment to carry all of them to a workbench for Teknall to inspect. The railgun and Shard Conduit were undamaged, having endured the blasts in the fight. Of the three objects, only Teknall’s maul was damaged, for it had been in direct contact with Xos’ essence. The impression of Xos’ face had been etched into the maul’s head, the adamantine cracked and flaking.

Conveniently, repairing the effects of Xos’ decay on the maul was a simple affair compared to the ordeal Teknall had gone through. A plasma torch ablated away the corrupted portions of the maul. Teknall then affixed a square mold around the damaged head and poured out fresh, molten adamantine into that mold, replacing the metal which had been lost. Teknall massaged the heat and metal as the adamantine cooled such that it would form a seamless bond.

Repairs complete, Teknall stared at the maul pensively. He tried to lift it, but what had previously been effortless was now beyond his abilities. He could hardly balance while holding it, let alone wield it effectively. Teknall sighed. He bowed his head and stepped to the side with his cane as Goliath came over and claimed the weapons for its own arsenal. Only the Shard Conduit and his new walking stick were left to Teknall.

As Kinesis and Conata continued their work, Teknall went to produce his own additions to Goliath. If Goliath was to replace him in combat, it could do with some divine enhancements. Teknall produced modules implementing divine commands, blending electromechanical components with reality-altering calligraphy and infusing it with godly will. He then opened up Goliath and installed the modules.

The modules had three effects. They provided extradimensional space for Goliath to store its new arsenal. They granted Goliath the power to teleport, expending energy to ‘blink’ from one location to another. And they allowed Goliath to control its inertia, so it could be unmoving against massive forces or to ignore relative momentum when teleporting. With these additions Goliath was almost as powerful as Teknall had once been, at least with regards to physical prowess.

It had taken several hours, but eventually the additions to Goliath were completed. Teknall had sobered noticeably from the potion’s effects and was back to his normal demeanour. He walked up between Kinesis and Conata and hugged them around their waists (for he was considerably shorter than both his daughters in his current goblinoid form). "My daughters, I cannot thank you enough. Your ingenuity knows no bounds. As for your work with Goliath..." Teknall nodded to the towering robot. There was a flicker of shadow as a black rift appeared for a split second to swallow Goliath, then it was gone. "It shall help keep the people of Galbar safe from the threats the less considerate of my siblings produce."

"I'd like to see them try." Conata grinned and pumped a fist. "Goliath's unstoppable! I bet Aeramen would be jealous." She squatted down to properly hug Teknall, turning silver. "Thanks for helping me, father, sister."

"I’m always happy to help you, daughter," Teknall said.

The silver's polish faded on Conata's skin, growing somewhat rough. "I should probably let my friends know where I am. I've been here a while, haven't I? I think I lost track of time."

Teknall’s chest sunk. "You have been gone a while. Although, if you would entertain me a little longer, there is one more thing you can help me with."

"I guess it can't hurt..." She rose to her feet and pulled at one of the short sleeves of her dress.

Teknall hobbled towards the workbench where Kinesis and Conata had done their experiments in producing the nanomachines. He reached out a hand and rifled through a few of the sketches. "These nanomachines you made for me, incredible though they are, don’t last forever. Not when they are contending with a divine aura of decay. Your performance producing the machines was impressive and rapid, but unsustainable. Long-term management of my decay will require automated production of the nanomachines."

Conata lifted her brow, remembering something. "Hey...Kinny, didn't you mention something about making a grid to make the machines on?"

Teknall looked over to Kinesis. "What were your ideas?"

Despite having advocated for automating production from the beginning, she seemed slightly surprised by the directness of the question. "Oh, well, I figured electron beam lithography and photo-dye stencilling would be good methods, along with some chemical vapour deposition to build up the metal layers. It would need some lateral thinking to get these methods to work for full three dimensions, and getting the self-assembly to arrange the parts correctly would also be a challenge."

Teknall’s brow furrowed in thought. "Hmm." Although he did not say it, Teknall did not appear satisfied with the solution.

Conata tweaked two strands of her hair together. She went copper, looking as though she only understood half of what was said. Still, she had an idea. "When we designed the nanomachines, we had to start with the really basic parts that only did one thing each. Can you make flat nanomachines whose purpose is just to shift other nanomachines upright while making them? You could do it. The forces like to arrange themselves in three dimensional shapes if you form them together correctly."

"That could work," Kinesis said, "We could build nanomachines to manufacture more nanomachines. They’re probably the only method which gives adequate production rate and manufacturing precision."

Teknall drummed his fingers on the workbench, then stopped. "Not the only method," he said. Teknall straightened up and slowly started walking to another part of the Workshop. "Your nanomachines are incredible, wondrous, marvellous, but better can be done, not by machine, but by life. Before the beginning I told Slough to make sure life thrives in this Universe. I told her not to settle for bare survival, but to make life a wonder to behold, a wonder to challenge the work of even the best artisans. And she did that. Her creations are wondrously complex down to the microscopic level of order and beyond, their superiority unattainable and inimitable by any artifice."

Conata had her head quirked and one eye squinted for most of Teknall's explanation. Finally, she cut through to ask. "Who's Slough?"

Kinesis looked to her sister in surprise and asked, "You don’t know?".

Teknall shook his head. "No, she wouldn’t. Slough isn’t worshipped by the Rovaick." He looked back to Conata. "Slough is the goddess responsible for life itself. All organic life, besides some creatures made by Jvan-" Kinesis shuddered slightly. "-contains Slough’s designs. They are the designs I plan to leverage."

Teknall turned around and continued walking. "Living organisms have microscopic components which break down, transmute and rebuild matter into new forms, at an incredible rate and with astonishing ease. These microscopic components are readily made by living organisms. The variety of shapes and compositions they can produce are almost limitless. The challenge is to get these components to produce what you want." Teknall finally made it to a set of vats near the primary chemical refinery. He climbed a small step ladder and lifted the lid on one of the vats. Inside was a soup of grey flesh. "This is arksynth, and it provides a potential solution to that challenge. It grants artisans a way to utilise the marvels associated with Slough’s organic life. With patience, lateral thinking and a large amount of luck, even mortals can make this synthetic flesh produce incredibly useful compounds. I believe I can use this to establish efficient mass production of the nanomachines."

Conata felt the tin creep up her neck in her embarrassment. She let out an uneasy laugh. "That sounds really interesting, but..." She lowered her head and turned her eyes to Kinesis, grinning tensely. "Do you know how all that works?"

Kinesis rubbed her hand on the back of her neck sheepishly. "Well, um, not really. Something to do with chemicals."

"I don’t expect you to fully understand it. It is well outside your areas of expertise," Teknall said. He replaced the lid on the vat then hobbled down the steps towards the girls. "I can handle the rest from here myself. I shouldn’t occupy your time any further. Kinesis, I’m sure Ilunabar could do with some help cleaning up Pictaraika. Conata, I know you want to get back to your friends."

"I should," Conata said. "But, before that, is there a way we can see each other again?" Some flecks of rust blemished her cheeks. "I want to keep learning. And I want to be around mother and you both some more."

Teknall took Conata’s hand in his own and smiled warmly. "I of course intend for us to meet again. We might have a proper family reunion some time, one not marred by near-tragedy. And I’ll drop by from time to time. But, if you ever need to talk to me, you can pray. I’ll be listening when you do."

Conata blinked and smiled. The rust disappeared as she knelt down to hug Teknall one more time. "Thank you." She stood up and embraced Kinesis as well. "You should come visit some time, sis. I'll show you all the best places in Alefpria."

Excitement sparked in Kinesis’ eyes. "Alefpria? I’ve always wanted to go to Alefpria! Father, can I go?"

"You’ve never needed my permission to travel, Kinesis," Teknall said.

Kinesis bent down and wrapped her arms around Teknall in a big hug. "Thank you, father." She stood back up and grabbed Conata’s uninjured hand. "Come on, sister, let’s go!"

Teknall waved a hand and a black rift appeared beside the girls. "Have a good time, girls. And remember to watch your step on the way out."

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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, Armaments)

32.25 Might & 1 Free Points

Teknall watched as his daughters departed, then was alone with his thoughts and the hums and clanks of the Workshop. He looked around and considered what he would do next. The vats of arksynth in front of him were where his experiments in developing a manufacturing process for the nanomachines would start. The Stellar Engine core above him was due for an upgrade to enhance its storage capacity. The Promethean Manipulators around him were a reminder to check up on the Prometheans and see if they needed any help in advancing. The scouting drone mainframe reminded him of Tauga and how he should check in on her. The leftover weapons from his daughters' experiments signalled in his mind that there were other threats on Galbar to be dealt with. And the ruined remains of Teknall's Mirror Armour...

Teknall hobbled towards the warped and torn plates of adamantine, partially lined with charred god-flesh. This armour, together with energy stored in the Stellar Engine, had shielded him from the direct blast of the Primordial Spark for a couple of seconds. That gambit had proven futile in preserving his own life, for he could not escape Xos' clutch, the Spark eventually overwhelmed the shields and help did not come in those few seconds. But for those moments he had seen with clarity the Primordial Spark in action.

He needed to speak with Toun.

Teknall had synchronised memories with Goliath, so he knew that Toun had departed to fulfil the favour he owed Aihtiraq. What that favour was or how long it would have taken, Teknall had no idea, but it was likely that Toun had finished that task and had resumed hunting Xos.

Teknall reached out to Toun with a message. Toun, can we speak?

Teknall!? The answer was uncharacteristically flustered but levelled out quickly. You are awake. Good. Your children performed as needed. I have the trail of the shade. Be swift or leave me to find it.

Teknall hesitated. He had hoped for a better reunion with his brother, but he could tell Toun would not tolerate any idle pleasantries at this time. I saw Xos' weapon in operation and can design a countermeasure. I'll deliver it when finished.

I cannot halt to wait for another tool, Teknall, Toun responded quickly and coolly. This will end whether you finish your countermeasure within time or without. See to it your delivery makes a difference.

Noted, Teknall replied.

Time was short. There was no shaking Toun from his quarry now. Enough time had been wasted already, so Teknall was fortunate that Toun had not already fought Xos. Perhaps Aihtiraq's favour had contributed to that delay, although Teknall could not say for sure. But if Teknall did not want to be late as Toun had been, he had to move quickly.

Teknall waved a hand and the Workshop's manufacturing lines came to life. The Workshop began producing satellites, similar to those the Prometheans had made, except with a few modifications and optimisations. These satellites would be deployed around Galbar and the solar system. They were connected to the scouting drone network and equipped with an array of sensors. While they would serve as standard spy satellites, they would also tell Teknall if any major outbursts of divine energy occurred, which would in turn indicate the location of Xos and the Primordial Spark when that battle broke out. Given Teknall's active involvement in protecting Galbar, this intelligence network was long-overdue.

As the manufacturing lines continued their work, Teknall stretched out his hand and the Shard Conduit appeared in it. Then he nodded and an inky black rift appeared in front of him, which Teknall stepped through.

He stumbled as a wave of nausea overtook him. His walking stick slipped, his balance gave out and he fell upon the barren surface of an airless planet. Teknall held back retches for several seconds before the worst of the sensation passed. Stomach still queasy, Teknall slowly crawled back to his feet, brushing dust off his face and muttering, "Right, gut was wounded too..."

Teknall looked up at the dark sky of stars above him. Among those stars, not too far away by stellar standards, was Galbar's sun. Teknall had chosen somewhere outside the Galbaric solar system because it should be far enough away from Xos and other prying eyes to be safe. He was grateful that he did not choose somewhere further away, otherwise the journey back to Galbar may have been unbearable.

Once Teknall had recovered fully, he looked at the ground beneath him. A thin layer of coarse dust lay across a vast expanse of bedrock. Teknall struck the ground once with his cane and with a dazzling pulse of golden divinity the regolith for kilometres around blew away from him, leaving only bare bedrock. Teknall struck a second time, and the exposed bedrock became perfectly smooth, a blank canvas for his coming creation. Then Teknall jerkily knelt down on the stone. He pressed one hand directly against the bedrock. In the palm of his other hand he held starburst shape the Shard Conduit, which he pressed into the ground. Then he closed his eyes and concentrated.

He had witnessed the Primordial Spark first-hand. He knew how it worked, since identifying the functioning of objects was one of his specialties. Its operation was tied to the Mechanism of Change, that plane of primal entropic energy which Zephyrion had breathed into the Universal Blueprint. It was not a direct portal to the Mechanism of Change, but it did draw from its vast power. That energy was then manipulated by Xos to be a force for destruction. It was a bottomless well of energy siphoned from the inner workings of the Universe.

While Teknall could attempt all manner of manipulations on the Spark, up to and including cutting it off from the Mechanism of Change and effectively destroying it, any such efforts would require personal possession of the Spark. The next-best countermeasure would be to block the bursts of energy Xos produced from the Primordial Spark. A brute-force approach was possible, pouring more energy into a barrier than the Spark could produce as Logos had done with his armour (according to the description he had received), but inefficient, especially since Teknall knew the nature of what was to be blocked.

As Teknall thought and designed, lines of glowing energy streamed out of the Shard Conduit and etched their way through the bedrock Teknall knelt upon, tracing symbols and patterns not unlike those in the Universal Blueprint. The Primordial Spark relied upon some of the underlying mechanisms of the Universe, so Teknall would also borrow from the Universe which he had helped design. He had designed the barriers between the Gap and Reality, barriers which had to withstand things much more terrible than the Primordial Spark, so he could use that as the base of his design. Kyre had blessed the Universal Blueprint with resilience, so Teknall borrowed from that resilience to make his creation able to withstand the fiercest blows. Niciel had blessed the Universal Blueprint with a bit of purity, so Teknall allowed his creation to share that purity so it would not be subverted from its design.

Teknall wrote these things with glowing lines in the bedrock using the language of the Codex of Creation. He also formed vast tracts of interconnected calligraphy and runes which specified the functioning of his creation. He took great care in each and every symbol, for it was a complex thing he was creating that could not afford to have any weak points. He granted it topological protection to resist localised breaches. He coded in regenerative energy feedback so its protective qualities would scale with the strength of what it was blocking. He implemented self-rejuvenation so it could recover from damage. And he implemented many other details and modules which would maximise its effectiveness against the Primordial Spark.

After what had felt like a long time, Teknall finished writing his creation in the stone. He checked it over again, then a third time, trying to find any flaws or further optimisations, but there were none. It was time to complete it.

Unimaginable amounts of power surged through the Shard Conduit, and every line and symbol Teknall had traced in the bedrock flared with brilliant golden light. The stone melted and crystallised under the flood of divine energy, the light bright enough to sear the words and runes into the fabric of space itself. The stone plain was washed out by the dazzling radiance.

Then, suddenly, the blinding white light gave way to a more subdued blue glow, uniformly coating the ground on which Teknall knelt. Teknall opened his eyes and looked around him. The ground was coated in a light blue barrier of opaque energy, slowly fading to translucence as the initial burst of energy faded. A smile crept onto his lips as he slowly returned to his feet.

Teknall raised his free hand, and in an instant the barrier curled up into a sphere around him. A slight lift had the bubble rise above the ground, carrying him with it. He then lowered himself and the bubble back to the ground, and with a twist of his wrist the barrier unfurled into a vast flat sheet above him. Tilting his hand rotated the plane so that it stood as a vast wall in front of him, and a turn of his hand curled the barrier around so it formed a tall ring surrounding him. Then he closed his hand, and it shrunk into a disc in front of him only a metre in diameter.

It had worked. Teknall let out a laugh, almost intoxicated by the power. He had single-handedly created a construct of immense strength, not from metal or stone or flesh but from warped space and interwoven rules of reality. The Hyperspatial Barrier, he would call it.

The disc floated down to hover parallel to the ground in front of Teknall. He stepped upon it, crouched down, then braced himself as he teleported from that distant planet to orbit around Galbar.

Teknall's stomach twisted and he retched and gagged on arrival. He was grateful that he had not eaten or drunk anything recently. He soon recovered and looked around him, checking for any nearby gods and finding none. The planet Galbar stretched out far below him. In a blink, Goliath appeared beside Teknall.

Teknall gently pushed off the blue disc. The disc then floated from Teknall to Goliath. Take this, and give it to Toun. If he is engaging with Xos, deploy the Hyperspatial Barrier, but do not engage yourself. The disc merged into Goliath's armour and the robot's shields took a blue hue. Then Goliath departed, trailing a stream of incandescent plasma from its rocket jets.

Still floating in orbit, Teknall reached out a hand and a black rift opened beside him. Out from that rift came the satellites which the Workshop had been manufacturing. Rocket engines flared to life to move the satellites into their allocated orbits around Galbar and beyond, where they could watch for any major events.

Teknall took one last look around him. "Should have left me alone, shade," Teknall snarled quietly. Then he floated through the rift which closed behind him.

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

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TSOTI 7 (Final) (64 PR to 73PR)

It didn’t take long for everyone to realize Mavadzugji was back. Of course, Dzora and Batsami were the first ones to find him, the Manyadjir hugging her friend.

“It has been so long! It feels like an eternity since we last saw you!” the girl confessed. “Gods! Things have been so intense over here that I feel like you were gone for ages!”

”I felt the same, in all honesty, I have discovered so many things it seems hard to believe such little time has passed since I have last been here. It feels like I travelled in time and am seeing old friends.”

Of course, upon looking up and down at the young woman, he had to bring up the elephant in the room. ”That… is a lot of silver, eh? Something happened?” with the generous donations of all those who were interested in his writings, Batsami had climbed up the social ladder considerably, her dress full of true silver accessories denounced that.

“This dress was a gift from Llapur.” she deflected. “Halele, you just arrived and is already judging me, I’d rather keep the memory I was constructing of someone nice!”

Dzora laughed, but looked at the side, Mavadzugji had grown into quite a celebrity over the course of one year, so it was best if they moved already. “Let’s go home, okay? You two can keep up with each other once we are in the privacy of our house. It should not take too long before your priest friends also come over.”

In the time he was away, a lot had changed, much of it was due to the influx of writings about foreign lands. The common spirit of unity among dusklanders grew stronger among the common folk, while the chieftains and elders of clans grew worried, many had also started to be more aware and worried about the situation of their people as a whole in comparison to the rest of the world. Written language was spreading fast, especially among the population of the larger towns and villages.

Batsami had been slowing down the process of releasing the new parchments, as production was hard and they were still ironing out how to make the whole thing faster, scribes worked faster on works they already knew, but after a few copies, they became irritated with doing it over and over, so she had created cycles of works and consulted with each of the six scribes Tsefo had to know what they would like to do next.

Another process stopping the release of new writings as soon as they arrived was the need of clay murals to represent each work. Mavadzugji wasn’t sure that was really a need, but Batsami had tried to add parchments without murals and many were ignored, most people learned to read as they tried to read these works, so a visual representation of it was welcomed. And the family Batsami had making the murals had become quite ambitious with their projects, in particular, the world map, based on Mavadzugji’s writings, was something that was taking a long time but was becoming quite majestic (even if largely inaccurate).

As such, all of his land studies had been taking a while to be distributed, so far only the one touching the harbour kingdoms and the hainlands had been released, but since the Tsefo priests had all read the writings, the whispers of what was in later works had been circulating wildly, and needless to say, Alefpria was a hot topic.

It felt too much like the tale of the man who had invited a cougar into his home to eat the rats, only to be eaten by it once the rodents were gone, but the apparition of this new popular foreign figure was a good hit on Elysian cults, eroding the strength they had within the dusklands. Llapur, in particular, had been excited for the release of the writings on Alefpria because of how good it could be in the tensions against the southern tribes.

Since both had a base in dusklander myths, the heavenly daughter and the earthly son, Mavadzugji expected to be able to tame the beast once they got tired of fighting one another. But that was for later, once he had a strong theory to support his ideas.

“Hmmm, what else, what else. Oh! Tura wrote a cookbook.” Batsami said, having run out of topics to update Mavadzugji on.

”A what?”

“Its a compilation of recipes from all the corners of the dusklands. She has been doing a lot of travelling, and in my opinion, is one of the best at organizing younger priests into doing observation work. She sent a bunch out to talk with distant villages or refugees and has collected recipes from all sides of the Dusklands, from the delta to the tsefo valley to the mountainlands.” saying that Batsami picked up it and then laughed “She is more worried about safekeeping the cultures of the duskland than you at times. I know it sounds impossible… I guess, she focuses more on individual cultures while you focus on a unifying common ground? If that makes sense… look, I don’t know, I am not a priest or a reader, just take the thing already.”

Mavadzugji nodded and picked it up, and immediately noticed it was not a scroll, but a bunch of sheets of paper one over the other and bound together. ”What is this?” he said in sheer confusion.

“Tura didn’t like how each recipe didn’t have proper separation in scrolls, so she kept playing around with types of paper, clue, leather, clay, wax, until, uh, she showed up with this. She is a bit of an erratic genius that one.”

”She is great at organizing things.” he noted, reading more of the texts before setting it aside. ”And Tsevami?”

“Just been doing poetry as of late, really vanished from the leading ranks of Tsefo, he doesn’t care much for all the politics and theoretical works.” she pointed at a scroll. “He did some amazing work teaching others how to read, though. Without his system we would have been done for.”

”Well, we shouldn’t force him to do things he doesn’t like.”

“But sometimes I feel like he wants to be more at the centre of it all and becomes frustrated when it isn’t the case.”

”Heh, it's cute to see you worrying so much about others, seems like the times as my Manyadjir has changed you a whole lot.” he said, playfully rubbing her head as if she was a child.

“You remember I can easily beat you down, right?” she puffed her cheeks. “Drop that.”

”But I am sincere, thank you Batsami, I could not have done this with you. Hopefully, I can ease your work schedule. How have things with Llapur been? It seems you have finally met him, and from what I got, you…”

She sighed. “Well, I taught him and other clan important people to read. I… got him to talk a bit with me, but I had no chance to be charming with a bunch of old men annoyed that they can’t figure out the squiggles on paper.” she then smirked. “But he will come around again, there is this girl, cute little one, red-ish hair but dusklander features, I think she is related to someone close to his cycle. I think some sort of bastard child? At first, he was a bit arrogant towards her, but he seems to want to train her. I was like, thinking of keeping her close.”

”Do you want to reword that? You are making it sound unethical…”

Batsami looked up and then widened her eyes. “Oh! Right! No! Like, she likes to read about other places, and I taught her how to figure out the language, I do like her, I mean, getting Llapur to visit more often is nice too, I guess… His brother will also come over to study, and that would bring Llapur over anyway, but, eh, I don’t like his brother, Tsilluhan, he is a bit on the weird side…”

The conversation was interrupted by Dzora arriving with a plate of juice and fried flour cakes. She brought a lot, as she expected more people to arrive soon, and she was right, it did not take long before many Tsefo priests were over to welcome back their unofficial leader.

”Tura, it is great to see you again, great work while I was away.” he bowed to her, and Tura bowed back. Hugs were a common greeting among dusklanders, but not between priests.

“Ah, glad you liked. But I feel like I have done little in comparison to what you have done. How do you write so much so fast!”

”I had one chance to write down all I was learning, and it was while I was in the abbey. I missed a whole lot of content, but I managed to do what I considered to be the most important.” he smiled. ”I still have things in my mind that I need to write down, but I will leave that for later, today, I want to see my friends and siblings in vocation.”

The conversation was pleasant and casual at first, but, it did not take long before the topic went back to the many questions the priests had had while reading the works of Mavadzugji. Some were silly, like if tiger-horses or ogres truly existed, where angels fell in the cosmology of the world and if they were related to the star-fire demons. Others, had implications the writer felt unsure if he could touch, but it seemed like they would not stop if he did not answer.

Mavadzugji’s approach to Alefpria continued the same, acknowledge the implications but imply uncertainty, he also added that some of the Harbours of the sunlands said Elysium had dandelion hair, so one could not assume themselves to be some lost tribe of some distant empire because of the distant empire… But they could question, why do the two divines have descriptions similar to theirs.

”Maybe one or the other, or both of them, perhaps neither.” was the answer of the priest to the question of human origin. There were facts known, that the sunlanders admitted other humans existed before they immigrated into the continent, that ruins similar to their building styles existed, that many writings described the god emperor similar to them, some even other gods, including the patron of mankind. The truth, he assumed, would be to cross those foreign legends with the core of what their own local tales told, the truth was hiding between the knowledge of the elders, someone needed to clear it.

It had become a consensus in the room, however, including even with Mavadzugji himself, that the people who lived in Mesathalassa before the arrival of the other people were likely related to the dusklanders. That seemed obvious with the little information they had on the topic. And this immediately set up an angry mood, as if they had been robbed of something they had never owned in the first place, however, the head priest would not have that, anger was not a good feeling to have inside one’s heart, and he didn’t want this kind of tension rising. He forced the topic to move, and slowly, the immediate thoughts of mythical ancestries faded for more mundane conversations.

“So, how was the food in the sunlands? Was it good?”

”They really like greasy things. They eat way too many meats of animals that are much heavier than fishes, I felt like vomiting after a while. They don’t really eat flour as much as us, they prefer to just fry cassava. They have coconuts but are not creative in their production. The wine, however, was great. The Hain’s rice is also pretty good, but very expensive. Carrots were a mixed bag, better in the coast than in the inland.”

“Huh, that is disappointing.” the priest who asked the question answered. “I had heard it was truly something good, it is a shame it is not.”

Taking the chance, another priest questioned. “I guess the tales sometimes are biased, are the villages truly that large in the sunlands?”

”Yes, absolutely, larger than anything you have ever seen if we are talking about the harbour towns in the coast.” he was simple and direct, they had to understand this, even if it was something a bit shocking, causing the whole room to fall in silence.

“And the buildings?” one asked, and before Mavadzugji could open his mouth other person was already questioning “Did you take any notes about Metalcrafting?” “Is their craftsmanship as advanced as we hear about?” among many others.

To everything, there was a time, and Mavadzugji first broke down the architecture, then started to address the individual questions, however, at one point, he realized his wording had a lot of power here, while it was true the nations of the sunlands had many techniques that had yet to break into the Dusklands, the gap was even larger when one took the distant nations into consideration, however, there were also things that the dusklanders did well… and things the dusklanders could do better, and one way to incentivize this was to pick something unique that they did and elevate it beyond.

”But all that aside, the best cloth is the sunland is still Dusklander textile. You’d also be impressed by how much they struggle with beekeeping, and use of wax over there is very sparse. I also found that glassmaking was in a weird situation, they know how to do it, but they don’t really care for aesthetics and variety, you don’t have multiple types of glass related to a region or another, unlike here.” in truth there were three major glass producing regions in the harbours, Lacesol, Mirny and Kivico, each was well known to focus on different objects, styles and colours, it was not a lie, however, that the dusklanders focused far more on variety and aesthetic usage.

The discussion lasted deep into the night, and then into the morning, but eventually, led by fatigue, the group dispersed. Mavadzugji had been left a bit shocked at just how intense it could get at moments, he planned to take a time to recollect his thoughts but had instead been flooded with countless questions and hard decisions as soon as he stepped into the land. More than the moment of arrival, it was the early morning next day that had the priest realizing just how much was on his back from now on.

Kadja Regjurnyarha arrived at the town not too long after Mavadzugji, but her presence, and the presence of the sunlander hunter with her, had had echoing effects that made a tangible change to how things were evolving. The priest’s wisdom was known and the Tsefo’s influence was acknowledged at the very least, but the mysterious dusklander born in the sunlands and the weird hunter she brought with her made it clear to all just the magnitude of the world outside and how much Mavadzugji had involved himself with.

The girl herself did not care much about politics and such, she just wanted to know the region, and to her, it all was very foreigner, very out of this world. Simply having a grandmother from the region did not attune her to it outside of maybe the vision, to her, the food was different from what she knew, the houses were far more closed off than she expected, the music was truly odd and many quirks of her village had no root in such culture. However, she made an effort to adapt, as foreigner and strange the Dusklands were, it was her homeland... Even if she did not feel at home. Where else could it be?

Mavadzugji was truly impressed she had brought the hunter with her, she was supposed to be in Mutaraka’s care from the moment they arrived, and the hunter was supposed to go back to his guild in Susah. Later developments along the week made it clear to him that perhaps the two had become quite friendly along the path. That was fine, albeit the priest found all the new talk they brought to be quite bothersome.

Not as bothersome, however, as the politics he would have to deal with despite his desire to focus entirely on his historical work.

The relationship between Dyetzu clan and Mavadzugji’s had always been a complicated one, the coalition of clans was positive towards his efforts, seeing it as the least problematic of the social changes the Duskland was undergoing, however, it was clearly the desire was for an ‘useful’ relationship instead of true devotion to the cause. The priest recognized they probably misjudged just how much was he proposed would change the way the Dusklanders would see the world and themselves, this was to his advantage, and from what Batsami told him, even Llapur’s own brother, Tsilluhan Dyetzu, seemed very interested in the Tsefo’s work, if not outright fully loyal to its ideas.

In return, however, there were dangers he should be aware of. Batsami was romantically interested in the chieftain of the Dyetzu clan, and it was obvious that getting to marry the Manyadjir of Tsefo would lead to some influence over the organization, however, that was also an understatement of Batsami’s loyalty to her friends. Nevertheless, it caused some complications with one of Mavadzugji’s closest allies… yet that was far from the only case of such trouble, it was clear Llapur desired not only surveillance but influence, countering Mavadzugji, to this purpose the figure of Tsevami was essential. The priest did not hide his love of luxuries and desire to be in the center of attention along with the likes of Mavadzugji, furthermore, he had always been friendly to the richer families and mastered the art of using beautiful words and strong imagery. So when the information that Tsevami was meeting with Llapur in secret was whispered, the priest knew that to be true, and feared it was not the only case, Llapur likely had been trying to influence every single possible internal rivalry within Tsefo, ready to try to tinker with the movement as soon as he felt their philosophical counter to Elysian thought had lost its use.

That was, perhaps, a bit too hopeful of his part, he was smart, but he was a man of war and politics, the world of strategies, and intrigues was a complicated one, but no wound or favor changed a man as much as history or philosophy could, and that was Llapur’s biggest strategic downfall, Mavadzugji thought, he was a man of clashing conflict, he could not see the underlying changes happening under his feet. As such, the priest decided to not ‘respond’ against his encroaching, but the accept it, to pull it in into the turmoil, this would be alien territory to the chieftain.

‘Order is able to manipulate time, the time between the sixty-second and the sixty-fourth years since the world was scarred by the fire of the stars felt eternal, each day was a new challenge and a new face, in comparison, once I was back at home and leading The Tsefo it felt like I could barely close my eye without a whole epoch going by.’

This was a comment Mavadzugji would make many times later in his life, and it was true that after returning home, his work turned into a far more monotonous one, and he did not mind that, at least initially. Far more important for him was to lead the priests into a more efficient way to collect the stories, forming what, in anachronistic terms, was a true supply chain of information, organized by him, Tura, Batsami and impressively enough, Mutaraka, who already used similar downstream ways of collecting information to keep track of the movements within his coalition of tribes.

As the collecting of culture continued, its character started to change in a significant manner, echoing the necessities of the Tsefo as a political organization. Simply put, not all agreed or supported with the Tsefo, Mavadzugji had learned no amount of kind words could lead to universal acceptance, and, much to his dismay, it became clear the group needed leverage to use against the most stubborn aspects of Dzanya society.

“I say, we just ignore them,” Batsami told, in a surprising admission of defeat, or so others thoughts.

“I cannot accept to just leave parts of our story untouched…”

“Oh… We don’t need to!” a smile suddenly showed the woman had other thoughts, hand going up to adjust her delicate hat before she continued her speech. “Others might be willing to tell their history for us, to say, if one clan refuses to tell us their tale, no problem, we ask their neighbors, I am sure they would love to share what they know.”

There was a sound of realization in the room, Mavadzugji rubbing his forehead, initially, he did not want to cover the more ‘recent’ story of the world, outright wishing to not write down even the mythical stories of clan foundations many were conveying to the priests, an act he had started to doubt the necessity later, and now Batsami had shown how such stories possessed a certain value to these nobles. It diluted the value of his work and it would create an unnecessary discussion of trivial political matters, but he accepted the implicit proposal.

From them onward Tsefo priests would not beg for information, they would not try to argue on why not telling them their tales was bad, there were other mouths to tell such things, what Tsefo provided was a chance to avoid being judged by what others had to say about you. This effort showed results quickly, and as Mavadzugji had reasoned in the difference between him and Llapur, the influence and prestige were being won with attacks that moved like mist, not with the clash of swords. The very nature of Tsefo’s work became a vicious cycle, more information meant more prestige, more prestige made others more willing to work with them, the more worked with them, the more information. All this was also on the top of the fact The Tsefo had so far had a true monopoly over most refined and cost-effective ways to produce paper and many of the secrets on training proper scribes, a clan chieftain who decided to seek to create his own tale had to do it with material and writing of lesser quality, which obviously was quite embarrassing for them.

Seminars on the topic of history, culture, and myth, and the release of great collections about the customs and tales from entire regions quickly became common as the group started to move past the initial moment of acquiral of information and instead started to digest all that they had collected, though a great deal of research was still being done. Initially, Mavadzugji thought this would have been the time to rest and let the Tsefo grow independent of his leadership, but his mind was sharp and he saw the patterns that others missed.

It all started with perhaps one of the most basic stories in all of Dzanya lore, the tale of the heavenly siblings, that perhaps because of its simplicity and social function, being the tale that set the differences in expectations towards males and females, was widespread from one side of the duskland to another, yet was so rare in the Sunlands that it was surely something related to Dzanya culture. The story covered two heavenly gods, siblings, who always competed over many matters. One day they discovered they could share their light with the world, the female did it first, filling the sky with countless shimmering light dots, her brother became anxious and envious, and decided to one-up his sister by creating the brightest and most powerful of the lights, thus creating the sun, though it was too powerful and ended up hurting him in the process, as well as all of the worlds.

In the simple cautionary tale of eagerness and envy, there were important bits of history, Mavadzugji noticed. For a start it was another tale that was set before the Earth was found, indicating that there was a time in which the Earthly and the Heavenly realms were separated, a second aspect was the use of sharing light, it meant light was natural to heavenly gods.

This was very important, especially in the context that some versions of this tale included, that presented the sunlight as invasive. That sounded illogical at first, how could light be invasive? How could creatures see without the light? And indeed it was not a motif that all versions of the tale shared, but then, one day, a priest was presented some proof by an elder, the exercise was simple, they waited until the dark night outside, looking at the woods bathed in the gentle light of the moon, then they entered the tent and stared at an intense fire for a few moments, when they left the tent again, the world seemed much darker, details that were clearly visible before vanished in the void of black. Light was addictive and light blinded living beings, a quick look up at the sun would provide convincing proof of the case.

This had been echoing in Mavadzugji’s head for a long while, especially in the context of the Dusklands. There was not a concise explanation of why the dusklands were dark, this was much debated in both the tribal cultural scenario of the land but also in the meetings of Tsefo. Explanations ranged from curses to blessings, to gods and chieftains. Why was the land covered in the dusk? Who knew. Chippers were also quite useless on this matter, despite being helpful in others, like for example, confirmed that indeed, the sun and the stars were the same things, thus proving the celestial siblings' tale.

Mavadzugji’s theory started with the concept of realms. Two heavenly gods, the Heavenly Daughter, and the Earthly Son, the latter inheriting or conquering the Earthly Realm. The tale was another one that was socially important to define the genders in their society, this time with a much more positive light into the male figure as new, harsher lands had been discovered, leading the the king of the heavens to divide all known lands between children, initially the Daughter would get the untamed lands, but The Son graciously took her role, leaving to his sister the tamer lands while he braved the wild. The function of the tale was clear from an outsider perspective, it thought about humbleness and courage in contrast to the previous tale’s take on envy and eagerness, but to those who grew listening to it, it was history, it was fact. It didn’t help that both gods were some of the most mentioned deities in the world and that indeed, there seemed to be two lands, one under a goddess, one under a god.

What left Mavadzugji curious was the separation of new and old land and how a new land was discovered. In his mind, the image started to become clear, and that is when his theory was formed, the theory that there was a third realm. It was impressive such a concept had not been developed before, considering how duality itself was a rare concept in Dzanya culture and they hard words for many things other people ignored, such as the space between earth and sky, among other empty spaces and frontiers.

The third realm theory was simple. It was implied another realm, that originally the realm of earth connected both to the heavenly realm and the third realm, the former being Elysium and the latter being Galbar. The third realm was one of darkness, and it was conquered by the heavens after the sun was created, this had been what made the mortal species unable to see in the dark as well as they did in the past. This included man. In Mavadzugji’s theory, mankind was not born in Elysium but was instead was native to Galbar, as seen in the ruins of buildings predating the exodus and the arrival of mankind in the region, of course, these humans were much more like the humans of Dzanya, the last unconquered part of the third realm, though now even it was about to fall. The man of the sunlands had been taken to Elysium by the gods, at the same time, Galbar became infested with other species, some civilized, but many barbaric and envious, this along with the years it took to adapt to the blindness led to the almost total extinction of humans in Galbar.

In Elysium, mankind was changed, adapted, and came back as the humans of the sun, bestowing gifts that led to great wars with the native Galbar population, likely aided by the Earthly Son himself. Why bring humans from other lands instead of using their own? It was a simple truth, the gods did not smile at those unchanged, as they were proof of Galbar’s true heritage, this is why both gods had light hair and skin colors like that of the Dzanya, but never blessed the land themselves, it was not that they had been made in the image of the gods, but that the gods had stolen their image, proof of this was the description of Lifprasil as a shapeshifter. This was a thought not only inspired by the strong Anti-Elysian feelings in the Tsefo, as well as suspicion towards the figure of Lifprasil and mainly, the philosophy of Runza Thanfong, the young queen conqueror and unifier of Imga and object of great admiration from Mavadzugji. Her denial of godly providence and alliances was key to turning the tides in the south, though due to her early death many started to have doubts about her philosophy in her own homeland.

Ultimately, the third realm theory was widely accepted in The Tsefo, as it echoed greatly with the frustrations and needs of the Dzanya population in such a delicate moment. They felt displaced and alienated from the world, after countless centuries living in isolation there had been a sudden influx of information about new and wonderful lands, sunlanders were no longer just those odd persons they met once or twice but an endless sea of lands foreign to them. Mavadzugji had provided a world where they were the centerpiece, the underdog, those who had been persecuted into nothingness despite their ancient history, it did not provide a sense of future in the precarious situation they were in, but it provided with pride, often misplaced, and a new sense of unity.

In 68 Post Realta, “Tsoti” was released, as the compilation of The Tsefo’s work in history, the work retold the entire history of the world, from gods to clans, and also presented counterclaims to ‘A sunlander vision of history’. The text was not only the apex of years of work in the collections of oral history and philosophical discussion but also of printing technology, illustration in mosaic and paper, and writing techniques, as Tzevami, despite his problematic relationship with Tsefo, ultimately would compose poetry to narrate the key moments of Dzanya culture.

The chieftain and other priests could do nothing but watch with a passive expression as the work had hit their world like a tsunami, in a year, Mavadzugji had become a better-known name than any other chieftain, dwarfing the fame he already had when he was the one bringing tales of foreign lands. When the next summer arrived, nobody felt like they were in the same land as they had been in last summer.

Much like Tsoti had changed from a factual book on history into something else between a glorification of the Dzanya and an analysis on early Dusklander history, Mavadzugji had changed along the way as well, his political thoughts went from just whims he had tried to control to something with actual weight and calculated positions.

A large part of this was due to the influence of the Mesathalassam Harbor Kingdoms and Hain Fortresses, texts arriving from the civilizations in the Firewind desert and many whispers of distant lands past the wilderness as well as the divine empire under Alefpria. There was a sea of information on the details of government and rulership, from factual… -ish accounts, to historical documents to philosophical text on the matter. As such, a natural shift from reactive political thought to constructive political thought started to happen, Mavadzugji no longer limited himself to question what he perceived as wrong but instead, he approached the matter much like he had approached math and history.

Obviously, his dislike of the influence the great clans had on his life meant those were to not have a place in a better society, in fact, Mavadzugji fully proposed a breakup and institutionalization of the clan society, with a division between military and economic clans, to fully prepare themselves for the urban shift that seemed inevitable, as well as greater social mobility. Centralization was a hot topic as well, with proposals of a hierarchy of city, army, and temple and organization that mirrored Mutaraka’s federation of tribes, though while that one was maintained by informal deals, friendship and a need of mutual defense, this one was formed by hard law.

His wish was not only to ensure the best for his people but also to avoid the mistakes that previous Mesathalassa civilizations had committed. The history of goverment in the Harbors had been one of constant failure, from the initial republics to the kingdoms and theocracies, people were often just thoughtlessly getting whatever remained after everything else had failed. Runza’s plans were by far the best the south had had, but they had to be spread through violence and ultimately had a fatal flaw, they focused on one single mortal being. A true society shouldn’t have to rely on anything but itself, a safe society doesn’t break down if their leader is killed.

All these thoughts would come to be compiled on what was somewhat of a sequel to Tsoti, The Dzarya, first published in 73 Since the Realta. The writings suffered internal resistance within Tsefo, and came out as weirdly utopic when reaching the public. To many, it resonated, a true future for the people, especially since the ‘oddlands’ were to spread all the way south, and leaving the homeland was inevitable, this was the time for a new society in their view. For others, it did not resonate so well, while the ideas of a unified Dusklander identity had been easy to spread due to the situation the region was in, and a denial of southern religion with the creation of a new philosophy and even a hypothetical god was quickly spreading, especially for the sense of pride and destiny provided in its absurd bias towards the locals, the ideas of society for society sake, and of not only defining a “dusklander people” but unifying them in one single state was a wild concept, that felt impossible without a deviation into something darker. The very idea of “economic” clans and “military” clans was foreign to the locals, and although already in practice, especially in the more urban areas, the creation of them as a concept felt complicated.

To further Mavadzugji’s issues, his monopoly on many topics was starting to waver, the very result of his acts and efforts to educate the locals had the obvious result of making his word questionable, even with the Tsefo, the organization growing exponentially as its prestige grew, his voice was becoming one of many, and albeit the most respect, it soon found itself stuck in the middle of growing factions and philosophies.

The cohesion of the movement was rapidly breaking as more and more clans had to migrate, so despite the fact the movement was slowly overtaking all of the traditional priesthood, Mavadzugji’s plans for it were not coming to fruition unless he had the means to keep Tsefo unified. A central priesthood was possible, of course, but not without proper economic and military backing, otherwise any attempts at that would be mere formalities and too easy to break, but Mavadzugji found himself not having the voice anymore to get enough backing, his new work was loved by fringe groups, but ignored by many, and nothing would keep Tsefo together if not the realizing of his utupia, the Dzanyavehar, the old word which had haunted his father were more possible today than it was in his time, but still, Mavadzugji could not reach it.

This was, after all, the way society work, as he had noted when he isolated Llapur Dyetzu, it was not something simple like a fight, it reached from under you like a wave. Mavadzugji had been the epicenter of a lot of change, his steps causing true tsunamis towards others, but waves after crashing bounce back, returning to the sender, and now the very prophet of a new duskland was stuck in a whirlpool beyond his control.

The priest, however, was not one to give up, even if the situation was deteriorating, he would do what he could. And what he could do was to prepare for the eventual exodus into the Sunlands. Kadja Regjurnyarha’s village was very fond of him, the whole region was, in fact, and the location was near the Abbey and far from the most crowded areas of northern Mesathalassa, where many of the local lords truly hated him. If he could not keep The Tsefo together, if he could not mend the relationship of the many dusklander clans and the “first lander” clans that had migrated before most of them, if he could not bring about the true Dzanyavehar, he would at least create something of his own, he could not let his political ideas die without at least trying them, and if they were of quality, the wealth and stability of the land would be proof his ideas were, once again, the ones that should be followed. Or at least that was what he assumed.

And so, as the oddlands crept ever closer to the last bastions of Dusklander society, Mavadzugji went on his last attempts to, if not convince more groups of the worth of his latest work, at least make sure more of the fringe groups who agreed with him would be with him when the time to leave came. Not all groups could, however, and he knew there was value in not centralizing it all on his project.

One of such fringe groups that truly believed in the worth of both The Tsoti and The Dzanya texts was about to have their first meeting…
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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Double Capybara
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Double Capybara Thank you for releasing me

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The Mesathalassa summary

These posts are set in two major regions, Mesathalassa and the Dusklands.

Mesathalassa is a continent that can be divided in three major regions. North Mesathalassa, a region of jagged mountains, thick jungles and endless rain and West Mesathalassa, of lush subtropical forests, swamps and fertile valleys, is inhabited mostly by humans. East Mesathallassa of sweeping plains and gentle shores* is mostly inhabited by Hain.

(*The east coast is as old as Galbar, while the west coast is very young, made when Toun flooded the world, making it so only the east has proper shorelines)

The Dusklands was a region of swamps modified by the influence of the god of darkness Julkofyr, when he created The Darkened Spires (the mountains east of the Dusklands) he, by side-effect, covered the region in dark clouds. Nevermind this, a human population still flourished on it. Though now that Ilunabar overtook The Darkened Spires, her influence is slowly casting away the darkness and replacing it with something much weirder and unwelcoming to humans.

Mesathalassa is a very isolated region, having stayed untouched by foreign powers like Alefpria or Xerxes, or even the intrigues of gods. The region as a whole places a certain value on freedom, free guilds and elected chieftains are common in the wilds, while even the larger states feel the need to justify their rule and be fair to their people. Of course it's no wonderland of freedom, though at the very least one won’t find themselves enslaved while visiting most of their city states.



West Mesathalassa in 70 PR

The Dusklands in 70 PR

Glossary / Characters / Locations

- Dusklands / Dzanya

- West/North Mesathalassa

Further Information in the Wiki: Dusklands and Mesathalassa Open to answering questions in the OOC or PMs.
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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by BBeast
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BBeast Scientific

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Collaboratively written by BBeast, Kho and Double Capybara

Gerrik Far-Teacher

Level 10 Hain Hero
26 Prestige

circa 14 years Post Realta

The darkness of night covered Fibeslay, the shadows in the village punctuated by the occasional warm glow from a fireplace or torch. The sky was darkened by numerous clouds, although the bright gaze of Vigilate and Scitis pierced through a gap in the clouds to provide moonlight. Floating on the bay were the boats of several fishermen, who were making use of the moonlit hours to hunt nocturnal prey. The waves shimmered in the moonlight, and occasionally reflected light from the flame which burned atop the lighthouse.

The lighthouse stood upon Hillisle, an island in the middle of the bay, and the fire at its top was visible for a great distance in every direction. Two hain sat at the top of the wooden tower. One was the hain on duty to tend to the fire. The other was Goxiq, who sat silently looking out over Fibeslay.

Goxiq was stirred from his brooding when the ladder rattled from being climbed. The lighthouse keeper scurried over to the trapdoor, pried it open and looked down. A voice preempted the keeper’s challenge and called up, “May I come up? I’d like a word with Goxiq.”

The keeper glanced over to Goxiq. The Chipper turned his face and, after a few moments of stillness, nodded his head. Fhira the lighthouse keeper called back down and gestured for Gerrik to come up. He climbed up and sat down next to Goxiq, looking out over the bay.

They sat quietly for a few moments, until Gerrik broke the silence. “Today didn’t go how you had hoped.”

Goxiq did not respond, but his closed eyes and clenched jaw betrayed his sadness, and so too his beak which seemed to droop. But after a few moments he did muster some words, which came out as half whisper half sigh.
‘I had hoped for divine justice…’ his words hung in the air for a time. ‘But now there is only confusion.’

Gerrik was quiet for a couple of seconds, then he reached into his leather jacket and pulled out a little wooden sculpture. “Here. Maro said to give this to you.”

Goxiq betrayed the slightest hint of irritation at the mention of Maro, but when he glanced at what Gerrik was holding that all fell away. He stared at it for some time, but did not reach for it. Instead he brought his head low, his hands to either side.

‘I am not worthy of it, Master. I was not when I asked for it, and I am not now that it is offered. I see now why Maro’s ideas won out. There is much that I know, but he was always the wiser one, always more aware of people’s hopes and wants and fears. Does that come with age, do you think? One like Maro has seen untold decades...’ Goxiq stopped suddenly and looked to Gerrik. He seemed to regret speaking and acting so foolishly before Stone Chipper’s disciple.

Gerrik appeared somewhat amused at the mention of Maro’s age. “Wisdom indeed tends to increase with age. It’s the extra experience which does that. I should know, since I’ve got a few decades behind me too.” Goxiq relaxed considerably as Gerrik engaged him, despite the foolishness and over-emotional nature of his current state. It was certainly not his proudest moment, and so he was grateful. He laughed when Gerrik mentioned his own great age - Goxiq knew well that Gerrik had not only seen many decades, but many centuries. It was easy to forget something like that when in Gerrik’s presence - he did not seem a day over thirty years.

Gerrik looked down at the sculpture in his hands. “Tell me, what did Maro say when you first asked for this sculpture?”

Goxiq stiffened again at the mention of the sculpture. ‘Ah. That. Well… it, it is slightly embarrassing Master. I don’t know if it is something worthy of your time and attention. I have wasted enough of it as it is, and you have much to do on the morrow…’ he looked hesitantly to Gerrik but saw no sign there that he was not interested. ‘It’s a silly thing, but when I first visited Maro in his home, I saw that sculpture and immediately fell in love with it. I offered to buy it from him, but he refused to sell it even though I offered increasingly ridiculous amounts. When I had lost hope of persuading him, he turned to me with an upturned palm and assured me that he will give it me - “in your moment of greatest doubt, it will be yours”. I scoffed at the thought then, in my pride I never thought that I could come to doubt. This is not the moment of resplendent glory I imagined would come about when you returned, Master. It has, instead, brought Maro’s prophecy to fruition.’ He did not seem overly saddened by this, however. There was to his voice a degree of pensiveness even as he spoke his mournful revelation.

Gerrik was thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Wisdom might come with age, but it is not age which causes wisdom, but experience. And the strongest experiences are those in which you fail to some degree. You expected resplendent glory, but instead you were presented with a more humble set of reforms. This conflicted with your expectations, and led to you doubting why you even bothered. But you are a wise hain, despite being younger than Maro or myself, and wise hain learn from their experiences to add to their wisdom.” Gerrik offered the sculpture once more. “This may have been your moment of greatest doubt, but you will come out of it better than before.”

Goxiq rubbed the top of his beak in embarrassment, ‘your words are kind. I thank you,’ he reached for the sculpture and looked at it for a few moments. ‘I may have missed the opportunity of…’ there was a deathly pause as Goxiq debated whether to say it or not, ‘of being your disciple - and Elword is a great and worthy disciple, I can see that - but I shall remember and treasure your words. I will seek more than knowledge - I will seek wisdom.’ Having apparently exhausted his ability to withstand speaking much more on emotional matters, Goxiq laughed and got up. ‘It- it is late. You have much to see to, and I must rest. Thank you for coming to me.’

Gerrik stood up as well. “And thank you for being open with me. Despite not being my apprentice, I foresee that you will be a great and influential Chipper.” He nodded to the lighthouse keeper, who opened the trapdoor. Gerrik started to descend, and he looked up at Goxiq before dropping down. “I’ll see you in the morning, Goxiq.” Goxiq too descended and, nodding respectfully to Gerrik, bid the disciple of Stone Chipper good night before heading off towards his home and the comfort of sleep.

The hours between Gerrik’s meeting with Goxiq and sunrise was filled with much activity. He tracked down Mugnas and Zantor, woke them up and asked for as much information about Chief Hucori and how to deal with him as possible. While the Quara Korala were initially annoyed at being disturbed in the middle of the night, after Gerrik explained the situation to them they were happy to grant him this favour.

Then Gerrik had plans to revise. Chief Hucori would be easiest to get on side if Gerrik could demonstrate something new and valuable, which meant Gerrik had some rapid prototyping to do. There were several inventions Gerrik had been considering which he had made a start on back in Tallgrass, although his training of Elword had kept Gerrik sufficiently busy that he had never finished them. Now he had to get a functioning prototype built as quickly as possible in an unfriendly environment.

This was quite achievable for Gerrik. He drew some schematics as he had done for the lighthouse for the devices he had in mind. He had taken some inspiration from the clockwork frog he had bought from Dibbler for these devices, although they were far simpler yet also more practical. He would hand these plans to Maro and Goxiq, along with a few other competent craftshain who would have the skills to bring the designs to life.

But they would also need materials. Gerrik scouted out the shops of carpenters and sellers of wood to determine where the appropriate pieces of lumber could be purchased; he would send Elword to purchase the items in the morning. While the resident Chippers and Gerrik himself might have a hard time purchasing from the places within the Shammikists’ influence, Elword was not yet recognised in Fibeslay so would be able to make purchases regularly.

Gerrik also needed to get some properly shaped and sized stones which would form the central component of one of the inventions. Having worked in Fibeslay previously, he knew where to find stone. Taking his tools with him, Gerrik headed down a beach out of town until he located what he was looking for- a small boulder of a hard and rough stone. Stone Chipper had taught him much about working stone, so Gerrik was able to quickly get to work shaping the stone into the form he desired. Two precisely placed shots from the Eenal Bow split the rock into two halves. A few more shots split off excess bulk. Then he used finer tools to shape the stones into two heavy disks. By the time he was done, dawn was breaking. Gerrik left the stones where they were and made his way back to Fibeslay. He would send some Chippers to retrieve the stones later. Gerrik had more important matters to attend to than hauling rocks back to the town.

The sun was rising when Gerrik made it back to Fibeslay. He woke Maro and Elword and gave them his updated plans. He grabbed some food to eat on the move then went to the other Chippers who had new tasks, including Goxiq, and ensured they knew what was expected of them. And like that the day began and Gerrik’s plans were set into motion.

Elword set off immediately to buy the necessary supplies. Gerrik was tracking the movements of the Shammikists; Jindchin had only just successfully delivered his message to Vidin, who was only just starting to alert the other Shammikists. It would be at least an hour before they could coordinate anything if they were swift in arranging a meeting and making their plans, meaning Elword had plenty of time to make his purchases before word got out that he was a Chipper. These supplies were returned to Goxiq’s workshop where Goxiq, Maro, and a few other skilled craftshain could build Gerrik’s invention.

Some of the Chippers went off to meet the poor and ill in Fibeslay during breakfast time. To the poor they offered food. Some rejected the gift, suspicious of the Chippers, but some were grateful and accepted. During the meal they conversed, were reassured that Chippers help support people and that their opponents’ objections were entirely unfounded superstitions. To the ill they offered appropriate treatments, such as herbal remedies or shamanic concoctions, or means to accelerate recovery, such as diets containing particular foods or particular stretches and exercises. Some turned the Chippers away, but others listened as the Chippers explained what the treatments were and how it had been discovered to work. In doing this the Chippers expounded the virtue of the free sharing of knowledge such as this.

Gerrik himself sought out as many conversations as he could. Having been in Fibeslay for a reasonably long period of time during the construction of the lighthouse he had seen, at least with his divine senses, every person living in Fibeslay at the time of the Blinding Purge. This meant that every adult in this village who he did not recognise from Fibeslay must have grown up elsewhere and moved to Fibeslay. They had not been there when Fibeslay was attacked. They had not had the Shammikists and their predecessors speaking lies to them their whole lives. Those who had come from nearby villages may have retained some of their ancestors’ prejudices against Chippers, but those from further away had no such ingrained biases and had likely had favourable interactions with Chippers before moving to Fibeslay. And since the majority of the population of Fibeslay were immigrants, the majority should at least theoretically be receptive to accepting the Chippers.

Identifying potential sympathisers, Gerrik leveraged his lifetimes of experience in speaking with people to speak with them on these matters. After making enough small-talk to initiate a conversation he would deduce where they had come from and work from there. Skilled at reading people, Gerrik was able to determine how they felt about particular topics and sculpted the direction of the conversation using that information. There were some people who Gerrik quickly realised were unlikely to hold any sympathies for Chippers; with them Gerrik politely concluded the conversation and moved on. For the rest, Gerrik was able to get deeper.

Many immigrants who had come from beyond the villages immediately neighbouring Fibeslay had met and known Chippers before coming to Fibeslay. Gerrik brought forth their memories of those interactions which were broadly positive. For others, Gerrik indicated how the work of Chippers had benefited their lives and the lives of other hain, not least among these achievements being the lighthouse. Gerrik emphasised how strange it was that there were no Chippers active in Fibeslay, a comment which some answered by citing the tales spread by some prominent craftshain, or by indicating the historical persecution of Chippers in the region.

Gerrik took special care to refute the Shammikists’ claims that Chippers undermined the business of ‘legitimate’ craftshain in Fibeslay. Clearly, the Shammikists had no opposition to other foreign craftspeople selling their wares in Fibeslay. The quality of the goods produced by Chippers was never lacking and they did not undercut others’ businesses. There were also no Chippers in the Shammikist guild, despite other craftshain having little trouble becoming affiliated. The opposition of the Shammikists to the Chippers clearly had no real connection to business and was based on their identity as Chippers.

Gerrik also refuted the claims that Chippers were to blame for the disaster that befell Fibeslay. It was common knowledge that the star-fiends attacked everywhere on that night, not just Fibeslay, which undermines any argument involving anything specific to Fibeslay. It was also well known that during the attacks those with a Jvanic touch were the primary targets, not Chippers, meaning that the Blinding Purge was primarily an act of judgement against Jvan, not Chippers. Further reinforcing that was the fact that the settlements of other races were also targeted, a testimony which could be corroborated by the non-hain merchants which travel to Fibeslay. By simply looking at the world beyond Fibeslay it was clear that there was no connection between Chippers and the Blinding Purge.

But Gerrik knew that it was not enough to refute their misconceptions; those misconceptions needed to be replaced with something else. So Gerrik instead told them the real reason behind the Shammikists’ accusations. He told them how Chippers used to be persecuted in this region, so the Chippers who lived here went into hiding. Although the risk of persecution has long since passed, some of them still believed that it was dangerous to openly be a Chipper, despite such secrecy being completely contrary to Stone Chipper’s teachings. When Gerrik came and built the lighthouse, this was contrary to their expectations. When the star-fiend attacked, they assumed (without proof) that the star-fiend must have been divine punishment for openly practicing Stone Chipper’s principles and sought to cast Gerrik out. Now in an ironic twist these hain who feared persecution of Chippers are now persecuting Chippers.

Other Chippers also had similar conversations with their colleagues, although not with as much eloquence and depth as Gerrik’s efforts. They were met with varying degrees of success. But it was not their goal to create converts. The goals was to sow the seeds of sympathy and rationality. With those seeds sown, Gerrik and the Chippers would be able to reap that harvest when it came time to push against the influence of the Shammikists.

As the morning wore on some of the Shammikists started to take note of what the Chippers were doing. They felt threatened by this sudden flurry of activity, so in a knee-jerk reaction they turned to their usual tactics of pushing Chippers out of the market with their greater resources and repeating their old claims. They raced to out-do the Chippers, giving food to the poor, paying doctors to visit the ill and sending labourers to assist the needy. While doing this, they also warned those they helped about how evil the Chippers were and what calamities would befall the town should the Chippers not be rebuffed.

When one Chipper came to Gerrik to report this (although Gerrik already knew), he laughed. “Look what we’ve made them do! Now they are helping to poor and needy too. But keep going, as they can’t beat you to everyone.”

Some of the Chippers went to deliver various lessons to children, who were often out playing, and to parents who were supervising those children. Some had lessons on various crafting skills. Some taught about farming, or the natural world. Often the parents would shoo away these teachers or pull their children away, because the Shammikists had taught about the danger of such people, but for the more rebellious kids this only served to reinforce their desire to find out what these Chippers were talking about.

As the sun moved across the sky, the Chippers continued in their evangelism. More and more people were spoken to, and more and more seeds of sympathy were sown. Gerrik made a point of speaking with those higher on the social ladder, such as merchants and physicians. Merchants were worldly people so had a broader perspective than the Shammikists, so could clearly see the truth in Gerrik’s words. Physicians, by nature of their trade, could clearly see the benefits which Stone Chipper’s tenets provided, especially with the many practical examples Gerrik was able to give of where the work of Chippers had expanded medical knowledge. Gerrik had less luck with non-Shammikist artisans, because they feared for the retribution which the Shammikist-led craft unions would deliver should they be seen associating with the chief of the Chippers. Elword also went out and conversed, trained as he was in speaking and communication while also making use of his natural knack for words.

Because Gerrik had skipped sleeping the night before, Gerrik had been doing all this while pushing through exhaustion. His divinely enhanced mind and body made him resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation, but this work was proving to be especially taxing. Gerrik took brief power naps when he could, often in Goxiq’s workshop so he could watch the progress of his invention while he rested and provide some guidance. But Gerrik knew he could not afford to rest long while the Chippers and the Shammikists were fighting their covert war of words.

In the afternoon, Gerrik noticed that the Shammikists were coordinating a meeting. Gerrik overheard the location of their meeting place and went to a spot nearby but out of sight. He found a patch of shade and sat down to rest his body while his Perception spied upon the Shammikists’ meeting.

‘They have started a war, Heyek!’ were the first words of the meeting, and it was met with general clicks and murmurs of agreement, ‘they are causing strife and once more attempting to destroy our vow of secrecy. We must meet their heresy with force or it will never go away.’

‘Calm yourself, Vidin. Meeting this with force will do nothing but increase strife. We must act with patience and wisdom in the face of their intransigence and insistence on error. If we are harsh and heavy-handed it will only cause them to hold tighter to their beliefs. But if we meet the chaos they are causing with patience and firm-handedly right all that they tip over, then they will soon see the error of their ways. And if they do not, then I will petition the chief and ask him to restrain them.’ Heyek spoke with confidence and authority, and his words silenced those who wished for a heavy-handed and swift response, but it was clear they remained unconvinced. ‘If it will please your hearts then I will go immediately to the chief and have him warn Maro and his lot to restrain themselves.’

‘But Heyek!’ Vidin protested, ‘this is not just about Maro and Goxiq. The very head of heresy has returned. He is the one directing all of this! If we do not strike then he will slip from our hands as he slipped from Shammik before. And not only that, I am told he has brought an apprentice with him! Before there was only one master of the heretical ways, now we have two amongst us!’

‘Vidin!’ Heyek said sternly, ‘I told you to calm yourself. It matters not if there is one or two or three or ten. This is Fibeslay, and those who seek to reside here must follow our laws and traditions. If they cause strife, then Fibeslay itself will shun them and cast them out. That is all I have to say on the matter. If it will make you feel better you can come with me to speak with the chief - but see to it that you mind your tongue.’ With that, they moved on to discussing more general matters of trade and finances, and it was agreed between them that a substantial sum would be set aside to combat the threat from the heretics and ensure the support of key artisans and influencers in Fibeslay. And when the meeting was complete, Heyek and Vidin set out together to see the chief.

Yet Gerrik had gone ahead of them. If the Shammikists were going to protest to chief Hucori, then Gerrik wanted to be there as well. Gerrik made it to Hucori’s residence well before Heyek and Vidin and was met by one of Hucori’s personal guards and assistants. Gerrik introduced himself in as impressive a manner as he could muster. “I am Gerrik Far-Teacher, architect of the lighthouse, apprentice to Stone Chipper, prophet of Teknall, elder of Tallgrass, slayer of the star-fiend. I request an audience with the chief.”

“The chief’s busy,” the guard grunted.

“Do you not know who I am? Tell the chief who I am and that I have urgent matters to discuss,” Gerrik commanded. His words struck a chord with the guard, for Gerrik had a way with people, and the guard shied back, muttered something resembling an apology and went inside the richly adorned adobe dwelling.

Gerrik composed himself and waited. The guard relayed what Gerrik had said, although Hucori seemed to be in no rush to see him. While the ideal situation would be to meet with Hucori before Heyek and Vidin so that he could lay the appropriate groundwork and gauge Hucori for himself, having Hucori know his presence was adequate.

As Gerrik waited, Heyek and Vidin walked into view. Vidin glanced at the strange hain momentarily before getting back to whispering to Heyek, but the master Shammikist seemed to no longer be listening. He continued walking until he was within touching distance of Gerrik, and he looked upon the other silently for a few moments. Vidin, who had now stopped whispering, looked from Heyek to Gerrik in confusion. He seemed on the verge of speaking, but Gerrik beat him to it.

“Heyek. You’ve been busy these past 14 years,” Gerrik said.

‘Gerrik Far-Teacher,’ Heyek said simply. He looked around and saw that they were alone, and so continued, ‘I have been waiting for you to show yourself at last. We meet again, it appears. The cycle has now come full circle. When you departed Fibeslay all those years ago I was a mere apprentice, now I am a master. But unlike you, I have tamed my ego and disciplined my desire for fame and glory. It would have been an easy thing, for we Chippers see as others do not. But while you have chosen worldly fame and glory, I am content with the pleasure of Stone Chipper.’

“Yet have you done what pleased Stone Chipper? Would Stone Chipper be pleased by you hiding away knowledge, denying his name and becoming the very oppressors you first feared?” Gerrik asked cooly. Heyek waved Gerrik’s accusations away with a hand.

‘You know well that we hide because that was Stone Chipper’s command. Stone Chipper taught us much, his command then and even now was eminently wise. For his first teachings taught us to glory in our own minds - so much so that some grew arrogant, saw themselves as gods in their own right or higher than gods. Stone Chipper’s first command was also his second teaching, it has separated those who hold Stone Chipper and his commandments in highest esteem from those who arrogantly see themselves as wiser than the divine. Glorious as our minds are, we must know our limits and observe the boundaries given us by our god.’ Heyek’s eyes softened slightly and he extended a hand towards Gerrik, ‘will you not cease your war against us Far-Teacher? Far and wide Chippers have fallen to your heresy, can you not find it in your heart to allow our faith one citadel? Why do you so adamantly seek our destruction?’

Gerrik did not so much as look at Heyek’s hand. “Far and wide Chippers have accepted the mission Stone Chipper has given to all who will listen to reason. My teachings are no heresy, because I have received them from Stone Chipper himself. It is by his will that I do these things. Will you see reason and accept that the command to hide was for a time that passed generations ago?” Heyek’s hand remained extended even as he shook his head.

‘No Far-Teacher, that I cannot accept - not with a clear conscience. Stone Chipper spoke to us directly with the command, and he will speak to us directly repealing it. What does not stand to reason is that he would command us one way and repeal his command another. I recognise that your claim has found its way into many a Chipper’s heart and I have no intention of travelling to distant lands and places to destroy your beliefs as you have done to our faith. We are content in observing our religion in peace here in Fibeslay. Yet you are intent on our destruction, on challenging our faith and chiseling away at our way of life and tradition. We pose no threat to you, Far-Teacher. Will you and your people not leave us in peace?’

“I don’t do this for myself, but for the others. You subject every Chipper who you discover in Fibeslay to such mistreatment and abuse that they are forced to leave or go into hiding from you, against their conscience. Where several generations ago Chippers hid from superstitious and violent men, you have driven Chippers back into that same state by your own doing. Will you and your people not leave us in peace?” Gerrik retorted. Heyek frowned, his eyes narrowing in both anger and sadness.

‘These Chippers come to Fibeslay with no respect for our traditions and ways, utterly disregarding our religion. We are the people of this land, and when Chippers come here they must respect and abide by our ways. It is not much to ask. But instead they come with great hubris and injure us in our hearts. And when we warn them, they spurn us and carry on. We will not respect those who disrespect us, Far-Teacher. There are some amongst us who wished to drive you away immediately, for they fear your reputation and standing amongst those who follow your ways. But here I stand before you asking, with utmost respect for your station amongst your people, to consider us and our threatened faith. For have no doubt: success for you here will mean our destruction, success for us will only mean that your people have regard for our ways when in Fibeslay. It is not much to ask. But if you cannot afford us this, then we must understandably defend ourselves by all possible means.’ Heyek paused and allowed the gravity of these words hover between them for a few moments, then he gestured to his yet extended hand, ‘so will you not come to an accord with us, Far-Teacher, and end this strife?’ Beside the Shammikist leader, Vidin’s eyes were narrowed in fury. He brought a hand to Heyek’s shoulder and whispered a few words to him, which Gerrik heard.

‘Heyek, we did not discuss this with the others. There will be uproar,’ the bigger hain looked over at Gerrik suspiciously, ‘let us do what we came to do. There is no need to negotiate with this heretic.’

Heyek turned his head slightly towards Vidin. ‘We will speak with others later Vidin. Peace is possible now, and a wise Chipper knows to seize the moment.’ Vidin only hissed in exasperation and returned to staring angrily at Gerrik. Turning from him, Heyek returned his attention to Gerrik and turned his beak up in a friendly gesture.

Gerrik looked at Heyek’s hand, then back to Heyek with sadness. “If you had not been deceived by Shammik’s doctrines you would have made a great Chipper. While peace is an admirable goal, I cannot in good faith allow your perversion of Stone Chipper’s teachings to stand unchallenged.”

Heyek remained stationary, as if hoping that Gerrik would change his mind. When it became apparent that he would not he lowered his hand hand and his beak in sadness and turned away wordlessly. Vidin, however, raised his beak at Gerrik contemptuously before following after his leader. Unlike with Gerrik, Heyek was immediately recognised by the guard who greeted him with respect and offered to take him into the waiting room while the chief was made aware of his presence. Heyek nodded in thanks and gestured to Gerrik, informing the guard that he was with them and should be hosted also. Without waiting, the Shammikist leader and Vidin made their way to wait inside. The fate of their peaceful struggle, it seemed, now lay in the hands of Chief Hucori.

Despite being much younger than Bard when Gerrik had met him, the only hint of youth the current chieftain had over the other was that his shell was not as worn out, all else in the Hain seemed to be frail and tired. The man was neurotic, every day wondering if his food would be poisoned, if his guards were slowly being bribed by a younger and smarter chieftain wannabe, if there were spies around him or if the many religious figures in the city, both Shammikists or Adventist, were not trying to sap his health through uncanny hexes. Despite his exaggerations, there was a root of truth to his fears, as at the very first year of his rule an assassination plot was discovered at the last second.

Though as a coward, he never acted on his paranoia, trying to instead be pleasing to all sides, one of the few reasons he had even accepted the meeting with Gerrik, although when the chipper first came to him the chieftain simply hid in his room and begged his guards to send him away until he was ready. The chieftain was not all flaws, however, his worries were not self-centered, but also extended to his family, his friends (the few true ones he truly trusted) and, of course, Fibeslay and the surrounding villages, the Hain having a real worry about the future and well being of the lands.

Walls now surrounded the chieftain's hut, hiding its standing stones and rugs, the latter perhaps being thankful, as the chieftain stopped making sure the roof was covered in intricate rugs, now all that remained were torn rags with faded colors. Gerrik was conducted into the building, flanked by the most trustworthy guards of East Mesathalassa, the movement covered by the mist of the morning.

The hut was not any bigger than it was, perhaps only a bit dustier. The chieftain looked at the hain for a moment, and then waved his beak, a signal for the guards to leave. Trying to look impartial and not too tense, the tired looking Hain sat on a small bench, next to a table, extending his hand and showing the rug on a similar spot on the opposing side.

"I imagine you have a good reason for this audience? Tallgrass is a long distance from here, and I cannot say Fibeslay has been the most welcoming as of late," he said slowly.

Gerrik deposited his bow and quiver at the doorway (for he never let them out of his sight), bowed to Chief Hucori then sat on the indicated rug. “I thank you for your time, Chief Hucori. I am here to speak about the Chippers and followers of Shammik. How much about them do you know?”

More than he wished to know, the chieftain thought. "A good chieftain would certainly be aware of the incessant bickering happening in the streets of his village, do you not agree? Do I seem like a bad chieftain?”

“Never suggested it. I was merely making sure we had the same understanding,” Gerrik said, waving a hand. “I am here because it saddens me that Chippers are not free to express their faith here because of the misguided beliefs of a few people. Fibeslay is missing out on being part of a great network of knowledge and innovation because of it.”

The chieftain stopped for a moment, his beak moving slightly as he brooded over his words. “You believe followers of Shammik are misguided? Can that be proven?”

“The event which triggered my departure from Fibeslay and which is the most evocative of the Shammikist’s arguments to the general public was the attack of the star-fiend. They have argued that this star-fiend was an act of judgement from Stone Chipper for me openly practicing what Stone Chipper taught me. Of course, anyone with any contact with other towns would know that the star-fiends attacked everywhere, without regard for who was or was not a Chipper,” Gerrik explained.

“That’s not the only thing the Shammikists say, as you know,” Gerrik continued, “Their other public accusation they have is that Chippers undermine the business of ‘legitimate’ craftshain, competing with them. However, as you surely know, this is a flimsy argument. The Shammikists have no opposition to non-Chipper foreigners selling wares and competing with their business. They also refuse to let Chippers join their trade union, even though they are quite eligible.”

The king nodded slowly at that, it was an inconsistency he had noticed, though so far for him it had been just a reason as to why that particular group could not be trusted.

“The true reason for their animosity relates to the history of Chippers in this town,” Gerrik continued, “You don’t need me to retell that story. The Chippers went into hiding for their safety, but rather than return to normal once the threat had passed they continued to publicly deny what Stone Chipper had taught them about teaching and the open sharing of knowledge, and have gone to the extent of suppressing and persecuting practicing Chippers. As the prophet of Stone Chipper, I know that this is against Stone Chipper’s will and have even told them, although they reject my authority.”

“What sort of god leaves his prophet to be harassed by false believers? This is the question that plagues my mind, our peaceful village has its streets be the stage of bitter arguments all due to a god who was supposed to bring us progress and civilization! This god has not sent the star fiends, this god has a prophet who can’t even prove his arguments, who has previously allowed his followers to be slaughtered and his blessings, from what I understand, are all things that can be taught from mortal to mortal, no need of a god.” As Hucori spoke, he lost some of his composure, though his words carried more frustration than rage. “I could set up a court to judge if the Shammikists’ talk about the star fiends, and judge their words as true or false, that would be more than what your god can do, apparently!”

Hucori rose his hand and beak and pointed towards the painting on the wall, depicting stars and symbols. “Do you see stone chipper in there? What you, and shammikists, must understand, is that you follow a foreign god. That god rose up the mountains, that god brought the sea and its fury, that goddess created the stars, that god has created the monsters who crawl beneath the earth. Real gods who have made real things. What has your god ever done? Gave fire to mortals? I can make fire myself, I do it everyday, am I a god?”

Gerrik was surprisingly calm, at least outwardly. This was no time for anger. “Stone-Chipper has raised mountains, planted forests, formed the stone-men, stood against the hordes of chaos and the star-fiends, and gave the hain countless basic skills which you take for granted now. Fire was one of my contributions. But you miss the point. This isn’t about what the gods can do. Stone Chipper wants us all to be able to govern ourselves. He wants us to be able to share the blessings and knowledge we have and to innovate and create new knowledge with which we can improve our lives without the intervention of gods. The Chippers, genuine Chippers that is, promote this flow of knowledge. We have no desire to cause strife or displace your gods, only to improve the world around us. And we would do that peacefully if we were not daily abused by certain people.”

“Certain people which, to my understanding, believe in the same god as you.” The chieftain’s attention was back at him. “You seem to have some weight to your head, so you must understand my situation: there are two groups who believe in a god who is not in the records of this town’s ancient lore feuding with each other and causing disorder in what was once a shining peaceful village. What should a chieftain do? Many would certainly make sure these two groups never get a chance to fight again, if you understand what I mean, but I try to act more civilized than that.”

Hucori sipped on some boiled brew he had on his side of the table, pouring it into his beak. “So tell me, you are here to talk to me about the two groups, what is it that you want to demand? That I judge your rivals for telling lies and that I condemn them to have their shells broken in the central square?”

Gerrik waved a hand. “Nothing so extreme. What I ask is that you uphold justice and decency,” he said. “Is it right for newcomers to be bullied and abused? Is it right for people to be stoned or pelted with filth? Is it right to bribe people to harass others? Is it right to cajole and blackmail people into turning away legitimate business? Is it right to make merchants charge exorbitant fees to particular people based solely on their identity? Is it right to deny people a means to make a living? Is it right to frighten away so many talented people from this growing town? Is it right?”

The chieftain took a moment staring at the chipper and then looked to the side. “Those are ultimately your claims, I need to see if there is truth in them, but even if there is, are solutions ever so simple? You seem to think you have consistent proof your group did not cause the attack, and I believe you, yet some do not, why can you not reach for them? There are details in life, and sometimes clear justice is hard to achieve.”

“I have been reaching for them. Although, as mentioned, the most stubborn people have deeper prejudices against Chippers than the star-fiend or flimsy business claims,” Gerrik said. He then sighed. “I did not suggest that a solution would be easy or simple. But doing something is better than doing nothing.”

“I understand that, but I do not see ways to help actively,” Hucori said, “I can make sure your people are not murdered, and if there is such a terrible thing I will make sure to act. Ultimately, I feel the burden of proving your point falls onto yourself and your god. People have the room to believe in what they want, and it would be impossible for me to change that without engulfing this land in a war. I suspect many of my guards, for example, may have stakes on one side or the other. And if I cannot guarantee my safety, how will I guarantee the safety of the other lands?”

“So you would stand by and do nothing to address the conflict and injustice which mars your village and alienates skilled newcomers?” Gerrik asked, accusation creeping into his tone.

“You sure do love words, don’t you, Chipper?” Hucori said, “It's almost disappointing, your folk seemed to be a practical breed of Hain in my view, yet when you come here all you do is accuse my rulership and say there is a problem without providing a solution of your own or even the slightest of proof. Did you come here to feel superior to me? To reinforce your ideas? I do not know what you want to do, I wished to give you a chance to spill out your ideas, but clearly you do not seem to be interested in that.”

“If you want evidence, you can ask the Chippers for their testimonies. All of them can tell you how their lives have been made miserable by the followers of Shammik,” Gerrik said, “As for what to do, do you not have your own system of law and justice here? I should not have to tell you how that works, unless the wrongdoings I accuse the Shammikists of are not crimes here at all.”

The chieftain stopped, staring at the defiant Hain for a moment, and then calmly finished his drink, letting the visitor spend some time doing nothing but watching him finish it. “I think it is time for you to go. I do not see the point in continuing this conversation. It seems some of my suspicious about your group were right, after all.”

Despite Gerrik’s control, even Hucori could notice Gerrik’s hands tense in anger. He took a long breath in through his nose and exhaled it slowly. “Very well,” Gerrik finally said as he stood up. As he turned to go, he looked back to Hucori. “I was planning a demonstration this evening of a new invention. A display of the innovation Fibeslay is missing out on. Maybe that might give you something else to consider.”

Gerrik then picked up his bow and quiver and walked out the doorway. As he passed through the waiting room, he gave Heyek and Vidin a barely-perceptible nod, to which Heyek responded in kind, then left the chieftain’s hut.

Gerrik kept walking until he was out of sight of the chieftain’s hut, then he leaned against a wall, closed his eyes and ground his palm against his skull. That had not gone how he had wanted it. He had come largely unprepared to an extremely sensitive and politically charged conversation and had spoiled his first impression with Chief Hucori. Already he was performing a post-mortem on the conversation in his mind, laying bare the circumstances surrounding the conversation, both immediate and more distant, and making painfully obvious the wrong choices he had made.

Having the data of how he had failed did nothing to help him now; his acute awareness and flawless memory only made Gerrik feel worse. The one consolation, as another part of his mind spied on the conversation between Hucori and Heyek, was that Chief Hucori was not siding with the Shammikists either, despite their sizeable donations. Hucori took care to reassert his authority, and emphasised the importance of avoiding conflict with the villages who did support the Chippers. As Gerrik analysed the conversation, he concluded that Hucori was deliberately avoiding taking action on this matter until a safe course of action presented itself. Neither ideology nor wealth swayed Hucori.

Gerrik also could not help but analyse the characters of the other hain present. Heyek was, misguided beliefs about Chippers aside, a rational man. He appealed to reason and kept his calm. Vidin, on the other hand… Gerrik had seen all types of people, and this sort was dangerous.

Gerrik sighed and straightened up as the conversation drew to a close. He walked back towards Goxiq’s workshop. He had a demonstration to prepare.

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The metallic tube-shaped Promethean hurtled through the void of space under its own momentum and the distant force of the sun's gravity. Large metal fins protruded from the Promethean, radiating waste heat into space. Antennae and sensors bristled from booms which extended out from the Promethean. One telescope tracked the position of the sun. Another telescope watched the more distant stars and their positions. A radio dish listened to radio signals originating from its home planet, comparing their time-stamps to its own time-piece.

With these pieces of information, the Promethean knew where it was in the solar system. Basic calculations allowed it to determine how quickly it was going, and somewhat more involved calculations allowed it to predict its future trajectory. It could also hear the radio beacons of other Prometheans like it, flung out to the far reaches of the solar system. Each of them had a task, as did this Promethean.

promethean.C019260: Orbital state vector updated.
promethean.C019260: Preparing for planned burn (Task No. 2870133 Sub-Task No. 000013)
promethean.C019260: Orientation stable.
promethean.C019260: Flight systems scan: systems optimal.
promethean.C019260: Ignition.

Oxidants mingled with fuel and a line of fire lanced out from the rear of the Promethean's rocket, pointing roughly in the direction it was going. This continued for a carefully measured period of time before the stream of fire was cut off.

promethean.C019260: Burn completed.
promethean.C019260: Updating orbital state vector.
promethean.C019260: Orbital state vector updated.
promethean.C019260: Current orbit matches target orbit within tolerance.
promethean.C019260: Task No. 2870133 Sub-Task No. 000013 complete.
promethean.C019260: Initiating Task No. 2870133 Sub-Task No. 000014.

A hatch opened on the side of the Promethean and a more sensitive telescope poked out from it, seeking for any glimmers of light in the darkness around it.




What a ludicrous story, Periapsis.

The meteor djinn clustered for their meeting (although they were still quite distant by terrestrial standards), the asteroids' gazes bearing down on little Periapsis.

That is what Aurora of the outermost planet told me. She is the most powerful djinni of her planet, yet these beings had her worried, Periapsis said. I even saw one of these metal beings orbiting that planet.

There were murmurs in the aether, some in disbelief, some in confusion, some in concern. Then one of the other meteor djinni spoke up. I saw an object enter this region recently. A flare of light streaked away from it as it arrived, appearing to alter its orbit. It sounds like one of the metal beasts which Periapsis describes.

This report provoked a fresh series of outbursts from the gathered djinn. Never had anything other than themselves had the power to fly through space and adjust their orbits, so the revelation that there existed potentially dangerous beings which could contest their dominion shook them deeply. The meeting might have devolved into heated arguments and hysteria if the largest asteroid present did not speak out.

Be... calm... its slow and ponderous voice said. The heated discussions of the other meteor djinn trailed off and the aether was quiet. Do... not... be... rash... These... beings... may... not... harm... us... They... are... small... and... fragile... No... threat... to... us...

It was Periapsis who spoke next. Are- are you sure, Regolith? Shouldn't we be concerned about these beings? They have the power to bring themselves to space, and they have caused many casualties to the terrestrial elementals.

Aurora... is... militant... She... likely... started... hostilities... We... are... above... terrestrial... behaviours... Squabbling... is... not... for... us... celestials... We... are... the... most... powerful... We... need... not... worry...

There were murmurs of agreement from the gathered meteor djinn. Indeed, why should they be worried by lesser beings? While a few meteor djinn, Periapsis among them, were far from reassured, popular opinion had swung against them. Regolith's calm confidence in the status quo and the general perception by the meteor djinn of all other beings as grossly inferior meant that their response to the Prometheans was one of indifference.


The reports from the Promethean probes were promising. This solar system contained other worlds and moons which could be colonised, and countless lesser bodies which could be harvested. The sheer abundance of resources beyond the confines of their planet was enough to push up the priority of off-world colonisation.

However, such projects needed reasonable stepping stones. The terrestrial colonies were faced with an ongoing war of attrition against the elementals, so the celestial colonies needed to be as independent of the terrestrial colonies as possible. The first step towards this goal was to build up the lunar colonies.

One such colony had already been founded on the minuscule moon, which was providing a steady supply of fuel and propellant to the ships in orbit around the homeworld. But the colony ships which were under construction needed metals as well, and for this moon to provide an adequate supply of metals it needed more mines.

A lull in elemental attacks as the djinn recovered from their previous losses gave the terrestrial colonies the opportunity to send supplies spaceward to bootstrap a second colony, and a third. High manufacturing cost items such as fusion cores, supercomputer clusters, chemical catalysts and precision tools were among the supplies sent, although they also sent a sizeable supply of mundane parts. It was not long before the lunar colonies were fully established and providing supplies to the construction projects in orbit.

With a steady supply of metal and propellant, the Prometheans were able to make fairly quick work of the first colony ship. This giant vessel was outfitted to deliver colonies to the asteroid belt, which had an abundant supply of minerals which could be used to rapidly manufacture other similar spaceships. Once the asteroid belt colonies were established, metals would be so abundant that they would supply the terrestrial colonies; expansion would accelerate.

Specially manufactured Prometheans, lightweight and vacuum suitable, were loaded into the colony ship. There were enough Prometheans to immediately begin a colony, plus spares. When all was in place, the giant clusters of nuclear rocket engines of the colony ship were heated and fired, propelling the colony ship into a transfer orbit to the asteroid belt.


The great Carrier had made it to the asteroid belt, and the Prometheans it had been carrying awakened. The Nexus, which had occupied a substantial volume, disconnected from the Carrier. This Nexus was a decahedron floating in the void like another asteroid. Small Manipulators with magnetic feet crawled over it, ensuring that the Nexus' systems all initialised successfully. Telescopes and antennae extended from the Nexus, mapping the space around it, establishing contact with the homeworld and relaying communications to the other probes in the solar system.

Energisers came online, collected hydrogen and propellant from the colony ship, and charged and fuelled the Prometheans which were in the cargo hold. Carriers moved Processors next to Nexus, where Manipulators bolted them together to form a single superstructure. Three Destroyers were deployed. One was a turret which walked across the superstructure on magnetic feet. The other two had rockets so they could fly under their own power.

Then came the Harvesters, within several Carriers who also carried a few other Prometheans. Their task was the most important, for without them the new colony would die as quickly as it had been formed. The Nexus located a promising asteroid, and the Harvester-bearing Carriers set course for that asteroid, with the two Destroyers following.

The convoy soon made it to the asteroid and cancelled their velocity relative to the asteroid. The Carriers touched down on the surface and released their Prometheans, while the Destroyers kept their railguns charged and ready in case any elementals appeared. After briefly prospecting the asteroid, the Harvesters clamped down and began to dig. An Energiser drifted amongst them, providing all the Harvesters with electricity. It was not long before they were yielding resources: metals, hydrogen, oxygen, and even a few hydrocarbons. The fluids were bottled and stacked into the Carriers along with the metal ingots. A Processor anchored down into the stone and started performing on-site manufacturing, of gas bottles and spare parts.

The Carriers shuttled resources between the asteroid and the Nexus, which was being moved closer under the thrust of the colony ship. It and its Processors used these resources to build more Prometheans, which added to the asteroid harvesting effort. Once there were enough Prometheans on the first asteroid, the Nexus started producing Prometheans to mine a second asteroid. After some time, that asteroid was also being mined and providing supplies to the colony.

promethean.N0001973> Check production_rate(item) >= task.3000147.000187.target_rate(i) for all item in task.3000147.000187.target_items
promethean.N0001973: Check result: True.
promethean.N0001973: Task No. 3000147 Sub-Task No. 000187 complete.
promethean.N0001973: Initiating Task No. 3000147 Sub-Task No. 000188.
promethean.N0001973> new_task(Type="craft",Target=promethean.harvester.space.devourer_small,Quantity=1)


Two meteor djinn watched the flickers of rocket-flame from a distance.

It's exactly as Periapsis warned. The metal beasts are eating the asteroids and multiplying their numbers.

This is indeed grave. They show no sign of slowing their expansion. We must warn Regolith.

Would Regolith even listen? Warn him, yes, but we need to act, regardless of what that old space-rock says.

There was a brief signal of indignance. While I cannot condone such disrespect for our elder, you are right. We must act, with or without him.


The Harvester of the Devourer sub-class approached the small asteroid. Retrograde thrusters flared, slowing its approach to a crawl. Large arms stretched out and clamped into the face of the asteroid, digging in to gain a grip. Then its steel maw, positioned between those arms, advanced forwards and tore into the stone, sent dust and gravel into its belly where it was sorted and smelted by centrifuges and furnaces. A stone elemental emerged from the asteroid in response to the attack on its home, but a brief staccato of gunfire from a turret on the Harvester reduced that threat to pebbles.

Then, from a very long tube sticking out of the opposite end of the Harvester, a heavy pellet of compressed regolith was launched at great speed. Another followed it a moment later, and more followed at a steady pace. A sizeable portion of the Harvester was dedicated to the device performing this task. A long row of electromagnetic coils were arranged like the barrel of a cannon, and had radiator fins sticking out from them. A conducting bucket carrying the compressed rock was accelerated by the coils, until near the end where the magnetism reversed and slowed the bucket to a halt. The rock, however, continued on its trajectory, carrying away momentum from the Harvester and asteroid. Thus this mass driver propelled them forwards.

The Harvester continued to devour the asteroid. It filled its interior with refined metals, volatile hydrocarbons, water, and reactive oxygen isolated from the ores; a bounty to deliver back to the Nexus. It was flying back to the Nexus as it consumed, taking the asteroid with it. A few Manipulators scurried across the great Harvester's hull, checking systems and performing maintenance.

As it flew and mined, the Harvester detected some unusual movement on its cameras. It appeared that an object was heading towards it from a distance. The Harvester aimed its radar at the object to more accurately determine the object's range and trajectory, as well as to acquire some clues to its composition. The object appeared to be an asteroid, on an intercept trajectory.

The Harvester did some calculations. With the heavy asteroid it was carrying, it did not have enough thrust to avoid the impact in the time remaining. It's best option was to detach and fly away, out of range of shrapnel from the potential collision. Indeed, if the two asteroids did collide (an incredibly rare occurrence), then the debris could be more easily harvested.

So the Harvester disengaged its clamps and, with a pulse of its retrograde thrusters, drifted away from the asteroid. It put many kilometers between itself and the trajectory of the incoming asteroid, with that distance increasing steadily as it drifted. But as the Harvester checked the trajectory of the incoming asteroid once more, what had previously been an uncommon sight was now an impossible sight. The asteroid had changed its trajectory, aiming straight at the Harvester.

The Harvester's digital mind took a few moments to process this. However, most Prometheans were not particularly intelligent, so while it logged that something was amiss, it was unable to grasp the full seriousness of the situation. In line with standard protocols, the Harvester sent a report to the Nexus. Then it fired its rockets again to adjust its course out of the trajectory of the incoming asteroid.

But as the Harvester moved, it detected that the asteroid was also accelerating, maintaining the intercept course. This was extremely unusual, as it knew that asteroids had no source of thrust. It was also alarming, because its actions had failed to eliminate the threat of an impact. The Harvester sent a report with higher priority to the Nexus, although with communication delays of many light-seconds it had to take some initiative.

The Harvester ran a systems diagnostic of its camera and radar systems, and found no faults. The Harvester sent radar messages towards the asteroid, in case it was being piloted by another Promethean, but there was no response. The Harvester continued to perform course adjustments, trying to evade the asteroid, but the asteroid continued to match the Harverster's manoeuvres. As the asteroid got closer, the Harvester could see puffs of dust spraying from the asteroid matching its velocity adjustments.

promethean.N0001973: Hazard No. 640038 analysed.
promethean.N0001973> new_enemy(hazard.640038,Risk=5780,Action="avoid,observe,attack")
promethean.Hsd000001: Performing evasive burn.
promethean.Hsd000001: Firing weapons at Enemy No. 052719.

As the Harvester continued to manoeuvre, its turrets which could see the incoming asteroid pivoted towards it and fired. The shells soared through space and struck true, but it did nothing but add a few tiny craters to the space-rock's surface. If the Harvester had not been a faceless robot, it might have identified a peculiar similarity between the asteroid's surface features and a face. Especially with how those surface features shifted. But at this moment the Harvester was more concerned with trying to outmanoeuvre the asteroid. If it had been a lighter craft, this might have been possible, but as the Harvester was only designed for weak accelerations and it was laden by heavy cargo it could not avoid the asteroid, no matter how much it tried.

The asteroid hurtled closer, continuing to track the Harvester, until it finally struck the Promethean. The asteroid was larger and heavier than the Harvester. The asteroid ploughed through the ship, and the Harvester's hull ruptured and twisted, its mass driver snapped off, its gas tanks burst open, and its cargo was scattered. Twisted chunks of metal and machinery spiralled away from the impact, and while the asteroid had gained another crater it was mostly unharmed.

I have destroyed one of their asteroid eaters. It was a fragile thing.

Excellent. The rest will be just as easy.

The Prometheans, however, had other plans.


The mystery of the self-propelled asteroid was one which had occupied a significant amount of processor time on the Nexus network, but a solution was eventually found. It was determined that this was likely a new type of elemental, native to the void of space. The asteroid belt Nexus swiftly ordered that more telescopes be constructed, so that every asteroid in sight could be tracked. The identification of the occasional unexplained orbital shift of some asteroids further verified their conclusion.

With the threat identified, the Prometheans needed effective countermeasures. Smaller Promethean ships had better thrust to weight ratios, so would be able to easily outmanoeuvre the asteroids, but things like colonies and large miners were heavy and slow so needed additional defence.

To achieve this, the Prometheans developed a new class of Destroyer. This space-bound Destroyer was built around a single spinal mount weapon: a mighty and very long railgun, which launched missiles carrying solid metal payloads. Such a large weapon would have been impossible to build for a terrestrial Destroyer, but in a microgravity environment it was only a matter of finding enough resources. This mighty cannon was designed for imparting enormous impulses and shattering rock, the projectile able to adjust its trajectory as it flew to track an accelerating target. It would not work on the largest asteroids, but those should be slow and visible enough that an evacuation could be mounted even for slow-moving Prometheans.

While the giant cannon would work against reasonably sized targets, the potential damage which a high-velocity pebble could cause was not to be underestimated either. Especially if the big cannon would convert portions of incoming asteroids into an omnidirectional spray of gravel. However, the defence against micro-meteors was rather simple. The hull of the ships were wrapped in a thin layer of metal, with a gap between that layer and the main hull. A high-velocity micro-meteor would expend all its energy against this thin shield, and the structure underneath would be unharmed.

As the Prometheans were building these things, mining all the time, they could see meteor djinn moving their orbits. Orbital repositioning took time, though, especially when each meteor djinn could spare much less reaction mass than the Prometheans. But it was not long before a target flew into the new Destroyer's sights.

promethean.N0001973: Orbital state vector of Hazard No. 681306 (asteroid, elemental) updated.
promethean.N0001973: Warning! Hazard No. 681306 will intercept with promethean.N0001973 in 52:41:07.
promethean.N0001973: Performing physics simulations.
promethean.N0001973> new_task(Type="redirect",Target=hazard.681306,Deadline=T-52:00:00)
promethean.Ds000012: Initiating Task No. 3108730.
promethean.Ds000012: Targeting Hazard No. 681306.
promethean.Ds000012: Primary weapon armed.
promethean.Ds000012: Firing primary weapon.

The Destroyer jerked backwards as its projectile was launched forwards. Rocket thrusters on the Destroyer fired to cancel out the imparted momentum. The missile was soon a quickly-receding speck in the distance. The barrel had barely cooled and the vast capacitor banks barely recharged before the Destroyer fired again, a second missile hurtling into the void after the first. After a little more time and a few moments to reorient the cannon, the Destroyer launched a third missile. This cycle repeated for hours, launching a long line of projectiles.

It took many more hours for the missiles to reach their target, distant as it was. Yet in the void of space, a projectile is just as fast when it leaves the barrel as it is after hours of flight. The meteor djinni noticed the glimmer of the approaching missiles and started to manoeuvre out of the way, but it had started too late. The missile used its own rockets to follow the asteroid, then struck with astonishing force. Dust sprayed out of the new crater and the asteroid shuddered from the impact.

The meteor djinni had hardly recovered from the shock of the first blow when the second missile struck. The meteor djinni looked out and saw more missiles coming, so made a frantic effort to escape the paths of these dangerous projectiles. A heroic burst of steam allowed the asteroid to evade the third missile, since it was too close to make an effective change to its trajectory, but the others had enough time to change their course to follow the asteroid. The missiles kept coming, chipping off chunks of rock and sending fissures through the asteroid. The asteroid elemental limped away from its original trajectory, trailing debris as it was chased away by the relentless barrage of missiles.

promethean.Ds000012: Confirmed hit on Hazard No. 681306.
promethean.N0001973: Orbital state vector of Hazard No. 681306 updated.
promethean.N0001973: Task No. 3108730 complete.

While the asteroid had been diverted, the resultant debris field was still a hazard. The time of arrival of the debris cloud was estimated. Manipulators scrambled to deploy appropriate shielding, some of which consisted of sheets of metal simply floating between the colony and the approaching cloud of meteorites. Flying Prometheans kept clear of the projected paths of the debris, and when the time came the smaller walking Prometheans of the colony moved in to shelter. An irregular hail of small rocks lasted for about an hour before the peak of the meteor shower passed. Not that many rocks had actually struck the colony, for space was vast and mostly empty, so there was minimal damage to repair.

Meanwhile, Harvesters had already been deployed to follow the orbits of the many chunks of debris which had broken off from the asteroid. The Prometheans were never ones to waste an easy source of resources.


Did you see what those monsters did to Chondrite?

Horrific! Never has anything besides another meteor djinni caused such harm to a meteor djinni.

This is an insult to meteor djinn everywhere. We must do something!

We need to strike as one!

We must protect the other asteroids!

It will be costly and time-consuming.

There was a pause. To the meteor djinn, orbital mechanics was as natural as walking, so they all understood the comment. The meteor djinn were scattered across the asteroid belt and beyond in disparate orbits. Every maneuver performed by a meteor djinn cost them some of their own mass. To group up for a coordinated strike would either take more mass than could be spared, or many, many slow years. Normally, meteor djinn were never in any hurry, but these metal monstrosities were living lives as frantic as the terrestrial elementals.

We'll figure out something.


Nothing moved in the asteroid belt without being seen by the other side. Promethean probes catalogued and tracked every asteroid in sight, while the meteor elementals could plainly see the territory trawled by the Prometheans and their incandescent rocket engines.

The Prometheans once sent probes to inspect one of the meteor djinni. The small ships were quite easily able to make an orbital rendezvous with the asteroid. However, when a probe got closer to inspect it, the probe was obliterated by a high-velocity spray of dust. The meteor djinni threw meteoroids at the Promethean probes as they retreated, but the Prometheans had got enough data to tell them more about how meteor elementals worked.

The Prometheans had one major advantage over the meteor djinn, which was mobility. Any meteor djinni worth worrying about was far more massive than any Promethean spaceship and produced a smaller specific impulse, which meant that a meteor djinni had to discard far more mass to change their orbit than a Promethean. Given adequate warning, any Promethean could avoid encountering a meteor djinni.

The elementals had one major advantage over the Prometheans, which was sheer size and mass. Even though most meteor djinn were on the small side for asteroids, having found some equilibrium between propellant needs and rock consumption, they were still orders of magnitude larger than terrestrial elementals. Most of the weapons of the Prometheans were completely useless against the asteroid djinn. The mining tools the Prometheans had could not approach a meteor djinni. And the mighty high-impulse railgun which had been invented could wound a small meteor djinni, but they would run out of projectiles before that weapon could stop the larger asteroid elementals.

So the Prometheans had adopted a policy of evasion. Probes were deployed across the asteroid belt, equipped with telescopes and radar for tracking the orbits of asteroids. They knew where all the asteroids were, and could plan the placement of new colonies and asteroid mines to avoid the orbits of any suspected meteor djinn, with a margin to adjust if a meteor djinni changes orbit. The big guns worked as effective deterrents against some meteor djinn, keeping them away from intercepts with the Prometheans.

The meteor djinn were still able to give the Prometheans some difficulties. It was easy for a meteor djinni to break off a chunk of themselves and hurl it away on a new orbit. Sometimes these meteoroids were detected early and intercepted. Sometimes they would miss their targets altogether, being thrown from many millions of kilometres away at a target no more than a few hundred metres in size. But occasionally one would strike a colony or asteroid mine and cause substantial damage. But the Prometheans always rebuilt and carried on.

They carried on mining the asteroids. They carried on building new colonies. They carried on shipping metals back to the homeworld. They carried on manufacturing spaceships to send themselves to other worlds.


They're avoiding us. They know they can't win in a fight against us!

But they are still ravaging every asteroid they touch. One day there might be nothing left for us.

Has Regolith said anything?

I think the only thing which would spur Regolith into action is if those monsters tried to dig him up. He didn't get that big by acting.

Well I for one think we should still do something.

Did you have any ideas?

There was a pause. Then:

Albedo is on a close approach with that outer planet these monsters apparently came from. The breeze named Aurora native to that planet had earlier sent us a message via Periapsis asking us to strike against those of the monsters who lived on the surface. Perhaps we could try that.

There was another pause as the idea was digested.

Normally meddling in terrestrial affairs is beneath us, but I think in this case some payback is warranted.

Remind those terrestrials why we are to be respected.

Put on a show they won't forget.

Excellent. I'll call Albedo and see if I can get him to agree.


Back on the homeworld, the war against the elementals was ongoing. Some territory had been lost while the Prometheans had invested in space, but that investment was now returning dividends. Metals, some of which were quite rare on the homeworld, were being flown back from the asteroid belt and shuttled down to the surface.

Hauling cargo across the solar system took a lot of time. Rather than have a spaceship fly along with the cargo all that time not doing anything, the Prometheans had established another system. A Carrier with the cargo would boost up to speed. Then the Carrier would release the cargo, which continued on its own orbit, then thrust in the opposite direction to return to its original orbit. At the destination, a second Carrier would boost to rendezvous with the cargo, retrieve the cargo, then reverse thrust to match the destination orbit. This system cost more propellant, but since the Carriers were empty for half the manoeuvres it was only a small amount of extra propellant. But its benefit was that two Carriers could handle hundreds of concurrent deliveries, which was a much smaller capital investment.

The delivered resources were of great aid to the terrestrial Prometheans. They granted the Prometheans some stability of resource supplies even when the elementals disrupted mines. They provided an abundant supply of some metals which were quite hard to find on-world. Although, there were some resources which were still more abundant on-world than in space, mostly hydrocarbons and ammonia, so the terrestrial Prometheans sent shipments of those substances and their derivatives to their space-faring relatives.

While things seemed to be going to plan for the Prometheans, there was one critical thing which they had overlooked. They hadn't been looking for meteor djinn, since they did not consider that there would be any this far from the asteroid belt. With their own array of terrestrial concerns, looking out for stray asteroids was low on their priorities.

Because of this, Albedo's approach went largely unnoticed. It was only when a satellite scanning the void noticed a near-planet asteroid which had substantially changed its orbit since it was last measured that the Prometheans realised the danger, but by then it was too late. Albedo had split off a bunch of meteoroids and sent them hurtling towards the Prometheans.

A shower of small meteoroids were aimed at the orbital shipyards, where the Prometheans built their colony ships. Hulls ruptured and components shattered where the meteoroids struck. Many Prometheans were damaged beyond repair and sent spiralling away, while the ship being built suffered major damage.

One larger meteoroid had been aimed beyond the Prometheans in orbit, to a destination designated by Aurora. The meteoroid fell into the atmosphere of the planet, and as it raced through the atmosphere at great speed the air in front of it compressed into a super-heated plasma. A trail of fire streaked across the sky, coming closer to the ground with each passing moment. By the time the Prometheans had estimated the object's target, there was nothing more they could do.

The meteorite struck the ground in the heart of Promethean territory. It instantly erupted into a vast fireball, liquefying rock and Promethean alike. A mighty shockwave tore a crater into the bedrock and hurled away Prometheans who had escaped the fireball. Rocky ejecta was hurled many miles from the explosion, raining down on the colonies and causing further destruction. Earthquakes rumbled out from the point of impact, causing infrastructure to crumble. And a cloud of dust was hurled high into the atmosphere and spread outwards, blotting out the sun.

Errors and warnings blared across the radio in as close to panic as the Prometheans got.

promethean.D000191: Warning! Critical damage received.
promethean.N000017: Error: Communication failure with N000001 and 1716895 other Prometheans. Last known location: [19.7 -2.8]
promethean.P009182: Warning! Critical damage received.
promethean.N000084> new_hazard(Location=[19.7 -2.8],Description="explosion",Action="avoid,shelter",Risk=9999)
promethean.M002901: Warning! Critical damage received.

In one move, the elementals had caused previously unimaginable damage to the Prometheans, instantly destroying vast swaths of land. And all were in awe and shock at the incredible power which had been unleashed.

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Bulagutai Spryte-friend

182 of the Azad Calendar - Year of the Dead Horse - 1 Post-Realta

When Bulagutai Spryte-friend first heard the drums of war and the baleful deathsong of the igilir, he knew beyond doubt that the time of the great bloodletting was at hand. It was from a distance beyond sight that he heard it, a deep rumbling that gently shook the earth at first, grew into tremors as one grew nearer and nearer yet, and then at last became all one could hear or feel. It did not vibrate through the earth and through his temporal form alone, for the gravity of these tremors echoed even through the fabric of all that was, and through the wide-eyed souls of mortalkind afar and nigh around. And scaling a final hilltop, through the sound of horses and screaming and drumming and shaking - noise so thick that one could not walk, but only wade, through -, the great scene came into full view. His sprytes circled about him, agitated by the noise and afraid of the enormous gathering of fleshly beings on the plain. The Spryte-friend brought one close and stroked an ethereal head that now formed up and now dissipated into an ephemeral mist.

His journey had been long, and the bond forged with these sprytes that now bound themselves to him and followed him was beyond anything other disciples of Y'Qar - in their impatience - could know. 'We have been gifted something great,' Zanshah had declared to him one day, 'and now is the time to return to our people with it, to teach this great knowledge.' But Bulagutai had been of an altogether differing inclination.
'How can they hope to teach who are in the shamanic arts as accomplished as a fish is in the ways of flight? No brother, we have much yet to learn - the spring flows into a stream, which worships at the foot of the great river, which flows into the great lake, beyond which are mountains on mountains stacked, beyond which is the sky from horizon to horizon drawn, above which are stars and moons and endless travails. If you wish it, then you may to our people now return; but as for me, the miles call, the miles of the mind, and the walk must of necessity go on.'

And so he had travelled. For a time he continued to follow Y'Qar in the hopes that he would divulge more of what he had been gifted, but the great shaman was suspicious and covetous, his vision transfixed on usurping his father and brother. Bulagutai saw Y'Qar for what he was then - a well of knowledge that had dried up. And so he had departed for Vetruvia where the people spoke of strange and dark arts being practised in the night, of unnatural beasts that twisted things beyond their naturally ordained forms and filled them with horror and pain and - ultimately - death. But if it were not natural, reasoned Bulagutai, then how could it be possible at all? Surely nature herself would not permit the universe the very faculty of comprehending that which was unnatural, let alone permit its production. Surely the very existence, the very reality, of a thing - even if it existed as a fleeting or imagined thought in the mind of the most obscure and evanescent of creatures - was proof enough of its being a natural part of the great tapestry? All that existed was by its very existence of nature, and so to say 'such and such a thing is most abhorrent and unnatural' was manifestly erroneous.

The single spryte who followed him at that time disagreed, screeching in its unhearable voice of the evils of Djivin and reprimanding him and warning him against such ideas and thoughts -

Mind the path oh fleshly kinsman; do not stray
See you not these thoughts are hunted nightly and by dawn of day?

It had a tongue for poetry, and of surety there was to be found in poetry pearls of wisdom. But Bulagutai was a creature of the mind and of reason, and he saw with an eye and struck with a blade that reason alone could hope to defy.
In that great city, Bulagutai came upon a hidden gem - a temple that was no mere temple, but an archive of knowledge. He had travelled from temple to temple, asking the priests of Vetruvia what they knew of the shamanic arts, and at every door and gateway he had been rebuffed with harsh words and turned away with suspicion, neither fare was afforded him nor the welcome owed to guests and wayfarers. Some had even thought to report this stranger to the so-called Priest-King - and many did not just think it but acted on such thoughts. Yet this Priest-King seemed unconcerned with a travelling stranger.

In the bazaar one day he saw a great crowd following a scraggly-haired preacher, chanting such things as, 'down with the Witch!' and, 'out with the heretic!' Made curious by this talk of witches, he followed them and soon came to know that this was not the first time an itinerant preacher had come forth from the Vetruvian desert to try and cast out the Witch-Priestess of the Temple of the Bond. Many had come before and, as Bulagutai would come to know, many would come after.

He watched as the Witch-Priestess - the one called Mother Iehra - brought low this one who thought to cast her out, with the swiftness of her tongue and piercing insight. And so he was drawn to her - or to be more precise, to the knowledge that lay hidden behind her eyes, to the compelling mind that lay beneath that crown. He never did speak with the Witch-Priestess - he avoided her and cast his eyes low whenever she passed him by. But in the library he befriended a young Priestess named Lowza who was at first happy to read the manuscripts for him. Dissatisfied with this, for she was not always available, he had set his time and energy to deciphering the language of the Vetruvians. It had been a lengthy endeavour, and Sister Lowza aided him, even affording him a place to stay with her brother who dwelled but a short distance from the temple. It became common to see the Azad sat in the far corner of the library, poring over one tome or another in his efforts. When Mother Iehra walked into the library, on the occasions that she did, he seemed to bend over double as though getting low enough would allow him to disappear into the book or tome or scroll. For her part she never approached him, and - for no reason that he could fathom - he was glad for it.

As it became clear that his stay in Vetruvia was to be too lengthy to continue living as a guest, he began to seek out a way to be self-sufficient, or some way to recompense Sister Lowza and her brother, Urb, for providing him with accommodation. He was a Rukban, and so knew his way around a sword and bow, though he openly admitted that he had never dedicated himself to the twain in the manner his brother Shaqmar had done - for Shaqmar was the glorious warrior of the Azad, a creature closer to divinity, granted boundless prowess and piercing sight. Bulagutai's path was of a more humble and scholarly bent, but even the scholarly Rukban knew well the sword, the bow, the spear, and knew well the horse. The Vetruvians knew nothing of the horse and treated it with suspicion, the bow was foreign to them also for they preferred the sling, and they knew nothing of the sword and knew much of the spear. These were the things the Rukbans knew, and these all had to do with war. Even their mastery over words found its greatest application in war - the word was a weapon too, and the Rukbans knew well how to hone it and knew well how to strike their enemies with it and to hurt them in their hearts. And so Bulagutai found that of little use were those things of his people here.

One day, some months into his stay, with Sister Lowza sat across him, he let it be known that he wished after some kind of work, that he may earn a living and pay both her and her brother back for permitting his continued stay with them. She had smiled and waved his words off. 'Think nothing of it, kindness is its own payment.' Bulagutai had looked at her impassively.
'Kindness?' He had heard the priestesses preach of it before, but had never really paused to consider it. It seemed absurd to him that hospitality and kindness should be conflated. 'I do not know what you mean, but I have never heard of those who barter for kindness.' She looked at him quizzically.
'Kindness itself is its own payment is what I mean to say. To see you at comfort and ease and to know that I have contributed to that, to see you reading while before you could not make out even the letters. It gives me joy and that joy is payment enough.' Bulagutai frowned.
'You are spending time to teach me, you feed me of the food you grow tired to provide, you house me in your brother's house freely. You lose by this arrangement and do not gain, and it irks me. I am neither a cheat nor a beggar and will not conduct myself or be treated as such.' She blinked in confusion, taken aback by words that, though spoken softly, held a subtle barb.
'Do your people not have the concept of hospitality?' She asked.
'Of course we do.' Came his simple response.
'That is kindness! You are generous to the guest and treat them well, better than your own. That comes from kindness.'
'No, kindness is rooted in weakness, in submission, in fear. Hospitality is honourable. Kindness brings dishonour. Hospitality is a sign of wealth, it displays to all that one is able to care and provide for, and protect, those who seek shelter at one's door. It shows you to be a man of your word and trustworthy, for the guest has no need to fear the treacherous knife or the subtle poisonous drought when you are the host. It is not a matter of kindness, it is a matter of honour.' Lowza considered his words for a few moments.
'Well, I mean... that is somewhat odd. It is a matter of honour here too, I guess - but not... not quite as you describe. Is it not rooted in doing unto others as one would like done unto them? And isn't that in itself the very definition of kindness?' Bulagutai frowned as he considered this concept, and then shook his head.
'You speak oddly - what is this doing unto others as you would have done unto you? No one does this. People kill and maim, steal, loot, rob. We do unto others much that we would not like done unto ourselves.'
'Ah! But should the ideal not be that we do unto others as we would like done unto us?'
'No, that is mere foolishness - it is to willingly throw yourself to ruination. We must do as done unto us. If we did unto others as we do unto ourselves, then we would find our goodness recompensated with evil, our generosity with miserliness, our mercy with cruelty.'
'So what would your response be if a beggar were to ask your help?' Lowza asked testingly.
'There are no beggars in Rukbany, and he who begs is dishonoured. It is better far that one die dignified than that he should eat and drink of dishonour.'
'And what if your father asked your help?' She asked quizzically.
'We owe our kindred a duty. Their wellbeing is our wellbeing, their strength our strength. Those who treat their kin badly are in our view most vile and are worthy indeed of contempt.'
'But those who treat other people badly are truly virtuous in your eyes?'
'I owe other people no duty. As for my kin, I owe it them. In turning on them I strike down my own horse which carries and provides for me in war and peace alike.'
'So you care for your kin because it serves you and is to your benefit, and you care for the guest because it is a display of your power. Where in all this is basic morality - do you not claim to worship the same God as we?'
'The Eternal Sky is a glorious and majestic sovereign, and we are all his vassals. Those who adhere to the Law are honoured and those who defy it shame us before him and incur his wrath, and we punish them a severe punishment. That is all there is to it.'
'So you obey the Master only because you fear the punishment of your people?'
'In part. It is only natural for the weak to be submissive before the mighty. None is mightier than the qa'id, and the greatest of qa'ids is the Eternal Sky. But worship of him does not only keep punishment at bay, it also brings honour.'
'So why do you worship him here, right now? Your people can neither punish you here nor can they honour you.'
'You are right in that, but the wrath of the Eternal Sky is not connected to my people. Wherever I may be, his wrath may strike me down. And wherever I am his pleasure empowers me. He is the wellspring of the shamanic arts practised by the Witch-Priestess, and he is the well-spring of the knowledge that I seek to harness. How should I harness it if I have incurred his wrath?' Lowza frowned.
'So tell me this, why are you good to anyone in this city. Why do you not treat me and my brother and the people of this Temple with the contempt you would treat anyone who is not of your kin?'
'Ah, but it is not so simple. You have given me no cause to mistreat you, and have only treated me with the hospitality that is due a guest. You are good hosts, you fulfil your duties, and so I fulfil my duties as a guest. I shall praise you wherever my foot lands, for that is the duty of the good guest to the good host.'
'And yet that same guest, under different circumstances, may slight and insult the host. If the host came to him for help one day, for instance, you say he has no duty to him at all. Isn't that warped?'
'The host has a duty to his guest, and he is dishonoured if he does not carry it out. The guest owes a duty to his host, but that duty expires once he departs. The host's reward comes in the form of his enhanced reputation and honour. It does not come in the form of that particular guest or those particular guests being indebted to him. So a man may be a guest one day, and he may depart the next, and on the third the host may raid that former guest's herd and the former guest may retaliate as he pleases. The former guest may curse and take the former host as his enemy, but there would be no question about his honourable conduct as a host, and even should the former guest strike the former host down, still would he praise his conduct as a host. These are entirely different matters and are not to be conflated.' Lowza frowned deeply.
'That makes no sense. It is contradictory.'
'And even if it were contradictory, and I do not see any such thing, what does it matter? It works and serves us well.'
'I imagine it works somehow, but I doubt it serves you well.' Was her retort.
'It is practical. It takes into consideration the nature and predilections of men. Would you have us ignore the evil that all people are capable of? - nay, naturally predisposed towards. Would you have us deny the natural desire for power and prestige? Replace it all with the foolishness of this kindness of yours?' Lowza pursed her lips in irritation.
'It is not foolishness. It is about discipline. We are all capable of great evil, we are all vulnerable to primal emotions. But to become elevated, to become truly human and not a mere animal, we must tame these primal emotions and discipline them. By disciplining them we are made purer and more perfect, closer to that which is divine. Otherwise we can sink to be even as base as - and baser yet than - the creatures of Y'Vahn. See, you are tied down by this tribalism and this terrible understanding of honour and you allow it to forge you and dictate your morality. But one must rise above these all and seek, above all else, to be the finest person they can be - just, generous, brave, altruistic, wise, temperate, dignified, forgiving, disciplined, and much else! In sum, it is a duty you owe yourself to be the most excellent person you can possibly be. And in carrying out that duty to yourself you are well-placed to carry out a wider duty you owe all: the alleviation of suffering, however and whenever you can as though all the world were your kin.' Bulagutai scrutinised the Priestess. There was much he could say in protest against this absurd conception of the world, but he allowed himself pause and considered seriously what she was saying for a few moments.
'I cannot say, Lowza,' he at last spoke, 'that I see eye to eye with you on this. But what I can say is that it is of interest and I can, mayhaps, understand it given what I have seen of this city and of this Temple. I will think often on your words.' The Priestess beamed, and many were the occasions thereafter that they sat together in thrall to ideas and philosophies, the priestess leaning forward and whispering excitedly over the table as the Rukban sat back and calmly gave response. She would at times force him from the table and the endless scrolls and tomes, into the courtyard where trees grew and there was life. And they would walk sometimes to the bazaar or along the bank of the river. He had not considered it at the time, but thinking back Bulagutai found himself inclined to believe that Lowza may well have been smitten with him.

As it were his stay in the great city would not carry on into perpetuity and when he had exhausted his energies and found that he tired of staring at tomes and scrolls he bid farewell to Lowza and Urb and took a Vetruvian sailship down the Mahd. These constructions were wondrous things indeed. They were hewn from cedar wood, if the sailor Bulagutai spoke to was to be believed, and sported one great mast and a square-shaped sail. Both the wind and oars powered it, and at the back was a great steering oar greater than all the rest which controlled the direction of the ship. It was a work of genius and a testament to the ultimate power of the innovative mind.

Horrorborn Beauty of the Waters

On occasion a passing djinni would descend and playfully blow into the sail, so granting the ship speed on its journey downstream. They stopped by various port towns where Bulagutai had opportunity to speak to merchants who had sailed beyond the Mahd. The Mahd, they told him, fed a grand forest that sat in the waters, and beyond it was saline water as far as the eye could ever hope to see. Bulagutai looked on impassively. 'You have seen the eyes that hope to see,' he had whispered. The merchant did not hear him, and even if he did Bulagutai was already lost in thought, his gaze fixed on something neither here nor there - and maybe not truly anywhere at all. The companionship of Y'Qar, Vetruvia, this port town; these were but the beginnings of his odyssey, and what lay before him was greater yet.

The shaman shook away the entangling web of memories and looked before him at the enormous Azad encampment. Aye, he had returned home now after long years and could see as clear as the unforgiving orb of day that much had changed. Atop the hill he stood a shadow for some time, the threads of his travel-worn garments the plaything of sprytes, his hair uncovered to wind and sand and the beating rays and to the kisses and protective embraces of his divine companions. He stood a watchful shade, his face as stone and his heart enveloping his people, their pain and suffering a glaring wound to all who knew well how to see. He had returned now as a balm and soft breeze. And so Bulagutai descended from his perch, walking slow as sprytes trailed in his wake and heavenward all about him.

When the first riders spotted him their horses reared and snorted and kicked the earth, turning and turning, churning up mud and causing dust clouds to rise. They approached and hailed, but their horses did not stop and they went by and then returned and hailed again but their horses could not - would not - stop. They hailed him who was silent and the riders about him grew many and still their horses did not stop, much as each skilled rider willed, so that all about him was a circle of horse and man flesh going and going and raising up the dust. But all around the Spryte-friend was clear and no dust approached or landed on him, the airborne dirt parted before him or came swiftly and gently passed.

'It is Bulagutai! It is Bulagutai!' The cry at last went up and was taken up as a fire in a land of endless dry bushes. 'It is Bulagutai!' Was the unified cry. The women came out and sent forth ululations of joy and others beat at their chests and tore at their hair and cried for joy and for all the pain that would soon break the heart of the son and brother of noble qa'id after noble qa'id born. Old women came out with bowls of kymis and, placing their hands within, sprayed it above the head of the returned son of the Azad and sent forth praise and blessings on the Eternal Sky that had watched over him and brought him safely back to the bosom of his people after long absence.

The Qa'id Adheem stepped forth flanked by Zanshah, Bulagutai's eldest brother, as well as Alqama the Chief Shaman and other elders beside. Silence fell as the returned son stood before the Qa'id Adheem and the elders. Then Zanshah stepped forth and his face lit up with his characteristic smile - though even that could not hide the well of sadness in his eyes - and he extended his hands towards his brother. Bulagutai stepped forward and they both gripped one another's arms in silent greeting. Qaseer the Qa'id Adheem eyed him for a few moments then he too smiled and they gripped one another's arms.

'My Qa'id,' spoke Bulagutai. Qaseer grinned and brought him close.
'None of that between us, cousin! I had wondered who it was that saved me from that strange fiend. I see now that it could have only been you.' Bulagutai smiled thinly at Qaseer's words.
'You should not have been out so far all on your own, Qa'id. Your death would have added only more woe to our many woes.' Qaseer's brows dropped at this words, as if they had suddenly remembered the weight of responsibilities and troubles.
'Your words testify that you have already come to know what I fear to tell you.' Bulagutai nodded.
'I know that my brother has gone ahead of us to where we all are headed.' Qaseer nodded and allowed his head to fall.
'Aye, he has. But he has left us a will, and his will is blood. And no Azad am I if the will of Shaqmar is not done!' Bulagutai's eyes softened and there was sadness there.
'Honour and duty demand it.' Spoke the shaman, causing Qaseer to smile and grip the other man's shoulder.
'Your travels have not stripped you bare, Bulagutai! You are the brother of Shaqmar. Come, let us wash you and dress you, and let us bring forth food and drink. Tonight we shall take joy and solace in your return, and tomorrow we shall deliver death to Toqidae and his people and all his confederates!' Bulagutai did not speak but allowed himself to be led away.

When the sun had been extinguished and the fires awakened all over the camp, and when all had gathered to hear from Bulagutai, the Spryte-friend spoke. He spoke of his going forth with Zanshah in pursuit of godly knowledge, spoke of how they had found themselves with a company of wandering outcasts - lowly escaped slaves some of them, criminals, and then there was Y'Qar the Vetruvian nobleman in self-exile. He spoke of the blessings granted Y'Qar by the Eternal Sky and the command to share it. But Y'Qar was jealous and covetous and hid more than he shared, and so Zanshah had departed after feeling satisfied that no more could be gained from the man. Bulagutai, however, was more persistent. 'But in due time I too saw that Y'Qar was to us nothing more than a dried-up well, the creative energies had shrivelled up within him and all that remained was hatred and bitterness. He was a ruin within, and a ruin cannot hope to create but can only bring about ruin. And so I departed from him and travelled in pursuit of that which I had first left home and kin for.'

He spoke of his stay in Vetruvia and the Temple of the Bond, spoke of Iehra, the greatest of the shamans of the world, who was mistress over that Temple and who - so it was said - was descended of the Prophet; nay, descended of the Eternal Sky or herself an aspect of it! He spoke of the secrets of shamanic knowledge that lay written in the tomes and scrolls of her Temple's great library. 'What is a library, son of our first mother, and what are tomes and scrolls?' Came the question, and Bulagutai smiled and explained that a library was a place where books and scrolls were kept, and then he presented them with a book he carried on his person and wherein he had written much knowledge he had seen.

'And what is hidden,' he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes as he tapped the side of his head, 'is greater yet!' He told them then of his journey down the Mahd, told them that the Mahd poured itself into a great forest that grew out of the water. 'The people of those strange lands live perpetually on boats, and they have homes built on sticks above the water. And to travel from one home to another you must either jump so as not to get wet, or you must swim, or you must row a boat.' And he spoke of how he had managed to convince the master of the ship he had boarded to carry on beyond the mangrove into the great endless water. They had kept land ever in sight as they journeyed and many of those who had come with them refused to go beyond and so it fell to Bulagutai to summon forth sprytes to aid their journey. 'We travelled until we came to the lands of the merchants who bring us metal from the far mountains. I was amongst them for a time and saw terrible shamanic arts - there it is not the spryte and the djinni that hold power, but the word.' And he opened his tome and leafed through it until he came to one particular sign, which he replicated on the ground so that a small spring erupted before them.

The people were shocked and even Alqama stared in amazement at this miraculous magick. 'They do not worship the Eternal Sky in those far mountains, they worship others beside the Eternal Sky - in fact, some do not know the Eternal Sky at all. Their gods have granted them these arts and many are they who use them for evil. But I am a son of yours and a brother, and I have brought you only what is good.' Then he invited them and many were they who drank water fresh and pure from the spring, and it was thereafter known as the Great Spring.

'But my journey, may the Eternal Sky preserve you, did not end there. Again I set out with my trusted companion the shipmaster - it was him only now, and me. He was forlorn and yearning for home, but I thirsted yet for wandering.' So, Bulagutai told them, he had convinced his companion to journey from the coast. He had alleviated the other man's fears and assured him that so long as he, Bulagutai, was a friend to sprytes then no harm would come them. 'But I spoke in arrogance and forgot to praise the Eternal Sky - no power or might have we, only through his grace can we be empowered by the shamanic arts,' and so, when land was far from sight, why then earth's foundation fled, nor sky nor land nor sea at all were found, and they were set upon by those dark raging waters and terrible storms rocked them and took them hither and thither. Utterly helpless before nature's wrath, their ship was smashed and both men were swallowed into the burgeoning darkness of the endless waters. 'And even that shipmaster, who I had seen swim in and out of water with ease, was overpowered and perished. I survived only due to the loyalty and efforts of these sprytes who - in the desperation only death can bring - I gained mastery over.' Bulagutai then stopped and looked into the dark night. The people were still, staring wide-eyed as his tale unraveled.

'Ah,' he said, 'but the hour grows late and on the morrow we shall meet with death and mete it.' And with those words the people rose and began to disperse each to his own tent. But though they dispersed, and though the Azad were at war, the only talk that night was of Bulagutai and his fantastic journey. Many were those who came to him, kissing his fingers to gain blessing by touching one so blessed by the Eternal Sky. When Bulagutai retired with his brother Zanshah, and with his sisters also and with Qaseer and other close kin, he looked about and frowned. 'Why is it that I do not see Surayka, or is she also amongst those who went on ahead?'

Qaseer shook his head in response. 'No, she has not gone ahead but she may as well have. Ever since Shaqmar's death she has donned the red and black and has been as a shadow or a ghost haunting the camp.' Hearing this Bulagutai rose and excused himself, and then he gestured for his sister Wanun to lead him to Surayka's tent. Standing outside it he could hear his grief-stricken kinswoman chanting a poem.

Peace to the world and all on it, for it is not peace
If the heartstrings of your life are cleft from the heartstrings of mine

It is as though we were created in error and it is as though
It was forbidden upon the world that we should be united

I collected the memories of yesterday's meeting in my lashes,
And I went reigniting them, one by one, on the tired horizons.

There are none so confused as I: the eye runs wet and dry,
Weeping and laughing in the depths of my secret heart...

I forgot from his hand to take back my hand,
Lost my very mind after a brief kiss.

There are none so confused as I: I collapse exhausted
Behind the curtains of my roundtent in illness and heartache.

I love this love if it comes to visit us with its fragrance
Oh perfumes make your nest at the door and spill everywhere.

Entering the roundtent, he looked down at her and smiled sympathetically. 'Many things you are, Surayka, but not a poet. You have the heart for it, not the tongue.' She looked at him with wet eyes and then looked away again.
'What is it to me, son of our first mother? What comes from the heart will land, at long last, in the heart.' He did not disagree and approached her, sitting before her. After a few moments of thought, he began reciting her verses back to her altered and changed.

I have wished peace on creation,
But 'tis not peace
If great God deems to apportion
For us heartache,
And if our bound heartstrings should break.

Oh pain so great God must have erred
In making us,
Or while pairing us slipped and glared,
And so forbade
The world to shelter us or shade:

I have gathered the memories
That sing the tale
Of past meetings, in my lashes,
Lighting them all
On the horizon of my soul.

None are confused as unto me -
A slave yet not;
The eye runs wet and dry and free
Laughing, weeping,
So my heart is leaping, creeping,

Shedding tears for long-gone kisses,
Carving rivers
That are healed by past embraces;
From his hand I
Failed to draw mine: so take, oh sky!

None are confused as unto me -
So I collapse,
Exhausted with this misery,
In my roundtent
With the curtain drawn and back bent -

I love this love when it visits
With its fragrance;
Come, enter with scented spirits,
You perfumes nest
And spill through my curtain to rest.

Surayka did not look at him, but her tears fell heavy. At last she sniffed and cleared her throat and spoke. 'You don't have Shaqmar's tongue, and took the heart from it too.' This caused Bulagutai to chuckle and nod in agreement, and Surayka too smiled ever so slightly and looked at him. 'But you are his image...' she sighed, 'except for the eyes; and the eyes hold much. His were alight with two suns, but yours are simmering coals.' Bulagutai cocked his head.
'Are my eyes so dark? I thought them brown.'
'Simmmering,' Surayka murmured. Then she began chanting again verses that were neither hers nor his, but theirs.

I have wished peace on creation, for there is no peace
If the Sky apportions for us heartache and separation
And if the bound heartstrings of our lives should break

Oh pain so great that it is as though
We were created in error, and it is as though
'Twere forbidden on the world that we should unite

I have gathered the memories of yesterday's meetings on my lashes,
And reignited them all, one by one, on the tired horizons.

What ails the birds that they approach and then question me
'You have neglected your hair, gone is the knot of shoots!'
Their flocks, and the gleam in their glances
Incite in me towards them something of reproach

None are confused as me: the eye runs wet and dry,
Laughing and weeping in the depths of my secret heart...

I love him, who claims I had never smiled for him;
He grew near so their embraced me a longing for escape:
I forgot from his hand to take back my hand

None are confused as me: I collapse exhausted
Behind the drawn curtains of my roundtent, with back bent

I love this love when it comes visiting with its fragrance
Come in on scented spirits burning incense;
Oh perfume make your nest at the door and spill everywhere!

He nodded in acknowledgement. 'It is imperfect, unbalanced, distorted and contorted; but it has heart. And what comes from the heart,' he looked at her, 'lands in the heart.' She stared at him with distance in her eyes, and then one of her hands was at his cheek.
'You are his likeness, except for the eyes. Just as words can be spoken though the tongue utters naught, eyes hide meanings for eyes with true sight.' He removed her hand from his cheek and pressed his lips to her fingers.

And I questioned her, but without speaking a word
So she spoke to me, though her tongue struck not a chord

She looked away and was quiet for a time. Then she lowered her gaze to the ground and spoke. 'In all your travelling, did you ever have occasion to give yourself to another's embrace?' Bulagutai shook his head.
'I was pursuing a different kind of embrace.' She turned back to him with eyes brimming with tears and closed the distance between.
'Then for tonight - just tonight - embrace me.'

And he did. And when she fell asleep he brought her near and covered both her and him in the furs, and his eyes did not sleep as he watched over her. In the dark depths of the night, his eyes of simmering coal yet open, she turned over and buried her head into his beard and sighed and muttered. And her sighs and mutters were, 'Shaqmar...'
He stroked her face and brought her near. 'Yes, sun of my night,' he whispered. She giggled in sleep, childlike joy and innocence, and all tension left her as she breathed deep. The image of her lost Shaqmar held her close, and all around them sprytes streamed and wafted in silent, eternal vigil. On the morrow there would be blood and war, and death would dance across Rukbany as it had danced and reaved before. Great warriors and qa'ids would be brought low, tribes would be shattered and others would rise, for that was the Rukban way. But for tonight, a burdened soul and broken heart at last found release. Perhaps kindness was not quite so terrible after all.
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The Mesathalassa summary (with info, maps, terminology

Up. Upward. Up to Mountains. Up to the Sky. Ever since I left the coast it was nothing but that, a constant march towards the heavens, where the person who some said was the ruler of all mankind lived. The imperial machine worked with impeccable zeal along the way. The roads were well maintained and the Djore were well maintained even in the middle of the aridest lands. Djore being little inn-like lodges along the path. Apparently, this use of inns was used by tribes of Western Mesathalassa in the past creating a vast network of information and stability, the empire, always up to stealing what worked, remade the system, focusing on centralization and the expansion of its army.

Yet as a reminded we are dealing with empires of mortals, not of gods, it clearly showed its limits where the land became too rough. The Climb, or Nyar Refi, are a mountains broken region between Western Mesathalassa and Northern Mesathalassa. The North is a land of countless rivers, many of which go west, upon meeting the broken cliffs they turn the whole area into massive waterfalls.

Your Holiness, I cannot properly describe how terrifying these paths are, beautiful too, like many of nature's worst terrors. Endless snaking cliffside roads with the abyss on one side and thick merciless jungle to the other. It was slippery, it was cold, it was foggy. Even the mighty Dzanyavehar cannot tame these lands, which is why they made another road, a longer slower one through a smaller passage deeper inside the continent. Only the military uses this one these days, and as a prisoner, I am taking it along with the guards who are scouting me, five of them your holiness!

That is just the average size of these types of units. Our troops are not so puny we need to send this many man to watch for a single out-of-shape hain scholar.

Once past the mountains, you reach the highlands of Northern Mesathalassa. This is where the imperial bureaucracy lives, where the empress and the high priest make their edicts and were the generals meet to decide on the matters of protection and expansion of this empire.

The air itself seems to hold great pressure, Dusklander Humans seem to handle it well, but for other peoples, such as the many other types of humans making this trip from the low coast to here is a painful experience. I myself am feeling a bit dizzy as of late, to think these lands used to be inhabited by hain in the past is curious.

Oh! How I wish I could continue my trip eastward and make it to the Hain side of the continent, to see its impressive fortress and rolling hills, to see the hometown of Gerrick and historical cities such as Fibeslay or Tagrasse. But I am a prisoner. Captured for the crime of trying to get historical records of this continent! How tyrannical of the Dzanyavehar Empire.

I am no master of your language, but it strikes me as such an odd thing to that the writer of this letter uses Dzanyavehar Empire, wouldn't the proper use be the demonym of Dzanya? But I guess your language doesn't have one yet. Dzanyaish, Dzanyaite, Dzanyiard. Well, Dusklander Empire works but I'd rather for foreigners to just use Dzanyavehar. Vehar is such a beautiful word, people's land, it's creation was one of the drivers of the creation of this empire, or rather, government. Empire is such a strong barbaric word, we are no tyranny and there is no hereditary succession, well, in theory. On the other side, it does invoke the idea of the late Lifprasilian Empire, if it ever existed.

Twenty Days since the Summer Solstice.
Year 146 since the stars fell.

I have been lodged in a luxurious home. The empress herself wants to see me and she wants me to bring her my writings about this region. Oh! Your Holiness, this might be my end. What if she has an issue with my use of Northern Mesathalassa and Western Mesathalassa instead of the regional names of the provinces?

The young empress (She is not young anymore, but she did come to power before she was 20. She has reigned for decades and is still relatively young for a monarch, she also seems to showcase great health. If she lives a long life this whole population won't know what the world without her rule is like.)

But anyway, the young empress is said to be flexible but stern. Aren't these conflicting statements? I do not know if she will show interest in my works or sentence me to lose my head. I will hide certain papers in the house and tell a local hain about them, then perhaps at least some of it may make it to you. Unfortunately, I never finished the full story, I was starting to research the Human - Dwarf war.

The papers were found under his bed.

Twentyone Days since the Summer Solstice.
Year 146 since the stars fell.

Your Holiness. It all went very well. In a sense.

The Capital of the Dzanyavehar Empire is something to behold, not as beautiful as our capital, as it was built in a rush and the whole architectural style is composed of small bricks and concrete instead of our more impressive size using larger rocks. But, it is a colorful luxurious land.

Large towers, countless bridges with silver and gold ornaments over equally countless channels of raging river water. Silk, oh so much silk, even the beggars have some. I visited the royal temple and saw its tablets built entirely from gemstones. The empire knows how to use its wealth to give an impression.

The empress is a regal person, for sure, but also very charming, she talks to you and you feel like you are talking to an old friend. Albeit an old friend who seems like they wouldn't think twice before murdering you to advance her cause.

All she wanted was to read my work just so she could see the perspective of a third party about the continent's history. She also wanted to make some notes and fill some spots she felt my research was insufficient. I was too scared and too charmed to say no.

Chapter ?3 - The Wave.


While initially a religious circle, Tsefo soon became a far more diverse group, with many generals rising from the rich environment of learning. This was crucial in maintaining the importance of the circle during the decades that followed.

Of the Tsefo generals, six were the most prestigious, Tsilluhan Dyetzu, Rofotzan Tsir, Fernya, Funmih Huro, Llor Tzemeh and Pihati. While in generally aligned in objectives and zealous defenders of the Dzanya, all had a serious rivalry against each other.

They were friendly rivals at worst. The only one who suffered a bit of aggressivity was Fernya due to being half-sunlander and a bastard with no clan behind her name

All of them would write differing guides to strategy and the history of conflicts between 68 and 74, mostly sourced on foreign works.

In 74 there a group of dusklanders were murdered in the city of Grehvew. This was the call to action for the group of young generals, all of them leaving with plans to conquer the south.

They never expected to conquer even a single city. Tsilluhan confessed to me he expected to campaign against some Sunland nations but what happened was never expected.

The initial group was only composed of Tsilluhan for his leadership, Pihati for his experience and Rofotzan as the Tsir clan was from the Papuratsura, the gravel shores of the Duskland an area close to Grehvew.

Seeing the hostility of Grehvew and knowing it was an important chokepoint between the Dusklands and Mesathalassa, they decided to infiltrate and take over the Sunlander fort. The daring plan worked, and the city fell under their hands.

This was, of course, not a solution to the issue but the beginning of a great war between two regions. Decades prior, Tihtzin's Tabata city-state had been denied, and the sunlander lords were not about to allow a dusklander to take over another city. If they knew the price of their actions, I am sure they would have allowed it.

First came the regional lords, the tribes of Shayek and Nur Yir thinking this could be their chance to shine. They not only were unable to defeat the well organized and well-prepared Dusklanders with knowledge in tacts brought over from all over the fractal sea and beyond, they certainly made it all too easy for Tsilluhan's troops to get a footing in Western Mesathalassa. Even the lack of horses, one of the Dusklander's worst obstacles in the war, was slightly alleviated when the tribal troops melted against the invaders, leaving behind troops and animals.

The land conquered so far was plenty of territory for a nation. Sparsely populate for sure, but with countless Dusklander refugees expected to come south, this would be quickly evaluated.

But, just south, was Tabata. The City once ruled by a dusklander, Tihtzin, the first of such kind. They were scared and probably not without reason. Another group annoyed with the situation was the Republic of Kodekzia, with the vassal state of Puperute in the North, a reliance on dusklander trade, and just a general aversion to the idea of a group of people conquering land almost equal to the land they held, even if of lesser quality.

Their biggest fear was that the group could become allied to Kivico and join forces to crush Kodekzia for once and for all. This feels hilarious in hindsight but who knows how things could have evolved.

This is a foolish statement. Kivico would have joined forces with Kodekzia to take out the "invaders" as they did in the past. These two nations not uniting to defeat a common foe is a perfect example of why independent regional powers are dangerous. All they do is bicker and fight, wasting human lives in senseless intrigues and rivalries. In this case, they were lucky the so-called invaders were humans with morals and not murderers and slavers.

The two nations started their campaign against the northern invaders trying to be as quick and offensive as possible. Highly underestimating the competency of the Dusklander army, in particular the presence of foreigner military strategy.

I think the writer values the foreign influence on our initial military beyond reasonable levels. Yes, it is known our access to the trade of the fractal seas and the continent to the north was key in getting more information than the isolated Mesathalassan nations. But it is a mistake to ignore the homegrown strategies.

Tsilluhan Dyetzu's focus on standardization, his understanding of scouting and the importance of supply lines. Pihati's concept of observing nature for strategies once adapted and expanded by Fernya was innovative even in comparison to the rest of the world. So many strategies used by us to this day are inspired by the observation of hunting tactics of animals. Rofotzan's genial line of combat strategies.

The battles against Tabatha were not won only on luck and foreign ideas. The patience of the troops, the surprising trickster moves, the quick use of horses in our scouting, the adaptation of the environment of combat with carpenters and heavy workers being brought from the tribes to help to build structures for our group, this was all local ingenuity.

That hubris was harmful, perhaps if these nations had faced the southern invasions the continent had gone through they would know the results of overextending and expecting easy battles. But to them, those were all stories of southern incompetence.

The tide turned quickly, and violently. Kodekzia's tyrants ordered the immediate retreat of its troops leaving Tabata to fend for itself. The idea was to lock the Dusklanders in a siege on Tabata while they prepared their positions for defense in their own homeland. It was vile to abandon an ally, but it had merit.

The only issue was that the Tsilluhan saw trough it. Only leaving enough troops around Tabata to suppress the city before marching southward, towards Kodekzia.

"It was like fighting a wave, no matter how sturdy your armor is or how sharp your blade is, you cannot do anything. It crashes against you no matter how much you move, it seeps into your clothes and then it sucks you deeper into its ocean. As you are recovering, the wave crashes again." - Zaarn of Kodekzia.

The Dusklander's greatest advantages were their numbers and organization. Their tactics and formations were perfect for open fields, to raid nations with exposed supplies, to constantly add pressure to less organized armies and nations until they broke under the stress.

Tsilluhan Dyetzu was a master of getting others were they wanted them to be.

In his own army, this was shown through its great organization, the ability to integrate sunlanders into their ranks, the ability to keep the supplies and settle the wounded. He knew to identify those who needed to put into leading positions and the veterans who were better instructors than soldiers, it is even said he knew how disposable each soldier was and his punishment for failing soldiers always set a strong example.

But what is truly important was what he did to his enemies. The elasticity of his command was impressive. With forward bases and scouting, they knew where their enemy would be, and they were never beyond bribing locals and merchants for information on the geography of the area. He was able to suppress attacks on their weak points and fully take advantage of the weak point of others. His group was able to perform many fakeout attacks to dislocate enemies from better positions, and they were able to quickly infiltrate the enemy nations.

Their defeat of Kodekzia was done using exactly that. The nation of Kodekzia was divided by a great river, the Kodez, and not many passages existed.

The Dusklanders prepared the perfect bait, pretending they would conquer the countryside of Kodekzia, beyond the river, first. Making the tyrant of the republic move towards the region expecting combat. Instead, the main army moved straight to the city of Kodekzia, not a single stop to siege another town as they moved onward. How did they get there? They discovered an area easy to cross by canoes that not even the owners of the land knew, the soldiers who were also lumberjacks had been able to prepare the rafts and move the army through without the Kodekzians ever knowing.

Of course, Tyrant Zaarn of Kodekzia knew this was trouble, he had seen the Dusklanders pulling miracle after miracle, he feared for his city. That fear was expected, it was in fact, the key to Dusklander victory. They didn't have the means to take over Kodekzia, the whole plan was to make the tyrant to do that with the main army. The Dusklander's main army quickly turned to face the royal troops while the once dispersed troops raiding the countryside congregated into a second army.

The Kodekzians were caught between both armies, they took defensive positions, but at that point, it was a waiting game, they had limited supplies while the Dusklanders were increasing their control of the countryside. A final attack ended the army, the tyrant was capture, Kodekzia was without leadership and without most of its army and ultimately the Tyrant Zaarn surrendered in exchange for safety.

Only one thing existed between the Dusklanders and total control of the North, and that was Kivico. The jewel of Mesathalassa, the only truly unconquered city of the continent at that point.

Kivico was another beast entirely, they had fought invasions before and their traditions and hold over the land were old, often unbroken for far longer than most other governments had existed. They were in a good position and the Dusklanders knew they couldn't expect their luck to exist.

Even with their advantage of massive attacks over large areas existing they needed more than just a simple advantage to claim victory, it was necessary to rethink their approach. The fact the invading forces knew that was impressive, the fact they managed to pull the necessary reforms to guarantee an influx of troops and supplies was a miracle nearing absurdity.

Mostly thanks to most of the generals of the time managing to predict they wouldn't be able to keep a single style of warfare for long, they had the system ready to change in response of a new threat, this is a tradition with roots back in how the clans would prepare warfare, fighting the battle of today and preparing for the one next year. It was not a miracle, it was proper management.

The battle with Kivico was a close call, though the victory at the Tall Gardens went down to history as "The Disaster of the Tall Gardens" it was mostly a stalemate. It was perceived as a disaster however because it should have been a Kivico victory, their inability to crush the invasion there and the eventual loss of land painted a grim picture for all the less-prepared nations. It was known back then that the invaders would only strengthen their hold over time.

A year would pass, with the Dusklanders now focusing on consolidating their victories, uniting territories and establishing the management of conquered lands. A recruitment drive was done among dusklanders to get more displaced young adults into the army with the promise of land and riches, a lot of thought was put into integrating horse riders and raindeer riders in the army and finally, the Dusklanders had access to metal production.

Chapter ?4 - The Southern Campaign

Mirny was the broken heart of Mesathalassa, a land of mineral riches and a political mess due to that, the fanatic Elysian cultists (a goddess invented by humans) did not help. The dusklanders knew that, and they wanted to take the land. There was no pretense of defense here, though it would have been easy to fabricate an excuse.

The sudden invasion made it clear they no longer were fine with just taking over the north, they were in it for everything and would take as much as they could. The fact more and more of them migrated into the region every day also made it clear this wouldn't be as easy to solve as the Raindeer ridder invasion from the south earlier in the century. Invoking the spirit of legendary queen Runza when she united the lands to defend it from invaders (or rather, reconquest) many local kingdoms finally managed to put aside their differences to mount a response.

This was the right response in the North, and would have ended the conquest, but things were already out of control when it came the time for the south of the continent to do the same. It was necessary to show excellent leadership and good coordination, the former was shown sometimes but the latter, with so many distinct political entities and former rivals involved, never really existed.

The response was slow and not in time to save Mirny and the surrounding areas, the answer was not able to regain those lands, the lines stagnated, or worse, at times they were pushed back. The Dusklanders were still able to use their mobility and information to pull infiltrations and surprise attacks, even sending out smaller armies to spread havoc on the attacking nations, even sieging and conquering a few cities.

It must have been terrifying for the southern lords because this was unlike any other battle of invasion from before, invaders came, gave their all and disappeared. Dusklanders had patience and endurance and only seemed to become stronger over time. Meanwhile, the southern lords were giving it their all, and it just wasn't enough, their armier become more and more fatigued, yet they couldn't just pull back, they were holding the door of a lion's cage closed, once they retreated it would open and the beast would consume them, yet, all they could do was hold the cage closed, there was nothing in sight to tame the beast.

The only salvation after the initial errors was Kivico putting an actual effort against the dusklanders or a peace deal, but neither happened. The lines began to break and the blow to the south was immense once the kingdoms were forced to retreat and fortify.

The effort for the Dusklanders, however, had been excruciating. A lot of blood had been shed, including one of the six generals leading the attack, one, Funmih, who was assassinated.

The remaining five found themselves having very different ideas of where to lead the battle now that they had cracked Mesathalassa open like a clam. Llor would lead his forces against the West wanting to conquer more the coast, Fernya would move East to help Dusklanders settle in the inner continent, Pihati and Rofotzan would lead a charge south with aim of finding new lands for the Dzanya to settle and destroying weakened local kingdoms. Tsilluhan went north, to capture Tabata, and enact his revenge upon Kivico.

Tsilluhan was obsessed with Tihtzin and the idea of destroying the hero's main enemy was something he kept as a focus. Conquering Tabata for once and for all and ruling it on a charge to destroy the Ruby City was his childhood dream.

But Kivico, even if weakened, was not an easy target, especially now that the Dzanya armies were widespread. His attack was misguided, but it did stop Kivico from sending aid to the south in the second wave of the Southern Campaign. Yet all benefits were thrown away as he kept forcing the attack, to eager to break Kivico like the other nations had been broken. But that just wouldn't ever happen, Kivico was good at defense and at the time the Dusklanders didn't have the proper siege, leadership had improved and the losses of the attacking side became too much, the war came to almost a halt.

Rofotzan came north to aid his friend once his campaign was done but that only added to the disaster, more man to die at the walls, including Rofotzan himself. It was a tragedy, and it was a great source of shame.

Tsiluhan no longer felt like a young genius and decided to retire himself to govern Tabata on his own, not thinking he would ever fight in a war again.

At year 81 the conquest of Western Mesathalassa was done, many large nations capable of doing damage remained, but a large tract of land was now in Dusklander hands.

Chapter ?5 - Northern Unification

Mavadzugji could have been the man who kickstarted the Tsefo and the new Dusklander culture, or Dzanya, but his political dreams were too sophisticated for the average clam leader and he was wasn't sly enough to be able to hold the political leadership of an entire continent.

His utopic city kept being built and it worked fine. He had alliances with regions that became prosperous in the north like the Tsilla, where most of the Dusklander silk was now produced and contacts all over Northern Mesathalassa.

But in 88, Dusklanders and Sunlanders who were done with Mavadzugji's project became allied and surrendered the city, "inviting" him to step down as the leader of the Tsefo for a younger candidate who, ironically, protected the old status quo.

Tsilluhan thought he was out of combat but the idea of leaving the very man who inspired him was impossible. Tabata and its allies rose and climbed up the Steps arriving to the aid of the aging Priest.

Far more experienced and better equipped than the coalition, he was capable of not only easily driving off the attackers, but also of quickly advancing against them, creating a buffer zone.

This battle and the victory of Tsilluhan became the start of the Northern Unification, or rather, the actual unification of all Dzanya people under the banner of the Dzanyavehar. It was ironic that as much as he had saved Mavadzugji, he also destroyed his plans of peaceful unification of the people.

With the aid of old allies, including a more striking contribution from Fernya, he helped allies in the Silk Valley, securing the valuable region.

In there, Mavadzugji showed him something that would change the story of combat in the region. The Tzurkortze (sea copper). Clay-like substances found high in the mountains that when extremely heated becomes harder than many metals. Today's science knows its because of the Mythril rich soil. It is from this substance we derive the word Turquoise as soon enough the characteristic elite troops of the Dzanya would show up wearing the special metal.

The Hatzur Marana as they became known, though their relevance only starts at the end of the unification campaign. Before that, the main source of aid was bronze and troops from Western Mesathalassa.

Once the initial area was helped, it was time to increase the pressure on the enemies of the Tsefo's message of unification. First with the Griz offensive, reaching the fortress at the border of what remained of the Dusklands.

At the end of it, with victory in the north, Fernya left, starting her own military group aimed at preserving the border region and exploring the advancing chaotic magic to find ways to reverse it, the Rotzetia, Rose Shield.

91 would start with great conflicts, but then move towards small skirmishes. 92, Llor dies, one his sons taking over the Mirny region and refusing to help Dzanya, thinking the empire was now lacking weaponry, a new coalition attacked, this time headed by the city of Susah. This soon was proven as a mistake, as Tsilluhan heroically turned the tides and walked into Susah by 94.

By 95, Dzanya would officially be formalized as a state. Mavadzugji had aged poorly and was not as sharp as before, but he did his best to make sure it all worked well. He would take the religious role of the triarchy, while Tsilluhan would take the military role. The economical role, the emperor or empress, was still empty, so a few invites were made, first to Batsami, then to Fernya, both declined. In the end, it was a Topami lady, niece of one of Mavadzugji's old friends, who would take the role.

(The name Topami is a bit infamous in our region, but they have nothing to do with the famous bandit Kadja Topami)

I wonder at times if the best translation of Nyar Manyadjir is really Emperor? It impressed me that some other languages have borrowed the word Manyadjir (like Manager) but never use it in the same connotations we do. It is also a bit humorous, or rather, curious that Batsami, the one who invented the new etymologic use of Manyadjir over the more common use for adopted children, refused to become the Nyar Manyadjir. Which was good, she had passion in her eyes and a hot blood, cold foxes are better suited for this job.

Chapter ?6 - The Respite


Meanwhile, this was a time for peace for the new founded Dzanyavehar, Mavadzugji had his empire even if it wasn't exactly what he dreamed. All Dusklanders clans eventually came under their rule one way or another (in the continent, obviously the isolated few who escape north instead of the south didn't come into contact with the great empire)

So the rumors are true? Interesting.

Control of the southern lands was mostly just formal, little actual power reached out through an entire continent. But some attempts to increase the hold of the region continued. Peace with Kivico had been stable, and the Imga remnants were too exhausted to attack

Chapter ?7 - Tsaha Regjurnyarha

In 104, the Topami Empress became suddenly ill, and it became clear a new empress would need to be picked among the clans.

The winner of the contest ended up being a young girl named Tsaha, 14 of age.

Oh so many things are said about her. Some say she was a street urchin, living off crumbles and wit. A young farmer girl from the countryside who hunted a monster and was blessed by the gods. A puppet who was put in control by the elites but with her great intelligence was able to turn around the system and become the de-facto ruler.

A lot of that are merely silly stories. Yes, she was an improbable candidate, but the Regjurnyarha family wasn't poor, on the contrary, they controlled a lot of the Tsilla (Silk Valley) who was such an important region of the empire. They had Firstlander descendence and had been in the area for very long, even being from the village where the capital was built.

It was the perfect storm. The firstlander clans liked the idea of an empress who knew their cause, the sunlanders enjoyed the idea of a woman who had a family line that wasn't pure dusklander, many refugees enjoyed the family's service in helping them settle and the traditional well-established clans respected wealth.

That said. While she was no street urchin, she did enjoy climbing and running around the city, like most human children do, can't help but to stretch those weird monkey arms of them I guess. She would often take part-time jobs at different places, learn their trade and move on once bored. She never mastered any trade, but she knew enough of them to know how to take advantage of it, every guild seemed to know her well and appreciate her services and ideas.

It was also an open secret many who voted for her expected only an easy to manipulate teenage girl who could easily be replaced. It is also true that the Empress title started to mean far more once she took hold of it, she also jailed quite a few people under conspiracy against the empire at around age 18.

She does seem to have some ancestry connecting her to an ancient and mystical order of shamans but that is likely just an appropriation of an ancient legend the shamans of the region used to have about one of them unifying the land and fighting of a great threat. I am sure however this was the star-fall event, since it was around the same time in which the Mesathalassan Shamanic practice started to dissolve.

Whoever you are sending this text to will believe I am lying, but I had no idea about such a legend existing until today.

But it is hard to discern what is imperial propaganda or not. Nevertheless, the young empress was quick to show service. She had an innate intellect and instinct that help the administration of the empire greatly.

From the start, she focused on the expansion of the public projects, the establishment of roads, the formalization of deals. Her main objective was to guarantee the unity of this large continental empire, she had an eye for early signs of trouble and was quick to act.

By then most Sunlander Western Mesathalassan nations had regained their strength, but what could a nation like Kivico do in the face of a nation larger than the combined size of Imga and Kivico combined? At most, be too bothersome to be worth attacking.


In her early years, Dzanyavehar reached the eastern coast. Igar-Kuri was brought into the empire and the reconstruction started, now as Tsuvi Juta, meaning Three Harbors.


Humans often have weird assumptions about the world, but I have never found one as weird as the Dzanya's origins. They believe they were here before everyone, other humans, us, even the gods. That the world was clad in darkness like the Duskland used to be.

Then the sun pierced through the sky scorching the land, killing most of those who lived there before. Those who survived were blinded, no longer able to see in the dark. Like when you look at a flame and everything around you seems darker in comparison.

This idea that the Dzanya are not merely humans but the older humans was key to the power of the empire, and Tsaha focused on it like a tool more than any other person. Especially after Mavadzugji died in 108. This idea the Dusklanders were mankind's older sibling who merely wanted to protect them.

To me it felt like an adaptation of certain Elysian thoughts. At first I even believed it was created to counter the cult, but it is older than that. Tsaha was just to first to truly glorify this idea, perhaps because she was from the first generation of Dusklanders who had to deal with Sunlanders in all aspects of their life. It was a good tale to keep the Sunlanders from revolting against a foreigner group, to terrorize them with the idea of what happens if the empress isn't there to help them.

I think that as an Empress the most basic metric of how good my reign has been is by thinking how worse the situation of the world would be without my existence? I do not understand the negative implication of the writer in this chapter. Dzanyavehar is the shield of mankind against many threats, humans should fear a world without us because that is a logical fear.

Chapter ?8 - The Aberrations

First came the rumors, from the reindeer riders of the South fleeing into Mesathalassa. Dwarves, from the cold mountains, they were marching towards the continent. They were mystical creatures unlike anything else, half-humanoid half-beast, possessing weapons that cut through copper weaponry like butter, godly magical powers and great mystical beasts.

It was taken as a tale first. Silly thing tribal people were saying. Misunderstood events.

Then the cities started being razed.

The humanist idea of Dzanyavehar as the bastion of mankind was a weird thing that could only exist in a continent as isolated as Mesathalassa, in the open world it wouldn't fly. The only non-humans they knew who had nations were the Hain of the east coast.

Yet they found themselves facing a real threat. The full might of a Dwarven kingdom wanting to destroy, enslave and raze the entire continent.

The newborn Empire was quick to react, though the damage on the south was impossible to avoid, Pihati who had stayed there to rule over a colony was killed. With Feyer infirm by old age, only one of the legendary six generals remained, Tsilluhan.

But he was in his 60s and many doubted his prowess. Not Tsaha, she fully believed in the man who had saved the dream of the Dzanyavehar twice. By then he was retired, working as a farmer, no wife but happy apparently, he really disliked the young empress and the idea of fighting her wars was sickening.

The exception was that this wasn't a war for the empress, it was a war for mankind. So he accepted the job.

The whole empire turned into a warfare machine for this war against the dwarves, and they felt no shame in asking the help of the rivals. Why, it was even suspicious, in how much trust the empress was putting in a nation like Kivico, considering how sly she was, it was 'impressive' to see her being so naive in her trust of a foreign rival nation. It was part of plan but we will talk about that later.

Tsilluhan's plan was simple, retreat, get as many people out of the way as possible and burn the crops. Fight skirmishes against the minor forces and learn about the enemy. What technology they had? How were their armies organized? Were they truly magicians?

Going beyond that, he went beyond that he lost battles on purpose, sending out convicts with obsidian spears to give the wrong idea about the empire to the enemy marching onward.

Then the actual battles started, usually against the secondary armies that split-off from the main group. They would be stalked and fought off with the intent to fully eliminate them and defeat the enemy in detail.

But there was no avoiding the main force, and they were already reaching northern mesathalassa. Entire cities vanished against their power, walls melted and the skies erupted in flames.

Once ready, Tsilluhan called all his forces, even the forces of the rivaling Sunlander Kingdoms like Kivico, to go for a final attack. It was madness.

Chapter ?9 - The Day of Azure

Leading the lines, the Hatzurmarani, clad in their Tzurkortze armor. Troops from all over the empire formed the ranks. Even armies of rival kingdoms were in the mix, but not Kivico. Facing them, an army of beasts, ungodly machines, and magicians.


The Dwarves were definitely impressed at how all of the sudden the Humans were able to show up in such numbers, with such equipment, but it had not been enough to turn the tides just yet. Though more dwarves were falling than they expected.


There was an eclipse, the world started to turn black, and it is said that at this moment the valiant Dusklanders charged, able to see in the dark. And it wasn't just seeing in the dark like they usually did, a bit better than other, no, they believed it was as good as their supposed ancestors did, and with their might, they started to break apart the dwarven forces.

Now, we, who know more about the world, will see the issue with this narrative. Dwarves see well in the dark, an eclipse wouldn't be an issue for them. I could see perhaps the ones piloting weird flying machines to lose control but not the foot soldier.

It is also curious that they think their leaders knew when the eclipse would be, they did not have the astronomical technology to guess it, but the Dwarves did.

As such, I propose an alternate theory. The dwarves were the ones who charged during the eclipse, expecting an easy victory against blinded humans. But the Dusklanders could see well in their dark too, and immediately punished such foolish act.

From the descriptions, you get the idea of the dwarven army having its most precious troops in the frontlines, including honor hungry commanders, if those were to fall in a sudden unexpected response, it's easy to see how things would go down poorly for them. Of course, I don't want to take away from human ingenuity here, I just do not believe in the tale as a proper historical account.

In particular, the Hatzurmarani, who led the human troops, had been given order to target dwarven officers and mages, the well trained elite troops would have done great damage in my proposed scenario.

Nevertheless, it's easy to guess what happens next. The dwarven plan was to go straight north and burn their capital. There was little supply stability, and once broken, their armies were quickly annihilated.

Empress Tsaha had her field day with that, I can only imagine how disappointed Tsilluhan must have been when the young empress suddenly had exactly what she desired, inhuman enemies and a victory against them.

Chapter ?0 - Mesathalassa under the Shadows.

Like a child who had found a new toy, she made sure to parade the capture dwarves as if they were animals in cage, their beasts and machines were also exposed in a great Fahre at the capital.

Another thing she made sure to show to all across the empire were the humans who were hurt or enslaved by the Dwarves. She said it was a charitable act, but sincerely, it was more of a "this is you, this is what you are without me and my empire. We saved you."

Ah but the greatest victory was Kivico not fighting.

Kivico had been losing land bit by bit, the Dzanyavehar troops managing to get closer and closer to their capital. There was a certain romanticism about it, that they would fight to their last and die with honor against the encroaching Empire.

But where was their honor now? They had deserted mankind, and all of the human side of Mesathalassa believe the imperial narrative at this point. Getting the troops to go meet the dwarves in combat made sure the word spread quickly.

So when pressure mounted again, they started to bend, the city's spirit was gone and the monarch disgraced.

Tsaha, in her supposed "goodwill" accepted a deal, that gave Kivico "autonomy" but placed it under the empire's protection. It was said to be a better solution than having such a beautiful, historical city be destroyed and that she wished the red of Kivico was that of rubies, not blood, but it was hard to believe that.

Because at that point Kivico was the last holdout against Dzanyavehar and its empress in Mesathalassa. The hain in the east was unconquered, of course, but the empire started to redefine the continent itself, separating them from all they held. And nevertheless, once they stepped into Kivico all of the continent's humankind would be under one rule.

The gate opened without a siege, the shining turquoise troops entered the city, the citizens didn't look at them with shock or cheer, it was a tired expression. The most elegant horses trotted in, followed by the proudest reindeer. Riches from all over the empire and beyond. Politicians from far and wide, from the governors of colonies in the frozen sea far in the south to the captain of the Rose Guard which held the provinces in the border with the region that once was the Dusklands, the lost homeland of the Dzanya.

Then the empress, 24 of age, ten years into her reign and a whole continent bowed to her. Her Tiara represented her rulership over one of the largest nations Galbar had known, she knew her name would be known like the rulers of distant nations like Xerxes, Ventus and perhaps even Alefpria. And she was right, or else, how would I be writing this book to you, Your Holiness? We heard tales about them and tried to reach these distant rich lands and the supposed empire of people who looked like shadows.

Sincerely, at first, I was sure this would be a nation that would last for eternity, but I wonder... just how much is the empress capable of? She wants to be known, she wants to be the apex. I do not think she cares about successors, maybe that would explain why she is far softer with Sunlanders than many of the generals and Dusklander leaders, she wants to be that one ruler who was good and fair but after her things were never the same. Someone whose name would be remembered in bright light even if the Sunlanders were to rise, and who all next emperors or empresses will live in the shadows of.

Because when you look at her actions over time you get the impression that...


Nevertheless. Back to the historical records.

The empress and her guards walked up the stairs of Kivico's palace, up to where the Ruby Throne was. Back then, it was the tallest building in the continent.

The king of Kivico didn't have to bow or anything, just sign a contract, and then... there was one last task.

The imperial tiara always had a slot for one more gemstone, the only color that was missing: red. With Kivico conquered, the king had to finish the job himself and place a ruby in the tiara. With that, Kivico would be hers. Mesathalassa would be hers.

Some of the locals reported expecting the king to make a miracle, stab her in the throat at the last minute. But it never came, he placed the gem and she rose up.

Cheers. Cheers so loud the whole region heard them, or so they say. Why, looking down at the people, the king and the empress would see even many of Kivico's own citizens cheering for the empress. Cheering for Mavadzugji's dream. Cheering for the word Dzanyavehar.

One can only imagine the horror of the king's face as his own people fully gave themselves away. In contrast, it's easy to imagine how wide the empress' smile was, it must have made her day, I am sure of that, what I am not so sure is if it was the cheers of the people or the frown of those powerless to stop her now.

I wish I knew the answer to that, but it was certainly a pleasant day. Not the best, that lies certainly in a time before I was fourteen.
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BBeast Scientific

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Gerrik Far-Teacher

Level 10 Hain Hero
36 Prestige

circa 14 years Post Realta

The sea lurched backwards as the ship was propelled forwards by a synchronised thrust of the oars. Just as the initial burst of speed was about to wear off a second set of oars pushed the ship again, followed by a third set. The vessel lurched rhythmically, without weariness or variation, as the mechanisms of wood and string manning the oars continued in their ceaseless task. On the deck of the ship, alone among the crates, barrels and sacks of trade goods, were two hain sitting silently. Gerrik and Elword.

Gerrik sat clenched, staring without looking. Elword watched Gerrik morosely, then shifted his gaze to watch the receding shore of Fibeslay. The lurching of the trireme was not pleasant, although there had been a few improvements to the rhythm since the original prototype.

Gerrik groaned and put his head in his hands. "It all went so wrong."

Elword looked back to his master and waited between lurches of the ship for Gerrik to continue.

"I can't stop thinking about it either, replaying every moment with crystal clarity, and I still can't figure out how to make it right."

"Rumination. That's normal, given the circumstances," Elword said.

"I know. Doesn't make it better."

Elword hesitated, then said, "I think you handled it pretty well. It was a very difficult situation. I think you're being too harsh on yourself."

Gerrik grunted but did not answer.

"How about you walk me through it," Elword suggested, "It might get it off your chest."

Gerrik breathed deeply. "The biggest obstacle was that I had no data on the politics of such a large place. Never before had I been in a settlement where I could not see every home and inhabitant at once. This, I realise, is not my fault. If I had more time, a few days, I could have studied the dynamics, figured out the power structures properly, made formal introductions, got something better than biased second-hand information. Then I would have known what could be done, what could work, how to make it happen."

"But we weren't given time," Elword said.

"No, we weren't. Maro spotted me almost immediately, and no doubt some of the Shammikists would have recognised me eventually. Jindchin spying on the meeting did not help." Elword looked surprised. Gerrik continued, "Yes, he was a Shammikist spy. Not a Shammikist himself. The poor kid - I had to let him go. Those factors substantially reduced our chances of moving slowly and carefully. So we had to move quickly and decisively. And while we saw some successes, I was overconfident. In a day I could unbalance public opinion, but..." Gerrik clenched a fist, "people are just so damn irrational!" He quietened slightly as he added, "And I was too ambitious."

"It was the meeting with chief Hucori when I saw things going downhill. I wasn't given the time I needed. Heyek forced me to engage on his terms. That might have been fine if I had a coherent plan, but I did not. I lacked sufficient data to have one. So I relied on my authority and prestige, only to find that it carried no weight with Hucori. I am the prophet and figurehead of the largest, oldest and most widespread hain religion on Galbar. That had always gotten me what I wanted thus far, yet that arrogance proved detrimental. If I had won Hucori's support then we would have had a very different outcome, but I had not appreciated how entrenched the Shammikists had become in Fibeslay."

"But there was one last advantage I had. Mugnas and Zantor advised me that if I could show some new invention or technique in public I would gain Hucori's interest. Of course, it was too late for a good first impression, but the opportunity remained. Maybe I could impress the public of FIbeslay, or change Hucori's mind. That's what the water driven millstone was for."

Elword nodded. "The water wheel was a pretty good invention."

"Yes. I'll set one up in Tallgrass when I get back. And it might have worked if that damn thug Vidin hadn't started a riot. I could handle Heyek's debating and arguments. Logic and debate are strengths of mine. But that fool! You cannot control a mob. A mob is never under your control. It is like a wildfire; once you light it it burns wherever the wind blows. Vidin thought he was stirring a mob against me, but instead he unearthed hatred against all Chippers."

"That is the irony of the Shammikists. Their biggest fear was having the persecution against Chippers start again, yet they themselves ensured the fulfilment of that fear by feeding the latent suspicion and prejudice against Chippers. I had been optimistic; the influx of migrants had not been sufficient to dampen that prejudice."

Elword said, "We did a pretty good job at handling the riot, though. None of the Chippers got hurt."

Gerrik allowed his palm to turn upwards. "Yes, that is our one victory, that all the Chippers are safe. A pretty important one. We did pretty well with the conservatives of Fibeslay roused against us. It was during the riot that I knew that it was not possible for the Chippers to stay in Fibeslay. I had disrupted things too much for them to remain in hiding and making Fibeslay safe for them to live in was now potentially impossible. A large portion of the populace was at least mildly amicable towards Chippers, but the hostility of the elite was greater. As you know, the following day Chief Hucori called in Heyek and myself, demanding an explanation. Things were... heated. I was mad, furious even. I raged against the Shammikist's folly. I raged against Hucori's inaction in all these years, having failed to quell this division before it boiled over. But inside I raged against myself for my naivety. I had enough data now to make a definite judgement." Gerrik hesitated before saying, "I admitted defeat. Just like last time."

For a time there was only the lapping of waves and the rhythmic beating of oars.

"But it's what you did next that was important," Elword said.

"Yes. It was heart-wrenching to break the news to the Chippers. For fourteen years they had hoped that I would bring their salvation, stewed in a fanaticism as strong as the Shammikists'. Yet I failed to deliver the salvation they had hoped. Instead I brought them a different sort of salvation, but one tinged by failure and loss."

Gerrik stood up and cast his hand across the western horizon, where there was a thin line of land still visible in the distance. "We led the Chippers out of Fibeslay. Beyond the territory of that city I could assert my influence properly. I called in some favours and got all the Chippers settled in villages where they would be accepted, welcomed. The loss of Fibeslay was still bitter in many of their hearts, but I know that in time they will experience a peace and happiness that they have not felt since they entered that city. They are free now. Free to think. Free to work. Free to be who they are and to express themselves without fear. There were bright minds among them which will be a blessing to those who accept them."

Gerrik stretched out an accusatory finger towards the speck of light which was the lighthouse of Fibeslay, framed against the dusk sky. "But woe to you, city of Fibeslay, for you have scorned the blessings of Stone Chipper. Word of your actions has spread. All outside who know of Stone Chipper's blessings will be wary of you. You were meant to be a center of influence, a nexus of cultures, yet you have proven yourself to be insular and unwelcoming. Though you are wealthy and prosperous now, how long can that last while you reject the outside world? Many others will take the glory you were once promised. Woe to you, Fibeslay, for your age of prosperity will soon end."

The horizon receded further, until the lighthouse dipped below the horizon. Gerrik then sat down once more among a bundle of silks. He flopped backwards, eyes staring up at the stars appearing in the sky above while the rhythmic motion of the boat rocked him. It took only moments for days of exhaustion to catch up with Gerrik and sleep overtook him.


Everything was blue. The sky above was blue. The sea all around them was blue. The only thing that wasn't blue was the trireme.

Elword had scanned the horizon for a time until the monotony of that task had bored him. He then spent a significant portion of the morning inspecting the trireme in detail. He studied the mechanisms of strings and levers with fascination. The intricate craftsmanship which came together to produce complex motion reminded him of the toy frog Gerrik had purchased from Dibbler. Elword searched the ship from bow to stern searching for the motive force behind the trireme; Gerrik had said that the toy frog was powered by a coiled piece of starfiend carapace. Yet Elword could find no such device on board this ship.

Eventually Elword noticed something odd about the strings. They seemed to twitch and stretch slightly more than regular string should, as though it was alive. Elword sat for a while staring at one of the strings, wondering what magic gave these strings this animation.

"Fiberlings," answered Gerrik's voice.

Elword's head perked up and a set of eyes settled on Gerrik, who was just sitting up. "You're awake."

"I'm always aware," Gerrik said. He looked at the strings Elword was sitting beside. "The fiberlings were bound to the mechanisms of this ship somehow, both in body and will. A clever solution, although the method is a mystery."

"We could study it," Elword suggested.

Gerrik waved a hand. "Perhaps. Although experimentation would be required, which is not practical right now. No, I have another use for our time. I'll teach you Alefprian."

Elword's beak turned towards Gerrik slightly and his eyes became slightly wider. "Since when did you know Alefprian?"

Gerrik tapped his head. "Stone Chipper taught me the basics while you were poking about the ship. It's not as good as properly learning the language from someone who actually uses it but it will have to do. It will be enough to get you started." Gerrik gestured to the floor in front of him. Elword took a seat at the indicated position. "We shall start with basic greetings, which are more complicated than you are used to. Different greetings are used for different subjects, occasions and times, but most of them can be derived from a small set of basic greetings. Now, repeat after me..."


After several long and dreary days of lessons in Alefprian and watching the open ocean, land finally came into view. Gerrik and Elword stood at the bow of the trireme to watch the city of Alefpria come into view.

First they saw the lighthouse crawling up from the horizon, a magnificent tower with light shining brightly from its top. Then the buildings of the port city came into view. The architecture was unlike anything the hain had ever seen, and the city was even larger than Fibeslay.

This sight alone would have awed them, but as they got closer they saw a vast shape looming in the clouds above the city.

"By the gods, what is that!" exclaimed Elword.

Gerrik stared at the shape for a long time before answering, "I don't know, but it isn't moving so it's probably safe."

The rhythm of the trireme's oars changed as it slowed down to approach the docks. The vessel came to a stop beside a pier, with numerous other wooden vessel bobbing in the water nearby. Gerrik and Elword stepped out onto the pier, much to the surprise of the dock workers. The group of humans and Lifprasilians looked and murmured to each other. A couple of them glanced backwards to some guards standing on the shore, dressed in steel armour with steel polearms - more wonders these two hain had never seen before.

As the two hain walked down the pier, they were stopped by the dock workers. "Who are you? There wasn't meant to be anyone on that boat."

Gerrik answered in broken Alefprian. "We are here to see Mugnas and Zantor. This is their boat. We were..." he scrambled for the word, "invited."

One of the dock workers raised an eyebrow. "Is that the case? I'll go get them. You stay here." The worker walked away, muttering, "They won't be happy that they've got stowaways." Gerrik did not know what 'stowaway' meant, but he could tell it could not be any good.

Gerrik and Elword waited patiently. A few minutes later two Quara Korala approached the docks and waved towards them. The guards and dock workers relaxed at the familiarity and the hain were permitted to continue to dry land.

"Gerrik Far-Teacher! Elword! I'm glad you could make it to Alefpria," Mugnas greeted.

"Hello Mugnas, hello Zantor. Thank you for allowing us to use your boat," Gerrik replied.

"How did things go in Fibeslay?" Zantor asked.

Gerrik's expression darkened. "We settled to Chippers in lands outside Fibeslay. I couldn't make it safe for them to stay."

"Oh. That's... unfortunate. Maybe we could reintroduce them in the future."


The two Quora Korala glanced at each other and their skin shifted through several shades, hues and patterns. They looked back to Gerrik and Mugnas offered, "Would you like a tour of this fine city?"

Gerrik opened his mouth to answer then stopped, his gaze looking behind the Korala. They turned and saw a hain standing in the road, wearing a leather apron, a cloak which concealed his arms and face, and a walking stick.

"I think that won't be necessary," Gerrik answered.

"Of course."

"Thank you once again for your help. Elword will stay in touch."

Gerrik and Elword walked towards the newcomer while the Quora Korala made themselves scarce after receiving a glance from the apron-wearing hain. Gerrik and the newcomer embraced with a clink.

"Stone Chipper, it is good to see you again."

"It is good to see you again too, Gerrik. And you too, Elword."

Elword stood for a moment in awed silence, his eyes wide and palms facing the apron-wearing hain. "Stone Chipper?" he squeaked.

Stone Chipper flicked up a palm. "In the flesh."

Elword whipped off his broad-brimmed hat and bowed deeply. "It is an honour to meet you, Stone Chipper!"

Gerrik, meanwhile, could not restrain himself any longer. "What happened to you?!"

Elword looked up and inspected Stone Chipper more closely. Gerrik had described Stone Chipper as being a strong and healthy hain, yet the Stone Chipper before him needed a walking stick to stand like a decrepit old man. And although the cloak concealed the details from a distance, up close he could see that Stone Chipper's hand and half his face was made of starfiend carapace rather than hain shell.

"I got into a fight. It went poorly. I am very fortunate that Toun, Ilunabar and my daughters were there to help me." He could read the expressions of Gerrik and Elword. "Don't you worry about it now. The perpetrator is being dealt with. Your concerns are far more grounded." He turned around and hobbled up the road. "Come along. You've come all this way. Let's look at this city."

Stone Chipper led them through the grand city of Alefpria and showed them many of its wonders. They marvelled at the beautiful architecture and the brilliant construction techniques. They saw the wealth of precious metals and stones and exotic dyes. They smelt spices from far off lands and tasted new foods. They jostled through the crowds filled with species both familiar and unknown. They spied upon the steel foundries, fuelled by some of Alefpria's peculiar magic. They gazed upon Father Dominus and the Cosmic Knights. They were fascinated by the methods of trade in the marketplace. They found many new tools and instruments.

Stone Chipper also explained to them this place's history. It was a city founded and built by Ilunabar and her muses. It was and technically still is ruled by the demigod Lifprasil. However, while this city was once a glorious beacon of civilisation, its golden age has passed. Shortly after the night the stars fell, Alefpria got involved in a war against the god who had sent the starfiends. This was when Father Dominus and the Cosmic Knights came to Alefpria. While Alefpria and her allies technically won the war, Lifprasil was gravely injured in the battle and is now incapacitated. He had only woken once since then, and only briefly. Some groups were starting to migrate to other places, although there were also still groups migrating to Alefpria. Alefpria remained a central location in Galbar's geopolitics.

"There's still plenty which can be done here. A while ago I promised Lifprasil that I would help him establish a school here. I figured that's something you could work on. But that's only a start. Alefpria has connections to many places across Galbar and beyond, so you can go pretty much everywhere from here. And there are people from everywhere who have come here. I've got a few good contacts here, too. My daughters Kinesis and Conata frequent this city. I can get you an audience with the captain of Father Dominus. Really, you won't run out of threads here to follow for a long time."

By now sunset had cast the streets of the city under long shadows. Lamps were being lit and people were concluding their day's work. Stone Chipper, Gerrik and Elword navigated a few winding side streets and came upon a small workshop, where a hain was closing the doors.

"Excuse me, we'd like to use to workshop," Stone Chipper called out.

The local hain looked up at them. "Sorry, we close up the workshop overnight. You could come tomorrow morning."

"Stone Chipper has need for this space," Gerrik said.

The hain froze. Thoughts flickered through her eyes and posture.

"Twice in such a short amount of time. Such a blessing. If you'd please open the doors, my apprentices and I would like a little privacy. We'll lock up after we're done."

The hain nodded. "Of- of course, Stone Chipper."

There was a clunk as the door was unbarred and opened. Gerrik and Elword entered. Stone Chipper paused for a moment to address the hain. "Send my regards to Conata next time she's in town. Also, listen to my apprentice Far-Teacher. He'll be needing help from the Chippers here in due time."

"Yes, Stone Chipper."

"Oh, and we've been travelling all day. If you could find someone who will offer us a meal and beds for the night, that would be appreciated."

"Oh, I'll do that right away, Stone Chipper."

"Very good. No need to return to get us; we'll find the place after we're done. Have a nice evening."

As the hain hastened away, Stone Chipper stepped through the door and closed it behind him. Gerrik had lit the room's candles. Elword was inspecting the shrine to Stone Chipper beneath the tool rack, with its bare stone slab and simple steel hammer.

"Twice?" Gerrik asked.

"Yes. I met with Conata here. You can ask her about it some time." There was tenderness in his eyes as he recounted the memory. "Among other things, she made that nice bronze chisel you see there."

Stone Chipper walked at his hobbling pace up to the altar. He took a feather duster out of his apron, dusted off the hammer and altar, and put the feather duster away. He then picked up the hammer, inspected it briefly, then put it down again.

"Will we be expected to create a tool?" Elword asked.

"Only if you break something. Now, find me something to sit on and let's get down to business."

Gerrik pulled up a stool in front of the altar for Stone Chipper to sit on. Once seated, Stone Chipper leaned his walking stick against the tool rack, then looked to the two hain standing before him.

"We all know why we're here. Gerrik has been preparing you for this moment, Elword. Are you ready?"

"Yes, Stone Chipper," Elword answered.

"And Gerrik, are you ready?"

Gerrik hesitated, taking a slow breath in, before answering, "Yes."

"Good. Now, the Eenal Bow."

Gerrik took the compound bow out of his bag, strung it, and handed it over to Elword.

"A weapon fit for a god and a mark of the office of Far-Teacher. Pray you never need to use it in anger, although I shan't have my servants go around undefended. Now, the Guardian Shield."

Gerrik put a hand to the wooden disk on his arm and the strap loosened. Gerrik removed the Guardian Shield and handed it to Elword, who put it on his own arm.

"Some parts of the world are dangerous. This shield will likely save your life. Now, Elword, listen carefully. Will you continue the work of Stone Chipper and Gerrik in teaching the mortals of Galbar and advancing civilisation?"

"Yes, Stone Chipper."

"Are you willing to follow this work for many mortal lifetimes, until such time that you choose to raise a suitable replacement?"

"I am, Stone Chipper."

"Will you conduct yourself in line with the values taught by myself?"

"Yes, Stone Chipper."

"Gerrik, are you ready to pass on the mantle of Far-Teacher to your apprentice Elword?"

Gerrik sighed and closed his eyes. "I am."

"Good. Now come close." Gerrik and Elword stepped forwards, and Stone Chipper laid a hand on their foreheads. When he next spoke, his voice resonated with divine power, and a faint golden glow filled the space between the three hain. "By the power of myself, Teknall, I transfer my blessing from Gerrik to Elword. You will have strength, speed, stamina and longevity above other hain. Your senses shall extend beyond your mortal limits. And above all, your mind shall be sharp and clear, that you may be able to truthfully and accurately discern fact, that you will be able to learn new things about this world and share them with the rest of mortalkind. You will be my prophet among the hain and the other mortal races, my representative and messenger. From this day forth, you shall be known as Far-Teacher. Now arise, my new chosen."

Elword stood up and blinked his eyes. "Oh... oh wow."

Gerrik meanwhile was reeling. He took a few shaking breaths before he managed to regain his composure.

"When you said you could see everything, I never imagined it was this much everything," Elword said.

"You'll get used to it pretty quickly. I did. Oh gods, I feel like an old man now."

Elword gave Stone Chipper a worried glance, who gave a dismissive wave in return. "Only by comparison. There are a few traits which can only be sustained by active divine power, like your new senses or flawless, bottomless memory. But Gerrik's body and mind are as sharp as the fittest hain's."

"I had almost forgotten what it was like to be normal," Gerrik said. He let out a single laugh. "But now I get to live a normal life. With Sharon, and a family, and a home. I've had enough adventures for a hundred lifetimes."

"And you, Elword, will get a hundred more. Of course, Gerrik's final lifetime will be anything but mediocre." Stone Chipper reached out behind him, grabbed his walking stick, then pushed himself to a standing position. "There's a group of Chippers waiting to give us dinner. Let us not keep them waiting. I'm sure they'll want to hear the good news. Tomorrow I'll get you home, Gerrik. As for you, Elword," Stone Chipper curled up a palm, "That's for you to decide."


A few years later

Conversations and people flowed through the recently constructed halls of the Alefprian College. People of all sorts occupied the college. Hain were the most common, but there were also rovaick, humans, and Lifprasillians. There were even a small number of quora korala, Sculptors and urtelem.

In one chamber, members of the public filed in to hear about the exotic land of Mesathalassa. A few people dropped coins into the donation box on entry.

Another chamber, large and centrally located, had many wooden shelves. Most of the shelves were empty, but some hosted a few scrolls, tomes and tablets. More works were being added on a regular basis.

Some rooms were workshops. Some were quiet studies. A cafeteria provided food for those in the college, while dormitories and a small number of private rooms provided accommodations for those who did not have lodgings elsewhere in the city.

Elword walked through the hallways, broad-brimmed hat on his head and wooden staff etched with intricate geometrical patterns in his hand. His Perception touched each of the rooms that he passed. Here was a scholar writing a new chapter in a historical treatise. There was couple of people investigating the properties of aqua regia. Here an urtelem was composing a mathematical proof, with a keen hain trying to keep up. There a Sculptor was transcribing what they heard in the telepathic network of the Sculptures while a human tried to sort the useful information from the worthless chatter. And over there a small team of hain and goblins tinkered with a new invention.

Elword came to a door and opened it. The room inside was dark, although that did nothing to slow Elword down. He shifted his grip on his staff and some of the lines engraved in it glowed with a soft golden light. Elword stretched out the staff with glowing Spiral Script towards a lamp, which immediately burst into flame. The glow on the staff subsided, and Elword lit the other lamps in the room with the lit lamp.

The room had a large round table with numerous chairs. Elword unrolled a large map of Galbar, or at least what was known of Galbar, and put it in the middle of the table. Soon other people filtered in. Most of them were hain, but there was a mixture of other species. There was even one Sculptor, for as unsettling as they were they could be quite intelligent and well-connected.

When everyone was gathered, each person gave their report on what subjects they had been researching and what connections they had established. Then, finally, it was Elword's turn. "What are you going to look into next, Elword?"

Elword made a show of inspecting the map. "There is much to be done. There is more to be learnt from Spiral Script. I could unlock the secrets of Tounic Calligraphy, held so tightly by the Rovaick azibo. There are a few languages I could help translate. But a lot of those things you can look after. I'd like to travel; I've spent too long in one place." He leaned forwards and put a finger on the map at the place marked 'Alefpria'. Then he ran his finger through the region labelled 'Amestris', and circled around the White Ocean, going through Yorum and ending at Mesathalassa. "I've heard of things happening in Western Mesathalassa and would like to see them for myself. I can check out what's in between as well." He tapped two other points on the map. "Meanwhile, someone else should check out Metera and Vetros."

Elword looked up. "Goxiq, would you like to come with me? I'll need a travelling companion."

Goxiq had been one of the first Chippers Elword had sought out to form his team of Scholars. Goxiq was a passionate Chipper and an innovative thinker, making him a great candidate. Goxiq had also been in dire need of new direction in his life after his exile from Fibeslay. Now he looked up with surprise. He had wanted to become Gerrik Far-Teacher's apprentice. Now Elword Far-Teacher was making him this offer. There was only one answer he would give.

"Yes! Of course. When do we go?"

"Tomorrow afternoon, to coincide with an urtelem herd heading the same direction."

"I shall prepare my travelling gear immediately," Goxiq replied.

Elword nodded. "Good. Meeting dismissed."

The Scholars filed out of the room. Elword stayed back and inspected the map once more. It was a big world, and he had heard there were worlds beyond as well. While Gerrik may have travelled widely for most of hain history, he had only experienced a tiny slice of what Galbar had to offer. There were still many more adventures for Elword to have, and countless more discoveries for him to make.

A warm glow filled Elword as he rolled up the map. The future was just beginning.

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