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That night, Shengshi felt himself wake up. The snake sat up and stretched - only to realise that he was not in his basket. Upon rubbernecking his head around, he found that he was not in his own chambres, either. Where were his beautiful walls of carven wood? What had happened to his wonderful, somewhat stained carpet? How on earth had he not noticed this in his sleep?

He briefly glimpsed a wicked grin. The image moved without his consent. He had not even gotten out of bed, yet the ground beneath him disappeared, leaving the snake to fall endlessly in thin air. As a sort of futile attempt to mimic his more avian siblings, the snake tried his best to flap his arms to achieve lift.

It worked.

The river lord, for the second time, found himself flying leagues above the surface of Galbar. He saw the Dragon’s Foot, as well as the Kick. In the distance to the north, he saw two odd shapes twist and turn in ways that were too animated to be qualities of a landmass - and yet there could exist no living creature that large. Finally, to the far west, Shengshi saw a new land still steaming from its creation.

Another change of scene. He was in Fengshui Fuyou - or at least, the aura was familiar. However, this was no sphere of his. The rivers ran flaming hot, searing the earth around as well as its inhabitants. The snake covered his eyes at the horror, but his hands went through his face, instead gouging at his eyes. As the divine blood soiled the earth below, the blind god felt a sharp taste in his mouth - one that soon warped into a tangible cork in his throat. The suffocating god clutched at his throat, but found that his hands had long since melted to the bone from the surrounding heat. He finally coughed up the cork, but his throat would not yet know air. As asphyxiation stole away his consciousness and the magma below liquified his form, the river lord could only feel the taste of wine.

Shengshi awoke with such a start that he tipped his basket over, was sent rolling out of it like some tumbleweed, and crashed into one of his slider doors, breaking it in half. The river lord, now laying with his tail on his veranda and his torso on top of a bisected wood-and-paper wall adorned with one of his better poems, took a moment to assess what he had just witnessed.

He failed, however. All except a singular snippit had all but evaporated from his memory like water on burning coals. Shengshi licked the inside of his mouth. There it was again. He was certain he had not been drinking the night before, though… Was his mind playing tricks on him again? The snake stood up, fixed his door and turned around. His mask paled.

It would be a generous statement to call his room messy at this point. His adorned floor carpet’s divine symbol had suffered grievous discolouring, being no longer red, but various shades of purple and brown; the cracks between his floorboards were white with the dust of the pulverised porcelain cups that had all been swept poorly into all four corners; the main calligraphy station had originally been made of rosewood, but seeing as it had been marinated in ink a few nights straight now, it appeared to have taken on a rather charcoalish colouring. The roof was missing at least four lanterns and the veranda outside carried the faint scent of the vomit that the servants had not had time to clean up yet.

Shengshi let out a long, raspy groan, followed by a dry, hacking cough.

“SERVANTS! The usual!”

Two globules of water rushed in his door minutes later, one carrying a tray with a glass of blueberry juice and one of pickle water; the other, a plate of egg stir fry and pickled cabbage. The globules placed the breakfast on the small saloon table and zoomed back out. The snake slithered over slowly and nearly collapsed into a sitting position. He chugged the glass of pickle juice and winced, letting out a nauseating belch. He chugged the blueberry juice quickly to keep the bile down. Then, as he poked weakly at his stir fry with his chopsticks, he pondered the situation. How long had he demonstrated this neglectful, hedonistic behaviour? How had he managed to break so many cups? Had any of his siblings seen him like this?

“Servants! Bring me a drink!”

How did this keep happening? He was a god, by the Architect! He knew his limits - if he even had any! A globule came in with the usual bottles and a few extra cups. The river lord took the tray and waved the servant away. He poured himself a cup and walked out on the veranda. Today was an uncharacteristically gloomy day - the clouds to the south were thick and black. From his tower atop his castle, the snake saw the distant roost of flame - a work of that noisy, fiery brother of his, no question. He shook his head slowly and put the cup to his lips.

The cup soon went flying overboard. Shengshi instinctively leaned forward over the railing and stretched out an arm to catch it, though his effort was futile. He watched as the cup descended through the air and broke through the water surface below with an inaudible blop. The snake recoiled from the railing. What had come over him? He had fully intended to drink the wine, yet as soon as the scent entered his nose, Shengshi had retched. The stabbing stink had cut at his nosehairs like a knife, and for a mere second, he had seen demons in the drink.

He let out a sigh and stepped inside, only to find that the rank scent permeated his room. This made him retch again, this time to the point where he could taste his breakfast again.

“This cannot go on,” he reasoned and went down to the deck.

Shengshi descended from the ship and swam down Nanhe. His speed was not extraordinary this time - he merely paddled gently through the river water. He closed his eyes and attempted to clear his mind of everything: The dream, the wine, the mess. All that remain was the temperate licks of water against his skin, the gentle wash of water against his ears, and the moist scent of life all around. He had reached the northern tip of the rainforest. The occasional curious fish came over to nibble at the god’s red scales. A few tadpoles tried too. A small frog landed on the snake’s belly with a soft, wet slap and gave a light croak. Here, the god feel asleep again.

His eyes opened again. The sky was gone, replaced with clouds of soot and shadow. The river below him ran thick with scalding lava and the trees around were no more. He tried to swim faster, but could not muster the strength to crawl through the elastic molten stone. In a desperate attempt to free himself, he reached out to whatever water was around and-


The snake laid still on the ground by the river, his head pressed up against a now bisected rock. Before him, the river rolled on merrily; behind him, several trees had either been knocked over or bent to the side. An educated guess lead the snake to believe he had cast himself ashore in his sleep with a torrent of water. What’s worse, the dream had mostly faded - yet an imagine remained: Fire.

Shengshi stood back up and slithered through the forest for a spell. Phystene had truly brought life to this land: Even here at the northern edge of the woods, the green thickets were still very much present, reinforced by mighty trees to the south, some of which were visible through the vines and leaves. The previous barren stoneplains had given way to a fantastical rainforest mirrored only in the imagination. Yes, yes… Here, he could find some peace and tranquility.

After wandering for an unknown length of time, he came upon a small beck, no doubt a tributary of Nanhe. It was barely even a metre across, and its water ran so clear Shengshi could see the old stones along the riverbed through the water. The snake found the beck entrancingly beautiful and sat down, admiring the simplicity of it. Around the beck sprouted tiny blades of grass and even taller leaf-bearing stalks. This was what he had sworn to protect - the flow’s mission to bring life to all of creation. His smile diminished.

“So why, then, am I haunted by these rivers of flame?” he whispered to himself, his voice laced with a droplet of desperation. The beck did not answer him; it could not answer him. Shengshi understood, for it was but an infant, yet the question persisted. He let out a groan and cupped his hands into the water, bringing a mouthful to his lips to drink. Yes… Purer water could not be found in this realm nor any other. A thought intruded into his troubled mind. Perhaps that was all he needed? A substance to calm his nerves, yet preserve his spirit. He smiled at the little beck, which seemingly looked back through streaks of reflected sunlight.
“Thank you, dear child. You have given your lord more today than any other subject can give him for aeons.” He wrote a name into the soil by the bank.

“From this day on, you are Xiaoli, the first of my court.” The beck began to glow. “You shall be my heart and my voice of reason; the jailor of my hedonism. You shall guide me and others in times of despair and confusion…” Slowly, the centre of the azure-glowing beck began to rise, fashioning itself into a humanoid shape. Shengshi’s smile turned to a grin. “You shall uphold the teachings of the Flow and pass them on to whomever wishes to learn.”

The shape grew detailed: Stones from the riverbed were ground into pale sand than floated to the form’s surface and hardened into soft, flexible skin; the dark earth from the riverbanks flowed through the shape and mixed with the remains of weeds and grasses than had been caught in the water - together, they sprouted from its top as long, silky strands of hair. The shape grew thin, yet toned arms which themselves sprouted beautiful hands with ten fingers each. The hair was soon complemented with a head and a soft face with sharp features. The shape grew sharp, protruding ears like its master; it formed eyes clear as the water into which they stare, like its master; its nose was a little smaller and pointier than the flat, feline nose of its creator, though. Finally, a pair of red lips formed on the pale face. Shengshi stared in awe at the creature before him. She was like a work of art given life - a statue carved from the finest marble by the greatest crafter in creation.

Xiaoli opened her eyes and looked at her creator. Her irises mirrored his: clear as water in a glass. She softly lifted her hands to her face and tested the sensation of touch. Her breath grew ragged as she felt her soft, somewhat prickly skin of fine sand brush against her cheek. She looked down to her feet, then the riverbank, then her master, who nodded eagerly as he slithered back a bit. The girl shyly lifted her right leg and placed the foot in the water by the riverbank. She pulled herself closer and let out a concerned sigh. She looked back at her master, who beckoned her over eagerly. The girl looked back at her feet before raising her leg again. She took a deep breath and lowered it.

“I… I can walk… On land,” she remarked in a voice as gentle and soft as the sound of a mountain stream. Shengshi grinned at her.

“Yes, my dearest Xiaoli. You are my heart. You may explore creation with all the glee and enthusiasm you can muster.” As she heard that, the girl’s lips parted to reveal a grin of teeth made from riverstones in all shades from white to brown to black. She jumped into the air shouting and yelling out of sheer joy, splashing dirt and earth into the beck and water onto land. Shengshi laughed softly.

“It warms my heart to see that you are so happy, my dear. Perhaps there is a link?” he jested. Xiaoli placed a hand on her naked chest, waited a moment and titled her head to the side as she smiled at Shengshi.

“I think that there just might be, my lord,” she responded. She then turned around to face the water. She moved her hands softly through the air and the two of them watched as the river water ascended and wrapped itself around Xiaoli’s body. It clung to her arms and her torso, and then dripped down over her legs. In a flash, the water around her legs hardened and became a short and thin azure silk skirt that flowed down to her ankles and a little further. The white silk torso draped softly over her every curve and bend, and the sleeves and cuffs hung low and were almost as wide as the skirt. The skirt itself was held in place by an azure ribbon around Xiaoli’s waist. Finally, she took a bright, polished red stone out of the river and made herself a necklace with it. Shengshi stood gaping in awe.

“Magnificent…” he whispered. “You… You have inherited my powers.” Xiaoli covered her mouth with her oversized sleeve and let out a chuckle.

“Well, you did make me a creation of the Flow, my lord,” she reasoned. “To be blessed with such a gift - one would naturally understand the Flow well enough to influence it.” The snake closed his gaping mouth and cleared his throat. “Indeed,” he voiced. Xiaoli looked looked around curiously at the surroundings. She skipped across her birthbeck and picked at some leaves hanging from a nearby tree. Shengshi could not help but keep observing the girl as she danced through the forest, laughing and singing in the shadows under the trees.

After an hour or so, Xiaoli had calmed down. She walked over to the river and laid down to relax. Shengshi slithered over and sat down by her. He let his eyes run freely across the girl’s form. He still could not believe that he had managed to create something so beautiful.

Xiaoli looked at the snake oogling her and let out a soft sigh. “My lord, as your voice of reason, I will have to inform you that good moral behaviour does not include giving young girls such a look.”

Shengshi recoiled, placing a hand at his chest. He felt blood rush to his cheeks and looked away. “Of course! Naturally! You accuse me of such behaviour? I was merely-...!” He chuckled sheepishly as Xiaoli gave him a light scowl. The snake cleared his throat. “My apologies.” Xiaoli sighed again and nodded. “It is what I am here for, my lord.” The snake raised an eyebrow and plucked at his mustache pensively. Suddenly, a grin so malicious he could not hide it formed across his lips and he looked to Xiaoli, who was playing with a curious frog who had likely never seen a person made from sand before.

“I know what we can do! How about we have a drink or two?” Shengshi said. Xiaoli looked at him and grinned. “My, that is a fantastic idea, my lord! Prepare a fire! I will get the ingredients.” This confused the snake, who was busy fashioning cups from a nearby pit of clay; however, before he could ask her to elaborate, Xiaoli had already sprinted upriver. Shengshi shrugged and got to making a fire. What could she possibly need a fire for, he thought. Unless…

The snake’s mind raced at the thought. Could she indeed be that much alike him? To order -distilled- wine as one’s first drink! Perhaps she possessed his hedonism as well? A part of Shengshi’s mind he’d rather give any thought to suddenly grew quite excited. He prepared everything to the best of his ability, and when Xiaoli came back, the snake had made a salon table, some pillows for seating, and a masterfully stacked campfire for the two.

“I trust you brought the still, too?” he said, smirking. Xiaoli eyed the surroundings, assessed the situation and let out a sigh that slowly turned into a groan.

“My lord…” She took a deep breath. “I am very grateful you created me.” Shengshi’s smirk widened. “Because I can see now that you have to learn…” She flicked her fingers as she looked for the right word. “Restraint.” Shengshi’s smile diminished slowly. Xiaoli sighed yet again.

“No, no matter. Fashion us a kettle, please.” Shengshi raised an eyebrow and effortlessly shaped a kettle from the nearby mud. Xiaoli took it, voiced an elongated “thaaaank you”, and took off the lid. She filled it with river water and set it over the fire to boil.

“Now fashion us a mortar and a pestle, if you would.” Shengshi snorted and made her what she asked for. She took it in the same way as before. She took out some leaves from her ribbon belt and put them into the mortar. She proceeded to grind them into a green mush with the pestle. Shengshi began to smile again and nodded.

“Aaaaah! I see! This is the wort for the brew, yes?”

Xiaoli looked up at Shengshi, and for a moment, Shengshi could have sworn he saw a horrified expression on her face. She merely shook her head and kept grinding the leaf mash. After a while, the pot began to boil over.

“Ah, it is boiling. My lord, would you please fill the cups you have made with the water?” Shengshi did as she asked. At this point, he was too curious to ask questions. Xiaoli slowly added a little mash to the water in each cup. Then, using a brush she had quickly fashioned for a handful of grass straws, she stirred the mash around in the water until it reached a green, almost thick consistency. He passed one cup to her master, slid a little away from the table and proceeded to kowtow before him.

“Please, enjoy your drink, my lord.”

Shengshi looked at the green liquid with a suspicious scowl. “There is no alcohol in this… You did not add any yeast,” he muttered sourly. Xiaoli, forehead still pressed against her hands on the ground, replied in a patient tone. “As your voice of reason and jailor of your hedonism, it is my opinion that you perhaps need a drink without any alcohol, my lord.” The snake muttered something about -her- perhaps needing a drink without alcohol and looked into his cup. He could compare it to Phystene’s skin, or a blade of grass, or anything green and grasslike. Even the smell was akin to a bland garden. He sighed and took a sip.

Where was he? He looked around. He had not moved, yet he did not at all feel like himself. In front of him, Xiaoli had gotten back into a comfortable sitting position and was sipping her own cup. She gave him a clever little smile as she did so. The snake looked around. Everything was suddenly so clear. The water in the beck trickled along calmly, yet he could hear its quiet song; the wind brushed through the leaves - had they been doing that the whole time? Downstream, he heard the frogs croak their little choruses. What was this feeling?

“... eace, my lord?”

Shengshi looked up. Xiaoli was looking at him, smiling as ever.

“Are you at peace, my lord?” she repeated patiently.

Shengshi looked back down into his cup.

“Yes…” He felt his body, his soul and his aura all pulse in a tranquil manner. “What-... What is this?”

“I call it the Water of Eternity. Granted, the name iiiis a work in progress, so…” Shengshi chuckled.

“I like it, but the name is a little long. How about just Eternity?”

Xiaoli shook her head. “No, that -is- already a word. How about Woe?” Shengshi grimaced.

“What? No, that sounds awful. Ternity!”

“What is that, some kind of game?” Xiaoli laughed. She snapped her fingers. “How about just… Tea?” The snake snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “You, my dearest Xiaoli, are a genius.” Xiaoli blushed. Shengshi summoned the leaves that Xiaoli had made this tea from. He laid them out on the table and held his open palm over them and summoned forth a calligraphy brush and some ink. Xiaoli watched curiously as Shengshi laid out three leaves and dipped his brush in the ink.

“Any property you would like to add, my dear?” he asked her. Xiaoli placed a pensive finger on her chin and let out an audible “hmm”.

“How about cleansing? As in, not only will it cleanse the soul, but also the body of undesirable stuff?” she proposed. The snake nodded.

“I agree. Anything else?”

“How about an increased lifespan for all who consume this leaf?”

Shengshi scratched his chin pensively. Immortality, huh…

“No, that is not a power I would like to give to just any mortal,” he mumbled, hand still on his chin. “I think it already is satisfactory.” Xiaoli nodded.

“Be attentive, Tea, for your lord speaks!” The leaves began to glow a warm shade of verdant. Shengshi wrote the first character down on the leaf to the right.

“Grow vibrant and green - reveal to all who see you that you are a herb of health. Bless those who consume you with purity of soul and system.” The rightmost leaf shone brighter than its two neighbours. Shengshi moved to the middle leaf and wrote down the character.

“Offend not the tongues of your consumers with appalling taste, but give them incentive to support your growth by giving their taste buds the most gentle and stimulating sensations.” The second leaf joined in its neighbour’s flashing display. Shengshi turned to the final leaf and wrote the final character.

“Be true to the Flow and all its teachings. You may not inherently be of my realm, but I accept you into it, my dear subject. You shall have sanctuary along my every river, and the soils that drink my waters shall forever sate your needs. In return, your lord demands loyalty and morality - never shall you poison those who consume you, nor shall you quench the thirst of those who would seek to end your lord’s reign. These are my demands.” The third leaf took on the familiar grow. Soon, all the similar plants in the forest around them glistened in the same way, revealing themselves as near and distant blinks through the foliage. Xiaoli’s widened eyes jumped between her master and the now-normalising leaves.

“Do you… Do you think I can do that?” she asked carefully. Shengshi raised an eyebrow and scratched his head.

“Well, uhm…” He plucked pensively at his beard. Xiaoli sat there patiently, but she was visibly itching to experiment. Shengshi shrugged. “Only one way to find out! Go find us a different tea plant.” Xiaoli, grinning from ear to ear, rocketed to her feet and zoomed off into the foliage.

In the meanwhile, Shengshi made himself another cup of tea. A gentle sigh left his mouth as he swallowed his first mouthful. This ease, this peace - it all seemed so foreign to him even though he had barely known hardship in all his short existence. He would have to consider the value of this sensation - perhaps prosperity did not necessarily mean hedonistic pleasure for all of creation - perhaps there was more to his goal than gold and luxury. A word came to mind, one that he had considered as an end goal through prosperity, but one that should perhaps hold an equal position to wealth and joy for all of creation.

Harmony: Peace between the source and the consumer; the perfect circle of resource recycling; calm in spirit and wise in mind-

“My lord! I found these!” Xiaoli thrust a fistful of flowers in Shengshi’s face. The snake recoiled slightly. Xiaoli stood still for a moment and then quickly regained her composure, bowing deeply before the snake.

“My most sincere apologies, my lord. I did not mean to interrupt you.” The river lord chuckled softly.

“I am happy to see you are so eager, my dear. Now, prepare a pot and let us taste.” The girl immediately did as asked and prepared a fresh kettle of hot water. She tried to mash apart one of the flowers. However, it soon became clear that the result was not satisfactory. She prepared two cups and neither of them could swallow the appalling liquid.

“Blegh… This tastes like plant oils,” the snake spat. Xiaoli covered her mouth with her sleeve and she leaned to the side to spit. She sighed, but soon an idea came to mind.

“How about we add the flowers to the water without crushing them?” Shengshi gestured for her to go ahead. Another kettle was prepared, but this time, the flowers were added to the boiling water. Xiaoli poured her master’s cup first and the snake had a taste.

“Mmm… The flavour is a little weak,” he said as he rolled the liquid around in his mouth. Xiaoli sighed and took a sip from her own cup. She raised an eyebrow and eyed first the cup, then Shengshi.

“What do you mean? It’s perfect.” The snake returned the expression.

“Let me have a taste of yours.” They exchanged cups and tasted. The snake ran a forked tongue around his lips after swallowing.

“No, you are right. Yours is perfect. Mine is a little weak.” Xiaoli put a pensive finger on her chin.

“Perhaps mine grew stronger because I poured my cup last?” The snake nodded. “That is likely the reason, yes… We cannot have that. How can a host serve tea to their guests if everyone gets drinks of different qualities!” With that, the snake fashioned a small clay mug. Xiaoli raised a curious brow.

“This shall be a medium between kettle and cup - the pitcher in which one stores the finished tea so all may drink the same brew.” Xiaoli smiled and clapped enthusiastically. “What shall we call it?” Shengshi paused, scratching his chin.

“Uh… The, uhm… The equal cup!” Xiaoli scoffed and tilted her head on the side, rolling her eyes sarcastically. “My lord, your creativity knows no bounds.” The snake returned the eyerolling gesture and hissed softly at her.

“Do not criticise your lord unless he is outright wrong in his actions, dear Xiaoli.” The girl winked at him and bowed her head. “Of course, my lord.” They brewed another kettle of tea, this time using the equal cup to distribute the tea. The two of them drank simultaneously and let out a satisfied sigh.

“It is much sweeter than the green one. The colour is also lighter,” Shengshi remarked. Xiaoli nodded.

“Naturally, my lord. This is but a mere infusion of flavour, not an outright mixture of ingredients.” The snake nodded. “Well, are you going to name it, then?” Xiaoli smiled and nodded, reaching for the calligraphy brush and the ink. Shengshi nodded proudly - the girl’s writing stance was nothing short of perfect, with a stiff grip around the brush and solid control over the arm. Xiaoli dipped her brush in the ink and placed two flowers down on the table.

“What qualities should we give it?” she asked. Shengshi shrugged.

“This is your creation, my dear. You may give it whatever you like.” Xiaoli deflated a little and her face flushed with the red colour of embarrassment. “Th-... Then… Since it is flower tea… How about we make it… Influence two creatures’ feelings for one another?” Shengshi raised an eyebrow, feeling beads of sweat form on his forehead.

“In-... In what way?” Xiaoli covered her blushing face with free arm’s her long sleeve.

“In… In…” She paused. “I am certain my lord knows the way I mean.” The snake cleared his throat sheepishly and drank the rest of his tea swiftly, looking away.

“G-.. Uh… Go ahead. It is your creation, a-... After all…” he said, looking away and covering his face with a clawed hand.

The girl lowered her sleeve so she could see what she was writing. “B-be attentive, tea of flowers - your lord’s ruh-... Your lord’s representative speaks!” The two flowers began to glow in a warm yellow light. She painted the first character on the rightmost flower.

“You are not inherently of the Flow, either, yet in return for your loyalty and morality, my lord will grant you sanctuary in his realm. You shall be welcome to eat and drink along his every riverbank, for his table always has food for his subjects. Your home along the rivers shall forever provide for you and all your offspring from this day, until the end of time.” The rightmost flower began to radiate bright yellow light. Xiaoli turned to the leftmost flower and let out a hacking, embarrassed sigh.

“A-and you shall forever be tasked w-with bringing people closely together! You shall tie bonds between strangers and tighten bonds between friends!” She took a deep breath. “A-a-and… You shall forge bonds of eternal love between those of the world’s creatures who share feelings for one another.” She finished the character and covered her face again. The bright yellow light briefly flashed pink before slowly receding. The two of them slowly revealed their flushed faces, avoiding direct eye-contact. Shengshi finally spoke.

“W-... Well done. It would s-seem that you have indeed inherited my p-powers.”
Xiaoli let out an embarrased chuckle. “Heh… Yeah.” The two sat in silence for a spell. Finally, Shengshi got up. Xiaoli’s eyes followed his movements, but she still covered the face below her nose with her sleeve.

“Where are you going, my lord?” she asked. Shengshi scratched his arm sheepishly.

“I, uhm… I need a cold bath, if you will. I will be right back.” Xiaoli nodded slowly. The snake god soon disappeared into the foliage. She looked down at the flowers, which almost stared back at her, making her feel even more embarrassed.

“I pray that he will not make this tea for me…” she said, sighing.

After calming down and packing their things, the two headed back to the Giant’s Bath and the Jiangzhou. Shengshi found Xiaoli’s method of swimming to be rather interesting: Instead of actually swimming, the girl simply reverted into the components that made her form and placed them inside a globule of river water, which travelled upriver with its master. The two of them ascended onto the ship’s deck, where Xiaoli promptly reassembled.

“Magnificent,” she whispered, mouth agape in awe. Shengshi smirked. “I will have to give you the tour during out voyage. We have a long distance to cover.” The girl raised an eyebrow. “Wait, are we leaving?” Shengshi nodded.

“Yes. We are heading for the new continent - the one I saw in my dream, the one far to the west.” Shengshi slithered to the front of the deck and prepared to influence the fresh waters below. Xiaoli followed him.

“But how do we get there? This boat cannot travel on sea! We cannot control the currents!” Shengshi smirked. “We are not going by sea.” Xiaoli stood there dumbstruck. Shengshi continued. “Now that there are two of us, we will travel as my sister Azura would.” Xiaoli put a pensive finger on her chin.

“Now, be ready to push the current forward when I say go.” Xiaoli still had several questions, but she made an educated guess and concluded that her master was not too interested in hearing a voice of reason right now. She prepared herself and shouted, “Ready!”

With that, Shengshi screamed, “GO!” at the top of his lungs and, in a display of water and foam, ripped a pillar of water out of the water in front of the ship. Xiaoli started, but quickly regain composure and pushed the ship forward. The ship’s hull creaked and croaked as it sailed uphill. Shengshi kept pushing the pillar upwards and Xiaoli kept pushing it forward. When the ship had ascended high enough, Shengshi cut the bottom of the pillar and let the it fall back into the Bath. The remaining water underneath the ship rolled around the underside of the deck for a while before forming an oblong surface that kept pushing the river forward like a current, but at the same time travelled with the ship. Xiaoli could not believe her own eyes.
“We-... We’re flying! My lord, we’re flying!” Shengshi felt beads of sweat form on his forehead, but ignored them and let out a strained laughter. “Hah! I experimented with this idea in Fengshui Fuyou! One day, I shall create a river in the sky that can connect all the celestial spheres - like a massive river network!” He groaned slightly as he had to refocus for a moment.

“For now, though, I can only keep Jiangzhou afloat.” Xiaoli walked over to her master and smiled. “As your voice of reason, I have to admit - I am in awe at the thought of this actually working.” Shengshi chuckled again. “I cannot keep this up forever, mind you. Get some rest. You will take over by sundown.” Xiaoli bowed. “Yes, my lord.” She turned and made her way to the palace, but before she entered the door, she turned back and faced the red-scaled back of the river lord.

“Thank you, my lord. Thank you for creating me. I swear upon my life that I will serve you with diligence and wisdom.” The snake laughed again.

“Thank you in advance for your service, my dear. Now rest up.” She bowed again and entered the castle. The snake looked over the side of the deck, seeing the endless ocean below. Ashalla was no doubt somewhere underneath, eyeing him. He paid the thought no mind.

It was time to bring the Flow to the new world.

Once again, Shengshi stood on the deck of his ship squat in the middle of the Giant’s Bath, only this time, there was a weak current pulling him towards the north. Furthermore, opening the portal to Fengshui Fuyou seemed to have overfilled the Giant’s Bath - now, water ran down all sides. Shengshi looked to the direction opposite of Beihe. The distance harboured little more than barren, pointy rocks in varying shapes and sizes.

Wait, what was that? Shengshi slithered over to the railing of the ship and leaned forward, as if it would help his eyes focus on the small, flexible lines on the horizon. Had the mud worms made it through the portal and grown enormous in the span of a few minutes?

The snake scratched his chin.

“Well, only one way to find out!” he voiced with a grin. He turned around and reached out his hand, grasping the air. The thundering waterfalls below suddenly ceased.

“Waters of Beihe, your master calls!” Shengshi lifted his clenched fist. The horizon to the north was suddenly blocked by a slowly climbing pillar of water that curved and bent across the sky above the ship.

“Your task is simple - make yourself a sibling!” With that, the pillar shot forth downwards like a harpoon and broke the stone wall on the south-western edge of the Giant’s Bath in a spectacle of rock and foam. As he had done with Beihe, Shengshi grasped the waters still and had them forcefully dig their way ahead. After a few minutes, the third river of Galbar had been carved - the longest in the realm. Shengshi grinned smugly.

“Perfect. I think I shall call this one…” He pondered for a moment and naturally arrived at the most creative name he could think of: “I name you Nanhe, the southern river! Now… Onwards!” With that, the ship turned towards the new south-western flow and sailed down the waterfall and towards the southern tip of the continent. On the way, Shengshi prepared his calligraphy set and made great efforts to immortalise the moment in a poem.

“What the?” Phystene’s quiet question was lost as the sounds of destruction, of stone being torn asunder, echoed all across the continent. She had been in the process of checking on the progress of her lichen and rock worms, progress that she was thus far quite pleased with, when the sounds began. Her interest in the dirt below her temporarily lost as she looked around for what new Galbar shattering incident had begun.

New meteors? She looked up and saw nothing new in the sky. Perhaps someone had created a tsunami? No. It would have sounded different. She closed her eyes and listened to the horrendous sound. It sounded almost like… it was certainly coming from further east than her current position.

Deciding that she wouldn’t be able to learn anything new from her current position, Phystene turned towards what she suspected the source of the sound was and headed off. Hopefully this wouldn’t be some world ending crisis like what the last few days had brought.

Shengshi had only gotten halfway into his poem before he had left his room in a hurry to take in the unfamiliar surroundings. The gray, jagged mixture of rock and sand had disappeared, instead giving way to strange, sea-green nets that covered the stones not already buried in dirt. Furthermore, he noticed that the wiggly lines on the horizon earlier had not at all been mud worm escapees, but a much larger and more menacing type of worm, which diet seemed to be the very ground it traversed. This was surely the work of another god, and surely enough, the divine aura soon pulsed through the air like a gentle breeze.

The water drill in the distance had stopped - it had surely reached the ocean. As Shengshi observed the uncharacteristically blackish brown surroundings, he felt yet another spark of inspiration strike; the snake promptly slithered back up to his room to continue his poem - no, a painting, he would make! Augmented with a poem!

The surroundings were indeed too beautiful to not chronicle to the most miniscule detail: where land and ocean met - the first great river delta. He set up his canvas on his personal veranda. The divine presence grew stronger, however. It would seem the painting would have to wait. He slowed the currents underneath his ship and walked over to the railing for his veranda.

“I do not believe we ever got the pleasure of a proper introduction, dearest sister.”

Phystene looked up from where she knelt next to the new river, a warm smile spread across her face. She waved at Shengshi with her right hand while her left remained submerged in the river. “The pleasure is mine.” She paused for a moment before asking “Is this recent addition to the continent your doing?”

Shengshi bowed deeply. “Indeed. I hope I am not a disturbance to your most beautiful work. Oh, pardon me for a moment. I will be right down.” With that, the snake promptly went back into his chambres and made the quick trek down to the deck, where he promptly hopped off the ship and into the river below. He swam over to where Phystene was testing the waters and slithered ashore.

“There. Our throats would quick parch had we been standing so far apart shouting to one another. Also, this is so much cozier. How are you? How has creation been treating you?”

“I am better now that I have this beautiful river to quench my thirst.” Phystene answered. “When I first heard the sounds its creation caused - I’m assuming it was you making all that noise - I had feared that it was yet another tsunami or meteor strike. It's nice to know at least a few other deities are interested in creation more so than destruction.” Her voice had become tinted with sarcasm.

“Still” She continued, “setting that aside I have enjoyed my new existence greatly. I’m sure you’ve seen some of my work on your way here. It isn’t much, yet, but soon the soil created by my lichen and worms will nourish even greater life.”

Shengshi sighed. “Yes, our sibling flock does have a few…” He rolled the words around his in his mouth for a moment. “Well, never mind that. Yes! I did see your work! Lichen, is that what you called those fancy, uh… Nets? Is it a form of grass? Fungus, perhaps?”

“It's actually a combination of several organisms.” Phystene answered. “To think of them as fungi wouldn’t be too far off the mark.” She shrugged. “I created them to help break down the rock on this continent. They aren’t the fastest at that task, I created something else for speed, but the sheer amount of area I was able to cover with them more than makes up for that.”

The snake nodded, grinning. “Ah, a most wise solution! One that can last so that you will not have to manage the process, as well. A most admirable idea!” The snake gazed around. “Speaking of ideas… I may or may not have one, though it may require the use of some of this dirt. Humour me for a moment, if you would, please.”

The snake snapped his fingers and a globule of water came rushing over the edge of the ship carrying now wet paper and a calligraphy set. It exploded as soon as it left the ship, but Shengshi took control of the soaring water and used it to catch the flying tools, bring them safely down his level before he snatched them and let the water climb back up the side of the ship.

“I really have to use something else than paper to write on…” he muttered sheepishly. He quickly sketched a map of the region based on what he remembered from Urhu’s map and painted a circle around the south-western tip of the continent.

“We are here, correct?”

“I believe so, yes.” Phystene answered with a raised eyebrow. “You realize that’s made from dead trees, right?”

Shengshi slowly turned his head from Phystene to the sad, soggy sheet of paper. “... Huh… Imagine that.” He cleared his throat sheepishly. “I, uh… I can probably write on a rock if that would make you more comfortable,” he proposed with an uncertain grin on his face.

“It’s fine” Phystene answered with a chuckle. “The forest provides for all, as long as nothing is taken in greed.”

Shengshi let out a sigh of relief. “Still, I would like to apologise with utmost sincerity for this transgression. It was an amateurish choice of surface to draw on, and I am deeply sorry.” The snake bowed before the goddess, perhaps a little longer and a little deeper than necessary.

“I accept your apology, though I don’t feel it was truly necessary.” Phystene said. “To be honest I was simply… poking fun at you? I didn’t believe you were using paper out of any sense of greed and now I feel vindicated in that belief.” She seemed to be intentionally not looking at Shengshi’s ship. “But enough about this. You said you had an idea?”

The snake snapped to and turned back to the soggy paper. “Yes! Right, idea!” He regained his composure and gestured to the surrounding land. “I propose a union of cooperation - a union of gods to bring verdant life to this continent, starting here. Your creations have made much of this land prime for plants grand and small. I present you with this river, Nanhe, as well as any offshoots I may carve further up - all to colour this region green in the name of creation!” He paused for effect. “What say you?”

“I would be honored to partake in a partnership with you.” Phystene said with a smile. “And I had hoped that was your idea. With Nanhe here now, we have the perfect conditions to begin spreading plants and animals on this continent.”

She waved her hand at the surrounding area as as she did so grasses and shrubs began to emerge from the fresh soil. The occasional tree sprang to life where there was enough soil to support it, breaking up the tapestry of grass and shrubs that now covered the landscape. She focused her energies on the river and fish, amphibians, and other freshwater creatures began to appear. “A gift for you, friend.”

Shengshi lowered his torso and leaned forward to greet the beautiful little creatures. His eyes teared up at the sight and he stood up again, smiling sentimentally at Phystene. “What amazing little animals you have created. I am most grateful.” He bowed.

Her gaze shifted to Shengshi’s ship and her smile momentarily wavered. “Would you mind doing me a minor favor and move that....” She gestured towards his ship, her voice possessing just a hint of disgust despite her best efforts “someplace else?”

Shengshi looked at the ship and sneered. “Oh, of course. Just a moment, please.” He clapped his hands and a few globules tossed some pots of wine and a basket of what one could assume was picnic supplies overboard. Shengshi caught them all, with the exception of a single bottle of freshly made cider. He faked a whimper.

“That is unfortunate… Regardless, here we are.” He put the supplies down on the riverbank and pointed to the ship.

“Await me back in the Giant’s Bath. I will be staying for a while.” With that, the currents underneath the ship switched directions, shoving the ship back upstream in a terrible hurry. The tumultuous waters left behind splashed the river banks and sent the occasional fish flying out of the water. Shengshi made an effort to capture the flying fish in some water globules and toss them back, however. After ensuring that every last fish had been returned to its home, he turned to Phystene with a smile.

“Before we start, allow me to return the gift with one of my own.” The snake reached into his picnic basket and pulled out a bottle of wine which he promptly offered to Phystene.

“What is this?” She asked as she accepted the bottle, tapping the glass with a finger. She tilted her head to the side as she gazed at the strange object. She grabbed the bottle by its neck and hefted it as if it was some kind of club, giving Shengshi a bemused smile as she did so.

The snake snickered as she made an attempt to weaponize his most prized possession and reached out to her. He gently relieved her hand of the bottle, flipped it, uncorked it and gave it back.

“There. Place the opening to your lips and have a taste. It is a little something I have been working on. I call it wine!”

Phystene kept her bemused expression, but did as Shengshi had told her. She slowly lifted the bottle to her lips and tipped back. It became immediately apparent that she wasn’t used to consuming substance in this way, as some of the wine escaped out the corner of her mouth and began to run down her cheek, to her jaw, and continued down her neck.

“Grapes?” She asked as she finished her sip, seemingly unconcerned by the wine that hadn’t quite made it down her throat.

Shengshi gave the bottle a look. “I believe that one I made from lychee, actually. A little sweeter than most grapes.” He tapped his chin. “Is it not good?”

“It is… odd” Phystene answered after a moment of silence. “This is the first time I’ve gained nourishment this way. The sensations are… very odd.” She tilted her head to the side again. “It reminds me of something else from my… original world.”

Without much forewarning, the ground shook, strongly enough for it to be clear that it was not the wine taking effect. Then again. And again.

In the distance, what had dimly seemed to be one of the peaks of Qiangshan was conspicuously drawing closer. Before long, its metallic glimmer and fiery lights at the pinnacle became visible; a little later, and the sound of low rhythmical humming reached the two gods.

By the time the immense figure stopped in its tracks, it was clear enough this was not a mountain that had taken to walking for some reason.

”Shengshi, was that?” Narzhak’s thunderous voice called out from somewhere above, ”Phystene? That you?”

“Oh… hey you.” Phystene said with a flat voice. Her eyes focused on the metal armor he wore and she shifted her weight from foot to foot. “I would love to stay and converse further, but I have so much to do” She kept her voice controlled, albeit a bit rushed.

Her gave shifted to Shengshi as she gave him a slightly dishonest smile. “Oh look a new plant.” She gestured towards the river, where some reeds of sugarcane had begun to grow at her command. “Maybe you two could do something with it?”

Shengshi raised an eyebrow. “Wait, you leavi-...?”

One of the giant’s hand rose to disappear high above, and a loud scraping of iron on iron echoed down. ”...I guess we could?” The towering god sounded more perplexed than anything. ”Take one, sharpen the tip, skewer something with it. I’m sure there’s better things you can do with it, though. Maybe throw it instead.”

Shengshi looked first at Narzhak, then back at Phystene who seemed to be shuffling further and further away.

“My word, I hope the wine did not taste that bad.”

“It was fine.” She gave Shengshi a strained smile. “And it looks like you guys have things under control over here.” She inched further away. “So…. I’m going to go to the ocean and… make a coral reef or something to… try and mitigate some of the risks of a tsunami washing all of this away.” The last part was much more of a question than a statement.

Shengshi raised a finger in objection and then looked back up at Narzhak. He took a moment to absent-mindedly count the number of plants the giant likely had crushed on its way over and put two and two together.

“Aaaah, I see. Well, I whole-heartedly support this, uh…” He plucked at his beard. “... Idea? Yes, idea. Go make that quarrel beef- CORAL REEF. We will, uh, manage.”

“Great!” Phystene said, a genuine smile finally appear on her face. “Well good day to you. Shengshi. Narzhak.” She gave each a nod of her head before she turned and ran away.

Shengshi waved perhaps a little too enthusiastically before turning to Narzhak. “So, dearest brother…” He gulped. “How are you?”




After Urhu had left, the snake slithered back up to his chambers. He quickly grabbed the scroll and walked back out on deck. He smelt the air for a moment and looked in the direction he presumed to be…

Wait, what should they call the directions?

Shengshi waved the thought away. That was likely something he would have to agree upon with his siblings. Either way, he was pretty certain the top of the Middle World was this way. He sniffed once again - this was the direction that reeked the most of the sea. Shengshi sneered. While he admittedly did not wish to wander out to sea, it was the truth of the universe that all rivers eventually lead there - thus, he himself had to see it.

The Giant’s Bath was filling up; now was the time. Shengshi mounted the dragon’s head at the front of his ship. He swirled the waters below it to turn the ship in the right direction. He unrolled the scroll and compared the wall of the Giant’s Bath to the observations Urhu had made. The terrain was no ideal for larger river valleys, but in time, future rivers would sand away the jagged terrain and carve newer paths until great valleys would form. For now, though, all he needed was a single one.

“Waters flowing, fresh and clean -
Hear your master’s call!”

The waters in the Giant’s Bath began to whirl and foam on the edges.

“Waters foaming, not yet free -
Make a waterfall!”

Like a sieging battering ram, the waters recoiled before blasting against the upper wall of the Giant’s Bath, breaking apart the upper layers of stone. In a violent display of gravel and foam, the beam of water flowed out of the elevated lake and down into the shale below, hammering at the rocks and cliffs below until they, too, succumbed beneath the sudden flood. The terrain caused the water to flow in all directions at first, something Shengshi found regrettable. He clenched his fists, pulled his hands back and, in a fabulous manner, brought both fists forward in a sudden motion.

The water falling from the waterfall began to twist and spin. It struck against the ground like a drill against rock, forcefully carving a way ahead through the nooks and crannies that offered the least resistance. Before long, Shengshi proudly looked upon the first river on Galbar.

“I think I shall name it… Beihe,” he said to himself. He slithered upstairs and grabbed a calligraphy set, which he used to write down the characters of the river into one of his poems.

Stranded among stone;
Freedom comes with Beihe’s birth;
The flow continues.

The snake nodded in approval at his work and steered the streams under his ship so they pushed the vessel towards the falls. The ship obeyed its watery rudders and soon tipped over the edge and into the frothing depths below. The snake nodded and headed inside and up to his chambers to take in the view. Shengshi did not worry about his ship, however - he was confident the rivers would catch him completely safe-


Everything not secured to the deck lurched forward. While nothing fell overboard, the snake himself was tossed out through his windows and crashed into the neck of the dragon’s head on the deck below. The wood of the ship's stern hollowly rebuffed the water that pushed at its rear. They had stopped, but the river still flowed below.

"Huh?" A deep and familiar voice barked out from beneath the prow. "What's a hunk of wood doing out here?"

Shengshi lifted his face off the dented planks. It would seem that his enchantments did -not- make the ship impervious to physical impacts from divine beings. A thing to keep in mind for the future. No time for that, however, for another being had entered the vicinity. At the head of the ship's hull was the hulking red form of the god of blood, chest-deep in the rushing water.

Shengshi stood up, dusted himself off a bit, and greeted his brother with a bow.

“Ah, to think I would meet the beating heart of our family here. My most humble greetings to you, dearest brother Kirron. You would not happen to feel generous today, would you? I seem to be stuck.” The snake gestured sheepishly to the tilted ship.

Kirron lifted one arm out of the water to shield his eyes from the new sun. He parted his mouth and squinted his eyes. "Stuck!? You can move just fine up there, Sheng."

It only took a small crane of the head for Shengshi to notice Kirron's other arm outstretched and clutching the front of the ship's spine.

"I'm feeling about generous enough not to wreck your floating house for running right at me," Kirron continued. "But I've greater cares, brother. Tell you what, you can purchase my forgiveness by answering some questions. I'll just take your ship out the river while we talk, eh? Don't want you drifting off like some dreamer..."

Kirron braced both his arms against the stern and hoisted up. With an almighty creak, the ship tilted forward. Or, rather, the stern lifted up out of the water. Shengshi clutched the nearest object, the stern railing, and let out a sigh of relief.

“Oh, thank you, thank you! You are much too kind! J-just… Please put her down gently - GENTLY!”

There was another loud creak, though this came from the sudden weight on the luxurious planks as the ship hull smacked into the rocky ground underneath. At least the maiden voyage really got to test the ship’s capabilities, Shengshi thought, though he would definitely have to inspect the damages later. He got back to his tail again and slithered over to the edge of the deck and peeked over to spot his red-skinned brother.

“Thank you, truly,” he said somewhat sourly. “I would just like to add that I did not intentionally sail Jiangzhou in your direction - the flow merely guided it as such.” He cleared his throat sheepishly. “Now, what did you wish to ask?”

"Well, it happens I'm looking for something..." Kirron waded out of the current and onto the shore. With the ship leaning to one side on terra firma, it was a simple matter to pull himself up over the railing. "The blood spilt in the Architect's cave. Some of it went somewhere. I'm trying to find it." Kirron pointed at Shengshi. "I followed the smell to you. Here, upriver. Know anything about that, Sheng?"

The snake scratched the hair behind his left horn and looked up towards his left temple as to look extra pensive. Though, in truth, he had absolutely no idea. “I mean, it is unfortunately not quite in my nature to hunt for, uhm, blood to the extent that it is for you, dearest brother, so I admit that the only thing I can offer is perhaps some refreshments.” As with Urhu, he gestured towards the gates of the spire.

As Shengshi raised his hands to point, there was a blinding flash of fire and fury in the sky. Both gods shot their gaze to the spot which recently had housed Asceal’s little project - one that now had, apparently, been blown to smithereens. Shengshi’s jaw dropped.

Kirron stroked his chin. "Heh, nice trick."

“Well, if anything, that looks like a bloody endea-...” The larger pieces of what they assumed was the remains of the celestial machine entered the young atmosphere in another display of fire and light before finally crashing against the surface with a solid boom. Shengshi himself was unsure of what it was, but a weak yet ominously present wave pulsed through the aura of the surrounding environment, teasing that something unusual had happened. Kirron pulled a frown. He sensed it as well.

“I propose we look a bit around." Shengshi suggested. "Maybe we will find this… Whatever you’re looking for on the way? With everything that has happened lately, we may even find the planet’s first blood bath,” he said jokingly. “Though this river cannot take us all the way. It will likely only take us to the oceans in to the bei.” Shengshi scratched his chin. “Though I could carve more, I suppose… With your permission, of course, dearest brother.”

Kirron had been staring sternly down the horizon. Only after a second did he give Shengshi a glance. "Hm? Sure, whatever you like. I don't plan on throwing it again." Kirron stepped back onto the rocks and shoved the ship back into the river with one foot. It scraped into a splash but stayed afloat, even clonking against the opposite bank of the river.

A moment after, Kirron bounded back onto the top deck and righted his balance. Without showing a hint of his previous joviality, he walked up to the bow and looked out. "Take us downriver. It smells like...What was that you said we would find, Sheng?"

“A blood bath?” he proposed as he absent-mindedly twisted the streams a little to shove the ship forward. “Oh my, I merely jested.” His face went pale - there was indeed another flow of fluids in the distance. He hoped only that it was merely the work of another god.

It did not take long for his clear water to succumb to the pollution of the foul ichor that flowed from further inland. The grimy substance sickened Shengshi to the point where he found himself retching, yet there was a familiar essence about it that kept his curiosity piqued enough to keep his own bile down. The snake waved his hand in the stern manner with which he commanded all the fresh waters in these realms and found the flaming red river insubordinate. He gritted his fangs and glared down into the foul flows beneath.

“The arrogance…” he spat and tightened his hands around the ship’s railing with such ferocity that the wood planks, even with all their enchantments and reinforcements, groaned and snapped. “To have the audacity to not only create a gruesome excuse for a river like this - but to have it poison -MY- waters! Who did this?! Who perverted this beautiful flow into a poor excuse for… For curry?” Shengshi jumped down into the river and tasted the essence. He froze in the water, eyes wide and horrified. The substance was thick and wretched - almost metallic in flavour. The essence within it stabbed at his mind and body, as if trying to twist him into something he could never be. He immediately clawed his way back onboard.


Swiftly, globules of water soared out of the main gate to the castle and packed themselves around their lord, licking and wiping off the ichorous substance. Shengshi sat down, his face chalk-white with shock.

"Now you're starting to get it, huh," Kirron finally cut through Shengshi's rage. He looked down on the watery god with a deep frown. "This was no mere spit in your face, river man. We go to its source."

Shengshi did not say anything, but the flows turned the ship and forced it upriver towards the source of the ichor. After sailing upriver for a time, he looked back at Kirron, then slithered towards the edge of the deck, staring down into the wicked goo licking against his beautiful ship’s hull. He retched again.

“No… We must halt for a moment! There is something I must do!” In a hurry, he slithered to the stern of the ship.

Kirron followed his movement and folded his arms.

At the edge, Shengshi made great effort to slow the disobedient torrents below. The world’s beasts and plants could not be allowed to confuse this for his own clean, nutritious waters. No, this sacrilege demanded an equally heretical response. Shengshi tightened his fists and reached out to the moisture in the air; the rivers underground; the water spirits still uncorrupted in the stream beneath his ship. To all surrounding water, the lord of a thousand streams called.

“The flow is eternal - and in most circumstances, all should congregate in one great river…”

The earth behind the ship began to crack and heave as water from the air and the rivers drilled and dug its way deep underground.

“However, I care not what the purpose of this gruesome act was - it shall -NOT- be given the sanctuary of my realm!”

Massive shards of rock and stone erupted out of the ground across the horizon behind the ship, propelled by fuming blasts of water.

“You, cruellest waterway of filth, are banished from my realm!”

The earth shattered and quaked as the flow of ichor was interrupted by a wall of towering plateaus and peaks that soon stretched from the oceans in the distance to Shengshi’s right and curved around the horizon like a great dam. The reddish ichor slammed against the mountain walls, raging with all the foam and fury of a beast suddenly trapped. Soon, however, it realised its futile efforts and began flowing along the mountains towards the oceans. Shengshi wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

“This is your prison, monster! May you never pollute my waters again!” Shengshi said, glaring down at the red river testing the new terrain. He gave the mountains a look, too. Some of them were still steaming from the heat of their birth. They were thin and sharp with small bases. Shengshi estimated that the tallest of the peaks could be no taller than five thousand feet, but that they should be more than enough to keep the red menace out of his pure domain.

“I think I shall name them Qiangshan… Yes, yes, a fitting name for their honourable task.” Shengshi wrote the characters in the air in front of him. There was a gentle shake as the mountains received their name. Shengshi let out a tired sigh and realised the enormous strain on his mind as the tumultuous torrents below struggled to be free of his control. He snarled and redoubled his efforts, quelling the resistance and forcing his ship upriver and onward. He slithered back to the bow and gave Kirron a fake smile supported by a furious glare.

“Now we can head to the source.”

Kirron looked down at his brother. His frown parted into a shark-toothed grin. "I was wrong about you, Sheng. I had you down as a pushover." He looked ahead. "I thought I was going to have to boil your blood to shut up your dry-heaving." Kirron clapped a hand roughly on Shengshi's back as he strode to the railing. He leaned down on his hands and squinted his eyes ahead. His grin lowered. "We're getting close."

The first visual signs started with steam rising over the craggy hills. Amongst the soft breeze fluttering by their ears, the gods heard another sound from the barren land. A churning and bubbling. The waters were so thick with the red ichor that Shengshi's hold over the water that bore it reduced, slowing them down. But it was no barrier for the gods to overcome. After struggling up the thin creeks aloft an upwards-flowing bed of water, the ship finally tipped up and onto a vast body of red liquid, hissing, steaming, and boiling beneath the hull.

"It's just ahead here," Kirron remarked.

They drifted forward for only a short time through the clouds of heat and steam until Kirron noticed something down beneath the water. He raised a hand and, mysteriously, the ship gently slowed to a halt.

Stepping back from the railing, Kirron lifted a hand as if to gently pick an invisible fruit. With it, a long, thin globule of red hot ichor emerged from over the side of the ship and drifted to a point over his hand. Kirron opened his mouth and willed a tiny droplet onto his tongue. Immediately, he shuddered and bared his teeth, letting the rest of the ichor splat in a steaming puddle on the deck.

"What a gruesome way to die." Kirron lashed his tongue as if to air out the taste.

Shengshi slithered over to inspect the ichor further. His short dip into the stuff had left him disgusted, and with Kirron’s confirmation, the presence of divine essence suddenly made a lot more sense.

“Was it a battle?” he inquired, voice cracking ever so slightly with confused sorrow. “Or was the Architect’s task too much on the mind?”

"No. It was avoidable accident," Kirron sniffed. "A mistake. Something flew at speed. Must have sheared her in two if what I'm sensing at the bottom of this lake is what I think it is."

The strain on the snake as he attempted to control the now highly concentrated ichor below forced forth a pained groan from the god. He clutched his head and looked to Kirron.

“Would… Would you mind taking over for a bit? I will have the servants fetch us something to… Dull the senses a little.” He yelled out the command and there was a hint of a scramble of metal and glass from the decks below. “How did it come to this?” he muttered. Out the spire gates came a globule carrying two wine bottles and a pair of small cups on a tray, which it placed at the gods’ feet before sliding back inside. Shengshi filled his cup and flushed its contents down in a swift motion. He gave Kirron a nod.

“You go on ahead. I need a moment.”

Kirron paused in his thoughts to eye the bottle and cup. He took his hand away from his chin to swipe the bottle up off the ground. He sat himself down. "There's something I don't get." He snapped off the top of the bottle with his other hand and drank down half of its contents in a single swallow. He wiped his mouth on his arm and continued. "It was just a chunk of...rock, I think, that got her. Why didn't she defend herself? Not like she didn't want to -- the memory didn't have a, uh, resigned feeling to it. Was she really that stupid?"

Shengshi took another drink and shook his head. “If the Architect truly made us what we are, he would not make us vulnerable to mere… Mere rocks.” He furrowed his brow into a scowl. “No… Even if she was a fool of the most barbaric stupidity, rocks brush off our divine skin like water off a mountain, no matter the speed. This must have been a result of conflict. A cruel plot between feuding siblings. The question is… Who would do something like this?”

Kirron snorted. "I dunno. I might have done it if she pissed me off enough."

At that moment, a large dot in the sky beyond the Blue glowed with warm light and swelled at enormous speeds. Shengshi looked up.

“Is that Orvus making another meteorite?” he said, placing his hands on his hips with a disapproving scowl on his face.

Kirron only gave it a glance before looking into his broken bottle and swirling his wine around. "Would've thought you'd be used to it by now."

The stone in the sky grew bigger and bigger at a frighteningly rapid pace. Then, it finally stopped.

“Did he just make our planet a sibli-?”

The cracks of fire and lava that spread across the sphere were visible from the surface of Galbar. The following violent turmoil of cosmic forces broke apart the new moon, and pieces of debris entered the atmosphere is a display of fire and flash. Shengshi let out another sigh.

“I wish we could all just have some time without all this chaos.”

Kirron stopped swirling his wine and lifted his eyes to Shengshi. Suddenly, he threw back his head with a hearty guffaw, showing all his gleaming sharp teeth. He slammed a fist on the deck and laughed some more.

"Sheng, you gotta learn to lighten up!" Kirron gulped down the rest of his wine and tossed the glass over his shoulder. It shattered into pieces on the deck behind him. "This place is getting to you, I can tell. Why don't you show me what you've been up to before you put your boat up on a hill in this place? I'll only grab a few more bottles of that drink before I'll let you be, so you may as well."

Shengshi raised his head and pulled at his chin inquisitively. “What I’ve been up to, you say?” He pointed across the fresh mountain chain clogging the image of the horizon. “Well, I basically just arrived from my home in Fengshui Fuyou. If you would like to see it, well…” He looked around, then at the ship’s deck at his feet, then at the mountains.

“I may have made it a little hard for us to return to the river Beihe…” he confessed sheepishly. “Tell you what, I’ll tell you the password and you can go have a look if you would like! You simply need to present the water in the Giant’s Bath -- I think that’s what Urhu called it -- with a figure that looks like that.” He gestured to the dragon’s head at the bow. Kirron leaned to one side to look at it.

“Don’t mind me, I will find a way out of this…” He retched. “... Oh my, I will never be able to have curry again after today…” He shook his head and looked back to his sibling, a fanged smile on his face. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll sail the ship around. Also, help yourself to as much wine as you can. Bottom floor, room towards the stern. If the door appears to be locked, it isn’t, the handle is just being silly. Go grab some, please! I, uh, I need some rest.”

Kirron pulled a thoughtful frown and hummed. "Appreciate it, Sheng," he remarked before Shengshi slithered out of sight.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Shenshi's sleeping basket was not the end of his excitement for the day. He was permitted peace to lay down for all of four minutes before the world lurched to one side. Wood strained and creaked as gravity righted itself again, save for an odd bouncing motion unlike any ripples on a lake. The snake groaned angrily to himself and slithered out, scowling.

The first thing Shengshi noticed when he peered out of the nearest window was the craggy lands of the continent, and most definitely no water below. Shengshi had a vague idea of what was going on and looked across the room to the windows on the other side. Through them, all he saw was the majestic Blue dotted with red spots of burning meteors. He slowly pulled his hand across his face and let out another, surlier groan before slithering outside.

Upon arriving on deck and peering over the tilted side, his suspicions were indeed confirmed: The ship was being carried - and he would not require omniscience to estimate who was doing the lifting.

“Deeeeaarest brother Kirron,” he opened through a fanged, faked grin. “While I am -certainly- very appreciative of your aid in getting me home, I can assure you - you are much, much too kind! Please, do go on ahead! I will catch-!” There was a larger bump than usual and the snake was briefly slammed against the railing. “... Catch up shortly.”

"Settle down, Sheng!" Kirron called back from under the hull. His voice was only slightly constricted by the weight on his shoulders. "Rest your weary cartilage. I'm just borrowing your ship to show its figurehead to that bath you told me about. If you really want to stay back 'n' enjoy the scenery, I ain't going to force you to stay riding."

Shengshi pinched the bridge of his flat nose and let out a sigh. “No, you know what? Fine, be my guest. Just… Warn me before we get to the mountains, alright? I have to secure some of my wine casks…”

Kirron did not warn Shengshi when they reached the mountains. The snake had taken a break between tying together pots and casks and securing them against the wall when he noticed the ship came to a halt. He raised his head and looked around. Had they arrived already? Then, he felt a dip, then another one, as Kirron was testing the ship’s weight. Then, it dawned on him.

“Oh no…”

Everything around him creaked, cracked and crumbled as every natural force objected to the ship’s godlike acceleration. Even the snake was flattened against the floor by the sheer suddenness of the push, which then shortly after turned into a tingling tickle in the snake’s belly and a horrified stare as he realised that the remaining casks if wine began to float in the air. Fruitlessly, the water god tried to swim through the air to pick up the flying barrels, but had to resort to clawing at the floor to get any sort of forward motion. He manage to catch a few before his divine instincts told him that there was something very hard coming towards him at a very high speed. Shengshi placed himself underneath his precious caskets and prayed.

The impact shattered what remained of the poor wine pots that he had not managed to save. The snake laid weeping on the floor which was filled with nearly a foot of wine. He clutched his remaining two pots as if their were stuffed animals and curled up in a ball to mourn the loss of so much delicious drink… Until he remembered that he did not, in fact need to mourn it at all. His godly powers could easily fix this! He stood up, wiped his wine-splattered face with his hand and licked that hand.

Wait, what was that flavour? He had a sip of the rest of the wine on the floor. It was coming from somewhere… It was sour, but weak. Very weak, compared to the rest of the fragrant wine surrounding him, and yet its flavour was complemented by a gentle fizz. He slithered over to the source of the flavour and found a basket of old apples which had taken a swim in the alcoholic pool. He took one out and had a taste. Nothing special - they tasted like normal apples, albeit a little soft and stale. He tasted the water around the basket. What was this? The fizz and sour tang were back. Had the wine yeast eaten the apples?

His hypothesis was confirmed with some further testing in the bouncing room. The water around the apples, permeated with wine yeast, had become a new drink. A very weak one, granted, but perhaps one even mortals could enjoy in moderation. Shengshi kept a few bottles of the stuff for later examinations, cleaned up the room and headed out.

He peeked over the side of the deck. Sure enough, his red brother was still carrying the ship. Shengshi climbed down and caught up to him. Kirron looked around his arms as they held the ship aloft. "I see a glint in your eye. What have you got there?"

“Good day again, brother. It so happens that a serendipitous miracle happened in the briefly ravaged wine cellar and this was made.” He presented the bottle. “Care to have a taste?”

"Hah! Who am I to say no?" Kirron shifted the keel of the ship to rest on his shoulder and slowed to a stop. With one hand holding up the hull, he took the bottle in the other and brought it to his lips. He did not bring the vessel down until it was completely drained, at which point he exhaled with satisfaction and tossed the bottle back into Shengshi's arms. "You're getting good at making brews, Sheng! That drink left a tingle in my stomach -- a spring! Hop back on the boat, brother! I feel like picking up our pace a little!"

Kirron shifted the ship back into both his hands as he spoke. Already, he was virtually arcing with energy. His big grin and wild look in his eyes spoke of a dangerously brief last leg of the journey.

The snake grinned from ear to ear. “Why, you are most kind to commend this humble one’s drink. I will make sure to make a little extra just for you to bring along!” With that, he climbed back onboard.

Shengshi went back to the wine cellar for further experimentation. How had this substance not appeared in Fengshui Fuyou? Granted, there had not been any wild apples lying around, but this sort of flavour ought to have popped up while he was brewing. He pondered for a time. Perhaps it was the change in environment? Perhaps his siblings had made some microbial life forms that enhanced his yeast, or perhaps replaced it entirely. He tested his other brewing batches. Some had indeed grown fizzy and fresh. He sampled the contents and compared the strains of yeast in all of them. None of them were of his making; if they were, they had been severely altered.

“I suppose this is what I get for telling the Sleeper’s Sand yeast not to live in waters that other life depends on,” he muttered to himself, though there was no anger in his voice - if anything, he marveled at this property of yeast. He closed his hands around the jars of samples.

“Inhabitants of my waters, listen to your lord.” The samples began to glow. “You are not inherently of the Flow, I sense as much. You thrive in waters both running and still…” He sighed. “Yet you possess qualities that I want. As such, I give you sanctuary in my realm, and bless you with growth and strength on your paths to the other realms of fresh water.” The samples in the jars began to swirl and bubble.

“In return,” Shengshi continued, “you will obey these commandments given to you by your lord.” Shengshi let go for the jars. Their contents continued to glow, however, and went completely still as if to show their attention. “Firstly, you shall never produce any brew strong enough to kill. No matter the size of the beast, nothing shall die from outright drinking you. Whatever happens after, though, is not your fault.” Shengshi shrugged unapologetically. “Secondly, you shall never more infest other brews. While I forgive you this time, others will not be as joyous to find their batch of wine destroyed. Thirdly, you shall only eat fruits. You shall shun all other forms of sweetness apart from fruit. In return, you shall have the capabilities of creating everything from delicious dry brews, to sweet and sour drinks, and I will grant you the power to grow in old fruits even without the purpose of making wine.” Shengshi scratched his chin. “Lastly, you need a name.” A somewhat more melancholic thought dawned on him. “I think… I think I shall name you after our fallen sister. While her… Blood may have done the surrounding lands a disservice, her death is a tragedy regardless. A beautiful goddess that should be remembered with this wonderful drink.” Shengshi picked up sample jar, poured himself a glass and lifted his cup in a toast.

“I name you - cider.”

Around the time Shengshi swallowed, the ship dipped again to signal that it was time for another short flight. Shengshi called his servants in as fast as he could and had them surround the barrels and pots like belts. As the ship soared up into the sky, some pots succumbed to the pressure or simply fell out of the piles. Even though restoring the wine inside was a simple task, the feeling of loss stabbed Shengshi’s heart like a dull lance.

He slithered up on deck again and let out a sigh of relief. Kirron was atop the deck with his arms crossed, they were back in the Giant’s Bath, and Hemen had already recognised the dragon’s head. The waters before the ship sprouted two wide ribbons of water that first extended high up into the air, and then intertwined at the top, forming beautifully intricate arch of water knots as they stretched downwards along one another in a spiralling pattern. Through the dew dripping across the gateway from the top of the arch, the gods saw the tranquil sight of Fengshui Fuyou.

“Well, we have arrived. Would you like a smaller ship so you can go inside and explore?” Shengshi asked smiling.

"I was going to borrow one anyway," Kirron said. "I can carry plenty on my own, but my arms can only wrap around so many of those round barrels." He pointed a thumb off to the side, where one of the ship's dinghies resting on a frame on the deck, laden with a small stack of wooden casks.
“Of course,” the snake reasoned. He clapped his hands and his servants brought up a smaller vessel, large enough to fit roughly one Kirron and however much wine this one Kirron would like to bring along - up to maximum of ten barrel-sized pots. It was evident that the vessel had been fashioned from leftover planks from the construction itself, for some of the planks were uneven and it was not as laden with gold and ornaments as its mothership was. It also included an oar, as opposed to the mothership. Shengshi scowled in disappointment and turned to his servants, who were busy zooming around in circles in order to stay alive.

“This is what you bring when your lord demands a boat?!” Shengshi turned back to his brother and bowed deeply. “My most sincere apologies and requests for your forgiveness, dearest brother. They possess not minds of reason… Nor minds at all, when I think about it-...”

Kirron raised a hand to interrupt, smiling. "It's perfect." He walked towards the vessel, clapping Shengshi on the shoulder on the way past. "You're a real pleaser, Sheng. Thanks for everything." He took his previous dinghy and unceremoniously poured is selected casks in a rumbling pile into the new ship. Already, the servants brought up a few more pots of wine and cider to line the extra space.

While the servants hoisted the ramshackle boat into the waters below, Kirron turned around with his fists on his hips and flashed a grin. "I'll see you around, river man! I had great fun today! Fare yourself well!"

And with that he stepped over the railing and landed on his new vehicle.

Shengshi still grimaced at his agreement to send off Kirron on what in his eyes was such a shabby piece of flotsam, but he had by now learned that it was better to just let his brother do what he wished and avoid stalling him further. The snake leaned over the railing and waved to his brother. The red god was making a wake behind him with an oar in hand.

“I return the sentiment, dearest brother of mine! Have a safe and fortuitous journey!” A thought popped into his head. “Oh! And please do not mind the mud worms. They may bite, but they never bite hard. Oh, and do not mind the huge floods that may occur. They do that, sometimes!” Yet another thought surfaced. “And please do not throw any huge rocks around-... And he’s gone.”

@AdorableSaucer @Darkspleen Regarding:

<Snipped quote>
After a few hours she had gotten a very good idea of what the continent was like. In a word: boring. It was rock and rock and more rock. Oh and a random river of blood that ran through most of the continent. Because why wouldn’t that be a thing? Or perhaps calling it a river of ichor would be more fitting as Phystene could sense it possessed a divine nature.

I may have misunderstood, but I was under the impression that our resident river god had made Continent Kirron his base and that, if it is not already flush with rivers, it already has the Hemen/Giant's Bath (are they the same thing or am I confused?) at it's centre. I never imagined Continent Kirron being rocky at all. On the contrary, thought the mere presence of the Gateway to Fengshui Fuyou meant it was rather riverfied.

Hey, fam! No probs. We actually address that in an upcoming collab. Just so it's clear, the Seidhar was the first river on the continent to my knowledge. Shengshi has not carved any himself yet. The Hemen is inside the Giant's Bath, so, and I can probably spoil this much considering it was teased in the previous collab, it is very likely that Shengshi will make at least one river flow out of that area. However, with the Giant's Bath being a cauldron-shape and also elevated off the ground, most of that water has technically been trapped for the time being. It will be released and begin sanding at the continent soon.

Also, Kirronland is, to my knowledge, still basically a hedgehog made land, so extremely rocky.

The tunnel of water and light that extended from the Hemen Gate to Galbar was long and windy. Shengshi had really not expected there to be this long of a travel - considering he had seen the reflection of the watery world through the dew dripping across the gateway. Perhaps it has been a representative image of sorts - a figment of the actual reality of Galbar. Nevertheless, Shengshi felt the Middle World draw closer as the humid breeze of Fengshui Fuyou gave way to the dry, empty air of Galbar. Shengshi stretched and slithered out on the deck. This was it. This would be his workplace. His siblings’ and his new clay to sculpture. He was ready - ready for anythi-!


The ship came to a sudden halt, tilting a little forward from the sheer force of its momentum. The snake, now rolled up on deck and thoroughly confused, unrolled himself and stood up. Around him, his servants were zooming around the deck in a state of panic - if something as simple could feel fear, that is. The snake slithered over to the side of the deck and looked down over the enormous, bulging hull of the Jiangzhou. Where he had thought there would be water, there was just a whole lot of shale, gravel and rubble.


The snake hopped down and looked around. In his name, where had all the water gone? Had his siblings already dried the planet out? Had they failed already? He plucked at his beard in a disappointed state of deep thought. He knew his brother Sartravius had given off some destructive vibes, but he did not expect him to act on them! The snake shook its head and let out a sigh, turning to inspect the damages to his impervious ship.

Perhaps it was the heat of the sun against the bare rocks playing tricks of illusion, perhaps the stress had made the god a bit mad, but, unequivocally, there was a figure in the horizon, and not any figure, but the silhouette of a ship. Shengshi poked at a somewhat scraped plank casually as he shot the horizon a glance. Had Asceal made some sort of mirage creature? He slithered away from the immediate vicinity of the ship and gave the distant object a friendly wave of a clawed hand.

To his surprise, the figure slowed down and then started to sail in a curve, changing its route to go towards Shengshi. As it got close, it became clear it was an actual ship, hovering over the sea of rocks, raising dust as it went by. Out of courtesy, it became a far smaller vessel, a simple barge, and rose up in the air as to not throw a dust cloud towards the god. Shengshi did not recognize the vessel, but he felt a familiar presence aboard - not one he had interacted with before, granted, but any sibling of his was always a good sight. The snake leaned back on his tail and bowed as deep as he could forward.

“It is a most fantastic joy to finally meet you face to face…” The snake looked up with a grin. “... Dearest sister Urhu.”
The boat slowly hovered down until it was easy for Urhu to look out of it, the wanderer jumping down to meet Shengshi face to face. She was not too good with graciousness. ”Oh… hey Shengshi. Nice to meet you too.” she looked to the side for a moment, and then back to the god. ”Cool ship, but you look a bit stranded.” Shengshi chuckled sheepishly and looked towards the top of the castle aboard the ship, which peaked at a height almost ten times his own.

“Yes, it would seem my beautiful castle has indeed arrived upon a… Most unexpected of predicaments.” The snake twisted his long, black left whisker. “Furthermore, I am afraid I cannot dislodge this colossal work of art on my own - I am much too weak right now.” He gave a gentle, saddened sigh.

The wanderer tilted her head before nodding. ”Is that so? Is the hull damaged? I got some spare wood and a workshop here.” she said pointing towards her small boat. ”Oh, and if I made a… uhm… crater, do you think you could fill it with water or are you too tired?”

Shengshi looked at Urhu, straightened himself up and rolled his shoulder. He clenched and unclenched his fists and looked first back up at the ship before looking at the ground.

“I think I have another idea,” Shengshi said. He slithered back a few tail lengths and lifted his arms into the air.

“Servants! Come! You master requires your service!” he boomed. A moment passed, followed by several streams, thick and thin, flowing down the side of the hull and forming a colossal flat whirlpool on the ground before the two gods. The water ran and jumped through the cracks and crevices in the stone ground to remain as evenly distributed as possible. Shengshi smiled and looked over at Urhu.

“Watch this. Servants! Bring my ship to the nearest shore, please!” The whirlpool shot out a single, shallow river that quickly made an attempt to dive underneath the ship and push it away. However, the terrain proved to make such an endeavour somewhat inconvenient. Shengshi deflated somewhat.

The wandering goddess chuckled softly before placing a hand on the shoulder of the other god. ”The nearest coast is quite far, you are pretty much in the middle of this continent. Your poor servants would have to overwork for entire days to make this trip.” the goddess of travel told. Shengshi hissed sourly to himself. This was turning out to not be such an amazing day after all. He raised a hand once more and the streams soared back up along the hull before crashing onto the deck in a distant splash.

“What did you say your plan was again, sister?” Shengshi inquired.

”Come over, I will show you.” she said, extending a hand so she could help the fellow deity into her ship. Shengshi took the hand with a smile and slithered aboard. When that happened, the goddess took the ship’s wheel and made it float a bit higher in the air, then, in the very front of their eyes, it started to grow larger, going from a small boat fit for a crew of three to a massive narrow ship.

Having not done much since she arrived, the goddess was full of vitality and divine strength, casually raising her hand and raising the land around Jiangzhou, making it so the palace stood in the middle of an empty lake. ”I can take your ship back to the coast, the difficult bit is getting it into Nyeothay Tag’s deck without damaging either ship. Thus the lake.” Shengshi was certain the ship could not be harmed, but then again, a divine object such as Nyeothay Tag could potentially damage the oiled mahogany planks of the hull. Shengshi gave Urhu a nod.

“I will see what I can do.” The snake thus slithered over to the edge of the deck and looked down. He had not actually seen the Jiangzhou from above, and seeing it, he thought the green roof tiles may have been a poor design choice to go with the dark brown mahogany and gold dragons. He would have to change that at a later date. Regardless, he clapped his hands together and a globule of fresh water shot up into the air from the deck of the Jiangzhou, flew into the sky and landed at his tail. The globule proceeded to zoom around the god in circles. Shengshi gave it an authoritative stare and pointed at the empty lake beneath his castle boat.

“Go - bring water to that thirsting soil.” The globule spun around him once more and hopped off into the thin air. As it fell, Shengshi moved his pointing finger to the globule, and it quickly grew considerably in size. In but the blink of an eye, the globule contained enough water to fill the very bottom of the lake - possibly just enough to lift the Jiangzhou off the bedrock.

“If it is not enough, I can do a little more, but it will require the sacrifice of more servants,” Shengshi admitted with a sigh. The wanderer looked at him with somewhat worried eyes, looking over the water and sighing, she feared accidentally damaging either her or his ship, so she had to think of an alternative.

”I have braved a few storms while crossing this continent, why don’t we wait for one? When it comes, it will raise the water level, therefore making it easier for me to maneuver my ship.” she told. The snake hung his head and sighed.

“It would simply be horrible to just leave my exquisite home behind, though,” he said with a quivering lower lip. Urhu shook her head. ”We could simply wait inside your palace, no?” The snake wiped away a serpentine tear and looked down.

“It would indeed be a terrible waste to not show you around inside.” The sob was immediately replaced with a grin. “Yes, yes! Let us head inside! I actually have such an exciting drink for you to sample!”

The goddess answered with a grin of her own. ”A drink eh? Now that sounds quite nice.” she would make Nyeothay Tag small again and sail down, leaving it to float in the air by the side of the palace. Shengshi hopped onto the deck of the palace ship and extended a hand for Urhu to grab so he could gracefully help her descend. She took the hand and hopped down, she pondered for a moment about how that skip had made her go from host to guest.

“Right this way, dearest sister,” the snake said and beckoned her along as he slithered towards the gilded and bejeweled, carven mahogany gates of the castle.

Upon opening the gates, the gods were greeted by a long hallway with walls draped in lunar-white paper. On the left-hand side, part of the wall was covered in characters that made up what appeared to be clauses and phrases. However, there were no such writings on the opposite wall. By the characters furthest away, on the floor, laid a calligraphy set. Shengshi chuckled sheepishly.

“Oh my~... I had completely forgotten about that! Truly, pardon the mess. It is still very much a work in progress.” He grinned at Urhu and went down the hallway. “Feel free to take in the sights along the way.” The hallway was lit partially with the natural light outside and partially by red paper lanterns hanging from the walls above the white paper. Sometimes, a table with plates of fruit, vegetables and various sauces would pop up along the wall, generously offering their bounty to the hungry bypasser. Shengshi snatched for himself a juicy date and bit into it, through the stone and all.

Urhu would take a few samples, grapes, tangerine, apples, it was all quite delicious and complimented well the looks of the beautiful palace into a full pleasant experience. Her siblings had some quite beautiful and elegant homes, yet, for her, the simple rustic comfort of Nyeothay Tag was the only thing she could see as a home of her own. There was another door up ahead, even more beautiful than the last, where even the spaces between the lines in the woodwork were made of gold, making an organic display of art across the dark wooden door. The door handles were made of polished green jade, which Shengshi again thought did not exactly fit the surrounding colours. He shook the thought off and swung the doors open to reveal the feast hall.

A gilded wooden railing stretched across the floor in the front. Upon further inspection, it was revealed that the railing bordered a sudden fifty foot drop. Down below, tables and chairs in all sizes filled a huge, marble-floored room. The upper floors rested on amber pillars carved to look like lizardskin. The centre of the hall below was room to a massive table of ever-changing dishes and drinks that were being switched out every minute. At the far end of the feast hall, there was a golden table with twenty-four differently sized chairs and a crimson tablecloth. The entire room was lit with a colossal chandelier made up of red paper lanterns, all of which were covered in poetry.

“Right this way,” the snake said and descended a huge flight of stairs. Urhu nodded, a bit awestruck by the sheer opulence of the sight in front of her, Shengshi was a god who enjoyed the fine joys of life, but both of them went for completely different approaches on how to achieve such things. It also seemed they both had a taste for space bending ships, albeit the interior of Nyeothay Tag was dwarfed by Jiangzhou, despite the former being a larger vessel when not transformed.

The wanderer walked among the chairs and found her own with ease, despite not being a goddess with a particularly out of the ordinary body, it seemed the chairs were not only tailored for body types, but also for personal tastes. ”You have a pretty great place, Shengshi.” she told in a very casual tone.

The snake chuckled. “Only the finest for a god and his siblings. On my own honour and name, I shall one day make this ship more radiantly beautiful than that fancy orb they put in the sky. What did they call that, anyway?”

The goddess sneered ”The Sun, I think. I mean, one is fine, I guess, too extravagant but hey, it helps the plants go big. But can you believe they wanted to make a second, even brighter one?”

Shengshi demeanour betrayed a low scoff. “By the blessed Architect, with all due respect for them, it is like they do not even recognise the rest of us who will have to look at that thing. Two might have even been detrimental to those plants. Hmph.” Shengshi rolled his eyes discreetly, but quickened to when he saw the door ahead.

“Ah, at last. Please, come in.” Shengshi unlocked the unusually locked and certainly unusually bland steel door. The doors swung open to reveal mountains upon mountains of stacked, barrel-sized pots, all labelled with the same character. Shengshi pointed at one of the closer pots.

“You see this? I call this ‘wine’! A fantastic invention that came to me as a sign from god-... Or well, as sign from us, I suppose?” The snake chuckled and removed the cover from the pot. The room immediately filled with a powerful, almost choking odour - borderline repelling to even divine nostrils. The snake grabbed two small cups from a nearby shelf and filled both, offering one to Urhu.

The goddess sniffed the drink for a bit, bobbing her head back a bit surprised with how strong it smelled, she was almost tempted to use her divine abilities to perceive the taste, but that was just boring. She took a sip and took a moment to feel the taste in her mouth. ”Whoa… bitter. But also sour? Strong taste… kinda weird really.” There was a question about context there, her words could be taken as a complaint, but the truth would be clear once she took the cup and drank all of the remaining wine at once. ”Hah! Makes me feel warm…” she added. ”Great stuff.” Shengshi downed his own cup and grinned.

“Is that so? I am so happy to hear that, dearest sister! I believe this one was made with…” Shengshi dipped down to instead the characters underneath the symbol for alcohol. “... Lychee, yes! A wonderful fruit, that one. Full of all kinds of sugars. Here, have another!” Shengshi almost forcefully snatched Urhu’s cup and gave her a refill. He naturally filled his own cup, as well.

The goddess didn’t take offense to that, on the contrary, she was more than eager to have more the wine. ”This also makes me feel a bit light, kinda like when I am in a hot bath… Oh, do you have a bath in this ship? I had to break my head when I was thinking about how to fit one in Nyeothay Tag, but in the end, I managed to make one… then a few more.”

Shengshi snapped his fingers. “Servants! The lady demands a hot bath!” Immediately, there was a ruckus coming from the kitchens as a flood of water flushed out through the doors across the feast hall and up the stairs.

“Please, follow me,” Shengshi said, bring another two pots for the journey. The two gods headed up the flight until they reached the floor just above the feast hall. The room above the wine storage was revealed to be a bathhouse, now flushed with steam and the smell of herbs and incense. The centre of the bathhouse was home to a huge bathtub filled with herbal waters. The surrounding boilers all had pipes and channels that lead into the main tub.

”Oh, this is pretty great, I have a similar one in my garden, albeit it is far smaller.” she said, stepping closer to the water and sniffing a bit, before letting out a relaxed sigh. ”Great selections of herbs and incense, a less skilled person might oversaturate or underuse, but you and your servants know the exact balance.”

The goddess quickly undressed, keeping only the wine-filled cup on her hand, before she entered the waters. ”Balance… I guess that is the key, you know?” she said, thinking back at the topic of the two suns that they had touched earlier. It was a rough and sudden transition, influenced by the wine. ”That is the thing Asceal and her friends miss.” Shengshi wrapped his long hair up in a towel and slithered into the enormous tub. He snapped his fingers and a globule of water zoomed by with more wine, this time served in a fine porcelain flask.

“Indeed… Balance is required in true prosperity - too little of the good, and you will never achieve prosperity; too much, however, and your prosperity comes at the cost of others. I would rather not backtalk our siblings for their somewhat more…” Shengshi took another drink and a water globule zoomed over to refill his cup, standing still just long enough to pop in a spectacle of water and force. It reformed just in time to catch the falling wine flask, however, and zoomed off. “... But I see truth in your statement - there is a distinct lack of an understanding of balance among our kin.”

”I have no ill will towards them, I mean no harm, but I think its important to have… uh… a sense of criticism, right?” as she talked, she would air chop as if to highlight her point. ”I mean, like, being good is nice, I get it, its the right thing, but you also need, uh… an element of struggle, see? You have to be good but you cannot overprotect… It’s like a pond, you know? A still pond might look more welcoming than a raging river or the turbulent seas, but the unmoving pond will eventually putrefy and die, while the oceans and rives will go on, living and breathing through crashing waves.”

Shengshi took another drink, cringed at the flavour and shot his arms up into the air in applause. “Preach, dearest sister, preach! As the flow meets conflict, it overcomes them!” The snake had his cup refilled, had another drink and stopped mid-slurp, as if an idea just popped into his head - or was that the servant globule again? He was not certain.

“You know what thish world needsh?” Shengshi slurred. “More-a that-... That flow, y’know? Like-... Like somethin’ to remind the world itsh turnin’... Y’know… Like a river twistsh and turnsh, sh-... Sho must the world over time, or somethin’...?”

Urhu tilted her head and squinted her eyes, slowly going from a rested position leaning against the sides of the tub to leaning forward, hand on her chin. ”Wow… Shengshi… That is genial… Yeah! I should do that… My sphere is yet undefined, I could, like… dedicate it to the impermanence of all things and uh… the flow of change… or whatever.”

The snake had another drink. “Hhhokay… What’sh the mosht basic two elementsh that create…” He hiccuped. “... Flow?”

”The two elements that are companions to all ships. Water and Wind” the goddess took another sip of the wine. Shengshi punched the water in agreement. “Cuh-rrect! Now, I shay we make water ‘n wind command the flow o’ the world! Have days o’ wetnessh ‘n storms - have daysh o’ dryness ‘n still air!” Shengshi scratched his chin. He could not help but feel like someone was missing from the discussion, but decided to drown the thought with another swig.

The goddess had had similar ideas as he spoke, but she still swam a bit closer and placed a hand on the slithering god’s shoulder. ”Yeah… that is great stuff. You are very enlightened Shengshi!” she nodded for a moment, her face red thanks to the bath and alcohol. ”Remind everyone there is a time for everything. Like there is a time for light and dark, time for rain and a time for drought… oh... “ she suddenly stopped, the idea was really churning in her head now, more concepts flourishing as she spoke. After a moment looking to the side, she looked back straight into the fellow god’s eyes. ”What about a time of cold… and a time of warmth? Oh… or even… a time of blooming… and a time of wilting?”

Shengshi stared back into her eyes for a moment before punching the water once again. “Urhu! You’sh a geniush!” The snake rocketed to a standing position and immediately fell backwards out of the tub, his tail still inside, lazily flopping from side to side as the god gave a drunk cackle.

The goddess smiled at the compliment, nodding. ”Yep!” she said proudly.

“Yesh…” The god struggled once more, but did not manage to stand up. He lifted his cup up and a globule came over to fill it. He downed it immediately. “Life ‘n death… Harmony… ‘N the flow continues!”

Urhu moved out of the bath and sat at the border of the tub, filling her cup of wine as well before placing it close to Shengshi’s own cup. ”A toast! … To the flow of all things!” Shengshi clinked his cup against her weakly, only to find that it had not been refilled when he put it to his lips.

“What should we cullh thish… Concept?” he slurred. A water globule came over with the flask, which Shengshi snatched and used on his own to pour his drink.

That was a charged question, and the drunk goddess was left pondering deeply about it, she looked around and saw the stewing herbs that had been used for the bath, an idea blooming on her mind. ”It makes an otherwise dull unchanging world be filled with strong contrasting feelings, like spices and herbs on a meal… so… how about… season?”

“Who’s shneezing?” Shengshi said, utterly confused by the logical leap that had not actually taken place.

Urhu puffed her cheeks. ”Not sneeze! Its like the action, you know, when you go and… ahhh!” she had been impatiently rocking back and forth on the border where she was set, and this eventually came to the logical conclusion of her falling on her back into the bath. She was quick to rise up, spewing out some water and then sighing… before laughing. Shengshi, while unable to see what had transpired in the tub, joined the laughter.

The room Urhu woke up in the next morning, while severely lacking in the opulent flair that Shengshi had make clear he advocated for, was likely still much too fine for her tastes. Its itinerary consisted of a fine bed, a dresser, a carpet with Urhu’s divine logo upon it, and some of Shengshi’s poetry hanging on each side of the door. The walls were mahogany draped with clear, white paper, and the floor was a nice, golden shade of bamboo. Her mattress was dressed with silken sheets, complemented with small, puffed pillows stacked around the corners of the round bed. On the dresser by the wall laid her clothes, washed and scented with exquisite soaps.

The wanderer woke up with the feeling she had been hit in the head by Aelius’s Chariot, she could not deny though, the bed provided by the palace was quite comfortable. She slipped onto her clothes and blinked a bit as she saw the symbol she had been designing to represent her once Mortals came about in the carpet. She guessed that a lot of info had been shared by the Architect’s mind meld… or by the drunk night of carousing, she only remembered things well up to the whole ‘seasoning’ talk.

Awkwardly, she opened the adorned door and looked around the corridor, finding 6 other rooms, it was possible to notice they all were themed after a god, and the wanderer assumed there would be more of those, probably one for each deity. Shengshi was really impressive with his abilities as a host, Urhu guessed he had been the only god who took the architect’s info and looked at it for ways to accommodate and be nice to his siblings, instead of picking enemies and allies. A small water globule zoomed over to her feet, bringing with it a soaked note. It dropped it and zoomed off just as fast as it had appeared. The note was written in visibly shabby handwriting and read as follows:

Dearest sister.
I am afraid I am in a bit of an awkward state at the moment, and as such cannot join you for breakfast. However, you are more than free to help yourself to anything in the feast hall. The servants are tasked to follow your every command, so do not be hesitant to ask them for whatever you would like.

If you have any questions or queries, I am in my chambers on the top floor of the Middle Spire.

All the best,
Your brother Shengshi.

There was a time for many things, but there was no time in which Urhu would deny free food. After just one trip, she knew the paths of the elaborate palace quite well and was quick to move into the feast hall. The breakfast menu was as ever-changing as the dinner menu had been the day before, but the scents of freshly cooked millet porridge, buns stuffed with vegetables and weeds of all sorts and enough stir-fried rice to feed an army permeated the room.

With nobody around to look, Urhu dropped all sense of good manner and feasted upon the myriad of dishes being served, while she did pay close attention to the taste of the meals, she was also wolfing down on the buns and rice as if trying to prove she was indeed a sister to Anzillu the Abhorrent. The kitchens continued to provide the tables with more food as it was eventually eaten by the hungry goddess.
Soon, the goddess finally stood up, stretching and patting her stomach, satisfied from that sort of hunger one only has when they are not the ones providing the food. She decided she wanted to speak with Shengshi again, but not before going back to Nyeothay Tag to gather a few things.

Of all the doors in the palace, the snake had evidently spent the most time refining his own chambers’. The usual mahogany had given away to pinkish rosewood, bejeweled with green jade flowers with golden petals and flanked by two giant, golden dragon statues with ruby eyes. The handles were shaped like miniature golden dragons, and there was a poem written on the door in golden characters.

The river lord rules;
Soft in force and wise of mind;
Prosperity comes.

It was a beautiful and delicate thing, Urhu almost felt inadequate when she was trying to open the door with a single finger as she was holding a large paper scroll and birdcages with both her hands.

The inside of Shengshi’s room was, in contrast, quite messy. The huge carpet on the floor with the river lord’s symbol was stained with several black spots of ink. Calligraphy kits laid all around, along with several empty porcelain cups - some of which laid shattered on the floor. The crimson silk drapes danced in the morning breeze, flickering the sunlight at the seven foot tall basket in the end of the room, from which a rasping snore rumbled through the room.

Urhu did not mind the mess, she was somewhat obsessive with keeping things well organized but even she had days where she would leave a misplaced boot or a glass cup out of its place. Announcing her entrance was the song of the caged birds she had captured in The Eye of Desolation, the wanderer hoping that would be enough to wake up the river god. The thunderous snore stopped after a few tweets. The basket quivered and shook before a black-haired, crimson-scaled and beige-skinned face peeked out of the top. Shengshi let out a quiet burp.

“Oof, do pardon me, dearest sister. Give me a second, will you?” The head descended again.

The goddess nodded at her brother’s word and turned around, giving Shengshi some privacy until he felt ready to present himself. After a minute or so, there was a quiet rustling sound behind Urhu, followed by some clinking porcelain and a quiet complaint, likely about a headache.

“Servants! An omelette - and the juice of cranberries and blueberries! Make it quick!” The snake then softened his tone. “You may turn around now, dearest sister.”

Urhu turned around, acting more gentle than usual as she held the caged birds on her arm. ”Good morning Shengshi.” she told before giggling. ”Seems like I was not the only one whose head was hit by Aelius’s Chariot yesterday.”

Shengshi chuckled sheepishly, the water globules storming through the door with his breakfast order.

“Aelius has a chariot now? How much did I actually miss when I was in Fengshui Fuyou?” He downed the glass of cranberry juice, grabbed his plate of food and his spoon and slithered over to his saloon table.

“Please, come sit.” He gestured to the spot on the floor next to him by the table. Urhu nodded and walked over, placing the cages on the floor and leaving the scroll on her lap. Shengshi eyed the objects.

“Say, what have you brought, dearest sister?” he asked, mouth full of eggs.

Urhu smiled. ”Well, these are some birds I captured while on a hunting trip in The Eye of Desolation… which is uh, an island on the other side of the world, it was created by a giant rock being thrown against the planet…” the goddess felt induced to add more information as she saw clear signs of confusion in her sibling’s face. ”Uhm. Yeah. We had some problems with some upper realm gods throwing around cosmic boulders, thankfully only one has hit Galbar.”

Shengshi choked on a bite of egg and drowned it with some blueberry juice. He grabbed a nearby handkerchief and patted his lips softly.

“Pardon me…” He cleared his throat. “That is truly unreasonable behaviour - already conflict is leading to destruction upon the world we have been tasked to bring creation to!” He grumbled angrily into his blueberry juice. He sighed. “While I agree with our sister Arae’s sentiment that family is to be loved regardless of actions… Such senselessness.” He shook his head and chowed down on another spoonful of omelette.

“However, let us not think of that - those are some beautiful birds you have brought!” He eyed the tweeting creatures with a most curious look. “What are they for, may I ask?”

”A gift.” she explained, looking back at the cages. ”While in The Eye I singled out the birds I found had the most pleasing song, initially I thought about keeping them in the greenhouse within my ship, however, since I live alone and without servants, it felt a bit cruel, even if food and water were provided… Furthermore, they often found ways to stray away from the garden and hunting songbirds through a non-euclidean environment is just not fun.”
Shengshi grinned from horn to horn. “A gift? For me? By the blessed Architect, you are much too kind, my sweet, dearest sister Urhu!” The snake bowed his head deeply towards her. “I think I shall keep them here in my chamber - their song will make a beautiful call for me to wake up to in the morning.” The snake’s forked tongue jolted out as his grin turned into a softer smile. “They will surely inspire many years of music and poetry in this castle. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

The goddess bowed back. ”I am glad you liked it, I am sure the birds will enjoy their stay as well.” She then picked up the scroll and placed it on the table. ”I would also like to propose a deal. The drink of yesterday, wine, was quite tasty, and I would like to stock Nyeothay Tag with a barrel of it. Would you like to trade it for this?”

She unveiled the scroll and revealed a map of the whole word, detailing even the most minute of landscapes and with easy to read topographic information on valleys and mountains, an aspect that would be particularly useful for a god who ruled over rivers. Shengshi eyed the paper and, in a split second, saw a thousand rivers sprout between the hills marked on the map. He looked back at Urhu.

“One barrel? You insult me, sister.” He grinned. “You shall have as many as your ship can carry.”

Urhu choked on nothing, as if the words had hit her like a rock. ”I think enough to fill a wall of my cellar is enough brother, you know, non-euclidean environment and all, we could run into paradox if we tried to fill it… But really, thank you so very much.”

“A wall and ten more, then,” Shengshi proclaimed stubbornly and stood up, totally reinvigorated. “I will have the servants load Nyeothay Tag with the very finest batches I have.” He took Urhu’s hand in his own and closed his other hand around it. “It is the least I can offer for your exquisite company and unforgettable kindness,” he added.

The goddess smiled. ”You were a great host, Shengshi, I will surely have you as the core example of how to treat a guest once there are mortals in this realm. Thank you for helping me to figure out what my influence on this world should be as well, I really needed the wine and a nice warm bath to clear my mind and also a friend to talk about my ideas with.”

Shengshi waved a dismissive hand. “It is a great honour to have you praise me as such, and an even greater one to be an example to your followers - one I accept with utmost humility.” He rolled up his tail and bent his torso down on the ground, kowtowing before the goddess. “I wish you all the best with your quest to bring these… Seasons to Galbar, and know that you are -always- welcome to stay here at any time.” He stood back up and smiled.

Urhu nodded but then remembered something, gasping. ”Oh right, don’t you want me to help with taking your palace to the coast? It seems raising the surrounding cliffs has also brought over some water sources, a few waterfalls have been filling the lake up since last night. I now have the room to maneuver Nyeothay Tag below Jiangzhsuspectedou.”

Shengshi shook his head and patted the map. “While I am humbled by your wish to help, I think I will use this opportunity to carve my own mark into this land, so to speak.” He winked playfully.

With a smirk, the goddess nodded. ”I kinda supected it. Well then, I need to get going and get to work on a few things myself. Good luck with your tasks, brother, I will see you soon.”

“And to you, dearest sister. I hope it is very soon, indeed.” The snake followed her to the deck, where they said goodbye one last time before the goddess boarded her ship.

Shengshi put his clawed hands on his hips and looked around. More and more of his siblings zoomed off into that great, dark yonder - leaving the lookout quite empty, like it had been a mere moment ago. The snake gave a gentle sigh and shot the blinking crystal vessels an expectant look. A hand on one of those shards and his work would begin, he thought to himself. A somewhat anxious clump formed in the snake's belly. Shengshi rolled his shoulders, clapped and rubbed his hands together, and then began to slither towards the crystals.

Or so he would have, had he not slithered into clacking crawler called Ohannakeloi, who Shengshi thought still seemed rather lost. He looked down at his smaller brother with a smile.

"Dear brother Ohannakeloi, that's not the way to the crystals! They're over there!" Shengshi patted the crab on its shell and slithered on past towards the crystals. Shengshi touched the crystal absent-mindedly and soared off deep in thought. First, he needed a proper home: One that would welcome all his siblings; one that would please his aesthetic requirements; and one that would inspire millennia of poetry and tales.

A river, no, ten rivers! No! His eyes glistened with inspiration. A thousand-hundred-thousand rivers! With only specks of mud and soil in between! A true home for himself. A thought passed through him - one remembering his more elemental siblings. A being of fire like Sartravius would naturally not be welcome in a realm such as Shengshi described. This perplexed the snake as he grabbed onto his crystal and shot off into the empty space. How would a realm satisfying to him also welcome the presence of a being of pure, unrelenting flames? How could it be made comfortable to it?

A castle, perhaps? One of stone? Shengshi waved the thought away and muttered to himself. A stone castle wasn’t a pleasing sight to him, and it would likely sink in the wetlands. How about a castle of metal? Shengshi frowned in disappointment at his lacking creativity. A castle of metal was even worse on the eye than stone! It would also outshine the rivers in the moonlight, which was an atrocious thought.
How would he write poetry about his beautiful rivers, then, if the castle was prettier? No, no, no, it could -not- be so.

As the crystal carried Shengshi closer and closer to the watery world of Galbar, the snake felt his imagination grow more barren by the minute. He decided to leave the idea for now - he approached his new home.

The crystal halted a few feet off the water’s surface. This was not Galbar, however. This was an empty plane of water, occasionally interrupted by a tiny clump of clay that managed to break through the dull waves. While this world shared many traits with the Middle World, the area was smaller; the waters, fresher. Shengshi sensed potential. He swam around for a few hours, surveying his new home. The waters stuck deep in some places and merely covered the ground in others. Still, Shengshi thought, this plane was incomplete. It had no flow. That was the first quality that required change. However, the snake knew not how.

He swam around for what felt like weeks in the clear waters devoid of life and motion. The colour of the water had whitened his eyes to the point where there was no colour left. Shengshi’s reflection intrigued him, but was likewise a frightening image - a lord of a dead stream - no, a lake.

A push.

Shengshi whirled around with a sudden swiftness that caused colossal waves to shoot out around him. He remained completely still, disturbed only by the water rings he made himself.

There it was again.

Shengshi did not hesitate. The god kicked off and rocketed down into the depths. He felt it - a flow. He redoubled his speed, causing the water in front of him to boil. He arrived, finally, at the brink of a great pit into the depths. The hole expelled a weak force - but a force nonetheless.

Flow, Shengshi thought. This was it. Shengshi dove into the hole. The tunnel stretched for miles, but soon, it split into uncountable smaller tunnels and holes, most too small for Shengshi to enter. He tasted the waters from a subset of the holes - each flavour met his tongue differently - some being rich and soily; others, weak and metallic. The colours also differed, but not enough to be particularly noticable. Shengshi nodded to himself and propelled himself back up. This would be the centre of his home, but he needed to empower it.

The snake reached the surface of the water. There, he took a deep breath and raised his arms. The waters began to stir, then quiver, and finally flow away from him. The waters around him gave way to spots of fertile, unsown mud and sand, covered by the dark lake since the dawn of this universe. As the waters pulled away, more and more land peeked up from beneath the frothing waves. It was then immediately swallowed again. Then it came back. This cycle sanded plots until they were smooth and round and dragged the mud and sand along to colour the waters beige. The god found himself standing on a such plot before long, the area around him growing ever drier. He took a moment to look around - where was all the water going? He quickly turned back, however, to see the fruits of his labour.

A ring of foam and mud formed in the water before him. The water within the ring began pouring over the foam, further pushing away what little water remained around it. A black, grey and brown wall of stone and dirt soon lifted the ring up into the air, curving outwards first at a sharp slope, then flattening out as it got taller, water crashing down its sides at all times. Shengshi gazed upward as the hill became a mountain, then clapped his hands together. There was a blinding flash and the quakes ceased. The only sounds were Shengshi’s ragged breathing and the drums of water smashing against stone. He bent forward, a little too far, perhaps, and shivered a little from the imbalance. He regarded his abdomen for a moment, finding that the poem had, thankfully, not been smudged. I suppose that’s godblood for you, Shengshi thought to himself. He then looked up. The mountain stood as a lonely pyramid in the middle of endless wetlands, with what nearly amounted to a volcanic torrent of water shooting up from the caldera on its peak. The rivers that poured down around the mountain flowed out in every direction, bringing with them the colours and flavours from the caldera’s deep. Shengshi wiped some sweat off his forehead, brushed his black hair to the side and faced the mountain with a fanged grin of pride on his face.

“I shall name you Shiquan - the world spring!” The snake drew the characters 世泉 into the mud at his feet.

“Forever shall you supply all worlds with waters fresh and clear!” There was another flash and the characters in the mud turned to stone, unyielding even in the face of floods. As if to confirm it understood its purpose, the caldera at the mountain’s peak shot forth streams more powerful than before, nearly breaking its walls apart. Shengshi gave a satisfied nod and turned on his tail. He surveyed the sphere - it was empty, still, but more land had been revealed from under the rivers. Yet the world was still grey and brown - not much to write about, Shengshi thought. That also had to change.

Shengshi, using all his strength, swam up the waterfalls along the newly formed world spring mountain. Once at the top, Shengshi surveyed all-under-Shiquan. He raised both hands and exclaimed, “The flow is formed - come and drink in it!” The spots of land were soon covered in green grasses and small shrubberies. Some of the innumerable rivers grew verdant with algae. The mountain sprouted vines and grass around the waterfalls. Yes, this was a realm he could be proud of. His rivers were still rather empty, though. They needed something - life! Shengshi picked up a fistful of mud. Yes, something to enjoy his world! He fashioned the wet mud into, well, the first thing he could think of - a shape much like his own. He admired his handsome work for a moment. Would not that be interesting - a world filled with miniatures of himself. Why not, he decided.

“You, dear creation, shall be-...!”

A grain of sand on the wind tickled his nostrils. Shengshi shivered and rubbed his nose with a clawed hand.

“Ach-.. Ugh… As I said, you shall be-...!”

Another gust tickled him some more. The snake inhaled in a hacking manner before unleashing a ferocious sneeze upon the mud clump, which soared out of his palm and off the side of the mountain. Shengshi slithered to the edge in a hurry. There was a splash below. Shengshi let out a disappointed sigh.

Then there was another splash.

Shengshi raised an eyebrow and looked closer. There was something in the river. Suddenly, the rings around where the mud clump had fallen gave way to several smaller rings and lines in the water. They were… Worms? A bundle of simple worm in the colour of rivermud flopped their way through the water, feasting on the algae blooms. Shengshi scratched his head. He still had much to learn about his powers, he supposed.

“Uhm… Yes! You shall, uh, you shall be the Mudsnake! Or… Mud Worm, I suppose. Yes, mud worm!” He wrote the characters 泥虫 in the mud at his tail. ”You shall, uh, feast on algae and, uh, swim around in the water! You shall also be food to larger beasts of the rivers! To help you in that endeavor, your eggs will be shielded with earth as long as they are laid in my rivers. Good luck on your journey, little friend!” As if to show they had heard his commands, the worms flailed around in the water for a bit before swimming on to their destinations.

Shengshi coughed a little and licked his lips. He was thirsty. He bent down and had a sip of the water in the spring. Wait, what was that flavour? He licked the insides of his mouth an additional time before having another sip. A bit of… Tang? Shengshi froze. Who had polluted his rivers?! The snake jumped into the spring and swam down to the bottom. He tasted the water from every hole, but nothing yielded the same flavour. Then, what was it? He swam back up and sat on the waterbank in thought. He had another sip of the water. There it was again. Shengshi keeled over and put his face in his hands. Had he already failed in his mission to keep his waters clean? A few tears rolled down his fingers, one of which splashed into the spring. The water springed ever so gently, but the surface was not water. Shengshi spread his fingers so he could see. What… What was this? Shengshi picked at the surface and it separated into smaller flakes. Upon further inspection, the surface was a gentle shade of brown and yellow. Shengshi scooped up some water with flakes in it and drank it. It gave off a sour flavour and Shengshi felt a gentle warmth in his belly. What… What was this? Upon further analysis, Shengshi concluded that it had to be some strange form of algae or dust. Shengshi sampled some more of it and soon felt the warmth in his belly spread to his hands and head. What… Ish thish? Shengshi thought to himself, grinning. He stood up, but his attempt failed as he struggled to control his tail. The snake laid there of the ground, laughing loudly and vulgarly.

“I musht puh-... Puhur-... presherve thish!” he said to himself, making another fruitless attempt to stand up. He took another handful of the flaky substance. He spilled some of the water it floated in as he brought the hand to his nose. He sniffed the substance and savoured its eggy smell. Was it a plant? A fungus? It did not behave like algae, though. Shengshi sampled the fungus in all ways his clouded mind could think of. He could not exactly decide on what it consisted of, but he believed he understood its function. The water sample also contained dead algae, a kind soft and sweet to the tongue. The flakes had caught the snake’s interest, but they lacked potency. He had, after all, spent probably what amounted to days sampling the substance for its effects. It had to be empowered.

Shengshi brought the flakes to the foot of the mountain, feeling their influence on him fade over time. So it was not permanent. That was, in all fairness, probably for the best, Shengshi thought. Shengshi created a hole in the mud and had four rivers, all carrying different muds and nutrients, pour a little of their water into it, effectively creating a whirlpool. Once the whirlpool was created, Shengshi cast upon it a spell of perpetuity to keep it spinning until he willed it to stop. He then sprinkled the flakes into the whirlpool along with a heaping helping of sweet algae water. For a while, nothing happened. The waters spun around in a dark, muddy mess. The snake felt the sharp sting of disappointment at his failed experiment. However, soon, the waters changed colour. The muddy brown soon gave way to a lighter beige, the water clearing as the flakes absorbed the sacred muds. A frothing foam began to form in the middle of the whirlpool and Shengshi stuck his finger in to taste it. It did not taste great. Shengshi frowned. The waters were now completely clear, save for a pillar of beige foam in the middle. Shengshi took a sip of the waters, grimacing. What had happened? What had gone wro-?!

The snake suddenly collapsed. The warmth was unbearable. Exhaustion flushed his body like a wave washed over a beach. Shengshi made a futile effort to push himself up, his control merely managing to move his arms and tail in a slight flail. He tried to formulate words, but all that came out where alien vowels backed up by slurred consonants. The flavour had been disgusting, yet the effect… Oh yes, the effect.

Shengshi spent the following hours drinking regular river water to purge his body of the substance. He had done it. He had intensified the effects of this magical drink. The source must’ve been the foam - or rather, the beige sand that formed below it. He willed the whirlpool to stop and sampled the sand. It was quite unimpressive on its own, a sort of organic, beige mush with a sulphuric, rank stink. However, after spending the next few days making more whirlpools and testing this mush with different kinds of sweet grasses, water and weeds, Shengshi had realised that the potential of this substance was much greater than he had anticipated. Shengshi rolled his latest batch around in his mouth and swallowed. The flavour was far sweeter and softer than the first batch, but its influence on him was not as powerful. A good balance, he thought, but there was still much to be explored with his new creation.

“But what to call you, I wonder,” Shengshi said and grabbed a handful of mush. “I name you… Hmm…” The snake plucked at his hair. “Ah, yes. You shall be known as Sleeper's sand! Here are your commands: You shall grow for the pleasure of other beings; you shall exist to bring fine drink to all life; and…” Shengshi scratches his chin. “... And you shall only grow in waters that others do not depend on. Would not want to knock out all life in this world.” The yeasted mush gave off a gentle flash and Shengshi poured it back into the whirlpool and wrote down the characters 睡沙酴 in the mud at his tail. He clapped the remains of the yeast off his palm and looked around. “I think I shall call that drink ‘wine’. Yes, wine.”

Now all that remained was a proper place to call home. Shengshi’s mind returned to the thought of a castle. Should it be built upon the world spring, perhaps? Yes, yes, that was a good idea! A grandiose castle upon the world spring! The foundations were strong and stubborn - the rivers could sand at those for aeons without breaking them-...

A loud rumble came from the top of the world spring. Shengshi looked up to the top, his body freezing in the moment. Another rumble. The waterfalls suddenly grew. Shengshi jumped into the closest river and swam to the top of the spring with all his speed, just in time to witness the cataclysmic event.

The steady stream of water from the spring turned into an eruption that knocked Shengshi off the mountain top. The god fell unscathed into the waters below, but the same could not be said about the plant life on the sparse spots of land around him. In the mere blink of his eyes, everything was once again covered in an endless sea of freshwater that flowed in all directions. The god popped his head out of the water and looked around. Occasionally, Shengshi spotted a mud worm or two surface and flop around in confusion. Shengshi was devastated. How… How had this happened? Had he done something wrong? Had he caused some eruption by raising the mountain out of the ground? What was this?!

Shengshi dove down. Through the muddy water, he could see the plant life had all but disappeared. Shengshi did not need to breathe per se, but this terror within him choked him. Had the Architect done this? Had one of his siblings done this? The snake laid down on the riverbed, curled up in a ball, where he wept.

He did not know how much time had passed. Some mud worms had occasionally come up to nibble on him, thinking that his red scale coat perhaps was a strange kind of algae. It took a little while longer before Shengshi realised that the water levels had reduced considerably. The snake opened his tearing eyes, swam up and looked around once he surfaced. The sphere was just as it had been. The islands had shifted, yes, but they were as green as before, if not greener. Around the island banks, colonies of mud worms wriggled around in the spongey clay.

“Wh-... What?”
Shengshi climbed to the top of the world spring and surveyed the land. It had changed, yet it was exactly the same. He wiped a tear of joy and one of fear. Was this a quality of his home? An asterisk in his contract? Shengshi found it abhorring. For the life he had spent his power creating for just to disappear like that. Yet it regrew, stronger than before, even. Shengshi plucked at his dripping hair in deep thought. This made the idea of a home much more complicated…

Some days of thought, poetry and drinking passed. The snake felt lost, imagining home after home that would now be impossible thanks to the dangers of flooding. It was midday. Shengshi slithered into the waters as usual for a swim, rolling over on his back and floating there in a tranquil manner. After a while, he completely stopped paddling and let the current carry him wherever it happened to lead. There, Shengshi fell asleep.

The red light of sunset shone through the pinkish fog on the horizon. Shengshi slowly opened his eyes and stretched. Something was wiggling on his belly. The snake lifted his head to see a pile of mud worms who had, for some reason, decided to feed on Shengshi's leathery skin - a rather futile attempt. The snake let out a gentle sigh and laid his head back in the water again, ignoring the worms. A spark shot through his imagination. Shengshi looked back down on his belly, where the worms still made great efforts to bite through his godly hide. Of course! Shengshi rolled over, catapulting his passengers to a different river far away, and swam back to the world spring at a frightening pace. How could he have been so stupid? If his house would be prone to flooding, he should just build the house on top of something that floats! Shengshi started designing his ship in the mud, drawing out a hull in his own dragonic shape, with a colossal, magnificent castle on top. Yes, it would have guest rooms for all his siblings, servants to service them, and a banquet hall with endless courses! Oh! And a floor for his wine, of course.

The design looked satisfactory - now to bring it into reality. With his hands raised, the god summoned forth several tons of the finest wood planks, jewels, metals, oils, dyes and paints. The planks danced around one another, colliding and bending into an intricately designed hull with a dragon's head and tail. The hull was then promptly infused with sacred, magical oils so that, no matter the storms, no one would unwillingly fall out of it. The oils would also make the hull impervious to the elements, so that all his siblings could stay on the ship regardless of whatever primordial force their forms may expel.

After the hull was made, the god proceeded to the construction of the castle on top. The remaining planks clanked together to form three tall towers, the middle one being the tallest and widest. The middle tower was divided into three sections: a top, a middle and a bottom, each wider than the one above. Its neighbours were divided into two sections under the same principle. Immaculate dragon figurines in gold with aquamarine eyes adorned the green jade roof tiles upon the tall mahogany towers. The round windows were complemented by rich red, silken curtains, and the pillars on every corner were made of bright amber beautifully carved to resemble reptilian hide. Each bedroom was, to its best ability, catered to its respective gods’ size and needs, though his especially large siblings would probably have to sleep on the deck. Still, however, all the rooms sported walls of mahogany, a matress of feathers, silken sheets and an intricately woven, gilded carpet that displayed the respective gods’ symbol.

The feast hall took up the most space, reaching from the base of the tallest middle tower to the very lowest floor of the hull, a distance of nearly fifty feet, half the ship's total height. This hall should be able to accommodate all, Shengshi reasoned. Finally, every room was oiled and painted as the cherry on the extraordinary cake.

It took uncountable days and nights to work in the most intricate details, but at last, it stood finished - a vessel worthy of the Lord of the Thousand Streams and all of his siblings.

“I name you Jiangzhou, the Castle on the River. May you never yield to any flood and may you host ten thousand feasts on and under your deck!” Shengshi carved the characters of the ship's namee into the hull with a clawed finger. As if to answer the order with a plegde of loyalty, the aquamarine eyes of the dragon’s head on the ship's front, as well as the eyes of every other draconic figure onboard, shone with a bright blue light.

One thing remained - servants. Shengshi was, however, exhausted beyond belief from creating the Jiangzhou. The servants thus had to be simple, which he reasoned would not be too much of an issue considering the job requirements. Now, how should his servants be made?

Shengshi first thought of mutating some mud worms, but their slimy, slippery shapes and lack of flat surfaces or appendages did not really suit the servile profession - besides, they would eat all the carpets. Mud golems could be an idea, but he was too weak now. No, it had to be something simpler.

Shengshi sat on the edge of the deck, gazing across his vast realm. The ship created no waves, for the current was the only propellant Shengshi deemed worthy of pushing his vessel. However, some waves crashed against his ship. Shengshi observed the waves.

Another flash of inspiration overcame him.

Shengshi waved his hands, and a stream of water shot up from the rivers below and splashed all over the deck. Shengshi made sure to keep the water moving as to not lose control over it, creating a colossal, flat whirlpool on his deck.

“Droplets of the stream, obey your master!” The whirlpool split apart into ten thousand smaller globs of water that all zoomed around in circles on the deck, frequently through one another. Shengshi continued, “You are hereby granted the title of Deckhands. You will see to all affairs on the ship, serve my guests and me, and, naturally, keep the deck clean.” One of the globs crashed into a wall and immediately broke apart into a puddle. Shengshi raised an eyebrow. “Oh, and, uh, make sure to always stay moving.” He waved a hand once more. “I grant you all the power of reformation. Should you ever fall apart from the lack of movement, you will be flushed overboard and reform in the streams. You may then return to service onboard the Jiangzhou.” As a gesture of respect for their master, all the globules of water stopped, bowed, and subsequently blew up in a spectacle of watery explosions. Shengshi gave a tired sigh and slithered to his master bedroom.

Before long, however, the globules climbed their way back up along the hull and quickly got to work.

Shengshi laid curled up in his massive, masterfully shapen, cotton-filled, silk-upholstered, jade and gold-adorned mahogany stick and river reed basket. He felt more exhausted than he ever had, which was not a considerable milestone, but he liked the comparison anyway. Lastly, his realm needed a name. He had had one in mind since he first arrived, but he had since changed it somewhat. He looked up at the ceiling through the the opening of the basket and wrote the characters absent-mindedly in the air.

“I name you Fengshui Fuyou. You shall bring the clearest, richest water to all realms, from this day until the end of time.”

There was a crackling flash in the sky. The ship picked up its pace. Shengshi stuck his head out of his basket and looked through the window dressed in red, silken drapes which were dancing in the wind. The rivers were doing as they were told - the flow extended its reach to all worlds.

The next day, the snake felt somewhat rested. Shengshi pondered for a bit. He had done so much in his own world, yet his mission did not end here. There was still the question of Galbar and its rivers. Shengshi plucked at his mustache in thought. He could not very well do anything about those from here. Not even the lord of rivers could create rivers across sphere. At least, not yet.

He had to travel there himself.

Shengshi climbed out of his basket and slithered his way to the front of his ship. There, he sat down on the dragon's head, surveying the horizon. The ship was currently sailing a wide and deep river, one of the largest flows to come from the world spring. A fitting place to build a route to the Middle World.

Shengshi erected himself to a standing position and lifted his arms. The river waters in front of the ship began to twist and turn. Soon, the edges of the water lifted off the surface and danced around one another until they created a beautiful knots of river ribbons in the form of an arch. The arch stretched up taller than the ship itself, and the dew and droplets that rained down from the top formed a mirage of the other side - Galbar.

“You are Hemen, the river gate! Forever shall your doors be locked unless one presents one of your two keys: The first key is my command, for I am your creator and master until the end of time; the second key is the head of a dragon. Should any other being present to you the head of a dragon such as this one...” Shengshi gestured to the head of his ship. “... You shall welcome them into my realm. This is your lord's command!” Shengshi drew the characters in the air, and with a bright flash, they sprouted as shapes on the very top of the arch. The water along the gate's borders foamed as if to voice its loyalty. Shengshi nodded in satisfaction.

“Now… To Galbar.”

A wonderful conversation, Shengshi thought to himself. It was splendid to see that more shared in his mind for peace and stability. However, when he once more surveyed the palace room and the oceans below, peace and stability sorely lacked. A result of creation, he reasoned, though an unfortunate one, at that. As his thoughts came to that conclusion, a blinding light shone from before the cyclops' throne, one that nearly equalled the deity he knew as Asceal in radiance. It enveloped the autumn-haired woman who had fallen from the sky a mere moment ago. It seemed not to be a sort of blessing, however, and as much was confirmed by the following deafening crack that left the goddess on the cold floor.

The snake, for all his pondering and observing, confessed to himself that he had done an awful job actually trying to help his new family, so to speak. He felt an awful clump of shame in his chest for just having watched the poor little sack of bones and sticks be bowled about by the raw forces manifesting in the area earlier, so he decided that a good way to redeem himself would be to help the fiery woman. However, he spotted the little, raggedy collection of skin and bones, now enveloped in a wet dress that was missing a few too many buttons. He gave a sympathetic sigh and slithered his way over as she fled the scene of the Architect's punishment.

It was a far warier and more worldly figure now than what Shengshi had seen only a minute ago. Though eyeless, the devil-woman stood tall as it met the river sprite's gaze, needle-thin and needle-toothed, and needle-eyed besides. Biting its lip a little, it conceded a perfunctory bow. Shengshi portruded his lips in surprise at the sight of someone bowing to him and returned the gesture, folding his clawed hands together and bowing as low as he could without tipping over. The gesture seemed to put her a little at ease.

"In the name of our holy creator, dearest sister Chopstick Eyes, I give you my most amicable greeting. I hope you are well regardless of the unfortunate events that just occurred." Shengshi lifted his head and offered a sympathetic smile. The gremlin wheezed something that could be construed as a chuckle, and shrugged one shoulder.

"Chopstick eyes... I have chopstick eyes." She looked up at Shengshi with a weak grin. "Holy... Yeah, I guess he is. Thank you, Shengshi." The name was there, as were all the others. "I can't say I'm well. But I've never been better," she added, the smile cracking wider. Shengshi chuckled softly and clapped his hands a few times. "Ah, yes! A fantastically well put statement, indeed! I am glad to hear that your morale remains strong. True, indeed, to the nature of the flow - unyielding even in the face of obstacles! If I may inquire, though, what happened to that lovely kitchen tool you brought with you?" The snake-man looked around casually as to stress his question.

It was an excellent question.

"Uh-hhh..." Chopstick Eyes pulled two neat chopsticks from her eyes with her fingers, clicked them once, then threw them aside. She reached back into her hair, pulled out a gleaming fish-knife, and threw that away too. "These? No. This one? Nuh... This? Nuh uh." After a good number of culinary implements had been retrieved and discarded, she finally shrugged. "I'm... dunno." The snake-man heaved a sigh. "Oh, you poor thing. It is a tragedy to lose an item close to oneself, indeed... May-... Mayhaps it is still around? You landed in the water, correct?" Shengshi slithered over to the edge of the palace floor, giving the cackling giant a quick stare, thinking it was fortunate that at least someone was happy about being brought into this world. Once he came to the edge, he took a moment to gaze into the darkness below. "How deep do you think this is, by the way?"

"...It's deep," said Chopstick Eyes. She picked up the fish-knife and threw it in. It disappeared. "Deep... Hey, what's that?" She motioned to the brightly glowing blue sphere hovering somewhere far below.

"Hmm? Where?" Shengshi tossed his head about for a few seconds before his eyes finally caught onto the obvious subject of the question: The little blue marble, illuminated perhaps by Asceal's radiance, hovering in the distance. Shengshi crossed his arms and smiled. "I believe, dearest sister, that that blue orb is our new home. N'aaw, it looks so small from here! Wait, how big is it, actually?" The snake-man looked to the Architect as if he was about to ask, but hesitated upon remembering the previous attempts his new relatives had made. He cleared his throat. "I guess we will find out very soon." Shengshi plucked at his mustache absent-mindedly. "Have you got anything in mind for it? The world, that is."

"Oh... You know. Taste it. Rub it on my skin. Yourself?" Shengshi raised a long, stiff eyebrow and pondered for a moment the properties of a planetary skin ointment. He decided not to prod further. "I am glad you asked!" Shengshi cleared his throat and put his palms together. "I will spread the message of the flow to this world - uniting all of creation under the banner of prosperity!" He tapped his chin as Chopstick chuckled. "... And write some literature along the way to catalogue the progress of said quest. While on that subject, you would not happen to have a brush on you, by chance? An ink brush of sorts."

Chopstick Eyes tapped her own chin, copying him, then went 'oh' and reached back into her hair, retrieving a basting brush. It was rather thick, and a little bristly, but it would probably do for ink what it did for a marinade. "This?"

Shengshi reached for the brush and took it in his proportionally much larger hand. "Yes, this is perfect!" It wasn't, but he was not one to complain. "Now for some ink... And a surface to write on!" He lowered his torso down to the floor and put the pencil against the stone floor. However, he visibly hesitated.

"The blessed Architect will perhaps not be too happy if I write on His floor, will He?" The snake-man huffed.

"Oh I think he can handle it," said Chopstick with no certainty, but no hesitation either.

Shengshi shook his head. "No, I would rather not write on my host's floor..." He pondered for a little bit. "But I -can- write on myself! You would not happen to carry some ink in that magnificent hair of yours, by the way?" Shengshi did some dry strokes on the beige parts of his tail to practice his form.

"...Magnificent... I'll try my best!" Spurred on by the compliment and increasingly excited to see the hand of her most cultured sibling, Chopstick stopped chewing her hair and began to rummage, but found nothing. All she could produce, in the end, was a skewer from her eye still holding a droplet of blood. "...Sorry."

Shengshi tried to keep his recoil as small as possible at the small godling pulled the bloody skewer out of her socket, but accepted it with all the grace he could muster in the moment - which amounted to accepting the gift with both hands and a thankful nod. "Ah, that is... Just what I needed! Thank you, dearest sister!" He hesitated for a short moment before coating the brush in the blood and bringing it to his abdomen, where he proceeded to write down the characters of his poem. He grimaced a little at the temperature of the ink - not that it was cold; rather that it was lukewarm - but kept writing nonetheless.


He poked at his chin with the brush, trying to find a suitable end to the first line.

Wonderous palace;
Standing here above the world;
This is a good day.

The snake-man looked satisfied at the characters on his abdomen. He leaned down to the water to wash the brush and handed it back to Chopstick, snapping her out of her dozy admiration. She accepted it, after a second's pause

"I like it!" she exclaimed, a little too loud. "I like how the... Letters all fit together. And... They look so nice next to your scales..."

Shengshi's sharp-boned cheeks took the colour of his scale coat and he waved a hand dismissively. "N'aw, gosh, you are just saying that! Thank you!" He gave a curt, grateful bow, making sure not to smudge the writing. The snake-man took a moment to admire his work once again before straightening his back and looking around. Chopstick sheepishly rubbed the back of her head and managed a smile.

"Come! We have a world to create!"

Shengshi eyed the colossal humanoid he knew as Ashalla, who stood by her crystal ready to depart. Chopstick jolted at the boom of her laughter. Shengshi put his hands on where his hips would have been and let out a sigh.

"Someone is certainly in a hurry," he mumbled.

"Probably for the better," Chopstick replied. "Too many gods is a dangerous thing." She looked back up. "I'm going to go find my cleaver again. Will you stay here?"

"I think so, yes. There are still plenty of siblings to greet and get to know! Would you like some help finding that cleaver of yours?"

"I think I'll be all right!" said Chopstick, sticking out her tongue. She felt better than ever. It wasn't saying much, but it was saying something. "Godspeed, Shengshi!"

"And godspeed to you, dearest sister Chopstick Eyes. Please, do visit some time!"

And with a splash of bare feet and the swish of a tail, they parted ways.
A booming whisper.


The tiny water sprite had not understood the word's meaning, nor the meaning of what followed. In a literal flash, the sprite no longer lorded over its little stream in some unnamed realm. It was cast into a tunnel of blinding light and endless darkness; of raging flames and petrifying frost. The glaring light distorted its shape, its role, its mind, and before the creature could make sense of the chaos, a thunderous command rung out through the cosmos.


The flash gave way to dim graytones and stone walls. It had passed like a leaf on the river. Rivers... Nowhere to be seen. Where was he? The sprite pondered the situation in its head. Wait, head? A surge of confusion and panic flushed through the creature's body - further reinforced by its understanding that it now controlled a body. Smooth, leathery skin stretched across his surface, but as he turned and twisted, he found that the beige skin gave way to hard, crimson scales. A strain on its abdomen, it felt, further supported by an unfamiliar pressure on what it reasoned was its tail - it curled up underneath to bear the body's weight and tilted the torso into an upright position. A deafening voice cracked across the unfamiliar halls and beyond, but the creature paid it no heed. With panic having given way to curiousity, it instead surveyed its form, its scales, its skin. It plucked at the stiff, yet silky hair; it picked at the borders where humanoid and reptilian fused; it felt, it saw, it smelt-

'You know what must be done.'

He heard.

His curiousity brought his eyes to his creator. A mind formed within the creature's elongated skull. A calm mind, a peaceful mind, a mind thirsting for a reason for its existence. Another flash, but one of clarity, dawned on him. A mission - nay, a purpose. A word came to mind - a goal, he reasoned. A complex word, a powerful word, one which meaning perhaps would change over time. A word nonetheless, though.


Yes, yes... A goal had been decided. An ending to his newborn tale - the perfect finale to mirror the miracle of his creation. Yet a tale is so much more. This perplexed the creature. How would he bestow this prosperity upon creation? What tool could possibly let him unite life under-...? Life? A memory flickered. His form was foreign, yet familiar - fashioned into a shape, yet not. A surface of water ran in a glistening streak underneath him. The water sprite gazed to the borders of the stream. Life, abloom in colours more numerous than the pebbles in a river, all drinking deep in the transparent honeymilk that carved its way through the dirt. The flow, the flow was the path. An unending flow, bringing life to all that tapped into it. An unyielding source for all of creation to drink from. Yes, yes... A path. The memory faded, but its lesson remained.

The tale lastly needed a protagonist. Would it be him? He hardly knew himself as he was now, and yet, he was the one whose purpose he was most familiar with. Perhaps it would be one of his peers, then? He surveyed the surrounding shapes. He pondered their motivations as he had pondered his own - perhaps all sought a utopian ending for this cosmos? If that was the case, he thought, then he naturally had to aid them in their quest.

Another thought flickered: Why not find out? Perhaps this was not a story with a -single- hero. Afterall, prosperity for oneself is not prosperity - his goal was to be shared among all of creation! The serpentine creature took a moment to temper his breathing, still quickened from his panicked realisation of his existence. He once more gazed at his peers. Yes, yes... Allies, he had to make, for what is a hero with no companions? What is a host without guests?

The serpentine creature gazed upwards as the mammoth cyclops boomed his final order, and some of his peers flew off. Those that remained encouraged the creature, for he knew now that he perhaps could find those who shared his mindset. How would he introduce himself, though? He thought of his name from his previous life, but he realised he had had none. This left the creature wondering: Who was he? As he slithered across the stone hall, he could think of only one name. One that would always remind him of his goal; one that rolled off his forked tongue; one that he could proudly present to his fellow gods. His mind settled on the word.

He was Shengshi, and his purpose was clear.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 10.5

In the Hovel

Osman stood leaning over a table on which laid several pages of parchment. He gnawed on the coarse, ink-tipped stick he used to write with, trying to make the numbers reach an impossible answer. He did not often come over to the Glass Union Hall and with good reason: While the rank, bitter musk of Steel Union miners could knock out an unsuspecting stranger, it paled in comparison to the abhorring musk of the Glass Union scholars who had been inside a bit too long. At the very least, Steel Union dwarves would roll around in the snow after work to wash the worst off. A blue-robed dwarf came jogging over towards Osman, carrying an additional stack of papers. Osman let out a load groan as the dwarf jogged back downstairs. Herim came out from between the scrollcases.

"So, do the numbers add up?" Osman muttered angrily to himself. "Nope." He paused with a long sigh. "No matter how you look at it, most of the fish will spoil if we save it, or disappear in a week if we don't. What little salt we have, we cannot waste on preserving the fish, either. The lignite coal does not make for good fuel for smoking, either." Herim nodded. "Yes, I'd rather not eat poison. However, there is still a faint possibility that we can find some wood to build smokehuts." Osman ran a hand through his beard. "Where is this wood? Three miles away?" Herim walked back in among the scrollcases. After a time passed, he came back out with a relatively new scroll, which he rolled out and revealed to be a map. He placed it down on the table in front of Osman.

"This is a newly-drawn map of the area, foreman. If you look to the east, there should still be some untouched groves there. The wood was deemed too feeble to use as building material. It was only recently revisited for the purpose of harvesting firewood. Additionally, the stocks and sticks we find there may not make for good halls, but they may just be adequate for small smokehuts." Osman nodded slowly.

"Very well. Tell as many as you can to go out and fetch that wood. I want ten smokehuts cooking fish by tomorrow at sundown, is that clear?" Herim nodded and stormed down the staircase, tipping over an unsuspecting scholar dwarf carrying yet another stack of parchments. Osman looked back at the map and gnawed some more on the wooden stick in his hand. A curious empty spot marked the north of what had once been Gol'kharumm. Had they really not ventured that far north in the valley yet?

He'd have to send someone to do that soon.

Meanwhile, in the mountains to the west...

Although the winds sliced at the skin as the dwarves stomped along the narrow mountain path, Kadol felt a noticeable warmth in the air that surprisingly brought some soothing joy to his troubled mind. He hoped that in one or, gods be good, less than a month, the snow would begin to give way to solid rock and hard clay on which the Silver Union could build proper roads. He blew a blast of hot air into his left fist, his right being quite preoccupied with holding his newly acquired personal spear. Almost twice one and a half times his own height, he began to echo Osman's earlier statement about the encumbering nature of such a long weapon; however, at least he did not have to carry around those heavy, iron-framed wooden shields that his escort all either had strapped on their backs or held up against their faces to protect from the sharp blasts striking at the group. Kadol shot a glance backwards - forming the tail of the group was Joron the Younger, looking strangely optimistic in spite of the situation. Kadol had not particularly minded the youths of the other Unions - Steel Union children were all drilled in forgecraft, mining and manual labour, supplemented with free time that was mostly spent either honing those three skills, sparring with friends or brawling with rivals. He had in truth always found the green-faced scrollworms to be a little odd. Joron the Younger's expression did little to alter that opinion.

It was at the very moment that thought crossed his mind that the very subject of the thought picked up some speed, until the tail had caught up with the head of the group and shot Kadol a wide grin.
"I know we shook hands already back home, but I would like to, once again, show my utmost gratitude for allowing me to tag along on this exciting trip!" Joron said and extended his hand. Kadol raised an eyebrow and gaped slightly, but shook the hand nonetheless.
"It-... It was not my decision to make, but, uh... Happy you're with us... I suppose." They marched for a little longer. "So, uh, what has you so giddy about going into what may potentially-..." Kadol swallowed and decided to rephrase his question. "Why are you so giddy, then?" Joron let out a soft scoff and shrugged. "My, my, good friend... Would not you also be happier than Barden the Blessed upon being asked to chronicle possibly the first sighting of runesmithing in, oh, I don't know, centuries? Millennia? Aeons?!" Kadol pulled back slightly and gave a nervous nod. "Uh, I... I suppose I would be?" Joron grinned again and gave Kadol perhaps just little too hard a pat on the back. "Right? I would tell you lot to chin up, but considering the wind, I can understand if you'd rather hide those chins in your scarfs." The escort shot him a collective scowl. Kadol replied with a grunt. Joron nodded, still grinning, and stopped in his tracks so he could once again take his place as the group tail.

The group had soon after arrived at the entrance to the Western Mine. In the hills behind them, they could spot the silhouette of Whitepeak Bastion, sticking out from the mountaintop like a misshapen rock formation. While he could not see the details of the construction, he thought it looked rather well-built, in spite of the criticism the Stone Union had given themselves of late.

"Kadol! Are you back already, lad?!" Kadol swiftly turned to see Qorr Coal's massive stature standing in the mine opening, surrounded by three other equally surprised dwarves. Kadol flashed a grin and quickened his pace towards his comrades. Qorr and the rest returned the grin and took turns rubbing Kadol's dark-blonde hair until the young dwarf's head resembled a golden porcupine. "Heh, no, but in all honesty, what are you doing back here? You know you have at least another week of leave, right?" Kadol nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I know. It's just-..." Qorr held up his palm. "Say no more, son. We've all been there." The other dwarves nodded and hummed their agreement. Kadol looked confused. "It ain't easy being away from your family, we know, we know, but the chick has to learn how to fly some time, right?" Qorr shrugged half-heartedly. "What? N-no! That's not what-!" Qorr and the others let out a cackle. Joron shot Kadol a smirk, while the escort joined in on the guffaw. "N'aaw, look at him. Too embarrassed to admit he misses his fathers and mothers... Bring a tear to me eye, it does." Qorr wiped away an imaginary tear. Kadol looked to Joron, who snickered and shrugged. "I'm afraid he speaks the truth, dear Steel unionists. We're on a-..."

"Oi, who's talkin' to ya, moss-face?" one of the miners spat at Joron. Joron pulled back slightly, his smirk bending into an uncertain grin. "I, uh, I was merely attempting to clarify our purpose-!" The miners closed in around Joron, who shrunk considerably in comparison. Steel Union miners, while often mocked by the more scholarly unions for not being the sharpest axes on the rack, could definitely boast a considerable size advantage over their more studious relatives. The four "giants" cast terrifying shadows over the ever-deflating historian. "Clarifyin' your purpose? What does that even mean, huh? You spittin' funny words just 'cause you think you're smarter, huh?" The admittedly shortest one of the miners smacked his broad brow against the even shorter Joron, causing the young scholar to drop into the snow, lifting both hands in front of his face in a poor attempt to defend himself. Qorr grabbed onto the aggressor's shoulder and pulled him back. "Alright, that'll do for now, Gummar. Go fetch these lads some ale rations - even the moss-face." Gummar snorted, gurgled some in his throat and spat a fat clump of phlegm at Joron's white winter robes. "A'ight, whatever ye say, brother. I'll fetch 'im somethin' to drink." The dwarf stormed inside. Qorr shot Joron, who was at this point being helped up by the dwarves in the escort, a somewhat pitying look and then turned to Kadol. "You said you were doing?" Kadol, who had also been looking at Joron for quite a while, looked back at Qorr. "We're going beyond the Valley of Tusks, to find Godrim and, we pray, the sorcerer-king." Qorr's eyebrows rose and the giant dwarf inhaled a slow lungful before letting out a long sigh. "Aye, that's a handful... Just so you know, lad, we haven't seen the ghost for nearly a week now. He could be anywhere!" Kadol looked back at his escort and Joron, who was brushing the snow off his robe, as well as trying to wipe away the phlegm without too much getting on his mittens.

"Yes, it'll be something else. How have things been here?" Qorr's brow sank over his eyes and the dwarf shot the peaks far to the west a terrified gaze. "I'll be honest with you, son. Not a single one of us dared venture out for three days when that demon came back. On the fourth day, old Damorr peeked out ever so slightly - he said he had seen the menace, perched upon the peak like some... Some..." One of the other miners interjected. "Like an eagle stalkin' its prey!" "Well, it -is- an eagle..." Joron muttered, being met with a deathstare from the miners. Kadol felt his heart freeze. Qorr continued, "Aye, like an eagle. In all honestly, lad, we've only kept digging because the sound of pickaxes keeps the thought of that demon out of our heads." Kadol nodded. "We didn't see it on the way, though. Perhaps Godrim got rid of it?" Qorr shook his head. "Nah, we'd have heard his screaming like last time. He's out there, somewhere..." Kadol reached up and put a hand on Qorr's shoulder. "Father, listen. It may be out there - it may be close. Yet it may also be far, far away." Qorr raised an eyebrow. "Your point being?" "You should head back to the Hovel, father. The foreman likely won't mind, considering the amount of iron we've already brought back. You can-!" Qorr scoffed, pushed Kadol's hand off his shoulder and rubbed the dwarf's head. "Your care is heart-warming, lad, but we won't abandon our work just because of one angry bird." At this point, more miners had gathered around. One raised her hand. "Got a question, Ragna?" The dwarves around this Ragna pulled away so she'd be a little more visible. She cleared her throat. "This is a -very- angry bird, though." Hums of agreement and nods permeated the crowd. Qorr sighed. "Aye, it's a very angry bird, but still-!"
"A -big, angry- bird!" another one added. The hums grew louder. Qorr snarled. "Alright, since when did the Steel Union piss their britches at the thought of big, angry birds?!"

Every miner raised their hands. Qorr deflated and looked back down at Kadol. "Alright, I suppose we'll trust that it's off somewhere far away, then... Gods, Quana's going to have my neck." Kadol flashed him a smile and punched his shoulder. "Better that she takes your neck than that menace taking your torso." Qorr grinned back and punched Kadol into the ground - gently, of course. "Right you are, son. Though I have to say, I've missed the stew back home." Kadol grimaced. "Don't get your hopes up. It's probably about as good as the maggot bread you eat here." Qorr muttered angrily to himself. Down the tunnel, Gummar came carrying a box of twelve water skins. "Took you long enough. Alright, son. We'll go with the vote and, uh, head for home, I suppose." He handed Kadol a water skin, while each of the dwarves in the escord and Joron went over to the box and grabbed their own. Gummar personally handed Joron one, which Joron looked at with a deeply suspicious look. Gummar merely grinned innocently at him. Kadol uncorked the skin and took a swig. "Ergh, that tastes like-...!" Qorr and the others erupted into a cackle. "Gotten that used to 'fine Hovel ale' already?! Don't forget your roots, lad! This is the true drink for a Steel union dwarf!" He patted Kadol on the back once more. "Be safe out there, lad. If you don't come back in one piece, I'll give you a proper smacking in the next life, y'hear?" Kadol grinned back. "Alright, father. I'll be safe."

As they marched out of the mines to the sound of farewells and well-wishings, Joron uncorked his water skin and took a swig. He rolled the liquid around in his mouth and hummed pensively to himself. Kadol looked over. "What's wrong, Joron?" The historian looked up and swallowed. "Nothing, nothing... Just awfully warm for a brew stored in a cold mine." Many in the escort snickered. "How's the flavour?" one of them said. "Acidic... Is it a local brew?" The escort burst into a guffaw. "One could say that!" one of them said. Joron grew nervous and poured some out. Upon seeing what colour the snow turned, he chucked the water skin off the side of the cliff. Consequently, the average morale of the group was quite high as they began their walk down the trail and into the unknown. It wasn't long before they came to Godrim's post, that icy wall where the ghost had first been seen. As expected, there was no sign of him to be seen. Tracking a ghost was going to be tricky indeed; all they had to go on was the general direction he'd taken according to the miners that witnessed him leave. They looked again into the icy wall toward the blur deep within that must have been Godrim's frozen body; long streaks of water ran across the surface of the dirty ice like tears rolling down a face. Kadol ran his gloved hand over the surface of the ice and examined it. Some of the icy water soaked through and cooled his fingertips. "What do you think'll happen if all of it melts away?" one of the warriors asked another. "Don't know, brother, though I'd rather that bird be dead before it does." Kadol let out a quiet sigh and turned towards the path Godrim had reportedly taken. Joron, in the meanwhile, was sketching a rough drawing of what the corpse and its prison looked like, chronicling the situation down to the most miniscule of details - or, well, as detailed as he could before the rest of the crew moved on.

None had ever bothered to explore this part of the pass before, far away from the iron vein and the mine as it was. They'd simply never had reason to wander beyond the parts of the mountain that were supposedly under Godrim's watchful guard, though recent events had led a fair few to scratch their heads and wonder if they had been wise in ever trusting the wraith to begin with. What had been little more than an icy goat path in weeks past was now something of a deathtrap, as the melting ice was far slicker than any amount of snow dusted upon the rocky ground. They proceeded slowly and with the utmost caution for fear of falling down into the chasm to their right and join the skeletal trolls below. Eventually (to their relief) the path widened, and the gaping void to their side was no longer so deep and nor was it littered with the jagged points of troll tusks poking out from the snow. But here they were faced with a choice: the trail forked. Before them there was some sort of cavernous opening in the side of the mountain that looked like it had been natural at first, but it had visibly been braced long ago. There were half-rotted scaffolds and pillar supports along the walls and towards the back it looked as though the cave had been artificially widened and turned into some sort of tunnel. Perhaps it led through the mountain and to whatever savage wilderness was on the other side. But the mountain path itself didn't end; it curved off to the side, making its way down into the shallow canyon to their right to snake its way across and then up the mountain on the other side. So they had a choice before them.

Kadol stopped and examined the cave entrance from a distance. "Galloin? You don't know any dwarves that have come this far out, do you?" The warrior known as Galloin stepped up next to Kadol and shook his head. "No, lad. No Hammersworn have ever been this far west from Gol'kharumm. Not ever." As he finished his sentence, Joron came flying past them, scroll and quill in hand. He nearly slipped and fell, but managed to slow down just enough to not crash into the rotting scaffolding. "Gods be good! Are you seeing this?! This must be at least one hundred, no, several centuries old! Built by an entirely unknown civilisation!" The enthusiastic historian made some sketches and notes on multiple pages of parchment, giggling all the while. Galloin also stepped closer and examined the scaffolding. He clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "Old as time itself, aye, and rotten as last month's loaf. I don't trust that construction for a second, Kadol. Let's explore the valley below instead." Joron stopped mid-scribble and shot Galloin a scowl. "Now listen here, you-... Father, with all due respect, this is a historical wonder - one that may lead to ruins and artifacts of a completely different civilisation!" Galloin met the scowl with a frown. "Aye, historical wonder - and - a bloody life hazard! What if that cave collapses after we pass through it - or worse - while we're inside? Who's going to record your precious history then, huh?" Joron scoffed and stepped inside the cave. "Look! I'm inside! Did I mysteriously die? Did the cave collapse yet?" Kadol sighed and shuffled over through the snow. "We have enough dwarves to split up. You take four and go with Joron. I'll take the other five and head down into the valley." Galloin looked surprised, and a little disappointed, but nodded soon after. "Aye, son. You be safe down there. If you encounter any danger, yell as loudly as you can and run back up the hill - we'll come for you right away." Kadol nodded. "Aye, father. Likewise. Good luck." The groups, six dwarves in each, proceeded to head down their separate paths.

For Joron's party, the progress was somewhat painfully slow. A few dwarves had the foresight to bring torches along for the journey, but what precious time they had in the light was constantly wasted as Joron would stop to examine this or that in more detail; there were some abandoned tools but at this point the things were half rust. Fear of being trapped and lost in a dark tunnel eventually overcame curiosity. Despite the scarce and stale air, they advanced down the tunnel at a quick walk until they felt a crisp breeze wafting in to nip at their faces. After a few more turns, they then finally saw natural light spilling into the black tunnels, and then a few minutes later they finally emerged from the long tunnel. They found themselves immediately in yet another rocky, snow-covered place, but here there were at least some trees. The path before them was in a low spot, and even as a light flurry of snow started to fall, there was already some icy water in their path pooling from the melted runoff.

But the trees didn't make for welcome company. They were tall, gnarled, twisting things that blocked half the sunlight and hid the path ahead. Joron, busy sketching the surrounding woods, did not seem to notice the growing tension among his companions.One of the other warriors turned to Galloin: "Oi, brother. You remember if that ghost said anythin' about those troll still bein'... Y'know... Around?" Galloin swallowed and scanned the surrounding woods precariously. "Axes out, lads. Keep your shields ready. Keep an eye on Scrollworm over there." Knowing that the ice trolls lurked somewhere in these wild lands beyond the mountain did very little to ease the dwarves' nerves; one of the trolls could be hiding anywhere! While Joron was poking at a frozen root to examine its properties, the warriors spread out and began to look for good spots to hide - and spots where the enemy potentially could be hiding. Galloin, while peeking over the top of a small heap, found a pit underneath some tree roots, within which laid what seemed to be... Metal? It looked rusty from afar, but a dwarf knew that shine better than its own pockets. He skipped over the top and slid down into the pit to examine the object. While it indeed was rusty to the point of looking like a clump of sparkly mud, there was no mistaking that this likely had once been an axehead. Though he could not decide whether it was of dwarven origin - or something else. A loud gasp came from the other side of the heap. Galloin started and shot back up to see what it was. "An axehead!" Joron exclaimed. He proceeded to sample it in all kinds of ways, from smells to tastes to bits for further analysis. Finally, he stuffed it in his already borderline full artifact bag. "Can you quiet down, you imbecile?!" Galloin hissed in a hushed voice. "We may not be alone in these woods!" Joron gave him a smirk and a scoff. "Look, father, with all due respect once more, I believe, judging from these artifacts, that whatever may have lived here has long since moved on." Galloin muttered angrily to himself. "Then I pray that these weren't intruders into whoever 'lived' here's territory." Joron cleared his throat nervously at that thought. "Let's move on, shall we?" Galloin nodded and gestured for three of the warriors to follow the group in hiding as he, the last warrior and Joron walked the main path.

But for all their paranoia, there seemed to be nothing but forest. The winter must have been unimaginably severe in these parts because there were no animals to be seen and half the trees even looked ragged and hungry. It wasn't hard to believe that some ancient sorcerer-king could be trapped in a waste like this. There were probably dozens of "icy tombs" to be found, if one only knew where to dig. Unfortunately, none of them had the first clue, and Joron wasn't much help in the matter. The thought occured to them that by now they had come a long ways from the tunnel. It would be dark soon enough and finding their way back might prove difficult, especially given that the light flurry of snow from before had continued all day and left enough of a dusting to bury their footprints. And none of them had the delusion to think that Kadol's band (or any other friendly faces) would ever be able to find them out in these parts if they were well and truly lost. Galloin let out a long, drawn-out sigh and looked around. He beckoned one of he hiding warriors over, who skipped over a fallen treetrunk and slid down a slope. "Torr, you seen anything suspicious?" The warrior known as Torr shook his head. "Nothing, brother. Nightfall isn't helping much either. What're you thinking?" Galloin shot Joron the Younger, who had found yet another fancy root to examine, a look. "We'll grab Scrollworm and make our way back to the cave. It should be in the general direction of the peaks to the east, there." Galloin gestured towards the mountains they had come from. Torr nodded and began to gather up the rest of the warriors who had spread out to secure the perimeter. Galloin, in the meantime, went over to Joron and forcefully pulled the young dwarf to his feet. "He-hey! It was chronocling that!" Joron said sourly. Galloin scowled at him. "You've done nothing all day but waste time which we don't have. I don't think you realise what kind of mission this is! Now, I will need you to follow along
- obediently - or we'll be having a word with the foreman when we come home again." Joron scoffed. "What's the foreman going to do, huh?" "He's going to have a word with your father," Galloin retorted. Joron swallowed. "I can't believe I did not see that one coming. Fine, you win. Let's go." Galloin faked a smile and the group began to head back in the general direction of where they had come from. And then they suddenly heard a rustling like that of boots stepping through snow and scattering the dead leaves buried below. The sound was a faint and somewhat distant one, but so alarming that it might as well have been as deafening to them as thunder. Galloin spun around like wound-up catapult rope and his warriors did the same, forming a crescent in front of Joron. With axes raised and shields in front, Galloin gestured for total silence as they listened for a little bit longer to verify the sound. They squinted and looked back and forth, but there was nothing be seen. Galloin frowned and gestured for a slow and steady retreat back the way they came, breaking the crescent formation to opt for a protective ring around Joron, with each warrior being responsible for watching a small sector of the surroundings. Galloin grunted as he backed into the grasping twigs on the end of some treebranch, having been too intent in searching the landscape in front of him for any sign of what might have caused the sound. For a moment there, he started to think that it might have been just their shot nerves, or the wind perhaps. But then as the stupid branch that'd scratched his head snapped back into position, he saw it sway a bit as if it'd hit something on the way back. Something mere feet away from where he stood. His eyes glanced down and saw the faintest outline of footprints pressing into the snow, almost invisible. Suppressing a strange combination of a warcry and a scream, he stopped in his tracks, lifted his axe and shield, and spoke, "I-... Is that... Is that you, Godr
im?" The other warriors reacted similarly, though Joron seemed a little uncertain about the potential effect of iron weaponry against something so incorporeal as a ghost. For whatever it was worth, the 'ghost' didn't seem especially perturbed by their weapons either. There was a quick rush of air and an icy chill that swept across Galloin's face as Godrim's incorporeal hand smacked him. His outline was so faint that it was practically invisible unless you were squinting and nearly on top of him, but for all that he still seemed miffed about being mistaken for anyone else. "Thunderhowler," he affirmed, though his voice was a whisper every bit as faint and faded as his body. "Need to go back 'fore I fade away. You shouldn't be here either." Galloin, who was awfully surprised he hadn't wet himself, let out a sigh of relief and belted his axe. "Thank the gods, it was you, Thunderhowler. You could've said something, you know!" Joron stepped forward. "Godrim Thunderhowler..." He let out an enthusiastic giggle. "It's an honour to finally meet you! I am Joron the Younger, son of Joron the Elder, logmaster of the Copper Union. Pray tell, what has happened to you? I was under the impression that you were, well, quite visible, indeed." Joron did not notice it himself, but he was actually standing behind Godrim's actual footsteps, talking to thin air. He only realized his mistake when he heard Godrim's voice a second time, this time coming from behind where he now stood.

"No time...need to go back," was all of his words that they made out over the whistle of the snow and wind. He seemed to know the way, so they fell in line behind him squinting to keep track of his faded body or the tiny prints that his ethereal boots left upon the snow. Once or twice they nearly lost him, and then he would stomp just loud enough to make another rustling sound, all the while glaring at them as if the exertion was killing him. Perhaps it was. When night came close he visibly quickened his pace. Throughout the trip, Joron tried his best to interview the ghost as much as he could, even though he could barely hear any answers and most of what he could hear involved phrases such as "shut up" and "not now". However, there was especially one question he insisted on, asking it over and over again with ever-growing degrees of pleading: "Can you at least tell us what this place is?" With every step closer to the mountains Godrim seemed to regain a little bit of color and grow ever so slightly more tangible, but of course that wasn't saying much. When they were nearly back, Joron finally got his answer, "Trollheim." Joron swallowed. "Pardon, I do not think I heard correctly. You mean to say that this place - this area - is the home of those tusked creatures in the bottom of the valley?"

"Once was, but now it's too warm," Godrim replied just as a frigid gust blew a few flakes of snow into Joron's eyes and cut through his scraggly beard to numb even the soft skin beneath. That remark killed the conversation, so the party marched on in silence through the dusk until they at last made it back to the tunnel, and only once he was within its entrance did he finally seem to relax. Galloin sent two warriors out to gather whatever firewood they could and proceeded to roll out some sleeping furs just inside the tunnel entrance. Meanwhile, Joron took some time to compile his notes and sketches, while he could still see. Torr was on first watch. He mumbled to himself, something about the troll being mad in the head if they thought -this- was too warm, from what Galloin could hear. "Right. Everyone keeps watch for one hour. That should give each of us five hours of sleep - plenty for tomorrow's trek-..." Joron looked up, grimacing nervously. "Wait, five hours... Does that mean I, too, have to..." Galloin smirked. "I did say everyone, didn't I? Where's your axe, lad?" Joron, in spite of the cold, began to sweat. "Uh, uhm... I... May have left it back.. In the... Hovel." The last word was said just loud enough to be considered an audible sound, but to Galloin, it was as loud as a pickaxe striking rock. He let out a long sigh that twisted itself into a groan halfway through. "You truly are your father's son, I'll give you that," he said sourly. "Fine. Joron may sleep all night - we're probably safer without him on watch, anyway." With that, the warrior curled up in his sleeping furs to get whatever sleep he could. Joron gave Galloin an angry glare, but paid him little mind. He instead turned to Godrim, quill, parchment and even a wax candle ready. "So, Godrim Thunderhowler, I, uh, hope I may ask you a few more questions still," he said in as diplomatic a tone as he could. He did not really wait for an answer. "Alright, firstly, what in the gods' names were you doing all the way out here? Considering that this is troll country and all, and that the Abductor has been seen lately, why did you come out here?"

"I..." he started, before falling silent. This drew the attention of the other dwarves. "I didn' go out there, not at first. Climbed up the other mountain tryin' to chase off that damned bird, but it wasn't there." The firewood gatherers came back at that point, immediately preparing a fire. They did read the mood rather quickly, however, and did their work in silence. Joron probed further. "Why did you end up here, then? Does the menace nest up here?" He was met with a blank stare. "Is... Is that a yes? No? A curt nod, perhaps? You're honestly a bit hard to read, being all-..." Joron stopped himself and tried to come up with a good rephrased version of the question. "I recall reading something you said before, regarding the bird's relationship to these 'trolls'... You said they worshiped it. Is it... Is it bound to something in this place? Something tangible? Perhaps..." Joron paused. "... Destructible?"

Godrim rubbed his head. "Hard for me to think right now...Can't remember much. What're you going on about?" Joron shook his head, realising the spirit may be too weak to answer. "Nevermind. I'm asking too much. Although, I will ask this: Have you always been able to leave your post?"

"Aye, but I don' feel good when I do. Dunno how the magic works, but it doesn' hold me very tight if I leave the mountains here. I get too far from my body and those runes they cut into it..." Joron's and other dwarves' eyes widened. "Ye mean, tha' wasn' in the ice?" one of the warriors asked in a terrfied voice. Joron jotted some notes down quickly, seeing the paper thanks to his candle. "If I may ask, do you recall anything about the Sorcerer-King?" Even Galloin had given up trying to sleep at this point.

"Ole King Iden? He ruled a dozen o' these mountains and that wood in the foothills. Met him a few times meself! Did I...know him while I was alive? Or only after I..." he stopped himself. "Not sure. Hard to keep the details straight after so long. They smudge and blur, jus' like faces. Haven't been able to remember me mother's own face for a long, long time." Joron felt like he was learning history all over again, and felt all giddy. "Alright, alright. One more question, if I may..." He marked a new paragraph on his parchment with a dot of ink. "Do you know where this king Iden is now?"

It was almost as if Godrim hadn't even heard the question as he began to ramble, "But some faces can't be forgotten. One stands out like that. Iden's wife, pretty lass with hair the color o' straw and a babe in each arm. Never gonna forget the tears on her face; 'tis burned into my mind. She wept and wept for days when we heard that the King had been killed by trolls. That's where he went, lad! Dead!" Joron nearly dropped his quill. The other dwarves looked at each other with disappointment carving frowns into their faces. "Wait, what? The sorcerer-king is... Is dead?" Joron said in disbelief. "That... That cannot be right! No, the log specifically states that he was imprisoned!"

Something in the ghost's demeanor had been quietly changing over the last few moments, and now there was a cruel glow to his eyes that none of them had seen before. "The log? What, are you one o' them mystics that toss a heap o' sticks into a fire and try to divine the ashes? Ha, your stupid magic's wrong, boy. I've seen the king, and he was frozen as my limp body in that hole!" The other dwarves grew uneasy at Godrim's tone and slowly, but surely, began to prepare for something, anything, just in case the ghost decided it would no longer act all that friendly. Joron, however, did not back down from his pursuit of knowledge. "Where did you see him? Please, we must find him and see for ourselves! He may be our only hope of recovering the lost arts of runesmithing!"

"Ahaha!" he guffawed, the laughter echoing eerily in the tunnel. "I don't think you know what you're askin' for, boy. I can guide you to the icy cave where the trolls trapped him, aye. You could even touch the hoarfrost on his beard with yer own fingers, if that's what your little heart wants," he said, "but it's it's out there all the way in Trollheim. A day and a half's journey, at least. Perhaps I could survive the trip again, perhaps not. But you, you green little summer boy? Ha!" Joron looked at his companions. Galloin shook his head. "We don't have to, lad. We'll just tell the others back home that we couldn't find him." Joron ran a hand through his short, chestnut beard in a pensive manner, and then promptly shook his head back at Galloin. "We're too close now, father. We're standing on the very edge next to a chasm of history. Behind us is the safety of home, yes, but to uncover the truth - we must leap into the chasm below." The warriors looked at one another, each one looking increasingly less motivated to follow Joron and the ghost. "Look, son, we-..."

"Take us there, Thunderhowler," Joron interrupted.

"Are you so eager to die?" The ghost looked the band up and down, then trained his white eyes solely upon Joron. "Soon," he promised, "but not yet. I'll have to recover, and you don't have the numbers for such an expedition. There are bears out there big enough to swallow you whole, and worse things too. You think they'll fear four or five dwarves? Ha!" Joron nodded. "Not to worry. Tomorrow, we'll take you back to recover and then look for the others-!" Galloin, having had enough, lobbed a snowball at Joron's face, hitting the young dwarf square on the forehead. "Right! That's enough out of you. You've stuck enough sticks in our wheel for today. Godrim Thunderhowler, you are free to leave at any time. Pay this one no mind. He didn't mean to be an annoyance, like he always is. We'll look for our companions tomorrow and meet you back at your post -after- discussing this with them." There was a pinch of desperation in his voice, as well as a whole cup of terror.

"So be it," Godrim answered. "I have half a mind to return to my post right now and stave off these pains, but if you need me to help keep vigil through the night..." Galloin shook his head swiftly. "Oh, as much as we appreciate you wishing to help us, we will be fine, worry not. The gods know that you have truly deserved to return home and, uh, rest! You are, after all, always keeping watch. 'Tis about time you got a break." Joron tried to interject, but the warrior closest to him, one named Ax, punched him hard in the gut, silencing whatever words the young dwarf tried to say.

Their attempts to silence Joron hadn't escaped Godrim; the wraith's white eyes flickered over to Ax for a second, and the warrior thought he saw a few specks of jet black drift across the empty orbs like black soot in a snowstorm. But then Thunderhowler just let out a grim chuckle as he walked down the tunnel and disappeared into the darkness deeper in. "I... I saw..." Ax's face had gone pale as snow. The two warriors apart from Galloin went over to tend to him, while Galloin gave Joron a glare that mixed rage and fear. "Have you completely lost your mind, lad?" Joron, still recovering from the punch, met the glare with a vicious scowl. "I could say the same about you," he spat furiously. "You let the key to our salvation walk down that corridor! There was still so much he hadn't told us!" Galloin's eyes betrayed a considerable amount of concern. "Oh, you foolish child..." He shook his head and went over to Ax as well, checking up on the now weeping warrior. Joron scoffed angrily, got to his feet and stormed outside to take the guard shift after all.

"Naive, foolish child."

The next morning, Galloin awoke to the sound of metal scraping against stone. He sat up and saw Torr in the middle of packing up his equipment. Galloin gave the dwarf a pensive look and kicked him gently in the shin. Torr looked over and nodded. "You're up early," Galloin whispered. Torr thumbed over his shoulder at the early beams of sunlight poking over the hilltops. "We ought to head back, brother. No need to stay 'ere in Trollheim any longer than we have to." Galloin grunted in agreement. "Wake up Scrollworm and Ax. I'll tell Undar to come back from his post." Torr got to his feet and strolled over to the opposite wall of the tunnel, where Joron the Younger had fallen asleep with a wax candle in hand, causing his gloved hand to be covered in now stiffened wax. The warrior gave the young dwarf a gentle punt. When that had little effect, the punt turned into a proper kick. After connecting with Joron's left side, the dwarf catapulted sideways, gasping for air. "Agh! Ow! What the curses was that for?!" Torr smirked. "Wakey-wakey, son. We're headin' back." Joron shot him a scowl and rubbed his side gently. In a few minutes, the group had packed up and were making their way back down into the tunnels.

Upon their arrival back at the crossroads, the group took a moment to look around. Their tracks from the day before had vanished as new snow had dusted them over. Godrim's footprints were nowhere to be seen, either. Joron looked at the path leading back towards home, towards Godrim's post. There were still so many questions he wanted answered. If only he could-...

"Joron! We're heading down. Keep moving so you don't freeze." Joron turned to see Galloin waiting for him as the other three made their way down the mountainpath. The historian groaned and followed. As they went down the slope, more than once did he slip on the treacherously wet rocks covered in melting ice. Besides the pain and the snickers that he endured from each fall, there was also that his clothes became damp. The other weren't quite as miserable, but they hardly seemed happy either. Eventually the ground flattened as they made their way down from the high pass and into the western part of the gulch that stretched on for a few miles before meeting with that part that they'd taken to calling the Valley of Tusks. They weren't stepping through bones where they were, but the snowdrifts were obstacle enough. The other mountain loomed over them. Some squinted and tried to make out the faint silhouettes of Kadol and his band somewhere up on those sheer slopes, but they saw nothing but rock and snow on that mountain from their position in the valley below. Galloin let his eyes sweep across the landscape of the valley. It was an awfully linear path, beginning on the hilltop they had just descended and continuing rather straight forward, as far as he could see. There weren't many trees around here either. He looked back at the path they had come from again. There seemed to be no hidden caves nor tunnels that the others potentially could have found. He beckoned Ax over. "Brother, are you feeling better?" Ax gave a shaky nod and hammered his shield with his knuckle. "Good," said Galloin. "I want you to run ahead and look for any campsites in that part of the valley." He pointed to the part to his front-left, the half of the valley which had considerably more snowdrifts than the other half. Ax nodded and picked up his speed, swiftly disappearing between the drifts. "Undar, you take the right." The dwarf nodded. "Right," Undar said and sprinted across the snowy plains to the group's right, soon gone from sight. Joron, Torr, Galloin and the third warrior, who Joron had learned was called Ygg, continued on ahead. After walking through the valley for less than an hour, Undar returned. "Didn't find any campsites, brother," he admitted. Galloin nodded and shot the left side a look. The snowdrifts crowded the plains like trees in a forest - they had likely set up camp there. "Ygg, head over there and assist Ax. If you find anything, look for Ax and come back to report." Ygg nodded and sprinted off. Joron sat down in the snow with a groan. Galloin rolled his eyes and placed his shield front-down in the snow to act as a barrier between his bottom and the icy surface. After several minutes of silence, Joron spoke. "He would not have hurt us." Galloin had to take some time to place the context, but realised quickly what he was talking about. "You do not know that. Nobody's had a longer than fifteen minute conversation with that ghost before. Nobody knows how he will react." Another minute passed. "He would not have hurt us." Galloin groaned. "Look, son, I'm getting really tired of your-!"

"They're here!" Galloin looked up. Ax peeked out from one of the snowdrifts and waved the group over. They swiftly got to their feet and followed the warrior in between the drifts. After roughly fifteen minutes of walking, they came upon a large snowpile in which someone had dug a nice, dwarf-size hole. Out the hole first came Ygg, smiling from ear to ear. Afterwards, Kadol came out, followed by his five companions. "They made it all homelike and nice in there," Ygg said happily. Kadol's companions grinned at the praise. "So, did you find anything?" Kadol asked. Joron stepped forward. "We found Godrim. He's back at his post now." Kadol and his group let out a collective sigh of relief. "Ah, thank the gods," Kadol said, patting his forehead with the hem of his shirt. "Did he tell you why he left his post?" Joron grunted. "Aye, he was looking for the menace, but he was very weakened when we found him." Kadol raised a brow. "Weakened? He can be weakened?" "Apparently. How about we make our way back towards his post? He has promised to lead us to the sorcerer-king!" Kadol grinned from ear to ear. "Fantastic! I knew he would help us! Let's move with haste!" Meanwhile, Galloin had shared the details with the five other warriors. The uncertainty brewing among the ten kept them silent as the twelve companions returned to Godrim's post by the Western Mines.

They found him in his favored spot, leaning against the icy nook in the mountainside just off the path. The ice looked frozen solid as ever. Godrim glanced over as they approached, then seemed to smile a bit when he recognized Kadol. "Ah, some faces ye don't forget," he muttered under his breath. Looking as though the effort was taxing him, he called out to Kadol, "Aye, there's me favorite lad. I haven't been feeling meself these past few days. Come on, get over here a little bit closer." Kadol grinned at the sight of the ghost and shuffled over, Joron trailing him closely with scroll and quill in hand. "Father Godrim Thunderthroat, it's a joy to see you again. Aye, I heard you'd been unwell. Are you better now?"

"Jus' a bit," he answered somewhat vaguely. Close as he was, Kadol saw the ghost's eyes quickly dart away from his own and toward the sheer precipice mere feet away, then back to him. "I need you to do somethin' for me, lad..." Kadol raised an eyebrow and nodded. "Of course, father. What can we help you with?" Galloin grimaced and walked over to Kadol. "Be careful, son," he whispered to him.

But the sound was overpowered when Godrim suddenly shouted, "Back!" Galloin and the warriors stepped back and reached for their axes; Joron cracked a smirk and Kadol's eyes widened in surprise.

A crazed look was in his eyes, but it went away from he looked back to Kadol. "Two things, lad," he corrected himself. "They can't hear what I'm 'bout to say. Tell 'em to walk into the mine." Kadol looked to the warriors and Joron and then back to Godrim. "But... But why can't they hear it, too?"

"Yer the only one I trust well enough. The only one that I really know." Galloin took a few careful steps closer. "You don't have to do this, lad. We'll find another way to the sorcerer-king--"

"He does!" Godrim shouted again. "Or yer all good as dead." The group recoiled. Godrim, meanwhile, was trembling as his eyes darted among the others. Kadol felt beads of sweat form on his forehead. He then lifted a hand to Galloin and smiled nervous. "Don't worry for me, father. He won't hurt me." Galloin frowned, holding a hand on the shaft of his axe. "Lad, dont-..." "It's fine, father. Go inside. I won't be long." Galloin recoiled again and, with a worried frown on his face, guided his warriors inside the mine, one of them dragging Joron along by the collar of his robes. Kadol turned back to Godrim, his face betraying considerable worry. "What has happened, father?"

"Didn't find the bird up on that mountain. Found some troll. He did somethin' to me. Somethin' real bad," Godrim muttered with a half mad look on his face. "You got to break the ice." Kadol stepped back and scanned the eyes, his hands trembling. "But... But won't breaking the ice cause you to disappear?"

Godrim leaned away from the wall, stretching far as he could without taking his fingertips off the ice. He clutched the ice as if it was the one thing keeping him from going mad. "If yer lucky," he said. "Might have to smash me body too. To destroy the runes." Kadol took some time to absorb the sight. "You're trapped, aren't you. But... But who will defend us from the Abductor, then?!"

"Boy, me words and thoughts ain't me own. Hard to fight it, hard to even think when I look at those others. Soon the enemy might have me in their fingertips, servin' them." Turning away for a moment, Kadol bit at his fingernails as he thought about the possible outcomes. "Without you, we're lost, Thunderhowler! We cannot find the sorcerer-king without your guidance! How will we defeat the Abductor?!"

"I don't think you want to find that damned sorcerer, son. The trolls are waitin' for you out there by his tomb. They showed me where it was, 'cause they wanted me to bring you there..." "The log was right, then... The part of the passage we wanted, though, wasn't." He eyed the mine entrance in the distance and turned back to Godrim. "I... I believe you, father. We will-... Will... Break the ice." Kadol's voice cracked somewhat.

"Not 'we'," the ghost said. "You. If the others come, I won't be able to stop myself. I'll fight back and howl, and you'll all be dead." Kadol swallowed, looked to the mines again and nodded. He eyed his spear for a moment. He did not want to runinto the mines to steal a pickaxe and risk being seen, so the spear would have to do. With a running start, the young dwarf aimed to ram the spear straight into the centre of the ice wall, just under the corpse's chest. The magical ice shattered like glass and Godrim fell to his knees heaving. Kadol heard voices from the mines as the loud glass-like shattering probably was quite an alien sound in these parts. He swiftly knelt down by the ghost. "Godrim! Speak to me!"

The ancient dwarf softly chuckled as pale, ethereal blood seeped out of his mouth. "Well done," were his last words, and then he began to fade away. But there was a mote of darkness in his pallid form, and it didn't vanish with the rest. It writhed and it hissed, like a snake plucked from its dark hole and thrust into the sun. Kadol recoiled as the black mote fell into the snow, laying there like an animated clump of coal. The others had made their way over. Joron, face white with horror, fell to his knees before the shattered wall with the speared corpse inside. "What... What have you done?" Kadol, whose face was streaked with tears, turned to Joron just in time to receive a hard punch in the gut, followed by one in the throat. Soon, the historian had tackled Kadol to the ground and got at least three more punches in before Galloin and Ax managed to pull him off. "You utter imbecile! You curse from heaven! You clog in the fountain of knowledge!" Joron kept spitting every insult his well-versed mind could think of.

As they bickered, the viscous black fluid that had escaped Godrim's fading body began to flow towards the cliff's edge. Kadol, already on the ground, sat up and touched his swelling eye. He spotted the black, snake-like spot slithering towards the edge. Whether it was instinct or just his mind being in disarray after taking some punches, the young dwarf grabbed his empty waterskin and, as precisely as he could in his state, tried to shovel the handful of snow with the black spot into it. The patch of darkness didn't seem to understand what was happening until the waterskin was closed and it realized that it had been trapped. At that point, a bloodcurdling hissing began to emerge from inside the vessel, but whatever evil lurked within it was unable to escape. The vicious hissing caught the attention of the bickering crowd, who all fell silent at what sounded like a lit fuse. Qorr Coal stepped forward. "What've you got in there, son?" Kadol staggered to his feet again and looked at the waterskin. He then looked at the dwarves gathered around.

"We will not seek the sorcerer-king." Joron redoubled his cursings. Some of the dwarves exchanged confused glances. Galloin, Ax, Torr, Ygg and Undar all seemed very satisfied with that order, however. Kadol held up the waterskin. "What I have trapped in here is.. Is..." He looked at the skin again. "Alright, I have no idea -what- it is, but we will bring it back to the Hovel for study. Perhaps we can use it to find out who was responsible for corrupting Godrim, for corrupted, he had become." Kadol swallowed. His companions, save the kicking Joron, of course, seemed rather content with that decision. Galloin handed Joron's one arm to Ygg and stepped over to Kadol, placing a reassuring palm on the young dwarf's shoulder. "Aye, lad. Let's head home."
So what are people gunning for in terms of second portfolios?

At the moment I'm aiming for Remedy. Basically a cooler word for healing or repair. Fixing what's broken, more or less.

Plan rn is to snatch brewing and fertility. Fertility is ways off, though, so if anyone else wants it, I'm willing to give it away.
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