Not my own words, but: "Enjoy memes and have a good time online, but develop a solid sense of self-worth that is rooted in a reality that doesn't disappear when the battery charge is empty."
3 mos ago
Aelius couldn’t tear his eyes away. His gaze was fixed on the ribbons of crystalline dust that had once been Asceal’s Lustrous Gardens. At once, there had been a flash of light and the blue sphere just… ceased to be. The pieces drifted from the epicenter, glimmering like stars. Of Asceal, there was no sign.
As the god of virtue watched, he felt his throat tighten into knots. What had Asceal done to deserve this? Why did they hate her light so? Aelius was caught between mourning and self-loathing. He’d done what he had to to defend Heliopolis. But it left him powerless. Powerless to save the Lustrous Gardens, powerless to save his only friend.
Aelius slammed a fist into marble. He saw her in his head, radiant in the Architect’s hall. He saw her as she beckoned him to see the fledgling furnace. He saw her next to him in the chariot, strands of light that passed for hair whipping behind her as they soared. And then he saw her sphere in a million pieces. His shoulders heaved and he let his tears flow freely.
He was sprawled on his palace’s steps, still weak from his encounter with Melanthia. Weak. Why was he so weak? He should have gone back to Asceal’s sphere with her. Maybe if he had, he could have spirited her away from the blast. Maybe he could have done more. Maybe, Maybe, Maybe…
It seemed like hours passed by as he watched the fragments of the Lustrous Gardens disperse, no longer recognizable as a sphere. He was tired of maybes. Aelius forced himself upright, brushing wet eyes. Asceal had a vision, and that didn’t change just because she was gone. He was still here, and so was this furnace. There was still light, and there was Galbar - a Galbar sorely in need of someone like him. He took a deep, shaky breath and turned to his palace to think. With the movement, his eye caught sight of something flickering in the sky. Too far to identify, but too near to be another sphere or distant celestial matter.
The bubble carrying Asceal and Liana streaked towards Heliopolis. Aelius watched it soar, first with his own eyes, then with his mind’s eye, as it penetrated the invisible barrier that was the atmospheric boundary of Heliopolis. With his barrier as his eyes, he could see the spherical shape of a bubble. He could barely make out its contents, hazy beneath its layers. He thought he saw the shadow of a humanoid. Or was it two?
Inside Asceal was weary, but even she noticed the transition from the cold void to the bubble of gas that enveloped Heliopolis. This close to his city the field Aelius had set up to warn him of intruders would herald her arrival. Well, hers and Liana’s. She glanced at her new friend and smiled, for a moment forgetting how they had met. Liana was pressed against the inside of the bubble watching as Heliopolis grew from a disant, though intense, light to the city of marble it was in truth. Turning her own gaze onto the city, Asceal’s grin faded. Much of it was still in ruins. Hadn’t Aelius had time enough to repair his home by now? She wasn’t sure how long she’d writhed in pain before summoning the will to save herself, nor how long she had spent rescuing Liana, but it couldn’t have been so short a time.
She hoped Melantha had not returned. Aelius had been in no shape to fight another battle, especially not alone. If Melantha had returned she could have overpowered Aelius and… Asceal shuddered as the memory of her own Furnace failing entered her mind.
No, she nervously ran a hand through her glowing hair and shook her head, it wasn't worth considering. Aelius had probably just taken a moment to recover his strength. Melantha was gone. Before she could dwell on the line of thought her bubble touched down on Heliopolis and evaporated, depositing Asceal and Liana before Aelius’s palace. Liana stumbled and caught herself before looking around in awe, but Asceal only had eyes for the one standing in front of the great edifice he had erected.
She wasn’t sure what to say, but at least the fear that Aelius, her first friend, had come to harm evaporated as she regarded him. With a relieved smile she all but whispered, “Aelius…”
Aelius’s stomach was ready to leap out of his throat. He blinked, once, and then twice. He opened his mouth but there were no words. Hadn’t he just seen the Gardens explode? And yet, she was here. Asceal was here. His eyes threatened to run again. Aelius was down the steps in an instant. In the next, he pressed Asceal to his chest and cried into her hair.
Aelius held her for minutes until gradually, his body stopped heaving. He forced his weight off Asceal’s shoulders. The lump in his throat reduced his voice to a pathetic squeal of, “I thought you were gone.”
She hadn’t noticed it, the cold numbness that had taken hold of her body and dulled her every sense in the moments since her world had been shattered. Shock wasn’t something she knew, and unconsciously she had attributed the feeling to an injury she’d been unable to mend. It was only upon seeing Aelius overcome with such emotion that she felt sensation begin to return to her, and with it came the tears she’d once stifled in the wreckage of her home.
She returned his embrace and wept with him, and when he finally let go she nearly pulled him back in. She was afraid the cold would come back. It was a terrible moment before she realized the warmth he’d returned to her had lingered and even grown in the seconds since they’d parted.
His admission hurt to hear, and she was unable to meet his gaze when she replied, “I know and… I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”
“What do you have to be sorry for?” Aelius asked, stooping to look at her face. “I thought the blast had taken you, and - and I blamed myself for it. But you? You owe an apology to no one, Asceal.”
A look of anguish passed over Asceal’s face and she finally met Aelius’s eyes, “You don’t know yet? Oh Aelius, you haven’t seen it have you? They’re gone. They’re all gone and it’s my fault.”
The look on her face tore at Aelius. He didn’t know what she meant by ‘they’re gone,’ but she was clearly distressed. He opened his mouth to reply, but as he stooped to look at Asceal, he noticed her companion for the first time, just a few paces away. Suddenly embarrassed, he said, “I’m sorry. Who might this be?”
Asceal looked back at Liana, who seemed quite content to ignore the gods’ conversation in favour of gawking at Heliopolis, and took a deep breath before smiling weakly, “Her name is Liana. She’s the only one I was able to save, Aelius, one among billions and billions. It wasn’t easy, wrenching her from his grasp.”
Aelius raised an eyebrow. “Who’s grasp? What do you mean billions?” There was clearly more going on than he had realized. Just how long did he spend gawking at the sky?
“He-” Asceal’s breath caught and anger crept into her next words, “Katharsos, he killed them all Aelius. I was such a fool, so obsessed with spreading my light, with offering all those lost souls some measure of hope, that I didn’t even notice when he did it. When he took them. When he stole them from Galbar and murdered them.”
Aelius’s brow furrowed. Katharsos. He wasn’t familiar with him at all. He’d left the Architect’s hall just as soon as he’d arrived, not one to mingle with his peers. Aelius’s Architect-given knowledge gave him only a vague understanding of the god’s role and power, and based on what Asceal was telling him, none of it was good.
“Why would he do that?” Aelius wondered out loud. “Why is everyone bent on destroying what we’ve been sent to nourish?” A pang of anger lodged itself in Aelius’s gut as he hissed those words. He forced his body to relax and took a deep breath. “What do we do when everyone is against us, Asceal? I… I don’t know,” he admitted.
“We do all that we can Aelius,” Her eyes lit up, burning with resolve, “I saved one, just one among billions, but it mattered. I don’t care who stands against me, I don’t care how terrible or wicked they might be, I will do everything I can for those souls less fortunate than us. Whether they survive Katharsos massacre or are reformed from the horrid ashes of its aftermath, I won’t abandon them.”
In those eyes, Aelius saw passion for life. It was the same passion he saw in her at the Architect's hall, only now it was honed, tensed like the string of a bow ready to fire. Just as it did back then, her passion stirred his heart and inspired him. Even in the face of overwhelming loss, she had such zeal.
“Come and rest a while,” Aelius said, leading Asceal up the steps by the arm. “You too, Liana!” he called to the soul. He smiled through the mess of emotions that tangled in his core. “I think we all could use some time to recoup from our trials. And then, we do what the Architect brought us here to do.”
Aelius mourns too early. Asceal has strong opinions of Katharsos. The two share a tender moment.
No MP spent.
“What do we do when everyone is against us, Asceal? I… I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Cannabis,” She spoke without hesitation, “Liana has told me of it, and nothing is better. So what if they hate us Aelius? Just take a long drag on a blunt and forget about them. I’m sure Phystene can hook us up with the dankest kush.”
“As for what I want you to do, I’ll leave that up to the majority of you to determine.”
Nazan groaned. If the state of the Order’s operations and the effectiveness of its leadership weren’t dubious when he stepped off the boat, then they sure were now. Surely its leadership had time on their hands to prepare orders while the new arrivals had been at sea. Yet, it seemed the captain’s directions were simply to mill around. Did the sorry condition of the Order’s progress in Weirn exacerbate such lackluster leadership, or was this leadership the cause of its nonexistent productivity? This would never fly in Keirous.
The captain started dolling out tasks to a select few. At least that was something. Nazan made a mental note to tag along with one of them. He’d done enough sitting on his hands on the ship. With most of the details out of the way, the captain passed them knapsacks with a small stipend and insignias. Nazan grudgingly pinned his to a strap on his chestplate and slung the bag over his shoulder.
With the briefing behind them, Nazan turned to leave but caught mention of his name. He turned his attention to the dwarf - Stravi, was it?
“Master Nazan. I request that you join me in my mission to the mines.”
Nazan looked down at the dwarf, frowning. He seemed used to dispensing orders, judging from his tone and the way he carried himself. The request sounded more like a command than a plea. The idea of a dwarf barking orders didn’t thrill Nazan, but it was a reassuring change of pace from the apathy of Captain Vaughn. The orisiri nodded.
Type of Government: Absolute Monarchy Head(s) of Government: Queen Eldanorré IV Politics: Andria is both an absolute monarchy and magocracy. Executive power is held by a hereditary monarch and a council of sorcerous elites simply referred to as the Circle. High-ranking mages form the country’s nobility, lording over the non-gifted populace.
The reigning monarch is Queen Eldanorré IV, of the Ardise familial line. The Ardise line has had a stranglehold on the throne ever since Andria’s founding. The monarch’s chief duties include commanding the army, overseeing religious matters and managing diplomatic affairs and treaties. The monarch has the final say in the passing of laws and may appoint individuals to the the Circle.
Succession in Andria is hereditary and observes primogeniture. The sex of the firstborn has no formal bearing on succession. The Council has the power to nominate a monarch, if the reigning one dies without an heir, but this has been a non-issue since the Ardise line first reigned.
The Circle is the most powerful political force in Andria, next to the monarch. The Council is a collection of individuals sworn to aid the monarch in governing the kingdom. Membership is restricted to magisters, the highest-ranking magical adepts in the kingdom.
Andria has several administrative districts acting as intermediaries between the central government and wider populace. These were established following the dissolution of the impractical general assembly. Each district is responsible for at least one major city and the surrounding villages inside its borders. These districts carry out nationwide legislation from the central government and bring local affairs to executive attention.
Unique Technologies (the more exotic or interesting stuff your nation uses or has come up with):
Primary Species: Andria is a predominately human nation. Only humans may hold political office, and only mages at that.
Population: 38 million
Culture: At a glance, foreigners might think Andrian society is divided into two major groups - the mages and non-mages. The reality is more complex, as all nobles are mages, but not all mages are nobles. Likewise, occupation and daily life bring mages and the non-gifted populace in constant contact. Social classes are stratified, primarily according to magical ability.
Common citizens, those born without magical aptitude, make up the vast majority of Andrian society. Commoners are independent, have the ability to decide their own lives and make their own wealth. In most regards, they are allowed similar freedoms in most other countries - they can own property, own and manage businesses, serve in the military, allowed education, have inherent human rights and legal representation, and so on. However, they have little to no say in the nation’s governance and are unable to hold office at anything beyond a basic local level. It is highly desirable for commoner parents to conceive a magically apt child. This increases their standing and affords them some degree of social mobility. This hope, however small, goes a long way to keeping commoners complicit with their lot in life.
Most mages belong to the intermediate class, between the commoners and the high-ranking nobility. Intermediates are mages without an esteemed lineage, sometimes born of commoner parents. Their families may have been commoners up to this point, or have birthed mages for generations, but have no ties to the upper echelons of magical society. While not as privileged as nobility, intermediates have many opportunities available to them and can reach high-ranking positions through perseverance and effort. The difference between an intermediate and commoner is perhaps greater. It is an unspoken courtesy that commoners defer to their magical peers. Crimes against mages are punished more severely than those against commoners.
The nobility of Andria are mages all. Their familial lines are held in esteem, going back centuries, if not millennia. Many are descendants of legendary Andrian heroes of yore, or claim to be. They will go to great lengths to record and preserve these genealogical histories. It is the nobles who hold the majority of Andria’s most powerful positions, and are likewise often the most high-ranking mages in the kingdom. Noble families will spend great sums on magical education to expand their repertoires and legitimize their positions. The nobility is competitive, each trying to accrue and maintain the favor of the monarch and their positions within society.
Even with the emphasis on magical ability, high aptitude is not necessarily a requirement for many roles. The courts that oversee commoner cases are generally staffed by low-ranking mages to better bridge the gap between the mundane and the gifted. Plenty of powerful political roles are held by low-ranking magicians. Aptitude always helps, but so does knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time.
Andrians are generally dark-haired, with olive skin and aquiline noses. It is commonplace for scented oils, waxes or lotions to be applied to hair. Women wear their hair in elaborate braids, piled on top of their heads, or in ponytails, while men keep theirs cropped short. Wool is worn during the winter, and linen in the summer. Commoners typically wear clothing dyed in bright colors or kept white. Black robes are telltale signs of a mage and magisters wear these trimmed in gold with a badge of rank. It is fashionable for wealthy women to wear garments of incredibly sheer, almost transparent linen.
Dancing and music is incredibly important to Andrian culture. There are over two-hundred distinct dances, covering purposes such as war, humor, athleticism, religion, holidays, weddings, funerals and other causes for occasion. A sought-after traits in both sexes is a partner practiced in either dance or the music to accompany it. Lyres, flutes, tambourines, cymbals and castanets are the most widely played instruments accompanying these dances. A well-practiced commoner is a sight to behold, but a mage can dazzle and move an audience like no other. Tendrils of magic whip in the air as a mage dancer whirls and magic-infused music elicits the deepest sensations in its listeners.
Religion and Other Beliefs: TBA
Location/Territories: Andria is located in southeast Tyviern. It is bordered by Soven-Ampara directly to the south, the Republic of Acrad to the southwest and the Talanian Sea to the east, etc.
Climate: Much of Andria is vast grassland and rolling hills. By and large, the country has a Mediterranean climate. Winters are mild and wet, while summers are hot and dry. Andria boasts rich farmland in its fertile lowland valleys. Olives and oil extracted from them are a major commodity of the region. The country is most densely populated by the coastline and its capital rests there. In the southwest, Andria’s border with Acrad is characterised by rocky mountain range. Here, irrigated agriculture produces goods such as wheat, barley, cotton, and tobacco. Many basins are located here, the result of inland drainage or erosion. These basins drain out to sea along rivers that stretch through the country. What forest there is is confined to the north and northwest.
Military: Service in the Andarian Armed Forces is voluntary and open to both mages and non-mages. Non-mages make up the vast majority of enlisted personnel and frontline soldiery. They can rise to NCO and low-grade officer ranks, but nonetheless are expected to defer to mages, who undergo officer training upon enlistment. Mages form both the leadership and force multipliers of the armed forces. Doctrine expects them to issue orders and formulate strategy, but also to bolster the fighting capability of the soldiery through destructive magics.
The standard army infantryman's uniform consists of a grey-green tunic and matching trousers. Black marching boots are worn in harsh weather, whereas a more traditional style of Andrian shoe is worn when it is dry. Grey greatcoats are worn in cold weather, or otherwise rolled up in a soldier's pack. Ranks and unit designations are marked by the piping of shoulder straps and the collar. The standard service rifle is a straight-pull bolt-action rifle chambered for a .303 cartridge. It combines a respectable rate of fire of 20-30 rounds per minute with great reliability.
Magic Prevalence/Usage: Magic is everything in Andria. It legitimizes mages and magisters as the ruling body and the monarch as ruler of the nation. It is quite literally the backbone of Andrian society. Aptitude for magic can both be inherited by genetics and can be a spontaneous gift. Commoner families hold out hope they might bear a child with magical aptitude and reap the benefits of increased social standing. The children of mages are near-certain to be mages themselves. This encourages the magically-inclined to breed among themselves, and magical skill is seen as a desirable trait in a partner.
Beyond the socio-political realm, magic is found in all levels of daily life. Street lamps are powered by magically-charged stones, boilers and ovens fuelled with magic blazes, the sick and injured are treated with magical cures, agriculture is nourished with magically-altered climates and weather. The consensus is life is plainly better with magic around, and all classes of Andria can point to the benefits. Mages are not only rulers, but healers, scientists, and scholars as well.
Dry heat blasted Aelius’ face, forcing his eyes to jump open. Immediately his gaze locked on the cold piece of metal he held tightly in his hands. It was a sword, sharp and built with a chisel edge. Its taper was from point to hilt, giving it a heavy, flat top. He knew at once what such a device was used for: execution. His knuckles whitened as his grip tightened and his eyes finally tore from his killing tool and set upon the rest of the scene.
He stood under a blood red sky, blank and empty, save for a swirling black pupil that stared down at him, like a black sun. Underfoot there was no water, no moisture, just lifeless earth, hardened and cracked from neglect. These flatlands of nothing stretched all the way to the bloody horizon, he stood in an infinite land of waste.
Circling his position was the long dead skeleton of a snake of enormous size, so much so that a single rib stood twice his height. This cadaver of the past was coiled widely around where he stood, the beast having choked on its own tail.
Aelius found his breath, but it was soon taken from him as another voice sucked it from the air. His eyes slowly fell downwards to find the owner of the voice. There he saw himself, prostrate on the wooden block of a headsman.
”Mercy!” the voice called out to him.
“There will be none of that here,” a disembodied voice circled Aelius, its tone wildly different than the one that came from the copy of himself. His eyes met those of another Aelius, only this one wore the robes of a judge, as well as a conspicuous smile that curved completely around his own face, the tips fusing together to create infinity.
“Here here,” a group of voices agreed, and once more, Aelius found himself staring at not so subtle copies of himself. This time, however, it was one large body, fitted with countless heads that resembled his own, as if it was some strange monstrous jury.
“Headsman Aelius,” the judge goaded, “proceed with the sentence.”
Aelius’s attention settled again on the copy of himself, prostrate on the chopping block. The executioner’s blade in his hands suddenly felt heavy, not only with the weight of its steel, but the weight of terrible sin. The thought imparted on him a sense of shame and disgust. Were these the wrongs of the Aelius on the block, or were they his own?
“With what crime is this soul accused?” he asked, not entirely sure if he was thinking the words or saying them.
“He is virtuous for the sake of virtue, and is therefore not of virtue.” the judge’s voice was coarse and grainy, yet held an air to it. The sentence echoed in such a way that Aelius could have sworn he physically saw every word and every color it portrayed.
“But regardless,” Aelius said, “the things he does are still good. In isolation, they are selfless, with the well-being of others in mind. Does the intent negate the result?”
“Isolated or not, his intent has soured any good his actions could do. By living in squalor, and becoming a slave to his conceited idea of self, he has forgone any well being of another. He in time will come to hate virtue, or push too hard. In the end he will sow vice and discord, whether knowingly or not. Virtue cannot be isolated from the context, for then it is simply an action, and to judge an action isolated from the meaning and motivation, is to ignore what birthed the action and what will birth the infinite actions after. There is a lovely glint in every knife that stabs the back.”
Aelius found himself flustered by the judge’s response. He turned to face him and the tone of his reply a degree harder. “And if one’s actions caused evil, but with good intent? What if a man honestly believed in the right thing, yet his actions only birthed death and evil in his wake? Would you praise the virtue of his intent despite the failings of his labor?”
He pointed at the accused form of himself. “This man has neither evil or death on his conscious. Surely he is no worse than the man who does?”
“But isn't he? By choosing to perform good or evil, he first picks what is good and what is evil and then proceeds to act in accordance to his own satisfaction. There is no regard to the intent, no regard to the final effects of the action. No, both do harm and both blindly bumble onward in search of something you can't find.”
“There are some transgressions more easily seen than others, while others may never be seen by the perpetrator, but are nonetheless troublesome,” the judge punctuated, “you cannot force virtue.”
“Then what is virtue?” Aelius snarled.
The judge’s grin became even more wild and a gurgle of laughter met Aelius in reply. When Aelius turned away, he found himself kneeling on the ground, hands bound, head on the chopping block. His eyes widened as he stared at the executioner, the body he thought belonged to him just moments before. The sword hung in the air briefly, then it came down and all was black.
“Aelius,” a soft voice provoked Aelius to open his eyes. The blurry scene slowly focused before Aelius. He was sitting on a chair, plush and luxurious, and an oaken table that seemed to stretch for eternity to the left and right, was pressed against his stomach. Across the table (plated with various pickings on silver for any appetite), sat Asceal who stared at him with a worried face. Despite her concerned glow, Aelius couldn’t help but notice that in the pupil of each of her eyes glistened a crescent, shaped uncannily like a smile.
“Aelius?” Asceal spoke again, “your tea is getting cold, are you alright?”
It was just then that Aelius noticed a lukewarm cup of tea in his hand, and a small platter with drips and drops of dark liquid placed on the table before him. As Aelius soaked in the bizarre situation, a miniscule Parvus buzzed by on fly’s wings, suddenly getting zapped as it flew too close to a lantern of blue light. A tiny stream of smoke followed the tiny body to the floor of the great hall the table sat in.
“Yes,” Aelius said. His reply was too slow and Asceal caught on.
“What’s wrong?” she asked firmly. Those crescent eyes bore into him and he shifted in his seat. He hid behind a sip of the tea, buying time to think of something, anything, to reply with.
Asceal sat patiently, her eyes never leaving Aelius, not even as a stray Ohannakeloi suddenly scurried out from under a silver platter-lid and away from the table in retreat, a lemon slice stuck on its back. Asceal slurped loudly, keeping her gaze.
Aelius’s cup returned to the table and he said, “Nothing’s wrong, but… what else is there?” He felt a pang of shame as the words left his mouth.
Asceal nearly choked on her tea, and put her cup down, quickly covering her mouth with a napkin of silk. Clearing her throat, her brow furrowed, “What do you mean?”
“Galbar,” Aelius said quickly. “I’m talking about Galbar.” He searched the memory of his dream self and found, to his surprise, that Asceal and he had been successful. Galbar was alit and their furnaces burned eternally. He frowned. There was no sign of the other gods. Galbar was empty. There were no souls on its smooth, reflective surface. There was only light, and it was everywhere.
“We did it,” Aelius continued. “Why, then? Why does it feel so… empty?”
Asceal looked troubled. Slowly her shoulders drooped, “Because it is.”
Suddenly there was a groan, and for the first time Aelius noticed a man sitting next to him. When he snapped his head to witness the gentleman, he immediately recognized the smile. K’nell looked back at Aelius, “I’m not too fond of this reality.” a grainy voice echoed around the pair, “this one holds too much sorrow.”
“K’nell,” Aelius blurted. “How long have you-” Aelius turned back to Asceal, but the seat across the table was empty. He whirled, leaning over the arms of his chair and started at the God of Dreams.
“What the hell is all this?” Aelius snapped.
“This?” The voice pondered, “this is a possibility.”
K’nell leaned forward, the grainy voice whispering in Aelius’ ear, “a dream.”
Suddenly the world swirled around them, their bodies stretched and molded into impossible shapes, sounds grew taste and colors screamed, and then all at once it stopped. K’nell sat before Aelius, positioned upright in a throne. The Golden God himself sat in his own throne, directly facing the God of Sleep. All around them little orbs of ideas and thoughts danced, fitting of the ballroom surrounding the pair.
A whirling seed landed on Aelius’s knee and at once, clusters of miniature trees and flowers sprouted up his leg. He kicked and brushed them away. They danced and leaped away, diving into the void between the thrones. Returning his attention to K’nell, he asked, “Do you control all this? What’s your game?”
“Do you not like it?” K’nell answered, “Anything can happen in a dream.”
K’nell stood up, his feet causing little ripples on the surface of an endless void, “you came to visit me, so I thought it only fit to include you in my great distraction. It is wonderful, yes, a grand illusion, a great escape.”
“I judged and executed myself. Asceal and I were too successful, to the detriment of everything else. I’d hardly call that wonderful.”
“Well,” K’nell fall back into his throne, “a good dream should hold at least some kernel of truth. But now think, now that you have seen the end, experienced the means, couldn’t you use what you now know to better the singular dream you refer to as your reality?”
“Or perhaps not,” K’nell pondered, “what’s a dream, anyway.”
Suddenly the Dream God perked up once more, “perhaps you need a true escape?”
“What are you suggesting?” Aelius asked, suddenly wary.
K’nell's eversmile grew slightly at the question and then with a snap of his fingers, all went dark once more. The two journeyed from dream to dream, room to room. They traversed hundreds of dreams, thousands of possibilities, some beautiful, some horrible. Aelius experienced paradise, and felt the depths of terror. He was brought to tears at the feeling of true happiness and was broken against rocks. He experienced all he would ever want to, until he felt all his dreams balance into some strange equilibrium of bliss, confusion and worry. He felt it in the distance though, one final dream, no, THE final dream, a dream with every answer he ever sought, and every emotion he ever needed. It was in his grasp, tantalizing his fingers, and just as he felt its warm, comforting glow-- his eyes rocketed open.
He woke with a stir. He was inside his chariot, on a sphere of blue crystal. He felt something drain from his mind, and he knew right then and there, he was dreaming no longer. Then he saw it in his mind: a massive, dark shape speeding for Heliopolis.
Aelius studied his companion up and down. Her form was radiant, perhaps blinding, had he not been a god. Her eyes were warm and kindly, and as he looked into their light, he felt peaceful and at ease. Whatever understanding the Architect had imparted on him told him that this goddess - Asceal - had a vision for Galbar that aligned with his own.
“Asceal?” he said, testing her name. He spoke slowly, still adjusting to his new form.
“Yes,” She returned the smile he’d worn during his approach, “And you are Aelius, are you not? I confess the transition to this world from the place in-between has left me disoriented. It is jarring to know you, to feel that in you I have a friend, without ever having met you before.”
“It does make breaking the ice easier,” Aelius said sheepishly. “The Architect would rather have us off to work and out of his hair than throw a meet-and-greet in his hall.” The young god took a moment to look around. Already the others were making a scene at the Architect's feet. “I’m glad I’m not the only one with a sense of decorum,” he added.
At the prompting Asceal spared a glance towards the commotion taking place just in time to see a red haired Goddess be thrown to the ground and humbled by the Architect. She grimaced, but averted her eyes. The Architect had crafted the universe, invited them all here, and while she wished he had the forbearance to refrain from such harsh admonishments she couldn’t deny Seihdhara, for that was the red haired Goddess’s name, had deserved some measure of punishment.
“As you say,” she returned her attention to Aelius, “I’m certain the others will learn, though. We have only just crossed the threshold after all, and it was not an easy passage. ”
Aelius nodded. “You know - when the Architect summoned us, I was scared. Before he made me into this,” he pointed at his new body, “I felt alone and hopeless in that void.” He chuckled humorlessly. “I imagine all those souls down there on Galbar feel that way now. It would mean a lot to me to relieve them of that despair.” Aelius raised a hand to indicate Asceal’s physique. “Why, your light just might be the first step.”
“Oh? It seems we’re of a mind then,” Asceal shifted her gaze from Aelius to the rift the Architect had torn in the ceiling of his palace, at the weak and ephemeral glimmers that shone from the distant barrier, “Moments ago, eons past, I saw this world, a space intricate beyond description, the new home of so very many, and I knew it lacked the one thing which was in my power to provide. Tell me of your desire Aelius, for I feel it is also mine.”
“I want to give those souls hope, direction, a purpose to live for. Who knows why the Architect did what he did, but it’s clear to me that the rest falls on our shoulders. We can’t let the void swallow them up.” Aelius looked out to Galbar, that blue sphere loitering in blackness. “I think our first priority is to give them light in that darkness. To show them they aren’t alone out there. That’s how we’ll start giving their lives meaning.”
Asceal smiled, and her form shined brighter, “Light, meaning, hope. They will have all that and more if we work to deliver it to them, Aelius. The blue pearl they languish on could be their home, a home on which they need never again know the despair shadow brings. They have spent too long in the darkness, it is on us to ensure they never suffer it again.”
“If you create light,” Phystene sauntered over to the pair, “I’ll create the first bodies for these lost souls to inhabit.” She gave the pair a warm smile. “And pardon my interruption. You two just gave off such a warm… aura that I couldn’t help but be drawn to you.”
Asceal regarded the newcomer, a woman who resembled Aelius and Asceal in form but whose green skin and eyes, not to mention thin antlers of wood, set her apart. She greeted Phystene, Goddess of Plants, with a friendly nod, “You need not apologize Phystene, you are always welcome in our company. To hear you offer such support only makes that welcome warmer. With your help we can offer all those lost souls on Galbar some measure of what we have received from the architect, just as our friend Aelius desires. You have my gratitude.”
Aelius nodded, making space for Phystene in their corner of the room. “Anyone who wishes to enrich the lives of Galbar's people is a friend to us.” In the antlered goddess he sensed a passion for life and happiness, and it made his heart swell. In just minutes after their ascension to godhood, they were already forming bonds and planning marvels for Galbar and its people. Aelius’s head was buzzing with visions of an ideal planet, a bastion of prosperity. “Leave the light to us,” he told Phystene, “and your creations will bask in it!”
“Yes” Phystene agreed. “I can see it now. A world covered in green. Of teeming life and endless possibilities.” She gazed at her two new companions for a moment before adding “If there is anything you need, anything I can do to help, simply ask and I will do what I can.”
Kalmar approached the trio, and took the time to examine them. He immediately felt some sort of understanding: the green one represented plants. Plants were essential - without them, there would be no prey, and the predators would die. The bright one represented light, which was also essential, as a hunter needed to see. The third one represented.... Virtue? What a foreign concept. Kalmar could not see much use for it.
“Hello.” He said, by way of greeting. “I am Kalmar.” He stopped there, clearly expecting some sort of response.
“The Hunter,” Aelius affirmed. “A pleasure. Your cause will feed the multitudes of Galbar. A noble contribution.”
Kalmar nodded, feeling pleased to have his usefulness recognized. “Yes. And you are… virtue? I am not familiar with this concept. Can you explain?”
Aelius cleared his throat and beamed as he prepared to enlighten the others. “Well, those souls down there on Galbar, they're absolutely lost. Much like ourselves before the Architect called on us. He gave us a purpose.” The young god pointed to the planet in the distance for emphasis. “I want to be to them as the Architect is to us. A tutor, a caretaker, a leader. I want to give them purpose. Virtue is the extension of my will. Wisdom, temperance, fortitude and justice - these are the keys which will give them meaningful existence.”
“I could go on,” he added, “but perhaps a longer explanation would be best suited to a leisurely afternoon at my sphere. Over a fine jug of wine, perhaps - in moderation.” He gave Kalmar a wink as he said the last words.
Phystene glanced at Kalmar and gave him a small shrug. On a basic level she knew that this concept of virtue was a good thing, but it was so foreign a concept to her that she couldn’t truly comprehend it. Yet. “Perhaps your presence here” She turned towards Aelius, “will spare this world the fate of my home.”
“Hm?” Kalmar had more or less zoned out during Aelius’s long-winded ramble, yet suddenly another one of the gods was speaking. It was not like him to lose focus like this. If this Aelius could so easily have that effect on people, he could prove a dangerous foe. Having lost track of what was being discussed, and recalling the awkwardness of his previous conversation, he decided he would let someone else speak next.
“Yours is a noble calling, Aelius,” Asceal rested a hand on Aelius’s shoulder and spoke before it became too clear Kalmar hadn’t been paying attention, “As Phystene says, I’m certain your presence will bring about a better world for all those souls unfortunate enough to lack the gifts the Architect has bestowed on us.”
She paused and glanced at the gods already departing the Architects palace, “I feel we have tarried long enough though. There is much work to be done, many suffer in the darkness, and as Aelius has said there will be ample enough time to speak later. If you would grant us leave, Phystene, Kalmar.”
“Agreed,” Aelius said. “Off to work! I look forward to seeing your creations in action.” He gently took Phystene’s hand, bowed and touched it to his lips, then made to shake Kalmar’s hand.
Kalmar looked at Aelius’s extended hand with some degree of confusion, unsure of how to respond, so he did nothing. He looked at Asceal, and nodded. “You are not being kept here, and you do not need our leave, so you should both go if you wish.”
“Ah,” Asceal cocked her head in an expression of mild puzzlement before finishing, “Farewell then, friends.”
Aelius shrugged as his hand fell back to his side. The gods exchanged their goodbyes and he turned to Asceal. “Now then,” he said, “I’ve got a grand idea. I’ll tell you all about it on the way.” He took Asceal’s hand and led her to his waiting star.
Aelius and Asceal hit it off. They find a friend in Phystene, and Kalmar, sort of. The pair hops onto Aelius’s star and makes for soon-to-be-Heliopolis. On the way, Aelius details his solar plan.
No MP spent.
A befuddled look crossed Asceal’s face before she looked intently at Kalmar and asked solemnly, “What does the fox say?”
“Foxes scream and bark to communicate with each other. This becomes more common during mating season, which is at its peak in January. During this period in particular, foxes will scream at each other as a territory warning, and female foxes will make loud noises when mating.” Kalmar recited almost mechanically. “And what was that, you manwhore?” Asceal whispered in Aelius’s ear as they left. “Well, I can’t kiss Kalmar’s hand,” he replied. Asceal buried her face in her hands.
Alt: “And what was that, you manwhore?” Asceal whispered in Aelius’s ear as they left. “A handshake,” Aelius answered. “Trust me, a couple years, all of Galbar will be doing it.” As Aelius left he raised a hand to his ear, thumb and pinky extended in a mock-telephone shape. His lips made the words *Call me* before he turned away to his star. Asceal slapped his hand and wrapped an arm around his waist before rather aggressively speeding up their departure. “Nobody understands me like you do,” Aelius sobbed into Asceal’s shoulder. “Truer words have never been spoken” PS: Don’t mind them. They are just tripping balls. AE: Phystene, you're so… so green. AS: Hey Aelius, have you… Uh… Ever noticed how bright I am? AE: So bright. Like blinding. The light of my world. AS: Awwwww. You’re the muscles of mine, you know? PS: Especially this strong, lively muscle in particular, hmhmhmhm.
More than anything, Nazan was glad to be ashore. He’d never been on the open sea before and had the barest of experience in the seat of a riverboat. The waves rolled and churned his stomach as much as they did the ship, and Nazan spent the lion’s share of his time aboard heaving over the edge, or ducking down in the bowels of the vessel. Sea sickness was an enemy that a blade could not defeat. He took in a long breath as he stepped off the gangplank and his feet sunk into solid ground at last.
The shackles had been a small price to pay compared to the constant nausea onboard, but he disliked them all the same. They made sense for criminals and lowlives the Order forced into service, perhaps. But he was neither, at least by his definition. The Order had saved him from certain death and he’d come along willingly. Why did he need restraining?
Nazan flexed his arms as the bonds came off, feeling the life return to his hands. As he stretched, he took in his immediate surroundings. Haev didn’t make a particularly good impression. His glance was met with scowls and hushed whispers and the locals shut their windows or turned their backs on the new arrivals. Nazan wasn’t interested in them anyway. He looked forward to getting down to business, a decent meal and a night in a bed that didn’t toss and turn.
His disinterest became mild annoyance when they marched further into the port and the inhabitants got more vocal. They threw insults and jeers and Nazan’s ear picked up more than a few slurs meant for orisiri. He was sure the other, the woman, heard them too.
She hadn’t been in much mood to talk during the trip, not that Nazan’s stomach was willing to cooperate either. He’d been able to gather her name, Aelsu, and knew she was a plains orisiri. She had the bearing of a fighter, carried herself with the knowledge that she could break any of the jeering locals with her bare hands if it was up to her. Beyond that, anything was a guess.
The entire crew was diverse, all things considered. Just about every sapient species had a representation here, even the enigmatic star-fallen. There was more to the locals’ disapproval than that, but Nazan suspected it gave them all the more reason to hate them.
Eventually, the throng was ushered inside a large tent, wherein Captain Eros Vaughn introduced himself and gave a summary of their duties. The picture he painted was bleak. Why did the Order still try, when Weirn seemed like a lost cause? Certainly there were other places more accommodating, where the Order could do its business and not hamstring itself. Nazan didn’t pretend to understand. Without a supply line or outside assistance, this operation wouldn’t last. What happened then? Would the Order pull out and set them free elsewhere, or would it be content to leave them to whatever fate claimed them?
Either way, it wasn’t as if any of them were in a position to back out.
It sailed on a sea of primordial matter, tossing and turning with the waves. It was helpless, like a tumbleweed in a gale. There was nothing to grab hold of, no solid matter to stop its momentum. Just a violent current that carried it away from all it had ever known and loved.
Though the waves of chaos it could glimpse others like it. They, too, thrashed in the roiling mass and wailed with voiceless throats. The waves swallowed them, dragged them under and spat them back out, tormenting them. It wanted to scream, pluck itself from this nightmare and fly away. Anywhere else, for anywhere was better than here. It was about to cry out, but then it saw.
The sphere was enormous, dwarfing it and all the other souls being pulled towards its great blue mass. For a moment, it forgot about the primordial waves that tugged and beat it. The sphere commanded its attention, the only thing of color in the blackness. The only real, tangible, recognizable thing. It reached out with desperate hands. Then it realized that the waves had passed and they carried the other souls away to that blue surface.
It was afraid and alone. The void was cold and empty. Its vast darkness held the great sphere captive, along with the souls. These thoughts brought distress to it and it tried to shy away, although there was nowhere to hide. What was it to do alone in such nothingness? How could it exist like this?
A voice like rolling thunder shook it out of its reflection. It looked up into a singular great eye and it stared back, penetrating its consciousness. The words the bearer of that eye spoke shook it to the core. It did not understand them at first, and only made it more afraid. But then a realization started to form in whatever passed for its brain.
Those other souls that had been cast down to the sphere - they were like it, terrified and helpless in the chaos of this domain. Like it, they had the barest sense of self. No worth, no comfort to take refuge in.
Without a purpose they were lost.
It looked to that all-seeing eye once more. There was a clarity in that glassy surface. Its gaze commanded him and he understood, for he was a he. A man of strength, without and within. A beacon, an arbiter, a rock, a leader. He stood, suddenly proud of things he had done, and of things he had yet to do. He glowed in the blackness of the void, a torch to guide the souls of that sphere - Galbar. He needed fear no longer, and neither did they. He would give them something to live for.
He was aware of others like him, left by the waves. A chosen few, selected from the host of nameless ones that hurled towards Galbar. He knew they were special and that each would add something to that mass of blue. Some were valuable. Some were not.
He scanned his fellows, a base understanding of each coming to him as he did so. Some of them lingered, some were already boarding their stars, taking off for realms beyond. But his gaze locked with one, bright and beautiful. An understanding dawned between them, a wordless bond, a vision.