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Bio

I am a Roleplayer with an interest in science fiction and fantasy, with a preference for Casual. I have been roleplaying for several years, and have even taken a stab at running a few RPs.

Outside the Guild, I am an Australian science student, gamer, musician and roleplayer (that's right, IRL too).


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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice


&

Kalmar




The coasts of Kalgrun were an untamed wilderness. Dense forests, imposing mountains and frozen landscapes held all manners of creatures. Ashalla’s pseudopods curled out of the sea and licked against each new species Ashalla saw. Although she had seen many of these creatures in the sculptures of the winter-spirits, it was only here that Ashalla could taste them. Many of the creatures bore Kalmar’s signature, although some had the mark of Phystene or Seihdhara. There was even one species which had been made by Narzhak.

Eventually Ashalla came to the east coast of the continent, where the forests gave way to plains. Rising from the plains, almost blending into the clouds, were tiny wisps of smoke. There were intelligent mortals in these lands.

Ashalla continued along the coast until she found a pack of the mortals. Their camp was a collection of furs, animal hides and leaf mats strewn across the ground. Some pits had been dug to hide food. In the midst of the camp was a circle of blackened branches and white ash.

A few groups of mortals were within walking distance of the camp, out hunting for sea-birds with their slings or foraging the scrublands for edible plants. These mortals adopted the common humanoid form - notably they were taller than Dreamers and their features bore an animalistic sharpness, particularly their ears, teeth and nails. She also noticed the grace and agility with which the hunters moved. Yet unlike the selka, none seemed to be hunting the fish of the sea.

Within the camp remained one adult mortal. The red-haired male sat on a rock, bone-tipped spear lying nearby. He gave the occasional glance around the camp, which contained a couple of infants asleep on a mat of animal hides, but he was clearly bored.

Ashalla watched the mortal for a time from the concealment of the ocean. Then she approached. While the man was looking the other way, Ashalla flowed quietly across the sand of the beach like a creek running in reverse, then reached the dirt and grass. A pseudopod crept up the rock, but before it reached the man Ashalla thought better of it. Instead the water gathered up and rose.

The sound of water moving was just starting to gain the attention of the bored man when Ashalla spoke with a voice like a crashing wave. “Mortal man.”

The man reached for his spear and turned in alarm, yet when he saw the towering woman of water his mouth gaped open. There was a stunned silence for a second, until the man’s mind caught up with the situation. He leapt to his feet, held his spear upright, crossed his spare fist across his chest and bowed his head. When he looked up again, though, a quizzical expression overtook his face, and his mouth twisted as though trying to find the right words to say.

Ashalla pre-empted the man and said, “I am Ashalla, Goddess of Water. Who are you?”

The man bowed his head again. “I am Nym.”

“What are you, Nym?” As Ashalla asked her question, a thin pseudopod of water snaked along the ground and licked against the man. Nym tensed at the touch and stepped away from the pseudopod, although another pseudopod had sprung up on the other side of him. “Answer the question.”

“I-” Nym tensed again at the watery touch, although the icy gaze bearing down on him made him think twice about resisting. “I am a father, a hunter, a Vallamir.”

The tendrils finished probing Nym and withdrew, allowing Nym to relax a bit. “Who are your gods?”

“My kind were created by Kalmar, Roog, Arae and Li’Kalla. They taught us how to survive in this land of Kalmar’s.”

A little bubble rose through Ashalla and popped at the surface. Li’Kalla? She’s whole again? Ashalla did not hesitate for more than a moment before continuing with her questions. “You are a hunter, yet you are not hunting.”

Nym looked over his shoulder at the sleeping babies in the camp. “No. Today I’m doing the task of a father and watching the camp and the young.”

“Your mind and hands were idle.”

Nym looked a bit sheepish. “Well, yes, it is a bit boring.”

Ashalla rumbled thoughtfully. Her gaze then shifted to a section of scrub nearby, within which lurked a badger. Although the badger appeared ordinary to mortal senses, Ashalla could sense the faintest odor of divinity. A pseudopod stretched out with unnatural speed and wrapped around the animal. Ashalla regarded the badger for a moment, then released the animal which promptly scampered off.

Carrying on as if nothing had happened, Ashalla asked, “Have you ever considered hunting the animals of the ocean?”

The vallamir’s brow furrowed. “No, um… hadn’t had the need. Although, it wouldn’t hurt, although don’t know how.”

Ashalla rumbled again, and glanced up and down the coast. She had seen the equipment the other vallamir had been using, how little the items they had found had been modified from their raw forms. She looked back to Nym. “I will show you how. And I shall also show you something to occupy your mind and hands while they are idle. But first,” Ashalla’s arm stretched out to grab a small rock, then retracted to a more natural length, “I shall teach you how to better shape the world around you.”



Nym’s pack had returned to find him banging rocks together at the direction of a large woman made of water. Although it had seemed to be a lot of pointless noise, when they got closer Nym showed them the flakes of sharp stone which he had produced. They made handles of wooden sticks and plant fibres for the stone shards, and in this way they were able to make stone tools, from which they could better make more tools.

During the evening, by the light of the campfire, Ashalla prompted the vallamir in one use of the stone tools, which was to create carvings in wood, bone and soft stone. It was to be an activity for their downtime, a chance to express their creativity, a way to preserve their memories and a means of non-verbal communication. The carvings were mediocre in quality, although the vallamir seemed to pick up the art fairly quickly, so Ashalla expressed her approval of their artwork.

The following morning Ashalla called some of the hunters, including Nym, to the sea. While they were skilled hunters on land, Ashalla taught them how to hunt in the ocean. The vallamir’s heightened reflexes were of great advantage to them, for they could spear fish with great accuracy once Ashalla showed them how to correct for how the water distorted vision. She also trained them in swimming, so they could dive beneath the water and peel away molluscs with their new stone knives. The hunters returned to their pack that evening with a bountiful catch of sea life.

The vallamir expressed their gratitude to Ashalla as she departed, her work with that pack finished. She bore a desire to teach more vallamir the same. As she travelled and taught, she came to the mouth of a large river and decided to head inland.

For a time, she travelled unopposed. Then, a colossus-sized wolf appeared upriver, defying the very laws of physics while it bounded across the water as if it were solid ground. As it neared, it began to slow down, skidding to a stop as it sniffed the air and, with its sole-remaining eye, peered at the Goddess inquisitively, or at least the region of river water which was the Goddess. In return, tendrils of water licked at the wolf’s fur. Dark and heavy clouds formed in the sky above, the cumulonimbus seeming to take the form of a face which loomed over the wolf. Two eyes of crackling lightning manifested to bear down on the wolf.

“Beast of Kalmar, did Kalmar send you to greet me?” said a voice like a gale.

The wolf did not make a sound; it merely nodded.

There was a huff. “Why not greet me personally?”

The wolf raised its shoulders in something that vaguely resembled a shrug. “He was closer,” a telepathic voice sudden interjected, “But I am on my way.”

“Very well,” Ashalla answered. A tendril of water rose from the river and felt the scar of Fenris’ missing eye, then retracted. The wolf not much of one for conversations, Ashalla waited patiently for Kalmar’s arrival.

He arrived mere minutes later, soaring over the western horizon, with the white-furred cloak of an animal of the north, and flakes of snow still in his hair. He set himself down on the river bank, and the water in front of him suddenly began to freeze… until it stopped, and began to melt again - the snow in his hair doing the same. Kalmar looked up at Ashalla and nodded. “What brings you here?”

“I am exploring these lands and teaching the vallamir of fishing, stone tools and carving,” answered Ashalla.

Kalmar nodded again, as if that was the answer he had expected. “Yes. Thank you for that, by the way.”

“It is my pleasure,” Ashalla burbled.

“If you want to explore these lands, you’re free to do so,” the Hunter continued. “If you’re looking for something specific, or have any other questions, feel free to ask.”

Ashalla rumbled briefly, then asked, “The vallamir say that Li’Kalla was one of their creators. Last I heard Li’Kalla had been in poor shape. How is she?”

“The Architect restored her,” Kalmar answered. “But it seems that she lost most if not all of her memories. She’s a different person now, or at least different from when I first met her. More assertive, more talkative. A strange fixation on purity and bloodlines. Even shares some of Shengshi’s obsession with manners. I met her about ten winters ago, and since then she has taken some of the Vallamir onto her island to the east of here.”

There was a rumble from Ashalla. “Perhaps I should visit her soon.” Ashalla then shifted to another course of inquiry. “You visited Azura recently regarding the soul crystals.”

“I did,” Kalmar nodded. “What do you think of all that, anyway?”

“I care not for the mortals. But it is her prerogative as a god to shape the natural order to her will,” Ashalla said with a voice like a waterfall.

“That prerogative goes both ways,” Kalmar mused. “And means other gods are free to try to stop her. Then other gods will defend her, we’ll have a war, and all our creations will suffer.” He shook his head. “Anyway, the agreement I made with her was that I wouldn’t try to stop her efforts, I would help defend the souls within the vault from harm, and I would offer my own power to help her find a solution, if I can spare it and the solution is agreeable. I also made it clear that the agreement would become invalid should we run out of soul ash before her alternative is completed.”

“That is very reasonable, Kalmar,” Ashalla commented.

“It is good that you agree,” Kalmar said with another nod. “I have a question myself. When you say you don’t care for the mortals, do you mean the state of mortals after they die? Or do you not care for them when they are alive as well?”

There was a brief contemplative rumble. “After a mortal’s demise, they are of little use to me besides the information stored in their soul. During their life, mortals are of interest, amusement and some utility. Although I may grow fond of some individual mortals, unlike Azura I feel no close personal connection with mortalkind as a whole.”

“I’d say mortals have more value than that,” Kalmar said with a shrug. “Though my interest in them doesn’t go as far as Azura’s either. Creatures like the Vallamir, or the Jotnar, Dreamers, and Selka may be smarter than most, but they shouldn’t be put on a pedestal because of it.”

The was a light huff. “Yet their intelligence, which grants them limited power to shape the world around them, makes them clearly superior to unintelligent beasts. Not to say that unintelligent beasts are unimportant, of course, for without them life would falter.”

“Superior in intelligence, yes,” Kalmar nodded. “But can a selka swim as fast as a megaladon? Can a Vallamir track as well as a direwolf?” the Hunter questioned. “Yes, mortals are better poised to take advantage of our direct teachings and gifts than most, but that doesn’t mean their lives inherently have more value. And what we do provide them should be carefully managed. Or else they might take it for granted, and even try to abuse it.”

Ashalla rumbled, then said, “Indeed. Each species has its place and function, if well designed. And what we provide to the mortals often comes with expectations.”

One of Ashalla’s eyes turned to the horizon. “If that is all, Kalmar, I have the rest of your continent to explore.”

“Would you like me to accompany you as you do so?” Kalmar asked.

There was a rumble for a moment, then Ashalla said in a melodic voice, “If you wish.”

Kalmar turned to Fenris and waved a hand. The beast nodded, and moved out of Ashalla’s path, stepping on to the bank of the river where he then proceeded to lay on his belly. Kalmar himself began walking westward. The storm clouds above receded, and a woman of water rose up beside Kalmar. “If we continue upriver, there’s an island…”






Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice


Tendlepog was gone.

Ashalla's senses were not fooling her. There quite clearly used to be a continent here, yet now there was nothing but open ocean. Swahhitteh churned to the west, the twin continents reduced to one. The sea bed creaked and hissed, Ehomakwoi still undertaking the task of redistributing the load of Galbar's landmasses. Ocean currents shifted erratically as the Abyss sought new paths through which to drive the sea's motions.

K'nell's power lay heavy here, infusing every cubic metre where Tendlepog once was, so there was no doubting who had done this. The exit of the continent had been smooth, with only weak waves rippling outwards rather than the devastating tsunamis which would have accompanied a violent exit. This had been planned, and K'nell must have been planning it for a long time.

Ashalla spread out across the space where Tendlepog had once been and meditated upon her last meeting with him. "It had been a farewell concert," she eventually concluded, a voice like a wistful breeze. "He did not want some dreams to end."

The night sky stretched out above her. Across the backdrop of purest black twinkled incandescent sparks and shined unchanging pinpricks of white. A smear of red painted part of the sky, and a great luminescent orb cast soft, cool light upon the sea. Yet among these old things was a new mark, a dusty green cloud spilled onto the firmament. Ashalla looked upon it and a feeling of peace came over her. It seemed to say, to some indescribable part of her soul, 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,' although she knew not what it meant. Tendlepog and all who lived upon it may be gone, but the God of Sleep had left this mark.

Yet there was another mark which Ashalla held more dear. "I will always cherish the memories."



A little wisp of light curled its way beneath the ocean waves, pulled along by the water currents. The dappled light from Heliopolis above faded as the wisp flowed deeper, sinking into the darkness of the Abyssal Rift. It continued to descend, the tiny shred of light barely able to spare any illumination for the distant stone walls of the chasm.

In the darkness time had no meaning, so after a meaningless period of time the wisp came to be greeted by a warm, incandescent light from below. The deep churning of the Abyss' currents buffeted the delicate wisp into an erratic path. It danced around tube worms and tickled against critters, yet it slowly made its way downwards until finally it sank to the floor of the Abyss. It settled like a feather, and as the wisp faded its light gently suffused throughout the magma.

The ocean sighed as the soft light faded. The water of the seas across Galbar drew back slightly, as if curling up to rest. Gentle waves lapped rhythmically at coastlines, like the soft breathing of a sleeper. For hours the ocean slept like this, yet with sleeping comes awakening, so eventually the ocean awoke. The water rose back up, like one who had gotten out of bed. The waves regained their usual liveliness, and the ocean continued its activity. After many more hours, though, the ocean had grown weary once more, and it ebbed off to sleep.

Thus began the cycle of sleep and awakening, of low tide and high tide. This was the gift of Sleep to the Ocean.


Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice



Shengshi

MP: 0/FP: 2


While lifting the Jiangzhou back off the sea had been a little less convenient than usual on account of the lack of freshness in the water below, the golden ship had eventually managed to take to the skies, and currently drifted at a comfortable altitude of a few hundred metres. Life aboard went on as usual, with gifts and food being laid out, listed and arranged for the many different Selka tribes Shengshi planned to visit. While they had only met one, this mention of the ‘First Beach’ and more tribes on the mainland led the snake to believe that, if he followed the coastline, he would eventually come upon additional tribes.

To avoid the chilly rain of the far south, however, the ship kept a sizeable distance from the mountains, which effectively meant they had to soar above the sea for now. God-given eyes could easily spot campfires in the distance, the snake reasoned, so it would be no issue.

The snake sat on the deck on a small pillow-couch placed upon an intricate silk carpet. Before him stood a tiny pedestal on which laid a sheet of rice paper. In his hand he held an ink-tipped brush with which he wrote down what could be assumed to be a poem. Behind him stood ten servants motionlessly like golems awaiting their master’s orders.

“Hmm… He Bo, what rhymes with ‘blessèd’?”

“Does ‘confessèd’ work with the rhythm, Your Lordship?”

“Mmm… Not really, but adjustments can be made…”

There was a shout from one of the servants looking out over the edge.

“Your Lordship! The sea has arisen! It is Her Holiness, the Ocean Queen!”

Down below, formed from the waves of the sea, was the watery shape of Ashalla. She was waving a long limb towards the Jiangzhou.

The snake put down his brush. “Oh my, really? How nice of her to say hello! Pack up my workstation and fetch some wine and cu--... Oh wait, she did not like wine too much, did she?”

“Not that I recall, Your Lordship,” He Bo answered dutifully.

“Very well, then, uhm… Fetch one of the paintings from my room, if you would.”

“Yes, Your Lordship.”

Meanwhile, the ship gently floated downwards until it landed with a soft splash onto the surface of the sea. The snake slithered over to the side of the deck and opened his arms in a welcoming gesture, smiling from horn to horn.

“Oh, dearest sister of mine - how many years has it been?”

“Fifty three,” Ashalla answered flatly. There was an icy chill in the air. Ashalla glanced in the direction the Jiangzhou had come. “You came to the aid of the Wuhdige,” she commented.

“Yes, I decided to finally make my way down south after telling myself that I would for a few decades. And to think that there, in the sea next to which I landed, I did not only find a champion of the tribe, but also their chieftain! I reckon I could pick up fishing for a hobby with such luck.” The snake chuckled to himself. “As for what they needed help with, well - war and the like between mortals are not really my field of expertise, but they seemed like a worthy lot, so I gave them the means of a proper defense. Have you been there before, by the way? I saw a strangely large number of body-painted individuals.” He gave the sea goddess a wink.

“Yes. That was my doing, teaching them about paint. And shelters made of snow for the winter months,” Ashalla said. The chill still hung between them. Then with a voice with the sharpness of an icicle she said, “You broke your pact with Kalmar.”

The snake’s smile vanished completely and his arms went from embracing the air before him to resting sternly on his hips. His joyous eyes became a disappointed frown and he wrinkled his nose. “Was that really a necessary subject to bring up, sister? A reunion between two siblings occurs and one brings up such a taboo subject straight off the greeting.” He shook his head. “I suppose you are expecting me to explain myself?”

“Yes,” Ashalla said curtly.

“My, always so--...” The snake stopped himself, sucked in a sigh and let it out. “So be it. Many, many years have passed since that fateful day when I left the alliance - that is right, I broke no oaths. I simply told Kalmar I did not wish to be a part of the pact anymore. Breaking the oath would mean that I had somehow failed to do my part while still in it, which I have not, mind you. While I certainly have not been the greatest contributor, I confess, I have still suffered and slain enough to say I have at least done some part.” He took a deep breath. “Now, as for the reason itself, Kalmar and I have never truly gotten along well. He reckons I am selfish, which, certainly, I can take criticism for that, I concede; however, I reckon he is blind to others’ perspectives on things, something he so ungracefully proved that very same day. Who would want to be allied with someone who never returns the foundational respect you offer them, hmm?”

There was a rumble, but the icy chill remained. “What were the terms of your alliance?”

“The alliance originally was a call to arms against Orvus, if I recall - my word, it has been quite a long time since then… Whenever one of us would be attacked by Orvus, the others would come to their aid. Of course, since then, it has become apparent that any threats against any of us was to be perceived as a reason to aid - this clause was not formally added, of course. Again, I have always done my part. I also added a small clause for him to let me speak my mind without any interruptions - a demand which he has neglected multiple times, by the way.”

“Is that so?” There was a long and thoughtful rumble. Then the chill seemed to disappear, and Ashalla’s voice became like flowing waves. “Very well.”

The snake furrowed his brow and nodded slowly. “Very well.”

In that same moment, the doors of the palace swung open, and twenty servants came marching out carrying a large painting of the Taipang delta. The snake tried his best to don his smile again and gestured towards the approaching entourage. “Ah, what a wonderous timing. Dearest sister, seeing as it has been so long since we last met, I believed the occasion warranted a gift.” The servants stopped on the centre of the deck and pushed the painting upwards so the frame stood steadily on the deck. “I took the opportunity a few years back to paint the wonderful ecosystem we built together on the desert river. What do you think?”

A light burble issued from Ashalla as her eyes saw the painting. A thin pseudopod reached out and gently licked against the artwork. “It is a marvellous composition. The colours complement each other and highlight the key elements of the work. The brushstrokes set the broader scene while supporting the core features. It is also a lovely representation of our creation.”

“Ah, I am fantastically happy that you like it, dearest sister. It is yours to have if you wish - my gift to you in honour of a lasting friendship between the rivers and the sea.” The snake bowed and the servants who weren’t busy holding up the artwork kowtowed.

“For me?” The pseudopod ran around the edge of the painting. “Unfortunately, I have no place suitable for such an artwork. It can remain on this vessel until such time that I find a suitable place of my own for it.”

The snake blinked, then nodded. “Of course - it shall rest here comfortably until you are ready to claim it.” With that, the servants once more picked the enormous artwork back up and moved it into the palace again. The snake eyed them with a wry smile before looking back at Ashalla.

“Ah, now the mood is back where it belongs. What brings you here to Atokhekwoi, then? Are you, too, on a quest to bring joy and aid to these sweet little mortals?”

“Indeed I am. I have taught the selka about music, a skill they have put to good use.”

“Oh, is that so? How stellar! Tell me, if you would, which tribes have heard of this concept? I would so love to hear them play some for me.”

“The Ubbo, the Hyummin, and the tribes nearby and between them. Some have more talent than others, although most should be agreeable to granting a performance. There are two travelling musicians of exceptional talent, Pallamino the Third of the Ubbo and Hujaya of the Hyummin, whom I would recommend listening to if you meet them.”

“Ah, so I will - I am very much looking forward to it. What instruments do they have? Drums, flutes?”

“Drums, flutes, bows, rattles, sticks, lyres, voice, and more. Pallamino is a flautist. Hujaya is a singer and lyre player, and she also has a following of a few more talented musicians.”

“Oh, it truly is marvellous of you to lead this cultural crusade to the mortal populations of this world - truly. It will no doubt sow the seeds of unfathomably great civilisations. Think about it, my dear - with our combined appreciation for the arts, as well as your safeguarding of the seas and my blessings of the harvest… There is nothing but prosperity and glory in wait for those who pledge themselves to us!”

“Indeed. We work together well. Civilisation shall share our blessings and beauty.”



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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

Impossible!

Preposterous!

What a ludicrous story, Periapsis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellent. The rest will be just as easy.

The Prometheans, however, had other plans.

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

Did you see what those monsters did to Chondrite?

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

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

We need to strike as one!

We must protect the other asteroids!

It will be costly and time-consuming.

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

We'll figure out something.

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

Has Regolith said anything?

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

Well I for one think we should still do something.

Did you have any ideas?

There was a pause. Then:

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

There was another pause as the idea was digested.

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

Remind those terrestrials why we are to be respected.

Put on a show they won't forget.

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Collaboratively written by BBeast, Kho and Double Capybara


Gerrik Far-Teacher

Level 10 Hain Hero
26 Prestige


circa 14 years Post Realta




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Squall Whisperers


Hujaya skipped into the village and told everyone she met of the marvellous meeting she had just had with Delphina. Many in the tribe had seen Delphina once, when she had gifted the tribe with music and listened to their first performance, but the goddess appearing to a single mortal was something that had been unheard of since Ippino. Many shared in Hujaya's joy at this blessing that had been bestowed. However, not everyone was convinced.

"Why don't you show us this... new trick of yours, eh?"

Hujaya stood still and stared out across the horizon, humming a soft tune and plucking idly at her lyre. The sky was overcast, but the earlier storm had rolled further inland. There were no squalls in sight, although squalls weren't exactly easy to see.

She furrowed her brow. "Hm. I'll have to find another storm spirit first." The words of Delphina repeated in her mind: 'Show all my strength through you.' She nodded her head. "Yes, I'll find a storm spirit and bring it here. Then I can show you all the power Delphina has gifted me."

The man who had challenged Hujaya smirked and whispered something to another man beside him as Hujaya set out on her little quest. She took a freshly fired fish to eat as she walked out of the village in the direction of the receding storm. For the first few hours, all seemed well as Hujaya walked, improvised on her lyre and composed a few new lyrics. However, as the sunlight grew dim and evening approached, Hujaya was yet to find a squall and she was growing anxious. She could not bear to return empty-handed, for that would humiliate herself and Delphina. Yet it would soon be nightfall, and Hujaya had not brought anything besides her lyre, not even food for dinner. She did not relish the thought of being hungry and alone in the dark.

Hujaya came to a puddle. She knelt down beside the puddle, cupped her hands and scooped up some water to drink. As she looked at the ripples in the water, Hujaya bowed closer and pleaded, "Oh Delphina, please, I need to find a squall. I need it to show people your gift. Please."

With her prayer spoken, Hujaya felt as if a burden had been lifted from her chest. She rose back to her feet and continued walking. It was only a few minutes later that she spotted a rocky hill through the trees and realisation came to her. The clouds could not properly see her down on the ground beneath the canopy of the trees. She needed to get higher, where the sky could see her and hear her. She climbed the hill and hauled herself on top of a boulder at its peak. The landscape which unfolded around her was rather dreary, under grey skies with the sun hidden behind clouds. She could see the smoke rising from her village's bonfire, the one which had been started by Ippino so long ago. To the east beyond the trees she could see the ocean, and although it was no brighter than the sky above it the sight of the sea gave Hujaya a spark of hope.

Hujaya lifted her lyre and plucked a few of its strings. She scanned the horizon around her and thought that a louder instrument would have been better for this. She shook her head and dismissed the thought - it was too late to find another instrument. She would have to make do with what she had. Hujaya took a deep breath in, then sung as loudly as she could while keeping in tune.

"Come to me, squalls, come to me,
Then happy I will be.
Come to me, squalls, come to me,
To one who loves the sea.

"I have been looking for long,
So now I sing this song.
Come to me, squalls, come to me,
Then happy I will be."

Hujaya continued to sing these verses as the land around her sunk into the darkness of dusk. The chill of the night pricked at her skin, and her voice was starting to waver in exhaustion. Yet, just as hope seemed to be slipping away, she felt a breeze whip around her. A squall had arrived. Quickly, she adjusted her tune, adapting to the preferences of the squall she had found until its movements settled into the rhythm she set out. Then, with the squall enthralled, Hujaya walked down the hill and back towards her village.

Her trek through the forest was mostly in darkness, with only enough light filtering through from the Lustrous Garden for her not to trip over every branch and root. The squall snaked around Hujaya, rustling the trees and sprinkling her with precipitation. Hujaya took care not to trip or falter, for to do so would be to lose control over the squall. And having spent so long trying to attract it, she did not want to risk losing it.

Throughout the walk home, Hujaya had been playing a simple melody on her lyre, something just to keep the squall's attention while being simple enough to play continuously. But for her arrival, she would need to put on a show, one which would impress her tribesfolk enough to be worth the disturbance at this hour of the night. As the clearing in which the selka lived came into view, Hujaya shifted her melody and began to hum, bringing the squall closer to her. Her gait became a skip, and the squall synchronised with her movements. The selka who were on watch for the night, along with those yet to fall asleep, saw Hujaya approach. One of them nudged a sleeping selka awake. A watchman gave her a wave, which she returned with a nod. But she did not speak, for her focus was on synchronising with her squall. Then, as she came to the perimeter of the village, Hujaya skipped forwards with four claps then broke into song.

"Praise to Delphina, for I have returned,
Now I can show you the tricks I have learned.
Awake now in this hour of the night,
To look and see a most marvellous sight."

Selka stirred and woke, pulling back blankets of furs and watching Hujaya dancing in the light of the bonfire.

"With my singing I can command the breeze,
For the storm spirits my song does appease.
With a word and a note I make it blow,
The wind obeys and follows where I go."

A strong wind blew around the camp and spiralled around the dancing Hujaya. Blankets flapped in the wind and a few awed gasps came from the audience.

"With my singing I can command the rain,
For that is part of Delphina's domain.
My somber melody makes the clouds cry,
For my goddess has control of the sky."

Rain suddenly fell about the camp, eliciting a few surprised shrieks from some of the selka. Hujaya danced and played music for a little longer, pulling the squall around the village in a dance mirroring her own. However, she noticed that the squall avoided getting too close to the bonfire - perhaps it was worried about drying out. Hujaya figured that it might have been possible to coerce the squall closer to the fire, and she might have created a more stunning show that way, but that carried the risk of the squall breaking from her control and potentially harming the village. So instead Hujaya slowed down her song.

"Sadly my song must now come to a close.
I must now send my squall to its repose.
I end my song with a sweet lullaby,
And I say to the storm spirit: goodbye."

There was stillness in the camp as the wind and the rain stopped. There was stunned silence from the selka. Hujaya turned around to look at everyone's faces. With the grace of a performer, she stepped back and took a bow. There was a moment's silence, then applause.



The next day many of the village's musicians asked Hujaya if they could be taught what she had been taught. And remembering Delphina's words, Hujaya took them on as apprentices. She tested their musical talent, keeping only the best and sending the others away. She showed them some of what she could do. She told them of her encounter with Delphina. She reminded them of the teachings of Ippino.

But there was another thing. This was a powerful gift she had been given, so was not to be shared lightly. Delphina had given her responsibility along with this gift, and this responsibility needed to be passed on to all others who learned the gift.

Hujaya stood in a circle with her three apprentices. Pyouroff was an older man, good with percussion. Kaleo was a male singer about Hujaya's age. Sulingu was a girl younger than Hujaya, only in her teens, who played the flute. Hujaya had carefully selected these three based on their musical talent and their piety.

"You want to be Stormbards like me?" Hujaya asked.

"Yes," the three selka replied.

"When Delphina taught me this talent, she also gave me a responsibility. Likewise, if you wish to share this talent, you must also share this responsibility."

Hujaya received affirmative gestures from her apprentices. "Now, repeat after me. I promise to always worship Delphina, who gives me my strength."

"I promise to always worship Delphina, who gives me my strength."

"I promise to use my power and skills to show Delphina's strength, and to create beauty wherever I go."

"I promise to use my power and skills to show Delphina's strength, and to create beauty wherever I go."

"I promise to teach others as I was taught."

"I promise to teach others as I was taught."

Hujaya clapped her hands together and smiled. "By making this oath, you are now Stormbards, and I can share with you the gift of speaking with squalls." The three selka cheered and patted each other on the backs in celebration. "Now, gather your instruments. Our first task is to summon a squall."

They set off on their task. Over the weeks their training and practice continued, for even Hujaya was still learning about how to control squalls and what she could do with them. And word of the Stormbards and their talent spread through the tribes of the Hyummin and Grottu.




Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans and Storms


&



The sickly stench of decay seeped over the ocean like an oil spill. Dead fish of all sizes floated in the water, their bodies blackened with white lesions. The few creatures who were still alive, as discoloured as the dead, swam without awareness, their faintly glowing eyes staring blankly ahead. A lumbering whale did not even notice the smaller fish eating its tainted flesh, so dulled were its senses by its affliction. Beds of sea grass and algae had turned from vibrant green to black and white, colouring the ocean a dreary grey. All around was nothing but death and decay. Even the things which still moved could not really be called alive.

A furious voice like a crashing wave cut through the gloom. “What is this?”

Ashalla rose above the water’s surface to look down upon the desolate scene. She could taste what remained of the creatures here (although part of her wished she couldn’t), and the decay of their souls was similar to that she had tasted in the Angler Leviathans. A conversation came to her memory.

“Orvus seemed quite enamored by them. He claimed they were the future. I’m concerned he’ll try to make more of them and other kinds of similar… entities.”

“If Orvus finds a way to replicate whatever caused this, he could inflict this state on all life, and then it will become a problem for the rest of the world.”

“That would be a problem. If he finds a way.”

“If he’s half as dedicated to the cause as I suspect he is, he will.”

And now Orvus had, as Phystene had warned. Ashalla should have foreseen this, for Orvus was a god, so had the power to follow through with his word.

Ashalla cast her gaze over the water once more, and her eye caught a white mote floating in the breeze. A pseudopod rose up beside the mote and wrapped around it. The mote promptly began to dissolve, and the watery limb froze to ice, trapping the mote before it could finish dissolving. The pseudopod grew around the ice and lifted it to be level with Ashalla’s gaze. It took only a moment’s scrutiny for her to discern the mote’s function and purpose.

More motes floated over the sea, carried by the wind and the waves. Squalls flitted around Ashalla and the motes, whipping up the water into churning waves. Her eyes traced the path the motes had taken. “This cannot continue.”



Dark clouds spiralled around the Maelstrom, lightning arcing across the sky and lancing into the swirling ocean. Countless squalls flitted about in the torrential rain and cyclonic winds, feasting upon the energy which fuelled the unnatural storm. The storm seemed to intensify slightly as Ashalla arrived, the storm which was the goddess merging with the storm of the Maelstrom.

In the heart of the Maelstrom the clouds turned from dark grey to desolate black and the ocean surface was churned into a mist by near-sonic winds. The area would have been in total darkness if not for the supernatural lightning which lit the storm with crimson light. And those scarlet beams hid something else in between their flashes. Something large and so, so angry, its shape but an image here and there as it moved around the new pretender storm. There was a new sound within the Maelstrom, louder than thunder and the sonic winds, an eerie call of a low rumble, growing in intensity before a beam of all consuming scarlet rippled through the clouds and straight for Ashalla.

The beam struck the clouds, although whether it had actually done any harm was impossible to tell since the clouds constantly shifted and blended with the storm around them. “Move aside,” commanded a voice of thunder.

The thing fell before her in a torrent of tentacles and sharp, biting teeth. With eyes ringed with hate it looked upon her with impunity. It pulled back, its chest beginning to glow as it craned its neck, opening it mouth to reveal crackling energy. But before it could unleash its anger, it stopped, the glow subsiding and as quickly as it had come, the clouds swallowed it from her view once more. The path was open. Warily, Ashalla advanced through the Gateway.

On Veradax, clouds billowed out from the Gateway and coalesced into a towering cumulonimbus which was the goddess, joining the natural storms of the shattered moon. Around her was nothing but a blanket of cloud and plains of dust. Ashalla cast out her senses until she found another white mote drifting on the wind, being slowly sucked towards the Gateway. She rolled out in the direction the mote had come from, a few squalls trailing behind her.

As she travelled, a scattering of objects marked the dusty plains, and the goddess paused to inspect them. Pieces of a curved wooden hull arced out of the dust. Tattered canvas billowed in the wind. Articles of worn Shengshese clothing hung from splinters. To one side lay a piece of wood carved in the likeness of Shengshi, and to the other side lay a statue resembling her own oceanic form. There was a pensive lull in the weather. Then there was a huff, and Ashalla carried on.

Eventually, Ashalla came to a valley, one beset by broken rock on either side; jagged and lonely they watched as Ashalla made her way into the twilight of the moon. The path was long, and slowly tightening, until at last she rounded the final corner. In the distance of the large clearing, there stood a figure of stars before the tree that had brought her there. Like a crown, the monument of soul decay, the Mar Tree, was the origin of the mote and wore many upon its blackened branches.

"I knew you would come here before the Mar Tree eventually, Ashalla." came Orvus’ voice as he turned around.

Ashalla filled the sky before Orvus and looked down upon him. A voice of howling wind spoke. “The destruction caused by this tree of yours must cease, Orvus.”

"You are right." he said, looking back at the tree. "When I created it so long ago, I was angry at the world and broken in my tainted beliefs, thus the tree came. But now… How can I justify such a thing?" his voice was but a whisper now.

The turbulence in Ashalla’s form seemed to calm to a more natural level. “Then we can neutralise this danger,” she said.

"How?" Orvus asked, turning around again. "I have not the strength to destroy it. However, I could turn it off if you wanted." he said.

Ashalla’s voice had almost lowered to a melodious whistle. “Yes, turning it off would be lovely.”

He lowered his head and shut his eyes. Before him the tree began to lose its glow, the humming ceased, drowning in silence. Then it became nothing more than a dark, blackened tree, as the last of the motes were swept up by the current of wind.

"There. It won't make anymore." he said.

A branch of cloud split off from Ashalla and brushed against the orvium tree, engulfing it momentarily and tasting it. The arm lowered and Orvus was likewise swallowed in cloud before the pseudopod withdrew. “Good. Thank you for your cooperation, Orvus.”

He nodded. "Is there anything else you require?" he asked.

There was a brief rumble. “No.”

"Then you should not tarry here, this sphere is dangerous. Even to gods." he said softly.

Ashalla huffed. Then the wind changed, and the storm was gone.

The Girl Who Loved the Sea


This beach was a sacred place.

This was where Ippino the prophet had been visited by Delphina.

This was where the skies had wept during Ippino's funeral, when his body was cast out to sea.

This was where a new shrine made of piled stones and Ippino's old boat had been built to Delphina, because this was clearly a sacred place.

This was where selka offered their fish bones to show their recognition of who had supplied the fish, as Ippino had taught them.

This was where selka would come to pray for bountiful catches of fish, and to admire the sunrise and moonrise over the great blue.

It was in this sacred place that Delphina had appeared again to her faithful followers, bringing knowledge of how to create new types of musical instruments such as flutes, rattles, and lyres, as well as the means to create them, spinning twine and drilling holes.

It was here that the selka of Hyummin and Grottu had gathered for their first concert, where they sung praises to Delphina.

It was here that musicians came to play their songs to Delphina, Kirron and Bobbo, to please each other and the gods, and in the hope that they might be worthy enough to be graced by a divine presence.

It was here, during a stormy day, that one particular selka played her lyre and sung gently in the rain.

As the rain pattered around her, Hujaya plucked at the strings of the instrument she had made herself, creating a gentle melody. As she played, she sung a song.

"There once was a man who lived by the sea.
He looked at the water and found beauty,
In light of the moon and blue of the sea,
That man sung 'Delphina how I love thee.'"

Wind stirred around her as she plucked another phrase from the lyre before singing the next verse.

"This man was cunning and did conspire,
To steal from the storm birds their mighty fire.
Thus a burning branch did he acquire,
And with it he sought out his desire.

"Fire burned until a tree no longer stood.
With stone he carved out the innards of wood.
It floated on the sea and this was good,
He would stay out there as long as he could."

As Hujaya came to the refrain, the rain seemed to ease around her, calmed by the music of her lyre.

"There once was a man who lived by the sea.
He looked at the water and found beauty,
In light of the moon and blue of the sea,
That man sung 'Delphina how I love thee.'"

She noticed mist forming nearby, twisting about in the wind. Yet she continued to play.

"One day this man met a mighty K'night,
And he joined his quest to make all things right.
His cunning saved them in the greatest fight,
For he loosed fire and set his foes alight.

"From then on the Hyummin did he advise,
All could see that this man was very wise.
Despite his fame he'd not yet found his prize,
Because only one woman had his eyes."

The mist had gotten closer, and she felt a chill as the damp wind caressed her skin, distracting her. Then she heard a voice like a gentle breeze, 'They like you.' So surprised was Hujaya that she briefly stopped playing and looked over her shoulder, trying to see where the voice had come from. The air about her seemed to stiffen, and the voice hastily commanded, 'Keep playing.' Quickly and with a hint of anxiety Hujaya strummed a chord and kept singing.

"There once was a man who lived by the sea.
He looked at the water and found beauty,
In light of the moon and blue of the sea,
That man sung 'Delphina how I love thee.'"

Hujaya began to wonder whether it had been Delphina who had spoken. The thought of Delphina listening made her heart quicken, and she did her best to focus on her performance.

"Then one day this man saw Delphina's face.
That meeting's memory none would erase.
This man taught all to love Delphina's grace,
Till Ippino joined the ocean's embrace.

"Now there is a girl who lives by the sea,
Taught by Ippino of ocean's beauty,
By touch of the wind and weather rainy,
I now sing 'Delphina how I love thee.'"

The last notes of her lyre hung in the air as Hujaya bowed deeply towards the ocean. Up from the water rose the form of a goddess with a watery burble. At an imperceptible motion from Delphina the strange winds around Hujaya shifted, returning to their gentle circular dance they had been performing before Hujaya had stopped playing and drawing the rain away from the selka.

"From all the mortals I have heard, none have been as beautiful a singer as you," Ashalla said.

Hujaya gasped and looked up at the goddess, bringing her hands up to cover her irrepressible grin. "I- You- Thank you!" she blurted, overwhelmed by emotions.

A tendril of water stretched out and brushed against Hujaya and her lyre. The tendril then lifted Hujaya's chin so that she looked at Ashalla's face. "Such devotion and talent is rare in a mortal," she said. Hujaya only beamed and trembled in excitement. Ashalla drew her tendril back.

"Rise."

Hujaya clambered to her feet.

Ashalla gestured to beside the selka. "What do you see?"

Hujaya looked to her right. "There is the beach, the rain, the-" she hesitated and scrunched her brow as she tried to find words for what she saw, "the wind and rain move and dance with a life of their own. These... spirits, they're..." She turned her head to the other side. "They're watching me." She wrapped her arms around herself and her lyre protectively, and she cast an anxious look at the two squalls circling her.

"Play for them."

Hujaya looked back to Delphina and relaxed. Delphina would not let any harm come to her, not now. Hujaya took a breath and strummed a chord on her lyre. She felt the wind shift around her and she looked back at the squalls. She played another chord and watched them react.

"They are squalls. They like music."

Hujaya smiled as she strung a few chords together and made the squalls dance with the music. She started to hum and the squalls moved differently. Then she started vocalising on top of the lyre's rhythm, and the squalls shifted their movements again. Hujaya watched the squalls as she improvised, observing how they responded to different notes, patterns and progressions. Yet it was not the technical details which controlled the squalls, but rather how the emotion and feeling of the music flowed.

Soon Hujaya had the squalls dancing around her, and she spun around with them. She picked up the tempo and the squalls spiralled faster. With a sudden crescendo she leaned forwards and one of the squalls pushed outwards, forcing a sharp gale against the beach and sending out a spray of sand. Hujaya sung a note which rapidly climbed in pitch, and the other squall tightened into a brief whirlwind and pulled a spray of water from the ocean high into the air.

Yet the wind around her was starting to get unstable, and Hujaya could sense that the squalls were getting too excited. So she slowed down the music, gently bringing the squalls away from a frenzy and into a more docile state. Melancholic notes wafted around them, prompting them to release a localised shower of rain heavier than what had already been falling. Hujaya turned down the melancholic tone, returning the rain to normal. She then transitioned into a lullaby, and the wind calmed to stillness at the gentle sound of her voice. With a final strum of her lyre, the squalls were gone.

Hujaya exhaled and flopped onto her back. The exertion of her performance had caught up to her.

"To speak with the squalls like that is a powerful gift, one which I have granted you, and which you can grant to others," said the voice of flowing waves. "I taste potential in you, Hujaya. You will make an excellent Stormbard. Now go. Teach others as Ippino taught you. Show all my strength through you. And create beauty everywhere you go."

Hujaya stood back up and bowed to the goddess once more. "Yes, Delphina. I am eternally grateful. I will serve you with all of my heart and strength, Delphina."

She looked up to see Delphina sink back into the waves. When the goddess disappeared, the storm ceased and the clouds parted, letting Heliopolis' warming rays shine upon the selka. Hujaya stared in awe at the sea for another minute, until she turned around and ran back to her tribe, singing all the way.


Posted on behalf of @Goldeagle1221


The Dawn of Blood, a summary conclusion!


“The Grottu tribe under Hoshaf grew strong and their immense battle prowess swallowed smaller tribes, and further still, their great zeal attracted others. In short time their size rivaled that of the Hyummin, but with each bloody victory, the evil Hoshaf grew more and more restless.”

Firelight crackled off the old and wrinkled face of Yupilgo, a decorated sharkskin bandage wrapped around his eyes. Time dug troughs into his flesh and wrinkled his body. He spoke with the breathy air of an elder, and many young warriors sat around him to listen to his words. He cleared his throat and powered on, the cold night wind adding spice to his story.

“He screamed in his sleep, and lashed out at his subordinates. Punishments grew more common, and then executions!” One child among the group of warriors turned to whisper what that meant, while others held stone faces, remembering their ancestors and those who had perished. Yupilgo hacked a breath and continued, unphased.

“Eventually his underlings grew tired of his ways and threatened to dispose of him. Fearing the worst, Hoshaf decided to act… and act quick. In a last ditch attempt to reaffirm his divine order of Kirron himself, Hoshaf declared war against the Hyummin…” Yupilgo made a fist and shook it, inciting gasps from the youngest of his crowd and head shakes from the oldest.

“Oh woe to the Hyummin,” Yupilgo shook his wrapped head, “Since their conception they bickered and fought among themselves. They were large, yes, but very weak and conflicted --that is-- until a new face appeared, flanked by a giant and by a poet.”

“Panganeem and his K’nights!” A warrior bellowed and at the sound of the name, the most grizzled of the group pounded their chests with wide fists, glory in their eyes. The younger members of the crowd stood inspired, a certain eagerness in their legs as they flipped back in forth, awaiting the rest of the story… and perhaps their own future.

“Yes!” Yupilgo pointed towards the voice, his old voice cracking with excitement, “Panganeem! The greatest of Selka hunters approached the tribe, Juttyu the Faithful Giant on his right and Ippino the favored poet of Delphina on his left. Almost immediately Panganeem was assaulted by the words of Gorpingu the Blasphemer, the Selka of the west.”

A warrior whispered the name Gorpingu to his lady friend, explaining to her to wait and listen to what happens. She scrunched her face and motioned for him to listen. Yupilgo held his hands above the crowd.

“They entered a debate, one of a snake’s tongue and a loyal man’s whisper. Gorpingu pulled the robes of the gods themselves down and exposed their flesh to the Selka before him, but Panganeem brought their gaze back to their face. His words were simple, but of truth, he pushed past the argument of the gods and into the heart of life itself. He called upon his deceased daughter’s name, Tyuppa, and convinced Gorpingu that in their own way, the gods have given Panganeem the tools to build the selka up, and that through these tools they can become reliant on themselves, and create a new future. Gorpingu was intrigued, as was his followers. He leapt from his mighty pillar and knelt before Panganeem, swearing his fealty to Panganeem and the K’nights of Tyuppa, should they serve the selka first.”

One of the members of the crowd eagerly tapped the ivory club he held in his hand, tittering about his own membership into the sacred order. A curl formed on Yupilgo’s dry lips and his voice lifted.

“Onward the K’nights went and only after slaying dangerous beasts, reuniting lost families, and safely bringing food to the hungry, were they able to approach all the leaders of the Hyummin tribes. Gorpingu, Ippino, Juttyu, and their leader, Panganeem, stood center before the mass of Hyummin and their five family tribes.” Yupilgo held out five fingers as he spoke.

“They looked at Panganeem and said ‘you are well known, your K’nights dot the land and perform great acts, but what would you have us do? You are no chieftain, you have no tribe, what would you have us do?’ At these words Panganeem bit his finger and thought in the simple yet honest way he did. He was not without his wits, and with steely eyes he turned to Ippino and called the wise man to the center. Together the two explained how they formed the K’nights and by what way they lead them. They explained how Juttyu, Gorpingu, Ippino and Panganeem all held council and voted on decisions. Ippino pushed forward, his voice blessed by the charm of Delphina and in an awe inspiring speech he convinced the tribes of Hyummin to each pick a patriarch or matriarch and to give each tribe one vote through them, and when trouble arises to convene in council and vote as one on what to do. The tribes were swayed and the council of the Hyummin formed.”

The crowd gave a slight cheer, some leaning to whisper what their own ancestors did on the occasion, and a few even explained that they were related to a patriarch or matriarch. Prayers to Delphina leaked across the crowd, only falling suddenly silent as Yupilgo held up a hand.

“But what of the threat of the Grottu?”

“Yupilgo the Blind warned them!” Someone shouted, forcing a smile on Yupilgo’s face. Someone smacked the shouter and called out:

“Yupilgo the Blessed!” There was a small cheer, one that warmed Yupilgo’s face. The sensitive old man grunted past a tear and he continued, his old voice pushing with new vigor.

“I did! In my arms was the baby scion of Viroh the first, on my head was blood -- brought forth from the sin of Hoshaf and the murder of Antorophu. I was struck blind by the divines, the gods taking my sight to save me from seeing any more atrocities. I had seen enough, but I had not done enough!” He was nearly crying as he shouted his story.

“I forced my way to the Hyummin, lead by visions not of my eyes and words not of my ears, and I held the baby Dradinku high on my shoulders. I was greeted by whispers, and harsh words, but I kept walking on knowing my final mark was before me. I started as a hunter in sight, and as a blind man I finished, laying the baby Dradinku at the feet of none other than Panganeem. He welcomed me as a brother, reciting our old hunts together and put me before the council so I may speak. I spoke of the Grottu, I spoke of war, and finally I spoke of Hoshaf the accursed.”

The crowd was on their feet, energy passing through them as the story thickened. They all held their breaths, watching the old man spasm as he forced the story out with incredible emotion. He reached down to the sand below, his back shaking as he bent over. Slowly he stood back up, a rusted iron spear in his hand. He slammed the butt into the sand, and the crowd stared in awe at the metal.

“I proved to the council the sort of weapons the Grottu were blessed with, and how they conducted their wars. I was at a loss of what to do about it, but I told the story all the same. In fear, the council quickly voted that Panganeem be the one to solve this problem, as defender of the Hyummin.”

The old selka smiled and laughed, “Kirron is a god of humor, it seems, because while Juttyu, Panganeem, and I --the great hunters-- thought of what to do, it was old Ippino who suddenly came up with an idea -- the perfect trap. It is no secret that Ippino was the wily youth of yore who once stole the beast known as fire from the wild and tamed it -- and this fact was not lost on him when he suggested we unleash this beast back into the wild against the Grottu.”

He sucked in a breath, “And so the evil Hoshaf came, waves of spears before us. Panganeem stood with Juttyu the Giant, nearly alone with only the bravest of the Hyummin. This small group was mocked and laughed at by Hoshaf and his mighty army. Ever of wit, Panganeem spat insults back, damaging Hoshaf’s pride and forcing his hand. The Grottu horde charged… and the ground shook. The sky itself even darkened, as if Kirron attempted to hide the innocent Bobbu from the carnage about to happen.”

The crowd was silent, eyes fixated everywhere. Some stared at the sky, realm of Bobbu, while others stared at the giant bone shrine of Kirron that stood behind Yupilgo, some still even looked to the ocean, the promise of Delphina. Yupilgo looked down.

“Many brave K’nights died that day, giving Hoshaf a fight he wouldn’t soon forget -- but just as it seemed as if the K’nights would never give in, Panganeem ordered a retreat. Hoshaf was shocked! He was grinning wickedly! He had them now, oh yes he did, and so he followed them into a golden colored hay field cut in half by a stream. His army sifted through the tall dry grass, while Panganeem and his men sneakily hopped the stream, and as soon as their heels hit the ground, Ippino struck!” The crowd’s eyes grew.

“Off to the side, Ippino (with prayers on his lips) and a handful of Hyummin people tossed some of the sacred beast onto the fields. A great wind blew in favor of the Hyummin and the entire field burned into a fiery sea never seen before, not even by the great fire birds. Those who made it across the stream in a panic were met by Gorpingu and his men, while others fell into the hammer of Juttyu. This continued until Hoshaf, by the grace of Kirron’s humor, escaped the flames -- only to be beaten to death by his own surviving men.”

“But this is not the end, oh no, as Gorpingu and the Hyummin circled around and captured these murderers and all the remaining Grottu forces. They were stripped of their divine spears and cast down before the council. The council asked ‘what shall we do with the Grottu?’ but their eyes fell on Panganeem and the K’nights. I felt it in my chest, I did. As they stared, and as Panganeem thought, a cold whisper entered my chest and I pushed to stand before the Grottu. What could only be the wind of Bobbu, or perhaps the charm of Delphina, I found words I didn’t know I felt. I asked and I convinced the council to hand the tribe over to Dradinku and to release the K’nights from the Hyummin so that they may be the protectors of all Selka, Grottu included. The council thought on my words, and Panganeem stepped forward, pushing my speech with one of his own. He explained that he was a hunter first, a K’night second. He spoke of his greatest hunt, one of peace. He said that in all his doings, and all his deeds he did not find Tyuppa nor did he find peace, not yet. He bent a knee to show his humility as he spoke, and he said that while he could not find this final mark, he saw ours. He said it stood right before us, a naked deer in the grass: the Grottu should be welcomed by the Hyummin and a friendship should form… there were too many selka on either side to keep in conflict, too many sons and too many daughters to neglect for the sake of revenge.”

Yupilgo stopped speaking, mulling over his words. A sadness entered the lower half of his face and he sat down slowly, “Revenge. Panganeem cut his heart open to us that night, he said that in all his travels he never found peace as long as he held onto revenge. He proposed, perhaps the only way to really find peace was to end that cycle right then and there. It was as if we were consoled by Kirron himself, the greatest hunter breaking into tears as he explained the nature of this final mark. By Tyuppa and by Kirron he swore, that should we accept the Grottu as friends, and build them up -- peace would find us first.”

There was a long pause as Yupilgo looked over the many faces now staring at him.

“And so we did.”

The tribesmen and women of the Grottu --who made more than half of his crowd-- began to cheer alongside the Hyummin tribesmen and women. Yupilgo smiled warmly.

“And so we did.” He whispered to himself.

“What happened to Panganeem?” Someone suddenly called out, “And the others?”

“Oh… many say different things, but here is how I know it,” Yupilgo rubbed his whiskers, “Juttyu came with me back to the Grottu to help raise Dradinku as chieftain. Gorpingu traveled west with the K’nights and spread the order across this whole region. Ippino stayed here with other K’nights and ensured that their help never faltered… he did this until the day he was swept up by the ocean itself. He now rests with Delphina. As for Panganeem, the greatest of selka…” Yupilgo’s face turned to a certain melancholy, “Well I’d say he went out among the creatures of Kirron, and in time he finally found what he was hunting for.”

The crowd grew quiet, a gentle thoughtfulness leaking through each individual. This silence held strong, even as Dradinku, now a grown man dressed in swathes of sharkskin approached the crowd. The chieftain blended in without much notice, eyes on the ground out of respect for Yupilgo’s story until finally, a tiny voice piped up.

“Can you tell us about Kirron and Delphina and her promise to him?”

The crowd began to laugh and Yupilgo looked up with a smile on his lips, “Long ago!” He voice boomed with renewed power, “After Kirron carefully crafted what we now know as land…”











Ippino and Delphina

Collaboratively written by @Goldeagle1221 and @BBeast


Ippino sat at the edge of the coast, his eyes weary and his arms dug into the sand. He sat with his legs splayed, so that the gentle lapping of the ocean rhythmically washed over him, creating one of the few sounds that intruded on the rather quiet night. His fingers clenched around the sand and he sighed, a smile forming at each shimmering wave. With a thud, he let his back fall to the sand, only for him to quickly pick himself back up -- already missing the beauty of the ocean.

The night wind rushed over him and sent a chill over his bare back, but he didn’t pay it much mind. His eyes and musing thoughts were transfixed on the marriage of the moon and the waves. He cocked a head, “How lucky even the light of the moon is, or the comets above, to always embrace such beauty.”

The waves lapped beside him and the water burbled as it flowed around Ippino. And in that burbling, there was what almost sounded like words. “And how lucky the ocean is, to have one who admires her beauty.”

The old selka seemed startled, his body tensing. He wiggled his nose and blunk his eyes, "Have I finally slipped or--" With all the energy of youth, the selka flopped onto his knees and splashed his ear to the shallow waves.

"Am I blessed with the words of the ocean?" His eyes twitched as he searched for further sounds, "Like a chiming bird song that only knows eloquence." He etched the words in the air, attempting to define what he had heard.

There was a trickle behind Ippino which seemed to say, “Like the melodious call of a whale in the sea. Like the caress of waves running over sand.”

"Yes exac-!" Ippino turned. Despite his elderly body, his face held the chipper beam of a child. His eyes fell on a large watery form which had risen out of the sea, the moonlight reflecting off her graceful flowing curves. A selka-like face smiled down on Ippino.

The old selka nearly seized if not for his shaking frame. There wasn't a shred of fright in his shiver, but pure ecstasy. His eyes widened to saucers and his age-sunken chest pounded against his heartbeat. He sucked in his breath and with every bit of emotion he managed to speak, "It is like I have opened my eyes for the first of times, my entire life I was in a cave stuck in dark and grimes, I had no idea but now I see, my very soul and heart shaken with glee."

The watery figure burbled at Ippino’s words, and a voice like a trickling brook answered in kind. “The wind and the waves have carried your praise, you have admired my beauty all of your days. My charms you have spoken in wondrous rhyme, so I bless you with a meeting this time.”

Ippino's face brightened even further and he scooted closer, the water rushing around him as he did, "Then how lucky am I, for years I looked out to the sky, looking for a way to see your face, never did I expect here in this place." He sighed, dropping his poetic prose, "And let it be known, though I suspect you already know: that my love for you has bred children on its own, and now the sons and daughters of Grottu and Hyummin united roar with your praise."

An aqueous pseudopod rose up and brushed Ippino’s face. “You have done well, Ippino. My name has been uplifted through you, and now many more selka appreciate my beauty, although none compare to you. My favour has always been upon you. The sea has always provided you with food. In your time of greatest need, I heard your prayers and sent the storm to fight beside you. A person who loves a god like you do is rare and precious indeed.”

Ippino's eyes watered, "I knew it. I knew I felt you through my days." A tear fell, "Even now in my old age, I will say to you what I've always said. My love for you and my admiration for your beauty will be as strong in my heart as it's always been, and should I have a say in it: even as my body disappears to time."

“Your adoration will forever be remembered. My worshippers shall always tell the stories of Ippino, the man who loved the sea,” she said in a voice like flowing waves.

The selka flicked a tear off of one of his whiskers, "May I… may I ask you one favor? It is all I have left to desire in this world."

The tear fell into the sea with a light ripple. “You may ask.”

"I am not much longer on the land of Kirron," Ippino started, "I can feel it in my bones that my final day is soon. I pray to you, in my final whispers, that as my friends lay my body by your beauty, you take me home -- to where I have felt my heart pull all these years. I wish to sink, in a final rest so I may never have to leave your embrace again."

A thoughtful rumble gently echoed through the water. “As you wish, it shall be done.”

Ippino threaded crooked webbed fingers through the seawater, "Then I have lived the best life, and have already died the best death." He looked up at the beauty of Ashalla, "Thank you -- thank you for always being with me during every moment of both."

A watery pseudopod wrapped around Ippino’s hand. “Continue to live this best life in the time you have left, Ippino.” The pseudopod released its grip and Ashalla began to sink back into the waves. “We will meet again.” Then she was gone.








Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans and Storms


Iridescent bodies swarmed about the island with the Gateway to Sanvadam in an unprecedented feeding frenzy. The Zhengwu had been atomised in the explosion, and the divine remains of Vakk had been dispersed across the sea for many kilometers. Iron Carrionfish converged on the island from as far as the scent had carried, ravenously feasting upon the shreds of godflesh and droplets of ichor. Never before had the entire body of a god been presented to these beasts to consume, and there was a good chance it would never happen again. The Carrionfish grew with every morsel consumed, and already their numbers were multiplying. This was in spite of occasional predation by Incorporeal Echoes.

There was one with smell even more keen than the Iron Carrionfish. Squalls rippled across the surface of the ocean, dragging clouds with them which cast shadows over the island and heralding her approach. Then near the island rose a mass of water, the manifestation of Ashalla. Her dreadful gaze scanned the ocean and the island. She could taste Vakk's remains throughout the water surrounding this island, and it would have made her gag had she possessed such a reflex. "So that was K'nell's 'holy cargo'," Ashalla muttered to herself with a voice like the churning sea. Her gaze inspected the crater which had once been the Zhengwu and another squall manifested to fly around the island. "How careless."

At least the Iron Carrionfish were able to clean up the mess, otherwise such a major spill of divine waste could have been catastrophic. But their progress was hindered slightly by the Incorporeal Echoes which still lurked about the island. Even now, a swarm of shadowy forms had sensed Ashalla's vast soul and was coming towards her. Ashalla was not in the mood to tolerate their presence.

"Insolent spirits!" Ashalla cried in a voice of thunder, and her eyes burned white. The clouds above broiled, and with a flash lightning arced down and pierced through the shadows. The first bolt had hardly faded when a second struck, and a third. Lightning fell like rain upon the Incorporeal Echoes, until all that was left was the smell of ozone.

Ashalla rolled up the beach and inspected the crater more closely. One taste was enough to identify orvium oxide, indicating that this explosion had been caused by orvium. She wasn't sure where the Zhengwu had obtained that metallic orvium, although Para was one possibility as that had some native orvium. That didn't really matter.

Inspecting the land around the island was more enlightening. The sandy remains and empty clothes of sixteen servants littered the island, clearly having been slain by the Echoes in a one-sided battle. She also saw marks on the stone which appeared to have been wrought by some destructive form of magic she was unfamiliar with, but which caused similar damage to the centre of the orvium explosion. Likely caused by that Orvus-kin, Arya, who had been on the ship with them, and would have attempted to defend herself and possibly the others in this battle. The absence of her body or even the slightest drop of anything which tasted of her suggested that Arya had survived.

There was still the question as to why someone had detonated the orvium on board the Zhengwu. She could only guess why. Maybe they did not want the cargo falling into the hands of the Echoes, not knowing the nature of the cargo and the environmental damage blowing it up would have caused. Maybe it was a desperate attempt to kill some of the Echoes. Regardless, the folly and futility of such a move demonstrated to Ashalla the unreliability of mortals. She would have to be cautious about trusting them to undertake important tasks for her.

Ashalla flowed inland towards the gateway to check that the Box of Orchestration was still where she had left it. Finding it undisturbed, Ashalla propped it open with a little pseudopod and listened to its melancholy melodies for a little time. The tune seemed fitting for such a sombre occasion.

"It's a shame. Qiang Yi was a good poet," Ashalla said in a voice like a distant wave. Indeed, all of the crew of the Zhengwu had been worshippers of her. It would not do to grow attached to individual mortals, though, as their life was as brief as a raindrop. She would need to make larger groups of worshippers who would not be so easily destroyed by a misplaced tragedy.

Eventually, she closed the lid of the Box and flowed back out to sea. The Iron Carrionfish were continuing the task of consuming every last piece of Vakk's body and cleansing the sea of this mistake. Before she departed, though, she turned her head northwards towards Tendlepog. "K'nell, if you plan to ship hazardous waste across my oceans, let me know beforehand." Then she slipped beneath the waves and was gone.

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